Cold frames and chipmunks


It’s always amazing when one of those non-essential but important projects, that somehow lingers for years, finally gets done. Top of the list were these coldframes. The delays were numerous, from running out of screws to being too cold or too hot. The broken ankle didn’t help either. But now they are done, and I’m willing to look past the gaps and uneven corners!


The location was mostly out of convenience, next to the greenhouse where there is still space to walk. This puts them under the pine tree which also has the birdfeeder on the other side. I installed the lids in situe on a rather windy day so I wasn’t too surprised to see Sarah, the chipmunk zipping around between her woods and the birdfeeder. I was amazed, though when she stopped and turned around on the fence to come back to see what I was doing. She didn’t mind the drill or big windows being moved just feet from where she was gathering seeds. In all she seemed to understand about needing to get things under cover and ready for winter.

Sarah draws the line though as cell phones with cameras- then I instantly became a suspicious character and she refused to come close until we negotiated for a few brief portraits (and yes, I then went away and left her in peace.) The wind seemed to work in her favor as it kept most of the birds away - which aren’t really a threat, but their constant motion makes her nervous. I put down a fresh handful of seeds to make sure she could make the most of the day.

Very little of my work at Shortmeadow goes unsupervised and its always nice to have a friendly face to talk to!

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.

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....



The Coyotes Sing in the Flower Moon

On Wednesday, just as it was getting dark, two family groups of coyotes gathered on either side of Short Meadow. They were probably at least a mile in either direction but when their voices rose in song they raised the roof. It was eerie and beautiful and I could have happily gone to sleep with the romance of it all. Ella had a different opinion. By the time I got her to settle down and my ears had stopped ringing from her vocal attempts to tell them to shove off, it was after 2 am. Ella is a sweetheart, but has very little sense of romance! And she doesn’t care for coyotes, racoons, the Post Office, UPS, FedEx, or squirrels.

The chickens eagerly await the arrival of their walk-in run which appears to be delayed by a back-ordered part.  They are unfazed by the coyotes’ singing or thunderstorms but when I brought in their new perching trellis they thought I was out to murder them. One day later though, and they are back to pecking my garden shoes most affectionately.

The second attempt at tomatoes is coming along.  The fresh batch of Cosmonaut Volkov has sprouted. I dearly hope that someday I inspire someone sufficiently to name a delicious tomato after me!  So much better reach and longevity than a statue somewhere… in addition, having got the sudden inspiration from Gardener’s World, I hunted down a gunnera to put in a giant Costco pot on the deck – in the tropical corner. I’m hoping it will serve as an umbrella over the lounge chairs.

Other garden priorities have shifted. The simultaneous blooming of an orange azalea in close proximity to lavender lilacs has my eyes hurting. Ripping out the front bed has just moved up to the top of the list.