Sep 22, 2010

Girls! Girls! We're famous!

If all works properly in my version of cyberspace, clicking on the link below will take you to the webpage of one of our local TV stations. A reporter for the Green Life segment of the evening newscast arrived at my place yesterday morning, filming a piece on the 'backyard farm movement'. I and my chickens, were here.

Perhaps in honor of their new stardom, 2 new hens -- Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Olive -- each began laying today. Woohoo -- 4 eggs a day and rock star status. I suppose they will be wanting mealworms every day now.........

Sep 13, 2010

We did it! From 10:07 am to almost 4:00 pm (45 minutes over) they came -- young, old, and every age in between ..... newbie gardeners, experienced gardeners, and nongardening relatives of local residents visiting from Kansas ...... Central Oregon oldtimers and newcomers....... new friends and old. The backyard farm was toured and admired by -- I don't know, really, I lost count after the first 10 .... maybe 75-100 people! People actually asked if it was ok to take photos. Are you kidding? I was honored that anyone would want to take pictures of my garden.

It was SO FUN I could hardly stand it. I've never opened my garden to visitors before, and I was a bit nervous about it. But once we started, I had a ball. I got compliments on my signage

my display of books, catalogs and gardening resources

and my flowers

Many visitors were interested in my fruit trees -- but all politely refrained from sampling.
Oddly, I had more questions about this plant (behind the green 'fence' on the right)

than anything else in the garden. 'What is that ferny plant with the red berries?' they wanted to know. Apparently a lot of people who buy fresh asparagus don't realize that what they are eating is the first spring growth of a perennial plant, and it grows out after cutting stops, into a lovely ornamental. Here it is, fully leafed out, and restrained behind a 'fence' to prevent it from flopping across the path. After frost, it will turn a beautiful orange-yellow, making it a nice backdrop to flowers or other vegetables..

People were interested in everything.

I made a few signs.

The garden looked just fine. Weeds? What weeds?

After it was all over, I strolled around the yard and tried to see everything from an outsider's perspective. I tell ya, the garden itself was proud and smiling, The whole place was ....... shiny! Plants love to admired as much as the next person. I think they want me to do it again. Whew. Until then I'll be resting and planning.

Sep 11, 2010

Farmers: On Your Marks, Get Set, Gooooooooo

Well, I've done all I can do, short of a few last-minute buffings and fluffings that will have to wait until the sun comes up. My garden is as ready as it can be for today's Backyard Farm Tour. The pigs are washed, the barnyard is vacuumed, and fields are newly laundered and pressed. The girls are dusting inside the henhouse and the worms in the worm bin are arranging the shredded newspaper for best viewing. My only comment at this point is -- to quote the Cowardly Lion,

"Somebody talk me out of it!"

There are 20 gardens on the tour, most in actual city yards, along with a couple of community gardens, one restaurant garden, and one elementary school garden complex. I wish I could go on the tour myself. We need a round-robin garden visitation period for the garden owners so we can see what everyone else is doing.

In my imagination, everyone else's garden is weed-free and neat as a pin. Our local garden club recently held an Open Garden at a neighbor's home, and I was amazed (and intimidated) by the absolute neatness and landscapingly brilliant perfection of her flower garden. I don't mean that as a criticism -- it was a beautiful and inspiring garden. But in comparison with my small, out of control vegetative jungle, it was quite daunting.

After the last few days of full rampaging cleanup around my place, both by myself (beavering away in the backyard farm area) and by two wonderful manly helpers in the front, nativey plant area, things are looking a lot better -- perhaps the best in years, in terms of getting ALL the weeding done at one time (never before in recorded history). Still there are things I wish looked better, or that are still in the 'mid-project' mode. But with only 5 hours left before the first tourist walks down my driveway, I know I'm not going to get everything done. Regarding that, I do have a couple of reassuring thoughts. One is an old Chinese proverb that I cling to, year in and year out, when I find myself measuring my garden against my own impossible standards of orderliness, perfection, and diligent, timely execution of all Must Do tasks, and of course, coming up sadly short, and that is:

"A good garden may have some weeds."

I need to have that on a plaque for the garden.

The other thought is, hey, this is a backyard FARM tour. Every real farm I have ever visited has more than 'a few' weeds -- in addition to animal manure and other unspecified and oftentimes smelly debris lying around, there is always a certain amount of miscellaneous stuff spilled and sprouted and springing up everywhere you look. In fact, if I want this to be a real 'farm' perhaps I need to spend the rest of my morning making it more farmlike -- dragging in a rusted tractor or ancient car body, possibly renting some sheep or goats for the day from a (real) local farmer, or at the least, stacking some twisted rolls of old chicken wire in a back corner.

Yeah, now I'm feeling better. I'm ready. Bring on the hordes! Me and my garden are ready and waiting. Wish us luck.

Sep 7, 2010

Garden Tour Insanity

What was I thinking, agreeing to be one of the stops on the first annual Bend Backyard Farm Tour? It's all Duane's fault. A week and a half ago, he came to deliver my new cold frame. After we carried the cold frame in through the carport and next to the vegetable garden to await final placement, he spotted my raspberry vines loaded with fruit (which he sampled), my jungle of cherry tomatoes (which he sampled) in the greenhouse, my apple trees with fruit falling on the ground (which he sampled), not to mention my chicky girls in the run he had built ..... he turned to me and said, "wow, this is a real urban farm. I want you to be on the tour!" Blinded with flattery and a completely unreasonable concept of how much time was left to get things looking presentable and how much there was to do, I said, well, um, ok.

One of the things I have since realized is how many unfinished projects I have accrued, through the, er, years. Another thing is how much of a difference it makes, being 60+ years old, and not 20 or even 40, when doing formerly easy tasks as hauling and setting 1/2 ton of rocks for a sitting area ...... cleaning out grassy perennial beda ...... or just plain weeding for hours on end. Yikes. I have been taking a hot epsom salt bath nightly for days now and the end is still not in sight. My hands are sore, my back is sore, every muscle in my arms, neck and upper body is sore, but I can't stop yet. I used to whip such tasks off in half a day and never feel a thing. I guess I've been procrastinating on some of these jobs for longer than I thought -- the decades seem to be flying by. But it's amazing what fear -- and the expectation that possibly hundreds of people are going to be traipsing through MY garden in just a few short days -- can accomplish.

I have to admit I have never thought of my garden as a 'farm' before this. Well, we have joked about it being a farm since the chickens arrived. But I have read Nigella Carpenter's book 'Farm City: the Education of an Urban Farmer' - and that is not me. To me, it's just my garden. I love it, but it seems very ordinary to my eyes. And weedy. But maybe not everyone has all this stuff I take for granted in my yard: vegetables and fruit trees and chickens and herbs and the 30+ years' worth of composting that has created some amazing (for Bend) soil. It all started as lawn, with a few overgrown trees and shrubs around the edges. In those 32 years we have buried, ripped out and just plain starved out all the grass, built terraces and built paths and beds everywhere. And, probably the biggest factor is that, I talk to my plants and the garden itself, and I listen when they talk back. It's a lot easier to figure out what to do when you have the biggest garden expert of all (Nature) on your team.

Here's the latest progress on the biggest current project (also the biggest current source of sore body parts):
This is the ultimate 'before' photo: the weedy, rocky plot planned as a gravel path with flagstone sitting area

Here it is last week: rocks gone, weeds out, soil leveled and smoothed:

Here it is a couple of days ago, covered with the horrible plastic weed barrier that set back my environmental conscience at least 25 years:

And here is the beginning of the sitting area, with official tester.

Stay tuned. And if you're in my neighborhood between now and Saturday, stop by and I'll hand you gloves and a garden tool. I need all the help I can get!

Ghosts or Guardians?

These ghostly figures descend upon my garden every fall. In a normal year, we don't see them until late September or early October. This year, however, they have come early. Three times in recent weeks we have seen frost on the rooftop of our house in the early morning. A couple of days ago the forecast was especially grim, and I gave in to my fears, dug out my supply of old sheets and row cover, a new package of clothespins, and set to work crafting protection for as many of my late-ripening tomatoes as I could. Thankfully, the temperature at garden level didn't drop below 40. But it will. This early trial has shown me that I need to invest in more row cover, or head to the thrift store for more bedsheets.

Traditionally we have a long, gorgeous, 'Indian summer' here. With the exception of a few nights in the low 30's or high 20's, the garden grows happily on well into November. But those little dips in temperature spell doom for the tender likes of beans, squash and my zealously-nurtured tomatoes and melons. So I take the trouble to cover them with ghostly raiment and I usually harvest a huge crop in early October. I don't know about this year, though.

It has been a terrible year for tomatoes and other warmth-lovers here. Late, late arrival of warm weather, many cool nights all summer long. Wah! After last year, the greatest tomato-growing year I can remember in 30+ years, a lot of us longtime Bend gardeners were spoiled. I, for one, thought, 'well super -- here's a side benefit to global warming' ......... but I guess it was an anomaly not to be relied on for future years. Back to frost covers and ......

.... well, I recently splurged on a cool new lean-to cold frame/hoophouse, built by my friend Duane. Duane is a local cabinet-maker who got creative during the downturn in the building boom, and began creating custom chicken housing, runs, and superstrong hoop cold frames/mini hoop houses for local gardeners. He built my chicken house and run, and now I have this beautiful little cold frame to play with. The commercial grade plastic should be good for 10 years or more, and the house itself is well-crafted and strong. The front cover rolls up by day and folds down to fit snugly at night.

With the assistance of 2 manly neighbors, we managed to slip the whole thing down over a pre-existing trellis full of cucumber and melon vines. We didn't rip the fabric and the plants are quite excited by their new home. It was 95 in there yesterday morning when I went out around 8:00 am to lift the cover.

I am already thinking ahead on what to plant for overwintering.

Sep 1, 2010

What do they do?

The girls get up early in the morning. We know this because the lights in their henhouse turn on at 5:00 am. We know this because we set up the lights and timer, about 2 weeks ago, to compensate for the shortening days of late summer. It seems that a chicken's natural laying cycle naturally tapers off and stops in the fall when they molt, and begins again in the lengthening days of spring. 14 hours of daylight is the minimum amount needed to insure continued laying, which occurs around August 15 in our latitude. As much as I would like to give the ladies their natural winter break ...... we have a farm to run here. Well, ok, it's a bit of a stretch to call it a farm. But the fact remains that 4 out of the 6 girlies have not even started laying yet -- though I expect they will be mature enough quite soon. And I don't want them all to quit before they have fairly begun. Plus, I'm thinking chicken feed. Which is not super expensive, but on paper, anyway, we did get these chickens in order to provide us with some food. I would rather not support them purely as pets for a whole year before we get a good supply of eggs. Thus the lights.

But the mystery remains: what do they do out there, in the early mornings, when it is still dark outside, but the lights are on in the hen house? I get up early too, and can see the house and run from my desk. I see movement going on inside the house, through the little access door at the bottom. Farmer Don and I have been discussing this lately, and have come up with a number of theories.

I'm sure the ladies were as surprised as anything when the light started going on so bright and early. I'm sure the first few days, they hopped down from their perch, all ready to go outside and start scratching for bugs (their motto: We Are Always Busy!). But wait -- what's this?! It's DAAAAARRRRRRKKKKKKK out there. Now what?

We pictured them scratching their little heads (with their feet -- I have seen them do this, really I have) and talking it over. My first thought, being a knitter myself and having serious thoughts of winter scarf creation starting in my own head, was that they had taken up knitting. Farmer Don pointed out that they have no hands, and there is no evidence of knitting needles in the henhouse. Plus, it has probably occurred to them that their own feathers will keep them warm, thus they have no need for a wool scarf.

Our next idea was that they might have started some kind of discussion group. Possible topics of discussion might include:

Tasty Bugs I have Eaten ("I don't know about you girls, but I just LOVE earwigs!")
Food ("Wow, that new layer feed is great, isn't it? I just LOVE the pellets.")
Weather ("What's with the rain? -- this is supposed to be summer.")
Eggs ("Did you see my eggs? Bet YOU can't lay a green one")

But it seemed limited. By now, they may have moved on to philosophy: Hegel vs Kant. But in my honest opinion chickens are far smarter than that, and have far better things to think about. And we are pretty sure they don't speak German, so it's probably not that either.

Bible study? Just what we need: born-again chickens! Quickly we searched the henhouse for the King James Version but didn't turn up anything, nor did we find a Koran or any other religious literature, so we don't think that's it.

Finally, this morning, I think I have figured it out. They really are moving around in there. So I'm pretty sure our chickens have an early morning exercise class: chick-aerobics! or possibly Pulletes......

Uh oh, gotta go now. The most spoiled chickens in the world are calling me outside for their morning treats. Oh, and did I mention that we are now getting 2 eggs a day? Hawkeye, our Ameraucana, started laying nice green eggs a couple of days ago. Here's a comparison photo of one of Betty's first efforts and a regular grocery store egg. Yes, Betty's egg is small, but look at the orange yolk and tall, perky white! Neener!