Dec 12, 2011


Meet Hawkeye, my new BFF*

Until I got my own girls last year, I had no idea what drama existed in the lives of chickens. In my innocence, I imagined nothing more than cheerful bukking and clucking as my fantasy hens roamed my garden, patrolling for bugs, creating fabulous fertilizer, and laying the odd egg. But in the year and a half since I got my first peeps, I have learned that tv soap operas are nothing on the real life drama of the henhouse.

My first taste of avian angst occurred when the girls were still peeps. Betty, the only solid colored bird in the group (a golden orange RRI/Buff Orpington cross), sank to the bottom of the pecking order as soon as feathers started coming in. I had to apply the smelly purple goo to fend off the bullies.

When I added Babe, my ill-fated bantam frizzle cochin a week or two later, the peck-a-thon recommenced against her. She was just too different for the other girls to deal with, so they harried and chased and pecked her until she was nearly bald and a complete mental wreck.

She made it through the winter and I found a happier home for her with one of my chicken coop tour guests this past spring.

Early this summer, I brought in a couple of young pullets from a poultry swap, to ramp up the egg production, and though they had a bit of an adjustment, they mostly settled in with the gang, though now taking Betty's former spot at the bottom of the pecking ladder.
Sylvia (Dominique/Blue Orpington cross)
and Maisie (Dominique)

But last week I noticed Hawkeye, my sole Ameraucana, was staying inside the henhouse day and night. Was she cold? Winter temperatures had just arrived, and she was in heavy molt. Another day or two went by, the weather warmed up, but still no Hawkeye appeared outside. Was she sick? No, she seemed alert and normal when I checked her out, and when I offered her food, she ate hungrily.

Hmm, maybe it's something else. I read up on molting behavior, and learned that it hits some hens like a version of chicken PMS. They get cranky, moody, and irritable. Their new feathers growing in can be painful if they brush up against anything, so they stay away from the gang. Maybe that was it. I offered her a bowl of water and food, up on her perch atop the nest boxes. She ate as if famished, which she probably was. And she moved around so I could see she wasn't injured or seemingly sick.

A couple of days later I opened the door and caught her in the act of eating an egg from the nest box! Bad chicken. Very bad. As you can imagine, egg-eating chickens are not only bad in themselves, but they often teach other chickens to do the same thing. Various schemes ran through my head all day, as well as visions of the stewpot. Realistically, though, that's probably not an option, since: a) I couldn't imagine eating one of my girls and b) I have no neck-wringing experience. Thinking hard and asking various other chicken owners, I gave her more food in her cave in hopes she had just been desperate.

By now she was giving me a friendly greeting every time I opened the door of the henhouse and looked in. The top photo shows her, coming to say hi as I open the henhouse door in the morning (bearing ... ahem, treats). A couple of days ago I I was kneeling down, attaching something to the wire of the outside run. Suddenly Hawkeye appeared next to me, on the side opposite the other chickens (who, typically, had all come in to see what I was doing). Then she leaned against me, and when I raised my arm, she ducked under it and crawled right into my lap! Then she jumped up onto my arm, and when I finished with what I was doing and stood up to go outside, she flew up onto my shoulder and stayed there, peering into my face and looking around happily.

No matter what I did, I couldn't get her down, so I stood there for a while like some kind of farmer/pirate, with a chicken on my shoulder in place of the standard parrot. No one else was home to help, and I was freezing, so I finally managed to get her down onto the ground. Immediately the two highest-ranking hens ran over and started totally whomping on her! I chased them off and she fled back into the safety of the henhouse, where no one can get at her.

And that's where we are now. Up to now she has been squarely in the middle of the pecking order rankings, so I can only surmise it is her pathetic featherless aspect that has caused the attacks. She was never particularly friendly to me before, so obviously I am now viewed as her protector and new BFF*. Still really a novice chicken keeper, I have no idea if the attacks will stop when she regrows her feather, or if she has permanently sunk to the bottom. Maybe I should knit her a wee chicken 'jumper' (jacket) as the kindly English ladies do for the rescued battery hens?

Stay tuned for further bulletins. Until then, you can call me .......
Kathbeard, head chicken whisperer

*Best Friend Forever

Dec 5, 2011

Solar So far

When we bought this house, 33 years ago, one of the main reasons we chose it (in addition to the fact that we could afford it) was its location in town (halfway up a south-facing hill) and its orientation (long east-west axis) on the lot. Lots of south-facing walls to gather and hold heat, wide eaves for overhead frost protection, and a lot that slopes gently downhill, leading cold air down and out of the garden. What was perfect for gardening turned out to be perfect for solar as well. Large trees close to the house are mostly to the north, leaving the south-facing roof open to the sun's daily path.

Now that we have our cool solar panels, we wonder why we waited so long to do this. Cost has always been prohibitive -- or so we thought until last August, when we found out about all the federal, state and local financial incentives. Unbelievably, they paid a full 3/4 of the total cost of our 3.75 kw system. Some come in the form of tax rebates, so we will have to wait until we pay our next taxes (April) before realizing them. One was from something called the Energy Trust of Oregon, which paid 1/4 of the cost of the system right off the top -- this is a fund set up through our local power company that we have, as ratepayers, apparently been paying into for years. Sweet!

The other big reason why I haven't been more proactive about researching solar for our home was my own longtime desire to be 100% off the grid -- to generate all of our electricity with a home system. That really would have been far to expensive for us to do, so I just wrote it off and never seriously looked into evolving options.

What I have come to realize is that even if all we do is reduce what we buy, it is something. 'Reducing our carbon footprint' is a trendy, PC term for 'using less', ie conserving energy, which is a smart thing to do in any day and age. In these days of world-wide awareness of global climate change (except of course in our own dear country, where business-as-usual trumps the future welfare of humanity), it seems more important than ever to look for all kinds of small ways to have a less negative impact on the planet that nurtures us. It also seems downright crazy NOT to be taking advantage of the sunlight in our area, where the local Chamber of Commerce boasts of 'over 300 days of sunshine a year). Why don't new houses all come with solar?!

Here in the Pacific Northwest, most people assume the majority of our electricity comes from the many hydroelectric projects (dams) on the Columbia River. Not so. The majority of our power comes from the same evil coal-burning plants as everywhere else in the country. A good reason in itself to buy less of the stuff.

Part of our system includes an online tracking program, which gives us a graphic display of the panels' current production

It also shows hourly production. Thus we cheer when the sun is out, and watch the power generation spike shooting upward, then gloomily watch when clouds or night-time roll back in, and down to flat it goes. It's a bit of a bummer, starting with a system in fall, since we are heading into the shortest days of the year. Yet we are still making power, 3 weeks from Winter Solstice.

The new electric meter goes *both ways*, and when the sun is shining, we can stand out by the meter and watch the arrow pointing away from the house, indicating that we are not buying, but actually generating more electricity than we are using, and are sending the surplus *to* the power company. So satisfying.

And at the bottom of the online display is a cute little graphic, showing our total carbon offset as 'trees saved' and 'you have generated enough electricity so far to power XXXX houses for one day'. Here is the total after just a couple of days.

I have just paid our first power bill under the new system. It showed that we bought 761 kw from Pacific Power, and generated 112 kw from our system, from the 3 weeks of the month after our system went online. We saved $50 over last year's bill for October -- yay! We'll see how it goes this winter. We are still in the 'balmy' portion of late fall/early winter weather. And as the days grow longer beginning in February, those kws will be increasing. Mr. Sun is our friend!

Dec 4, 2011

on grot

Many years ago my sweetheart and I became addicted to British tv. Monty Python was our gateway drug, but PBS provided us with many memorable BBC moments in our early years of tv-owning. Hard to imagine it now, but we neither owned nor missed owning a television set in our early years together. My parents got our first family tv when I was 5 or 6, around 1957? but I was off to college before they got a color model. I don't think I watched anything on tv during the 6 years I was at uni, and once we were established in our new home of Bend, we relied on the radio for any and all news of the world -- that and the local newspaper, which came out on weekday afternoons and Sunday mornings. Thus I pretty much missed the entire Watergate era, and listened to Nixon's resignation speech on the radio.

I think we procured our first television set in 1976 -- a cast-off color model (my first) encased in a mammoth credenza-type unit that also included a record player, with yes, I think it had actual stereo and storage for LPs. It was huge and weighed a ton, and my sweetheart and a friend drove 8 hours (one way) from Bend to Twisp, Washington, to retrieve it from his mother's house. The impetus for this epic undertaking was the 1976 Olympics, which for some reason we had decided we wanted to watch.

In those years, the only tv station we could get was OPB (with a special antenna), and one pitiful local station, a CBS affiliate that featured news anchors and advertisements so lame as to be almost unbearable to watch. We set the channel changer (manual -- turn the dial -- how I miss those days) and discovered Brit-coms. One early show we grew to love was 'The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin', about a loser-type guy who hated his life and marriage so much that he staged a fake suicide, and began a new life as a purveyor of 'grot'. I don't know if 'grot' is an authentic English slang word, or if the producers of the show invented it, but it made a great impression on us, and has been part of our family vocabulary ever since. Grot is nothing special: useless stuff nobody would want. But Reggie sold it successfully (until he went broke) in his Grot Shop: bad paintings done by family members, homemade wine of hideous flavor: I can't even remember it all.

Fast-forward to today, and grot is alive and well in our lives. As an occasional knitter, I wax and wane in my enthusiasm for the sport. But alas, with rare exceptions, most of my knitted output tends to be fairly grotllike. Witness my latest passion: fingerless mitts. Wow, what a cool thing. Easy to knit, they work up fast and don't use much yarn. Patterns abound in knitting books, magazines and online. Mitts with cables, mitts with beads, mitts with lace fringe, mitts made with multi-colored yarn, mitts for casual and mitts for best dress. Make them all!

After being gifted with an 'easy' pattern by a member of my knitting group a couple of weeks ago, I launched into a pair the very next day. Yes, it turned out to be easy, though I had to make a trip to my favorite yarn shop for coaching on a minor point. Yes, it was fast. Yes, yes, yes. But then what? I put them on and couldn't figure out why, where, or when I would ever actually wear them.

a) I hate things on my hands. I can't stand wearing rings, or having long fingernails.
b) I hate half-things on shirts, pants -- they've gotta be long or short
c) If my hands are cold outside, I want full-finger gloves. If I'm cold inside, I put on another layer and sit by the fire.

But they are so cute! So ...... Dickensian. I saw a prime example on the fingers of Jeremy Brett in a rerun of the classic Sherlock Holmes series only last night.

So I did what any smart person does these days: I Googled my question. 'Why wear fingerless mitts?' and got two opposing answers, both of which I had already figured out for myself:

1) They are stupid unless you are Madonna. If you want to keep your hands warm, wear real gloves instead. If you are not Madonna, and want to look like an escapee from a Victorian poorhouse , go ahead and wear them. Preferably hand-knitted.


2) They are ultra cool. Keep several pairs around for different fashion needs! Look great with boots, tights and mini-skirts.

Uh huh. Right. 'Fashion' and moi don't go in the same sentence. We are not even in the same country. The closest I've ever gotten to 'chic' is 'chick' -- good thing I have chickens.

So I scratched my head, admired them one last time,

and gave them away to the mother of three of my students. She was thrilled, said she wears them all the time, and when I ran into her in the grocery store 3 days later, she had them on (tasting wine) and said she hadn't taken them off since I gave them to her. She is not Madonna, but they exactly suit her eclectic style. Now her three daughters are all jealous. Ha! I see a project materializing: wee mitts for the kids. Now, where's my stash?!


My computer/internet incompetence has created a slight issue with this blog. All the dates for posts have inexplicably vanished into the maw of the cyberspace vortex. There is surely some way to fix this, however it apparently involves doing something with the dreaded HTML, and with my luck whatever I do will cause the entire blog, with all its posts, to vanish into the ethers. No way am I going to try. So from here on out, we'll all have to use our imaginations to decide when posts are/were written. Sorry. When Mercury is Retrograde, all bets are off.

(this is me, trying to psychically fix the problem via hands-on healing)

Dec 1, 2011

Falling into Winter

I don't know why I've been so reluctant to embrace winter this year. I have been in full denial of its surely imminent arrival since September. In the face of a predicted snowfall two weeks ago, I managed to lay down a base layer of bark mulch in the chicken day spa, and purchase a new heated waterer to replace the one that died after one short winter season, last spring. I stapled plastic sheeting to the outside of their secure runs, to reduce wind and keep the snow out. At least the girls are ready.

In the garden, though, I have been slow and laggardly in preparing for winter. In early October, I did get the massive tomato harvest picked, much of it still green, and consigned to trays, dishes, baking pans, colanders and other flattish containers spread over every empty surface in house, shop and garage, to gradually ripen. I dried huge numbers of cherry tomatoes in my ancient food dryer, and more are still ripening as the weeks pass.

Only a small part of the tomato harvest:

But the greenhouse is crammed full of my usual wintering-over container plants, and I am in a guilty quandary over what to do with most of them. Normally I let the many bowls with flowering annuals do their thing, protected from severe cold, until supremely short days in January cause them to dwindle to nothing. At that point I shove them under the greenhouse benches and let them die. A few toughies, like petunias and lobelia, actually survive and resume growing and blooming in quite early spring, if I keep them watered and unfrozen through use of a small radiant heater. Same with geraniums, some not-super hardy miniature roses, and a few odds and ends like agapanthus and tender sages.

Scene from a previous, better organized fall:

Part of my reluctance to let things go (planters with still-beautiful coleus, tuberous begonias, zinnias and fuchsia) comes from my feelings of having been robbed of a full season of bloom, due to the very late spring we had. Part comes from a few special favorites that were so amazingly beautiful -- individual varieties, or just spectacular color combinations never before achieved -- and I don't want to let them go just yet.

I plant a lot of these annual color bowls, and I pride myself on their variety and carefully matched hues. I hate those 'red, white and blue' generic planters you find everywhere in big box stores. I imagine mine to be far more subtle and tasteful, but a lot is impossible to duplicate from year to year, since I mainly buy starts where I can at local nurseries, and what is available varies from year to year.

Here is a sampling of what I start with:

and the final result, arranged on the back deck:

The guilt comes from an earlier decision I made to NOT provide extra heat in the greenhouse this winter, in order to conserve electricity and lower our power bills. The purely financial aspect of this is obvious -- saving money is good. There is, however, an additional psychological aspect to things this year that is new.

In mid-August, we attended a presentation on 'yes, you can afford a solar power system for your home or business' offered through our local Sierra Club chapter. We have wistfully thought about having some kind of solar system for decades, but solar anything has always been super expensive and impractical, and we haven't given it serious thought. But the Sierra Club is partnering with various local installation companies around the country, and it sounded interesting, so we showed up. And were amazed to learn that, due to state and federal incentives and new financing options, we actually could afford a pretty cool little system that would provide potentially 30+% of our electric usage for very little money. As in, payback in 3-4 years on a system warranteed for 25 years.

We went home and looked at our power bills, did some research, talked to our bank, and sprang for it. But even before we got our system, we found ourselves determined to reduce our overall electricity usage, so that when we did get our system, the percentage it generated would be as high as possible.

Turning off light switches and unplugging phone chargers when not in use is fine, and all those little kilowatts do add up. But let's face it: heating a greenhouse in our cold winter climate, even at the minimal level I do it (thermostat set to go on only when temps hover around 35 F), uses up a lot of juice. Ow. In the early, heady days of proud solar panel ownership, I vowed to abandon my greenhouse darlings. Practice triage. Hoard only the very dearest and best tender plants in the protected sun porch attached to our house, and good down to 7 F without opening the door into the dining room.

No problem. Conservation is our middle name. Goodbye, annuals. See you, reincarnated, at the nurseries next spring.

Uh huh. Bold promises, easy to make when the sun is shining and the days are long and warm. Not so happy, now that the reality of snow and freezation are upon us. So far I haven't had to make the final decision. Lows have stayed in the low 20's to high teens, and so far have coincided with times I was drying tomatoes in the greenhouse, which kept the temperature warm enough on its own.

But tomato drying is ending, real winter is on the horizon, and soon I must face saying goodbye to the remnants of my glorious summer garden, or ... guiltily plugging in that little heater.

Oct 13, 2011

New religion?

What's wrong with this picture?

Here's a hint. It should look like this:

Today is Thursday. Garbage and recycling cans should be sitting out at our front curb, awaiting their weekly (or in our case, every-other-weekly) pickup by dear old Bend Garbage and Recycling Company. It has been thus for lo, these many years. Maybe 20. Before that, the pickup was on Friday. That change of day wasn't too painful. But recently we got The Letter that rocked our world, telling us our neighborhood pickup day was changing to ........... Monday.

What?! That can't be! It's just ....... WRONG.

Many decades ago, my sweetheart and I, in our youthful arrogance and ignorance, did not appreciate, much less notice, the finer points of garbage. In fact, when we moved into our current house, in 1978, we had never had garbage pickup from our home. Our first homes together -- cheap rentals and rural boondocks property during our college years -- required us to take our trash to the landfill personally, which we did once a month or so. (Recycling was still years in the future.)

Once we moved to Bend, even living in the city limits, we continued the DIY thing. It was only by accident that we stumbled on a whole new world. The guy we bought this house from was so disorganized and slow that he forgot to have garbage service cancelled once he moved out. Thus we awoke one morning, soon after moving in, to find a large garbage truck parked in front of our house, and a nice man hiking back to his truck from our side yard, where he had spotted our garbage cans -- which we had coincidentally installed in the same location as the previous owner had his -- and emptied them into his truck. Wow. How cool was that?

It happened again the following week, and by then we realized we had better set things straight. Upon calling the garbage company to cancel the pickup, it occurred to us that instead we could simply CHANGE THE SERVICE OVER TO OUR NAMES and we could join the rest of the suburban world in weekly garbage pickup. We felt so modern. So grownup.

But that was only the beginning of Garbage Awareness in our lives. Now that we were participants in the weekly event , we began to notice various unique behaviors of our neighbors, related to garbage. Some, like us, tended to wait until the last minute, and be hauling everything out to the can and sprinting to the curb, as the garbage trucks came down the block at 6:00 am. Others, however, set their cans out the night before. Extreme garbageists -- for we began to see this weekly activity as some kind of arcane ritual, with rules and techniques all its own -- set the cans out WHILE IT WAS STILL DAYLIGHT, the day before pickup. This seemed extreme -- or obsessive -- or both. And we began to think more deeply about the whole thing.

We observed that the extreme garbageists tended to be 'older' though of course when this all started, we were only in our 20's, and almost everyone was older than we were. We even laughed at these people, most of them male, for their fanatical zeal. My own dear father was a rather severe example of the old guy garbage zealot, especially after Mom died. He had to restrain himself from snatching newspapers out of our hands while we were still reading them, so we could put them in the recycling. He was once observed standing under a small deciduous tree in his yard on a lovely clear autumnal day, frowning and shaking his fist at the tree because it hadn't yet released all its dying leaves so he could get them raked up and taken away. Why can't they all fall at once, he grumbled.

I suppose it was inevitable that, in the end, and probably because we too were getting older, we began to see the greater beauty in garbage service, in fact, as a sort of religion for everyman. It was simple and clear. Like other religions, it includes a worthy priesthood (the garbage truck drivers), rituals (weekly pickup, make sure your cans are accessible at the curb), seasonal liturgical calendar (pickup one day later in the week at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's), and even a pilgrimage site (the local landfill) for those desiring that extra feeling of holiness and 'proof'.

In return, it demands only that weekly homage and offering up of the cans, and a small monthly monetary contribution to the head office. We began to see that weekly pickup as a kind of sacrament, much like confession and communion, all rolled into one. Think about it. There are so many terrible things happening in the world: hunger, war, pollution, greed ......... there is a lot to worry about. But most of those things are beyond our small, personal ability to change. By worrying about the garbage instead, there is weekly, inspirational clearing of the slate, as that stuff heads off to the landfill. All the petty worries of the week can be focused and expressed in a few short hours. The larger questions: 'what if the drivers miss our house? 'what if it's really recycling this week and not yard debris?' or, worst of all, 'what if we forget to put out the cans in time?!' are all answered irrefutably by noon of Garbage Day. And so our weekly schedule could be joyfully arranged around that immutable Thursday morning service.

Then came The Letter. No cushioning of the blow with hints about New Revelations From Garbage Elders Portend Changes in Worldwide Trash Dispersal .... just the stark wording stating the end of garbage life as we had known it: 'in order to consolidate routes and save expenses, your garbage and recycling pickup day has been changed to ................. Monday.

Monday!? That's impossible. We'll have to change our whole weekly schedule. They can't do that -- can they? IReading this alarming missive at home, I texted the sweetheart, at work, in a panic.

Garbage pickup changed to MONDAYS. Stop.
Can they do that?! Stop.
Completely discombobulated by this news. Stop.
Considering moving to a neighborhood with proper pickup day. Stop.
Awaiting further instructions.

Am too upset to answer. THIS Monday?!

Maybe we should look for a new religion?
But we have until the 10th to comes to grips with the situation.
If you're not super busy you could call & ask how I'm doing......

We have now had 2 weeks to adjust to the shocking news. After lengthy discussions, we have decided not to sell our house and move to a Thursday neighborhood. We are determined to adapt and change with the times. Religions are merely frail, fallable institutions created by man. We will do our best to rise above these mundane setbacks, and keep our eyes raised to the higher planes, despite the seeming insanity of church policy beyond our reach. Monday has always been housecleaning day. We will vacuum and sweep while the garbage trucks trundle through our streets, and continue our spiritual devotion and monthly titheing. It even makes a kind of sense, all that cleanliness happening, indoors and out, simultaneously.

The thing that may take longer to heal, though, is that feeling of emptiness on Thursday mornings, when the sound of the garbage truck is not heard in the land........

Oct 10, 2011

Chicken emergency!

Perhaps at some point I will go back and update the chicken saga of the past 6 months. For now, let me introduce Maisie, one of The Nuggets, two young pullets I bought at a poultry swap in June to fill out my newly-reduced flock.

I brought Maisie (a Dominique) and her 'cousin', Sylvia (a Dominique/Blue Orpington cross) home together,
and they have been growing and settling in with the older girls fairly well. Both have just begun laying, and we have had the usual run of tiny, weird-shaped, bumpy 'pullet eggs' that all chickens produce while their newly-matured laying mechanism sorts itself out.

Four days ago, I noticed that Maisie seemed to be standing off by herself and was unusually quiet and uninterested in food. I didn't take too much notice because I was super busy and didn't get back out to check on her until I went out to put the girls away for the night, just before dark. Hmmmm, Maisie was definitely looking droopy, and she had some kind of yellow goo coming out of her vent. I had seen it that morning, but in the early light had mistaken it for wood shavings, which lines the nestboxes and sometimes sticks to the girls' bloomers after they've been on the nest. This was definitely goo. Goo is not good.

I went inside and read my 2 chicken books, looked at a couple of online chicken forums, and concluded she was probably eggbound. Sounds bad and it is bad. Apparently when a young pullet starts laying, sometimes the startup mechanism goes awry, and an egg is formed without a shell, or too brittle a shell, and the egg breaks inside the oviduct and gets stuck. If you are thinking, 'ow! ow! ow!' you are probably on the right track. And, since the chicken uses the same passageway (cloaca, aka the vent) for eggs and manure, this means an egg blocking the way also blocks pooping. And if you can't poop, you die.

When I was gearing up to get my first chickens, I read everything I could get my hands on about raising chickens. And although I read about what to do for various ailments, accidents and diseases they could get, I blithely assumed MY chickens would never get sick or have such gross problems.

But now my Maisie girl was in a bad way and none of my local chicken contacts was available. The main chicken guy at the feed store basically said, 'well, it's a chicken, it will either live or die. I don't know of anything you can do for that.' Yeah, yeah, I know, it's a farm animal, but ......... these are my girls and I'm willing to take more time and care than your average farmer with a flock of 200 hens.

Following the advice from my favorite chicken blogger, I took Maisie out of the coop and proceeded to a) give her a sort of sitz bath in warm water and epsom salts and b) dose her with olive oil -- in hopes of both getting things moving inside by relaxing the rear end and lubricating the front end. Good thing she didn't feel on top of her game -- the olive oil was pretty challenging even with her in an unusually subdued condition. We were both wet and well oiled when I was done.

Then I brought her into the back porch greenhouse and let her dry out under a warm plant light. She seemed only slightly better by bedtime, but I could hear little 'perking' noises coming from her gut. I worried about her and dreamed about her all night long.

Next morning (yesterday) she was the same, and I was getting pretty worried. This was the third day of her travail, and eggs come along on about a 24-26 hour cycle, so there should have been at least 2 eggs coming down the pike by then. I sat down with my flower essences and did a long session for all her symptoms. I emailed my long-distance energy healing group and asked for their assistance. By mid afternoon still no change. I moved her to a larger container, and changed her water, putting epsom salts in it as per my blog expert.

Soon after that she began pooping a little, with lots of water. (Graphic content, beware). Then, after I had started to give up all hope, about 7:30 last night, I went out to check on her and hooray! She had passed TWO eggs -- one, obviously the problem egg, was broken -- no wonder it had stuck. Oweeee. The second one, coming along behind, was complete, but had only a small amount of shell around it.

She was all perked up and eating like the famished hen she was. Here she is, head up and ready to party.

Today I put her back with the flock and she is a bit embarrassed by her still-goopy bum feathers, but otherwise seems normal. She is spending a lot of time on the inside roost, preening, and hiding from the other girls. In typical chicken fashion, they seem to have forgotten she belongs to the flock and have been whomping on her as an outsider. Pecking order is supreme! Even her former best pal, Sylvia, is whomping on her. I hope things mellow out, for her sake. She is probably the lowest hen on the pecking ladder, and it wasn't the best thing that she was the one to be gone for a couple of days.

But I am so relieved that things worked out -- and am feeling slightly proud that my first bumbling, amateur attempts at chicken doctoring worked out so well.


If a blogger doesn't blog, does a tree fall in the forest?

Time marches on.

Interestingly, I set this sundial up in my garden several years ago, and it wasn't until sometime this summer that I noticed it was exactly 180 degrees off, ie upside down. North was south and south was north. Hello, Earth to Kathy.

If I had ever tried to tell time by looking at it, I would have been 12 hours off. Do you think I would have noticed? Perhaps my husband is right when he says I have no concept of time.....

Jul 6, 2011

Daring quail rescue

I had seen them, the young quail couple, cruising the neighborhood for a couple of weeks, looking for a good nest spot. Mr. Quail went first, leading the way to first one prospective site, and then another, with Mrs. Quail following unenthusiastically. I kept imagining this conversation:

Mr Q: Right over here. I think you'll love it.
Mrs. Q: Hmph, so far I've seen nothing I like.
Mr Q: OK, here it is. What do you think?
Mrs. Q: No way. Forget it. You'll have to do better than that.
Mr. Q (undaunted): Well, ok, but I have another one over this way.
Mrs. Q (lagging behind and looking increasingly skeptical): Right. Well, let's see it.
Mr. Q: Nice, eh?
Mrs. Q: Uh uh. Forget it. Listen honey, time is running out. We've got to find a home, and soon.

This went on for days and days, but eventually they disappeared, and I figured they had finally found the perfect nest spot. I wondered where it was.

This morning I found out. Walking through the house, all the windows open to let in cool air before the heat of the day, I heard a terrible screeching and shrieking of birds. Oh damn, I thought, one of my cats has caught a baby bird, and I threw on some shoes & went out for a rescue.

But it wasn't my cat at all, it was one of the many neighborhood grey cats, on the street corner across from our house, having it out with my quail pair! This corner is covered with a deep, prickly, overgrown mat of juniper shrubs, and probably looked like great cover for a nest. Unfortunately, the nest had been discovered by the grey cat and the quail family was in complete disarray. The parent birds were on the ground, flying at the cat, which seemed to have confused it momentarily.

I ran across and chased the cat away, then went back into the street to watch the spectacle. Oh my word. The juniper bushes come right down to the street on one side, then give way to a rock wall and a bare gravel area in front of the house on the other side. The quail mother was down in the gravel, leading a covey of the tiniest babies I have ever seen, down along the rock wall away from the corner, to safety. The quail father was up on the rock wall above, encouraging them all, and the stream of babies out of the bushes seemed endless. Eventually I counted 15, maybe 16, and they were trying their best to follow mom, but they must have just hatched. They could barely stand up, much less run along behind mom.

The line of cheeping, tumbling, falling, flopping babies stretched out farther and farther behind mom and dad. More kept popping out of the bushes, long after the parents were out of sight. The father kept up a constant cry of kadoo, kadoo, while the mother made encouraging chirping mom noises, and most of the babies were headed in the right direction.

It was hot and sunny and empty, out there along the rock wall, and a few got confused and turned back the wrong way. Some stumbled out into the gravel and fell over, exhausted. Still more came out of the bushes. I couldn't stand to watch, so I ran in and picked up two that had staggered behind a rock or twig, gotten stuck and frozen. They couldn't have been more than an inch long, each. I could have fit a half dozen in my hand without crowding them.

I followed the head of the parade at a distance, along the entire first yard, across the driveway of the next, and into the next yard. By then the parents had disappeared into the grass and I set my babies down to head for mom. The parents kept jumping up onto the rock wall, not understanding the babies couldn't do the same. They were game, though, and kept on, across the vast, hot waste of the asphalt driveway, up next to the second neighbor's rock wall and eventually onto the path next to the front of the house.

Meanwhile, I returned to the nest site, sure I had seen a couple going back that way. Despite walking slowly, looking carefully and peering into every cranny, I still missed two! Their camouflage is so perfect, they even disappeared into gravel of a different color. I rounded up the last singleton and went to find the parents.

Uh oh, I couldn't see them, and the male was by now on top of the roof of the neighbor's house, trying to chase dangerous me away. No sound of mom and babies. Then, as I walked up towards the front porch, I saw her. She was wedged into the farthest corner of flower bed, in the triangle between the house and the porch, with her wings outspread to make an amazing feathered fan. She didn't look like a bird at all, but some kind of abstract, geometric drawing. All I could see was a triangle of wings and her two beady little eyes locked on mine, daring me to get at her babies.

I bent over to set down the final chick, and as soon as it peeped, another popped out from right under my feet. The mother chirruped and both babies ran towards her. She lifted up her wings and I could see the whole brood, tucked underneath. More than a dozen tiny heads peeped out. Then she broke and ran, followed by the now compact stream of babies, along the base of the porch and into a hole beneath. Vanished!

I checked for stragglers as I returned to the corner, and crossed the street for home, but I think they were all accounted for. I chased the grey cat away again, and haven't seen him since.

i'm still amazed by the whole episode. I suppose I was interfering in what should have been a process of natural selection -- those babies not able to keep up were meant to die. But I figure domestic cats are not meant to be a part of a quail's normal environment, and perhaps my rescuing a small part of the flock will make up for that a bit.

I am left with a sense of wonder at the fragility and toughness of these tiny creatures. They can't have been more than a day old, down barely dry, and yet most of them managed to follow their parents across a vast distance of alien, hostile terrain without help from me.

I don't know what I would have done if I had been left holding the last wee chick, unable to find the parents. I suppose I would have tried to put it under one of my hens. Fortunately, it didn't come to that. I am merely a proud quail auntie with no further responsibilities. But I'm keeping my eye out for that gray cat.

Jun 23, 2011

Sex on the Wind

A recent question to members of an online gardening forum was: 'how do you know summer has really arrived' where you live?' Replies from around the country included comments about hot weather, certain insects becoming a problem, etc. Here in Bend, the answer, for gardeners and non-gardeners alike is: 'pine pollen'!

It's everywhere. Bright greenish yellow and gritty, it covers every outdoor surface and object, filters in through every open door and window, and settles in puddles left by irrigation overspill. In some places it piles up in drifts.

Those who suffer from allergies rush around fearfully, complaining loudly about the pollen, though according to local allergists, the pollen is too large to be an actual allergen. Grasses that bloom profusely now are more likely responsible for all the sneezing and dripping. It really is an amazing phenomena. I'm sorry I didn't get video of the yellow clouds that spurt forth from the trees when a gust of wind hits them.

Here are the culprits.

Pinus ponderosa aka Ponderosa Pine or Yellow Pine. This wonderful tree has a huge range in the West, from British Columbia to Mexico, and all the way east to Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas. It has beautiful thick, platey bark that resists fire

and a delicious vanilla scent on warm summer days, which can be sampled by sticking one's nose deep into the cracks between bark plates (keeping an eye out for passing ants).

In the garden, they tower over the houses and create dry shade at their bases. This grandfather tree sits right next to the front door, embraced by the foliage of a vine maple.

And here is the source of all the trouble.

I chuckle sometimes, as I hear people complaining about the yellow dust on their cars, drifting through the air, and dusting the laundry hung out to dry. How many of us remember that pollen is just the botanical name for plants' male reproductive bits? Yes, we are indeed all covered with pine sperm!

Jun 19, 2011

I seen yer sign

One would hope the fine postal workers delivering our mail each day to be a well-read, literate crew. However, the above words were uttered by the tall, unsmiling man at my front door last week: "I'm a postal driver and I seen yer sign about tomato plants. I brought my mother to get some......"

Every year I go a little bit crazy with tomatoes. Our short, unreliable growing season doesn't give much time for ripening the best-known, beloved gigantic slicers often referred to as 'beefsteak' tomatoes. Experienced tomato-growing Central Oregonians have evolved multiple strategies for dealing with the limitations of our beloved high desert climate. Some plant only under cover, in cold frames or greenhouses. Some plant tomatoes inside Wall O' Waters, and leave them on all season. Some plant in raised beds, against rock walls, or under wide house eaves. I've tried all of these methods.

One of my favorite strategies is simply to plants lots of tomatoes, of lots of varieties. Being obsessive, but also curious, I usually go overboard with tomatoes, ending up with anywhere from 20 to 30 different varieties. Hey, seed is cheap and I look on this as a kind of insurance. I grow about half 'safe' short-season varieties (55-65 days) and half risky but bigger and tastier long-season (for us) varieties (65-85 days). That way if we have an early hard frost, at least I will get something, and if we have a nice long, warm summer and Indian summer, I will also get a good harvest of bigger, longer-season slicers and pasters.

Normally I plant 6 seeds of each variety, aiming to plant 2 of each kind in my garden, and use the rest as frost insurance (in case the selected plants are wiped out by frost untimely during the hardening-off phase). After that I give the extras away to friends. For the past few years I have put a sign out front saying 'free tomato plants' and my neighbors have cleaned me out in no time. This year, in a more entrepreneurial spirit, I put an ad on craisglist for my extra tomato starts. I also put a sign out on the street in front of my house, to bring in walkers and drive-by neighbors.

I was a bit miffed last year when a single neighbor or passerby took the entire lot of free plants off the front porch in one swoop, leaving nothing for anyone else. Whoever it was also took all the boxes and trays I had set out. We're talking more than 10 plants here, and I call that both selfish and greedy. So I thought I would make an attempt to keep out such riff raff and perhaps pay for my time and potting soil.

In the time-honored tradition of country farmstands, I put up a sign indicating prices, and a note to put the money in a box in case I wasn't home. In my experience, most people are pretty honest, and will not steal the cash at such operations. As it turned out, I was home when all of my customers came by, so I did the transactions in person.

Interesting people. I'm not sure what would prompt a person to go to all the trouble to track down my house to buy a few tomato starts, rather than stop at a local nursery. At this time of year, even the big box stores sport displays of tomato plants lined up next to the grills and lawn mowers. Strangely, only a couple of the people who came were actually interested in the fact that my varieties were heirlooms or short-season types, or knew anything about gardening at all. But many seemed merely to have shown up at the prospect of ....... what? The price? Most had no clue about even the most basic facts of tomato culture. For instance, that tomatoes come in two different growth habits: determinate and indeterminate..... or that it is important to look at the days to maturity in order to have any hopes of getting ripe fruit ..... or even that they come in sizes beyond 'cherry' and 'non-cherry'.

The postal guy's mother was so unsmiling and uncommunicative, not to mention seemingly ignorant of the most basic gardening knowledge, as to appear downright hostile. Maybe she didn't really want to grow tomatoes at all, but her son insisted. Another woman seemed to have some gardening experience, but demanded to see where I grew the starts, and even my whole vegetable gardening area. A couple of neighbors dropped by, and I gave them the plants for free -- it originally started as a neighborly offering, after all.

In the end, a friend of a friend took my last 7 plants on Friday, and amazingly, I ended up about $50 to the good. Pretty sweet, since I would have grown all those plants anyway. It certainly paid for my potting soil, water, and the electricity to power the soil heating cable and grow lights. Hmm. Next year, maybe I'll grow a few more, put the ad up sooner, and/or offer other vegs. I hope my 'kids' all grow well for the folks that bought them. Maybe I should have insisted on a written disclaimer..........

May 21, 2011


I'm very sorry, fellow Bendites. It's probably all my fault. Yesterday, in the giddy hours of our second warm, sunny day in a row since November, I had the temerity to
put both snow shovels away for the season

hang laundry on the clothesline (it was all my wooly garments too -- I was hoping for the last time until fall -- double my bad).

It's been a long, cold, wet spring. And still is. The plants don't really seem to mind, and the fact that everything is leafing out and blooming 2-3 weeks later than normal bodes well for our nascent fruit crop to survive unscathed by late spring frosts. Here are my beautiful pear trees in their full glory

But even those of us who normally laugh at the weather whiners are dragging a bit this year. I had thought that, since the sweetheart and I spent part of yesterday putting together a new drip irrigation system for my new raised beds, the weather gods would be mollified. Rain often follows a good thorough soaking with ye olde sprinklers and hose. Probably it failed this time because today is PPP day.

What is PPP? It's the 36th annual Pole, Pedal, Paddle race, of course. This annual madness occurs each year around the third week in May, and in the week leading up to the race, the signs are everywhere around town: cars with canoes on top, cars with bikes on top, cars with kayaks, bikes and pods on top. People learning how to kayak on Mirror Pond, 3 days before the race. People renting skis and learning how to ski, 3 days before the race. This 'training' style is practiced by a good percentage of the 3000+ participants, many of whom, just once a year, arise from their couches and form teams with other couch potatoes, who jointly assemble rental skis, someone's rusty bike from the garage, a canoe and a grill (for the after party) and go mano a mano against other teams with names like 'Old Men in Skirts' .. 'Just Keeping Up With the Girls' (husbands) ... 'Shakey Buckets' ... 'The Geriatric and the Junior' .... 'Psycho Mega Hose Beast' .... and my favorite: 'Capitol Punishment' (a team of Republican and Democratic senators from the Oregon capitol, working in the best bipartisan tradition).

The interesting thing is that there is a whole other race, with competitors at the highest levels of athletic prowess. Through the years, Olympians past, present and future have come and raced, surprisingly often beaten by the locals -- among whom there are, admittedly, many former and past Olympians in various disciplines. The couch potatoes and the major dudes are all out there on the same course, though, thankfully, sorted into waves to avoid serious clashes of culture.

The race consists of 6 segments, and the top finishers complete it in well under 2 hours. The race begins on the groomed slopes of Mt. Bachelor ski area, 22 miles west of Bend, and finishes by the river, downtown.

1 Alpine skiing -- competitors must first sprint uphill, wearing helmets, boots and goggles, to grab and don their skis. After a mere 1.15 mile downhill run, the competitors switch to
2 Nordic skiing -- an 8 km course on groomed trails. Then there is a change of shoes and a hop onto the bikes for the
3 Cycling -- 21.7 mile, mostly downhill ride to downtown Bend. Off the bikes, another change of shoes and the
4 Run -- 5 miles, on roads, trails and gravel paths, finishing at the Deschutes River, where everyone hops off the bike and into their boat of choice for the
5 Paddle -- .8 km upstream, 1.2 downstream, then .4 back upstream to disembark and leap out for the final .5 km
6 Sprint.

Sounds like fun? You bet. And you have your choice of ways to have that fun. You can assemble a team of any kind and number -- business ..... family ....... beer-drinking buddies ........ hottie athletes ........ 3rd graders ..... favorite spouse or best friend ...... or you can do all of it solo!

After the race is over, the best part comes. Besides the sore muscles, I mean. And that is the After Parties. Traditionally, the less fit the team members, the bigger, louder and more beer-infused the after party and the grander the war stories. Believe me, they go on into the night. The serious athletes may party too, though I suspect many of them are already making plans for next year.

Judging by the thwock thwock sounds of helicopters over downtown outside my window right now, the first finishers -- the elite athletes and serious, serious soloists and pairs -- are close to the finish line. As for me, I have a heavy day planned of installing drip irrigation, taking down my laundry to dry inside, and transplanting things into the garden. And preparing to hear the sounds of partying until the wee hours tonight, spiced, undoubtedly, of tales of snow at the start line. It's always something.

May 6, 2011

Oh the excitement!

During last year's tour I was out there, viewing other peoples' coops, looking for ideas for my own. This year I am one. Yikes. 24 hours out, I am frantically trying to get the place shipshape. The coldest April in decades has put a definite crimp in my spring gardening plans, from cleanup to seed-starting to planting out. I am weeks behind in everything.

My coop enhancement efforts have also been stymied. I had such plans, oh such glorious plans. New paths! Flower baskets at the window! Decorative art on the henhouse! But no. It's going to be just the usual chicken coop, warts and all. Hopefully people won't notice that Babe has bare sections from bad-ass dominant hen peckage. Or that Olive has lost her fluffy booty feathers from (I think) mites.

There have been photos of some really fancy Bend coops in the newspaper, on Sunset magazine's blog, and on tv. Some of these coops are nice enough for human housing. And here I've been thinking my coop is overly fancy for your average backyard chicken.

Still, it's fun to look back and see the beginnings. It started with research. Lots and lots of research.

Then came the peeps!

Now to find the perfect spot for a chicken coop....

Meanwhile, the girls were growing. Temporary day spa required. We settled on the poor white trash look.

Delivery day!

Painted and with girls installed.

Impromptu day spa added on the south side of the coop (look closely to see bird netting on top)

First egg -- on my birthday

Betty -- that's my girl!

Then came snow. Oops, that's it for the day spa.

Winter substitute. Back to the poor white trash look.

After allowing the girls to rampage in the garden during the winter, I finally had to call in the professionals. Well, one professional: my next-door neighbor, Tim, self-employed fine woodworker, artist, craftsman and all-around nice guy. Well, it was overkill, but he built me the day spa of my dreams last month.

Here's the late winter look of the empty corner.

Let the installation begin:

Love the clear roofing!

Ta da!

Thanks Tim. Now the girls must do their part: buff, primp and practice looking gorgeous.

Meanwhile, the new peeps are outside, though with a heat lamp for nighttime. It's still freezing most nights. In an effort to allow Babe to regrow her winter-pecked plumage, and allow the peeps to grow up within sight and sound of the Big Girls, I have divided the old run into 2 sections. So far, so good. I am pretty sure I have two roosters and only one wee hen .... but I'm hoping she will be enough to keep Babe company in smallness, once the three groups are finally merged.

That's it from here. 24 hours 'til CT-day.