Growing Days

  (Moore, South Carolina)
Growing gardens. Growing green. Growing locavores. Growing kids. Growing one day at a time.
[ Member listing ]

Life Lessons.



We lost Salt this weekend.

When we decided to add chickens to our menagerie, I knew the risks. We live in a subdivision, but we also live in a forest. A river borders our property. And we've always loved spying wildlife in our backyard. Deer. Possums. Squirrels.

Raccoons.

Although the girls free-range in a protected area in our backyard, we lock them away in the coop at night to keep them safe.

After all, these are Kiki's babies.

Who knew how sly a raccoon could be—or how vicious. Not only did it open two latches, causing the girls to scatter into the dark at 3 a.m.--it refused to give up Salt, hissing at me and standing its ground while I yelled at it and tried to make it run. It finally, finally left the area when I shook a tarp at it—but it didn't go far. I stood watch while Peter searched for the girls.

Thankfully, they hadn't flown to the forest, and within an hour—we had them all safely tucked away. They were nervous but unharmed.

Except poor Salt.

We were hopeful, though.

At 5:30 a.m., our wonderful vet met my girlie and me at the clinic while Peter stood guard in case the raccoon returned.

Dr. Hurlbert examined Salt, explained the extent of her injuries, and discussed what she might do, all while being as gentle as possible to my devastated girl. She explained that the damage to Salt's beak and her back wounds would require surgery, and even then—there was no guarantee. Best case scenario—we would need to tube feed her until her beak healed. She also worried that the bacteria from the raccoon could make Salt septic.

We asked her to try her best, and left Salt in her care.

I know what you're thinking.

It's a chicken, for goodness sake! Who spends $400 on surgery for a chicken?

We do.

Sadly, Salt couldn't be saved. Her injuries were too extensive, and even if she survived, Dr. Hurlbert told me that she would be in constant pain.

I had to tell Kiki.

My poor, sweet chicken mama.

When I picked up Salt from Dr. Hurlbert's office, they had this for Kiki:

 
I am so thankful for our wonderful vet (who, by the way, did not charge us $400.)

Peter is frantically trying to finish the already-in-progress chicken palace—a fortress-like building that no raccoon can infiltrate.

Until then, guess who is living in our basement after dark, under house arrest?

Yes. I know. It's not a pretty sight. (Or smell.)

Our weekend tragedy makes me question what I'm teaching our children.

Yes, Kristen loves animals, and that's one reason we have so many—but the chickens, while pets, are also supposed to teach a lesson about food sources and eating locally. Obviously, we never intended to eat her chickens—but what values am I instilling in her about local food? She eats her girls' eggs. But now, after I held poor, injured Salt and tried to comfort her, I have to admit...I'm meat-adverse. Logically, I know that's crazy—locally raised, humanely treated animals live good lives until the end.

But emotionally, I'm wrecked.

We've been eating a lot of veggies over the past few days.

More than anything, the raccoon taught me a very valuable lesson:

I could never be a farmer of anything but flowers.

My heart isn't tough enough.

R.I.P. Salt. You were a well-loved chicken. Thank you for your eggs.

XO ~

Julie, who needs grief counseling over a chicken.
 
 

Holiday Dress-Up.

For most people, December is a time to dress up, visit Santa, and take the kids to The Nutcracker.

The Nutcracker is always on our holiday agenda.

But this year, instead of dressing up to watch Sugar Plum Fairies, we decked out some chickens.


Which is not as easy as you might think.



Who knew that this cute little wine accessory is exactly chicken-sized? 


And who knew how much fun we'd have, dressing up chickens on a Sunday afternoon?


Do you dress your pets for the holidays? Kiki is lobbying for attire for the entire menagerie, but Peter is protecting the pups from her stylist dreams.

We'll see who prevails...

Ho Ho Ho!

XO ~

Julie

 
 

Making Magic.

Last week, I picked up a novel called The Magicians by Lev Grossman, thinking that this might be a fun read for our girlie. As I found it in the teen section, however, I decided to read it first. (Confession: I love kids books, teen books, ANY books.) 

Whew. Thank goodness I checked it out! Within the first two pages, the author introduced topics including virginity (or lack thereof), masturbation, as well as some... flavorful... language.

Now, I'm not a book burner. In fact, nothing incites me more than extremist groups who try to ban Harry Potter from school libraries. But, I do worry about age appropriateness, particularly when a 10-year-old reads books with teen protagonists.

Yep. Not passing along this book to my daughter just yet.

Don't get me wrong—it's a good read so far. It's just too mature for my Kiki. Although she loves books with magic and fantasy, this one has a bit too much harsh reality that I don't want her to experience ever too soon.

Still, there is something magical about pushing the limits. As a child, I definitely read books that were too advanced for my age. And boy, do I remember the trouble we got in for passing around my friend Diane's dog-eared copy of Forever. I wasn't typically a rule breaker, but on the few occasions that I did—it was, well, thrilling.

And empowering.

Maybe even a little magical.

Breaking the rules and pushing limits is still a bit of a rush—but now, my rebelliousness lives in the garden.

(Wow, writing that aged me about 20 years, didn't it?)

I admit—I am very behind on my gardening chores this fall. In fact, I just planted our fall vegetable garden—two weeks ago. Even by South Carolina, zone 7b standards...that's late. It's almost futile.

Unless you push the limits and disobey certain rules.

Recently, I've become enamored with the concept of season extension. What can I do, with our little piece of earth, to feed my family throughout the winter? How can I keep my fall garden producing? Can I fight the elements and extend the harvest, even if the “experts” disagree? Will my garlic crop fail if I don't get it planted by Halloween? Will my lettuce wither and melt if I plant it in late October instead of mid-September? Or can I thumb my nose at conventional gardening wisdom and produce a bumper crop of brassicas to harvest in January?

The key, I think, is to break some of the rules...but still adhere to some of the tried and true methods for season extension.

There's a really terrific program with which I'm lucky enough to be associated: Greenville Organic FoodsOrganization's (GOFO) Grow Healthy Kids. Through GOFO, schools in a local district can participate in growing an edible garden, complete with lessons that match the ever important state curriculum standards. The students receive transplants and seeds, as well as organic fertilizer and supplies, from GOFO. However, the key to the success of the gardens is the highly technical row covers GOFO provides, which allows the schools to protect their crops during cold periods, so that the kids can continue to harvest crops throughout the semester.

Plastic covering + bent metal masonry ladders = mini greenhouses.

The schools can participate in both the spring and fall, with the focus on cool weather crops, since those are the veggies most easily grown during the school year in Upstate South Carolina. The low tunnels are easy to install, and the supports can remain in place throughout the growing season. When a freeze watch is issued, the teacher or students can simply place the plastic over the supports, securing the covering to the ground with rocks or bricks to keep it in place. The plastic protects the plants from damaging frost and insulates the plants from severe temperatures. On average, the temperature in the low tunnel is approximately 10 degrees warmer than the outside air. In our zone, those 10 degrees can mean the difference between an ongoing harvest—and complete crop loss.

Because I'm the Master Gardener liaison for the Grow Healthy Kids program, I decided it's time to practice what I preach.

Typically, I plant our fall garden in the potager—my experiment in an attempt to design a formal, attractive kitchen garden. Honestly, our other gardens are—to put it nicely—wild. Unkempt. In serious need of hours of weeding and prettifying. The potager is my one place that I try to keep balanced and organized. 


It's also the perfect experiment for bending the rules with season extension.

Because the potager resides in the midst of our backyard, and because our two sweet pups are fabulous destroyers of all things green, my darling husband installed a fence around the potager when we designed it.

My supports are already in place!

With no need to buy additional hardware to make low tunnel supports, I headed to the big orange box store to purchase the plastic cover. I spent a little bit more for a thicker covering. Wow--who knew how many assorted plastic drop cloths are available? For $25, I found a 4 mm, 20' x 50' plastic sheet to serve as the insulation of the low tunnel.

Honestly, the trickiest part of installing my winter covering was unrolling the plastic—if you have a friend handy, recruit the extra pair of hands. Still, in less than 15 minutes, the potager was covered, the plastic was secured to the ground on each side of the fence with several rocks, and the cool weather crops were insulated against the nighttime low of 30 degrees. 


Now, that's cold for South Carolina!

While the plastic protects against the freezing temperatures, it can also damage the garden if the temperature spikes. Immediately following our few days of freezing nights, we're back in the 70s this week. 

The beauty of the low tunnel system is its simplicity—when it's warm, roll the cover off the frame and leave it on the ground (or, in my case, on one side of the fence...)


and when the temperature drops—pull the cover back over the frame.

Presto! Fresh veggies into the winter!

It's like magic! (I hope.)

So, because I planted the fall garden so recently, I haven't harvested anything from it yet. Soon, I hope we'll have lettuce (eight heirloom varieties), spinach, chard, broccoli, pac choi, red cabbage, and cauliflower. 


But, because of the “Produce Post” hosted by smallkitchengarden.net, I thought I'd share a few things we're enjoying this week from the garden:


The fraise des bois keep surprising me. Even after several frosts, they are still producing fruit—and more flowers! Love, love these tiny delicious garden gems.

Last night, along with the quiche made from the eggs provided by our backyard chickens and enhanced with chives from the garden...


...we ate one of the last tomatoes of the season...picked green and ripened in a paper bag with a banana. Ripening green tomatoes was a huge success—our freezer is now filled with bags of tomatoes to use this winter, all picked while still green.

Our nine varieties of garlic harvested this summer continue to be a staple ingredient in almost every dish we cook. How can anyone not like garlic—especially homegrown garlic?

Probably the single most prevalent item I'll be using from the garden this week will be herbs...lots and lots of sage, parsley, rosemary, and thyme for Thanksgiving dinner. Our local, organic turkey will be dressed with many herbs. I'm still harvesting:

 Provence lavender


Italian Flat Leaf Parsley


 Pineapple Mint

 Peppermint

 Tri-Color Sage

Curly Parsley

Chives

 Greek Oregano

 Lemon Thyme

 Rosemary, possibly my favorite of all herbs.

So, while we won't be eating from the potager just yet, we might be harvesting heirloom lettuce to serve at Christmas dinner.

Homegrown lettuce in December? It's kind of...magical, don't you think?

Happy gardening!

XO ~

Julie
 
 

Psst! Have You Seen My Chicken?




Ten years ago, if someone told me I would one day own chickens, I would have questioned that person's sanity.




Five years ago, if a friend called me “earthy,” I would have been seriously offended.




Six months ago, if I knew how much pleasure chickens could bring a family, we would have gotten them sooner.




One month ago, if I knew how many egg cartons would be lining the shelves of the refrigerator, I would have begun stockpiling egg recipes.


One week ago, if I had known how loud a hen could be when she is laying an egg, I could have avoided a potential heart-attacking inducing sprint to the coop to rescue the girl from a predator (I thought.)

Yesterday, if I had known I would spend two panicked hours searching the forest and neighbors' yards for a missing hen, I would have stayed in bed.

Who knows what adventures life will provide?

And who knew that adding chickens to our menagerie would be such a rush (in mostly a good way)?




Our chicken adventure began clandestinely. We live in a subdivision. With a homeowners' association, albeit a fairly lax one. 

 
Our property is just under an acre, includes an extensive forest and backs up to a river. Our HOA doesn't have rules against chickens—it just doesn't mention chickens. Still, we feared that by asking permission, there might soon be rules incorporated into the bylaws. Plus, we have no intention of adding a rooster to the flock, processing chickens (the horror—they have names!), nor allowing them unlimited free ranging throughout the neighborhood. They free range, but within a fenced-in area on our property.

(Well, at least, most of the time. Naughty Roxanne.)

Honestly, these girls are pets. Pets with benefits. Pets who make breakfast. Pets who teach.




Kiki, our chicken mama, is learning amazing lessons. From the research she did to decide which breeds would be best for egg production to the first home she created for them—with rules decorating their box (“No pecking each other! No pooping outside the box! Bedtime is 8 p.m.”), she is an incredibly responsible chicken owner. As with any new pet, it's natural to worry that the excitement will wear off, and Mom and Dad will be relegated to chicken detail. After two dogs, two cats, two guinea pigs, a multitude of fish, a snake hidden in her tree house, as well as injured wild animals she helped nurse back to health, I didn't think we had much to fear about her losing interest. Still, at 6:15 a.m., I always feel a little sorry for Kiki, especially now that it's still dark outside when she wakes up.

Me: “Time to feed the chickens!”

Kiki: “Mmmpph...”




Honestly, I wouldn't have been a good chicken mama when I was Kristen's age. Then again, I was never chicken-obsessed like our girlie is. I often wonder what her teachers think about her chicken-brain...because she constantly thinks and talks about chickens. Her new endeavor? A chicken-based science fair project.

Oh my.

We've had a few scary moments. On the first day of school, Kiki ran to the backyard—only to have Clue, one of the Americauna hens, fly over the fence to see her chicken-mama. The problem is—our backyard is divided into “dog/kid-side” and “pool/chicken” side. We have a privacy fence surrounding the entire backyard and an iron fence that surrounds the pool within the back yard. (Crazy, I know...)

As horrific as it was for Clue to become a dog toy for a moment, we were so thankful Kristen was there—because she saved Clue. After losing many feathers and having to spend some time in a hastily erected “chicken hospital” downstairs so that she could heal, Clue is fine.

Kristen and I were traumatized, however.




By the way, do you have any idea how smelly a chicken kept in a dog kennel in a basement can be?

You don't want to experience it. I promise.

Then yesterday, when I couldn't find Roxanne...I felt ill. I know Kristen, and I knew how she would react. These girls are her babies. She's raised them from tiny fluff balls...



...through their awkward teenager phase...




...to lovely laying hens.




A missing hen would be traumatic.

Luckily, I didn't see feathers on the ground—neither in the forest (which might have indicated a hawk attack) nor in our dogs' area. The race was on to find Roxanne before Kristen got off the school bus.

For two hours, I searched the forest. The river. Looked up in trees, searched neighbors' yards. I walked up and down the forest, opened the greenhouses (because, you know, I'm sure the chicken could just open the door and lock herself in), drove through the neighborhood, calling “Roxanne! Here, chickie chickie!”

I walked down our street, shaking a bag of scratch.

Nothing.

So, I did what any mom would do: I e-mailed Michael's piano teacher, explaining that we needed to cancel his lesson because we were searching for a missing chicken.

I wonder if she's ever heard that excuse before?

Time was running out—Mikey's bus arrives 30 minutes before Kristen gets home. I grabbed his hand, told him we weren't going to piano (“YEEES!”), and took him into the forest with me to continue our search.

“I hear flapping!” Oops, sorry Mikey, that was me, shaking the feed bag.

Up and down the forest, through the neighbor's yards, and then we tried the novel idea of being still and quiet.

And then:

“BAWCK, bawck, bawck, bawck...”

Did you know how incredibly loud and distressed a chicken can become when she wants to lay an egg?

Mikey and I took off to our front yard, and there, in the woods between our yard and the neighbor's, paced Roxanne.

I was unbelievably happy to see that naughty girl.

Fortunately, our hens are extremely tame and used to cuddles and hugs. Mikey scooped her up, I gave her a handful of scratch, and he carried her back to her sisters.


With 10 minutes to spare before chicken-mama came home.

Then I collapsed.

Several things became clear to me yesterday. First, it's impossible to keep secret chickens in your backyard. I'm pretty sure our neighbors have heard our girls before, but this was the first time I was really worried about inconveniencing them. I mean, truly—what if they found a chicken in their pool or in their dog's mouth? Not a pleasant thought.

While we want to have our chickens free ranging in the area behind the pool—and we have installed a maze of string above the area to keep them contained—we obviously need to find a different solution. This isn't the first time a hen escaped, but they typically stay along the exterior of the fence, desperate to get back to their flock. Roxanne, apparently, is more adventurous.

But my clearest realization yesterday was this: I am not a farmer. I think I want a farm, but the reality of farming is far different that my idealized view. Our chickens are pets. They have names. And I was literally ill, thinking about how I would tell Kristen that one of her girls was gone.

My dad's family were real farmers. Real farmers, struggling to feed a family post-depression. My dad used to tell me that he would cheer when a chicken got loose and killed by a car, because then they could have fried chicken for dinner.

Have I mentioned that we've been unable to eat roasted chicken—or any chicken with bones—since we acquired the girls?

I'm a farmer impostor.

Still, the benefits of our girls outweigh the stress of yesterday. The first time Kristen found eggs in the nesting box was like Christmas and her birthday wrapped into one. She came running up the stairs, yelling for me, trembling. I thought something terrible happened to the girls.




But no. The first two eggs! Such a proud chicken mama!




Kristen shared her first eggs with Peter...


...cracked and cooked into scrambled eggs all by herself. She was a very proud girl. (And I was a very proud mom.)




Today, our girls are feasting on pumpkins. I'm hoping the post-Halloween treats make them all stay close to home. I'm incredibly paranoid about escaping chickens. I don't think my heart can handle the trauma.




The girls are all laying now, with the exception of Risa. Kristen is organizing her egg business, lining up customers, with the hope of raising money for a horse. With six chickens, I'm happy to report that it will take her a very long time to raise money for a horse.

Because, somehow, I don't think we can keep a secret horse in the backyard.

XOXO ~

Julie, the chicken-chaser

http://growingdays.blogspot.com

 
 
RSS feed for Growing Days blog. Right-click, copy link and paste into your newsfeed reader

Calendar


Search


Navigation


Topics


Feeds


BlogRoll