A new gardening season is upon us!

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The greenhouse and cold frames are already beginning to fill up with seedlings. This year - unhampered by any broken bones (yeah!!!) - I’m trying to follow along with Charles Dowding’s No Dig. We’ll see, it’s early days yet but my goal is to grow all my own fruit and veg for the year excluding any tropical stuff. Seeds are germinating and there is a pile of new covering and netting just waiting to be laid out over tender plants. I can’t resist growing flowers too, so those are sprinkled in with the veg.

I try to be efficient and sort the seed packets by the month and then by the temperature required so I can group them on the heat mats. It more or less works out.

This year’s major addition to everything is honey bees. The hive is constructed and waiting in the shop so nobody else moves in. My new bee suit is hanging on its own special hook and the bees have been ordered and registered with the state. Some time around tax day I will head over on the ferry and bring back my very own bees! I hope they like me…

Cold frames and chipmunks

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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!

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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!

Harvest Days

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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.