This is one of my favorite times of the year: the first harvests are coming in. For greens, we are eating kale, lettuce, chard and good king Henry, New Zealand spinach, mache, minutina, and celery. All the herbs – parsley, rosemary, sage, etc. are ready. The malabar spinach is almost ready and it’s a lovely climber that is colonizing the trelises that the unfortunate peas never climbed (we had only a pound or so, the bunnies ate the rest). The potatoes – from organic potatoes I bought at the supermarket – are growing like weeds. So are the tomato vines. No ripe tomatoes yet, though.

I’ve also started putting up. Yesterday I made a pile of basil from my garden, our CSA and the Farmers Market and made 8 jars of pesto (to freeze). I assembled rhubarb from the garden with some from the Farmers Market and red currants from a friend’s garden and canned 8 jars of rhubarb-red currant preserves. I’m tasting the white currants in my garden every day to get them when they’re just ripe. There are also grapes growing, lots of them, but those will take longer. If all the little nubbin figs on our one remaining tree make it, we’ll have twenty or so figs.

The chickens are laying four eggs a day. And there are four of them. Toothless, who got injured and started limping, then getting pecked on even more ruthlessly, went for a spa at my friend Katharina’s place while we were away. I didn’t want my intrepid chicken sitters to have to deal with a bloody, or worse, chicken. Toothless has her own little coop there to relax and recover.

Tomorrow I plan to go into my hives and take a full super off the strongest one (which swarmed during the week we were away!). I almost fell over when I lifted it off: full of honey! I’ll add a new super to that one and also one to the less strong hive. Both hives are making new queens.

Speaking of honey. I am enjoying the raspberry melomel I made a little over a year ago. It is mellow and tasty and not too alcoholic.

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But where were we all last week? Hanging out with this crazy bunch…

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… in the rain forest of Panama!

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More about that in some other post. I need to go water the garden, because it’s dry here.

Three posts in a day! I couldn’t resist posting also these pictures. Chickens are so good to have! They provide no end of entertainment. Unfortunately we have one mature hen who is injured somehow. She will not stand on one leg. I ruled out bumble foot and (thank goodness) Marek’s. None of the bones are broken, as far as I can tell. She may just have strained a muscle. In any case, she was already at the bottom of the pecking order and the moment she started hopping around on one foot, the other hens went after her. Luckily Amie and I were in the chicken yard. We saw two hens hold her down, grinding her head into the dust with a claw, scratching and pecking out her feathers. I think they would have killed her. I ran in and rescued her and we’ve been keeping her separate so she may hopefully recuperate.

But here are some happier chicken times. Amie hypnotizing Lucy, the 9 week old chick (pullet now?):

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Here’s a little video, with commentary:


Sweet, rubbery feet:

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When we let the chicks leave their mini coop to scratch and play in the chicken yard, we lock the adult hens in their run. They’re quite outraged about it:

"Can you believe it! They're letting those chicks eat our mint!"
“Can you believe it! They’re letting those chicks eat our mint!”

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But hey, the hens get enough time free ranging in the yard. When we’re home, we let them out every day, all day, since we don’t need to stay with them – the chicks would get scooped up by the hawk in no time. They love to dust bathe, reducing themselves to discombobulated piles of feathers in the dust:

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Can you even recognize them as chickens?

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So, for those more chicken inclined, here’s a video:

My last blogpost worth that name is from March 14, and I haven’t figured our Riot since December last year. One of the reasons for my silence was overall business (explained below), but the main culprit was that all the sites I maintain were hacked (same server). We had to shut down the Green Team site completely, saved most of the Transition Wayland site, and the blog, well, as you can see, most of the sidebar features have disappeared and, as you can’t see, the editor is a right mess, but here’s an update anyway.

Here’s a roller coaster run-down of events.

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On April 21, my parents-in-law arrived from Chennai, India. On Tuesday, my friend and fellow blogger, Katharina, dropped off the 15 chicks that remained in her care – she was on her way to DC and the Reject and Protect Rally. On Wednesday, add to this menagerie my friend R’s 16-year-old, mostly deaf dog for dog-sitting. And me and R saying our goodbyes and leaving all this to them, not to mention the care of the garden and chickens, and the hundreds of seedlings in the basement.

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Where was I off to, that was so important that I could leave all of them, especially Amie (for the first time for so long)? It was Stephen Jenkinson’s Orphan Wisdom School, and I will have to write more about that later. R and I were there, all wrapped-up in the goodness and sorrow of words, till Sunday, when we drove back in one non-stop haul (11 hours). R extracted her dog from the sleeping house, and I crashed, exhausted. The house returned a little more to somewhat normal when Katharina took all but our four chicks back a couple of days later.

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That Sunday Earth Day happened (more on that later too), along with Amie’s orchestra concert at Jordan Hall, and her grandparents’ surprise 40th anniversary present(s) and surprises(s).

Amie named the chicks and started “training” them. Always a joy to watch.

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Our days warmed, with some summery days thrown in, especially Mother’s Day, which we spent out side working in the garden, planting, among other things, lots of strawberries and blueberries. I also finished the drip irrigation in 90% of the garden, all of it running smoothly off the top IBC tote, simply by gravity. The chicks too enjoyed their first outing into the big world.

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I picked up new bees too: two packages. What a joy it is to see them fly again. In other bee-related news, Katharina, who is also a fellow beekeeper, roped me into helping her out with helping the young artist Jarrett Mellenbruch set up and maintain his Haven project at the deCordova museum. More about that soon, too!

My parents-in-law went back to Chennai, and the house is emptier. I like a crowd of animals, so I am glad for the bird song in the house: the chicks, though they now look more dinosaur-like, still squeak quite sweetly. And there is one more bird…

We finally got a friend for Amie’s parakeet, Kiwi, who lost his mate a few months ago. Kiwi had spent some time at Katharina’s (we’ve a veritable animal exchange going here) where he received a mirror, and he had fallen deeply in love with the bird in that mirror. That is why Amie decided to get a green parakeet, female though (hopefully), who looks like that mirror bird. Introducing a new bird is always tricky, so we had them in separate cages at first – having bought a huge new cage. But after some hours Kiwi was trying to push his heard through the bars, and they were singing to each other, so the next day we let Kiwi into the new cage and all was well.

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That’s my quick run-down of events. Lots to flesh out. I will do so, soon, promise! Now let me click the “publish” button and see how this looks!

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This has been/still is a hard winter. It’s been one snow storm after another, with long stretches of below freezing temperatures.  Three weeks ago I caught a bug which developed into pneumonia – hence the silence here – and now that I’ finally up and about, Amie caught something as well. That’s how it goes. The winter was hard on the bees as well: all three colonies are dead of starvation in boxes still half full of capped honey.  They just didn’t have the chance to break cluster and move toward the honey.

But things are stirring. Before yesterday’s snow flurries we actually saw dirt. Then it got covered up again, but all that should be washed away by tonight’s rain and tomorrow we may see some outdoor activities. I plan to wash all the seedling trays and pots so I can start the basement garden. If I’m up for it, I’ll also clean out the chicken coop: there’s some good compost in there after months of deep litter.

A couple of days ago I (hot-water-bath) canned the sauerkraut that had been fermenting in big jars on my counter for seven weeks. I usually don’t can kraut as it pasteurizes it (duh!) and kills off all the good bugs. Still, I had too much of it to keep in the fridge, and as I’m the only one who eats it round here, I decided to reserve one jar for the fridge and can the rest.  I hope the canning doesn’t make it too soggy. I like it crunchy.

 

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Kidding! We’re not getting 20 of them. Only four of these little ones will become ours: 2 Buff Orpingtons, 1 Black Australorp, and 1 Barred Rock – these were Amie’s choices. We pooled our order with a friend and a friend-of-that-friend. I can’t wait till April 14, when we go pick them up: a box with 20 puff balls, all chirping away!

As for our five hens (4 of them soon two years old, 1 one-year-old), we’re getting two, sometimes three eggs a day now. I decided to start keeping a record.

It started snowing again, an end to the warmer weather of the weekend. I missed the opportunity to go into my hives, but I did find out that mice got into my stored honey supers and chewed through quite a lot of wax and fouled it up.

Our plans to bury the recently deceased Nocty were thwarted by the deep freeze we are in. The ground is rock hard. The bird too.

I put Nocty in an empty feed bag and rolled it up. I’m keeping her on the porch so no big animals can get at her. As for the little ones, the undertakers, they won’t start their work until the body defrosts. Amie asked why, and I explained we humans are about 60% water and I suspect it’s somewhat similar for a chicken. She got it right away with regard to the chicken. It blew her mind that the same goes for the soil. I couldn’t say how much water is in the soil, but all the tiny spaces between the mineral molecules were flooded when it rained or when the snow on top of it melted, and then that water too froze. So the soil per se isn’t frozen, but the water that saturates it is. That’s why my shovel can’t make a dent in it.

Thinking of it now the similarities between the state of the bird and the state of the soil go further. Both seem brittle, parched, dry, because the water in them can’t do its thing, that is, moisten and move.  The soil should be awash with life and so should Nocty – Amie believes that firmly now, that Nocty should rot and give her body back to the circle. But the bird, the creatures who will do the rotting (the washing), and the medium in which this can be done (the soil/the water) – all are waiting.

Looking down into the brown paper bag at the golden brown feathers, it doesn’t feel right that she’s neither alive in the chicken-sense, nor in the rot-sense. I hope we’ll have a thaw soon.

After reading Lauren Scheuer’s book, Once Upon a Flockin one swoop, Amie now has a favorite blog: Scratch and Peck, which is adorable and very funny and, well, about chickens! She has decided that this Spring we should get one Barred Plymouth Rock, one Black Australorp, and one Buff Orpington, just like Ms. Scheuer has!

DSCF2765Amie took the news of Nocty’s demise very well, much better than I thought she would. She was shocked, then cried a little. After absorbing the news, we went to see the body on the porch. It was dark so I brought a flash light. I lifted the cardboard to uncover the body and Amie stroked Nocty’s  soft feathers. She said, “She is still a beautiful bird.” Then she became very curious. She tried to open the wing, remarked on the stiffness and I explained that when the blood is no longer flowing, the muscles get stuck and stiff. She even peeled open the bird’s eyelid and peered into the eye, searching for something.  I didn’t ask or talk, wanted to let her thoughts be free.

Then we went to check on Oreo, Nocty’s “sister,” who is now alone at the mercy of the older hens. The chickens were roosting, so she didn’t get to talk to Oreo, but this morning she went out to the coop before school and sat with her for a while. Her abiding concern, as mine, is with Oreo.

She also asked if we could keep Nocty the way she is and I explained we couldn’t, that she will rot. I explained that rotting is  being returned to the flow, that specialized insects and bacteria go in and tear down all the bonds that bind the flesh together and so release the atoms back into the stream and so on, into other bodies and new life.  I said to let that happen we should bury her, put her into the Earth, and we discussed where on the land. I proposed one of the garden beds. Then Nocty’s atoms would go into the lettuces and we could eat them. Amie liked that a lot. Encouraged, I proposed that at the end of the season we could dig up the bones. She liked that too.

We have set Wednesday after school aside for Nocty’s burial. We’ll also  do research on whether it will be safe to eat those lettuces, and on how to preserve animal bones.

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This morning I found Nocty, one of our younger Ameraucanas (she would have been a year old in April), dead in the coop. She was lying in the narrow space between the roost and the big door.  It couldn’t have happened long ago. Her blue egg was next to her, still somewhat warm. There was no blood or anything on her, and she didn’t freeze. There had been no symptoms, on the contrary, she was the energetic one, and she was regularly laying eggs. I think it may have been Sudden Death Syndrome, aka heart attack. I hope so, because I wouldn’t want there to be a disease in the coop. Everyone else seems fine, but then again, so did Nocty.

I was shocked and sad to see this sociable, sweet and funny chicken lying there so vulnerable and – I think this is what got me the most – so alone. She is still a beautiful chicken and I held her like she let herself be held in life, like a baby. Hardest of all is the realization that Amie will take it badly. Another issue is Nocty’s “sister” Oreo, who is at the bottom of the pecking order and who always found refuge with Nocty, who often pecked back at the four older hens.

It’s the first chicken we’ve lost, indeed the first pet (that’s how Amie thinks of her). I’m getting ready to tell Amie after she comes home and after her play date – which means I’ll need to keep mum the whole time they play. For once I hope it rains and they can’t go play outside, with the chickens.

On a warm and sunny day last week,  I let the chickens out in the yard. Amie came home from school just then and she joined the flock. For an hour she herded the hens around, nattering and scolding like a mama hen, with some marvelous life lessons (for chickens). What is the difference between needs and wants? She explained it to them. It is thus: If you need something but you don’t want it, it’s always a mistake. If you want something that you don’t need, it could be a mistake. It depends. Luckily, for chickens the factors aren’t too complex. In the end the chickens ran back into the coop out of their own volition, knowing full well what they needed.

Most of the snow melted.

Yesterday a snowstorm blew in and dumped a lot of wet, thick snow. The land is transformed again. The clouds above are fat and fast.