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Friday, August 21, 2015

Summer "down time"

Ok, ok...

I am shamefully hanging my head.  I realized I had not posted on the blog in three weeks.  To my credit, I simply cannot believe it has BEEN three weeks!  I do not know what has happened to the calendar block we CALL summer, but there you have it, it's gone.

It seems like just yesterday school was letting out, the first of the corn rows was popping up, and the cicadas were just gearing up to full song.  At some point, late July and early August became a flurry of activity.  With temperatures becoming unrelenting and hovering near 100' everyday, and the humidity hovering daily between tropical rainforest and visiting the underbelly of a submarine, days became all about survival.

 Keeping the flock alive and happy was not only a priority, but a major undertaking.  They required a ridiculous number of trips to the coop, making sure they have not only water, but COLD water.  The amount of water a chicken goes through when it is hot out is INSANE!  We filled their 2 gallon waterer at least twice a day, and refreshed it with giant one gallon sized ice cubes made in the recycled lids of plastic bakery containers.  We made sure they had cool fruit and we would toss in frozen peas for snacks. ( We call them vegetarian pill bugs. Greenbeans are vegetarian grasshoppers.)  I also installed a huge barn fan in the front coop windows. 

The coop vents really quite well, until it hits 100' AND the wind stops.  The wind on this hill NEVER seems to stop blowing, until the heat rolled in.  We also decided that letting the girls out to free range, and find their own spot in the yard that was comfortable, was a lower risk than keeping them cooped up in the heat.  It turns out they love the dirt under the coop, especially when half of it has been sprayed down with water.  They can dry dust bathe  and settle into the cool earth on one side, or dig and splash in cool mud puddles on the other.

It was a long three weeks of catering to chickens, but everyone made it.  Three more girls actually started laying eggs as well. Nugget, our Splash Marana, lays the most delicious looking deep chocolate colored eggs and has worked up to almost large size eggs.  Violet, our blue laced red Wyandotte, with her still small terra cotta eggs.  Then there is our mystery layer.  Two days ago, small dark chocolate eggs started showing up in the nest boxes.  So it either belongs to Lucy, Ethel, or Fauna, all of whom are Marans.  But all are too hard to differentiate on the web cam.  My bet is on noisy Ethel.

Chicken Story of the week, since so many of the readers here love the chicken antics.  Zap, the rooster, is still quite young, but he's feeling his oats.  When he gets it into his mind that he want to mate one of the hens, he is all focus.  He picks a hen, and the chase begins.  IF she's in the mood, she will quietly sit, do the deed, he'll wander off, and she'll get up and ruffle her feathers back into place.  We call the whole process "feather ruffling".  Anyway, one day ZAP decided to go after Ethel.  Well, it being 100' Ethel wasn't in the mood.  (Who can blame her.)  She took off racing across the yard, screeching for all she was worth, with ZAP close behind, wings out, head down in full chase. She bolted for the run ahead of him and jumped in through the pop door and into the coop, and then stood still and quiet in the doorway.  ZAP, being focused on the chase, didn't catch her lightning quick turn into the run and coop, and thought she had run behind the whole building.  He ran behind the run and UNDER the coop, and stood there with a most bewildered lost look on his face.  I swear I could hear her laughing.

He got her back yesterday though.  We had three inches of rain in two and a half days.  Needless to say, the run and yard were a drippy muddy mess.  The area where we stand outside the run door had very large mud puddles.  I was in the run raking mulch, when I heard a commotion.  I looked, and there was poor Ethel being shoved deep into the mud and water by ZAP.  How's that for a gentleman?  Not even a cape to stand on.  When she got up, she looked like a drown rat.  That's a fine how do you do!  Roosters, ugh.

We were also attacked by the garden.  When you have warm summer nights, plenty of rain, and a good supply of sun and fertilizer, well, you get plants, BIG plants, and quite quickly.  To date I have pickled 50 pounds of cucumbers (various forms of pickles and relish), 10 pounds of banana and jalapeño peppers (pickled for subs and sandwiches), and have canned a whopping 75 pounds of tomatoes!  Holy Mason Jars batman! Tomato season hasn't even STARTED in full yet!  I'm up to my eyeballs in tomatoes! And glad of it. 

You never know when a tomato season will go bust.  Tomatoes are picky. The love hot and humid, but not too wet.  They really love humid hot nights.  IF any one of those things isn't up to par, your harvest will suffer.  Disease is also an issue.  So far I've had no disease problems.  But our nights haven't been as hot as I'd like, but we'll get there again.  It does give me a chance to kick back and take a tomato purée break!


I also managed to find a wonderful Hoosier Cabinet at the Liberty House Antique Store.    It had some wear on it, but was in generally good condition and had never been painted.  The enamel counter was almost pristine.  I have always wanted one, but they can be so ridiculously expensive.  I'll have a whole post on its rehabilitation.  But I am filling it to the brim with canned tomatoes, which I prefer to keep in the darkened cabinet. (Which is why there aren't any in the glass cabinet photo above.)

Garden update. 

The corn was a bust.  It never grew taller than 5 feet.  It was bleached from too much rain and not enough nitrogen.  I never sprayed, so we got worms and bugs.  The ears were small, but the chickens enjoyed them.  I will not bother with corn again next year.

The green beans were a dud.  My composted black soil is too rich, and all I really got were greens and very few beans.

The cucumbers, as I said above, were very prolific, until just last week, when the squash beetles found there way into the vines.  But that is fine.  I had plenty from those three vines.

The sweet potatoes and cantaloupe are merging into one giant plant, which I am sure will take over the planet.  We've had two gorgeous, delicious melons so far, and many more are sitting there hiding from the beetles.  The sweet potatoes, mercy, I hope they are super, as the vines are everywhere!

The Yukon gold potatoes are starting to die back, so harvest is just around the corner on those.

The sorghum is 10 feet high.  It suffered in a wind storm two days ago, but I have it bundled and tied to the fence.  I hope that will save it.

The orchard is struggling.  The high heat, high humidity, and low rainfall have done its worst.  Three trees, which were struggling upon purchase have died, and will be returned for replacements in the Spring.

Well there you have it.  The great update.  Tomorrow we will carry on to more of the FUN stuff!

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