Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Southern Gardener Visits New England

Fall, if you can avoid hurricanes, is a perfect time to travel to the New England states.  My husband and I traveled there for our first trip in mid-October, fortunately for us the week before Hurricane Sandy struck, and we enjoyed the beautiful leaves, perfect fall weather, and absence of crowds of tourists.  The tiny beach communities, which tourists packed a couple of months earlier, were pleasantly empty, but the businesses had not yet closed for the winter.  Of course, it was too cold to go to the beach, but who wants to go to a New England beach when we have beautiful ones at home?

During my trip, I sought out farms and gardens, and was again fascinated, as I was during my trips to the Midwest, to see corn, tomatoes, beets, and lettuce sharing space in a farmers market where all the crops were locally grown.  The farmers did confess that they grew the tomatoes in greenhouses. 
Boston Public Market

In Boston, in the spaces among skyscrapers and 400-year-old churches, farmers brought beautiful potatoes, lettuce, spinach, and apples for sale to city residents; I said, apologetically, that I was a tourist without a home or a kitchen and couldn’t buy anything, although I wished I could.  Free range eggs were $7 a dozen, but organic meat cost about the same it does in SC.  Some of the farmers confessed that they were looking forward to the end of the season when the work would end for a time; farmers can work year-round in our mild climate. 

A variety of products at the Boston Public Market
Garden in the courtyard at theBoston Public Library

In Maine, we visited Wolfe's Neck Farm in Freeport.  As we drove up, we saw a farmer unsuccessfully trying to get a recalcitrant pig back into his quarters; he failed, and the pig later greeted us, wagged his tail like a dog, and scratched his back on picnic tables and benches.

We saw a pen of cranky chickens in the barn; they were nearly silent instead of constantly clucking.  Most of them were molting, or shedding their feathers, and that process irritates chickens.  They had access to the outdoors, but only a few seemed interested in venturing outside.  Perhaps they knew that 6-8 months of snow and ice would come soon, and they were mad.
Gardens at Wolfe's Neck Farm

Although frost had nipped some of the tenderest plants in some places, fall-blooming flowers such as salvias, dahlias and asters shone among the brilliantly colored fall leaves.  We saw flower gardens in any place I could peek among fence slats to see the garden.  I especially enjoyed the gardens, and touring the house at the House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts, inspiration for the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel of the same name.
Gardens at the House of the Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts

Although I complain about my clay, and I loved the beautiful black soil in New England, I am glad I do not have to contend with the rocky soil of New England.  Rocks cover the coastline and beaches, and farmers in New England pick more rocks out of the soil every spring as the frost heaves them out over the winter.  I look on my relatively rock-free soil with new appreciation, even if I have to recreate the topsoil that long ago washed away while the land was farmed for cotton.
Gardens at John Adams and John Quincy Adams home site in Quincy, Massachusetts

I enjoyed my trip, but I am glad to be home. It’s nice to know that most of our winter weather is as lovely as their fall weather.  I would like to see a New England spring.  I imagine that April and May, still too cool for the beach crowds but perfect for spring flowers, would be beautiful, as long as all the snow was gone.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

Poor, Poor, Mr. Cuteypants, You Crazy Guinea

I wish my guineas, The Pearl and Mr. Cuteypants (named by my 6-year-old daughter) would learn to fly on purpose.  It shouldn’t be that hard, should it?  Most birds do it all the time.  I imagine normal birds think about flying the way we think about walking: “Oh, dear, there’s a dog I need to escape.  I will fly to safety.”  They fly to safety.  “Now the dog is gone, so I’ll fly back to my nest.”  They fly home. 

Guineas apparently lack such logical thought, because nearly every day I have to help them solve some problem.  A few weeks ago,  I went out after dark to close the hen house door.  The guineas were absent.  I found The Pearl inside the 6-foot-tall fence surrounding the garden, and I found Mr. Cuteypants outside the fence opposite The Pearl.  Both birds had snuggled themselves on the ground, separated only by the fence wire, for the night, ignoring the supposedly powerful instincts they have to fly up to roost at night. 
The Pearl and Mr. Cuteypants

I managed to chase Mr. Cuteypants into the pen with the chickens, but I did not even try to get The Pearl out of the garden and into the pen.  I still have a scar on my leg from the last time I tried to remove him from the garden at night.  The next morning, The Pearl paced along the fence in agitation because he was not with the rest of the birds.  I went out into the garden and chased him (keeping a safe distance from his claws) until he was sufficiently startled to fly over the fence and out of the garden.

Another night, I had some of the chickens inside my fenced garden to do some clean-up work of frost-damaged bean plants.  I put up a temporary fence to keep the chickens away from growing plants and to direct the chickens to sleep in the guinea castle my husband built in which the guineas refused to sleep.  Somehow, because I put their favorite chicken, pictured below beside them on the roost, in the pen inside the garden,  they figured out how to get inside the walled garden, inside the temporary fence, and into the guinea house.
They got into the guinea house, but do you think they could figure out how to get back OUT of the garden in the morning?  

One evening, as I walked across the yard, I was astonished to see the guineas fly across the yard and onto the roof of the house.  They seemed as surprised as I was by their sudden ability to fly to such heights. They walked around for awhile on the roof, and, despite my worries that they wouldn't figure out how to get off the roof and would stay there, squawking, all night, they did manage to figure out how to get off the roof.

The guineas appear to become alarmed about something and fly out of the pen, without conscious thought.  Then they circle the pen, trying desperately to fit through the electrified netting (which apparently does not shock them) the way they were able to when they were smaller.  Now they cannot fit through the holes, and they cannot remember how in the world they managed to get out of the pen.  My husband says I should just leave them alone, and eventually they will figure out how to get back into the pen.  That may be true, but I do feel sorry for them when they are separated from the rest of the flock and pace around the pen for hours while they try desperately to get back inside. 

This is when I started worrying about whether or not they could figure out how to get off the roof...

Every day I say something along the lines of, “Poor Mr. Cuteypants.  You really are too stupid to live.  God bless you.”  Or, “Mr. Cuteypants, you goofy bird, stop that!”  My mother reminds Mr. Cuteypants that he was once in the mouth of a blacksnake and that he should behave.  He (she) doesn’t care.

Names notwithstanding, I think Mr. Cuteypants is a female, because he (she) calls “buck-wheat!” or “pot-black!” when something unusual happens.  The Pearl has larger wattles than Mr. Cuteypants, and does not say “buck-wheat.”  He also tends to bully the other birds.  Mr. Cuteypants scolds visitors to my home, but he knows who lives here and doesn’t scold the residents.

My husband saw The Pearl running across the yard, with Mr. Cuteypants following behind him.  Poor Mr. Cuteypants looked away, and The Pearl stopped running.  Mr. Cuteypants rear-ended The Pearl, resulting in a squawking mass of feathers flying into the air as they scared each other.  I saw Mr. Cuteypants trip over a root and fall on his face.

Mr. Cuteypants doesn’t scold our dachshunds either, but he knows deer don’t belong in the yard.  How he knows all this but he cannot figure out how to fly on purpose is beyond me.  The existence of guineas, with their crazy behavior and wild punk rock spiked neck hair, are, along with dachshunds, proof that God has a sense of humor.

This week, The Pearl redeemed himself for eternity for all his antics by chasing a hawk out of the chicken pen.  A hawk descended into the pen, and all the chickens ran into the chicken house.  Mr. Cuteypants flew out of the pen in agitation, but The Pearl fought against the hawk, scaring him away where he tried to recover his pride about twenty feet off the ground in a pine tree.  The Pearl flew up near the hawk, continuing the attack, and the hawk flew away into the woods.  Of course, at bedtime, I had to hold up the fence so The Pearl could slip under the fence and back into the pen with the chickens.

Monday, November 5, 2012

"Uh-oh, Mommy, I Breaked the Egg!"

Hens lay fewer eggs when they days get shorter; their bodies tell them it's time to rest, just as we feel the need to stay inside and rest when daylight fades early.  Yesterday, I got two eggs from my eight hens; today I got one egg, and that one egg will not make it to the table.

My three-year-old daughter wanted to carry the egg, which she did, and to hold it (we didn't go directly to the house) for awhile.  I tried to get her to lay it down, but she wasn't interested in doing that, and I didn't want to make an issue of the egg.  Three-year-olds can be careful, right?

Then the predictable conversation occurred:  "I not break it, Mommy."  "Okay, good.  Be careful!"

"Uh-oh Mommy, I break it a little bit.  There's a crack.  It not open up."  "Okay, be careful!"

In the interim I was trying to get a fence up so the chickens didn't destroy my garden, and was shooing away a chicken that was pecking at my Brussels sprout plant.

"UH-OH MOMMY!! (egg streams through the fingers).  I breaked it!!"