What’s the haps, everyone?

May has been an extraordinary month, weather-wise. Weeks of glorious sunshine and warm temperatures allowed us to get the whole garden planted, including the tomatoes and peppers. I can’t remember a time when I’ve planted this early; the usual scenario is a few warm, dry days that fool gardeners all over the Northwest into planting seeds just to have them languish in the cold mud.

But yesterday afternoon brought the first thunder/lightning storm of the year, which was pretty exciting, and a torrential downpour that splashed dirt all over the greens and containers. You know the kind. Regardless, the garden is looking fabulous, especially the shade plants (hostas, Japanese painted fern, impatiens and heuchera). I’ll get some photos posted soon.

I think this is going to be the best garden yet.

I followed through on my plans to get new peeps, as Assumpta went to the Great Coop in the Sky last September, after doing poorly for several months. One morning she didn’t get up, and I knew it was her time. I petted her, told her what a special chicken she was and went to work. Roo called 20 minutes later to let me know she had gone feets up, and she joined the ranks of all the critters that have gone before under Dicky’s Bush.

So anyway, we got three Barred Rocks from the feed store. One, nicknamed “Flippy” (because of super adorable wing feathers that stuck out from her wings like flippers) had to go back because she was very aggressive, even at a month old. In my infinite farming wisdom, I managed to exchange her for a peep that turned out to be a rooster.

So, this is how my morning goes. Margo (the mostly blind chicken) gives her peculiar bleating crow. The young rooster is suddenly inspired to test out his rusty little crow. Margo crows. The rooster crows. Repeat until they get bored. Neither of them really sound like a full-blown crow. It’s both hilarious and a little disturbing. I haven’t had The Talk with him yet, but it will go something like this: Be nice to the girls. Don’t even think of flogging us. Keep your yap shut. Or else.

Here’s a photo from early this month; they are now almost the size of footballs.

And here’s Stella, enjoying the sunshine from the confines of the basement. She really likes to watch the peeps when they’re out.

So what’s going on in your neck of the woods? How does your garden grow?

Happy May Day!

Spring is here! And proof that the sun shines at least once a month in Portland.  Bubbles likes to strike a pose whenever possible.

Lilac is such an old-fashioned flower; it reminds me of the huge lilac bushes that grew next to the crick on my dad’s farm.

We call this “Dicky’s Bush”; it takes up a corner of the backyard. My dear kitty Dicky-D (aka Raoul, Dick Dastardly and Doodlebugs) was buried here about four years ago after he was put to sleep at 16 when his kidneys failed. I found Dicky as a kitten, desperately trying to escape down a storm drain in a parking lot during a thunderstorm. I was driving taxi in Pennsylvania. He was soaking wet and smudged with motor oil. I showed him to all my fares. He was super pissed about that, but it was good for tips.

He flew in an airplane before I ever did. I drove to Oregon. He arrived a few months later, still grumpy about that taxi ride. He was such a good cat, with me through thick and thin, and multiple moves.

I still get teary about him.

This is Dicky, back in the day, enjoying a little nip.

I love the pure blue of forget-me-nots.

Oh, hi Bubbles.

It’s this time of year when I’m trying to figure out what my favorite flower is. Right now, it’s ranunculous. I love the outrageous bold colors and frills.


And no post would be complete without chicken underpants.

Now I need to go out and plant a second round of peas, the basil and a bunch of flowers. It’s going to rain again tomorrow.

Hooray! The first egg of the year…

We haven’t had a fresh egg since last October. Or maybe September. They went into molt and egg production came to a screeching halt. My love affair with eggs has necessitated the purchase of store eggs, those pale imitators with weak shells and perfect, perfect white shells. Each the same. When I look at a dozen store eggs, I can’t tell which chicken has produced it,  what story might be behind it, and not just because I don’t know those hens up close and personal.

Factory food is designed that way. Each the same, each impersonal.

I am not immune to mass production, and I suspect you aren’t either. It’s cheaper. Easier. Sometimes better. But I take my small victories where I can, and this egg, laid just where the laying nest for the hens should have been, reminds me that spring is right around the corner. We will plant a garden, put up whatever we can. Our food. Our story.

The laying nest, a planting container sporting an easy entrance cut into the side, was removed last fall when the coop was cleaned out. I put it back after the discovery, ready for the eggs my old girls are ready to lay.

We bought Assumpta, Patsy and Margo when they were tiny chicks almost four years ago. I’m considering getting some new peeps to replace their diminished egg-laying capacity. From what I can tell, integrating new chickens into an established flock is very difficult.

If any one has helpful suggestions, I’m listening!

Signs of life.

It’s been a dreary couple of months here at Chez Chook. Several times, snow was in the forecast, but failed to materialize. There’s nothing sadder than a Portlander dreaming of a snow day just to have it fall through. Again.

Today brought an amazing bright glowy thing in the sky, the sun. It’s kinda warm and not raining. A miracle! And that is enough for me. The blueberry bushes are perking up:

Hey look! It’s Patsy and Assumpta, enjoying a dust bath. And then they lolled about, wings raised, soaking in the precious rays. After they were done, I let Margo out to get a dust bath too.

This lily is making moves.

The weeds do not stop making their moves. Starring here are Cardamine oligosperma (pop weed) and Tanacetum parthenium (feverfew). Both are easily pulled, but they spread like mad.

Apparently, it’s also the season of the Unwanted Phonebooks. I’m not sure why they arrive every year, given the power of The Google. A relic of the Dark Ages, they promptly end up in the recycling bin.

But this is what I’ve been waiting for… daphne buds about to pop in gloriously scented pink flowers.

For all you non-daphne growing people out there, you haven’t smelled spring until you’ve smelled daphne.

And for my East Coast friends, hang in there.


Goodbye 2010.

Hello 2011!

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions for all kinds of reasons, and this year is no different.

But I do have plans for this next year.

  • Paint the house. It’s way overdue. Roo better find a good ladder. I’m thinking a nice classic gray with white trim and pink under the overhangs of the roof.
  • Put on a new roof. It’s holding up but looking rough.
  • Overhaul the garden. I’ve been planting tomatoes in the same spot for too many years. Even though I have a modest garden, I do recognize that crop rotation has to happen. Plus, my front flower bed has become unruly. The crocosmia has grown into the lilies, the asters get powery mildew because they have nowhere to go. Rudbekia and phlox jostle shoulder to shoulder. What a mess.
  • I’m thinking about getting a fresh batch of chicks. My girls are almost four years old, and totally stopped laying during the last molt, which began in November. I hate wimpy-ass store eggs, with their pale-ass yolks and watery whites.
  • Draw and paint more. I really enjoy my amateur efforts, and the more I do it, the better I become. Kinda like most things in life.
  • And finally, I will not spend so much time dwelling on matters that I have no control over. Life is too short and there are plants that need digging up when spring finally gets here.

Happy New Year to my readers. If only I could bottle the smell of hope and springtime that arrives in the form of daphne sometime in early February.

Turns out, this was the best crop of the season.

This year’s garden was not stellar, to say the least. See those bean poles? Miss English Major didn’t notice the package of bean seeds actually said “bush beans”. It took some time for me to figure out why they were not taking off.


When you are working with nature, you take what you get. It was a long, cold and wet spring, and I put off planting way too long, fearing plants that languished in the damp, seeds that rotted in the ground. But let us not focus on the negative.

I planted six purple cabbages purchased from the feed store. They rocked. I plucked leaves periodically, mostly to keep them from the ravenous slugs, and fed them to the very appreciative girls. We’ve eaten four of them, and two are stowed away in the frig for future reference.

Cukes and zukes did pretty well, considering. The butternut squash rallied; not quite as prolific as last year, but tasty nonetheless.

The big success story was the two tomatillos…I love chile verde, and they produced handsomely quite late into autumn. I will definitely be planting more next year.

I face a lot of challenges with my small garden space. Only a tiny area gets enough hot sun required for tomatoes or corn. I push plants to their limit sun-wise, with pretty good results. But the garden needs a serious overhaul, and I just wasn’t up for it this year. Something to ponder during the long gray rainy months to come.

Old things

Here are a few photos of old things and people I came across while visiting Pennsylvania. I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time, because the state itself is very old, with old, smoothed down mountains and amazing and historic cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Let’s begin our tour. I love the blue/green color of this fuel pump, not to mention the delightful typography across the face. Plus, it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere. Which, I suppose, explains why it’s there.

I appreciate re-purposing as much as the next person. This old cast-iron butchering kettle has found a new life as a planter for weeds.

Once, when I was in college, I visited a friend’s house; his mother had decorated it very tastefully in a colonial style. And then I saw her kitchen. My jaw dropped. She had decorated the walls with all sorts of butchering implements. I just had to ask, “What’s your mother doing with pig scrapers?”


Seeing this old kettle made me realize that I haven’t thought about bell scrapers in 25 years. We used them with rosin to scrape bristles off of a freshly butchered and scalded pig. You may not have wanted to have known that.

This is a hay rake, once pulled by horses, natch. There are lots of Amish families living in central PA, and seeing them work their fields with teams of Belgian horses, or perhaps a team of mules, never fails to give me pause.

I love how the Amish shock their wheat:

This amazing geological formation can be seen when you cross Seven Mountains. The earth folded into itself, under tremendous pressure, to form these vertical striations.

This is my favorite view of the valley where I grew up. I rode my horses over all of those hills. I was so lucky.

My dad and I stopped by this man’s house to look at his 17-year-old standardbred horse. He rides this stallion with only one hand. Look at those classical lines!

This round barn is very famous, not to mention gorgeous. They don’t build them like that anymore.

And finally, an old garage covered in old signs.

This concludes our tour, very near where we started. Life is like that.