Jan 23, 2011

How Are You Going to Keep Them Down on the Farm .....

......... Now That They've Seen Paree?

It's my own fault. I felt sorry for the poor chickens last month, stuck in their tiny little house and run while the snow fell and the days were short and dark. Their run was covered by opaque plastic on the top and all but one side, so they didn't even have a view of the rest of the world. I had the best of intentions. I also had extra motivation in the fact that poor little Babe, my only bantam, was getting pecked unmercifully. They were bored, they were cranky, they were a bit crowded. And when chickens are bored, cranky and crowded, they start picking on the lowest hen in the pecking order. I didn't realize the immutability of 'pecking order' until I got chickens. I actually isolated Babe for a while, but it was tough in mid-winter where I had no place to put her outside the henhouse.
Here she is, still incredibly cute, but bald as an egg and pretty scraggly-looking all the way around.

So it all started out innocently enough. First I created a little mini-yard out of the portable dog pen I used last year for the chicky day-spa.

Then I thought, that's not much room. Maybe they'd like to get out into the garden. I shoveled the snow off the paver path to the chicken coop

and then up to the vegetable garden space next to the house.

There's snow everywhere except under the house eaves -- they will be safe and protected there and they can scratch around in the dry dirt. Uh huh. I was right, they loved being out in the garden. They scratched around in the few bare places and had a fine time. They hated the snow and stayed inbounds.

Until the snow started to melt. More and more of the garden was revealed, and opened to the increasing depredations of: Destructo Chickens! Scratching around the empty vegetable beds was one thing. But as the warm days revealed a few perennials, my dianthus became their new favorite. Before they completely demolished them, I managed to cover them with burlap.

But eventually all the snow melted and now how was I going to keep them out of the garden?

Yet another visit, in an ongoing chicken-related series of visits to the hardware store, yielded a 50 foot roll of 48" fencing, which stretched out to corral the girls into the lower portion of the vegetable garden. This holds the chicken house and run, a couple of small fruit trees and not much else. It is completely shaded by the boundary fence in winter, and nothing much grows there in the summer. They can't hurt anything, because there's nothing there.

Of course, since there's nothing there, they get tired of scratching in the bare mud and cast their beady little chicken eyes longingly back at the vegetable garden and perennial beds where they were wont to play in days of yore, ie last month. Here they are inside the new 'yard', squabbling over some grass I have just dug up in another part of the yard and dropped in.

That worked well. For about three days. Then one of the chickens managed to sneak through a hole in the raspberry bushes and out they all came, joyfully exploring (destroying) new floral horizons.

Up went more fencing. That was this morning. It worked for about an hour. Then I found Hawkeye, the most adventurous hen, out in the garden again. She had discovered she had wings. I picked her up and put her back in the pen. Next two different hens had flown the coop (meanwhile Hawkeye had forgotten how, and now it's obvious I'm going to have to think of something else. Once the days get a bit longer, we are planning to re-locate the henhouse and build a secure and larger yard. Meanwhile, what to do.....

Interestingly to me, newbie chicken rancher that I am, the biggest draw in the garden is not the greening weeds or even the tasty perennial plants. It's the Dust Bath !!!!


Jan 19, 2011

Garden Helpers

Indoor plants need extra help, especially mine -- as I related in my last post. Outdoors during the growing season, we have the odd bit of garden 'art', and various animal-type creatures (cats, chickens, bees and other insects) moving about to re-arrange and harmonize the garden chi. But the houseplant scene is pretty static, even occasionally desperate, during the cold winter months. Thus I try to incorporate a few smaller assistants for plants on windowsill and sunporch.

Gnomes (above) are obviously quite well-known as helpers. This one seems to be saying, "shhhh! don't disturb the plants!". He is encouraging my only currently blooming ladyslipper orchid, and obviously having some success. In addition, I have a whole extended family of these wee ones, lurking about the place. It being the off season, they are taking a well-earned break, standing around in front of the pumpkins, chatting and telling gnome jokes.

The grand-daddy gnome, Hamish, looks out from the greenhouse window, keeping an eye on the weather. He is actually an authentic Scottish gnome (made in China), so he is perfectly suited to weather-watching. They know weather in Scotland.

Looks like someone needs to clean that window.

Standing by, also off duty for the winter, is my cast-iron flying cat. I bring her in for special-needs situations.

Here is the plastic frog, standing in for the real Mr. Frog, who lives in the wall but is too shy to come out for visual admiration.

This little bird -- I think he's a junco -- is off duty, hanging out with the orchids and waiting to go back out to the miniature tree shelf on the back deck. I love juncos.

The Flying Pig is new, and has never really been tested in action. I think he has great potential. He is currently overseeing snow shoveling activities outside.

For the tropical set, Gorilla reminds me to keep water in the pitcher plant bowl.

Hanging above the orchid section is a scary Green Man figure, reproduced from the ceiling of Roslyn Chapel.

Back in my office, my own personal windowsill gnome quietly encourages my garden-planning efforts.

It is good to know I have lots of company in the garden.

Jan 17, 2011

The Poor Orphan Child(ren)

The words to an old Carter Family song have been running through my head of late. Many of the garden blogs I follow have had recent posts about house plants -- that being the only thing green going on in most northern gardens. Much eloquence and obvious horticultural skill is displayed in many of these blogs, and many have gorgeous photos of, currently, happily blooming orphans, I mean orchids.

Well, in my house they are truly orphans, which is why the Carter Family song springs to mind, slightly modified to fit the (botanical) circumstances:

I hear a low faint voice that says
'My caretaker seems dead'
And it comes from the poor orchid child
That must be clothed and fed

I love my orchids, I really do. And I have the very best of intentions to coddle and spoil them as they so richly deserve. But alas: my choice of indoor plants has increased in difficulty (and cost) in inverse proportion to my level of consistency and commitment as the decades have passed.

In the first youthful days of my gardening passion, I cooed and petted each tiny sprout and shoot and proudly dragged each passerby out to admire my latest efforts.

This must have been my first pot of forced bulbs. Notice the attractive 'curtain' (an old wool blanket inherited from my grandmother) behind me and the hideous sofa/daybed (our sole piece of furniture besides a piano). We were living in our first nonrental home, a 50 foot-long pink trailer (the term 'mobile home' was a bit grand for it), parked on a hillside in the middle of a clearcut redwood forest...... but that's another story.

About 5 years ago I fell in love with orchids and decided I was old enough, responsible enough and knowledgeable enough to deal with what I perceived as inevitable failure. Orchids were 'difficult' 'demanding' and probably, 'impossible'. But after becoming acquainted with terrestrial orchids through my work with flower essences, and after learning that there are a lot of hardy orchids that -- gasp --- grow out in our very own forests and bogs -- I decided, hey, they can't ALL be overly sensitive prima donnas.

Well, to cut to the chase here, I found that no, they aren't all fussy, they aren't all demanding, and they bloom for a really, really long time. BUT! I don't really have the winter light to produce blooms on the more tender kinds, ie I have lights, but they are in my cool sunporch and I'm not going to spend lots of money heating it for the oncidiums, cattleyas and other tender, complex hybrids.

The heroes of my orchid clan are phaelonopsis (moth orchids)

and paphiopedilums (lady slippers).
They are as bullet-proof as orchids get in a cool house/sunporch. That being said, I am totally intimidated by the whole drama of repotting and tend to let my plants go for years and years without repotting. Also, I totally lose interest in anything other than the outside garden from March through November, thus consigning my orchids to pretty much pure neglect.

The result of this bad bad, unplantsmanlike behavior is that I lose a few of the toughies every year to neglect. I lose almost all the finicky ones to neglect plus unoptimal conditions. And I buy a few new ones every winter whenever I come across a good deal at the grocery store or nursery, a 'good deal' being under $20.

Orchids are amazingly cheap considered as extremely long-lasting 'cut flowers'. And considered this way I can rationalize buying a few new ones every year while the old ones either dwindle away or tough it out. And I am always pleased when they do rebloom.

But this is a new year! It's time for gardening resolutions! Inspired by Kate of the High Altitude Gardening blog, I am going to soak my orchids for 30" every Sunday. Yes, I am. Well, just this once on Monday instead. I have brought in a plastic tub and they are in there right now. Aren't they excited? And if I never do it again, at least they had Paris. Just this once.

Jan 1, 2011


Who could resist those numbers? It feels like a real 'starting over' year already. Already a whole decade of the 21st Century under our belts and so far things seem mostly to have fallen apart. I'm for a new start. With all those ones, anything seems possible.

I really meant to write a post earlier in the day, but it was just too ...... soon. Now it's bedtime. But I have great plans for 2011 bloggation, so I will content myself just now with a final look at 2010. Well, probably not the final look, but a big overview look. There were lot of big changes in Arabella's Garden -- some traumatic, some exhilarating. The biggest new thing in the garden, and certainly the most surprising and entertaining, was that 2010 was The Year of the Chicken. Or chickens. On that note, we have these images to ponder, from Betty, the day she laid the first egg (my best birthday present ever)

to Betty, making her appearance on the Christmas pie

Here's to 2011 BAWWWWWWWWWWKKKKKKK!!!!!!!