Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Michele's Recipe for Happiness

Once again, Michele Owens at Sign of the Shovel has said it better than I. Her Recipe for Happiness:

  • 3 parts brain work to
  • 2 parts brute labor;
  • 3 parts family to
  • 2 parts parties.

Shirk, outsource, or blithely ignore absolutely everything else.

I'd make one change: 3 parts family or friends. Because apparently Michele's family is more fun than mine (this does not include my in-laws, who are great). I have wonderful friends though.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Karen's Garden

We had a lovely evening at my friend Karen's yesterday, ending the long weekend with good food and friend, what could be better. I've written about Karen's beautiful woodland garden before, and yesterday I snapped some photos. It was not the best time of day for photos, but even still, her garden is beautiful.

One of the many things I love about Karen's garden is her re-use of materials, an old Yankee trait I really admire. The entrance to the garden is a picket fence made with old plaster lathe painted blue, and a rustic arbor constructed from lumber from their old barn, which was torn down when she bought the house. She constructed a brick pathway and patio area using old bricks salvaged from a local construction project, painstakingly chipping the mortar off and setting the bricks in a layer of sand. The re-use of the old bricks lends an instant patina of age to the area, making her young garden seem like it has been there a long, long time.

Karen always has an ongoing project or three. This year she is working on adding a small pond -- she's taking advantage of her son's help with the digging before he heads off to college in the fall. Next to the pond, she is constructing a covered bench made from rustic cedar fence posts, and she will train a trumpet vine to climb up over the bench creating a shady oasis overlooking the small pond.

Karen lived for a few years in Maryland before returning to Maine, and at one point was a volunteer naturalist for a local park. She learned a lot about native shrubs and birds and good bird habitat and it shows. Her garden, which 5 years ago was an overgrown mess of scrubby trees and brush, provides both open space and good nesting and forage for birds, and she makes sure there are plenty of places for a drink or a bath, too. Near a bench, a rustic bucket with a hole in the bottom drips into a birdbath placed below, providing a place for the visitor to rest and perhaps see a bird in the birdbath. The water dripping from the bucket provides movement and attracts the birds. I have several leaky buckets but I didn't think of that clever idea.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Gifts from our parents

We finished the window in the chicken coop today. The window had one piece of original glass remaining, rippled and dotted with air bubbles from the manufacturing process many years ago. We needed to replace 3 of the panes; fortunately, our house came with a supply of window glass in the barn attic, so I cut 3 new pieces of glass for the window from inventory.

My dad owned a hardware store in a small town in Maine. From a teenager's perspective, it was not a glamorous occupation for a dad. It was hard work, made more difficult by the early days of big box stores sweeping in to put the little guys out of business. The store was open 7 days a week, and in emergencies – frozen pipes, a tree limb blown through a window, the phone would ring in the wee hours and my dad would agree to open the store to help out in an emergency.

My siblings and I all worked in the hardware store off an on, to help out, although it was never a favorite occupation. There was an old fashioned cash register, with a wooden drawer and a pull handle. All the calculations were completed manually, then the total was punched, the handle pulled, and the drawer would spring open. Most folks paid in cash, so you’d count out their change from the drawer. There was no computer chip figuring it out for you – it was all manual, or maybe I should say mental.

Working in the store, I learned to cut keys on the key machine, cut and thread pipe, weigh out nails and screws, and cut glass. Even 30 years later, I still know more about hardware than your average big-box store employee. Little did I know back then how incredibly useful all those skills would be. As the proud owner of an antique Cape, knowing basic plumbing skills has come in very handy, as has a knowledge of basic hardware and carpentry, and this morning, I didn’t even think twice about cutting the glass.

As painful as it was at the time, I appreciate all those skills now. Thanks, Dad.

Friday, May 26, 2006


As the weather warms up, and the end of the school year approaches, when not thinking about gardening, I'm thinking about hypertufa. Hypertufa is a lightweight concrete made with peat moss. Over time, the moss breaks down leaving the hypertufa very porous and rustic looking. Supposedly the hypertufa was developed to mimic ancient watering troughs made from limestone called tufa, in use in Britain for centuries.

Hypertufa, or tufa, as I call it, is a wonderful medium for making planters and bird baths, water fountains, sculpture, you name it. It’s made from Portland cement and aggregate materials, sand, perlite, vermiculite, etc., although to be proper hypertufa it must contain Portland cement and peat moss.

We’ve been making hypertufa things for a few years now, and have led a few workshops on hypertufa, I’ve even had my recipes (“borrowed” from my old website without credit) featured on a gardening show on cable tv.

Tufa is amazing stuff, very forgiving and capable of very different looks based on the aggregate used. I like using molds to make tufa items, but it can be successfully hand formed or used to make sculpture. Last year we successfully made a faux hypertufa Japanese Lantern from a plastic garbage can, a plastic bowl, a juice bottle and a light fixture.

We’ve even branched out into straight concrete items, making concrete birdbaths, planters and pedestals using some terrific molds available from History Stones.

With work and chickens and garden I’ve been too busy to think much about tufa, but now that the weather is warm enough (tufa needs temperatures above 50ยบ F while curing) I’m starting to feel the creative juices flowing, and I am thinking about trying to replicate a standing stone I saw on the Scottish Isle of Raasay a few years ago, carved by the ancient Picts. Now wouldn’t that look cool in the garden….

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Pondering the big picture

Dan and I stroll the grounds of the "estate" 'most every night in good weather, looking at all the work we have done, and have yet to do, and trying to figure out just what it is we WANT to do, what we want to achieve in our earthly paradise.

It is a bigger challenge than I naively thought it would be when first we started 5 years ago. We've identified lots of goals -- create more privacy, reduce the lawn as much as possible, provide good bird habitat, produce as much of our own fruits and vegetables (and now eggs) as we can, make it low maintenance by using natives and naturalized plants or tough immigrants who like the climate, and do it all utilizing organic methods whenever possible.

Then there are all those other little details that have a huge impact -- how do we accomplish all the above and keep room for the pickup truck to get back to the vegetable garden and perennial beds with loads of manure and mulch? How do we get water to the vegetable garden nearly 300' from the hose spigot?

The gorgeous sugar maple in the middle of the yard is aging and needs some work. What do we do to prepare for --heaven forbid-- the dark day we have to take it down? (This tree is a huge part of what we love about this house, one of the first things we saw on that autumn day in 2000 when we stepped into the house to see it for the first time, and gasped at the tree blazing away in it's autumn finery framed by the big window in the living room. It lit the yard like an earthbound sun.)

And let's not forget that we must have a clothesline, for I'm a thrifty native Mainer and relish saving pennies and fossil fuel with my deluxe solar dryer -- and I love the scent of line-dried laundry.

Then there are all the ideas we get from reading all those garden books and magazines -- we should be creating garden rooms furnished with decorating accents and weathered cedar benches yadda yadda. We have more rooms than we now need in the house, do we want rooms in the garden? Will we have to dust them if we create them? What kind of garden will inspire me, yet be in keeping with our traditional New England home, a cape with an ell with an ell with a barn?

Given all this, how do we create interest and focal points, showcase favorite plants, and reduce lawn while keeping room for the truck in our long narrow lot while respecting and loving what we already have here?

On mornings like today, I sit over coffee in the kitchen nook, looking out the back window and I fall in love with the yard and its possibilities all over again, but I am still pondering how to achieve all of the above. We've made a good start, but clearly, I have a lot more thinking to do.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Crazed with lust

We have put oranges out for the Baltimore orioles for years with nary a problem, but this year, one poor bird is off her rocker and is unwilling to share her mate or her territory with her reflection as seen in our picture window.

The female oriole has been attacking the window, using the grapevine arbor in front of the window as a staging area for the attacks.

The male hangs about nearby, but really hasn't joined in the fray. There are at last 2 pairs of orioles in the area, as there has been in the past, but this is the first year they have displayed such reluctance to share. The poor oriole worked the window over until dusk last night, and started in again this morning bright and early. Much to the disgust of my three fascinated cats, I finally stapled a piece of floating row cover over the window, and eventually the oriole gave up. It isn't pretty but I couldn't stand the idea of the poor bird banging on the window all day. Although come to think of it, I can see her point, I've dated men in the past who nearly drove me to head banging.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Bowdoinham Plant Sale

We were one of the first in line at the Bowdoinham Public Library Plant Sale, and it paid off handsomely. We got three big beautiful hemlocks, a maidenhair fern, a pink yarrow to replace the Raspberry Wine bee balm in the Picket Fence bed, another catmint for the silver garden, a yellow dogwood, and a white bleeding heart for the front garden. It is truly a fabulous sale.

One of the reasons I love the Bowdoinham sale is that every plant is clearly labeled with name and cultivar if known, with clear, succinct cultivation requirements, and often a photo of the blooming plant is included in the display. If the dedicated volunteers who put on this sale can manage labeling of that quality, why is it so hard for nurseries? It astonishes me that a group of dedicated volunteers can pull off what American nursery business can't manage... although upon second thought, not really. Volunteers accomplish more than most of us ever realize, especially in this era of dependance upon local non-profits to fill in for government services. But I digress -- this is after all supposed to be mostly about rural living, gardening and chickens, right?

After the plant sale, we came home and installed the chicken run and mowed the lawn. Sunday was planting day, and plant we did -- we managed to get all but 2 plants in the ground, and we moved several others. Here are the hemlocks in their new home, providing screening from the neighbors on the east. To the right is a trellis we set up for vining annuals -- as yet, not at the vining stage.

We planted the purple nine bark in the bed along the east boundry. It is backed by the row of arborvitae our neighbors planted last year. I hope there is enough space that the ninebark will get the sun needed to hold the dark purple leaf color -- the arborvitae backing will show it off nicely. In front of the ninebark are 2 meadow rue, a lavender and a white. The lavender with its ruddy purple-green stems will look great against the ninebark in a few years.

On the other end of this bed, I relocated our beach plum, and planted the chocolate eupatorium (Joe Pye weed) I got at the plant sale. Next to it I divided some Raspberry Wine bee balm which I think will look good with the purple leaves of the eupatorium. In the center of the bed is a small, Rumba weigelia, which has a burgundy tint to the leaves. In a few years I'll be able to divide the eupatorium and repeat it throughout the bed, and continue to add other plants which will show off these purple beauties.

Further down the yard the fothergilla I planted last year is blooming now. It is gorgeous, I can hardly wait to see what it will look like as a mature shrub if it is this stunning now. This is a large fothergilla, which will supposedly sucker, but there is also a dwarf variety available for smaller gardens. It has a nice leaf texture and I think will make a good backdrop shrub for the back of the border in addition to putting on a stunning show in mid spring.

Between the fothergilla and the hemlocks, I planted a Canadian serviceberry. I bought a good sized one with many stems at the Fedco tree sale and divided it, planting the other at the back of the lot near the naturalized flowering crabs. I like these suckering shrubs as I'll be able to readily propagate additional shrubs for the overgrown far back of the lot to improve the bird habitat.

Chicken Run

Well, we did it, the coop, with much grunt labor, literally (that damn thing must weigh 500 lbs.) was rolled back to the the vegetable garden area, and the chicken run was installed. The girls had their first outing in the pen Saturday morning. Zinnia, bold as brass, was the first out the door, but eventually they all explored a bit, even Hyacinth, who for all her bullying and big size, is well, a big chicken.

We put them back inside the coop Saturday afternoon while we mowed the lawn, mostly to protect their tender sensibilities from my foul language as I dragged the mower through the knee high damp grass. Eventually, with many stops to unclog the grass from the mower, we finished mowing -- just in time for yet more rain. Just as well we mowed when we did.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Potayto, potahto

Our potatoes from Pine Tree Garden Seeds arrived Thursday, 3lbs. each of Rose Gold and Carola seed potatoes. At the Fedco sale, when I could not recall if I'd ordered the potatoes, my friend Karen and I decided to buy some fingerling seed potatoes, Rose Finn, and LaRatte, to share. It looks like we'll have lots of potatoes this year! So much for the low-carb concept, please pass the butter!

This means I'll have to do some last-minute vegetable garden revising. I want to put the potatoes next to the chicken run in case the potato beetle makes an appearance, and in hopes the chickens will develop a taste for Maine escargot. I think I'll have enough room, if I make the rows longer than I planned. Hmmm....

Dan and I picked up the fence posts for the chicken run last night. It will go right next to the vegetable garden, in hopes the chickens will kill off the sod and pre-fertilize the area, which next year will become additional garden space. Next year, we will do the same to the end of the garden, making it bit longer. After that, we will set up the coop in a more permanent location, and utilize the two doors to have two runs. When one run is in need of a rest, we will reseed it with grass and move the girls to the second run while the first recovers. Our friend Ron gave us that idea, which he used successfully in his previous life as a gentleman farmer. Thanks Ron!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Feeling their oats, ready to roam

The chicks have settled in to their new digs quite contentedly. Last night we left the lamp off, and when we checked, they did not seem to be cold or uncomfortable at all. We check them twice a day, just for a moment in the mornings before work, then for a good long visit in the evenings, weather permitting.

Today the girls were feeling very adventurous, immediately hopping up to the nest box door to visit and view the world. Zinnia, ever the bold one, even flew down to the grass. In a developmental milestone, we noticed today for the first time, a noise that sounded suspiciously like a "cluck." At one point all 6 of them were sitting in a row, looking around. I think they are trying to let us know they are ready to run in the grass, so this weekend, we need to put up the chicken run.

Gray = green

Lots of dreary gray rainy days of late. Silly, but just a bit ago we were all worried about the dry conditions and fire danger, now, we are awash. Fortunately, we were spared the flooding that southern Maine, New Hampshire, and northern Massachusetts received.

Our rain gauge bit the dust, and I haven't installed the new one, so I'm not sure how much rain we received, but I can say things are greening up. The despised lawn is once again approaching knee high -- it's been too wet to mow, now we need a farm tractor. My Purple Knight butterfly bush is sprouting, just as I began to fear its demise. The Russian Sage hedge along the driveway is growing like mad, the beech tree is leafing out --right now, it's easy being green.

Our gorgeous old flowering crab is at its breathtaking peak. I wish the rain would hold off so the bees could enjoy it. On sunny days, it is just filled with bees, the sound of them calls to mind Yeats' 'bee loud glade,' the busy humming is audible from yards away.

The tree hasn't been pruned in years, we haven't touched it since taking ownership, and I doubt much was done before. I'm now too intimidated by its stunning beauty in the spring, and the amazing structure we see in winter. I will tackle a few dead branches this summer, and perhaps that overgrown watersprout just visible in the photo below, but I'll wait until my arborist friend Bill can be here to guide me before I tackle anything too radical. After all, perfection is the enemy of good, and this tree is sure good now.

I noticed a bird, I think a wren but I need to look it up, nesting in the nest box near the leaf composting bin. I saw the pair flitting in and out, once carrying a long piece of dried grass. I suppose soon we will have baby birds, if not already.
You cannot see it in the photo, but there is a bird just inside the entrance, and another to the left on a branch. We also have a pair of northern orioles regularly visiting the orange feeders, and there are at least 2 male orioles arguing over the territory. A pair of catbirds was at one of the orange feeders this morning, just after I put out fresh oranges. They join our resident pair of cardinals, and the grackle family living in the arborvitae hedge. I'm still hoping for a tanager stopping for a brief visit. We had a pair last year stop by for about a week, what a treat!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

In the information age, not enough information

When we decided to plant a blueberry hedge, we knew we had three unknown variety plants "in inventory," as Dan and I say. We also knew we would get some plants from Hedgehog Hill Farm, using our work exchange certificates, so we were limited to the varieties they offered, Blueray and Patriot. That leaves 5 plants we need to purchase, and since we want a long season of productivity, and we know that blueberries produce best with at least 2 varieties for pollination, we knew we wanted some additional varieties.

In looking around to find varieties, I am frustrated by the lack of varieties available, and by the lack of information about the available varieties. I prefer to shop locally, but even the catalogue of one of my favorite local greenhouses, Skillins, doesn't have that much information (although to give them credit, they do offer 9 varieties, the best selection I've seen yet). Even with all those varieties, however, there is no information on sizing for each plant, just a general "ultimate height 4-6' tall. Well, how wide? Which plants are 4', which are 6'?

Poking around on the web, I did find a helpful web site, Fall Creek Nursery, which in addition to listing 21 varieties of northern highbush blueberries, gives better cultural information about each plant -- for the most part. The plants were listed by order of ripening, and included comments on flavor, special cultural needs, height, and, very usefully, spring summer and fall foliage color.

Bluetta, for example, is a very early variety with medium size tangy berries, is more adaptable to colder climates, and is very compact, reaching 3-4', with scarlet fall foliage. Wonderful! Great and helpful information for someone like me who wants both delicious fruit and an attractive plant. But wait... they only sell wholesale.... Ah well, at least I have the information I need to determine what varieties will work best.

Maybe this is why so many people go with whatever the Home Depot or WalMart garden departments have to offer. It is just too hard to find good information about plants and shrubs, and unless the gardener is as passionate (obsessed?) as I, it is just easier to load up the cart with the dwarf Alberta spruce, burning bush and mugo pine and plop 'em in the ground. Gardening is expensive and hard work and if you pick the same old plants that your neighbor was able to grow it successfully, maybe you can grow them, too, AND you know what they'll look like. Maybe.

Nursery owners take note -- some of us want that cultural information, concisely printed on the plant tag, especially if your staff can't provide it. If it is there, we just might take a chance with an unfamiliar variety.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Blueberry Hedge

Sunday we went to Hedgehog Hill Farm to pick up our plant order. Last year, we participated in the farm work exchange program, spending one day working on the farm, and receiving in exchange a gift certificate for $50 worth of plants. We ordered 4 highbush blueberry plants, 2 Blueray, and 2 Patriot, a Daphne v. Carol Mackie, a Purple Ninebark v. Monlo, 4 creeping thyme plants, and 10 alpine strawberry plants for the strawberry jar.

Sunday being perfect gardening weather, sunny and breezy enough to keep the black flies at bay, we planted the blueberries. We had prepared the space for the blueberries by placing hay bales on cardboard last fall, quite effectively killing the sod underneath, (see above photo) but amazingly, NOT the tulips seen in this photo, which were planted in the lawn by, as Michele Owens says, the previous regime, and have been blooming yearly ever since we arrived. As testament to the amazing will of these tulips, here they are blooming away having grown up through the hay bale covering them.

We removed half the the hay bales, using some to mulch around the shrubs planted last weekend, and the remaining bales to mulch the edge of the yard as part of the ongoing campaign to kill off the knotweed and the multiflora roses. We'll get some additional varities of blueberries soon to complete the row once the tulips have finished blooming.

Digging the bed was pretty easy, with all the rain the soil was pretty soft, but the break in the rain allowed it to dry enough to be workable. I used my soil test kit and discovered the pH was 6.5, so I added some Espoma Garden Sulphur to acidify. The test indicated the nitrogen level was a little low, so I added some Fertrell organic fertilizer. The phosphorus and potassium levels were ok. We worked the fertilizer and sulphur in, and planted the blueberries, adding three additional unknown variety plants we had on the property when we arrived, backfilling with a mix of soil and a good amount of compost. Then we mulched with shredded leaves from the leaf bin, thinking the acid from the leaves would make good mulch. Once we mow again, though, I will mix the leaf mulch with some grass clippings to speed along decomposition.

We then planted the alpine strawberries in the pot Dan's mom gave us last year, and ended the day with our summer Sunday ritual, walking over to meet Karen & Bill, and Bill & Michelle for ice cream at the Dairy Treat. Yum.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Grand Opening of Henbogle House aka the Chicken Palace

Surely this deserves a bottle of bubbly -- Henbogle House is officially open and occupied. We thought construction this weekend would be rained out, but amazingly, after heavy rains last night, the skies lifted a bit, the sun almost appeared on a few occasions, and construction commenced.

Working quickly, expecting the skies to open at any moment, I primed the window, soffits and door trim while Dan cut the stainless steel for the roof. As always there were a few moments of problem solving, but we got it all together, and it looks great.

We were SO excited to show the girls their new home, we brought them out to look the place over before we even put the wood shavings in! Of course, once they got in the coop, we realized getting them OUT of the coop would be nigh-on impossible, so we added the bedding and voila, they took posession.

Clearly, the girls are loving it. There is lots of room to practice flying, and Iris even managed to fly directy to the roost, although the rest have to climb the "Stairway to Roosting."

The wheels work great. Our neighbor down the road stopped by the other day. Roland has a couple of hens and a rooster living in an old truck cap in his back yard. He stopped the car and rolled down the window and said, "What'ch ya building?" Dan answered, "A chicken coop."

"That's quite a coop," Roland said. Dan laughed, "We call it the chicken palace." Roland shook his head, clearly thinking we were two crazy fools with way to much time and money on our hands. "It's got wheels?" "Yup," Dan pushed the coop, and it rolled a few inches, "so we can move it."

Again, Roland shook his head. "You know, the theme for Richmond Days this year is Redneck Rodeo. You could put that in the parade." Dan laughed, but I could see the gleam in his eye, I know he's thinking about it. Redneck Rodeo indeed....

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

You can't always get what you want...

Again yesterday I was reminded how alike yet different we humans are. I was talking to a colleague, who mentioned she was very happy because this summer they were FINALLY getting a lawn. They had built a new house on a wooded lot a few years ago, and this summer were finally going to clear the trees in the backyard and put in a lawn. She could hardly wait.

This is such a contrast to my gardening goals, I was incapable of commenting much, instead I was thinking to myself "What, are you insane? You'll have to buy a noisy smelly evil lawnmower, then use it to MOW the lawn, and then fertilize the lawn, weed the lawn, reseed the lawn, rake the lawn, de-thatch the lawn, send the lawn to college, etc."

Here I am with an enormous lawn I can't WAIT to be rid of, and this woman is spending thousands of dollars to make a lawn. Had I several thousand dollars on hand, I'd have a landscaping crew in here digging up the lawn and installing trees, shrubs and perennial borders right now this INSTANT (7 am on a rainy Wednesday.) Actually, they'd have done it last week.

As of May 7, we've already had to mow the lawn. From now through early July at least it will need mowing at least every 7 days --really every 5 days but who has time for that? It will slow down after that, maybe every 10 days or so, but our soil is very rich and moist so we have green growing lawn even in dry years, sigh. I console myself with thinking that at least when we are FINALLY rid of most of the lawn, we'll have lovely rich moist soil for our borders of trees, shrubs and perennial flowers.

Sunday Dan and I walked over to my friend Karen's home and got a tour of her lovely woodland garden. Karen also lives in the village, and purchased her home just a few months before we did in 2000. Her lot is similarly shaped, long and deep, but her lot slopes down in the back, and had been allowed to grow wild and woolly for years. Consequently, she had lots of mature deciduous and some coniferous trees, and not as much lawn. She has done a wonderful job of selectively thinning the trees out and creating a fabulous woodland garden, a wonderful mix of native plants and a stunning brick patio made with reclaimed bricks that looks like it has been there forever. I think I'll have to post some photos, if she'll let me, because I love it, and every time I am there I learn something new and see another plant that I think would look great in our garden.

And so I will continue to nibble away at our despised lawn, starting with the large woody border trees/shrubs, and as they grow, planting smaller shrubs and perennials in front of them until as last, we have a tiny little patch of lawn to mow, or maybe no lawn, just a stone patio. In the meantime, I have got to convince Dan that a small goat or two would be much easier than the incessant mowing, AND we'd have goat manure to compost, and goat cheese, too.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Another Sunny Sunday

Well, another gorgeous Sunday of gardening excess -- I love it. Again, we spent the entire day outside, and I suffered only periodic episodes of minor guilt over the disreputable state of housekeeping -- somewhat mitigated by collecting a pile of newspapers from off the couch to use when mulching around the fruit trees.

Here's the state of the list. Bold indicates the tasks which were successfully completed:
transplant seedlings
clean bathrooms
re-pot apple mint
plant Fedco shrubs
finish Henbogle House (coop)
pea fencing -- dog deterrent
dig & amend blueberry hedge
oranges out for Baltimore oriole
succession planting lettuce/greens
clutter patrol
mow the lawn
mulch shrubs
pick up plants at Hedgehog Hill Farm

Perhaps you notice a pattern emerging? Fortunately for both the garden and the housekeeping, a week of overcast and showers is called for. Hmmm, I wonder if I'd have time to get to Hedgehog Hill Farm after work one night....

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Chick epiphany

Perhaps it was our laughing about "hardening off" the chicks, but today Dan had a wonderful idea. Until Henbogle House is ready, we will relocate the chicks to our cold frame! Voila! They will be out of the laundry room, and will have room to run around, and more space for flight practice.

We'll have to bring the cold frame into the barn and rig up the heat lamp and a hardware cloth cover, but it will do for a week until we move the chicks and I need the cold frame.

While I mulched the new shrubs, and Dan prepped the seed potatoes, we brought the chicks outside with us today and put them in the cold frame. They definitely liked being ouside, they'd cock their heads at the various bird calls, and practice flying. We should have taken photos, but oh well.... next time.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Jeepers peepers

Michele Owens has a neighbor who didn't like the noise of her hens, nor of her neighbors' lone frog, peeping away in their tiny garden pond. The discussion reminded me of a favorite
passage from E.B. White:

With so much disturbing our lives and clouding our future…it is hard to foretell what is going to happen…I know one thing that has happened: the willow by the brook has slipped into her yellow dress, lending, along with the faded pink of the snow fence, a spot of color to the vast gray-and-white world. I know too, that on some not too distant night, somewhere in pond or ditch or low place, a frog will awake, raise his voice in praise, and be joined by others. I will feel a whole lot better when I hear the frogs.

He wrote that about nuclear prolferation and the Cold War, if I recall, but it sure seems to reflect our world today, too.

There aren't enough hours in the day...

to get through The List. Yesterday I went to the Fedco plant sale, and picked up:
another red chokeberry
another black chokeberry
3 Winter Red winterberries
a Southern Gentleman to meet theWinter Red's reproductive needs
a Virginia sweetspire
a Canadian serviceberry.

I'm slowly planting these along the long borders on either side of the yard. They are hardy suckering natives, so I'm hoping they will be able to compete with the aggressive weed shrubs coming at me from either neighbor (Japanese knotweed and multiflora rose). I was hoping for several other things, but they were sold out -- I MUST remember to order next year, I can't believe I forgot the order deadline this year. Sigh.

After returning hme from the Fedco sale, we took advantage of clear skies to work on Henbogle House, setting the shrubs aside in the barn for later planting.

We made excellent progress on the coop. All the siding is on and stained "Colonial Yellow." Left to do:
Make the doors and the framing for opening and closing the doors.
Put on the stainlees steel roof
Add latches to the exit/entry doors and clean-out door.
Paint and install the window.

Dan is modeling the use of the clean-out door.

At the rate the girls are growing, we NEED to finish the coop, they are getting big and I am oh so ready to re-claim the laundry room! We've been "hardening" them off, bringing their little brooder pen outside on the deck while we are out, and we''ve now got the heat lamp off in the laundry room. With luck, we'll be able to get them in the coop in the next few days -- really as soon as the stain has thoroughly cured. They have learned how to use their new roost, so they should be ready for their "big girls" roost soon, too.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Garden pests

A lovely rainy day yesterday, the rain gauge indicates we had about 1 3/4 inches of badly needed rain. Our local fire chief told Dan that the weekend before last, there were several grass fires in town. We are lucky that our volunteer fire department could get them under control, it has been very, very dry.

The seeds I planted are now having a nice soaking, the temps are in the mid-40s, but at the time of planting the soil temperature was up to 56 degrees, and these are cool-weather crops so we should have good germination. On Sunday the peas (Lincoln), planted 4/18, were just sprouting. I need to build a temporary fence soon to keep the dog out. We made the painful discovery a few years ago, that no, it was not the groundhog, nor the slugs, that were decimating the early peas. It was THE DOG. Yes, THE DOG, whose only task in our household is to scare off the groundhogs, was instead competing with the groundhogs for fresh greens.

It took a while before we figured this out -- after all, what self-respecting Golden Retriever would eat pea sprouts, chard, spinach? And we have a bumper crop of slugs in our yard, in addition to the groundhog village living next door, so naturally we assumed it was a 'hog or slug problem when we saw the ravaged little plants. But something was eating the ornamental kale, too, planted in pots on the deck. And come to think of it, the damage didn't look like slug damage.

Then one day, when he didn't realize we were looking, Fisher ambled over to the kale and took a bite -- just a little nibble, really. And then another, and another, and then he moved on to the next pot while we watched, dumbfounded --then sprang into action, yelling and waving our arms, while Fishy looked on as though we were possessed (which we probably are, but that's another story).

Thus, Fishy now lolls about the yard, looking unconcernedly through the fence as the groundhogs gambol about the garden, dining on organic beet greens and tender young grean beans. If anything, he's jealous of them.

Monday, May 01, 2006


Five years on, we are still waffling over the what to do with a gap in the shrubs along the property line on the deck side of the house. If only we had planted 5 years ago, we'd have well established shrubs in there now, but as we can't make up our minds, we still have a big gap (formerly a canoe rack lived there).

Part of the dilemma is the differing needs of the plants on either side of the gap. Toward the driveway end, we have a row of mature arborvitae providing excellent screening and good housing for backyard birds. Behind the freestanding deck, we have an old hedge of white lilacs. The arborvitae are conifers preferring acidic soil; the lilacs deciduous woodies with a taste for sweet soil. What to meet in the middle?

Part of the reson this has become more of a priority is the construction of our new deck, which sits in full view of the gap. The other part of the reason is that our neighbors have mentioned they plan on building a deck which will also be directly in line with the gap -- and that their kitchen renovation includes new lighting that hits us directly in the eyes in the evening.

So what to do? The spot gets morning sun and shade in the afternoon, and is fairly protected. My latest thinking is perhaps a holly hedge, but I'm open to ideas....