Auntie Annie's Fields, LLC

  (Dundas, Minnesota)
Doing our work with as much grace as we can find
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Squash and Salsa

I was reading about winter squash in the Fedco Seed catalogue. These writers add serious romance to their descriptions. After describing the Sweet Dumpling variety’s “inherent buttery richness and sweet-tangy taste,” the catalogue makes this recommendation: “To experience its sweet dry and memorably rich deep orange flesh, make sure your Dumpling is ripe.”

A dry, academic description of these varieties would cause me to light up as I imagined wild rambling vines with big sweet squash swelling into strange and wonderful shapes under a canopy of leaves. I would picture them emerging, steaming from my oven and then sitting on my dinner table like a symbol of everything in the world that makes me feel grateful.

This year, I want to try the Sibley variety of banana squash. It is apparently slate blue and grows to be a foot long. You aren't supposed to eat it right away though. You have to keep waiting for it throughout the winter as it dries and sweetens while sitting on a shelf. Finally, in January, it will come into its own, the catalog says. In the bleakest months of winter I imagine it will be like sunshine that I can embrace by eating it.

The Winnebago Indians apparently developed this variety, and then the Sibley family faithfully grew it for many generations, finally making its seeds more widely available. I felt thankful to these people and was picturing all these diverse generations enjoying this strange wonderful squash in the middle of winter.

As I read and daydreamed, one of my Zumba albums played Latin dance music in the background, and my favorite salsa song began. It starts with a syncopated riff, and then intricate tropical drums layer themselves over it. Horns join in, measured and powerful, and finally the vocalists top it off with another rhythm sung in percussive Spanish.

I had already been hovering near my capacity for delight, and this song I had already been hovering near my capacity for delight, and this song pushed me over the edge. My face and ears grew hot, as they always do when I blush, but instead of heating up and then settling down, they kept feeling warmer. They heated up until they were so uncomfortable that I had to set the catalog down, leave the room, and splash my hands and face in cool water.

I returned to the Fedco catalog and the salsa music with a new sense of clarity: For reasons that only partially understand, we should have a large patch of squash this summer and that strange blue banana squash should be part of it.

 
 

Collegial chickens

We have an unusually collegial batch of chickens. The other night, one of them stood by Ian and pecked at his boots. Ian stooped over and to stroke the chicken, and it just stood there calmly. They stayed that way for a long time. I have been troubled by the birds’ friendliness because I have taken to wearing some plastic flip-flops when I step into their yard to take care of them, and they all rush over to step on my feet with their sharp toenails.

The ducks are fully feathered out, and they look magnificent. When I let them out of their pen in the morning, they all run across the driveway, flapping their white wings. My yard is filled with the sound of air moving under many strong feathers. We have granted the ducks a week of reprieve before they go to the processors because we want them to be able to attend our potluck on Saturday. It is at 5 PM. Can you come?

 
 

hot birds

It is hot, and the chickens are hot. They open their beaks to pant like dogs and their little necks wiggle with each breath. They hold their wings slightly away from their sides to let the cool air next to their bodies, which makes them look large and proud, and would give them an air of grandeur if they did not also look uncomfortable.  This afternoon, I watched one little chick purposefully scratch the ground, then the sink down onto it, and I imagined that the soil felt cool and damp on her hot little belly. I almost felt cooler just watching her. She kept panting, though, and I decided the chickens could use some help.

I walked back to the house and turned on the hose, knowing that many chicken farmers spray their chickens with a gentle mist of water to cool them on the very hot afternoons. My husband has done this several times, but it was my first time. I could not shake the idea that I was causing some kind of mischief, and I tried to make the water come out slowly, gently, and soothingly. The water burst out from the hose in a big, wide mist, and the chickens peeped with surprise and fled to the other side of their shelter. I sprayed them as though they were plants, and when they were all damp, I turned around made sure that those in the yard were not left out. As soon as the water stopped they settled down quickly. None of them were panting. Either they were cooler, or they were too surprised to pant.

 

 
 

Frustrated as a wet hen

Our elder chickens are forsaking their new home for nights spent under the stars. This has been working out all right when they are actually stars overhead, but when it rains, we have a problem. I discovered this one rainy morning when I went out to feed them and found that one of them slept outside by the feed bin. It was too cold and wet to even squawk when I picked it up, but I took it to the brooder with an almost equally wet buddy and placed them both in a box under the heat lamp. They napped in the warmth until they felt better. By the time everything was settled down, the insides of my rubber boots were so filled with rain that I made a little splash with every step. The next evening, all the chickens bedded down by their feeders outside, and I saw lightning in the West, so I carried them all into their shelter. It was a dramatic time to be outside, trying to beat an approaching storm. If I had been doing something other than carrying around a bunch of sleepy chickens, I would have felt quite archetypal and heroic.

The little yellow chicks are growing up and sprouting little white feathers on their wings. One chick has a few black feathers on its shoulder. I have inspected these several times to be sure they look healthy, and they do. The poor chick is almost getting used to being lifted and fingered. This evening, it peeped tragically at first, then calmed down so much that it actually caught a mosquito in mid air while I held it.

We have decided that we cannot keep the ducks over the winter, and we will likely butcher them within a couple weeks. Our decision made my daughter cry. We are hoping to raise more ducks next year, when we have spent some time planning how we will take care of them. I will miss them. I had no idea they were so fun.

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Hefty Handfuls

The chickens have a new pasture now. We are letting them out the door on the east side of the coop (instead of the south side), and this is especially exciting to them because this yard includes both tall and short clover. When we mowed, we left a strip of pasture untouched, and now these plants are knee-high. The chickens love to nestle into the tall clover and munch on it or settle down next to it. We can see white faces peeking up from a green tangle of plants. Even though they enjoy the tall clover, we mow their pasture because we understand that they are able to eat more greens when the greens are shorter. When the plants are taller, the chickens tend to trample them more.

This group of birds has two more weeks to live. We will try to make sure that they are good weeks. When the birds stay out late, and I have to pick some up and put them inside their coop at night to protect them from predators, I can no longer pick up two at a time. Each chicken takes two hands, and some of the larger ones already feel like very hefty handfuls. This evening, a little rooster was so determined to sleep outside. I must’ve put him back in the coop 5 times because he kept wandering back out as I went to fetch another wayfaring chicken from the yard. He felt huge in my hands.

 

 
 
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