It started to clear yesterday evening around six, and what had been a socked-in, heavily snowing day turned into a stunning evening. Once again I was reminded of how the landscape around my house is so dynamic, its changes driven by the seasons, time, and weather. Mountains disappear and reappear, evergreens that usually fade into the background take center stage during a snowfall. Every tree limb is outlined and the horizon underscored. Under snow, previously unseen folds and valleys in the hills surrounding my house pop into relief and reveal unexpected topography. It was a beautiful night. There is always something new to see, and if I don’t like the view out the window it will change in minutes. I am never bored.
March 26th, 2014 § 0
March 25th, 2014 § 0
March 25th, 2014 § 0
Then it was supposed to be an inch of sloppy snow accumulation. But now it’s been snowing all day hard enough that I can’t see the mountains in either my front or back yard, and there are five inches on the ground and it’s still coming down.
The daffodils have wisely not yet bloomed.
This is a pretty good representation of how I feel about today’s weather developments, and this whole miserable winter that just won’t end.
Interestingly, though, it was snowing on this day last year.
March 24th, 2014 § 3
Last fall I had grand ideas of building a cold frame to overwinter spinach, kale, chard, and salad greens. In late October, right before the first frost, I stuffed 18 strawbales in the bed of the pickup and when I got home used them to build a small fortress around some rows of greens that I’d sowed earlier in the fall.
I made a one-and-a-half-story, south-facing design thinking that the angle would help trap the sun’s heat and shed water off the big sheet of contractor’s plastic that I draped over the top for a lid. I secured the plastic on top of the bales with some scrap lumber, bricks, and cinder blocks. It was admittedly a hot mess to look at, but that’s one reason that I hid the veg garden out of sight from the house and road!
Things looked good into December, and I kept harvesting greens. But then it started to get really cold and going out to the garden to wrestle with frozen plastic and the icebergs caught in its folds didn’t appeal. So I abandoned the cold frame to the savages of this very long, cold, and snowy winter.
Today I thought I would peek under the plastic, and I was surprised to find quite a few plants happily growing. There were vigorous-looking weeds starting to set seed, though outside the protection of the cold frame none of these weeds are growing yet anywhere on the property—proof that I was successful at creating a little warm microclimate! I was pleased to see chicory, which is called a weed but is actually a very healthy edible spring tonic that you can add to your salad. The Red Russian kale looked pretty good, as did the spinach, and the arugula was flowering. The chard and mustard didn’t make it through as well.
This is a happy discovery as these little plants, which have existed in suspended animation over the winter, mean a jump on the spring growing season—saving weeks of waiting for spring-sown seed to germinate in cold soil. These plants are undoubtedly strong beneath the surface, and all they will need to get up and growing is some more heat and water. After we get through this week—with more cold temps and even possible snow tomorrow—I will start opening the top of the cold frame for short spells to get the plants used to the temperatures and sun.
When it comes time to plant the whole garden, I will spread the nicely aged straw in these bales around the garden as part of my deep mulching soil-conditioning and weed-suppressing strategy.
I will still probably sow some more greens from seed, just to experiment, but while I wait I will be enjoying winter-sweetened greens that amazingly hung in there through multiple polar vortices, being flattened under 16″ of snow, and everything else this winter threw at them.
I am pretty happy that what I thought was a failed experiment at getting greens to grow all winter actually isn’t a total failure. I maybe wasn’t eating lush garden-grown salad in the deepest part of winter, but I can right now, and I probably could have weeks ago had I just peeked under the plastic!
March 23rd, 2014 § 0
For historical record it’s worth noting that last weekend I said goodbye to Griz, the rooster hatched last summer from a well-traveled egg. Griz had been up on CraigsList for months, for free, after he predictably began challenging his father, Calabrese, in bloody fights for control of the hens. I’d separated Griz on his own in a garage coop and left him to await his fate.
Here he is on the way to his new life. He turned out to have the Cuckoo Marans coloration of his olive egger mother but the green and gold feathers came from Calabrese, his Wheaten Ameraucana father.
It’s a funny thing that he got his name from my brother, who I gave naming honors because Griz’s egg spent time in my brother’s refrigerator before being recalled to Free Union to hatch. My brother chose Grizabella as the name for this chick, which when he turned out to be a cockerel I shortened to Griz. Just the other day I was reading some British magazines and learned that “grizzly” is a term used in that part of the world to describe a chicken of this black and white barred feather patterning—something I’d never heard in America. Weird coincidence, huh?
I am happy to report that Griz has gone on to a new family, who kept his name, and a flock of his own, along with a dozen of my hatching eggs. Part of the Bonafide flock will live on now in Madison, VA.
I got an e-mail from Griz’s new owner the other day:
Griz is doing well. He wasted no time on flowers when he met the ladies and they are all fast friends now. Thanks again.
I have to say I have met the nicest people in all my CriagsList chicken dealings. Maybe keeping chickens is particular to a certain personality type—who knows?—but I have always had positive experiences both buying and rehoming birds this way. It’s great to know a chick I hatched from an egg has found a good new life.
Just-hatched Griz, still damp, July 2013
Griz at one week
March 20th, 2014 § 0
March 19th, 2014 § 1
Yesterday morning I discovered that the broody hen had left her nest box and taken her chicks to eat and drink for the first time. There are eight perfect chicks—seven yellow and one black. It’s a genetic mystery to me that I set two green eggs, which I thought that based upon their mothers would hatch into two black chicks, amongst a bunch of yellow Wheaten Ameraucana eggs. But one of the green eggs apparently hatched a yellow chick. It will be interesting to see how the chicks feather out and whether or not I can tell who’s who when they’re older. The yellow chicks show some color variation too. One is almost red! Very cool.
The chicks are all eating and drinking on their own. When they’re not out discovering their new world, they huddle under the hen and she keeps them warm beneath her wings. It’s pretty cute to see a hen with a bunch of tiny feet sticking out under her breast.
This broody kept her nest the cleanest of all the broodies I’ve had, and she ate every speck of the discarded shells as the chicks hatched. The eggs shells and membranes are very nutritious and she needs them to regain her strength as she ate less than a quarter cup of food for almost a month while incubating the eggs.
Chicks grow amazingly fast and knowing that I am spending as much time as I can marveling at these babies. In just a couple of days their downy fluff will be replaced with first feathers and they will be well on their way toward looking like the awkward dinosaurs from whence they descended.
But in the meantime I am loving these tiny creatures. It is easy to forget any worries or thoughts for the past and future with a tiny chick or two tucked in my hand. In that way working with the birds reminds me of what I liked so much about beekeeping, and many other farm-related tasks. The attention and focus required to handle the chicks or the bees or other animals and living things clears extraneous thoughts from my head and quiets my constant internal monologue. I am transported smack into the present moment in a way that years of yoga classes and meditation have never managed to do. This gateway to a perfectly still moment of being and a quiet, singularly focused mind is one of the greatest gifts the animals in my life have given me.
March 18th, 2014 § 0
March 17th, 2014 § 0
March 17th, 2014 § 0