Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sad Day for Sunflowers

I was out on a little excursion Sunday afternoon to buy canning peaches. As I drove down the interstate, I watched big cracks of lightning course through the clouds, and a minute after I walked into the orchard barn/farm stand door, the wind came up and the rain came pelting down. It was a pretty marvelous storm!

There is something very invigorating about a good summer thunderstorm, especially if you have to rush around closing windows, taking down laundry or running back to your car carrying a box full of fruit. (Or pick up 150 chairs that were just set up outside for a wedding ceremony, bring them inside, wipe them off and set them back up in time for the wedding - but that's another story.)   I think this is the first really good t-storm we've had this summer.

When I got home, our power had been knocked out (pretty typical) but otherwise the property was in pretty good shape - just small tree limbs and branches scattered across the driveway and yard. It wasn't until later that Adam noticed our casualty of the storm.

These sunflowers previously stood 7-8 feet tall.

The sunflower stalks couldn't quite withstand the wind gusts, and the biggest stalk snapped in two. Oh, summer's beauty cut off at the knees - the sunflowers were absolutely vibrant and gorgeous and just starting to set seed. They gave me such pleasure to see new blooms open up every other day or so. I feel unduly sad about this, but it really seems such a shame.

The most robust stalks of sunflowers broke, but the two spindly ones were just bent over and now we've propped them back up with a stake. Not a complete loss - but it still makes me sad.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hens and Hornworms

A few surprising things I've learned about chickens from keeping six in the backyard:

1) Chickens really do flock together. The hens take turns being adventurous and taking off to explore various corners of the backyard, but it's never very long before the rest of them catch up.

2) They will eat anything particularly if they can peck it into small pieces. Until I learned better, this included the foam insulation sealing various holes in the house exterior. I also learned that hens have no problem pecking four-inch long tomato hornworms into bite-sized green chunks.

Action shot at the start of the hornworm feast - the race to get the worms is on!

3) Hens never stop talking. When we are home, I'll let them out to free-range the mosquitoes in the backyard, and it's nice to be reassured from their calls and coos that they have not run off.

4) Chicken feathers are soft! I guess I had never really thought about it before. It feels really nice to pet them. "Yellow" is still the easiest one to catch and hold for long periods of time, but the others calm down as soon as they realize that they have been caught.

5) Hens are astoundingly hard to photograph. They never seem to stand still, and it's almost impossible to sneak up on them unnoticed. I will have to research this further, or set up a chicken observation blind.

Who cares about posing for close-ups when there's worms to be pecked?

According to the chicken-raising book I have and the all-knowing Internet, the hens are supposed to start laying sometime next month. I'm awestruck at how fast these animals can go from being fresh out of the egg to making new eggs - it's incredible. I suppose I shouldn't count my eggs before they are laid (or chickens before they are hatched?), but I'm really quite excited about fresh eggs!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The High Season

Two days ago, I picked two overflowing baskets of vegetables plus the carrots and beets that wouldn't fit in the baskets. Last night, Adam informed me that I really need to go out and pick beans or they are going to get too large. The vegetable drawers in the refrigerator are stuffed to the gills. And last week, I found this:

The giant and the gherkin
Cucumbers blend in really well with their foliage and so it is very easy to miss a pickling cucumber and have it grow to a very large size where it loses its value for pickling, but still can be used for slicing.

The first few months of vegetable gardening are mostly manageable - there's the bed preparation and planting, which is time-consuming, and the weeding and staking and harvesting of lettuce and other early summer plants... but now we're into the high season. The garden seems to have hit its stride and is churning out produce like crazy. It's exhilarating and exhausting, amazing and overwhelming. And fortunately, very very tasty.

FYI - I've fallen off the horse with weighing and reporting on just how much produce I've been picking, but I will try to get a report together. It's going to be really interesting to compare this year to last.