In my garden, that is.

I’m growing pumpkins this year. I had absolutely no intention of doing so, but there they are.  And it just seems too silly to simply rip them out, especially considering they’ve taken over a place I hadn’t intended for anything else.

You guessed it, they’re growing out of the side of a compost bin, born of seeds from a pumpkin that was tossed into said bin.  A pumpkin that came from The Pumpkin Vine that Ate My Garden last year.   I have no idea if it’ll actually produce pumpkins, but the bees seem to like the bright yellow flowers, and bees are good.  So it stays.

In the other compost bin (because of course I have more than one!) I have a tomato plant out the side, and a spaghetti squash vine growing.  There are also tomato seedlings in the oddest places…

I may be onto something here.  Last year, The Pumpkin Vine that Ate My Garden was planted because there was a little leak in the drip irrigation line.   And in a brilliant (or not) flash, I thought that if I planted something viney, it would a) keep that water from being wasted, and b) prevent weeds from using that water, and (this is the important part) keep them from taking over the garden. Well, the weeds got a toehold before the pumpkin vines took off, and before I knew it, I couldn’t get anywhere in the garden because of the pumpkin vine.  (And why didn’t I just rip out that pumpkin vine? Because it was the only damn thing out there that was actually producing anything.)  And then the aphids came…and all was lost.

But leaving out the aphids, maybe the trick here is to garden unintentionally, to plant things with a “just to be living mulch” mentality, rather than a “this is something I want to eat” mentality.  Hmmm…it’s worth a shot, right?

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If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that my chickens are the most contrary chickens on Earth.   After weeks of trying to coax them out of their coop and into their run, they’ve gotten into the habit of going in, coming out, going in, etc, thus demonstrating the old cliche about chickens coming home to roost in a literal sense.   All was well in my little corner of the world, until there came a fine evening at the end of a fine day, and the weather being so very fine that the chickens absolutely refused to go home to roost.  Or they decided that since their run was officially part of their home, they were home to roost already.

Anyway.  They refused to go upstairs to bed, instead choosing to mob up in the corner of the run, fluff their feathers, and try to get some sleep.   And sleep they would, except for that crazy lady who:  banged on the side of the run with a broomstick, let the dogs out to bark at them (and then hastily dragged the dogs back into the house so they wouldn’t wake up the kids), and finally grabbed a spray bottle and let ‘er rip with it, until the chickens went up their ramp.

You’d think, however, that after just a couple squirts, a chicken would give it up and head inside.  Not my the Wyandottes, though.  They ran back and forth in front of the ramp for almost an entire bottle’s worth of squirts before getting a clue and heading upstairs.  It reminded me of that carnival game where you had to shoot a picture of a duck with a water gun as it moved back and forth, except the only prize was being able to sleep that night without having to worry about the chickens.  Just as well, since with three kids, we already have enough stuffed animals.

And now, the dogs actually get to show their usefulness.  I let them out earlier, they scare the chickens back into their coop, and everyone is happy.  (Except maybe for the chickens.  But there’s no pleasing them, anyway, contrarians that they are.)

So today’s lesson is that just when you think things will never go 100% your way, you’re probably right.  After a fairly craptastic day yesterday (which doesn’t even bear talking about.   I mean, there are people in the world who would love to have the problems I had yesterday because theirs are so much worse — but still.  Yesterday was annoying.) I was getting ready to throw my hands up and give in.

But today, things were looking up.  Five of the six hens actually deigned to come out of their coop and were looking pretty happy.   All in all, a good thing.  Until you ask what about the sixth hen?  Well, she seems to be injured.  We’re not totally sure what all is wrong, or how it happened.  But injured she is, and I don’t know what to do.   The upside, however, is that the husband actually got today off (I was braced for him working 14 hour days every day until he leaves for another month) and is doing his best to make the injured chicken comfortable.  I hope she’ll be okay.

So hopefully tomorrow, the chickens will come back down…all six of them.

Why does so much of my life involve wheedling?  “Please eat your dinner, girls” and “Please come out of your coop, girls” are things I say repeatedly day after day after day after day, albeit to two different groups of girls.   What’s funny is the first group, the young humans, absolutely jump at any chance to get out of their “coop” (this winter, since we actually had one, has all of us with a massive case of cabin fever) but refuse to eat.  The second group, the young hens, on the other hand, eat all before them, but won’t set a foot outside their coop.   (Except for yesterday, when one of the Golden Laced Wyandottes actually flew out the upper door of the coop and into the yard.   Good thing the husband was home to help with the capture, and the dogs were in the house.)

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could split the difference?

Since I can’t, today I tried setting a sliced apple on the trap door to the run.  The plan was that they would peck at the apple (a favorite of both groups of girls), and when it fell down, the chickens would go after them, and discover what a lovely run they had.  At first, the Newton maneuver seemed to be working.  The Delawares (the boldest of the lot) came down, and started on the apples.  After they fell, however, they simply went back up into their coop.

What’s a girl got to do to get chickens to eat some bugs?

Sometimes I can be unbearably smug.   I really hate it when I do that.  I mean, it’s one thing to feel a sense of accomplishment after a job well done, but quite another thing to be so smug that you want to punch yourself in the face.  At least I’m aware; right?  (The husband helps in this respect.  I know then whenever he calls me Mother Superior, I’ve gone too far.  All the same, that particular nickname makes me want to punch him in the face, too.)

Last night, I was in serious danger of being unbearably smug.  There was the sense of accomplishment for a job well done, the line between it and being unbearably smug, and me, walking the line like a tightrope.   All because of one night’s dinner.  After months of digging, planting, tending, etc, I’m starting to reap some benefits from my garden.  Last night’s dinner featured a green salad with homegrown lettuce and more of the freakin’ awesome homegrown broccoli.  (My “family room” — aka the dog/box/laundry room is in peril again.  I could grow a lot of broccoli if that room wasn’t there.)  Also featured on the menu was freshly made bread, baked by yours truly.

It wasn’t a completely homegrown meal, but it set off the chorus of Someday in my head.   Someday, I’ll have a greenhouse, and can have homegrown tomatoes all year.  That sort of thing.  And of course, it had me on that line between accomplished feeling and…unbearably smug.

Obviously, quick action was needed, before the dread Mother Superior was muttered by the husband and fists started flying, I thought back to last year’s garden.  It met a sad and premature end due to simultaneous attacks of whiteflies and aphids.  I know this, because I saw them.  And I did nothing to stop them, not even spraying with my oil/soap/water mixture, which is pretty darn eco-friendly.  And why didn’t I spray?  Because I also saw, among the evil armies of aphids, lady bug larvae.

Not all the aphids, mind you.  There were places I could’ve sprayed and not hurt the ladybugs.  But I didn’t, because I wanted to make sure there was plenty of food for the ladybugs.  Sounds fairly rational and not at all smug, doesn’t it?  Except it’s not.  Did I really think that I was going to kill that many aphids?  Really? 

Really?

On my limited time, with my limited little sprayer filled with water, oil, and soap, did I really think I posed any threat to the ladybug’s food supply?  That was I going to get under every leaf, up and down every stem?  Really? I still can’t believe I thought I was that effective.

So last year’s garden worked out great…for the aphids and whiteflies.  This year, I’ve upgraded my sprayer, and hopefully have downgraded my pride.   Aphids, your days are numbered.  Those of you that I can find, anyway.

This past fall I bought a food dehydrator.   It wasn’t the one I wanted (which was the Excalibur) but it was about a third of the price, and had the features I was looking for.  (Heats from the top down, variable temperature control.)  And when I say I bought it, I mean I bought it.  The husband was against the purchase, so it was paid for out of my earnings.

Why was the husband against it?  Because I had had a dehydrator before.  I owned it for several years and used it…maybe three times.  In my defense, the old one was the bottom of the range model, was kind of a PITA to use with all the tray rotating — due to its lousy fan and lack of temperature control.  It had been an impulse purchase at the Navy Exchange, and despite its lack of use, had been packed up and moved four times since we’d bought it wasted our money on it.  I’m not sure why I kept it so long, since I didn’t use it.  Possibly due to my “well, it’s better than nothing” mentality that sometimes makes me want to hold onto things instead of just letting go of them.  (Incidentally, we ended up giving the old, “better than nothing” dehydrator — along with a bunch of other stuff — to a woman whose house had burned to the ground, leaving her with…well, nothing.  I hope she gets better use out of it than I did.   But I digress.)

So last fall, I bought a dehydrator, inspired by a program I’d seen on food preservation.  Watching that program, I learned this amazing thing:  you can cook beans of various types (pintos for burritos, etc; red beans for red beans and rice; black eyed peas; and the like), then dehydrate them.  Stored in an air tight container, they’re shelf stable, and ready to be quickly rehydrated for an easy dinner on busy nights.  (Or nights when I just can’t be bothered to actually cook something.)  They’re also portable, and can be taken camping or hiking — if you’re into that sort of thing, that is.  Which I’m not.  Rehydrating is fast and easy, once you get through the trial and error of water to bean ratios, and find the proper cooking time (hint: pasta al dente is good.  Pinto beans al dente…not so much.)

I’ve been a fan of what’s generally called “Freezer Cooking” for years.  But lately, I’ve decided to try to move away from using the deep freeze in favor of less electricity dependent food storage.  I tried using my pressure canner to can beans, and I was pretty sure I had done it right.  When it comes to botulism, however, “pretty sure” doesn’t quite cut it.  If you wanted to compare all the different methods of preserving food to various sporting events, canning meats and veggies would be something akin to car races.  The penalty for messing up is pretty harsh… so until I get a little more confident, the dehydrator it is.

But am I really saving any energy?  The dehydrator, after all, doesn’t run on pixie dust.  It plugs in just like the freezer does.  And it runs and runs and runs (eight to ten hours, depending on the size of what’s drying), which draws power.  Here’s the thing, though.  Of all the options available (cook and freeze, cook and eat, cook and dehydrate, cook and can), I’m kind of loving dehydrating because while the basic energy use is the same, with the dehydrator, I get to direct the energy best.  So this winter, it helped heat the house (and in the case of good smelling things, made the house smell cozy and nice.  In the case of broccoli…well, that wasn’t pleasant, and I won’t be doing that again.)  and this summer, not having boiling pots on for hours will help keep the house cooler.

So for the husband who objected to the dehydrator:  pbbbt!!!

So after all the complaining (from the chicks, that is) about their close quarters, you’d think they would’ve been chomping at the bit to get out and into their plush new digs. That’s what I thought, at least. The reality, however, is that when their “brooder” was put into the living area of the chicken tractor, its door left open, five of the chicks cowered at the back, refusing to come out.

The sixth, one of my door chargers, proceeded to get stuck halfway down the ramp into the tractor portion, cheeping pathetically until I got her back into the living area. (I guess I have the treads too far apart for their comfort.  Which begs the question:  will this coop ever be done?) So with Door Charger 1 reinstalled in the coop, I closed the trap door for the time being (as in, until I can figure out how to add more treads without actually having access to the door because the chicks are in there and if I open up the roof while they’re in there they might fly out and then a dog could get them and aaaaggghh.   No, the coop will never be done.)

What happened to the other three door chargers, though?   I mean, I understand there’s a reason that “chicken” is synonymous with “fearful”, but c’mon already!  Don’t they realize their great great great etc grandmother was a dinosaur?   Gotta love my agoraphobic rex chickens.

Well, the coop is done. Or mostly, at least. There are a few small details: a hasp and a handle to be attached, a coat of paint to be slapped on. It’s done enough, however, to be moved off the front porch, across the front yard*, around the side of the house, and into the backyard. Easy peasy? Right? Yeah, right.

But wait! Did you say the coop is on the front porch? Yes, I said that. We don’t have a garage, and the weekend that the great coop project began, it was raining.  So our covered front porch was the logical choice of building location.  And had the coop been finished before the husband left, all would’ve been well.   Or would it have been?

It would have, until the husband tried to wheel the chicken coop (actually a chicken tractor, since it’s on wheels and designed to be moved) through the gate into the side yard.  It wouldn’t have fit.  How do I know this?

Because yesterday, a friend of mine came over and watched my rugrats while I enclosed the run (which really should’ve been done before the coop portion was built atop it) and then between the two of us, we managed to get the fifty gazillion pound coop/tractor down the three stairs and onto the walkway.  She went back into the kids, and I spent a few minutes trying (and slowly succeeding) at moving the coop through the overgrown grass, which is so overgrown that it transformed my moveable coop into a non-movable coop.   Not exactly a walk in the park, unless you consider body checking a chicken coop through grass a walk in the park.

The kids calmed down, my lovely friend helped me get the coop through the grass and around to the gate…where we discovered the awful truth:  the coop is several inches wider than the gate.  Even taking the gate off its hinges would’ve left us a couple inches too short on clearance.  Discouraged, sore, and above all, tired, we left the coop in the sideyard for the night.  She gathered up her kids and went home, and we went about the business of finishing the day.

I got my kids fed, washed, and ready for bed, all the while with the phrase “I’m going to have to push it down the street, around the corner, into the alley, and into the back gate” beating it’s awful rhythm into my head. . . go ahead and laugh.  It’s a pretty funny picture, I admit.  Just wasn’t looking forward to that.

The next morning, though, inspiration struck!  And now the coop is in the backyard, waiting for its chickens.  How did I do that?

No scene ala The Monkeys, no chicken coops taking to the roads.  I ripped the roof off of it, turned the bottom sideways, and dragged it through the gate.  I had to do some more work on it, (ie, I pretty much had to rebuild the roof) but over the course of building this benighted coop, I’ve gotten really good at ripping things apart and putting them back together.

So it’s been an interesting couple of weeks, to say the least.  And while I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on how to build chicken coops now, I would say that I’m definitely an expert in how not to build a chicken coop.  That’s got to count for something; right?

*aka the wildland meadow. It’s been raining a lot, the husband has been gone so hasn’t mowed it lately, and the grass/clover mix is between six and nine inches tall.

Homegrown broccoli is quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I picked some earlier today and had it for supper. I just wish I had realized I hadn’t done something wrong, and picked some earlier.

Now I’m fighting the urge to run out back and pull everything else up, and replace it with more broccoli. I’m also resisting the urge to rip off the back part of the house, to make room for more garden and more broccoli.

Seriously, it was that good.

Picked, that is. So far this year I’ve picked 15 oz of spinach, and 2 oz of broccoli florets.

I probably (read: definitely) could’ve had more broccoli (and will, since I have plants growing) but…I’ve never grown broccoli before, and thought I had done it wrong because the plants didn’t make big huge heads like you see at the store. And I did have a few plants button…

Anyway, the other night I was watching Homegrown Revolution, the short film about the Dervaes family, and I saw one of them basically harvesting florets off the broccoli plants, and a light bulb went off over my head. Sometimes I’m kind of slow, I guess. But there are worse ways to be, so I’m okay with that.

The goal for this year, though, is 500 lbs of produce. I seriously doubt I’ll make it, but I’m going to give it a try. I originally had planned the goal to be growing and preserving a year’s worth of one thing (at least) but then realized that I could plant one okra plant, for example, harvest one pod, and call that good. (We don’t like okra much around here.) So the husband suggested 500 lbs for a goal and much to his surprise, I embraced it.

Hey, if you’re going to dream, dream big; right? So here I am, only 498 lbs, 15 oz to go. Here’s to a good year!

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