First frost

Saturday morning it appeared - in the vale by the chicken house. A light coating of white on the grass and mowed weeds. Elsewhere it was heavy dew but there is no ignoring the first frost to hit. It means plants must be relocated. So now most of the hanging baskets have been emptied and the greenhouse is beginning to fill up. A red geranium is sitting on the kitchen counter dropping scarlet petals on to the dining room floor - neatniks will be appalled - it makes me smile. This will be the first winter with plants in the greenhouse which isn’t heated. I expect to have regrets over some decisions of what goes in the house I just wish I knew what they were going to be now!

At the same time seeds are germinating for winter vegetables - some for the greenhouse beds and some in the cleared pots on the back porch. All but the cabbage and corn have been harvested and it’s time to put the Excalibur 2000 (the dehydrator) back on the shelf.

You may remember Sylvia, who lost her home recently in the glazed orchid pot when it came inside? Well, she re-emerged yesterday on the same table sitting on the small Buddha statue. She’s changed her coloring to match and while I think she’d really prefer her pot back, I find her posing with the Buddha to be most evocative…


Fyi, I did put a cabbage in a small pot on the table since that can stay out indefinitely but as yet she’s shown no interest. I can’t blame her - orchids to cabbage is quite a comedown!

The Season of Cold Toes

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There were some hard conversations at Short Meadow the last few weeks. The season has turned, the rain has returned and the thermostat is dipping down into the 40’s at night. That means its time for the orchids, summering on the porch, to come back inside. This was met with great dismay by several amphibians who had enjoyed the ancestral memories of broad tropical leaves. Knowing they were likely in residence, this was a physically gentle but emotionally difficult separation. Sitting in the bottom of the outer pots, frogs looked at me square in the eye and blinked sad eyes. At least one relocated to the only plant staying out, a small fern, where it sat barely hidden by a frond and continued to observe my activities with what can only be described as grumpiness.

The orchids, now back in their winter abode in the kitchen and living room, are still decorated with random deposits of frog poop. Something I never thought I’d be able to identify. They too seem to miss their friends and the bigger community that exists outside. I plan to conduct an experiment of playing them frog noises everyday just to see what happens.

Meanwhile, the chickens still have the same routine, but even if I wait until 7am it is now dark when I let them outside. Also deeply in touch with their ancestors they distrust the dark (wise!) even when it is securely enclosed. They stick their beaky noses out and then turn around and look at me voicing their distrust loudly. It’s made clear that this is my responsibility. All except Daisy of course, who cheerfully and bravely hops out the human door with me to explore, trusting I’ll keep the bad guys at bay. I’m prepared to do that for five feet and ten seconds until I can scoop her up and deposit her back in the pen. She is a most intrepid chicken.

Which brings me to consideration of ‘science’ and the frequent accusation in the world of anthropomorphizing. I recently heard someone on the news say animals have relationships but to say friendship was going too far. Seriously?

There was a time not too recently that the only medical information that had value was what could be stratified on a blood test. Now we’re ‘rediscovering’ intuition and celebrating those that persist in the face of a negative blood test. Which we should, but I’d point out we never lost these skills we just lost the courage to use them. I have a lifetime of friendships with animals that didn’t live with me and weren’t fed by humans, removing most of the motivations the lab coats would recognize. Sure, I add my own interpretation to their actions but heck, I do that with other humans!

I think if we ever want to live well and gracefully we have to live as part of the Earth’s community and not apart from it, and that means making friends with our neighbors.

Harvest Days


It seems like every year is an odd year when it comes to the garden. This one being no exception. You would think that a hot dry year would be ideal for tomatoes but their sensitive little souls felt it was too hot. So I sit and wait on the few green tomatoes to see if they have the will to ripen before a frost. I have hope for at least a few. I did get a few pears - less than many people but more than last year so I am eagerly anticipating my supper of pear and gorgonzola pizza.

The Italian plum harvest though was fabulous. There are now nine plum coffeecakes in the freezer ready to bring some zingy sunshine to January. The mornings are chilly now, but refreshing. As it gets colder thoughts turn to interior renovation with the unfinished 2nd floor weighing heavily on my mind. I think things will begin to come together in the next month.

I still have a few things that need to be planted out but otherwise its about making space for winter vegetables without compromising revitalizing for Spring. And wintering over is going to need quite a bit of planning…

A Tribute to Maisy


Three years ago I would not have expected to have chickens, let alone love them. But when Ella and I moved to Short Meadow and the chicken house was sitting there, dusty but mostly ready it seemed a better place to start than the runner ducks I had in mind (and still want) as no ponding was required.


So that following March I stood in line (yes, really) to get day-old chicks.  Maisy and Daisy were indistinguishable for a couple of weeks but as the chicks began hopping out of their enclosure to explore beyond the heat lamp, Maisy stayed behind and ate and ate. She was the first to lay an egg and the first to go broody, which she did with a great deal of grumbling but never, ever pecking. She continued her youthful disdain of exercise, always laying and brooding in the lower bunk of nest boxes.

In January I had to take a break from the hen house due to a broken ankle but on my return in March Maisy took to greeting me in the morning by sitting on the shutter laid crosswise in front of the door to keep the straw in. This prevented the other chickens from getting out and me getting in, but was a fabulous opportunity for conversation which Maisy always greatly enjoyed.

Last Wednesday she was not on the shutter. I found her where she had fallen asleep and died just before dawn. All the things that made her death at just 18 months shocking are the same things that give me comfort. She was not distressed in any way, and had spent the previous day happily scratching and eating bugs and doing everything a chicken most likes to do. She'd been laying regularly and all the other chickens are fine. So most likely her early behavior was a sign of something congenital that finally caught up with her. She had a good life and taught me a lot about the ways of chickens. The hen house just isn't the same without her.

Summer is closing out


I put up a wildlife cam to see who would come investigate the windfalls; not surprisingly the deer dominated the scene but even they couldn't eat them all so there may be more footage to come. This young male is a frequent visitor during the day as well. He knows he's beautiful!

The fruit harvest is pretty much in - two buckets of apples are waiting in the kitchen for me to sit down and start cutting them up. I'm thinking more applesauce this year than drying. The peaches tasted better this year, more sunshine will do that, but there weren't enough to put up. Something happened in the late Spring between flowering and setting fruit that put almost everybody off. There are still blackberries for picking but the scratches are taking their tole on my hands. But while there may not be much going in the freezer at the moment there is little need of the grocery store with zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches, blackberries, and eggs all in abundance

I did finally move the saddest gooseberry bush ever to a place with more light and more water. It is reconsidering dying but hasn't fully committed. I am slowly, slowly, tackling a garden cleanup. I manage about fifteen linear feet at a time and then ache for a few days, but things are looking tidier, if not exactly beautiful. As I go I'm making a list of what to plant in the bare patches that is both deer and rabbit proof. This mostly consists of lavender and hellebores. A seed and bulb order are going to have to go in soon. I'm planning to grow malabar spinach up the chicken enclosure so they can nibble from the inside. But I'll have to enclose it somehow to keep the deer from joining in and finishing it off...

Before long the rains will be back and it will be time to return to the wallpaper stripping upstairs.

A smoky summer


Things in the hen house are getting back to normal. The broody girls are over it and getting their color back. This also means that Daisy is leading the escape charge at every opportunity so I spend a few more minutes every day chasing chickens. The one bearing apple tree this year is starting to have windfalls which the girls fight over with enthusiasm.

Wildfire smoke though is beginning to smother the farm. I attempted to watch the Perseid meteor shower but the smoke limited the night sky to just a small circle overhead and even that was hazy. I gave up and went back to bed after just one shooting star. During the day it gives everything an ominous light - like that greenish half-light right before a tornado or alien invasion. The air quality is nothing to write home about either so mostly inside in front of the computer working on Christmas designs to try to think cool.

I was able to put up a couple of cups of dried salal berries for winter oatmeal and some dried mint for teas. I should be ought picking blackberries but I'll get to that later this week. I did pick enough this morning for ice cream and I'm eyeing a patch outside the studio window for breakfast tomorrow. If my father were still alive, gallons of blackberry wine would already be fermenting....

I can't wait until I can get a few goats - what's really holding me back is fencing and shelter. If I could solve that easily and inexpensively then I'd consider a friendly rescue goat that could keep later dairy goats company.  But first I have to prepare for the beehive that should be arriving any day now. No bees until Spring but gradually the family is expanding!



This week's news

I woke up to a pterodactyl dancing on the roof over my bed. It turned out to be a stellar's jay pulling all the moss out from between the shingles. A pair of them have returned from wherever they go to nest to make sure I don't do any late sleeping in the near future. They make up for their abrasive squawking with the sheer beauty of their blue and black feathers - the crest of their heads does make them look ever so slightly like small pterodactyls.

Small zucchinis are starting to form but no cucumbers yet that I can see. The one purple sprouting broccoli plant left over from last year (which I was greatly enjoying) is now completely infested with purple aphids. The chickens don't seem to mind but I do wish I'd had more than two small meals from it before the crawling army moved in. I am extremely grateful that I have grocery stores as a backup if this all goes pear-shaped.

Repairing the chicken's outdoor waterer is high on the agenda this weekend. The plastic plugs splintered, probably because of winter cold. The replacements were only about $4 but I'm not sure I want to fiddle with that every single year. The chickens seem to prefer a more open watering system anyway - one where they can scoop their beaks up. Peony and Daisy are still feeling broody but it looks like its beginning to ease. Daisy escaped out the door like her old self yesterday but was back in the nesting box for the rest of the day. I have days where I feel the same way....



Sunny Days Ahead


The more I observe the chickens, the less I think separates them from humans. Petty jealousies, wanting what someone else has just because someone else has it and a perverse inclination to like the chicken that looks like you more than the one that doesn't. Poor Daisy is still under the evil influence of broody hormones and has been picking needless fights that leave everyone in a bad mood. Peony is broody as well but seems to have sunk into a general depression keeping her head down. They should both be coming out of it fairly soon - certainly the ceramic eggs they're sitting on aren't going to be hatching.

Meanwhile the meadow is filled with dragonflies of all types and descriptions. From the house they appear as large as the swallows that are swooping higher up. Just now a zilliant red one landed on the old clothesline outside the window. It perched just long enough to be admired and zoomed off again. The blackberries that desperately need to be cut back are in full bloom and attracting everything from bees to deer.

Most of the tree frogs in residence seem to have taken a vacation - hopefully not a permanent one. Sylvia is still in residence though, currently sunning herself on the flank of a beautiful turquoise ceramic pot. She looks like a molded decoration that has been added by the artist.

The garden is only just beginning to produce. Peapods are coming along as is sprouting broccoli but no signs yet of zucchini. The tomatoes are beginning to form but it will be weeks yet before even the small, fancy ones are ready. There are certainly plenty of chores to do but not much that needs putting up for winter at this stage. I'm hoping to do some herbs this weekend and start in on cuttings.