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.

 

A friend came to visit us and after eating homemade Belgian waffles I suggested I take her and my family to Pod Meadow, which I had discovered on a walk with Transition earlier in the week. The weather was a balmy 55F and only partially overcast.

Pod Meadow is an amazing conservation area in my town that is a hidden gem, “a sleeper,” the town naturalist calls it. It is 25 acres. You park the car on a busy road – no less than the old Native American Great Trail, which became a major highway in the colonial era and is now Old Connecticut Path, or Route 126. You walk through someone’s yard, and then, suddenly, this:

Amazing, the sudden dip toward the Pond and the lack of tangled shrubs under the stately trees – mostly beeches, oaks and some pines and spruce – which allows you to see right through. It gives the open and clear feel of a maintained forest, much like, I presume, the forests in the time of the Native Americans, who used to set fire to the underbrush to make hunting and travel easier.

In this forest the maintenance is done by the beavers. I don’t have the skinny on the beavers yet, but there seem to be many of them and, some worry, too many. They have dammed the Pond so that now the water reaches higher, inundating old trails and making what used to be a vernal pool (first water body in the picture above) into a part of the “full-time” pond.

The beavers clear the forest by doing this:

Amie couldn’t believe it. Imagine chewing through a whole tree with your teeth! There is more beaver handy toothsome work behind her: the beavers apparently like beeches the most and in this spot most of them were stripped of their bark at beaver height. It is amazing to run your finger over the scrapings. To me it is like touching the wild. Here’s an even bigger tree (an oak) being worked on:

And some more beeches:

We speculated that there must be some system or plan in their activities. Perhaps they are working up to a moment when they will tip one tree and it will take down all the others, like dominoes, in one great bang! Then they’ll have a party, say “our work is done here,” and move on.

For the moment they’re at home. This is their lodge. No sign of the inhabitants.

Seeing all this is so awesome to me, and I am eager to learn more about these animals. I’m also fascinated by the geology of the place, which is, like so much of New England, dominated by the 50,000-year-old glacier that started to retreat 15,000 to 16,000 years ago. I sometimes dream about that glacier.

Today was about Amie. At first she didn’t want to come but the moment we arrived she started running and jumping, suddenly free and wild herself. She had climbed onto this great downed oak before we knew it and DH had to scramble after her.

She also really wanted to walk on water:

She was upset at the end and I didn’t know why. She said she had “wanted to have more adventures and all we did was walk around and chat!” I will take her back after school some day and she can show me what it is that she wants to do. We can also take our journals and draw or write.

We are reading the Finn Family Moomintroll which another friend gave her and perhaps she has that landscape in mind and the adventures of Moomin and his curious friends. I can certainly understand her. When I was a kid I was always pottering around in the overgrown area (now a nature reservation) across from my parents’ house, pretending to be the last kid left on Earth, losing my boots in the bog, coming home with leaves and mud in my hair.

I would have gone on that tree too! I may still.

Last week I splurged on Wildcraft, a cooperative board game for kids (and adults) developed by HerbMentor, one of my favorite places for herbal instruction. The idea of the game is to make it up the mountain to the huckleberry patch, gather huckleberries, and make it back down again to grandma’s house before nightfall. And not to perish.

In the official game there’s not much chance of perishing. When you land on a cross you get a trouble card – a hornet sting, sore muscles, hunger, or stomach ache. But you start out with four remedy cards and gather lots along the way. It’s usually an easy walk. Usually.

Amie loved the game from the very first. She has played it several times, with us or by herself. She’ll skip around the house telling her doll they should find some Plantain for that bee sting, Echinacea for the sniffles. It’s sweet.

Then yesterday she came up with a variation. She set up the board and invited me to play, but wisely kept the rules to herself until I had committed (you spin that wheel, you’re committed). The variation was this: only trouble cards, no remedy cards.

Painful, to say the least! Our conversation ran thus:

- You’re killing me!

- Don’t blame it on me.

- Well, you’re the one who invented this game.

- Blaming isn’t nice. Oops, now you’ve got diarrhea. Too bad!

She weighed  ailments (diarrhea would be the worst one) and inflicted pain (gleefully handing out the cards) all in the playful and safe setting of a game. She also explored endurance and the extent to which the human body can handle pain and discomfort. At the end of the game, when we finally made it back to grandma’s house, Amie gathered she must be near death. Like so:

Notice the tongue sticking out, a sure sign of near death.

The cards near her head, by the way, were her trouble cards. The long line near her feet, those were mine! She invited me to come lie next to her and be really dead.

I declined, stating someone had to take the picture.

Today we came home from Amie’s cello lesson to this:

We could not believe the size of that giant pumpkin! There were also bags of more pumpkins, goopy pumpkin guts, and a couple of gourds. The latter I would have to cut up somehow,  they’re so hard, or maybe I’ll try drying them for bird houses.

The haul filled up the wheelbarrow and much of the compost bin. Once I get the shredder going I’ll fill up the gaps in the bin with shredded leaves.

The neighbors are really into the orphan punkins this year. Maybe I could get a more elaborate system set up, a large three bin system down the hill, near the mailbox, where they could drop off vegetable kitchen scraps? A neighborhood composting facility… And once we get chickens,  we would doubly appreciate the scraps. Mm…

I’m going to ask my tree removal neighbor for all his wood chips from now on to do this in the  veg garden. I could easily fill up those garden paths with wood chips and leaves. These paths erode so badly, especially the ones that run in the direction of the (slight) slope. It would also keep the weeds down, and be a haven for the worms. A permaculture function stack!

What a day today was. 65 F and sunny. The bees took the opportunity to take some cleansing flights and dump out some more dead bees, and we got to go outside too, to rake leaves, and leaves, and leaves, and play…

Today, the day after Halloween, we found our first punkin orphan, dropped off at our mailbox. Amie ran to welcome it. We reminded people of the composting program when we were out trick-or-treating, and many were enthusiastic. And I met one elderly gentleman who was the first to live on this street, and he and I resolved to meet soon so I can take down the history of the neighborhood.

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I am back on track with the baking. Because these are busy days I went back to the old recipe which is such a favorite in our house. Daily Bread No.7 was finished in a jiffy and Bread No.8 will be finished at breakfast. I love it too, but am hoping fr a good no-knead whole wheat recipe.

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We had our first frost last night. It went down to 21. There’s more frost predicted tonight and tomorrow night, so I decided to bring in all my potted pepper plants. I’ll post a picture of my interesting living room tomorrow. The hoop house is performing well, though unfortunately I don’t have any precise data. But all the plants inside it survived the frost, so far. The eggplants are still going strong. The tomatoes aren’t looking so good, but the tomatoes on the vine are still ripening.

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Today I went into Amie’s class (K) to talk about compost. While putting her snack together in the morning I had an idea. I walked in, sat down in front of the kids, and asked them if it was okay for me to eat my snack, I was so hungry. I rummaged around in my bag, complaining that my snack had been in there for a long time and muttering that I hoped it was still good. Then I pulled out a big clear plastic box with wet, gooey, wormy compost! Eek! What happened!

We talked about rot and decay, composing and decomposing, falling apart and being taken apart, it no longer being food for us but still perfectly edible for other organisms, etc. I must say, I used to teach college kids metaphysics, epistemology, logic and ethics, and that was tough. But teaching these five-year-olds is a different thing altogether!  Afterwards the class went out to  plant bulbs and make a scarecrow in their little school garden.

(Note to self: mustn’t forget to take that “snack” out of my bag. I’ll do it tomorrow…)

I did a quick hive inspection today. It was hot – at 10 am – and I had forgotten to tie my long hair back, thinking the hat might keep it back, but no… So I made it quick, and just pulled out the frames to check on the pattern of brood, honey, pollen, and drone cells, and to find the queen. The powdered sugar test for mites will have to wait till next time.

capped brood

these frames were really heavy

queen

(Thanks to DH for the pics!)

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I did the bee talk at my daughter’s preschool last week. The kids loved it. I came in all dressed up in veil and suit and gloves. I had brought one deep brood box with the undrawn frames in them, as well as the burr comb I pulled out earlier. My smoker was still smelly from going into the hive right before and stealing a drone, which I put into the old queen cage for them to see. They were so careful with him when they passed him around.

They had so many questions and, of course, stories about being stung, or not being stung. We talked about how to be safe around bees, and about how generous and hardworking they are. Fascinating, how the minds of 3, 4, and 5-year-olds work. Especially the boys were concerned about the fact that a colony is basically a sisterhood. “But then there’s no room for brothers!” said a little guy (a brother). I assured him that in the human world there is lots of room for brothers, but not so much in the bee world. They’re just different.

They, and I, had a great time playing a game that illustrates how bees use pheromones and scent to recognize each other. I had put one of 4 strong-smelling things (banana, garlic, oregano and tiger balm), 5 of each in old yogurt container (20 kids), then strapped a paper napkin over them so they couldn’t see what was inside (note to self: cloth next time!). They had to sniff their own scent and then buzz around to find the other members of their colony.

Lastly there was snack (very important!). Amie had designed a bee for the cookies and had helped cut some out. She was chosen to distribute the snack to the class. She was so proud. Of course she knew the answers to all the question I had for them, but she let the other kids answer first.

The four vigorous kale plants that survived the winter in the hoop house are bolting. I am daily harvesting three of them, letting the biggest one going to seed for saving. Since all four plants are of the same kind, and there are no other brassicas going to seed within a mile, there is no need to be concerned about cross-pollination and seed that is not true. I wish Risa had a good search option on her blog, Stony Run Farm, because I remember (correctly?) an entry on how many seeds one kale plant can yield.

Kale is really one of our favorites, especially when overwintered, because then it is sweeter, subtler in taste. I chop up the stems and saute them first, then add the leaves and saute till they turn that very bright green. Salt and pepper and you have a tasty, healthy side dish.

I am already harvesting seed from the Claytonia (Claytonia perfoliata, Miner’s lettuce, Winter Purslane, Spring Beauty, or Indian lettuce), which is of the Portulacaceae family. The picture was taken on a cloudy moment: click to see the long, thin seeds at the end of the stems.

The Claytonia bloomed at the same time as the Mache (Valerianella locusta, Corn Salad, Lamb’s Lettuce or Lamb’s Tongue) and the Minutina (Plantago coronopus, Buckshorn Plaintain, or Erba Stella). This is hopefully not of concern because they all belong to different families (Mache to the Valerian family and Minutina to the Plantain family) so they (probably) don’t cross-pollinate.

On the other side, I’ve sowed, outside, three kinds of carrots, lots of marigolds, borage and calendula all over, and more summer lettuce mix. That’s a lot of beds to keep moist now that my rain barrel is empty. Running to the kitchen to fill my small watering can with filtered tap water is a nuisance, but good exercise.

Amie has been busy in the garden too. I don’t mention her help and advice as often as I should. It is so much fun to observe her in the garden, singing to herself as her little hands plants seeds, stumbling as she lugs the heavy watering can, but mostly just skipping and dancing. It is at such moments that I think: what an enchanted life we have!

Here she is with the 20 sunflowers she just sowed, and then again with all of “her” flowers (all flowers) in the hoop house:

The Morning Glory, Pink Rose Mallow, Sweet Pea and Zinnias all germinated.

(Yes, that’s pajamas. In the afternoon. Hey, it’s the holiday week, and the pajamas were destined for the laundry anyway.)

Lots of work in the garden today, in 90F sun! I’ll report on it tomorrow. But I wasn’t the only one in the garden today:

Morning Glory, Pink Rose Mallow, Sweet Pea and Zinnias for around her play house.