Emma the Aussie is a big dog. She spends her days sleeping in the sun, and her nights on the dog bed. At 70+ pounds, she is far past the size of a registered Aussie. Think Shirley the Sheep from the great show Shaun the Sheep, who was three times larger than the rest of the flock.
Her sleeping habits surprised us the other day. She came to snooze on our couch downstairs, and to have me scratch her back at the same time. As soon as I started, a worm looking creature came crawling out of her fur. I grabbed it, yelled, and threw it on the floor.
The ever logical MJ inspected it, as it was sine curving it’s way across the floor, and said, “It’s a salamander.” That is the signature amphibian of the southern Appalachians, and I have seen tiny ones, up to ones more than two feet long (re: Hellbender.) I liberated it back outdoors.
When you get up early on New Year’s Day to feed the chickens, and the low temp is 67 F, something is seriously wrong. That something is Anthropogenic Climate Disturbance, aka Global Warming. It’s fine now, but the summer will be when the bill comes due.
There is one constant, however–the wonders of chicken excrement. Americans in general treat chickens like a protein machine, caged, abused, and thrown away and eaten at a very early age. Our flock of eight ramble around all day, eat greens and high protein food, and we get eggs by the dozen. Better, possibly is the giant piles of excrement, which I compost. I am just beginning to use it as fertilizer. It could be the GOAT (greatest of all time.)
Chicken excrement and I go way back. When I grew up on the old farm, that was our main fertilizer, and sometimes the only one. As it turns out, industrial scale chicken production produces industrial scale chicken stuff. We had tons of this stuff at a time, which means we had tons of vegetables, and pounds and pounds of beef–we fertilized the pastures with chicken stuff, and even had to buy a giant stuff spreader to be able to do it.
So the moral for this new year is, what goes around, comes around. I have been fertilizing my mustard greens with chicken stuff, and feed the greens to the chicks, and the egg quality just gets better. I composted my garlic plants (forty in total,) and they took off like weeds. I just layered my young asparagus patch with several inches of compost. I better get the asparagus steamer ready for spring.
Knowing that I have a not wholly rational obsession with camping stoves, MJ gave me this little ring of cast iron for Christmas. It came from South Korea, so I assume it was made there, or possibly nearby. If we ever get a day where the high temp is below 60 F, I will crank it up with the following top:
The ultimate hand warmer, or possibly an infant Dalek. Only Dr. Who nerds will get that reference.
I don’t know the name of the sadist who wrote that never-ending Christmas song, “Twelve Days of Christmas,” but I fixed it by buying four French hens. To be precise, four ISA Browns. They could easily bury any of us in an avalanche of eggs.
These birds are hybrids, and bred to lay more eggs than a large family can eat. We are currently supplying five families with eggs, with only eight chicks, four Browns and four Barred Rocks. Do the math.
They are also remarkably handsome birds. There must be a passage in the French constitution, after all that stuff about liberty and equality ( thank Mr. Jefferson and Monsieur Lafayette for that,) that all French exports must look great. I don’t have a problem with that.
Christmas advice: Buy American Cast Iron! Buy German Tools! Buy French anything that has to do with Food! Have a Joyous Noel!
We’ve had the best Fall weather in memory, despite the fact that three hurricanes have blown through (we only get the rain). The result is that our Fall blooming camellias are spectacular.
I don’t even know how many varieties we have, so this is just a sampler. That first one is “Yuletide,” which usually blooms later. It is obviously one of the Camellia sasanqua hybrids, as are most of the rest.
A pink version of Yuletide, which reseeds like crazy. We have enough volunteer seedlings to create a camellia grove. Now we get to the fancier hybrids.
I think pinky here is triple petaled, but it also reseeds. There’s going to be some serious transplanting this fall and winter. This is the really fancy.
These really fancy hybrids never make seed, and have to be grown from cuttings. We also have a double petaled white, that is twenty years old and very large.
We grow these Fall bloomers because our notorious late frosts kill the buds on the more famous Spring bloomers, which have enormous blooms. It doesn’t hurt that these require no fertilizer, and very little water.
This beauty popped up just a few feet from our house, and I have made a very tenuous identification. When I first saw these a few years back, I matched it with a picture and description in my field guide to be Lactarius rubrilacteus. This one looks even closer to the photo than the first ones did.
These are apparently quite tasty, as they are closely related to Lactariusdeliciosus. Alas, I will never know or not, unless a professional mycologist shows up at the door with a skillet and some olive oil. They will still have to take the first bite.
Our chicken run is 16′ by 24,’ or 384 square feet, which is the size of an apartment in some cities. It houses eight hens, and they make sure to inspect every inch of it daily.
I just completely cleaned out both coops this weekend, and added ten gallons of pine shavings to various places. MJ was mowing with our electric mower, and added three bags of grass clippings and dried leaves. Those birds will be busy for days.
We have four sections to the run, the junkyard/compost bin, the run itself, and the large and small coop. I’ll describe each in turn.
Junk Yard/ Compost Bin
By far the favorite place for the birds to hang is the compost bin and junkyard combination. It’s small and shady, and the compost draws in bugs and worms. I did upgrade the mailbox nest by putting a scrap 2×4 in front of where the door once was, to keep the birds from scratching out all of the shavings as soon as I put them in there. It worked, as I found three eggs in there this morning.
The run itself takes up about two thirds of the enclosure. It has three watering stations, and the ground is usually covered in shavings and clippings at this time of year. There’s room here for the birds to run, flap their wings, and scratch for hours. In dry weather I also dump out various food for them to scrounge around and find. If I want to start a real chicken riot, I’ll stand on the outside, and throw small chunks of various goodies in there, one after another. To the fastest bird goes the spoils.
The Big Coop
This decent sized pre-fab coop easily houses six grown chickens at night, and we fill it with four Barred Rocks and two ISA Browns. The browns have taken over the top part of the coop, which leaves three quarters of it to the Rocks. This coop is also right next to the junkyard, so the birds can pop in for a quick bite at any time. My two additions are a homemade PVC feeder, and a one gallon watering jug made from a Sterilite container, which has been drilled and fitted with five little automatic, spring loaded watering devices. The foundation is 4×4’s, another addition of mine, so this thing is not going anywhere.
The Small Coop
The small coop is a snug fit for two grown birds, but they have food, water, and a comfy perching area in the top section. This doubles a rabbit hutch, so it didn’t come with a nesting and perching area in the top section. I made both out of wood from my scrap pile. the next step is to double the 4×4 foundation, which will give an extra 3 1/2″ of head room in the lower section.
Any future plans? No more layers in the near future, unless a dog breaks in again, and kills a few. Plans for next spring are tentative, but the idea is to have another pen, with a door into this one, to raise that famous meat bird that originated in Bresse, France, that has blue legs. I would also like a breeding population of those. so I can hatch out my own. Fortunately, a farmer in Mississippi has a good genetics line from birds he imported from France. It may be time for road trip next spring.
André Michaux was one more botanist, gardener, and traveler. He was the Royal Botanist to French King Louis XVI, (that is, before the King misplaced his head), and botanized all over Eastern America, Canada, Persia, and parts of the Indian Ocean. Among his friends were Ben Franklin, William Bartram, and Thomas Jefferson. This Southern lily is among the many things he discovered.
We have been fortunate enough to have owned two properties where these were native. That’s a good thing, as these are practically impossible to transplant. I got that info from Ben Pace of Callaway Gardens in Georgia, where he said they killed about twenty of these before they finally gave up on them.
This, however, is the first yellow one I have seen. The more common color is orange. If this makes seed, I will try and plant more. Deer and rabbit love to eat these things, so I will just have to play wait and see on the seed angle. (Note: I just noticed that it has been eaten. Correction! MJ found it for me, as it was hiding in the maples, and it has a seed pod on it!)
While I’m on the subject of Michaux, here’s another plant he discovered–Big Leaved Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla). It has the largest leaves and flowers of any plant in North America.
There is even a legendary yellow flowered version that is found in Alabama. I have seen one of the trees said to have yellow flowers but not while it was in bloom. It’s location is a deep dark secret.
Easy to grow, but hard to find, these are too big for even a deer to eat.
We picked blueberries in the 85 degree F heat today for about thirty minutes, until we finally said, Fornicate It, the birds can have as many as they want. Then my favorite food poem came to mind, written by the magnificently wicked Robert Frost. Here it is, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation:
My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree Toward heaven still, And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill Beside it, and there may be two or three Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough. But I am done with apple-picking now. Essence of winter sleep is on the night, The scent of apples: I am drowsing off. I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight I got from looking through a pane of glass I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough And held against the world of hoary grass. It melted, and I let it fall and break. But I was well Upon my way to sleep before it fell, And I could tell What form my dreaming was about to take. Magnified apples appear and disappear, Stem end and blossom end, And every fleck of russet showing clear. My instep arch not only keeps the ache, It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round. I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend. And I keep hearing from the cellar bin The rumbling sound Of load on load of apples coming in. For I have had too much Of apple-picking: I am overtired Of the great harvest I myself desired. There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch, Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall. For all That struck the earth, No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble, Went surely to the cider-apple heap As of no worth. One can see what will trouble This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is. Were he not gone, The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his Long sleep, as I describe its coming on, Or just some human sleep.
The bad news is we will have more blueberries in a few days.
At the University of Alabama, I lived at the Men’s Honors Dorm, a somewhat notorious institution called the Mallet Assembly. It was home for everything from high minded intellectuals to infamous perverts. I prefer to think that I was in the former category.
So now I have undertaken several projects of making mallets. My first is every traditional woodworker’s dream, a splitting club ( aka, a maul), made from unbelievably hard dogwood root. The club is used to strike the back of a froe (pictured), which is a wood splitting tool. Mine happened to be made by the Amish.
One of our many thunderstorms this year blew over one of our big dogwood trees, and actually uprooted it. All I had to do was cut the root off with my old double bitted axe, and shape it right there on my shaving horse (also pictured), with a drawknife and a spokeshave. This club is full of heavyosity.
The first trial run was that piece of walnut, which it split with only four whacks. The second run was on some hornbeam, which is impossible to split. I did it anyway–after cutting through ninety five percent of the hornbeam log.