Monday, April 22, 2013

Garlic, Worms and Coyotes, Oh My

Finally, the weather is getting warmer.  The trees are starting to bloom and  the grass is turning green. We had a lovely warm evening on Sunday, and I was able to let the chickens out into the yard to enjoy some time with the grass and bugs at sunset.

Many birds seem to be back in Indiana - robins, red-winged black birds, etc.  The birds have been singing and acting a little crazy.  For some weird reason, other birds (not the chickens) have been flying into and hanging out in the chicken coop.  It's like they wait for me to open the door so they can join the girls.  Do other birds eat chicken feed?  I've asked some other people with chickens and they have been seeing the same thing - very strange.  I have flashbacks of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" as I walk into the coop - having to duck and crazily wave my hands to keep the birds from attack (I may be over dramatizing the issue just a little bit).

Spring literally puts more "Spring" into my step.  I'm not even bothered by the rain because it means everything will be coming back to life. The grass is turning a vibrant green, the trees are flowering - everything is awakening from a long winter's nap.  The garlic we planted in late fall is growing quickly.  I just wonder if it will be ready for picking by the time I need to plant the summer vegetables. But I'll worry about that later.

Our weeping cherry before the spring rains have a chance to knock off all of the blooms.
Spring wakens all the critters.  The coyotes are yelping and howling from all sides whether early morning or late at night.  This of course causes the giant dog (my nick name for Sandy Claws) to bark at full volume from inside the house.

Then there are the worms. Icky, disgusting, creepy, slimy, worms/nightcrawlers.  This is the first year I have ever noticed them as I head outside to close the coop at night.  I usually set out with my handy dandy giant flashlight/spotlight.  One night I happen to shine the spotlight toward the ground. Out of the corner of my eye, I see something brown and shiny move.  Whatever I saw, quickly disappeared.  Perhaps it was just a bug, I think to myself.  Then I waved my light in another direction, and I see something else.  This time, I realize that it was a worm - diving quickly back into its hole to avoid the light.  I continue to wave my light back and forth across my path and all I can see are worms - giant, man-eating worms.  I run quickly to the coop only to see more worms!  They are everywhere.  Worms so big that they are actually moving the straw as they slink back into their disgusting worm chambers of horror.  I did in fact scream after locking the chicken door and running back to the house (all the time waving the light to clear my path).  When I enter the safety of the living room, I ask my loving husband if he had heard me scream.  To which he answers "Yes, but you only screamed once, so I assumed you were ok". Nice.  He also lets me know that he has noticed the worms before, he just chooses to ignore them.  

Why am I just noticing this slimy nighttime horror show now?  Are they larger than normal due to the longer winter?  Where are they coming from?  Was there a nuclear accident nearby that mutated these repulsive creatures beyond their normal size, sending them to the surface to feed?  I can take alot of things - but I truly hate worms.  They gross me out.  I know they are needed, and I know they make the soil for the veggie garden ready for planting.  When I have my garden gloves on, I can sort of handle it if f I accidentally touch one while working in the dirt.  But I don't like seeing them at night and I certainly do not want to walk on them.  All you fishermen drooling at the thought of catching a fish with those big juicy worms - you can have them. Yuck.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Will Spring Ever Come?

For a long time, I have held tight to the notion that winter lasts for 5 months in Indiana - November through March - and have often argued this point with others. When I say the word winter - I don't necessarily mean snow blowing solid for five months. But I do mean wearing gloves, scarf and a winter coat for five months. That means cold mornings and cold nights. That means an extra blanket on the bed and the heater on in the Little Deuce Coop. In fact, our aptly (or ironically) named Windy Acres enjoys a strong and measurable wind chill most days. Think if we had named our place something more like Windless Haven - weather would be different? Hmmm...

When we moved back to Indiana, I really had no idea how flipping cold this state was! When we would visit family, it tended to be in the warmer months or when we were moving between states. We moved from Connecticut and most would assume that Connecticut was colder. I beg to differ. The mountains (ok...hills by Colorado's standards) tended to break up the weather systems. Nor Easters whose very name can send shudders down your spine, didn't really hit as far inward as where we lived. In just our 2nd winter in Indiana, we "enjoyed" wind chills of 50 degrees below zero! A coworker describes Indiana as both colder and hotter than Ireland, and I would say that goes for Connecticut as well. 

Here we are in the middle of March with more snow showers on the way. Maybe we haven't had feet of snow like other states, but we have had our share of snow - accumulating, blowing, wet, dry and constant snow. We've seen a blizzard and an ice storm that kept everyone home. Every once in a while, Mother Nature has teased us with a day above 40 or even 50 degrees - only to see the mercury plummet right back down. In late February, we took a short vacation to the Grand Cayman. Upon our return, it proceeded to snow every single day the next week. Every single day! Not necessarily accumulating snow - but does that really matter? When you're cold - you're cold - snow or no snow.

As you know the chickens have been on some sort of egg production protest for quite some time and the longer this winter hangs on, the longer the protest. This past week, when the temps dared to reach above the freezing mark, the girls actually left us two eggs a day for four days in a row! Irish luck in time for St. Patty's Day. Egg count all winter has never been better than 1 egg per day between 9 chickens. When the days were the coldest, it might be only 1 egg every 4 days. So maybe this is a sign that spring is on the way. I did see some robins be-boppin' around. According to the calendar, Spring starts on Wednesday, March 20th. My money is on early April, no matter what some fuzzy groundhog may have seen on February 2nd. He doesn't live in Indiana.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Windy Acres 2012 Highlights - The Good, The Bad and the Wonderful

The Garden

The weather had a huge impact on the vegetable garden – and not in a good way. 2012 was the year for extremes – tons of rain and then drought – a very cool start to May (I vividly remember freezing at a baseball game) that moved to a 100-degree blazing hot summer. Probably one of the worst years when it comes to bounty from the garden. Yes, we had an abundance of cucumbers – but that was about it.  I canned plenty of jars of relish - and I don't even like the stuff.  The tomatoes were almost a complete bust – that’s two years in a row. We need to find some sort of fungicide that will help prevent blight. That will only help one issue - that won’t prevent the weather extremes that tormented tomatoes.

We did try something new this year.  We planted a fall crop of garlic and onions. I am eager to see how they fair through this bitter winter so far (over 14" of snow in one week).  Hopefully this will kick the spring off with a pungent bang!

The one thing I love about gardening is that next year, I can start all over again.  Clean slate - clean beds - renewed hope.  I forget the pain of the past and start each spring with a renewed vigor.

The Chickens

Egg production was less than desired – to put it mildly.  The entire year I feel I have been in a battle with the chickens. Each day’s walk to the coop has the background music from “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” playing in my head.  Will there be an egg?  Will there be feelings of elation or deflation?  We have had weeks and months where we’re lucky to get one egg every other day out of 9 hens.  The reduction started when the girls were molting.  Then we had one of the hottest summers on record.  Egg production almost stopped.  I lost one of the oldest hens due to the extreme heat.  The girls are very picky with their egg laying atmosphere.  They don’t like it too hot, too cold, too windy, too rainy or too snowy.  You get the picture.  We had a short window where production picked back up to around 3 eggs per day. But that didn’t last very long.  Then winter snuck up on us.  As of this writing, I haven’t had an egg in about 6 days and the hens haven't left the coop in 6 days.

I am about at a point where I have to make a decision about these 9 birds.  I wanted chickens for eggs.  Not just pets.  Yes I have named them and am attached to them – but I still wanted chickens for a reason - to provide my family with the kind of eggs you can’t buy in a grocery store.  Physically, these hens should still have plenty of ova left by which they can create and lay eggs.  This group has been laying for just about two years.  I can’t believe that all 9 hens are done at the same time.  On the other hand, I can’t keep feeding non egg-producing hens.  I had already decided that we would get some new chicks in the spring (get a jump –start on the Easter supply at our local Tractor Supply with mail-order chicks).  Then it takes approximately 20 weeks before they start laying eggs.  At the earliest, it will be toward the end of July before we see eggs.

Friends and Family

We love it when people venture out to Windy Acres.  We had the pleasure of playing host this year with visits from my brother and his wife, my friend Pam and her family, and to Keith’s cousins from New York.

2012 also brought us Justin.  He came to live with us on Christmas Day 2011.  The year has been filled with school, basketball, baseball, and band.  We’ve had ups and downs but all in all a wonderful year getting to know each other and building a family.  The adoption was finalized on December 19, 2012 – one day before his 13th birthday.  A Christmas gift for which that we are so very thankful.

Here's to 2013 - new adventures, and more consistent updates from yours truly on all that is Windy Acres.  Happy New Year!