Monday, July 23, 2007

Garden Report

You can't tell from the photo, but this year I am unusually ahead of the weeds. I tilled once, late by my standards, but after the first flush of weed seeds sprouted, then again in mid June. I also weed when I'm emotionally agitated, so the wedding gave me plenty of motivation. We had no rain between June 4 and July 10, so I didn't have much weed growth in the areas where I wasn't watering.

There has been a lot of noise this year about the disappearing honeybees, but we have been seeing them in our yard. My beekeeper's helper friend tells me that this year is not very unusual from his perspective. I have seen other insects disappear this year, although nobody is going to panic if the rose chafers or Colorado Potato Beetles don't show up. Wasps are down this year, too, after being quite the prolific nuisance last year.

I planted a lot of potatoes, more volunteered, and with no beetles to fight it is turning into a nice harvest. Tomatillos did well, too, although I planted most of what I have as bait plants for the potato beetles. I will can them alongside the tomatoes. The squash bugs did show up and I spent a lot of time scraping their bronze egg arrays from the underside of the zucchini plants. Now I am rewarded with a nice crop of zucchini, although I still had one batch of squash bugs hatch out. I fully intended to kill those with rotenone, but there is a big toad living under the plants, so I guess I'll let it go. Maybe the toad will develop a taste for squash bugs.

The basket tomato plants that my neighbor gave me bore nice cherry tomatoes starting the second week of June, but they have succumbed to wilt right now, probably from the stress of living in pots. Maybe if I cut them back they will bear again in winter. I have a dragon tongue pepper plant that is in its third year of production. I let it lose its leaves in the fall and then prune and repot in January.

The tomatoes in the reclaimed land across the driveway are doing well. After getting so many people coming to this blog looking for info on deer and zinnias, I decided to stick the rest of the zinnias in there and see if the deer will eat them. So far, the answer is no.I put the rest of the reclaimed land under a cover crop of oats and buckwheat with some sunflowers to help break up the hardpan underneath. I'm looking at the price of chicken feed and trying to devise a way to turn sunflower seeds into feed.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Speckled Sussex

This is an eight week old Speckled Sussex hen. She is a sweet bird, happy to sit on my arm as she eyed the sprinkler in the garden. Eventually she flew from my arm to the shade of the day lilies and started scratching for bugs. This is the first time I have raised this breed, which is over 100 years old and is listed as "threatened" by the American Livestock Breed Conservancy.

They are alert, among the first chickens to come and see when I throw my pulled weeds into the outside pen. They are pretty tame, as well, easy to catch. The breed is known as "dual-purpose", meaning that it is used for both egg and meat production.

The speckles make it hard to see in the underbrush or dappled shade. This is an advantage in a free range situation where a brighter colored hen would be more apt to be spied by a coyote or hawk. Anna had a hard time photographing this hen. We ended up with a lot of pictures of chicken camouflage.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter Review

Liz has dark circles under her eyes, having stood in line at Leelanau Books until midnight, then stayed up all night reading the new Harry Potter book whilst dogsitting.

When she came in this morning, I was curious to know her opinion, since she is a thoughtful critic of literature.

"Did you finish it?"


"Did it live up to the hype?"

She thought a few seconds. "Yes, it was very well written."

"Does good triumph over evil?"

"Yes. In unexpected ways."

She then went off to read the ending over again, to make sure she really understood it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Anna and her cat

Just a nice picture. Kids love the "hold the camera out in front of your face and shoot" method, and digital cameras mean that we can afford to let them experiment.
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Meat Birds

This baby is heavy! I'm still puzzled by these Cornish X chickens. They have truly lived up to their billing, growing and gaining weight at a phenomenal rate. But I'm not sure if they are chickens. So many chicken behavioral traits are missing in these birds: they don't scratch, they don't peck, they don't roost, they barely walk. They don't even poop like the other chickens. Their poop is more green, like duck poop.

I've had quite a time trying to keep their breasts from being soiled by laying in dirty straw. When I put this bird down to take a photo next to a normal sized hen, it pooped a copious pile, then immediately lay down in its own poop, as if it couldn't fathom the idea of making a choice where to lay down.

Busy with the wedding, I posted the NY Times editorial about chickens and humans in prehistory without saying why it interested me. This big white dumb chicken is why. Humans have lived alongside chickens for a long time, breeding the chickens to conform to every habitat that humans found. The big white chicken is what you get when the habitat is a factory, but I'm not too excited about replacing the myriad of older, smarter, breed with this sort of chicken idiot.

On the other hand, it's not too hard to envision eating them. As Anna told me last night, "They're just meat with feathers. The other chickens have personalities but the white ones aren't even human."
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Monday, July 09, 2007

Bridal Bouquet

Shelagh on her father's arm

June 23rd is a rough time to find wedding flowers. It was a hot spring, hot enough to rush the spring and early summer flowers through their paces. I watched the lilacs, spirea, peonies, even the irises, bloom and fade overnight, while the annuals seemed to just plod along. In the end the white zinnias that I started from seed gave me just a few blossoms and the white sweet peas are still just thinking about it.

So I decorated the hall with centerpieces made from ferns from Grandpa Gord's garden, wormwood and wild pink sweet peas from our yard, and a few buckets of flowers from Omena Cut Flowers. But I made Shelagh's bouquet from the best things in our yard: some white snapdragons that overwintered, sweet william that I got years ago from Gord, a lone sprig of blue lupine that persisted in Richard's beds, two sprigs of rosemary that curved to suggest a heart. The bridesmaids each got a few stems tied with asparagus leaves. Richard patiently pulled all the berries off of them while I was arranging Shelagh's bouquet.

I sent the flowers to the church with the Anna, sprinkling them with water, slipping them into plastic grocery bags, and telling Anna to put them in the fridge at the church. It was time for the parents to get ready. My girls and I all wear the same shoe size, so I really shouldn't have been all that surprised when I grabbed the black pumps from the shoe rack and they turned out to have a broken heel. I found another pair of shoes, in the dress up box, brushed my hair, and we were off.

At church, everything looked great. The girls had prepared for many choir concerts in those same Sunday school classrooms; they were on time and relaxed. Laurie Glass, the photographer, was getting a kick out of seeing Ellen (always the tomboy) with her hair out of the pony tail and getting curled. Jon and Christa Kiessel were dressing the three flower children and trying to keep them corralled. We posed for some pictures with the groom and then I went back downstairs to check on the girls. They looked great. Guests were starting to trickle downstairs to use the ladies' room so I packed up the makeup and hangers and went upstairs to wait for my cue.

The grandparents were already seated and Jordan's folks were ready to start down the aisle when word came that there was "a problem". I couldn't imagine what it was, but I didn't have much time to wonder, as the word was soon "problem solved". The moms came in and lit candles. The ring bearer gave the rings to the best man and after some whispered negotiations the best man talked the ring bearer into sitting down. The flower children scattered flowers, milled around a little, then found their parents and sat down.

Shelagh looked great. Both Shelagh and Jordan smiled broadly, happy to be there on their day.

But I smelled roses. I hadn't used any roses in their bouquets. Shelagh's bouquet had a rose in the middle. Did someone else buy flowers? Wasn't anything I did good enough for that kid? It was like our whole life together was replaying in my mind, where I provided simple and homemade, while Shelagh wanted to go shopping for something fancy. Of well, just let it go. They're only flowers.

I hadn't used any yellow flowers, either, as they clashed with the ribbons on the bridesmaids' dresses, but Liz was carrying yellow flowers. I was still telling myself "Oh well, they're only flowers as I watched two yellow petals fall from Liz's bouquet and hit the floor. At least my flowers were fresh! I got up at 5:30 am to pick them with the dew still on!

It must have been about then that Laurie, the photographer, whispered in my ear: "Anna put your bouquets in the freezer!" I started to quietly chuckle. My mom glanced sideways. I whispered in her ear "Anna put the bouquets in the freezer." Mom started to chuckle, too.

After the ceremony, Laurie told me how they had gone to the church kitchen to get the flowers. Shelagh asked Anna, "Why are you looking in the freezer?" and that's when they realized what had happened. All of the flowers were frozen solid. Anna was willing to carry the sorriest bouquet. Shelagh was willing to just walk down the aisle without flowers.

Laurie and Christa (mother of the flower children) walked out the front door of the church, looked down the street and saw a yard with a flower garden. They knocked on the front door of the house and told the man "This is an emergency. We need your flowers."

The man of the house said "Sure!" The lady across the street was working in her yard; she volunteered some of her flowers. Laurie and Christa grabbed what they could, tied them up with the ribbon from the frozen bouquets, and off went the bride!

Years ago, Shelagh and Liz, just 19 months apart, used to play four handed piano duets. Or at least they attempted to play four handed piano duets. Although they were each accomplished pianists in their own right, the wheels would eventually fall off the wagon when they tried to play together. They started off sweetly enough, and it was lovely, watching the two of them moving so well together. After a while, someone would hit a wrong note, or bungle the tempo a bit. I couldn't hear it, but I could tell from the "stink eye" look that would be exchanged. Pretty soon it would happen again, and the sideways glance would be more pronounced. Eventually the performance would dissolve into a chorus of accusations and shrieks, just short of heaving each other off of the piano bench.

There was none of that at the wedding. Anna made a mistake. Shelagh forgave, focused on the important stuff, and carried on. I can't think of a better way to start a marriage.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Free Well Water Testing

Free drinking well water screenings will be offered July 16 through the Michigan Groundwater Stewardship Program, Michigan Dept of Ag and MSU Extension.

Leelanau County residents may pick up sampling bottles and instructions at the MSU Extension office in Leland (201 Chandler Street).

Water samples must be collected on Monday, July 16 and returned to the extension office that day between 9 am and 2 pm.

The free screening is conducted annually in conjunction with Michigan State University's Annual Ag Expo, being conducted this year July 17-19 on the MSU campus in East Lansing. The water test screens for nitrates, nitrites and triazine pesticides.

For more information, call 231-256-9888.