Mar 18, 2012

Peepsters on Parade

Hmmm, doesn't look like the sunbathing session is going to pan out today. OK, I'll clean out the brooder instead.
'Brooder' being a ten dollar word to describe a large (free) cardboard box filled with wood shavings, and with a heat lamp suspended above it, in our garage.
I consider the whole setup fairly professional. First, the overview:
Girl Scout knot, possibly a half hitch. Whatever that is. Height adjustment achieved by moving rolling ladder.
Rope cleverly looped over ladder track.
When I got my first peeps 2 years ago, I was going on book larnin' and internet research. I was pretty tentative when it came to 'taming' them. When they all ran away from me, cheeping in terror, on the first day I brought them home, I assumed they would get used to me in time, sort of by osmosis. That didn't happen, though, and it wasn't until they were sexually mature and started laying, and went into "I am a hen, this tall being must be a rooster, I will submit" was I able to touch any of them again.

Since then I have learned a few things. Mainly, entice them with some irresistible food from the very beginning, and they will think I am the hot ticket. Baby chicks aren't interested in much yet -- mine showed no interest in minced hard-boiled egg, fresh weeds from the garden, or chopped nuts. But I had an ace up my sleeve -- something I learned about long ago, that chickens go apeshit over:
I only recently found these 'freshly oven roasted' (ie dried) mealworms at the feed store. Before that, it had been expensive little tubs of live worms that I kept in the frig and doled out like gold coins when I needed to lure the girls back to their coop. I haven't tried the live ones on these peeps yet, but they go like crazy for the dried ones. Love this on the package:
You mean, like blue jays, woodpeckers, and chickens?

So today I took the peeps out of their big box and added fresh wood shavings, water, etc. while they roamed around the garage. I've been letting them out for a little while each day, just for the cuteness of it, and so they don't have to spend 24 hours a day staring at a brown cardboard wall. Now that they are onto me as Mealworm Provider, I have to step very slowly & carefully to avoid squashing them -- they are right at my heels most of the time.

When I sit down to watch their antics, they come running/flying/scooting over and jump up into my lap. Oh, the cuteness.

I think it also helps that I didn't get 4 chicks all at once. I got just two at first, and had a whole week to get them used to me (ie excited about mealworms) before I got the second two. The new babies just follow the older, more experienced babies and they are all confirmed mealworm addicts at the ripe old ages of 19 and 12 days old.

The difference between the two pairs of chicks, only one week apart in age, is amazing. The older ones are probably twice the size of the younger. Here they are, side by side.

I was worried the older ones might pick on the younger, but haven't seen any evidence of that at all. This time I decided to get two of each color, so as to minimize 'differentness' -- something I didn't know would be a problem when I picked out my first flock 2 years ago. In my lust to have as many different breeds as possible, I got one each of 6 different breeds, and the pecking order thing boiled down instantly into 'everyone whomp on the one who is most different' -- which turned out to be my poor Babe. She had 4 strikes against her: she was black (everyone else was striped, speckled or light-colored), she was a bantam (I learned later that bantams do tend to get bullied in mixed flocks), she was a frizzle (feathers turn outward instead of lying flat against the body), and she joined the flock almost 3 weeks after the other girls, so was always behind.

I have two Rhode Island Reds (Rosie above and Pippa below)
one Australorp (Sam, for Samantha)
and one Black Sex Link (not named yet -- I need something sweet and unassuming, like this chick's personality so far) -- both of these last two will be all black.
Here you can see that Rosie, the older chick, is already developing pinfeathers, entering the early stages of that awkward teenager-with-zits look chickens have between newly hatched cuteness and almost-mature, ready-to-start-laying, yes-I-am-a-pullet phase at 4-5 months old. Like many teenagers, both the older chicks are all legs.
while Pippa and ??? are still adorably round and downy.
Even at this young age, they have dinosaur feet!
Mealworms eaten, chicks returned to their box, I have one more little task:

Peepster Poop Patrol.

Mar 15, 2012

The Real Arabella

It must be time to introduce this blog's namesake, Arabella Branan Genge Gault -- my paternal grandmother. I chose the name 'Arabella's Garden' for this blog partly because it started with 'A' and thus would head any imagined favorite list of blogs, and partly because my first choice of name 'The View From Home' was already taken. But the biggest reason was that my grandmother was a huge influence on my life as a gardener, and I still think of her often when I admire my asparagus bed, or watch my chickens. However, it wasn't until long after I planted my first garden (see previous post) that I thought back and realized how much about gardening I had absorbed from her in my earliest childhood.

This photo shows her as I remember her first and best, probably in the late 1950's, when she was in her late 60's.

When I first remember her, she was living on a farm in Illinois, whence she had moved after my grandfather LEFT HER FOR ANOTHER (YOUNGER) WOMAN sometime in the 1950's! Fairly shocking in those days, particularly for people in their 60's, but at my age I was oblivious and thought nothing of it. Although she loved her farm, and all her animals, she suffered terribly from arthritis even then and the winters were hard on her, so she began escaping by traveling during the coldest months. She took several ocean cruises, though, unlike the luxury liners of today, these were mostly simple accommodations aboard commercial ships. I'm sorry my memory isn't better -- or more likely, I just wasn't paying attention because I just accepted what I heard without questioning. One trip was on a Norwegian freighter, with just a handful of other passengers -- all single, older women, I believe.

**** Ha! I lied! Paging through her trip journal from 1961, I found a newspaper cutting from the L.A. paper, about her cruise of that year. It says: "(headline) Norwegian Tour Ship to Be Welcomed Here. "Elaborate welcome is planned at Los Angeles Harbor today when the Norwegian cruise ship Bergensfjord arrives between 8 and 9 am on a west-bound cruise around the world. The ship, carrying 371 cruise passengers, will embark 87 more tourists here at Berth 232 D, Terminal Island before leaving at 4 pm for Honolulu." I wonder where I got the idea these were budget trips? I would have been 11 years old and obviously wasn't paying attention to the details. Also had no clue about money. ****

She made long-lasting friendships on these trips, and kept in touch with them long after her traveling days were over. I remember one trip she decided she was going to learn to knit, and, optimistically, she took along needles and a big ball of black yarn to practice. She came home with a big ball of yarn, stretched limp from being knit, ripped out, reknit, ripped out, over and over again. She was not a crafty person, and gave it up, gladly, long before she returned to the States. I'm pretty sure I inherited her lack of knitting talent.

Here are a couple of photos from a Mediterranean trip she took in 1959, at age 67, visiting such ports as Funchal (Madeira), Rabat (Morocco), Tangier, Malta, Alexandria, Naples, Capri, Dubrovnik and Cairo. Here is a great photo of her in Casablanca
Don't you love the faces in this photo? Grandmother, gazing off into the distance, probably thinking about the beautiful tiles in the wall behind her. A rather furtive-looking Arab guy, looking at the camera, and two heavily veiled women, one of them looking up curiously and am I imagining it -- mischievously?

Here's another, obviously from Egypt. Presumably the two other ladies were her traveling companions, but who is the guy in the fez on the fourth camel?

Grandmother loved riding, and had horses at home on the farm. I wonder what it was like for her to bestride a camel? Showin' a bit of leg, there, Billy!

I don't know how many of these trips she made in all -- my memory is, only a few. After that she began coming out to California to stay with us over Christmas, which evolved into her renting a room in a house nearby for the entire winter. Eventually her arthritis became so bad she couldn't manage the farm at all, so she sold it and moved out to California for good. She moved into a nice retirement home and 'farmed' her back patio. More on that another time.

Recently I unearthed some old family papers, and found this photo of Arabella much earlier in her life. No date on the back, but her married name, so possibly after 1913, the year she married my grandfather. Does she look 22?

It occurs to me that my grandmother is almost exactly the age of the daughters in Downton Abbey -- probably Mary's age, the oldest. Though a middle class American rather than an English aristocrat, her life would have encompassed the same kinds of social and economic forces that were opening up for people of that era: women's suffrage, labor rights, etc. She too lived through the Spanish Influenza epidemic, which killed her future brother-in-law, my grandfather's younger brother, in 1919. It's only 100 years (next year) since she married!

How strange a thing is time. As a child, I certainly never imagined looking like my grandmother, that old, old woman. Yet this photo shows a strong resemblance to a younger me, and, now that I am approaching the age Grandmother was when she began her travels, I marvel at her courage and sense of adventure, to set out to see the world in her 7th decade.

Bloggers' Luck?

In my everyday life, I don't win things. Contests, sweepstakes, drawings. I never win them. In this I am following in the footsteps of this blog's namesake, Arabella -- the original Arabella, my grandmother -- who claimed to have only won one thing in her entire, long life. At the tender age of 5 or so, she correctly guessed how many jelly beans (or other Victorian era items -- did they have jelly beans in 1896?) were in a big glass jar at the county fair, and won a wonderful music box. It is still in the family -- my sister currently has it, but we have discussed trading off at some point. A fine thing to win, if you are going to win one thing.

Since I began reading blogs, though, specifically garden blogs, I have won 3 (three!) separate items, in different blog giveaways. A year or two ago, when I first discovered my favorite garden blog, Garden Rant, I won a pair of gardening gloves.

Last December, I won a most excellent book, which I quite need -- having nothing but dry shade in my yard. (Except of course for the dry sun.)

Now comes word that I have won a copy of the most excellent, latest, hot-off-the-presses edition of the Sunset Western Garden Book from yet another fine blog (Gossip in the Garden). This book is The Bible for gardeners in The West, and I have personally owned every edition since the 1967 version.

I discovered the (probably) 1959

version as a newlywed in 1971, as I was rifling my mother's bookshelves during a summer visit. I was spending the summer at a US Forest Service guard station (as devoted new wifey to my firefighter/sweetheart) 30 miles from a paved road and after only a few weeks I was desperate for reading material. I borrowed it on an impulse, despite never having had the slightest urge to garden up to that point in my life.

Once I got home to our little plywood home in the woods (fire guard station) I opened it and was instantly captivated. I still don't know why, but possibly it was a newly-awakened nesting urge, due to my recent entrance into the married state. All I know is that, once I got my nose into that book, I became aflame with the desire to dig.

Come September, I left my sweetheart in the mountains to finish up fire season, and returned alone to our crummy rental duplex next to the McKinleyville exit off Highway 101 (northern California coast, 'in the redwoods;), and started creating my first garden. I dug a small flower bed in front of the house and planted daffodils and crocus -- which did well.

I spaded a huge area in the side 'yard' -- really just a weedy, grassy area used by former tenants to bury their garbage. And I do mean garbage. This being the pre-recycling era, I was digging up not just rusted cans and broken bottles, but potato chip packages, old toothbrushes, clothing --- ewww. I persevered, though, and proudly showed my sweetheart my neatly planted rows of leeks, carrots, lettuce, onions and more when he returned a few weeks later.

Alas, most of the seeds did not come up -- I had planted them far too deeply, and the carrots, strangely successful, were eaten over a period of several days by gophers (as I watched in astonishment from the window). No matter. I was hooked. And I am still planting carrots and co. in my garden, with better success and fewer pests. My sweetheart is still a bit shocked that I garden -- he doesn't get the 'fun' of it. But he gladly eats my successes, and realized the time I spend in the garden is time I don't spend getting into all kinds of other trouble.

OK, what other garden blog contests can I enter?

Mar 4, 2012

She's Doing It Again

Two years ago I was a novice. Nervous. Excited. Well-read but with no actual hands-on experience. The Six Chix Mix took me by storm through cuteness. There was peckage, coop-building, and eventually, egg-laying. I became enchanted by chickens. Fell in love with their dinosaurean legs and feet, their beady eyes, their dorky walk and constant busyness.

Last year was a flock reshuffle and expansion of quarters. Coop tourists. Health dramas.

This year so far has seen flock reduction and the beginnings of what will be an invigorated egg-laying contingent.

So far we have 2 wee peeps, with another 2 slated to arrive a week later.
One Rhode Island Red (amazingly, wing feathers already, at the advanced age of 3 days old)

One Australorp

Further details to follow.