Thursday, September 21, 2017

The End of Summer at Chickadee Gardens

It's been a very hot, dry summer at Chickadee Gardens. As it seems that these days we have two seasons rather than four - that is to say a wet season and a dry season, I realize it behooves me to document the end of summer since the rains have officially returned. I was able to catch literally the last dry days this past week, some infused with wildfire smoke. 

Please know that I welcome the rain with open arms as we have gone nearly four months with no precipitation. I am, however, fearful of a repeat of last autumn, winter and spring and our record rainfall. Time will tell, but for now I savor every last drop of summer.

A view of the labyrinth garden from within its circle. Beyond is the vegetable garden and orchard.

 The area I call the meadow has filled in considerably. This is full of grasses, asters, alliums, verbenas and other easy seeding perennials. I plan on doing a little adjusting this fall to make it easier to see beyond some areas, but generally speaking it will be on the free and easy side. More than anything, it's for the pollinators.

 Another view of the labyrinth garden with Teucrium chamaedrys or germander on the left, Solidago 'Fireworks' is the tall plant in the background.

 A sweet visitor feasting on a sunflower's seeds, a black-throated gray warbler. Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' in the background.

 Detail of Solidago 'Fireworks', just beginning to bloom, so wonderful for late-season pollination.

 My river of Sedum 'Matrona' - my favorite upright sedum.

 Bloom of Macleaya cordata or plume poppy.

 Late summer and early autumn is the time for grasses and asters to shine. Here Panicum 'Northwind' simply dazzles. Asters to the left and Coreopsis rosea in the foreground.

 The same path looking the opposite direction. Pennisetum 'Karly Rose' on the left.

Panicum virgatum 'Cloud 9' on the left, behind the sunflower is, I believe, Miscanthus 'Malepartus'.

 Detail of Panicum virgatum  'Cloud 9'.

 The reverse of the sunflower from two photos ago. Here, our farm name, Blue Jay Lane Farm, earns its name. The sunflowers really are planted by and for the birds.

 I couldn't resist another photo of Panicum virgatum 'Cloud 9' partly because of the Dorycnium hirsutum or hairy canary clover just below the Callistemon viridiflorus.

 Detail of Dorycnium hirsutum or hairy canary clover.

Just on the other side of the canary clover is this bed with my favorite of Arctostaphylos, A. 'Saint Helena' glowing in the evening light. 

 A few more grasses, here Muhlenbergia rigens or deer grass stuns. These are amazing when the light catches them, and to think I have a whole row surrounding the fire pit. I knew they were supposed to be great but this is amazing and they're not even fully grown. Patience is paying off. Festuca rubra 'Patrick's Point' from Xera Plants edges this bed.

 Another shot.

Facilities Manager Update: A few weeks ago the hens would have this area scratched up and messy. I am pleased to report the hens love their new yard, and Miss Tamara rests more easily these days.

Asters are also going strong. Here, Aster ericoides 'First Snow' (Asters are now classified as Symphyotrichum, but I can't get into that) does its thing in a white area of the garden.

 More asters - no i.d. on these but they are more like a hedge.

 Another hedge of asters, these are quite likely a native aster, Aster subspicatus. I moved a few seedlings from the old garden and, well, they did this.

 Stipa tenuissima or Mexican feather grass with Festuca 'Beyond Blue' in the dry creek bed area.

 Impromptu late summer bouquet, tied onto the garden shed support. Allium seedheads and panicum flowers.

Late summer usually brings the goldfinches. Here, a few gorge themselves on sunflower seeds.

 Here they are at the water cooler, having a party.

 Calluna vulgaris 'Velvet Fascination' continues to impress.

A view of the fire pit and gravel garden beyond.

 I just love the way guara picks up the evening light.

 A new favorite sedum has white blooms - Sedum 'Stardust'. 

 The wildfire smoke can be detected in this photo of the labyrinth garden.

Parts of the veggie garden are winding down. The cauliflower served us well and is finished. The cabbage has been harvested and is becoming sauerkraut, and the beans continue to produce as do most other veggies.

A couple surprise melons I did not plant (intentionally). I believe these are watermelons mixed in the strawberry bed. Silly melons. 

The pumpkins are coming, the pumpkins are coming! Maybe the Great Pumpkin shall visit our little sincere pumpkin patch this year. Oh boy, I hope so!

 A little 'Winter Luxury' pie pumpkin.

 That corn! The tallest in front is Paraguayan chipa and tops out at over 10 feet. It's a flour corn to make the Paraguayan national dish, chipa. We'll have to bust out the Paraguayan cookbook. OK, we have to find one first, then bust it out. Blame Facilities Manager for having starry eyes about growing "interesting corn varieties."

Pa, that's some tall corn. FM says twice as tall as Ma!

Last but not least the evening light catching some of my favorite plants.

I am a little melancholy that summer is officially over, but I am also a person who loves autumn, especially if it's dry. We'll have to wait and see, but so far it's been a cool, wet week and the plants are happy for it. Sure, some of the taller grasses have flopped over in the rain, but all in all the rest of them are breathing a collective sigh of relief. We are also breathing better as we have been incredibly busy this past summer and we welcome the break from watering. Also the wildfire smoke which has been very oppressive has finally dissipated.

These moments between the seasons are the ones I think excite me the most, even if in a very subtle way. I guess it's more accurate to say they move me. I feel a sense of comfort knowing the new lettuce has been planted for a fall/winter crop, the pumpkins and squash are coming on and beets continue to be delicious. I love seeing the crazy amount of birds in the garden this time of year as well as an abundance of honey bees, bumble bees and many other native pollinators. It's an insect superhighway out there and I am privileged to be among them.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you so much for reading and commenting! We love hearing what other gardeners are up to and to read your input. Happy gardening, everyone and happy autumn!

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Farm Life: Gardening with Chickens

The Original Vision: My garden would be the bucolic picture of life on the farm. Every critter would live in perfect harmony with one another. The compost wouldn't smell, the chickens would fluff up and poop in unison in the designated spot like a well-choreographed hen ballet, and everyone would use the gravel paths I painstakingly created for their use. The compost bins would be loaded with fluffy black gold. I would be wearing cute little overalls with a gingham blouse and my hair would be perfectly coiffed while heading out to pick tomatoes with my picnic basket lined in red-and-white checked fabric. Life was going to be perfect. Well, it is pretty sweet, but, hold on, wait, please allow me to paint the more accurate picture of the reality of farm-life, especially the part about chickens.

Can you spot the girls? Common chicken warfare is to split up and hide behind small shrubberies.
 On the peaceable kingdom: Our cats want to eat all the neighborhood cats that wander into our piece of paradise. One black kitty in particular has a death wish as she comes over from the neighbor's house, hungry or ready to hunt birds. On the two or three occasions I let our kitties out unaware that Black Kitty was in our midst, they chased after her and proudly came back with clumps of black fur in their mouths. So much for peaceable kingdoms. The chickens chase the squirrels and, while I'm at it, I've seen them chase the doves. When we introduced the three pullets we call the Pellets (Bea, Cheddar and Cheeto) there was much strife in the chicken kingdom. No eggs, just pecking order business and the rather astonishing change of our black girl, Blanche, into - well, Bruce. She crows now every morning. Like a half-crow, but a crow all the same. She, (ahem) pardon me, um, mounts the other chickens to keep everyone in line. OK! Moving on.

Here, Cheddar and Cheeto talk in secret chicken language about their next target. I suspected they were in cahoots together. Now I know the truth.
 The compost bin, full of hay, kitchen scraps and you name it, is regularly attacked by the chickens and I'm sure night creatures. There are avocado pits 89 feet away from the bin as well as a 4' radius of compost goo that the chickens rearrange daily. Walking out the front door, you need to have glasses on to see well enough to dodge chicken bombs. Those gals poo anywhere they want, usually on man-made surfaces, not grass where it magically becomes fertilizer. Did I mention how horrid chicken poo smells? As far as staying in the designated lines, HA! Chickens (and moles and raccoons and skunks) go wherever they wish.

Can you see the dinosaur in them?
 As far as my overalls and gingham blouse, substitute for a sleeveless cutoff T-shirt with stained shorts and rubber sloggers with chicken pictures all over them with brown socks, once white, that have the ability to stand on their own. My hair is in a wad on top of my head so that the cheap Fred Meyer cowboy hat I bought for sun protection will stay on my unusually small head. Never mind the sweat mixed with sticky sunblock and mystery dirt under the fingernails, despite going through a pair of gloves a week. Really. I'm a vision of beauty, let me tell you. Probably with chicken bombs under my rubber shoes.

Facility Manager here: Actually, TP looks wonderful in her dirty, stained clothes and silly hat. I love it, except when she enters the kitchen! Yikes!

 Here, Frida thinks she wants to eat green olives fresh from the tree (from last year). They would each take one out, look up at me as if to say "what the hell is this?", spit it out and throw it on the ground, go for another, look up at me as if to say "what the hell is this?", spit it out and throw it on the ground, go for another. Chicken logic. All of this is just fine, though - it's still paradise. That is until this happened:

The plant formerly known as Cornus canadensis, bunchberry. Currently known as compost.
Deal breaker. Don't mess with the plants. This is the reality of "free-range chickens." Chickens scratch the *f*%%#@@! out of, well, basically whatever they want. It works like this: I plant a treasured plant with starry-eyed dreams of its full glory in a few years. I water said plant carefully and often in this horrible, hot, drought-like weather -- Facilities Manager has a full-time watering job around here. Bugs (and moles - that's another post all together) go where the water is, chickens go where the bugs are. Those little fluffy butts don't have a care in the world. La la la, the choreographed hen ballet plays out as plants are pulled out of the well-tended buggy wet soil, dry out, die sorry little lives at the hands of prehistoric monsters. Tamara MAD!

When reading up on keeping chickens, I read that they do this but you can put little fences around your treasured plants and that will deter them. I have about 4,789 "treasured plants" - little fences my ass. I read that they would destroy gardens and I denied it. No no, not in my garden. This will be the one exception in the whole world where the magic chickens will read my mind and do exactly as I wish, for I am the chicken whisperer (head hung low in shame and disgrace...lesson learned).

This is the head dinosaur, Frida. Her cohort, Blanche (Bruce), innocently eats watermelon in the background.

FM: It is not really Bruce. We call her Tranny Blanche! We support diversity!

They travel in packs and go everywhere, including the neighbor's home. Not good. It's like a gang.

All this while no one, I mean no one was laying eggs this summer. OK, why do we have chickens?

Nearly every day I raked the gravel paths only to find this every morning. Entire garden beds have been destroyed by these creatures.

Frida and Blanche teach the younguns how it's done.

Miss Cheddar, looking all innocent-like. I'm on to you, Missy.

Destruction in action. 

Not to mention the hundreds of these - dust bowls. Places in the garden look like the moon with all these craters. Difficult to photograph, but believe me, they are there and several inches deep. They bathe in these and make new ones every day. You would think the same bone-dry dust bowl would be enough, but no . . . one must have fresh dirt to be properly preened.

Enter my hero, Facilities Manager, who enclosed the hens in a . . .  wait for it . . . in a "henitentary." Small, harsh and penal. Oh yeah, music to my ears. After building a temporary addition to their pen, he bought 500 linear feet of fencing, attaching it to the existing coop and pen and designated the upper northeast corner of the property as the chicken badlands. Not much more than weeds and a few planted shrubs, it was going to be our native habitat area. I think it still can be, but with the addition of chickens. And moon craters. And chicken poo. On this decision, initially we went back and forth for a week or so, thinking it might magically get better. Let me share with you, it doesn't. Even with two acres to cruise around in, chickens find the plants you don't want them messing with. It's chicken law. Eventually Facilities Manager snapped, too, and we were in blissful unison on this decision to wrangle them onto their very own land.

 Don't feel too badly for the girls, they now have an 8,580 square foot area (instead of two acres) to make craters, pull out weeds, and poo wherever they wish to their hearts' content.

Tamara happy. Tamara not heading for a heart attack any longer. The compost bin stays as I left it, gradually turning to black gold now that it's in one stationary pile. Craters are slowly being filled in, paths remain groomed, plants stay where I plant them. No more chicken bombs at the front door, little plants have a fighting chance and, oh, by the way, we're getting four eggs a day from five hens and one cross-gender hen who thinks she's a rooster. Oh yeah, we've got this chicken thing dialed in.

Life is back to normal and our whackadoodle farm is, well, paradise after all.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and happy gardening!