April 17, 2010

Time for tea

Random personal fact: I'm on day 6 of "no sugar, no coffee, no alcohol" and it's an interesting experience. All of those things have been replaced with tea, so as you can imagine, it's always time for tea. Like now.

This cup is rooibos, which according to a two-minute web search cures or prevents every disease known to man. That's good, because the last cup was rooibos, too, and so was the one before it.

So during this 45th cup of tea of the day, I decided to take the the blogosphere to share a garden update with y'all. Here it is:

Everything is growing well! The end.

See? That's sort of boring to read. Though it's true - garlic is good. Chard is good (and yummy). Lettuce is coming along well. Kale, herbs, strawberries, yadda yadda yadda. But the asparagus is still hiding and all I see is unbroken dirt. I got a little impatient today and poked around in the dirt to look for growth, but I didn't find anything. I think one of the potatoes is throwing up a sprout, which rocks. And soon it will be time to do some more planting out.

Meanwhile, the chickens are little ladies. They're about the size and heft of a standard-issue football, but with more feathers. And tonight for the first time, they managed to put themselves to sleep in their little house! Most nights, Erik and I trekk outside lighting our way by headlamp and scoop up the comatose pullets and carry them to their little brooder box. But tonight they were big girls and figured it out. The 37-degree weather helped a bit, I think.

Here's a happy picture Erik took of me and the girls a few days ago.

Tea time over. Next cup in five minutes.

April 5, 2010

Live blogging the NCAA Championship

Well, sort of.

See, there are two parts to married life. The first is proximity. Example: after dinner, Erik and I are sitting on the couch together. The second is compromise. Example two: 'we' are watching basketball. But not just any game -- a 'very important' game, I am reminded.

So I'm going to live blog about what I'm thinking about, which is about how I just planted a crazy amount of asparagus, or what the seed company promises will someday be asparagus.

Because right now, it looks like a 3-day dead squid:

Ah, this just in: "Butler knocking down threes like crazy from way outside the line to go up one."

I have no idea what that means.

Back to asparagus.

So it arrived in a box today with the strawberries we ordered. Our plan was to plant 4 little squares of asparagus, and allow that to become the permanent asparagus stand. But as you can see, we had quite a few of these little roots (or 'crowns' as they're called).

Game time interruption: something just happened in slow motion involving an orange ball and about 4 armpits.

So instead of 4 squares, we cleared 6 and decided to plant the rest in the back garden.

Time out; Duke. 2:40 to go in the half.

We dug down about 6-8 inches and placed the crowns kinda far apart (but not as far as the direction sheet recommended), and fanned the roots out.

Interruption: apparently, there's a button on our remote control that freezes the image on the TV. Amazing.

Then we covered them up with dirt. Yay.

Going to the half - a one point game. Many cheerleaders.

I scooped up the rest of the crowns and assessed the back garden.

In my digging, I encountered what could only be buried treasure simply because it was too big for me to dig out myself. Intrigued, Erik came along with his shovel to help.

We figured out what it was: a concrete footer for an old fence. But it left an astounding hole, perfect for me to sit in.

(That's my impression of a spring bulb. A 'tulip,' to be exact.)

And the sun went down, so I worked fast. Here they are - planted.

Apparently, it's still halftime, so they keep showing spirited and informative segments about how fabulous these teams are. And still more slow motion and color commentary. Lots of mentioning about how "hard these guys work."

Strawberries have to wait until tomorrow, I'm afraid. I leave you with some pretty tidbits to give you a sense of how the garden grows.

Chard (overwintered):

Lettuces (various types):

Kale (Lacinato):


And my perennial favorite:

Game's tied. Wait, no, now 36-38. Wait, no - tied again.

I'm going to bed. Y'all are just going to have to watch the game yourselves.

April 3, 2010

We put the chickens outside!

This weekend was a big first for everyone in the CitylovesCountry household: friends, family, felines and fowl. On April 1, we kicked the chickies out of the house and showed them their new (outdoor) digs.

Here's a video of this momentous day!

They're a little over 4 weeks old, so for the first few nights we brought them back in at dusk. But tonight they're outside all night (with the heat lamp, of course) like big girls.

March 26, 2010

The second child

I am a first-born. My arrival on the scene, though not entirely planned, was a serious game-changer in the lives of all involved (not least, of mine). And for a number of years, give or take some rough patches along the way, I enjoyed the full focus of the sun, so to speak, on my little life.

And then my brother was born on April 11, 1985. Cue the thunder clouds.

Of course, in the end, the world is better place for his existence. And had I been the one making those decisions that no one actually makes, I would choose for him to be born. But there's something back-seat-y about the arrival of a sibling, something like the Spears-cum-Aguilera-cum-Simpson phenomenon: In with the sparkly new pop diva, out with yesterday's.

Parents don't apologize for this natural order of family events, and goodness knows the public is so unforgiving as to support an entire industry that mocks yesterday's pop divas (thank you, US Weekly). But I believe that I have pranced a few steps in this little dance recently, and I am going to hold myself to a different standard:

I'm sorry, my little potatoes.

And I'm sorry, all you pretty seedlings, so patiently lined up on the dining room table. I'm sorry, Arugula, for not trumpeting your first sprout yesterday. And I should be ashamed, Chard, for not shouting from the rooftops that Erik and I ate half of one dinner this week courtesy of your hard work throughout the winter.

I am a jerk: I got chickens and ignored my garden because it doesn't squawk and do uber-entertaining dumb things with ping-pong-balls.

So for the record, today I planted two varieties of heirloom potatoes (all-blue and French fingerling). Some of the spinach didn't take, so I replanted a bunch of that last week. Lettuces are poking out of the dirt like algae on a pond, and not much of anything is happening with my carrots (what is new...).

The container garden on the porch is swinging into gear, though I may have been a bit impulsive (who, me?) and planted several herbs too early, as there's a frost tonight. And some of my young plants may have bit the dust due to my aggressive "hardening off" schedule.

So yeah, we have chickens, and they're fascinating and have sucked all the oxygen out of this once-garden-centered blog, but soon the oxytocin is bound to wear off and I will seek my jollies from the green grow-y things again.

I love all my children the same. Honest.

I just wish my plants would grow as fast as the chicks.

And chirp.

March 17, 2010

Chicken Olympics

Inspiration hit me last night like a fat lady with a fly swatter. I was seized with a sense of purpose and genius. The moment had come to bring our 6 little chicks to the next level of existence.

It was time for . . . chicken tetherball.

Here's the video: (If you can't see it on facebook, go to www.citylovescountry.com to see it on my blog)

March 14, 2010

Hen House is Here!

There's a short version and a long version to this story.

Short: the henhouse arrived on Saturday morning and we put it in place. It is awesome.

Though satisfying in that we now have a henhouse, the story of its arrival and installation, which involves the murder of a rhododendron, sleep deprivation and brownies, deserves to be told in long form. So here I go with the long version:

"He's one mile away."

These are unwelcome words at 7 am on Saturday morning, no matter who the "he" in question is, but Erik repeated himself sufficiently to rouse me from bed.

Mark King was minutes from our house with the chicken coop perhaps a 'tad' earlier than we expected, but it wasn't going to install itself.

I stumbled around looking for warm clothes and caught a glimpse out of our third-floor window of a minivan pulling what looked like a small house down our sleepy neighborhood streets. I ran outside with my camera.

We guided it into our driveway, and then had a "now what?" moment once we realized that it weighs 500 pounds (true fact). Erik helped the guys unload it from the trailer, and I helped by taking pictures.

We rolled/heaved/shoved/hauled it closer to its intended home behind the shed and to the foundation that Erik and I had built for it last weekend:

(this foundation)

. . . but we encountered a problem. Four problems stood resolutely in the way, in fact: two 50-foot tall Douglas fir trees, a 6-foot tall chain-link fence, and one very unhappy and very doomed rhododendron bush.

Now I can rest easy knowing that all worked out in the end, but in that moment, I was anguished by the thought that we'd just paid for this gorgeous coop and had planned for its arrival for months only to realize that there was no way to get the damn thing behind the garage. So I took charge and decided to make things better . . .

. . . by running away to fetch brownies and coffee for the folks who, I was sure, would figure things out just fine without me.

Viola! I returned 10 minutes later with steaming coffee and a plate full of brownies to find three men scratching their heads, staring at a very stuck chicken coop.

Should we tip it on it's side? (uh, it weighs 500 pounds, so, no.)
Should we try taking it around the other side of the garage? (yeah, not going to happen either.)

The fence had to go. And the rhododendron had to die.

At this point I put down my camera (hence, no pictures) and actually helped, but eventually, we squeezed the hen house into a very tiny space.

It was like giving birth, but backwards. With a 500-pound chicken coop.

(I'll post a video clip of the final seconds of this battle soon. Can't now because my computer and I are arguing.)

So that's the long version of the story. Erik has more cuts and bruises from the whole ordeal than I do, but I have more pictures. And now our chickies have some serious real estate.

So back to my original question:

What color should we paint it?

March 13, 2010

Coop Dreams

It feels like Christmas Eve at the Citylovescountry household! Tomorrow morning, our chicken coop arrives! Mark King, the man who is building the coop for us, just e-mailed us these images of the finished structure. It's gorgeous:

The girls won't move in until next month, but tomorrow morning, we'll place it on the foundation that Erik and I built last weekend. Stay tuned!!

PS: what color should we paint it?
PPS: Mark is at King's Berry Farm 508-867-9222. He builds and delivers and is awesome.

March 10, 2010

Bird Brain

I just washed the poo off my fingers so I can write. (Bird poo, not mine.) I sit here, typing as quietly as I can as to not disturb the six sleeping babies inches from this keyboard. Despite my efforts, the quiet rat-tat-tapping of the keys draws 12 alert eyes, six at a time, from fuzzy, erect heads.

Um, scratch that. They all just fell asleep. Simultaneously.

That's just it: they're such - babies. 'Narcoleptic babies' may be redundant, because I think most babies sleep and wake at will, at times without direct obvious cause. I've declared it my favorite thing about these birds - that they run around with such an extreme sense of urgency and purpose - until they literally fall asleep. And I mean, fall over. Like they're dead.

It's like the rapture hit the brooder cage. One second, they're running about like mad, frantically searching for the thing they're - about - to - find - - - and the next instant their wings drop to floor and they melt sideways into the soft hay, or on top of the feed hopper, or beak-first into the water trough, or onto each other in one great soft mass. It's so terrifically funny, so inexplicable, but really - why not fall asleep whenever the urge strikes them? They're babies after all.

I really love them. All six of them, even the few I can't tell apart. One is smaller than the rest and has a subtle dark mark on her head tip. We call her 'Runt.' One is just huge, and seems to be developing about a day ahead of the rest, so we suspect she is exactly that - one day older. The other four are very similar, made all the more similar by the impression that the six of them share one tiny bird brain. We call it the 'hive mind,' because it's uncanny how they all want to do exactly the same thing at the same time. Sleep, drink, run around, peck something. It's like some announcement alerted them that water is on Sale Sale Sale! in aisle seven. And the sound that emanates from the cage is one big cloud of 'peep.' Somehow their chirps float around and defy acoustic law, and the effect is calming and dazzling.

Speaking of the pecking - it's constant and they're indiscriminate. They obey the following criteria:

1. Is there a value contrast (light to dark)?
2. Is it nearby?

That's all they care about. If it's a speck, or anything like a speck, or not even a speck but something that looks different than the stuff around it, it's peckable. That includes fingers, sleeves, pieces of hay, dried pieces of poo stuck on a fellow bird, parts of the brooder wire, their own feet - and on and on.

As for their temperament, I now understand two idioms in a way I never have before: 'bird brain,' and acting 'chicken.' I'll take the latter one first:

Being chicken. Chicken shit. Chicken-livered. You know; scared. It's funny, though; they're not timid. The opposite is true - they're intensely curious creatures. But they have hair-trigger orienting responses to absolutely everything. Rustling paper, a slight breeze, the squeak of a chair, a voice, even the clicking of keys on a keyboard. Everything is cause for instant alarm, but unless it's an immediate threat, they calm down as quickly as they get fired up. These birds can go from full panic to asleep in 5 seconds. I've seen it repeatedly.

That brings me to 'bird-brained.' Any creature that can freak out and fall asleep in the space of a few breaths must not think over-much about any one thing. They're not burdened with the concept of cause and effect or even sequential events. It's always now for them - like really now - all the time. Which is why it's so captivating to watch them for hours on end, which is exactly what Erik and I have been doing for the past week.

The brooder sits atop what used to be the dining room table, and has now turned into the bird and veggie nursery. Two chairs are drawn to the edge of the table, inches from the brooder, so that we can easily do all sorts of things while watching the girls. Tooth brushing, shoelace tying, coffee drinking - all happen in immediate proximity to the brooder cage. But mostly we just sit there together, Erik and I, like awestruck sports radio announcers, calling the play-by-play as we see it.

"Look- Runt's charging that other one! Did you see how high she just jumped?"

"Oh, that's definitely a poop squat. Good thing we change the litter to hay; it's a much better color now."

"Now that's one's falling asleep - can you believe it? She just fell over!"

The television in the other room talks to no one. Dirty dishes wait in the kitchen sink. Our cat wonders what happened to his once loving family.

Meanwhile, we just sit and watch, in wonder at it all.

Winning Caption

So I put out a call for captions for the girls' photoshoot. I got many variations on a theme (you'll see), but one submission rose above the rest.

The winning submission:

Thanks, Dad!

March 7, 2010

Outmaneuvering the Mold

Nightmare: I returned from a brief business trip to find my tender little seed starts being consumed by ghastly white mold!

Every single peat pot was afflicted. I panicked. And I did what every gardener/blogger does when she panics:

I googled.

So it turns out that gross white mold is what happens when

A. the starter soil is not sterile (sterile dirt? are you kidding me?);


B. when the humidity is too high;


C. the soil has become too compacted and does not 'breathe.'

I was guilty of A, B, and C, I admit. I honestly didn't know that one ought to, or even could, sterilize dirt, of all things. Lesson learned.

But instead of tossing the whole moldy mess into the compost, I decided to try some good old yin and yang. Too humid? Let's dry things out. Too moist? How 'bout a little sunshine? A little fungal? How about some chemical warfare? (organic, of course)

So I brought out one of my photography studio lights - the hottest, brightest sucker I own, and set up a tripod on the table above the seed starts.

Then, I placed a fan on low next to the trays as well, and let both the light and fan do their thing for about 24 hours. I also read somewhere that spraying the surface of the dirt with a very diluted solution of Hydrogen Peroxide would kill the mold, so I tried that, too.
All of this seemed to help, but the Eureka moment came when I was driving home from work one day stressing out about the mold situation. It hit me that the most powerful antimicrobial/anti-fungal agent I could think of was plain old raw garlic. So I blended the heck out of a clove of raw garlic and suspended it in water, and sprayed the heck out of the dirt with that.

Oh, and I also started watering from the bottom only.

Anyway, check this out:

Problem solved!

March 6, 2010

Hot Chicks for your viewing pleasure

Perhaps the cutest thing we've ever seen.

Erik and I held a photo shoot for the girls in our bathroom. They were perfect models, though clearly quite confused by the sudden change of address. We just finished photographing them and have not yet had time to cook up witty captions. This is where you come in. Please post your best, and I'll stick them here (with attribution, of course!).