Tag Archives: composting

Everything Wants to Eat Everything

With every plunge of the shovel I feel some relief.  I’m digging out strawberries, and monitoring the dog-bit hen Sweet Tart, who is happily dustbathing in her newly partitioned end of the hoophouse.

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After three days and three nights in here with Sweet Tart, our newest hen Maybelline tore off Sweet Tart’s scab and drilled deep into her thigh.  The Bearded One saved the day, but he had to throw a glove at Maybelline to do it.  She was in a crazed feeding frenzy, eating raw meat like a ravenous carnivore.  That I subjected Sweet Tart to this torture is weighing on me.  Everything on a farm is life and death, I think.  Everything wants to eat everything!  I can’t get my mind around it, so I’m spending the day digging.  Shovel therapy.

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I’m removing the strawberries that I transplanted from one of the circle gardens last summer.  We’ll give a bucket of starts to Momma Goose and a bucket to the neighbor who gave us Maybelline.  Then I’ll plant broccoli, cabbage and kale seeds.  But first I shovel in well-done chicken manure compost from last year’s meat bird pen.

I’ve read that birds evolved from dinosaurs.  It makes sense.  All chickens will attack an open wound on another chicken.

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It’s just one of those chicken things.  The way it is.  Dig.  Pick out rocks.  Dig some more.  Rake.

The Bearded One finally got Maybelline off of Sweet Tart, who laid there passively accepting her fate, after having been chased around furiously for goodness knows how long.  We re-doctored the bloody wound and moved her back to the house for the afternoon.

Maybelline spent the afternoon in the hoophouse, and then we put her on the roost up in the coop with the rest of our hens that night.  It worked.  They accepted her the next day with hardly any hassles partly because she is enormous.

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Sweet Tart will stay by herself in the hoophouse until she is completely and totally healed.

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I stop working and check her wound again.  It’s a lovely yellowish brown crust of gunk.  I can even make out a little face in the dried skin.  Nothing looks gross to me anymore.

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Since Maybelline has been in with the other hens, we’ve had two pecked eggs in the nests.

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Chickens will eat their own eggs if given a taste.  We’ve had this problem before, but not for many months.  Last time we used plastic Easter eggs to fool and discourage them, and it worked.

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We don’t know for sure which hen is doing the pecking, and I don’t want to blame Maybelline for everything.  The Bearded One says he is fine with blaming her.

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I am actually sweating now, and have to take off my hat.  It’s 55 degrees in here.  40 degrees outside.

I put Sweet Tart down and she flaps wildly then limps out into the sun to peck under the blueberry bushes.  Garfield crouches on the deck, and both Ruby, who is beside the deck, and I monitor him as he acts like he’s not monitoring Sweet Tart, which he most certainly is.

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And then the Bearded One comes out of the house with a plate and a glass.  Bless him, he is bringing me lunch.  He sets a tall glass of water on the railing as he unlatches the gate at the top of the deck stairs, then walks down past the cat, the dog, and the chicken.

Sweet Tart’s partitioned area in the hoophouse has an old picnic table with her nest box at one end.  I brush off the dried chicken poop and then take off my dirty gloves.  My hands are not clean and I don’t care. The Bearded One lays out napkins and the beautiful plate — a chicken sandwich, chips, and orange slices.

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“I don’t hold anything against Maybelline,” I say, crunching a chip.  “It was just too long with a hurt chicken and she snapped.”

“She snacked,” says the Bearded One.

I roll my eyes and take a big bite of my home-grown chicken sandwich.  Everything wants to eat everything — I guess that includes me.

A Close Scrape

“I’ll pay you $50 for every one of these grapefruit rinds you scrape,” I offer the Bearded One, who sits at the kitchen table reading the newspaper while I slave over Christmas fruitcakes.

“I have taken a vow of poverty,” he says.

I am momentarily amused, which is nice since I am surely tired of standing here creating this huge pile of pulp.  Granted, he periodically takes the accumulation out to the compost pile, then dutifully brings the bowl back so I can fill it up again.

This year's compost pile, ready to be turned into the bin as soon as we get last year's out.

This year’s compost pile, ready to be turned into the bin as soon as we get last year’s out.

“Every year I manage to mess up one batch of citrus,” I say, and glance over at the measuring cup full of yellow and orange rinds that I overcooked in the syrup.  This is the first time that’s ever happened.  It’s all rock candy.  A person could break a tooth.  Last year I boiled rinds in preparation for the scraping, and then put off the scraping for several days and the rinds went bad.

Scraped and cut up rind ready for boiling in the syrup.

“Yep,” says the Bearded One.  He grins at me, but my mind is elsewhere.  I’m a mess.  This has all been dredged up by the stressful parts of an important wedding on the way. There’s lots of figuring to do.  I actually managed to make our eldest daughter, the bride-to-be, cry last week with my careless thoughts on the sheer opulence of big weddings.

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I apologized.  And made it up to her, I hope.  Floor cleanliness in our family is a genetic thing, and I purged myself on hands and knees. I scrubbed the hell out of her kitchen floor on Sunday morning while she unpacked boxes of clothes in the upstairs bedroom.  The Bearded One put together a jillion-piece bathroom shelving fixture — the kind that straddles the toilet — and our son-in-law-to-be stained new closet clothes hanger rods a rich dark redwood color to match the 1913 woodwork of their new old home.

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There I scrubbed and reflected on my sins.  Now, I scrape and reflect some more — other family and other weddings.

On Friday my mother emailed me the transcript of a 1915 letter written by a relative and sent to my great-grandmother.  It is kind of amazing that this great-grandmother was born in 1883 and our daughter was born in 1983.  The letter is from my great grandmother’s cousin who was a Protestant Christian missionary in Annam (renamed Vietnam in 1945) and recently engaged.  It’s six pages long and includes the background of the family furnishings in her modest little cabin, her interactions with her servant woman, her passion for her mission to convert all of heathen Annam to Jesus and translate the Bible into Annamese, and her loathing of the abusive Catholic priests from which she labored to differentiate herself.

I press the edge of my tablespoon into the soft, cooked pulp of the grapefruit quarter section, then scrape it down the length being careful not to rip the thin rind.  You’ve got to scrape it really close or there’s no point.

Outside my window I can hear the Bearded One hauling last year’s finished compost in the squeaky old wheelbarrow over to the gardens.

My mind is still on our eldest child and my earlier faux pas in hurting her feelings.

And then the phone rings.

“OH, MOM!  I AM SOOOOO HAPPY!”

“You are?”

“Thank you so much for coming and making everything in my kitchen work better!”

I can hear her sincerity, and feel her love.  She’s not judging me.  Why should I?  That was a close scrape.

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The Age of Shovelry

I’m standing at the kitchen sink peeling literally the 78th peach this week when the Bearded One approaches and touches my back.  I lean into his hand and request a scratch.  I’m on my last peach for the eighth and final tray of the new dehydrator, my hands are slimy, it’s hot and my back itches.  Ever chivalrous, he obliges.  Oooooo, I say.  To the left.  Yes, yes.  Down.  I shiver.  We now call this sex.

Earlier we had both been in the garden digging up potatoes.  At this time of year especially, when there’s so much physical work to do, whether it’s digging potatoes or turning compost, we try to be sweet to each other, offer encouragement and praise, say thank you and please and make each other sandwiches.  I help adjust the TV antennae to get the football channel.  He vacuums the red rug.  The shovel may be the centerpiece of the farmer’s life, but it’s the chivalry that makes it all work.

Shoveling potatoes is tricky because you don’t want to stab them.  Just loosen the soil, then I use my bare hands to feel around in the trench for them.  The Bearded One wears gloves to just reach in and force them out.  It’s exciting and we shout and show our biggest and weirdest to each other, but it takes ages.  My back not only itches, it aches.

We had about the same harvest as last year, but half what we had the year before. Still, it's all the potatoes we need.

“Could you rub my left lat, Sweetie?” I say.  He kneads my tight, aching latissimus dorsi, which I hurt angling the buckets of potatoes into the root cellar.  I dug the shallow root cellar last year and the Bearded One made the lid.  It kept our potatoes and carrots and cabbage consistently in the 40’s and humid last year.  This year I’m using the recycled buckets because last year’s cardboard boxes disintegrated.

Hobbit hole root cellar

The compost didn’t completely cook this year (we only had maybe 2 weeks of summer — in the 80’s…), so shoveling it has been a huge pain.  You have to fork it because the straw and other garden debris is still interlaced.  It doesn’t smell, it just hasn’t completely disintegrated.  We’ve both been forking it out.  “Up,” I say to my masseuse.  “More.  More.  Right there.”  I lean back hard into his hand.

Shovel ready.

The Bearded One has designed a new compost system for next year which will include the straw with chicken poop.  We’ve spent many hours watching our new hen Kimber and the Seven Chicks, which have easily doubled in size in two weeks.  They run and flap and actually get some hang time, as the Bearded One says.  But the poop is starting to be noticeable.  It will greatly enrich the compost, but there’s another thing to shovel, load, haul, dump, turn, empty and spread.

The two Steves.

I stretch to the side, then to the other side.  I’m finally finished with the peach and am about to say my thanks and tell him how much I love him when he cries “Ouch!”  His own sore back has spasmed.  “Oh, Sweetie,” I say, “thank you for the back rub!”

He shuffles away, crippled and incoherent. “The gift of the Magi,” he mutters.

I laugh and wince.  Shovelry is not dead, but it could kill you.