The Green Beans Are Ready

Day 78 of 365

Sometimes, on our little farm, we get overwhelmed. Today, we are overwhelmed with green beans. “Good problems to have,” we always say. Still, as I am trying to work on the annual, care for chickens, make dinners, parent, and grade papers and Ron is trying to care keep the garden alive morning, noon, and night while also parenting and cooking, it’s difficult to find time to process green beans.

Still, good problems to have.

I love green beans. Green beans are the first thing I ever grew in the garden, and I fell in love with them. They are magical. They are generous. So generous. I mean, you plant one tiny bean, Ron adds water and chicken poop compost and works his magic, and just like that one tiny bean seed turns into 20 or 30 or 40 green beans. How generous is this?

Ron is processing the green beans right now. He just had me come look at the beans drying on the table and the side tables. I think there is enough for our family for the whole winter from this one harvest. And the green beans, generous as they are, will produce at least two or three more harvests of this size. I hope our farm share customers like green beans! I am sure they do. I mean, they are green beans.

They are magical and generous.

I wrote a poem about green beans. It is the first and only poem I have ever written. Maybe, one of these years, I will share it. Maybe. But I feel the fact that the first and only poem I have ever written is about green beans speaks volumes about the respect I have for this fantastic plant.

***

Also, I have a quick Ruby update. Ruby has turned into the most difficult chicken I have ever seen, and I feel like there’s nothing we can do. When I put her in the coop, people pick on her. So I have to let her run around. Still, she has more and more and more just decided that she’s doing whatever she wants. This includes digging up the flower bed and using it for her dust bath and getting into the mama hens’ crates and trying to sleep there instead of roosting somewhere in the garage. Tonight, I had to drag her out of Juliet’s crate–TWICE! And each time, she screams at me like I have wronged her in a way that is beyond all wrongs. Oh, and when I come outside to check on people, she meets me at the door and demands treats about half the time–and by demand, I mean she screams at me.

I actually have a chicken who is a brat. I have no idea what we’re going to do about her, but she’s so cute and quirky that you just have to give in to her. Today, I was at the kitchen window, and I overheard this conversation:

Ron: Ruby, get out of there! This flower bed is not for you to destroy!

Ruby: loudly complains and argues with Ron

Ron: What are we going to do with you, little chicken?

Redemption

Day 74 of 365

I have to follow my rule of writing every day, but to those of you who have come to know me through this blog, I need to ask a favor. I have to keep these posts short the next three days because I have to complete the next Farmer-ish print annual by Monday. If I start going on and on about something and you happen to read it, please leave a comment and tell me to get to work on that print annual.

So I will be very brief tonight and then get to work on the print annual at least a little bit more tonight. It’s pretty close and so pretty. I can’t even begin to tell you how good the pieces are. I wish I could write as well as so many people in this book!

Today, I took a picture of my tiny neighbors’ babies, and it shows more than balls of fluff! I took the picture, burned my feet on our wicked hot deck in the process, and then showed Ron my picture.

“Who’s the best wildlife photographer in the world now?” I asked him.

I definitely got some side eye.

But he also had to smile. He loves me extra today. He is overwhelmed with work outside and asked me if I would be able to put up some broccoli and cauliflower in an emergency. It was going bad in the heat. I had to make three batches of raspberry jam from the berries we got yesterday, so I had a bit on my plate too; still, I agreed, but then the broccoli and cauliflower kept coming and coming. This picture was early on in the game.

He kept thanking me and thanking me. It’s hard to keep the garden alive in this heat, and it’s a full-time job for him right now. I am thankful for him right back.

On Being Rich

Day 50 of 365

Today feels like a milestone. I have been writing in this blog every single day for 50 days. Most days, I do not have time to write nearly as much as I would like. I have stories about sneaky chickens, special wild birds, and howling chipmunks, but I realize that summer is a tough time to be writing in a blog. There are baby chickens everywhere, and I somehow had two additional classes I wasn’t anticipating teaching land in my lap a few weeks ago. But, despite these obstacles, I have written something every day, and that counts, right?

Today was farm share day again. It’s normally on Thursdays, but the strawberries were so ripe that we decided we had better do an early farm share day this week. Plus, the sugar pod peas were ready, and we learned a long time ago that, when it’s hot, you have to move quickly on the sugar pod peas.

Today’s farm share included fresh strawberries and strawberry jam. Aren’t they beautiful?

I am marveling at our strawberries. It’s their second year of berries, and I can’t believe how generous these plants are being. It’s the chicken poop compost. Ron read years ago that it is the best fertilizer. I absolutely believe it.

I keep talking about how “rich” we are. We’re so rich we eat fresh strawberries for breakfast. We’re so rich, I made strawberry jam and still had berries left in the blow. We’re so rich, I have made smoothies with fresh strawberries with dinner three nights in a row!

I find it interesting that I measure wealth in strawberries. I also measure wealth in eggs. In December, I am poor, but by late February, I am so rich again! Right now, I am extra rich because we have strawberries AND eggs.

And the raspberries are coming, and the Oxheart carrots are getting bigger, and I am pretty sure the corn will surely be knee-high by the Fourth of July. I am feeling extra grateful of late. Things seem extra good. Even Kate’s baby is starting to thrive.

I am superstitious, so I am knocking on wood as I write these words.

His Garden Grows in Perfect Rows

Day 28 of 365

His garden is so perfect that people think he must use a rototiller. He does not. Everything is done by hand. He disturbs the soil just enough to get the chicken compost from our chickens into the rows where he is planting. And he wastes no space. He’s a master of space usage. I’ve never seen anything like it. I honestly never understood what a fantastic skill it is to have–space usage. I mean, he can load the dishwasher like a magician, but that just annoys me. I feel my way is fine.

But in the garden–in that garden–I have full appreciation for his skill and his perfectionism. I used to help plant more. I still do sometimes, but it’s only after he’s used the string to mark the places for me to plant. One time, I just made my own row, and when the carrots came up with a bit of an s-shape to them, I think it broke his heart a little.

He’s frugal to a fault, if there is such a thing in the garden. He uses every nook and cranny of the garden. He wastes no water. It’s too precious. He waters by hand and aims for deep watering with as little water as possible. Any extra water from the house is saved for the garden. He also plants seeds without the plan to thin them later, so as to not waste the seeds. This seems bold to me, but he just knows the seeds will come up. He talks to them to make sure.

He also plays music for them, classical music. Every day, in the garden, he listens to Bach and Vivaldi and Mozart. So do the plants. I don’t know if it’s the chicken compost, the classical music, or Ron’s magic touch, but every year, whether there is drought or so much rain some of the food starts to rot in the ground, this garden feeds our family.

And this year, we have our first farm shares. It took him years to have the confidence to do it, but I can see that he’s proud to share his work with others. This makes my heart happy. Not only do other families get to share in this delicious, beautiful, organic food, but I can see there is a pride growing in a man beaten down by life early and often.

It’s a kind of miracle to me that this garden, this work of art of a vegetable garden that feeds our family year round, heals. But it does.

And isn’t it lovely?

***

I have to quickly add a Ruby and Kate update. Ruby has become a fierce mama–like a little too fierce, perhaps–but her babies are very well cared for. Kate is now sitting on an egg that may have to be a miracle egg. I have put three other eggs from our flock under her as of yesterday, which means she may have to have wait another 20 days before she finally gets to be mama. It’s all kind of heartbreaking, but I will feed her well and help her get through this. I believe she deserves to be mama after all that drama. Plus, she looks healthy despite having been broody for over two weeks now. Of course, there is still the miracle egg. I won’t write about it until I check it again in a few days. It’s a long story. Hopefully, it’s a good story. We’ll know soon.

Gardening with Chickens–and Rocks

Day 8 of 365

Because I long for a barn, every now and then, I look at real estate online. I would love to find a place with a barn. Any barn will do, big or small, red or brown. But when I look at real estate prices here in Maine, I find myself feeling thankful for the little plot of land we “own” (really just borrowing from the Maine woods). We have a large, sturdy chicken coop, a duck house, magnificent trees, and a giant deck in our back yard complete with an Eastern Phoebe nest this year. We also have a large organic garden space, and that garden space has come at a price for my husband, making it so we feel really tied to this little patch of earth. 

There was a small garden area when we moved in, full of rocks and deplete of nutrients. Apparently, the owners before us were not organic gardeners, so Ron had much work to do with the soil. Over the years, thanks to the composted chicken poop and straw and fall leaves and cover crops, the soil in our organic garden has become quite magnificent. Ron does not use a rototiller and turns over the soil by hand and shovel. But, also over the years, he has expanded our garden space, also by hand. During this time, I am convinced he has moved a quarry’s worth of rock from the garden. 

It never ends. Each year, he picks up rocks, digs up rocks, and moves boulders with nothing but logs and levers. Sometimes, I help. Sometimes, our son helps. Mostly, this epic undertaking falls to my husband, and I worry about so many years of toil. We joke that he did something in another life to deserve a life of rock moving in this one–Sisyphus, only moving rocks in wheelbarrow instead of rolling one up a hill.

I worried extra this weekend when he was expanding our garden yet again. This time, he was turning over grass in the chicken yard to add more space for a third kind of potatoes. It was hot. To have temps at about 90 degrees in May in Maine is not usual, and in the middle of that heat wave, that poor man hit a large rock “every time my shovel dug in,” he said. 

I was working to plant flowers on the other side of our property, but I would go visit him from time to time, telling stories of my adventures and bringing him water and lemonade. On my visits, I would marvel at both the size and amount of rocks he was moving to make space for more potatoes. 

But he had company. Every time I came to visit, I noticed the same three or four hens were “helping dad.” They know the drill. Under grass and within the rocks lie grubs, and it’s a win-win for everyone. The chickens eat the grubs, and that means fewer beetles in our garden, eating up our harvest. Chickens, while they cannot be trusted with small, delicious plants (one year, our Poe flew over the garden gate and ate a whole row of broccoli plants), chickens play an important role in our gardening cycles. 

Before planting in the spring, chickens do a great job of getting everything ready. We let them in the garden to eat grubs and scratch around in the soil. The chickens are also fantastic gleaners in the fall. They eat the leftover tomatoes and cabbages and will eat bugs then too. In the middle of garden season, sometimes, Ron has let a few hens into the garden for some interim pest control, and that works fairly well. However, you do have to keep an eye on them. In a garden of goodies, chickens are easily distracted from potato bugs. 

We reward our chickens with treats from the garden throughout the spring, summer, and fall, and it’s all just a part of this fantastic symbiotic relationship we have with our chickens. Our chickens give us delicious eggs, and I am so thankful for them. But they do more. The provide pest control, provide us with fertilizer for our garden, and on long days when you are digging through the rocky Maine soil to make room for potatoes, they provide you with some good company. 

***

And, of course, I have to add a quick Ruby update: She’s doing well. No break today, but she did have some leftover scrambled eggs. Tomorrow, I candle eggs, so stay tuned! 

It’s Weirdly Hot for May in Maine

Day 3 of 365

Ruby is off her nest of eggs right now, and she has just 12 minutes before it makes an hour. I’ve read broody hens can be off their eggs for longer, but an hour is a safe window of time for a break. So, in the middle of writing this, I will have to go check on Ruby. She didn’t take a break at all yesterday, so I know she needs one. Still, I’m hoping she will get back to work soon.

It’s been really hot this week, very hot for May in Maine. Ron has been planting everything early but has been most worried about getting the broccoli and cauliflower going because it will bake in the heat and not produce. It needs our usual cooler temperatures. He did well, he got the plants into the ground, but getting hot this early is a concern. Hopefully, the plants will survive this heat wave.

The heat is hard on our animals too. We have several very old chickens. One is a meat bird, Mary Jane. If she makes it to the first of June, she will be five years old! This is something of a miracle, but she’s very large and very old, and I worry very much about losing her to the heat. Thankfully, our birds have a lot of shade from the many trees on our property, and I take great pains to make sure everyone has access to fresh water and cool treats throughout the summer. Still, a couple of years ago, we lost an older hen to the heat. I try to keep a watchful eye.

Yesterday, my son and I went for a walk on our road, and when we got home, I noticed the chickens looked so hot and dry. Earlier than usual, I went to the shed and got their extra waterer. I gave it a good scrub and put it out for everyone near the dust bath hang out. It was a hit. As soon as I sat it down, several chickens circled the waterer. They still had access to their main waterer, of course, but new is better. They always think this. When I am feeding scraps, I have some hens who will constantly move on to what I am dropping last, even if they are giving up a very good position with very good scraps I dropped earlier. Apparently, these hens do not understand the old saying, “a bird in the hand.” In so many ways, humans are the same.

While I was scrubbing the waterer, I noticed the ducks, who have their own area separate from our chickens. That’s another story in and of itself. We tried to keep our chickens and ducks together, as some farmers do, but it was a hard “no” for us. This meant Ron had to build an entirely new duck area complete with duck house and 1/2 acre fenced area. He’s kind of a miracle, though he doesn’t think so. Anyway, the ducks were watching me closely with the water hose, and one duck in particular, a duck we rehabilitated after she was over-mated at another farm, was making eye contact. Her name is Anna Maria.

I looked at her. She looked at the kiddie pool. I didn’t feel like scrubbing and cleaning their pool, as I needed to go make dinner, and we try to just do the pool clean just once per week to be frugal with water. They have access to large bowls with fresh water every morning, but the pool is pretty big. It hadn’t been a week yet since it’s last clean and fill, but when I looked at her again, she looked at the pool. I got the message.

“Alright, Anna Maria, hang on.”

I scrubbed and filled the pool with the sparkling water made extra beautiful by the fact that the kiddie pool is light blue. The ducks gathered and watched in anticipation. When the pool was filled Antonio, our only male duck, was the first one in. “Come on in, girls, the water’s fine,” he said with the bob of his head. The ladies seemed skeptical.

But after a few minutes, they couldn’t resist, and the girls piled in as well. But not Anna Maria. She waited. I went about my other work, as I knew she would get her turn. Indeed, she did. I came back by a few minutes later, and Anna Maria was in the pool with one other female. They were both ducking down and raising up, letting the cool water run over their heads, and my heart was so happy for Anna Maria. I will have to write more about her soon, but she has been though a lot in her life. Every single time I see her being joyful, I feel like I have done some good in the world.

I feel like I flail around the world most of the time–wanting to do some good, usually feeling helpless. I cannot affect much change in the world. I cannot convince world governments that we need to take action now on climate change, that Maine is too hot in May. I cannot even figure out how to help my children prepare for an ever-changing, more difficult world than I grew up in. I try but feel like a failure at every turn.

But I made Anna Maria’s life better.

And, yesterday, in the sparking water, as the sun shone on her between the trees, I saw a joyful duck, and there, before my eyes, was some good I have done in my life.

***

While writing this, I had to take a break and check on Ruby. Her hour was up, but she was still off her nest. Much to her dismay, I had to capture her, which is no easy task. Chickens are fast! But when I took her back to her eggs, she went to them immediately. She sat her little self down, adjusted her body to spread over the 8 eggs in her nest, and looked content. I guess she just needed to be reminded. She’s on day 2 of 21. On day 7, I’ll candle the eggs!