I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Thoreau

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Updates: Chickens, Bees and Master Gardening

I am sure many of you have noticed that since I have committed myself to one more undertaking (the Master Gardening Course) that the blog entries have dropped off substantially. I am endeavoring to, at least, get in one update a week but until this course is complete I probably will not get much more than one per week. That having been said I will try to keep this entry as coherent as possible but without one big theme and with lots of little things to touch on I cannot make any promises.

Let me start with the thing that I know is foremost in many of your minds; as you wait with bated breath on the edge of your seats, I am here to tell you bionic-chicken, aka Helga, is now back in the coop. She is now functioning in chicken society, a little worse for wear but no longer under attack, and laying normal eggs every day. While Fred and I are extremely pleased that she has so easily assimilated back into chickendom she on the other hand is slightly miffed. It seems as though through her ordeal, suffering the mental angst and physical abuse she was subjected to at the hands of her feathered sisters, she has somewhere along the lines developed a welfare-like sense of entitlement. In other words, she firmly believes that she is now a house chicken and is only slightly less than enraged that she is being forced to return to outdoor farm life. Her constant attempts at getting in the house, her ability to stand at the door and screechingly berate me for hours coupled with her now uncanny resemblance to Pinhead make her a Halloween novelty I am sure our neighbors tire of as I type.

I also owe a great debit of thankfulness and gratitude (and probably some baked goods if I ever get a spare second) to the staff and vets at the Elk Valley Veterinary Clinic here in Elkview. Dr. Stephenson from Good Shepherd referred me to them for help with the chickens. Specifically she referred me to Dr. Marshall who was a great help and kindly and patiently answered all of my chicken questions. He, the other doctors and their staff were wonderful and understanding and removed Helga’s stitches and gave me lots of useful information. Not the least of which was: (drum roll please) Helga’s eggs are once again safe to eat. The half life of the antibiotic she was given in such a small dose at the emergency clinic should have no lasting effect on the safety of her eggs. I can attest that we have been eating and cooking with them and no one in my family has grown a third eye or come down with any bizarre catastrophic illnesses since consumption.

In further chicken news I believe Stacy-chicken, Miranda-chicken, Gina-chicken and Autumn-chicken may all begin laying eggs this fall. I had not expected any of the BJGs to start laying until next spring but over the last two weeks or so they have really hit a major growth spurt. Even Gina-chicken is easily three times the size of Mama and probably twice the size of Helga. Their combs and waddles are bright red and have started to get bigger. Their butts have started to spread and their feathers are fluffier. So I am once again combing every nook and cranny of the yard for eggs. I am sure that my neighbors enjoy the parade of me, followed by six squawking chickens and one weird dog, walking the fence line every day and climbing under all the trees. I have had a noticeable flair up in childhood pine allergies since starting this daily ritual, anywhere along my arms that come in contact with the pine needles looks like I have contracted the pox for about twenty four hours then it fades away. I am glad the weather is cooling off so I can wear long sleeves because it seems that egg hunting is not just for Easter anymore. Oh well, it beats the heck out of emergency vet visits on Sunday afternoons.


Sadly there is little bee news to update. The poor bees have pretty much been neglected for the last several weeks since the chicken drama set in. I was supposed to attend the state bee conference last weekend but with all the loss and prior family commitments I was forced to forego my trip. Hopefully next year Fred and I will be able to attend together. The sharp cooling off and daily rainy drizzle have made getting in the hives nearly impossible for the last few days so we are in a holding pattern. Our main plan is to get 3 empty supers and set up a feeding system to coax all three hives through the winter.

Because we did not medicate we have been assured by many of the bee elders that we will not have any bees next year but I guess that remains to be seen. We will continue on as if the bees will thrive through the winter and hopefully we will be able to come up with an effective feeding plan that will at least allow them to limp along till spring. Now that we have a somewhat better idea of what we are doing next year we will redouble our beekeeping efforts and hopefully harvest enough honey for our own use and some Christmas gifts, if not a little extra to offset the cost of beekeeping supplies which can become quite pricey.


I am now three weeks into my Master Gardening course and I have to say so far I am disappointed. Week one was a foray into botany the likes of which I have not seen since Mr. Walker’s high school science class. So much Latin was involved that my brain felt like it had been through the food processor on high speed for three hours. We were lectured on the different types of plants and the means by which to identify them based on characteristics like the edge of the leaf, leaf cluster and veining pattern. While interesting and informative, my seizure riddled brain may just be too far past prime to absorb this kind of information in three hours.
Week two found us being lectured on soil by expert from the Putnam County extension office. Now, let me tell you, I was excited about this guy. The teaser in week one was that he was a pig farmer who naturally tilled and fertilized his soil via a free-range pig herd. Ok, now that piqued my interest. That is exactly the kind of thing Fred and I get into. Well, he was a very interesting man. He basically moves the pigs from lot to lot in the fall and lets them forage in a given field until they have tilled under any standing vegetation, then their manure and the plant life they have worked back into the soil act as natural fertilizer. He then turns them loose in forty acres of forest to forage for the fallen chestnuts before taking them to slaughter.
I was fascinated. He really seemed to have a handle on it and this seemed to be a great method. Pigs, unlike chickens, really till up the soil so they are not just scratching up some weeds and leaving manure they are really aerating and composting the soil very efficiently. The only drawback for me is of course that I do not eat pig so slaughtering it would not really work into our plan, plus with our limited space we really could not sustain a herd (or even probably a sow) of free-ranging pigs.
As I sat listening, and fantasizing about pig farming, he transitioned the lecture into soil types soil samples and how to identify your soil and collect a sample. He went through the process and told us step by step how to collect the samples and label them for shipping to WVU for analyzing. We all got our little forms and looked at the fancy on-line soil mapping program then he told us when we got our report back it would tell us just which type of chemical fertilizer to put in our gardens. WHAT!?! Hello, was not the first two hours of this lecture about how these chemical methods were not sustainable and how they would eventually sterilize the soil?
I called him on it. He paused for a moment and then told me I was the first person who had ever questioned him. Really?! REALLY?! Are we all this committed to polluting everything and doing everything the easy way that we do not even ask questions? I was shocked. I explained I was taking this course to help our family create a more sustainable existence, etc. He then lectured briefly on composting but advised that in the first couple of years until we perfected our composting methods we would probably still need to put some kind of additive in the soil, yet another disappointing week of class.
Week three found me even more excited than week two. Entomology. BUGS! I had skimmed through the chapter and was sure we were going to learn about all the exciting things pollinators and predators and helpful critters could do for our gardening endeavors. Boy was I disappointed. The lecture broke down into about twenty minutes of natural and helpful bugs and remedies and about two hours of recommendation on which was the best pesticide to use. Do not misunderstand me, there was some really helpful information disseminated about how to identify bugs by both their physical characteristics in larval and adult stages and by the damage left behind on plant matter but I was really hoping to learn more about natural methods of pest control and more about bugs that are helpful like my honeybees. I was disappointed by what I perceived as basically a giant commercial for, and I quote, “our crown jewel: pesticides.”

I do not know what next Monday’s class entails. I admit I have not even looked at my book to check out the next topic. I have been really let down by the last two classes and the huge push for chemical everything. I guess what I really needed was a course in natural gardening or organic gardening instead of a Master Gardening course.

Stay tuned,
Much Love and thank you for reading,


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