Summertime

Summer is not my favorite season by any stretch, yet in spite of unprecedented weeks of heat here in the Pacific Northwest, this summer has been filled with charm and simple luxuries.

The creek is at what neighbors say is a record low for this time of year, and I believe it. But it still offers burbling pools for swimming, and a multitude of wonders such as impromptu crawdad boils and a reprieve from the scorching afternoons.

The wild berries are bountiful, and my daughter and I spend much of each day picking– and she eating. The variety is astounding here. The common blackberries are just beginning to reach ripeness in greater quantity than could ever be picked, and the cooking and canning finally shall begin.

DSC03577

We’ve dug the first row of potatoes– 17 pounds– and the garlic and shallots, which were small due to late planting and infrequent watering. Fortunately they yielded a good handful of delicious scapes, or as I always knew them, whistles.

Our great friend made an impulse purchase of two Muscovy ducks and brought two for us in exchange for keeping them here. My husband was quick to day “I told you so” when I conceded that they’re great– adorable, easy-for-now to care for, and will eventually be a good meal that led a happy life in the grass and water. Long-term, we intend to dig a pond in the pasture area, partially for run-off management, and then raise more ducks.

Our rabbits were successfully bred, and delivered ten of the most adorable babies: tortoiseshell, black-and-white, and all-white rex-New Zealand crosses. I’m pleased and relieved that all have survived and thrived, whereas in the past these mothers have struggled.

We took in our male rabbit, who I believe is a black-and-brown rex, several months ago after losing our buck. I hoped to have colorful pelts for a variety of uses. However, my plan backfired: these bunnies are way too cute for food, my husband insists. Some will therefore be sold, some will be eaten, and we will be purchasing an additional New Zealand buck.

The garden is filling out, which feels slow but good. I’ll be prepping fall beds this coming week and planting brassicas, as well as more beans on the pea trellis after we harvest the stunted shoots for salad tonight. This incredibly hot summer has had no sympathy for our late plantings.

This is the first year in many that I’ve been filled with visceral euphoria in anticipation of fall. I suppose it’s because I’m back home. And here, I think we will enjoy the most sumptuous fall of any, and I can enjoy these sweltering summer days for their promise of eventual cool and falling leaves and rain.

Advertisements

The Rabbit & Chicken House

We currently have about twenty chickens including two roosters and two broody hens that cannot be deterred from setting. Since for the past several years we’ve had the unique circumstance of urban acreage, there have been no predators aside from the occasional raptor from which to protect them. They simply roam free and roost in the rafters of the barn.

The new property will expose them to numerous hungry hunters, so at least at night, they’ll need to be cooped. With numerous outbuildings in various states of disrepair, I intended to fix one up to house the chickens and rabbits in the style of Joel Salatin’s “Racken House.” My favorite building seemed well suited, if a bit large, so we set to work cleaning it out.

After a few hours and a dump run, we had the place ready to litter and roosts. There was only one problem: everyone liked the place too much to give it to the chickens. It’s an early twentieth century cabin with true two-by-four construction and attractive siding on all but the front. (We will salvage the siding from a fallen building on the property to reside the front.)

So I changed course and located a concrete-floored shed at the back of what we call the Workshop. It needs to have a window installed, but it is otherwise perfect. We’ll mount the rabbit cages on the wall and the chickens will run below, eating their dropped food and aerating the litter to prevent ammonia build-up. For litter we raked dried grass from the field around the garden into piles, which we used also for mulch.

We removed the heavy door and replaced it with wire gate and a small chicken entry at the bottom, which with any luck, will keep the goats at bay. Add a few roosts and a window, and I think we’ll have a perfect little bunny-bird abode.

Three Geese A-Laying

The season has arrived. The African and Chinese geese are all sharing a nest. I’m not sure if the two Chinese geese are a pair or both gals, so I don’t know if all of the eggs are fertile (or if there are only two geese a-laying). No one is yet setting on them while they accumulate. One of the eggs is especially monstrous– probably from the African. Her spouse stands guard at her side while she lays. After depositing her egg, each goose carefully covers the nest over with straw to disguise their trove.

Once someone begins to set, the eggs should hatch in 30 to 32 days, which means we’ll have even more critters to move to Oregon.  Meanwhile I’m policing the hens to try to prevent any broodiness, although they tend to simply appear with a parade of peeping chicks unannounced from hidden nests. One such egg stash, we recently discovered, was under the tractor mower in the barn, fortunately with no hen atop. We pulled the tractor out over the weekend for the first time in a long while, and found this odorous surprise:

Rain Means Puddles (And Happy Toddlers and Waddlers)

???????????????????????????????

In nearly four years, we’ve had few enough real rainy days that I can count them on my ten fingers. The drought has been aggressive and draining. But when it does rain here, the episodes are torrential. The clouds grow dark as they turn and flex. Then they open up abruptly and dump cascades onto the arid, tightlipped Earth.

California rain differs from Oregon rain. My hometown in coastal northern California accrues nearly as much annual rainfall as Eugene, Oregon, but in fits and spates relatively rare to the Pacific Northwest. The misty drizzle of so many days in Oregon is foreign to its southern neighbor. It’s that perpetual cooling dampness that draws the verdant abundance of the land, feeds the fantastic fungi, and soothes my soul. It also makes spring sunshine a worthy celebration.

Trouble with Free-Range Chickens (A Comedy of Errors)

When we moved to our home in California, it was our first place with land. I had grown up with chickens and even showed bantam Brahmas and Buff Orpingtons in 4-H, so a nice little laying flock was our first purchase. We chose Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and Sex Links– all fairly standard selections.

We were situated with the unusual “luxury” of a farm in the midst of a city that had grown up around it. All drawbacks aside, this meant the only predators are dogs and hawks, and neither are a threat at night when the birds are roosting. Therefore, the chickens sleep in the rafters of the barn and browse the entire three acres throughout the day.

Once the hens were laying, a few months later, we thought it would be swell to add a rooster, mainly for the novelty as well as flock management. We had chatted lightly about harvesting chickens for meat down the road but didn’t dedicate much serious discussion to the plans.

So with total disregard for practicality, this is the rooster we got:

A white-crested black Polish. We named him Kowolski.

Kowolski was a charming fellow who did his jobs well. And before we knew it, we had cute little fluff balls running around. Their puffy feather hats were amusing. We kept the mother hens and chicks confined until they were larger, then they joined the roaming flock.

This next generation was wilder than the first, since they were never handled, and with an odd mix of  features. They laid consistently, though the eggs were small.

The trouble was, these hens brooded on rogue nests in the tall grass in what seemed like all seasons. One clutch that appeared unannounced was 17 motley chicks strong!

And even after we got a second rooster, a rescued Old English Game cock once used for fighting, and still after Kowolski’s untimely demise, several generations later the birds continue to boast tufts of varying magnitude.

Now, with a flock growing to epic proportions, and with our increasing interest in self-sufficiency, we began harvesting the roosters, which seemed to comprise a disproportionate number of each batch of offspring. Mixed breeds that they were, and ornamental lineage at that,  the birds were gangly, the feathers dense and difficult to pluck, and the meat sparse and tough.

The only way to capture them– and I consider myself a more-than-competant chicken-catcher– was the go into the barn at night and climb onto tractors and fences to try to select them from among the hens in the dark.

Chickens are practically comatose at night, hence the reason foxes and the like can pluck bird after bird from their coop without disturbing the lot. Yet after only one attempt at this method, the roosters already extremely wary of me for the numerous attempts to snare them in daylight, began sleeping on edge and would fly squawking into the night the moment I appeared within reach.

It took me months– many, many months– to catch the populous group of roosters as it continued to expand.

But finally, there is one. And as the weather warms and the hens grow inclined to find a nice place in the grass to hide a pile of eggs, there will have to be none.

When the chickens are moved to the new property, the myriad predators will require that they be cooped. We’ll keep these hens for laying, mismatched as they are, and start a second flock from scratch (no pun intended) for meat. And they’ll all be the same breed. Lesson painfully learned.

Double Yolks and Wind Eggs

Among these four chicken eggs are three yolks. Can you guess how many each contains?

Double-yolk eggs are said to occur once in about 1,000 eggs laid. I’ve found many of these elongated monstrosities over many years of collecting eggs, and there remains a certain excitement to discovering one, from spotting the enormous shell to making bets on its contents to cracking it open and winning double gold.

Consumers of store-bought eggs miss out on this pleasure, because in the United States commercial eggs are sorted by weight and large anomalies discarded. Even normal-sized eggs with two yolks, which do occur, are culled after “candling,” a process of shining a light though the egg to examine its yolk and look for any undesirable matter. One producer in Pennsylvania is cashing in on two-yolk-inclined chickens, selling them by the dozen.

These were our first-ever wind eggs, though, laid two days in a row undoubtedly by the same pullet. Wind eggs are yolkless oddities resulting from a reproductive glitch, as are the double-yolkers. They’re also called cock eggs, dwarf eggs, and least charmingly, fart eggs.

Both extra-large and extra-small have histories of lore surrounding them, understandably. Unlike other errors of egg formation, wind eggs and double-yolks feel delightfully lucky.