It all balances out

IMG_7682In over four years of farming now, we occasionally have what I refer to as “roller coaster weeks”. This week has definitely been one of them – really good things happened, balanced out by really terrible, horrible things that happened. I’ll start with the bad, just to get it out of the way. In less than 48 hours, a mink came in and killed all my baby turkeys, then came back and killed Condi and her eight chicks. Walking in to the shed this morning and discovering the carnage was one of the most horrible things that’s happened here to date. We spent the day reinforcing the brooding area, and now it’s secure enough that we could rent the space out to overcrowded prisons. Nothing’s getting in, and nothing’s getting out. I’m sure the mink planned to come back tonight for the two broody mamas and their ten chicks, which is why Gene’s sitting out there with a gun, a flashlight, and a beer, waiting for what has got to be a really fat mink to come waddling into sight.

But on to the good, which is where I like to dwell. Gene came home from the grocerylucky store the other day to find a tiny baby duckling nestled into some spilled straw in the driveway right by the garage door. Well, actually, Ceri the German Shepherd found the duckling, but Gene was able to get her to spit it out before any actual damage was done. Abigail said word has gone out that I’m this neighborhood’s Duck Whisperer, so naturally the abandoned duckling would find itself drawn to our house. My sister Bess Bess immediately named him Lucky, which I think totally fits.

Bess Bess is here for a weeklong visit, and I have more than taken advantage of the fact that unlike me she has two working hands. Instead of the relaxing, sit on the couch and enjoy a good book type of vacation she was no doubt expecting, poor Bess Bess has found herself gardening in the rain, pulling fence tomatoline, and repotting whatever we couldn’t fit in the garden from the greenhouse. She said she was starting to feel like we picked her up at six am in front of Home Depot and put her to work. In my defense, I’ve been bribing her with a steady stream of ice cream cones and Gene’s amazing cooking. With her help, I planted the entire back garden, then demanded Gene build me more raised beds in the front to accommodate the fifty or so plants I couldn’t fit in there. I really couldn’t wait to plant things any longer because the tomatoes and squashes were getting root bound in their tiny little pots. Most of the tomato plants already have blossoms, and I have several zucchinis already.

Bess Bess was quite impressed by my collection of citrus trees and tropical plants, trellisincluding a Casabanana vine, which promises to grow fluorescent pink bananas, several spikey Litchi fruit trees, multiple Luffa gourds, and two huge normal banana trees. She inquired as to where I was planning to keep the full-grown versions during the cold Washington winters, but I told her I don’t cross those particular bridges until I’m forced to by spatial considerations. Tomorrow we plan to find a nice sunny spot for Senor OneTon, the enormous pumpkin plant. It’s already set two fruits, so I’m pretty excited about the prospect of that much pumpkin. It also means Gene’s running out of time to figure out where he’s going to start parking the cars, because the driveway is basically the only gardening space I have left.

I wish Bess Bess could stay until June third, because that’s when both the duck eggs and Cinnabun are due. I have my doubts about the duck eggs, because I candled some of them today and they just don’t seem far enough along to hatch four days from now. This time I can’t blame the incubator, because they’re all nestled underneath a broody chicken. I’m beginning to think the universe just doesn’t want me to have more ducks (or more turkeys), but I have a long history of not listening to the universe so you can bet I’ll be stuffing some more duck eggs under whatever feathered butt is willing to sit on them for 28 days if they don’t hatch. Besides, Lucky needs a friend. He’s set up in the garage brooding box with a private pool, but I’m pretty sure he’s lonely.

mantis crop 2I’m seriously considering moving Lucky’s brooding set up to the greenhouse, because then he would be in the company of the 400 baby preying mantises that just hatched today. At first I didn’t notice them, but as I went to grab a Litchi to repot, I noticed that the leaves on the avocado trees looked odd, almost like they were moving. Upon closer inspection, I saw they were covered by cavorting mantises, celebrating their new found freedom from the two eggs sacs I had hung from the avocado trees. Naturally, I ran into the house yelling for Bess Bess and Gene to come see, and bring my camera with them. I can’t wait until they turn bright green and get huge bug eyes.

Apparently we’re stuck with each other.

IMG_7859After discovering the three splintered fruit trees in what used to be our beautiful orchard, I placed several notices in strategic places regarding the sale of a goat. I had a buyer lined up, but when I called to confirm the sale, he informed me that his wife decided that Daisy was “too much goat” and she was worried about her ability to handle her. I was slightly irked, because I hadn’t even described Daisy’s amazing ability to prune roses and cherry trees, or her ability to levitate over five foot fencing. But then I decided in the end it was a good thing, because she has spent the last week looking extra cute and staring at me with accusing eyes. Since she’s eaten everything she can reach in the orchard, at least I don’t have to worry about that any more. But if she gets into my blueberry patch or the garden, we’re having curried goat kabobs for dinner.

Not that there’s much to eat in the garden yet, but I was able to plant a few things. I’m waiting until late May to plant everything in the greenhouse, since I still need to harden IMG_8184off everything inside it by leaving the doors open at night. Gene rototilled the garden plot today, and I planted everything that was in the cold frame: artichokes, cabbage, brussels sprouts, onions, and two tomatillos I set outside a few weeks ago to test their ability to withstand the colder evenings. The chickens are devastated at being denied access to their favorite worm hunting ground, but they’ll have to get used to it.

I discovered a few days ago that one of my young silver-laced cochins has developed into a cross beak. Although I’ve never had one previously, I’ve read quite a few articles about IMG_8181the condition. Basically it’s a genetic disorder that really doesn’t have a cure. It usually shows up around four months, which is how old Cross Mama is. So far she is eating and drinking fine, and growing normally. She’s one of the friendliest chickens we have, and loves to follow me around the yard. For now I put her in the empty garage brooding box for meals so she can eat with no competition, and give her crumbled feed since she can’t really eat the pellets any more. If her beak gets more crossed, then eventually I’ll have to hand feed her mash. Gene thinks I’m nuts, but I don’t mind being her personal chef at all.

Speaking of personalized cooking, I haven’t stumbled upon the type of treats the three new turkeys like. They’ve turned up their beaks at watermelon and strawberries, and IMG_8205are the only creatures on the farm who disdain Wheat Thins. I don’t know if White Midgets are different from other turkey breeds, but Thanksgiving and Christmas loved all those things. Sam, Rosalie, and Pele also do one other creepy thing that I don’t remember Thanksgiving and Christmas doing – they sleep standing up, and continuously peep while they sleep. (Cheeping and peeping while sleeping – I’m the next Dr. Seuss!) It sounds cute, but it’s actually kinda creepy. They huddle up with their heads in the middle of the circle, quietly peeping their secrets to each other while they snooze. It reminds me of those three witches from that Clash of the Titans movie, the ones that share one eyeball among them. They definitely give off a “we’re plotting against you” vibe. At this point I’m glad they’re a miniature breed.

So much drama, and it’s not even June yet!

IMG_7930I’m a firm believer that most things happen in threes, including farm drama. A few days ago, I was on my twice-daily turkey scavenger hunt in the garage, checking every nook and cranny for the frantically cheeping poults. I was making so much racket crashing around in there, hoping to scare King Kamehameha and Pele back into the brooding box that I missed the frantic bleating from the pasture. Thank god Gene heard it, and raced outside to find little Leo being choked out by his Auntie Ariel, whose horn had gotten twisted up in his collar. It was close, but Gene was able to revive Leo by thumping on his chest and massaging his neck while I rubbed his back. The other critters were beyond upset; Shy Shy came up and gave him a head bump while the other goats made a circle around us while I sat next to Leo on the ground. After about thirty minutes of holds and cuddles, Leo was back to his normal happy self.

Since the two little turkeys seemed to hate the garage so much, Gene and I wrapped the turkey chalet in chicken wire and relocated them to it. The very next morning, I came outside to find poor King Kamehameha had been attacked and killed by a mink. IMG_8162 Poor Pele was devastated, so I went back to the feed store and brought home two White Midget Turkey poults, since they had run out of Royal Palms. Seeing the two new arrivals, I think Pele is actually a mismarked White Midget, because she looks exactly like her two new siblings, Sam and Rosalie. (Those are the only two hobbit names that seemed fitting for birds). To prevent another mink attack, Gene built a frame covered in hardware cloth that lines the inside of the chalet, and keeps the turkeys back about a foot from the outer edge. Sam, who seems to have a healthy dose of exploration tempered by a mammoth dose of stupid, keeps getting stuck between the two walls. He also figured out how to fly up to the roof braces, where he then gets stuck and howls until I come out and help him back down. At least they settle down once it gets dark out.

The third bad thing to happen this week involved a coyote, although to be fair the bad thing happened to the coyote. Once again Gene, who apparently is far more vigilant than I am, looked outside last night and noticed the ducks all staring at something in the woodline. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in five bunniesyears of farming, it’s if everyone is staring intently in the same direction, someone needs to grab a gun. Gene raced outside to find a huge coyote studying the ducks intently. Sadly (for the coyote), it didn’t get the chance to enjoy one last meal before being peppered with lead. Since coyotes typically hunt in packs, I kept Harvey and Cinnabun inside the Bunny Ranch today, much to their mutual annoyance. Cinnabun loves to be outside so much she can be a bit of a butt about returning to the Ranch at night. Harvey comes running at the mere shake of the Wheat Thins box, but I usually have to go looking for Cinnabun. Sometimes the lure of tasty snack crackers is enough to get her home, but other times she needs liquid persuasion, in the form of a garden hose aimed in her general direction. I feel bad about spraying her, but figure a sodden bunny is better than a coyote snack.

Seriously, don’t make me buy a cookbook.

DaisyUsually life here on the farm is peaceful, calm and serene. Everywhere you look chicks frolic around softly clucking mother hens, ducks bumble along on their quest for juicy slugs and other delicacies, and goats chew their cud in the sun while contemplating deep thoughts. Other days, not so much. Chickens scatter in a burst of feathers as a frothing Farm Mama chases Daisy goat out of the orchard with a stick, only to turn around and find little Leo crammed into Harvey’s upper bedroom, snacking out of his food tray. We never had a fence-testing goat until we got Daisy, and she’s driving me nuts to the extent I actually posted an ad for her on Craigslist while in a decimated-cherry-tree-driven rage. No matter how many times Gene reinforces the fence, she finds a spot where she can climb something and jump over it. If she keeps it up, I’m going to find out why the contestants on Top Chef always choose goat first.

In calmer news, King Kamehameha and Pele are quickly feathering out. As soon as theturkey update nights start getting warmer, I think I’m going to move them out into Christmas’s chalet. I’m hoping to avoid the month-long period of agoraphobia that seems to accompany moving out of the garage brooding box. The batch of chicks from Wilco, although nearly full grown, still hesitate to come outside the coop to explore the big wide world. (Perhaps they’re afraid of the crazy goat-chasing woman with the stick?) They didn’t even venture out for watermelon treats on the day it got to 86 degrees here. But another reason to move King Kamehameha is that he loves to roam. All over the garage. Then he gets annoyed that he’s not in his comfy, warm, food-containing box and starts to pitch a fit. For those of you lucky enough to have had the pleasure of trying to stumble your way through our way too-packed-garage, you can imagine how much fun it is to look for a tiny turkey.

cucumberSpeaking of way too packed structures, I really, really need it to be June weather now. My greenhouse has been taken over by cucumber and squash tendrils. The plants got so big I was forced to repot and trellis them, just to take advantage of the vertical space, but by giving them more dirt I gave them an excuse to have a growth explosion. I have a cucumber that’s ready to be harvested, and my one-ton pumpking has set a fruit! I also have baby ground cherries and tomatillos already, and what I think is a zucchini but I can’t get close enough to check.

The one thing I forgot to plant this year was lettuce, so I have to keep buying prepared salad bags for Harvey and Cinnabun. They IMG_7943have grown accustomed to a certain level of culinary excellence, and god forbid I run out of Wheat Thins. Now that they are free to mingle, I find them cuddled up in various spots around the back yard. Cinnabun has gotten over her terror of the great outdoors, and now follows Harvey along his various bunny trails. They both come bounding back when I shake the cracker box, and stand up with their paws pressed just above my knee until they get a treat. If Cinnabun gets much bigger, they’re going to be able to push me over.

Life goes on….

turkeysSadly, I went outside to do chores two days ago and found that Christmas had transitioned to the Great Farm in the Sky. She was the happiest of the happy turkeys, and not many of her brethren live to the ripe old age of almost three. Since the sight of the empty chalet was breaking my heart on a continual basis, Gene agreed to let me get two new turkeys. Within five minutes of his proclamation, I was headed to the feed store. I decided to get Royal Palm turkeys this time around, for a more ornamental, smaller bird. After 20 minutes of watching the little chicks bustling around their pen, I picked two which I hope are male and female. King Kamehameha and Pele are now happily ensconced in the garage brooding box. They’re in that horribly awkward phase where their necks are too long and they have glittering reptilian eyes, but I think they’re adorable.

In other chick news, the three broody mamas are all proving to be excellent mothers. IMG_7879We now have a total of 19 chicks happily cavorting around the yard, snapping at butterflies and slurping down worms. Gene had to install more roosting bars in the chicken coop in anticipation of the additional feathered butts, and we also had to move the newest chickens out of the garage and into the big coop. The transition went great, with the exception of the Blue Polish hen, whom I’ve creatively dubbed Blue Mama. Blue Mama has a huge ornamental poof of feathers on her head that apparently inhibits her eyesight. Every night I’ve had to go on the Blue Mama Scavenger Hunt to see where she decided to bed down for the night. I’m thinking she can’t see well enough to find her way back to the coop. So far I’ve been lucky in that she doesn’t stray too far and I can usually find her within 30 minutes. I think I’m going to have to give her a feather cut, or gather them up on top of her head with one of those ridiculous baby bows.

IMG_7911Speaking of babies, Harvey and Cinnabun accelerated their long-anticipated play date when Harvey managed to free her from her cage. I walked outside to find Harvey happily living up to his Bunny Ranch reputation, and ever since then they’ve been inseparable. Watching them cuddle is the cutest thing ever, since they’re both so huge. They even had a Lady & the Tramp moment tonight when they shared a Wheat Thin. Needless to say, in about 28 days, Gene’s going to be a grandpa.