Chickens make great compost

Yesterday morning, we had two neighbors visit and help with the grass mowing since the belt for the riding mower still hasn’t come in.

Meet Jumper Jr. and her sister “Bad” Penny. They belong to the neighbor to the west and find our spring grass greener than their own every year. The neighbor is a female farmer and she spends too much of her time in the spring trying to outsmart these two with new strands of barbed wire, new posts, new fencing, but Jumper Jr. like her Mom would, will go over the fence. When she makes a hole, she sometimes bring along other visitors.

After preparing and eating lunch, I donned sunscreen, a wide brimmed hat securely tied down, and a long sleeved shirt, gathered some weeding tools and headed out to the garden. It was very, very windy, I think it tried to rip my head off a few times when it grabbed at the hat.

Three of the rebuilt boxes had not been weeded when the boxes were set, so my project was to get the weeds out from inside the boxes and from the paths between boxes. Also it was time to remove the hay from the asparagus bed and in doing so, I broke off the very first spear, white from being covered and about 3 inches long. Not to waste fresh food, it was wiped clean and eaten right in the garden. I didn’t see any more new spears, but the hay is off and they will start emerging now. They are such a delight each spring.

The boxes were cleared, the weeds piled in a tub to dump in the chicken run for them to dig through, eat the leaves, and make more compost. Because of the slope of their run, I try to keep a layer of spoiled hay on the ground, also when I clean the coop, the dirty straw or pine chips go in the run, and all kitchen scraps go to the chickens. They dig through all of that matter, adding chicken fertilizer to it and kicking a good amount of thoroughly broken down material through the fence at the down hill end of the run. This was raked and shoveled into the garden cart and wheeled around the garden. Each of the three boxes weeded today received an entire cart full of rich compost and a few fat earthworms that had taken up residence in it.

Those boxes will be easy to keep weeded now until time to plant beans, cucumbers, and the tomato and pepper starts. There is still a 4 X 8 foot bed that hasn’t been weeded and a new 4 X 4 foot box that needs a load of compost. The corn bed needs to be weeded and the hills dug, but it is still 4 or 5 weeks before it can be planted. See the mint on the center right. I think I am going to sacrifice a dark tarp and hold it down with heavy rocks on the edges, just leave it in place for a year. The sun will kill the mint off. While adding a bit of compost to the raspberry barrels, I spotted a Preying Mantis nest, YAY! It is inside the garden and will hatch in late April or May. Helping keep the pests at bay.

Today and tomorrow are rainy, so no garden work for a couple of days. Today’s high is 40 degrees (f) colder than it was three days ago. Ah, spring fickleness.

Yesterday before gardening, I finished the second skinny scarf for daughter’s wardrobe accent. I love knitting and weaving for family rather than taking the time and effort to spin yarn, knit or weave and then put it in my shop for less than it is worth in time and skill. These two days will be for spinning and knitting.

Oh, and that gorgeous handstitched (not machine stitched) quilt, I won on a $.50 ticket to a raffle about 15 years ago. It is a treasure.

The Garden

When granddaughter N lived here for a couple of years, she liked helping me in my garden (so did her big brother). When both of them were working, I had to make sure everyone was spread safely apart because garden tools were sometimes dangerously wielded as they hacked at weeds. They moved to a nearby town into a beautiful home with a yard, not a flat city yard, her neighborhood is noted for steep driveways and heavily sloped yards. Late last spring, N said she wanted a garden and her Mom didn’t know where to begin. One Saturday, I joined them in the morning and we set out to get a couple of raised bed boxes, lots of cardboard, garden box bagged soil, seedlings, and seeds. I had taken some low plastic erosion fence and step in poles. We dug away sod to level, laid the cardboard, assembled the boxes, filled them, and mulched around them. Put up the “fence” and planted her boxes. The boxes are close to the neighbor’s fence and they have a little garden on their side of the fence. This was a good and a bad thing, it meant fewer weeds along the fence line, but it is a 4 generation Asian family and grandmom whose garden it was, doesn’t speak English. She took it upon herself to water N’s garden every time she watered her own and N’s garden was saturated, which didn’t help. One day when I was staying with the kids, I tried to let grandmom know that we didn’t need her help watering. I don’t know if I succeeded.

About the time her beans sprouted, something dug up most of one box and something feasted on young pepper and tomato plants, so it wasn’t a great success, but she did end up harvesting a few tomatoes and peppers before the season was out. This didn’t deter her or dampen her desire to garden at all. About a week ago, I got a request to help plan this year’s garden. She is now 8 years old and quite a good reader, so this week I have contributed to her lessons with emails that she has to read aloud to her Mom and then write me back with questions and what she wants to plant. She decided she wanted to expand her garden to a third box and plant some early spring veggies this year. She and her Mom stripped the sod uphill from the first two boxes, built a new box, filled it, and mulched around it yesterday. Then she sent me her wish list.

I had already sent a list to daughter with instructions on a better, more secure fence arrangement and she ordered the supplies to be delivered today. Last night, I designed N’s 3 garden boxes to accommodate her plant wishes and put planting dates by each type of plant. I suggested to daughter that she buy seedlings on as many of the plants as she could, though not the cheapest option, it will guarantee better success and enough quick germinating plants were included that planting those seeds will allow N to have the full experience. I love that she wants her own garden. I hate that I can’t be with her to do it this year, but it has been fun helping her plan. It is contact I miss so much with this social isolation. Daughter has been terrific about sending pictures nearly every day of lessons and projects and it helps.

I wish my garden area was that neat. My celery experiment is growing nicely. I had two celery hearts that were getting soft, so I chopped the celery and froze it for cooking and stuck the ends in a shallow dish of water in a sunny window for about a week or 10 days. When the centers were showing signs of growth, I stuck the two in a clay pot of potting soil and put them in the sun. It will be interesting to see the end result.

The Asian Pear trees are in full bloom and there is no indication of frost in the next 10 days so I am hopeful for fruit. The apples are beginning to leaf out, though I have seen no blooms there.

Today is another sunny day, though cooler than the past two near record breaking days, but yesterday and today, the wind is howling. If I can secure my long hair so it doesn’t whip my face too bad, I will do some weeding in my garden today and maybe try to move some compost into the newly rebuilt boxes.

A few days ago, I posted about the feeding station for the birds. This morning when I entered the kitchen and looked out, it wasn’t there. Upon closer examination, the pole was pulled over, the feeders emptied and some minor damage. It doesn’t look like the doings of a bear, but probably a raccoon climbed the pole and was too heavy toppling it. All the sunflower seed and the new suet cake were gone, the suet cage bent and the lid ripped off. The pole was stood back up and anchored with rocks as the fork like prongs that stabilize it in the soil are bent, the feeders cleaned up, repaired, and refilled. I guess one of my new evening duties is going to be to go out and gather the feeders and bring them in to the garage for the night from now on.

Yesterday afternoon, I did go out to work on the fencing and realized that it is too much for me to do by myself, so instead, I finished rebuilding the garden boxes. Several years ago, I purchased cedar raised bed boxes from Home Depot. The box assembly as a grooved post and the boards fit in the grooves. That assembly did not hold up well. I have been taking them apart, and using outdoor deck screws, fastening the boards to the outside of the post, making the boxes slightly smaller but sturdier. One box needs leveling before I can finish filling them with compost to planting. If I ever succeed in getting rid of the mint that I foolishly planted in one several years ago, there will be a blank spot in the garden as I removed that box to make mint removal easier. The box failed to contain the mints and mint is in the aisles and beginning to appear in adjacent boxes. Lesson learned.

The area to the right of the lowest box and barrels will be a corn patch. I rarely plant corn unless it is popcorn in a three sisters garden, but decided to try some sweet corn this year.

The peas are coming up nicely, I am happy to see. Still no sign of spinach and the flat started in the house several days ago is also not germinating, it might be a poor batch of seed.

With the warmth comes the Carpenter bees. I had left the traps up overwinter and dumped the contents early this week. They are already filling up. We don’t usually see them until mid May. This is indeed a weird year for the climate.

As the day cooled and the sun was low, I took my walk down our rural road. Nothing new to see, the calves were not where I could see them from the road, but I did find a branch with many shelf fungi on it.

Once dark has fallen, I retire to my easy chair and knit or spin. My current project is a lacy skinny scarf out of hand spun wool and silk for my daughter. It was in my lap along with my needle case and I realized that they nicely coordinated.

I am determined to get at least one run of fence between the chicken pen and the garden stable today so that I can let the hens clean up that side of the garden area. The forecast is for it to get into the 80’s today in March.