Thursday, September 19, 2013

I Love Community Gardeners!

I love community gardens
and I love community gardeners.
Can you imagine loving gardening and wanting a garden
so badly
that you will drive somewhere and make time
to have a little plot of land
with other like-minded gardeners?


So when I was at the Virginia State Arboretum recently,
I found myself wandering out past the beautifully manicured gardens 
and over to a rather wild assortment of plantings that turned out 
to be the Arboretum's community garden!
It was the flash of the zinnias (my favorite flower)
that drew me over.  Take a look!

This plot contained a truly elaborate trellis
system covered with different kinds of beans.
(And zinnias.)


Now, one thing we all know is that ALL gardens
start looking like hell in late August.
Show me any gardener who invites folks to tour
her garden in August and I'll show you a masochist.
Who wants to weed and sweat?
Who's going to  plant in August?


But, check it out!
Even in this one abandoned plot,
full of weeds and mildew - 
what's holding forth?  Full of color?
Yep.  Zinnias!!


This gardener had pretty much devoted his (her) entire plot to zinnias - 
maybe a few beans?


And, in the plots that were still being cared for - look at them shine!

Sorry about the finger in the photo but I really 
wanted to show this one plot, now pretty much done - 
but why on earth do you suppose the sunflowers
are in FLOWERPOTS?
Don't you wish the gardener was there so you could ask?

Oh, and look how charming the main path through the garden plots looks - 
everyone's flowers and herbs create such a fine border!

I didn't get a photo of all of the plots - 
one was all varieties of tomatoes,
one devoted to melons.
Many were done for the season and carefully
cleaned and "put to bed".

In every set of gardens like this, you'll almost always
find one resident herb gardener whose plot
is a riot of fragrant and delicious herbal treats.
Smelled fabulous!


And I find gardeners to be both whimsical and kind.
Taking one last look on my way out, I noticed one colorful plot
also hid a little home for a toad!


Gotta love gardeners!
And especially those special souls
who make up the community gardens in towns
all over the country.  Hope all of you had a great year!

Happily,
Sybil


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Virginia's Arboretum - Hidden Treasure

Blandy is the "old" name for the Virginia State Arboretum.
Have you been there?
No? Then your life is not complete.

The entrance sign on Route 17 is easy to miss.
Driving in through rolling lawns and scattered trees
everything is cool and understated.
Heaven on a hot, dry day.

I was happy to stop in for few moments rest on a long road trip.
The long drivewayds with bright gardens full of 
flowers and herbs surrounding the parking lot.

Even in the scraggly garden season of September
the beds were so neatly cared for.... just delightful!

I wish my phone took better photos - 
this is such a fun little garden:
look closely and you'll see tomatoes behind the zinnias.
(Just like in my own garden!  Who knew?)
Behind the sunny flower  & herb gardens
are long, cool paths along stone walls....


I really am mad for stone walls.  
There are NO stones in Virginia Beach.
People buy stones. Expensive stones.
This wall is worth a fortune.......
but I digress...

But the real treat is the wonderful main building.


The arches. The screened porches..... the stone walks.
The general air of tranquility and gentility.


I had the pleasure of staying in this building
years ago - in one of the upper rooms 
whose windows you can see here in this photo.
Really, horticulturists get to hand in the most wonderful places!
The arboretum wasn't my destination on this trip - 
but it was a treat to wander the grounds again
even if for only a few minutes.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Roosters Come, Roosters Go....

Well the sadness over the demise of The Dude passed in time
and the girls were getting restless.
They like having a guy around.
It sort of organizes the flock.
Welcome, Mr. Frizzle.

Yep.
That's a rooster.
Came to us named "Fluffy".
Guess why?
But that just didn't seem macho enough for a guy
about to head up his own flock of hens.
But he was so obviously frizzled and frazzled...
runner-up title was Rasta Man . . .
but somehow Mr. Frizzle stuck.
Ain't he gorgeous?



He settled right in 
and began taking good care of his ladies:
Check out his strut!


video

More on gardening with chickens later.
I just thought you'd like to meet
The New Guy.

Stay calm and happy,
enjoy the last warm days
harvest your garden and
hassle your chickens . . . 
It's what makes life worthwhile!

Sybil

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Goodbye to The Little Dude, Our Tiny Rooster

One of the things about farm life is
the realization
that tragedy happens.

This is The Dude.
Tiniest Rooster imaginable.
And bravest.


The Dude died today.
Torn to shreds by some marauding predator.
But he managed to keep his hens safe.
They are all back tonight - 
gathered from all the spots where they had hidden.


When we adopted The Dude last May
he had been the tiniest rooster in the group
all of his life.  Timid.
Always on the outskirts of the flock,
never allowed near the hens.
He woke up here to find himself
inside his best dream - 
Lone Rooster of a flock of his own,
composed of Giant Females.



He strutted, he postured,
he spoiled all of them senseless.
And he protected them - 
check out my earlier video of The Dude
escorting our little crippled hen, Limpy Chicken,
to the coop at egg-laying time:


And you get to hear his "mighty" crow!


Well, The Dude didn't live forever.
But, I promise you,
he had the BEST summer of his life
and he realized all of his dreams
 with joy before he died.

I hope I'll be that lucky.

with a sad smile,
Sybil

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Chickens' Garden

Yep. A little garden totally planted by the chickens - sprouted from a variety of seeds that were scratched in and buried in their old outdoor run area.

Here's the first time I noticed that the area 
the girls had scratched bare over the winter  was coming up in.... 
VEGGIES!

Looks like nothing?  Squint closer.
Those are squash (or melons, or cucumbers - we don't know yet), 
tomatoes foreground and middle area and pepper plants!

So I let the veggies go on growing....


The tall numbers in the foreground are Jerusalem Artichokes.
The pink skinned kind. Delicious!
You can see the raccoon-proof, reconfigurable chain link run
in the background. And where it used to be,
now the Chickens' Garden!
Still doesn't look like much.
The fat white hen showed up to help weed.

video

But wait! There's more!
(like a  TV sales pitch)
This next photo is from today (August 4th).


Are you impressed yet?
Go, go chickens!
It's gonna be huge fun seeing what kinds of 
tomatoes, peppers and melon/squash 
we end up with.  Probably inedible -
or .... maybe... DELICIOUS!

with a grin,
Sybil

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Disappearing Chickens!


Dottie Chicken is my old, wily Spangled Hamburg hen.
As striking as her coloring appears when she's just wandering in the grass, 
it's really impressive to see how fast she can disappear
when she enters any kind of foliage!

You wouldn't think it, I know.
But I shot a little 20 second video
so you could see how neatly she disappears
into the garden, among the hostas.
She turns behind a garden ornament and - gone!
Check the video on YouTube:

Even funnier, watch how an entire little
flock of chickens appears out from under
the protection of a large Che (Cudrania tricuspidata) bush 
out in the middle of the main field/yard. 





Friday, June 7, 2013

Cherry Picking Time!

My buddy, Holly, left town for several months 
and willed me custody of her sour cherry trees.
Bless her heart!
 I drove out to her place a few days earlier 
and found the trees covered in ripening cherries.
Drove back out this week - 
about 80% were gone!
 But enough were left -
I grabbed a container and began picking,
picking, picking.
 The robins and mockingbirds were irate!
They scolded and bounced from branch to branch,
doing their very best to scare me away.
 BUT, I was undeterred.
The winged folks had already had more than their share
and would still have all those cherries
hanging tantalizingly out of my reach...
darn it!
But I managed to gather a nice little harvest.
Not really enough for pie,
or bothering to dry -
certainly not enough for jam....
or any of the other things adults do with a harvest....

So I ate them all. 
On the spot!
Just like a happy kid.

YUM!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What Do You Do with these Roosters? Or Extra Chickens? Or Old Poultry?

I see on the Facebook pages that the honeymoon is coming to and end for a lot of new chicken owners.

Discoveries are being made.

  • Straight-Run means you are almost guaranteed to get roosters in the mix. Even all roosters.  Straight-Run chicks are cheaper because there is no guarantee on sex.  If you want all hens, you have to pay the extra bit of change - and, even then, no guarantees.  It's hard to sex day old chicks. 


  • Hatching eggs are Straight-Run with a hey-nonny. You are never going to know what you're getting. No lie. I've had hens hatch seven roosters out of eight eggs.


  • Not all varieties of chickens are the same size.  Huge Buff Orpingtons are not going to fit well into that cutesy, li'l chicken coop or chicken tractor you spend hours designing and building.  Some of those adorable chicks are turning into feathered rhinos.  They just don't fit with the others.

  • Not all varieties of chickens are the same temperament.  Some are sweethearts and some are just plain bullies.  Although it's pretty much a given that your established chickens will loathe and hate any newcomers. Blending birds of different ages is very difficult - the one exception being those that are hatched on site and that are under the care of a Mama hen.  All my mamas, banties being the Outstanding Mothers of All Time among chickens, have kicked ass on anyone who threatened their chicks in any way - and, after due time in the flock with Mama on guard, these young'uns tend to be accepted.  Not that they won't be bullied by everyone else ... they will.



So you head off to the local chicken swap to see if new homes can be found. I've rehomed hens and roosters to new homes where they were sure to be treasured. I've rehomed hens and roosters to new homes where it was pretty clear that they were going to be dinner. 

In times when chickens were as common as backyard gardens, a lot of today's concerns just weren't the problems that they are now.  For starters, roosters were an expected part of the backyard flock.  What about extra roos?  Well, kids, they were Sunday dinner.  In a typical farmyard and kitchen, young roosters were culled and eaten as soon as they were full grown, or close to it.  Same with old hens that no longer laideggs regularly, any chooks that got injured or caused barnyard stress.  It was a full cycle.  
Farm wives maintained their flocks, often relying on the foraging and garden scraps to keep the flock fed, and used the "egg money" from selling extra eggs for the little niceties that they otherwise couldn't afford - sewing notions,  and such (perhaps giving rise to the notion of "pin money").

At the rate this is going, there's going to be a huge need for a local rooster-and-unwanted-chicken refuge, unless folks want to get together and arrange either a home butchering operation or an occasional group-processing order at the meat processing plant in Suffolk.  If you are buying chickens at the supermarket, then I strongly suggest that you consider processing and eating your own unwanted or unneeded poultry.
For those who tell me that they just couldn't possibly butcher their chickens - 
but eat chicken purchased from supermarkets - 
this is what a "free range, cage free" factory chicken house looks like inside. 
You tell me which is more heartless?


And,to answer the question, no, I don't eat my chickens.  I have in the past, just as I've eaten supermarket chicken for years, but I no longer eat them or any other meat if I can help it.  Of my five hens, only the two youngest are laying regularly.  We still have plenty of eggs.

Because my flock free ranges the farm, each year we lose a few to "natural causes" (dogs, hawks, possums, you name it). Usually it's the slower, older hens that can't move as fast to escape, but not always. Actually, usually it's my very favorite hen. That makes me so frustrated.

 Overall, I'm fine with knowing the old girls, now long-time friends of mine, will be taking up space in my life and poultry budget for a few more years.  

But if you are a small space, urban chicken farmer - especially in a neighborhood where roosters are not allowed, choices sometimes have to be made. 

And you should not beat yourself up about it.

But, bear in mind that it's always worth checking in at your local Chicken Swap to see if you can't find a new home with another farm.  www.petchickensofvirginia.org keeps an event calendar of state-wide Chicken Swaps (which include many things besides chickens).  You may find a home for the poultry you can't keep - and come home with some other surprises!

Japanese Maples Lighting Up The Spring!

The Japanese Maples  loved this cool, damp spring.
Each one kept the delicate spring colors
of the new growth all month - 
and it's been glorious!

 We don't know the names of most of our maples -
These have all been "gifts" from fellow plant vendors
who had them left over at the end of plant sales,
their tags gone - "not suitable for sale"
 This small maple tree looks like it has huge red flowers - 
the bright red two-winged samaras
the seed carriers
are so very dramatic.
Later it will just be green, but for today -
glorious!
 We love this Japanese Maple for its stunning  fall color,
but this delicate shading of spring growth
is lyrical in the sunlight.

 This poor maple burns out by August - 
the variegation is so intense, with so much white,
that it can't take the hot coastal sun.
The pink is fabulous, though -
This one I do know the variety of.
It came with a tag that says "Flamingo".
 Now it makes up part of my shade garden.
A shade garden in the middle of a field.
My pride and joy.


Bloodgood is the only one of the Japanese Maple gang
in this space
that keeps this burgundy color right on through the summer.
It's a real in-your-face color but I have to admit,
this time of year,
I really prefer the delicate bronze-pink foliage of the
"plain old green maple" girls.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Oliver

Rest in Peace, Beloved Oliver

The House Dog’s Grave
 - Robinson Jeffers
"I’ve changed my ways a little; I cannot now
Run with you in the evenings along the shore,
Except in a kind of dream; and you, if you dream a moment,
You see me there.
So leave awhile the paw-marks on the front door
Where I used to scratch to go out or in,
And you’d soon open; leave on the kitchen floor
The marks of my drinking-pan.
I cannot lie by your fire as I used to do
On the warm stone,
Nor at the foot of your bed; no, all the nights through
I lie alone.
But your kind thought has laid me less than six feet
Outside your window where firelight so often plays,
And where you sit to read- and I fear often grieving for me-
Every night your lamplight lies on my place.
You, man and woman, live so long, it is hard
To think of you ever dying.
A little dog would get tired, living so long.
I hope that when you are lying
Under the ground like me your lives will appear
As good and joyful as mine.
No, dears, that’s too much hope: you are not so well cared for
As I have been.
And never have known the passionate undivided
Fidelities that I knew.
Your minds are perhaps too active, too many-sided….
But to me you were true.
You were never masters, but friends. I was your friend.
I loved you well, and was loved. Deep love endures
To the end and far past the end. If this is my end,
I am not lonely. I am not afraid. I am still yours."

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Spring!


Says it all, doesn't it?
Sybil

<< with thanks to Mutts comics - Patrick McDonnell is an artist/philosopher/animal rescue supporter and someone whose work is always a day brightener>>>>

Grafted Tomatoes??? Yep. Grafted Tomatoes.

Every year I check the gardening catalogs for some new plant invention
that I haven't ever tried before.
This has led to some very interesting gardening "experiences".

This year, while perusing the Territorial Seed catalog, I discovered
Grafted Tomatoes.
Yes!  This is true!
They had actually grafted named tomato varieties
(hybrid and heirloom)  onto "SuperNatural" rootstock.

So.....here they are upon arrival.  All three.

Hardly looks like (ahem) $41 worth of tomatoes
(including shipping), does it?


But wait!  Listen to a bit from the Territorial Seed catalog:
SuperNatural rootstock's "formidable resistance 
to a broad range of soil-borne diseases and nematodes 
keeps plants healthy and productive all season.
It also increases the plants' tolerance to both cold and heat
for an extended harvest..... the only readily available rootstock
that is untreated and suitable for certified organic production
and always non-genetically modified.
V, CR, FOR, F1, N TMV."

If that last line looks like something off an eye test chart,
I'll tell you that it's a pretty formidable array of local plant diseases.
The ones that get my tomatoes almost every season.

So here they are:
(look carefully and you'll see the graft line on each)


Indigo Rose, described as a distinct BLUE-colored tomato
(Okay, I'll admit, I'd have bought it just for THAT
wouldn't you?)
 "the first high-anthocyanin tomato commercially available".



Momotaro - ranked as an "unsurpassable" pink tomato.
I hear that it is deliciousness personified. 
(If a tomato can personify...)


 We love SunGold cherry tomatoes. Nothing is sweeter.
They are sweeter than our Triple Crown blackberries!
I love the way they look mixed with red cherry tomatoes.
So, look....
grafted together: SunGold AND Sweet Million.

Sweeeet!

This is going to be ssssoooooooo cool.

If I can keep the blasted mole/vole alliance from destroying them first.