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Archive for the ‘Cowgirls’ Livestock’ Category

Daisy catches up.  A little.

Today is partly sunny and almost 70 degrees.  That seems to be how winter in Savannah goes.  It’s freezing for 2 or 3 weeks, then for about a week it’s 70 degrees with alternating rain and sunshine.  It’s a delightful taste of spring every few weeks, and it makes the winters here very tolerable for a cold hater like me.

The freezing temperatures over the last few weeks kept me and Little Boy mostly indoors.  I stayed in my warm bed with my fluffy comforter as much as possible,  reading, researching, and hanging out on Facebook way too much.  Little Boy built castles with his blocks, had parties with his plastic dinosaurs, and drew endless dragons on dollar store paper tablets.

But there’s no time for watching movies or making cookies today.  We’re busy catching up on the homestead chores here at the Green Goddess Gardens.  Spring is mere weeks away, and we have lots to do before we plant the first seeds in the spring gardens.

My serious little farmer. I interrupted him while he was "busy" working on some sticks.

The biggest problem we’ve been dealing with are the chickens.  With not as much green stuff growing in January, the girls have picked our backyard clean.  Nothing left but old grass roots and pine straw.  If I want to plant food for us to eat, I’ve got to keep those pesky birds out of the garden. 

I love when they follow him around the yard.

We started out by stringing chicken wire around about half the backyard.  Well, those acrobatic biddies were able to easily fly over the 4 foot barrier!  I began rescuing them from the back lane several times a day.  The Herban Cowboy and I despaired about being the white trash folks on the block whose chickens are always in the alley. 

I finally remembered I could clip their wings, and a bit of internet research and a few YouTube videos later all 5 girls got clipped.  Note:  If you’re going to do this, do it first thing in the morning before you open the coop.  Take them out one at a time, clip and release.  If you let them all out first, then you’ll just have to catch them, running around the muddy yard while your 3 year old laughs hysterically.  Trust me.

The wing clipping seems to have done the trick.  Only Mavis has gotten out since then, and only once.  Have to keep an eye on that one, that Mavis.

That brought the girls down to earth, but we had another enemy to conquer:  the crape myrtle tree in the garden.  She blocks so much sun, and we need all the rays we can get in our shady little backyard.  So last weekend, the Herban Cowboy climbed the ladder and sawed down the branches/trunks about halfway up.  I chopped them up with loppers and a hand saw, hauling the branches to the chicken side of the yard.  The bare trunks of the tree still stand, but those are a manageable enough size that I can saw them down and haul them off at my leisure, without jeopardizing the garden fence.

She'll be hauled to the dump and mulched (everyone sing with me): It's the CIRcle of LIIIIIFE!

As of this writing, the Herban Cowboy is outside stapling up a chicken wire fence.  Update:  He just came in and announced that he’s 5 minutes from completion, but has to run to Home Depot for more staples.  I love that guy.

Anyway, this is a huge deal here at the homestead.  The reasons our fall garden failed were lack of sufficient sunlight and the chickens, who kept flying over the barriers we created, eating everything they could get their beaks into that WAS growing.  I’m still mad about the turnips. 

Chicken wire fence!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  thank goodness I don’t have to live off this land!  I really can’t beat myself up too much, the yard was nothing but blackberry brambles and pokeweed when we bought it, and each season has brought more lessons and more food than the season before.

I haven’t been able to do much in my garden for the last few months, but now I have no more excuses.  Well, except when the freezing cold temperatures return.

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Daisy gets promoted from pet owner to farmer.

We have eggs!  After 6 months of sharing my backyard with these pesty, ravenous, feathered dinosaurs, they are finally beginning to earn their keep.  Or at least one of them is.  Betty, my Araucana with the gold and brown feathers, has matured and begun laying beautiful pale blue eggs. 

Right from the chicken's butt.

We’ve been expecting this for weeks.  We changed their feed to what the lady at the feed and seed store called “layer crumbles”, whatever that is.  It looks like plain cracked corn.  The Herban Cowboy made a nest box that we lined with wood shavings and nestled a golf ball inside for inspiration.  The girls have been “singing,” a sign that they are getting ready to lay some serious eggs.  It’s called singing, but it’s actually a kind of weird, creaky noise like, “Bra-a-a-a-a-a-a-ack.”  I’m not sure if that’s the exact spelling.  Transcribing chicken is harder than it sounds.

So last week, I went out to check on the girls and I only counted my four black hens.  While my eyes scanned the backyard for signs of Betty, my ears heard faint shuffling noises in the coop.  Wait, in the coop?  But they never go in there during the day…   Unless…

I got there just as Betty was emerging.  No egg yet.  But she had made a well in the nest box and was obviously practicing.  Good girl.  Over the next few days, Betty continued to practice, and Mavis started taking turns with her.  To tell the truth, I thought for sure Mavis would be my first girl to “ripen,” since she’s a hybrid.  But Betty beat her to it.

Despite my 4 daily trips to the coop “just to check it out,”  the Herban Cowboy was the first one to discover an egg.  We oohed and aahed over it forever.  I ended up taking the very first egg over to Aida’s, where she was packing for her move to Vermont.  She promised she would keep it forever and ever.

Betty's eggs, shown next to a white grocery store egg (R) for comparison.

Since last Saturday, Betty has laid 4 eggs.  One I found right after she laid it – the morning temps were in the low 30s, but the egg was warm in my hand.  They’re a bit smaller than the large eggs I normally buy at the Piggly Wiggly, but they’re much prettier.  We haven’t eaten any yet.  I think we’re waiting to have enough for scrambled eggs with cheese.  Another day or two should do it.

Now that the whole egg thing has started, I’m itching for the rest of my girls to start as well.  Come on ladies, mama’s hungry.

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Daisy awaits her first egg.

Well, it took about 5 months, but my cute, fuzzy, peeping baby chicks are now large, ravenous birds, mercilessly tearing apart every living thing in their paths.  I’m still totally in love with them – the way they look and move, the noises they make, how serious and comical they seem all at the same time. 

But dang those girls can eat!  Five full grown chickens cut loose on an urban backyard will clean out the green in no time.   One day a few weeks ago, I went out to forage in the backyard for random edible weeds to add to a salad I was making.  And there were none.  At all.  No chickweed, no wild lettuces, no sorrels, no yellow dock, not even any of that annoying Florida betony.  My girls had cleaned me out.

I took a good look around my yard.  I was so happy to have these birds roaming free in the backyard that I hadn’t noticed them staging a quiet revolution right under my nose.  First of all, there is chicken poop everywhere.  Second, all the raked and mulched pine straw had been spread across the yard, with little hen wallow nests scratched into it here and there.  The compost piles have been scratched down to little hills.

On top of the devastation these delicious birds have wrought upon my yard, they’ve learned to roost on the top of the chain link fence.  So many times I drive up into the carport to see all five of them innocently roosting by the carport garden, none of them realizing they’re three feet from freedom.  Or I’ll glance out the window to five lumpy shapes on the back gate, perched on the purgatory between yard and back lane.  In that case I’ve got to run all the way around the neighbor’s house to the back lane and shove them (bock bu-GOCK!) back into the yard.  Naughty girls!

Mavis flaunts her ability to fly.

So the Herban Cowboy and I agreed that the yard needed dividing.  We needed a garden/human area and a chicken/poop area.  It’s taken several weekends of here and there tackling, but we finally strung some chicken wire across half the yard or so, around some trees.  They still occasionally find their way out, and we’ll keep improving it over the next few weeks.  But so far, so good.

Hazel enjoys a few moments of freedom on "The Other Side."

The other chicken related news is that they’re just about mature enough to start laying.  They’re about 5 ½ months old now, and they’re all just about as big as they’re gonna get.  They “sing” in these funny creaking voices and they all like to huddle together and practice nesting.  We switched them to big girl chicken feed as well.  BIG update when we find the first egg I promise.

Once again it was the Herban Cowboy to the rescue.  He built a quick nest box out of plywood, we filled it with wood shavings from the garden mulch, put a golf ball in it (for inspiration) and set it in the coop.  There’s another nest box in the making, but hopefully one will be enough for now.  I hope they get the idea and don’t start laying eggs in the bushes. 

Pictured: Chicken Inspiration (Chickinspiration?)

So we’re deep into the cool Savannah autumn here.  The live oaks and the pines remain dark green and lovely, but all the other trees are showing off their colors before they shed their leaves.  The Virginia creeper is a brilliant red and some of the sweetgums are actually going for purple.  The pale winter sun hangs lower and lower in the sky each day.  I’m afraid my cool weather gardens won’t get enough sun.  I’ve been neglecting my gardens since the chickens took over my yard.

I guess the next project is to clean up devastation my girls visited upon the now chicken-free zone.  Rake the pinestraw.  Compost the dead stuff.  Visit the neglected turnips, check on the puny carrots and broccoli.  There might be enough lettuce for a salad.

Thank goodness I don’t have to live off this homestead.

Just sitting around, waiting for something besides poop to come out her butt.

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Daisy finds her sensibilities offended by domesticity.

A dear friend from high school came to visit me last week (my excuse for not blogging), and while she was here at the Green Goddess Gardens, she remarked that she wished she was as domestic as I am.  At the word “domestic” I swear I could hear the record needle scratch as my brain came crashing to a halt.  Domestic?  Me?  What on earth could she mean?  She explained, “Well, you know.  Domestic.  Like, enjoying taking care of a house and cooking and stuff.”

I had to laugh at this while gently explaining that cooking and taking care of a house are about as pleasurable to me as repeatedly stabbing myself in the neck with a pencil.  Are there honestly people out there who like doing dishes, washing clothes, and picking up stuff to put it back where it belongs?  And is that how I come off to the population at large?  Domestic?

Okay, now I had to look it up.  Dictionary.com had several definitions of domestic: 

–adjective

1. of or pertaining to the home, the household, household affairs, or the family: domestic pleasures.

2. devoted to home life or household affairs.

3. tame; domesticated.

Alright fine, so she’s got me on number one.  I guess on paper I am totally domestic.  I am a married homeowner with a child and pets.  But I hardly find pleasure in maintaining a clean home.  The phrase “domestic pleasures” strikes me as a bit of an oxymoron.

We’re starting to lose me on definition #2.  I would not say I’m devoted to home life and household affairs.  Household affairs are things like paying bills, shopping, cooking and cleaning, all of which I detest.  Yes, DETEST.

And definition #3 is just way wrong.  I seriously doubt anyone who has ever known me would describe me as “tame.”

So what the hell am I then?

The truth for me is that I just don’t see my life this way.  My house is not a home for tame creatures with beds and fine china and ironed clothing.  My house is my cave, with cats roaming in and out as they please, a comfy little shelter from the rain and cold.  My bed is my nest, ever unmade, an unruly pile of pillows and sheets.  My yard is not a grassy square of lawn – it is an overgrown thicket buzzing with bees and butterflies and chickens.  Wild weeds grow alongside vegetables planted on purpose.  Nothing is manicured.  Not the lawn, not my nails.

This place is my little bit of wilderness in the middle of a city.  Here I can make my life with my own two hands, instead of buying it pre-packaged at Target.  I can go dumpster diving and scavenging like a pirate.  I can get to know all the plants that grow on my land intimately, getting down in the dirt and smelling, tasting, touching, watching.  My wild little yard is a feast for the senses, even with the traffic noises in the background and the neon “Carey Hilliards” sign blinking across the street (when the wind blows the right way, you can smell the deep fried food…).

I think there’s a better word to describe me (and everything I stand for):  Feral.  Here we go again with the definitions….

–adjective

1. existing in a natural state, as animals or plants; not domesticated or cultivated; wild.

2. having reverted to the wild state, as from domestication: a pack of feral dogs roaming the woods.

3. of or characteristic of wild animals; ferocious; brutal.

Definition #1 is what I strive for.  Every problem that faces me gets fed through this filter.  What is the wildest solution?  How can we get closer to the wild way of living that all creatures are instinctively drawn to?  How can we match nature?  I usually have to give up some security to live a wild life, but I accept that.  For example, my cats are miserable when kept inside, so I allow them to roam free, knowing their sweet little feline lives will probably be truncated by the front bumper of a Volvo.  My chickens exhibit unhealthy behavior when confined, so I let them have the run of the backyard, knowing I will likely lose at least one to the pair of hawks that live nearby. 

Definition #2 works fine as well.  Perhaps I haven’t totally reverted to a wild state, but seriously, how much different is my life from my Paleolithic ancestors?  I live in my cave, scrounge for food and resources, and I never go to a doctor.  I don’t even wear a bra unless I’m trying to “fit in” somewhere civilized.  Sure, I’ve got a car and air conditioning and an internet connection, but most of my life is lived in the low-tech.  Pulling up the plants I don’t want on my land, scattering seeds, making friends with other wild creatures, telling stories, making things.

I guess even definition #3 applies to me, especially when I’m on my period. 

I’m always looking for ways to wild up my life.  I made my hammock so I can enjoy the feeling of relaxing outside.  I seek ways to eliminate/simplify/postpone housework so I can do the things that bring me joy.  I cook simple food to nourish my body.  I get my animals and my kid outside as much as I can, knowing that just being out in the sunshine elevates their moods and boosts their immune systems.

Life is wild.  Let go of what domesticates you.  It’s dirty and sometimes painful and your neighbors may look at you funny, but feral life is so much more fulfilling than what WalMart has to offer.  Quit buying bras.  Nap outside.  Make something useful.  I think you’ll be surprised at what wildness feeds your soul.

Not pictured: Better Homes and Gardens

My "cultivated" garden...

"Pet" chickens

My clean and organized carport.

The "manicured" front lawn of the Green Goddess Gardens

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Daisy adjusts to the changing seasons.

I turned off the air conditioning today.  That’s it.  Windows open, fans on.  The long Savannah Summer is finally winding down, and it’s time to change the routines.  No more waking up in the daylight.  No more watering the garden daily.  No more constantly checking everyone’s cold water supply: cats, kid, chickens. 

The great thing about the long summer here is that while the rest of the country is wearing hoodies and putting on socks, I’m still in a tank top and flip flops.  There’s still a few more good beach weeks left.  Ice cream and popsicles are still quite appropriate.  It’s 90 degrees and sunny outside.  Of course, with the weather we’ve had since May, 90 degrees is quite balmy.

But even with our extended summer, the seasons are noticeably turning.  And it’s the changes that have occupied me in the last few days.

One of our big changes this fall is the chickens.  When Little Boy and I went to pick up a 50 lb bag of chicken feed the other day, the nice lady at the feed and seed store said our girls should be big enough now to intimidate the feral cats in the neighborhood.  So we’ve started giving them their first tastes of real freedom.  No more life in the pen all day, and they seem VERY happy about that.

While we’re home, they’re free to roam the fenced backyard.  They love it.  They wander around eating bugs and weeds—–

******

Slight interruption.  As I was typing the above paragraph, I heard loud clucking and fussing outside.  I leapt to my feet, dashing out the door, ready to defend my darling chickens against any foreign predator.  When I got out back, all five girls sat innocently in a row, blinking their eyes at me.  So I went back in the house to get the camera.  As long as I’m up, I might as well take some pictures.

What ruckus? Could you describe the ruckus, sir?

Where were we?  Oh yes, changes.  Yes, the girls have new freedom, but for a while at least it’s made me paranoid.  Every odd noise outside is reason to jump to a window to do a quick head count.  And of course, since it’s now Windows Open Weather, I can hear every little disturbance in the backyard.

But even with all the chicken clucking, cats screeching, ambulance sirens and big trucks rumbling by, I love Windows Open Weather.  The house just smells better.  More like outside.  I love hearing the birds and squirrels chattering to each other.  I love hearing the wind through the trees (lots of old trees in our little neighborhood).  Late summer in Savannah is such a treat for all the senses.  Who cares if the trees aren’t turning vibrant shades of red?  I’ve got hot pink crape myrtle blossoms floating through the air. 

The gardens also change with the weather.  The cucumbers, tomatoes and squash gave up the ghost weeks ago.  The white eggplant and the bell peppers soldier on, but they’re not happy.  It’s time for the cool weather garden.

Before my trip to my sister’s house last week, the Herban Cowboy and I busted our butts to get two beds planted.  Two beds filled, compost added, mulched and planted.  Now we have sprouts!  Snow peas, carrots, turnips, broccoli, kale and an assortment of lettuces have already begun to send up shoots, seeking the sunlight. 

The wood chip mulch has proven too tempting for the chickens (they LOVE to scratch!), so this morning I erected a temporary fence around the planted beds.  Well, erected is a rather strong word.  I really just unrolled the chicken wire around them and then laid the tarp across the back.  Really classy.  White trash gardening at its finest. 

Chicken wire and tarp. Now that's style. In your FACE Better Homes and Gardens!

In the next few days, we’ll get two more beds planted.  The idea here is successive plantings.  Hopefully we’ll have a garden that produces for weeks and weeks, instead of a massive amount all at once. 

Chicken scratch. This used to be a pretty pile of pine straw, neatly raked into a circle around the tree.

It’s all been about changes lately here at the Green Goddess Gardens.  Even the kitty is maturing.  It’s almost time for a trip to the vet for immunizations and discussions of (gasp!) neutering her.  Then we’ll be able to let her out on her own, and maybe she’ll stop destroying my house (not to mention my hands and ankles).   But she better keep her claws off my girls.  Is it naïve of me to think she’ll only want to kill the rats, squirrels, moles and birds?  We’ll see….

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Daisy takes you on an internet tour of modern homesteading.

The word “homesteading” for me conjures images of the blue paperback Laura Ingalls Wilder books I had as a little girl.  I had the whole series, and read them until the covers stared to wear off the cracked spines.   I fantasized about a life spent outdoors, playing with animals and making things.  Going fishing, riding horses, eating lunch by the river.  The magic of those books is that they’re real stories that really happened to a real girl. 

It is in that spirit that the Herban Cowgirls seek a simple life.  If Pa Ingalls can build a house with a horse and a saw in the middle of nowhere, then think of what life we can craft for ourselves, what with our fancy college educations and our modern internet connections on our laptops. 

People “do” homesteading for different reasons and in different degrees.  Some people are environmentally minded — you know, sustainable living and all that.  Then there are the thrifty Possum Living crowd, who just grow vegetables and raise animals because then they don’t have to buy food.  There’s even folks who do this as a hobby, farming for fun (imagine that!).  Aida and I do it because we like to be with plants and animals and live simply so we have more time to hang out and nap. 

Deciding to live a homesteading life is not an overnight choice.  It’s just the way you live, and it grows and evolves over time.  If you’re one of our readers who has no interest in pursuing this kind of life, at least check out the first link.  It’s a quick read that will give you an idea of what we’re going for here.

Grandpa’s Victory Garden  This isn’t a website, it’s just an online article written by someone I know nothing about.  BUT — it’s a (somewhat romanticized) detailing of a WWII Victory Garden, and the imagery gives you an idea of what people strive towards with modern homesteading.  I had to laugh at the part where the woman admits to being teased about her filthy Grandpa.

http://www.cityfarmer.org/grandpasVG.html

Backyard Chickens  If you’re interested in homesteading, but don’t know where to start, try chickens.  They are easy and inexpensive livestock to keep.  Make sure you check your local zoning ordinances or homeowners associations to make sure you and your neighbors are on the same page.  This website has information on breeds, hatching chicks, care and feeding, housing and an online store and forum.  There are also links, links, links to other chicken related websites.

http://www.backyardchickens.com/

Mother Earth News  This is a magazine, but the website holds an infinite universe of homesteading articles.  I get their e-newsletter and it’s quite broad in scope.  So far I’ve seen articles on making your own cheese, making a hammock and knot tying, canning and freezing, making a garden bench, composting, buying farm equipment and gardening tips everywhere.

http://www.motherearthnews.com/

Path to Freedom  These folks call themselves the original modern homestead, and they’ve been at it for more than 20 years, so they definitely know what they’re doing.  Browse the sight to get inspired, to see what’s possible, and to learn about what’s required of a homesteading lifestyle.  This site is one of Aida’s favorites.

http://urbanhomestead.org/

Garden Girl TV  Last but definitely not least is the Garden Girl.  If you think homesteading is for dirty, skinny, bearded white people, go here now.  Get lost in the videos.  Patti Moreno is adorable and always manages to look fashionable in her overalls and tool belt.  If only I could be so cute in a white tank top while chasing chickens.

http://www.gardengirltv.com/

Have fun and get inspired.  Dream things and then build them.  Grow things and then eat them.  If you can handle it, you’ll find that every day is an adventure.

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Daisy shows Little Boy how to work hard in the yard.

I spent most of today indoors, avoiding Mt. Dishmore.   A guy comes to my house once a month to spray poison to kill the roaches that took over my kitchen a few short months ago.  I’m kind of skeeved about the spraying of liquid poison in the same room I prepare food, so after the stuff dries, I pull all the dishes out of the cabinets, sweep them out, and wash all the dishes.  Even with the few things I have, it takes me a few days to slog through the pile.

Oog.

By this evening, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I could no longer pretend that I was just about to do another load of dishes.  The Herban Cowboy and I got the Little Boy dressed (he was naked at that point for some reason), and we all went outside to do some serious yardwork.  The HC took the push mower to the front yard to take a whack at the bahia grass that has set up residence there, and LB and I cut ourselves loose in the gloriously overgrown backyard.

First we let the chickens out.  They cluck and flap and run around chasing bugs.  It’s fun to watch.  I settled myself in my chair and put my feet up to watch the chickens eat the weeds, but I wasn’t there long before I noticed the golden tomatoes on the vine along the fence.  I interrupted Little Boy’s impromptu song (something about “it’s possible”), and we went to harvest some veggies.  We found treasure:  some bell peppers, white chinese eggplant, and 7 orange tomatoes. 

I sat in a patch of pine straw in what will be the cinder block bed, surrounded by eggplant, bell peppers, tomato vines, sage, and basil.  Little Boy sat in my lap and we counted and organized our little pile of produce.  LB asked me if we could eat it.  Thinking he meant tomorrow (like we were talking about) I said, “Sure Sweetie.”  I heard a crunch, and turned to discover he’d taken a big bite out of one of the white eggplants!  It wasn’t as delicious as he expected, so he moved on to the bell peppers.  He ate two of those and shared with the chickens, who by this time had realized we were holding the good stuff.

By this time, the mosquitoes had found us, it was getting late, and I was sweating anyway.  So we petted some chickens, gathered our harvest and met Daddy inside for a bath and stories.  So I haven’t finished the dishes yet, but that’s okay because we worked so hard in the garden.

Vitamin C. And probably a few soil microorganisms.

The girls come to investigate.

They're really clucking and bocking like grown up chickens now. They'll still get a lot bigger in the next few months.

"Here girls! Look Mommy I'm sharing!"

Betty the Araucana. She and Mavis are rivals for the position of Top Hen. We'll see who's on top once they all mature...

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