Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Have we squelched normal childhood behavior with electronics?

It's the season of Christmas performances for children.  I've been to several for my children, and I have noticed that the young siblings of the performer, who in past years must endure boredom, threats from parents to "Be quiet!" and even brief removal from the performance for a walk around the building. no longer have to endure such atrocities.

They play games on a parent's cell phone the entire time, and no one even realizes they are present. At a recent performance, a small boy curled up against his father and was lost in his car-chase game. He didn't bother anyone.  But what did he miss?

He was about three, and three-year-olds are not known for their ability to sit still.  Before cell phones existed, perhaps mom or dad would have had to take him outside to allow him to run around for a few minutes, and then they'd bring him back in to endure the rest of the performance.  This child didn't whine for a snack, he didn't laugh at his sister, or make faces at her, or try to get her to laugh.  He didn't ask, in the way of many three-year-olds, innumerable questions about the performance.  He didn't play with his toy cars and accidentally send one across the room.  He just sat quietly with the phone and didn't bother anyone.

But he wasn't normal.  In the entirety of human history, parents have had to manage the behavior of three-year-olds, to the amusement and understanding of those past that stage of life, and to the aggravation of those childless folks who think that their as yet unborn child will sit contentedly through every performance and church service.

My youngest child is 5, and during the performance while she  watched her sister, she said she didn't want to sit there and watch (I told her she had to), she said she wanted a snack (which I provided). She played with toys.  She whined.  She smiled at her sister.  Finally she lay across my lap and rested. I expected her, at 5, to be able to remain in the room for 45 minutes without going outside for a walk. She was normal.

When mine were three, I prepared for outings by packing snacks, small toys, crayons, and paper. I expected that at some point we'd have to leave the performance and walk around outside.  If the behavior went from 3-year-old wiggles to defiance, they might have (very rarely) gotten a swat on the behind as a reminder that Mama Is Serious.

While waiting for food at a restaurant with toddlers and preschoolers, my husband and I took them on walks around the restaurant or outside.  Inevitably, someone would find them adorable and would want to talk to them, pleasing both child and all adults.  They were normal.  They were living real life, and they were interacting with others and coping with boredom in the same ways that small children have coped with such things for all of human history.

They have reached school-age with their attention spans intact and with the ability to handle some boredom.  They do not expect entertainment by me: if they whine about being bored at home I helpfully find them a chore.  That quickly teaches them not to ask Mama for help with alleviation of their boredom.

TV and other electronics are a treat, not an expectation, in our house.  They don't happen every day.  People fear that their children will be behind others if they don't start learning how to dress princesses on the iPad when they are two; I assure you that my 8-year-old, who had no computer time until she was of school age, and who still has very limited use, can Google answers to questions (if she can only spell well enough), knows about YouTube, and is learning to type correctly. She learned how to use the computer with startling speed, certainly much faster than I learned.

She was old enough, when we started using the computer, to actually need the information she might find on the computer.  She has also played enough games to be able to understand what her friends are talking about so she "fits in" with others.    She won't be a video game champion, but that is perfectly okay with me.  Friends come to our house to play in the creek, visit the chickens, and play in the playhouse.  When we drove 700 miles in one day, they watched movies on a portable DVD player.  I am not opposed entirely to electronics.

My husband and I have had to listen to whining that could have been easily squelched with electronics.  I have to tell them sometimes to go to their rooms and don't come out unless there is blood, fire, or vomit.  Sometimes I tell them that they are driving me crazy, and I tell them to go outside, and I might even lock the door after it closes. Didn't your mother send you outside?  Mine certainly did.

But that is real life, isn't it?  Children are supposed to let you know they are with you. When  a two-year-old is awake and quiet for more than a few minutes, it should be because they are getting into trouble, not because they are lost in a video game.  Children are a lot of bother.  They need to be shown, when they are small, that they are capable of playing alone instead of being given an electronic device for entertainment.  As they get older they need to develop hobbies.  Children need to learn to fill that ache of boredom, of loneliness, with some activity, either for fun or as work.  

If they do not learn this skill as children, they become adults who play video games all day, or watch TV in every spare minute, or binge eat.  It's easier to watch TV than to read a book.  It's easier to play video games than to take up a new hobby or call a friend or cook a meal or work in the garden or walk around the block.

Throughout the entirety of human history, people have had to overcome boredom without electronics.  Perhaps we should continue to practice this skill and, most importantly, because adults today at least grew up without cell phones and easy access to electronics, teach them to our children.  Children are worth the bother.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Chickens on Pasture

After about 4 weeks old, the chickens, Jumbo X Cornish Cross broilers, have enough feathers to live outside without supplemental heat.  They are also large enough (I hope) to deter attacks by hawks.  Although I lack a secure chicken house on pasture in which they can spend the night, so I'm still having to carry them back and forth from the chicken house to the pastured area, at least they can roam about all day without supplemental protection.  Here's a video of them enjoying freedom.They are inside electrified poultry netting.  I opened the door to the chicken house in hopes that they'd roam about and find their own pasture, but they really just don't want to move.  They'd rather sit in front of the food container and eat.  When I take it away, they move more as they look for something to eat.  This breed is not like my "normal" chickens, who are never still unless they are laying an egg or taking an afternoon nap.  The rest of the time the "normal" ones are chasing bugs, scratching in the mulch, or just walking around.  

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Providing chicks with pasture in November (and getting them out of my garage!)

Just in case you were wondering, it's not a good idea to raise 17 Jumbo X Cornish Cross chickens in your garage.  I raised 9 chicks of traditional breeds in my garage, and their manure and mess was not a problem.  Although I read all the information I could find about raising Jumbo X Cornish Cross chickens, which are similar to the breed of chicken people usually eat from the grocery store or from most farms, I did not truly realize how quickly they would grow.  They eat voraciously, and what goes in, must come out.
Here they are inside the garage in the "brooder" made of baby gates and hay on the floor

Because it's November, and too cold for the chicks to stay outdoors unprotected, I tried a couple of methods of letting them have some time outdoors, but discovered that they could not stay outdoors long without heat,  or else they required constant supervision to ensure their safety from hawks.

Outside in the hoop house where they belong

My husband and I built these hoop houses, some from bent cattle panels, and some from PVC pipe, covered them with plastic, and now I have a solar-heated chicken brooder that protects them from hawks.  This structure will not protect them from four-legged predators, and it won't keep them warm at night.  However, depending on the weather, I can take them outside when the sun strikes the structure in the morning, and I bring them back inside the garage in the late afternoon.

I am able to do this because I am at home during the day and I can monitor the temperature under the plastic.  Usually, I start out the day with the plastic completely closed, then in an hour or two open the ends, and, depending on how hot the day becomes, pull aside some of the plastic on the roof.  The first time I tried this, I went out to check on them an hour after I put them in, and they were panting from the heat.  I opened the plastic, and they were fine. Another day, a strong wind blew aside the plastic and I had to catch some of the chicks.  Now that I understand how it works, I leave them for a few hours, but please do not leave your chickens in this structure all day without checking on them.  

Edited at 12:09 PM: I just got back inside from checking on them, and it's quite warm here--75 degrees or so today.  Even with some of the plastic pulled back, they were still panting, so I made some further modifications with some plastic chicken fencing to allow them more air, and laid some tin roofing along the sides for shade.  My "normal chickens do fine in the heat of a South Carolina August day, but I was concerned that these might not be able to withstand even a little discomfort.

It's also not at all secure against four-legged predators or safe to keep them in during the night.  I have them inside a fenced garden, which is inside an electric fence, so they are safe (but I'll never say they are completely safe) during the day.  Mr. Raccoon could easily climb the fence and get them at night, though, but he's not usually active during the day.  

I take them back and forth into the garage in a plastic tote.  They hate this.

Catching them is becoming more and more difficult, and they dislike the experience, but I believe I make up for the 5-10 minutes of anxiety while I catch them by allowing them the fun and nutrition available in the hoop house.  And, that's a whole day that they are doing their business outside, where it belongs, and enriching my garden soil in the process.  I have discovered that if I take the food away for a couple of hours before it's time to catch them the little beggars are so ravenously hungry that they rush to the feeder and I can catch them without chasing them.  These birds don't eat with one eye watching for predators like my other chickens.  I've never been able to sneak up on a "normal" chicken.

In the future, I'll get these chicks in late August, perhaps, so they will have warm weather while they are babies and can mature in the cooler weather of October, when they have feathers for warmth, can stay outside all the time,  and will be large enough to deter most hawk attacks.

Monday, November 3, 2014

My experiment with meat chickens

I've purchased meat from pastured poultry producers for awhile now, although I do revert to eating meat from the grocery store, too.  In an ideal world, I'd either raise all of my own meat, or I'd buy it all from farmers I know personally.  Actually, in an ideal world, I'd probably eat less meat than I do, but I have to consider the dietary preferences of my husband, too.  In an effort to have a more sustainable source of food, and because I find raising chickens endlessly interesting, I ordered 20 Jumbo X Cornish Cross chicks from a hatchery.  Whenever you eat chicken meat, unless you have purchased it from a farmer who focuses on heritage breeds, you eat a chicken closely related to the Jumbo X Cornish Cross.  It lives 6-8 weeks before slaughter, usually entirely indoors.

They were hatched last Monday, October 20, and put on a plane in Iowa.  On Tuesday, October 21, the post office called to tell me my chicks were there, and I hurried to bring them home.
Here's a video of me opening the box of chicks, and Mr. Schultz, dachshund, meeting them.

I have raised other chicks; this is a video of my adult chickens, and I am pleased that the Cornish Cross chicks do seem to engage in natural chicken behaviors.  They scratch and try to forage for food, such that they can in the brooder or inside this unused cold frame that I put out on the garden.  Here's a video of them in the cold frame.  Unfortunately, it's nearly November, and they are babies without feathers adult birds use to trap heat.  The air needs to be 90 degrees F for them to be healthy in during their second week of life.  I put them outside during the hottest part of the day, in direct sunlight, and I include a heat lamp if necessary.  Earlier in the week the high temperature was around 85 degrees F, which was perfect, but it's gotten cooler now.  Before I take them to the butcher, in early December (because I'm not able to manage doing the butchering myself yet), when they have all their feathers,I hope to allow them to forage more outside.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Welcome to the world, new butterflies!

Butterflies have chosen my garden in which to hatch this summer.  We had at least two batches of Black Swallowtail butterflies like these that chose fennel plants as food.
Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars on fennel

Black Swallowtail Butterfly adult

On the Butterfly Weed, Monarch butterflies laid eggs.  After munching away on the plant for a couple of weeks, the caterpillars climbed to several different spots: on the fence, pictured below, on branches of bushes, and even on the electrified chicken fence, to form chrysalises.  The one below had hung on the fence for a couple of weeks, and waited there until it was time to leave the chrysalis. This simple creature knows the appointed time for its emergence, and it will not rush. 

Monarch Butterfly caterpillar the day before it emerged as an adult

24 hours later

The chrysales in the above two pictures are of the same butterfly; I had to put a piece of paper behind the second one so the camera would focus on the detail of the wings and not the house.  (I used my phone).

Brand-new butterfly
The butterfly above is from the same batch of caterpillars, but it's not the same one pictured above in the chrysalis.  Although I visited the butterfly pictured in the chrysalis every 15 minutes to half an hour, it didn't decide to emerge until we had to leave the house for a couple of hours in midafternoon, so I got no pictures of it emerging.

The same butterfly above from a different angle has more fully emerged

Another new butterfly; note the wrinkled wings

We didn't notice this one, in a antique rose bush I rooted from one at my grandmother's home, until we saw the orange wings.

We found the one from the chrysalis photos resting in the pine straw when we came home from our errands.

Friday, October 10, 2014

On October 19, visit Old McCaskill's Farm for the annual Farm Day

We visited the farm a couple of weeks ago and had a great time!  If you are near Columbia, SC, and would like a day on the farm, visit on October 19! Click here for more information.

Silly girls!

The farmer and Zeke, the Border collie, herding sheep

Zeke has finished his work and is resting

My daughter holding a baby guinea in the brooder

For more information about Farm Day, click here!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

While you're outside enjoying this fall weather, divide your spring-flowering bulbs

If you, like me, think every spring about how you just must divide those daffodil bulbs this year when they bloom in a crowded mass in the spring, but you forget about this task after the green foliage fades, consider this article your reminder.  In the spring, bulbs should remain undisturbed so they can change sunlight to food with their green leaves.  If you wait until the winter to divide the bulbs, you risk chopping of emerging shoots that will become flowers.  Summer and fall are the best time to divide spring-blooming bulbs because the plants are dormant.

To divide bulbs, use a spading fork or a shovel and insert it into the soil outside the area in which the bulbs are growing, and pry up.  You’ll probably end up severing some of the bulbs; toss those on the compost pile.  Separate the bulbs and replant them 4-6 inches apart and 4-6 inches deep, pointed end up.  Give the extra bulbs to friends, or expand your beds of flowering bulbs. 

I have planted daffodils throughout my woods, and in early spring, the woods are speckled with spots of yellow and white flowers.  Daffodils are reliably perennial, or come back every year, here.  Deer do not usually eat them, and so they are the perfect bulb to plant nearly anywhere in full sun.  Early, mid-season, and late blooming flowers are available so that the season of bloom can last from late winter to late spring. 

Here are my two girls enjoying the daffodils.  Don't worry, they didn't actually eat them.

Many of the daffodils I planted in my woods decided they could not survive their harsh life among tree roots, and have died.  I hope I’ll be able to divide my bulbs this fall, and to consign more bulbs to the woods.

Tulips are beautiful, but they do not  come back here reliably because our winters are not cold enough to give them the winter chill they need to prosper.  I obtain the best flowers by either putting them in the refrigerator, inside a paper bag, away from ripening fruit for about six weeks before I plant them, or by planting them in a container outside where they get cold temperatures without the insulating effects of the earth.  I treat them as annuals and throw the bulbs on the compost after they bloom.
Muscari, or bluebottles, make a nice container planting that lasts for years.

Bulbs make winter and spring container plantings interesting.  Instead of just planting a pot of pansies, tuck some bulbs underneath the pansies, in colors that coordinate with the pansies, and enjoy the surprise when they emerge.  If you plan to change the arrangement of perennials in the garden, consider putting flowering bulbs among the perennials so the emerging foliage of the perennials will conceal the bedraggled foliage of the bulbs. 



Thursday, September 18, 2014

Attack of the Praying Mantis

My mother has fed dozens of greedy hummingbirds from her back porch every summer for years.   She makes her own hummingbird food from sugar and water, and she fills 6-8 large feeders every other day, using about ten pounds of sugar a week, during the birds’ busiest time.

I used to feed the hummingbirds at my house, but I had difficulty flipping over the feeder without spilling the food and leaving a sticky trail on the porch.  When my mother goes out of town, she asks her neighbor to feed the hummingbirds in her absence because the birds become emphatically demanding about their need for more food.   I don't need the responsibility of feeding any other critters. 
Salvia 'Black and Blue'

To attract hummingbirds to my yard without having to fill feeders, I plant flowers that give them natural food.  Hummingbirds love flowers with tubes into which they can insert their beaks to slurp out the nectar.  Although they may prefer red flowers, they feed from almost any flowers that are tubular.   Phlox, salvia, agastache, bee balm, butterfly bush, lantana, and red columbine (although in our climate it may finish blooming before the hummingbirds arrive) are some perennials that attract the birds.  They also like honeysuckle, trumpet vine, and red Cardinal Climber, although those can be invasive in our area.


Earlier in the summer, my girls and I sat on the porch with my parents, shelling peas and watching the hummingbirds.  When we traverse the porch, we watch out for torpedoing hummingbirds; they shoot from their hiding place in a large cedar tree to the feeders and across the porch.  Many times one has missed hitting my head by inches.  The birds communicate by chirping, which is quite a cacaphony when 20 or more birds are talking at once. 

Over the din, I heard a different sort of chirping which was more frantic than usual.  I waded into       the flowerbeds to investigate, and I found an enormous praying mantis, five to six inches long and    with an abdomen as thick as my thumb, holding a hummingbird in its forelegs, and biting it with its mouthparts.  Evidently, the hummingbird decided to rest on the phlox plan on which the mantis sat, and the insect grabbed it.  The hummingbird squealed in pain and fear as the mantis ripped at its feathers. 

The 6 inch long monster
I donned gloves, because I was a little scared that this monster mantis might grab my hands, and brushed at the bird until the praying mantis dropped it to the ground.  The bird was alive, and we all examined the tiny body.  On its chest, tiny white and gray feathers covered the pulsating heart, and emerald green feathers covered its head.   It wasn't bleeding, but some feathers were missing and its eyes were half open.   I lay it on some pea shells to rest, and I tried to get it to drink some
hummingbird food, or to suck some nectar from a flower.  As we watched, it opened its eyes fully, and then began to hold up its head.  After about 10 minutes, it flew away while we were not watching it.

While I took this photo, I worried  that it might attack me!
As far as I know, it survived the attack.  I don't think the mantis penetrated the bird's skin; it was not bleeding.  A week later, my mother said the insect is still living in the flowerbed where it must be hunting successfully. 

If you want to add plants that attract hummingbirds, fall is  a great time to plant perennials.  Many garden centers are beginning to put their perennials and shrubs on clearance sale to get rid of them before the winter.  I don't know how to attract monster mantises, and I'm not sure I want to learn. 

Eastern Lubber grasshopper
We saw this Eastern Lubber grasshopper last weekend.  It was about 4 inches long and the largest grasshopper I've ever seen.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Plant your garden with Lewis and Clark's Discoveries

 When I visited St. Louis this past summer, I, as I usually do on my travels, looked for gardens.  My sister, Susan, has a neighbor with Missouri native plant garden on a mound of soil between Susan’s driveway and her yard.  In the Missouri Botanical Garden, as well as the St. Louis zoo, and in other yards, I saw gardens with an emphasis on native plants.

The Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower, in Hartford, Illinois, where the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers meet, honors the men’s contribution to the opening of the West to settlement and gives the tourist a view of the joining of the rivers a mile or so distant over flood plains.  Surrounding the stark concrete structure are gardens containing plants Lewis and Clark saw on their journey.  One of the men’s tasks was to catalog and to send back to Jefferson specimens of plants and animals they found on the trip, many of which were unknown to science at the time.  Of course, these plants were known to Native Americans, but they were novelties to the European settlers.
At the Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower

In the trees is the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.  In foreground is the Mississippi River.

Lewis and Clark Confluence Tower

Native plants are those that are found in the wild within a particular climate.  Many plants in our gardens originate in China or England, and are happiest in those climates.  Gardens of primroses, tulips, delphiniums, and lilacs won’t grow in South Carolina; they need cool summers.

View of the native plant gardens from the tower

Some plants like our heat, cool winters, and humidity.  I saw many of those same plants in the Missouri native plant gardens, although the plants were larger there than here.  Maybe it’s because of the beautiful Midwestern topsoil in which they grow, or maybe it’s because of the extra hours of daylight the plants receive further west.  I wonder if the plants know winter will come to freeze them soon, and so they put forth extra effort to grow large in their allotted time. 

Liatris growing much taller than it does in my garden.
The healthiest plants in my garden are plants native to the Southern US, and many of these plants are native to Missouri.  Insects such as bees and butterflies prefer these species.  Fall is the perfect time to plant perennials; the plants will have the cool fall, winter, and spring to become established before they must suffer through another hot summer.
Achillea, or yarrow, that's gone to seed, in the foreground
If you’d like to include native plants in your garden, consider planting spring and early summer blooming plants like Achillea or yarrow, Baptista, phlox, and bee balm, and plants that bloom later in the summer and into the fall like Rudbekia or coneflower, butterfly weed (a host plant for monarch butterflies), coreopsis, Joe Pye weed, and liatris.  Among these plants, numerous colors are available.

To maintain a garden of perennials, cut them to the ground after the first frost.  I prefer to do this with a weed-eater, and I leave the clippings where they fall as mulch.  Then over the clippings, I sprinkle a layer of mulch to provide coverage a few inches deep, avoiding the crowns of the plants.  My garden-keeping chores are over for another year, besides pulling the stray weed that meanders through the mulch, or clipping spent blooms to encourage the plants to repeat their blossoms.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Molting Chickens, Caterpillars Becoming Butterflies, and Picking Peas

 In the garden, I've been busy with late summer chores and some late summer discoveries.

The first chicken has begun her molt before winter, and she's unhappy and embarrassed about it.  She's cranky and antisocial, and refused to go with the flock when I moved them from their "vacation home," where I keep them when I'm out of town, to their chicken tractor surrounded by fencing so they can enjoy grass and bugs.  I tried to employ my usual strategy of chicken-catching: grabbing her by the tail, but her tail feathers came out in my hand.  I think she giggled at me snidely as she ran away.  At least she'll never know I put these embarrassing pictures online, unlike a child who might one day find pictures illustrating a bad day objectionable.  


In the garden, I sowed cover crops in areas in which I removed spent crops.

To the left is millet, which I'm leaving for the chickens, and in the bare soil of the garden I planted Austrian winter peas, mustard greens, buckwheat, and crimson clover. It will smother weeds, feed the chickens, and enrich the soil.

While I was removing plants, I found these Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars on the fennel.  It's our second crop on this fennel this summer.  The first bunch made two chrysalises that we know of, and we observed one adult butterfly just as she emerged from the chrysalis.  

We are all fascinated by the caterpillars, and my daughters will visit them every day to observe their growth and progress.  We'll keep the chickens out of the garden.  
For a Kindergarten math lesson this morning, we counted 51 caterpillars, which is more difficult than it sounds, even for people who can confidently count to 51!

This is the butterfly that emerged a week ago from the first "batch" of caterpillars.  I let the chickens into the garden just before I found the caterpillars, and I put up the netting and wire to keep them away.  Many of the caterpillars disappeared, but I found no evidence of chicken-intrusion into the netting barricade.  

And, I've been engaged in the ongoing task of picking, shelling, and freezing crowder peas and Lima beans.  

Store bought beans and peas just aren't the same as fresh ones, and there's nothing easier for a vegetable side dish than pouring out a bag of peas or beans into a pot, adding salt, and boiling them until they are tender, usually 20-30 minutes.  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

I've been hunting eggs out of season...

...and I finally found the latest egg hiding place!  I've been allowing the chickens to roam in the vegetable garden adjacent to their chicken pen since most crops are mature enough to withstand their pecks, and there are many tasty critters there for them to eat, and they have eschewed their lovely nesting boxes for other creative spaces.  For awhile, they had a hollowed out place beside a hay bale and underneath the arching branches of a weed, and then eggs stopped appearing in that nest.  My faithful Americanas, who lay the blue eggs, continued to place their eggs politely in the nesting boxes for awhile, but their eggs also disappeared over the past week.

I've searched the garden and the pen, stepping through weeds and over plants, but hadn't found them until today, when I leaned over to pick Crowder peas.  I suppose I would rather lay eggs, if I were a chicken, under a canopy of pea vines instead of inside a chicken tractor, too.  I don't mind playing egg-hunt out of season, and at least the game keeps the snakes guessing about the location of the eggs, too.  Today's haul was 18 eggs, and they were all fresh.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

LEGOS® and Flowers at the St. Louis Botanical Garden

On a trip to St. Louis, we visited the Missouri Botanical Garden.  It's a 79 acre garden in the middle of St. Louis, and it's the oldest botanical garden in the US; it was begun in 1859. Along the paths were perennials enjoying the Midwestern summer, and we picked the perfect day to go: chilly enough that we started our trip wearing jackets.  I don't know the names of all of the plants, although they are labeled in the gardens.

Spiky red-hot poker
Daisies inside the Ottoman Garden.

The Ottoman Garden is my favorite.  I think.
Red Zinnias


My children love LEGOS®, so we had to visit the Lego Exhibit at the garden.  Artist Sean Kenney used more than 300,000 bricks to create ducks, a praying mantis, flowers, and other fantastic creatures.





If you can get to St. Louis (the LEGO® exhibit ends September 7) I recommend visiting the garden--which is open year round--and the LEGOS®!  After you exit the exhibit, there are Legos with which you can play.