A Whole Load of Awesome Just Arrived

At the farm store the other day, I looked down and saw a squirming bag of insects just sitting there next to the debit keypad.  Woa!  They must be mine!

The amusement factor of letting 100s of ladybugs go in our yard was enough for me to shell out $7.  I admit, it doesn’t take much to amuse me.  I figured it was the price of a movie ticket, and I rarely go to movies, (so think of all the money I have saved!).

We rushed home and opened up our ladybugs on the aphid-overun rose bush.  Carnage ensued!  It was so cool!

IMG_6242The kids, especially the little ones were curious about what was going on here.

IMG_6238But bugs are interesting even if you don’t know what is going on.

Go get ’em, ladies!


Dust Bowl Babies

It was a terrible time.  Children were coated in dust, choking on it actually.  The country had been thrown into a deep depression and families slowly loaded all their belongings on an old pick up truck and headed out to pick fruit in Califor—-

Oh wait.  This was last week on Sauvie Island.  Pickin’ strawberries.  It’s a wonderful life.


Spring Garden 2011


I realized that I sort of jumped the gun on the garden photos with my mulch post.  I just had to share my excitement while it was fresh.  I truly spread the mulch and then ran into the house to blog about it.  That is the sort of lightening-fast response time you can expect from me on important, breaking news about mulch!

This last weekend I plowed through the garden, putting most of it in on Sunday.  (Plowed!  Get it?!  Ba-dump-bum!)  It was a day of rest, but I couldn’t help but think of this work as the most enjoyable thing that I could have possibly done that day.  I remember reading in Little House on the Prairie how Laura wasn’t even allowed to cut dresses out of paper for her paper dolls on Sunday because that was “work”.  It doesn’t feel like work to dig around in the dirt, so I felt just fine laboring through the whole day.

I saved one bed for the kids to help finish off.  They like the whole “planting” part of the garden, but not the digging or breaking up soil clods part, so I prepared the beds and let them sprinkle seeds willy-nilly.  I’ll thin them out later.

plant waterer (?) Well, she is NEAR the plants at least.


We put in:

  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • ONE zucchini
  • ONE crook neck squash
  • ONE lemon cucumber
  • bush beans
  • snap peas
  • kale
  • swiss chard
  • three different types of lettuce
  • onions
  • marigolds (to ward off insects in the brassicaceae)
  • beets
  • sunflowers

Now how did we have room for all that?  The answer is—we didn’t, but I like to try to pack it all in.  I always get too many different varieties of seeds and starts.  I forget what we are planning to do that year, get swept up in the moment and buy it all.  In terms of food harvesting, I always want MORE.  I am something of a food hoarder, which is why my freezer is packed with too much meat, I pick more peaches than I can can, and I kill myself peeling too many apples for apple sauce all while wishing I had filled JUST ONE MORE BOX.  In the summer, some berries are not enough.  I want more.  (It just occurred to me that this is why I have TEN chickens instead of the FOUR we started off with.)  MORE!

bean sower


I Love Mulch (Still)

One thing I’ve learned since living in the city:  when the arborist is on your block, you had better be running…

TOWARDS, not away from him/her.


  1. they always have ground up tree clippings—MULCH right there for the taking!
  2. they are always happy to give it to you if you ask nicely
  3. there are USUALLY corn-fed boys from Damascus (okay, total generalization here) working the chipper and they will usually offer to carry the garbage pail full of mulch to your garden.  I have no issues with carrying my own mulch, but I do admit that I have to drag it down the sidewalk, while they can hoist it on their 23 year old shoulders without even knocking their ball cap off.
  4. I love mulch!  Don’t my garden paths look nice and weed-free?  This stuff will break down nicely for next year when all the rows rotate too.

It is a red-letter day when I can get me a little mulch.

New Kids in the Flock



We are chicken-sitting around here.  We took in two chickens for some school friends who are traveling in Guatemala for a month.  These girls are pretty, but not really earning their keep, so they are joining the rest of our girls “on the dole”.  A combination of molting, youth and old age are making egg efforts sort of meager.  Out of our nine chickens, it seems like only one is actually laying.  Geeze Louise!  They’ll be back at it in another month or so.

My friend’s chickens are not laying either, although the younger one should be laying by now.  I kind of think she might be a bit overweight, which can certainly happen in small flocks where one hen is dominant and there isn’t much competition for feed.  In my mind I started calling her “FattyCakes”.  (I’m sorry Pam!).  I know it is mean, but it just rolls off the tongue so nicely!

I’m actually glad that FattyCakes brought in some extra heft because I think it is helping her stand her ground around here.  I had been worried about bringing new chickens into our flock because our hens are such ass-kickers.  They aren’t very nice to new-comers.  I figured that I understood more about flock dynamics this time around and could maybe make the transition smoother.  I kept the hens separated for a few days but visible to each other.  FattyCakes got pecked through the wire, but everyone seemed okay with each other by the end of day two.

The biggest challenge has been getting everyone to roost on the roosts.  The teenagers (chicks) have this obnoxious habit of crapping up the nesting boxes.  Now mind you, no one is USING them, but I still hate to see poop in them.  When the miracle eggs do start to show up again, I want them to have a lovely clean place to be deposited.  I hung cloths, I nailed boxes shut, I put stuff in them at night….nothing worked.  Nothing short of tromping out there in the dark and dragging the poulets out of the box screaming seemed to work.  Once they gave up the box, they started roosting on the top of a door frame, way up high above my head.  FattyCakes joined them one night.  I didn’t even realize that an 8 pound hen could get up that high.

In other news, before it started raining (and raining, and raining) last week, I finished hauling the leaves from hither and yon and piled them on my garden a few feet deep.  I put down a layer or two of chicken manure, wood shavings, compost and other good stuff. There you are blueberries.  Do NOT die this winter.  Goodnight garden.  See you in spring.

These cold but dry Autumn days make me happy.  When I have the time to do repetitive outdoor tasks, I find my breath just slowing down and my mind just peacefully wandering.  I have so little time to be in my own head, quiet with my own thoughts.  An hour or so scraping shit off roosts really leaves me feeling like a new and better person!  At these times I have to laugh recognizing that I actually love to work.  Cleaning out my henhouse makes me happy.  Raking leaves and hauling stuff makes me happy.  Looking at my compost makes me happy.

And my beauty berry—that the painters stepped on, and I thought they killed it but it came back—in fruit makes me happy.

Here’s to chickens, compost and beauty berries!  I wish you many small moments of happiness as we approach Christmas.

Oh For a Bit of Wild Onion!

Brad and I were amused by Zephyr after watching Star Wars for the first time.  Of all the interesting and funny things that happened in that movie, he thought the most important was C-3PO walking off in a different direction from R2D2 on Tatooine.  The big line he would repeat to tell this story?  “I’m not going THAT way!  That’s too rocky!”. And then he would laugh like crazy.

Yeah.  I don’t know that I would sum up the movie that way either.  And yet I sort of relate to fixating on minor lines or ideas.

This last week I put the garden to bed for the winter.  I hauled leaves, I hauled chicken manure, and then spread it to a depth of about two feet.  Things should rest and rot down until sometime in April when I will call out the forces and turn the soil (if I am lucky.  Last year it rained well into June, so I won’t count on April).  Before closing the case on the garden I pulled up the last of the onions.  They were small and I really shouldn’t have left them in this late.  Because they were out in the frost, they had a little slime on them, and yet I was so thrilled to have them.  They make me think of Sam in Lord of the Rings who just yearned for a bit of wild onion to improve the campfire food on the way to Mordor.  “Oh for a bit of wild onion!”  I thought.  “Oh for a bit of wild onion!”

I don’t know what it is about the yearning for wild onion that was so appealing (and memorable!) to me.  Why do I remember this about those books and not other, probably more important, elements?  While raking leaves, I thought:  maybe the onion is a theme!  If the onion is a theme, then it would be of Sam’s desire to give his best, to nurture his friends, even while in grave danger.  The onion is about a hobbit taking risks, but still desiring the good life—the life that an onion affords.

I don’t think the onion is a theme.

But my onions were good.  I made them into a soup.  Hobbit Onion soup.  Zephyr and I are not so different.

Thou Art Welcome

It’s fun to be in Gospel Choir.  Apart from the normal benefits, (fit lungs, comradery, spiritual expression), gospel choir songs offer a host of possibly lyrical applications.  The songs have very simple, interchangeable lyrics.  You can change a word and sing them in all sorts of different settings.  For example, instead of “I call you holy!  Your name is holy, you are so holy to me!” you can sing, “I find you whiney!  You are so whiney!  You are so whiney to me!”.  We have a song called “Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome”, and I could not get it out of my head when I saw this:

I didn’t plant it, but I certainly welcome it.  “Lemon cu-cumber!  Thou-Art-Welcome!  And I embrace your presence!  And I lift high your name!”

The whole garden is slowing down, but little surprises are always tucked in there anyway.

We’ve had such a lame summer (in terms of warmth and sun), so I really appreciate these lovely fall days–sunny, but with a chill.

Someone isn’t so thrilled that it is getting colder.  Agnes is going through a rough molt right now, dropping feathers right and left and looking like an unstuffed ragdoll.  Why do chickens lose their feathers right when it seems they might need them?  Poor baby.

2010 Tour de Coops

Holy Shit.  Can I say that here?  Tour de Coops was freaking crazy.  Never have I had such an assortment of very nice, very INQUISITIVE people in my own backyard.  How interesting.  How exhausting.

Bright and early on Saturday morning I was up and bustling about trying to get last minute things ready for the tour.  In particular, I wanted to water thoroughly so that the garden and flower beds didn’t look wilted or parched.  I wanted to make sure all the chicken shit was off the lawn.  I wanted to check for any last minute faux pas like dirty water in the coop or chicken feed thrown all over (the chickens do that, not me).  In general I was feeling pretty calm and happy thanks to Espoir and his brother doing all that weeding the day before, Devra making some nice strong coffee, and Brad making a really lovely breakfast of puffed oven pancake.  (It is good that Brad made such a huge breakfast as I never really got lunch that day.)  I felt like my peeps were watching out for me.  What can be better?

Before the hordes started arriving, I took these pictures:

Front of the house from the street

Walking back to the coop by the garden (and kids' lemonade stand)

And the little capitalists taste-testing their product

Where I REALLY thought I would sit all day relaxing during the tour...

The back corner of the yard with the featured coop

So there I was, bright and early, pleased with how things looked and imagining a really relaxing day chatting with a few people about chickens and visiting with my friends.   Within fifteen minutes of the start time for the tour, my yard looked like this:

And that continued all day long.

I am not really complaining.  We were a super popular stop on the tour, even though our house was placed on the map of Portland coops wrong.  (Many people, even Portlanders, put us in north east rather than north.  On the tour map, our house was a star at NE 17th and Skidmore.  Whooops!)  It was fun answering questions and chatting with people.  The tour-goers were some of the nicest folks ever conglomerated in one place.  They also had a lot of questions.  Top ones I remember were:

  1. How many chickens do you have?
  2. What breed is that one there?
  3. What about that one there?
  4. Have you had any problems with predators?

Question 2 and 3 made me realize that you should not do this tour if you don’t know exactly what your chickens are.  I only have one mystery chicken, but without fail, everyone wanted to know what she was.  After a while, I just made crap up.  (“She’s a marans-australorpe cross.”) I was a little worried about what Brad was doing when faced with this question.  As much as he loves the chickens, he doesn’t really know what breeds they are.  If he doesn’t know what a chicken is, he calls it a barred rock.  That means we have 7 barred rocks.

The tour wasn’t just a success for the adults around here.  Look closely in the picture above and you will see MOST of the people with lemonade glasses in their hands.  Oh yes, Francis made BANK.  The kids had $35 in their till at the end of the day.  We projected that about 100-150 people came through our yard…just imagine what that number would have been if the map had been correct!

Tour de Coops 2010 è finita!  Woot woot!

Getting Ready for Tour de Coops

Yup, we’re getting ready around here.  Tomorrow at 11am, 200-500 people descend on us wondering about all the workings of our urban chicken coop.  After a morning of scrubbing, spraying and weeding, I feel pretty much ready for whatever may come.  I feel doubly calm as I hired out the boring work so that I could do the stuff I like: spreading compost, mucking out the coop, and repairing stuff with tools.  I am a great believer in paying people to do things that I don’t have time to do, and as it seems that 75% of the population seems in more desperate straights than I right now, it seems logical that I should give people work rather than making myself miserable and overwhelmed.  I consider Ronald Reagan and his trickle-down economy theory at times like this, but I want to subvert his idea and make it legit by asking, “Who can I overpay to get them to do things that I don’t want to do?”.  My friends Espoir and Barack were more than willing to be hired to pull weeds.  And they did an awesome job.  And, did I mention?  I don’t have to do it!  Ahhhhh!  This is living!

So things look good.  I scrubbed down the coop.  I rinsed it out with bleach and water.  I am going to put a bouquet in there (oh yes I am!).   The garden and surrounding beds are all weeded.  All we need to do is set up Francis’ lemonade stand and let the eager chicken freaks come and gawk.  Can’t wait!

If you are in Portland, tour booklets go on sale at 10am July 24th, in the parking lot at Westminster Presbyterian Church at 1624 NE Hancock.  Read more about Growing Gardens and the good work they do fighting hunger here.

Intense Crazy Gardeners

I went to the informational meeting for the coop hosts for the Tour de Coops and oh-my-holy-Jesus, these people are intense!  I had considered getting the chicken coop all prettied up for the tour, but it hadn’t occurred to me that really these people are gardeners—intense, crazy gardeners.  They are going to care about things like my invasive species and such, and my wilted and dying basil, and my patch that was suppose to be cauliflower but is actually some crazy chrysanthemum that seems to spread wildly all over my yard.  And what with my trip to Ashland next week (poor me!), I only have 9 days to get the entire yard totally whipped into shape and ready to be oooed and ahhhed at.  I’m a bit stressed out about this.

The tour is going to be fun though.  The organizers said that we should expect between 300 and 500 people to come visit our yard.  With that many feet, maybe I should make a path right through the invasive ivy.  They could trample it to death, right?  The previous owners of this house were great believers in plants that spread, so most of my work these days is ripping out, not putting in.  I picked up an invasive weed pamphlet up on the Wildwood trail and saw not one but five weeds that are in residence in my yard (blackberry, ivy, pokeweed, morning glory, and old man’s beard or clematis).  That isn’t even counting spearmint, which perhaps is not invasive but still makes me do battle yearly pushing it back so that I don’t have an entire yard of cocktail garnish.

To be fair, my yard is better every year.  Sometimes it is even pretty.  I’m thinking that if I can pace myself over the next couple weeks I can arrive at something lovely in time for the tour.  I’ll let you know!