Adaptable Chickens

Our flock is in lockdown these days thanks to the avian flu, so we moved our mama hen’s broody box from the barnyard into the layer coop’s attached, roofed pen. Now, we thought, she can at least get her babies out for a wander, even if they can’t free range. They can sleep in the broody box at night.

Broody had other ideas though, that evening she tried to put her kids to bed in the main coop rather than the broody box. But to stay warm enough, little chicks need to sleep under momma in a nest. They don’t have feathers yet, except on their wings. We tried to convince mama otherwise by locking her and her family in the broody box for a few more days, but nope.

As soon as I opened the broody box again, off to the main coop they went, to practice going up and down the long ramp. At that point I threw up my hands. Mama clearly wasn’t going to listen to me. Nor could I leave the little family confined to the broody box for four more weeks, until the babies were old enough to roost. It was important that they be out and about with mama, having adventures.

That night when I went out to lock the coop, mama had gotten all her babies inside. I could hear one or two crying up at her from the coop floor. The tears didn’t last long though, by the time I finished chores and went back to check on the situation, all was quiet. Stubborn mama had taught all four of her kids to fly up (!) and snuggle under her on the roost. The roost is a 2×4 laid on its side, so it’s wider than the babies, which helps.

I’m glad my chickens are so adaptable. That’s just what one needs to get through a pandemic, as we have all learned over the past couple years!

Harry and Hazel

Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (aka Contorted Filbert) is bare naked right now, dangling his catkins in the fresh breeze. Since he has no leaves, we can easily admire his structure. It helps that RG just pruned out the many suckers that crop up at his feet each year. Demanding children, they’d sap this small tree if we let them.

I planted Harry close to 25 years ago in the driveway border, where he’s easy to admire. Not just eye candy, he fertilizes the fruiting hazelnut tree I put in at the same time across the driveway on the far side of the creek. Hazel must cross pollinate with another Corylus to set fruit, and although they have very different shapes, Harry and Hazel are both Corylus. Someday we may even get to enjoy Hazel’s crop, if we can figure out how to keep the squirrels from getting to her first.

Harry and Hazel’s catkins are just beginning to release their pollen, in unison. Bare naked tree sex, going on right under our eyes. It may not feel like it yet, but spring is on the way!

A Christmas Bargain

On a whim one Sunday, years ago when our girls were little, DH and I went to a liquidation auction in Sooke. Much drama ensued, and we returned home that day the proud owners of several boxes of random Christmas decorations, the entire seasonal detritus of a defunct hardware store. It was our first auction experience and it was a doozy.

When we got to the store that morning we had no idea that we would shortly be participants in an event that would impact all our Christmases to come. We innocently wandered around checking out the goods, DH spotting one or two lots of tools he was interested in. Then the bidding started. As we waited for his lots, the first of two Christmas lots came up. It included everything on one whole side of a two-sided display unit. The auctioneer started off at $30 but no one seemed interested. At all. He wheedled and pleaded but still zero interest. So he dropped to $20 and tried again. Nothing. “Oh why not” I thought to myself “that’s a real good deal plus it will be fun for the kids!”, and I nudged DH to bid. He did! And no one outbid us! And all of a sudden oh my gosh the whole lot was ours!

As we were digesting our delight, and feeling quite the seasoned auction pros, the auctioneer started the bidding at $20 on the second lot, the other side of the afore-mentioned display unit. We held back, pleased with our take (only twenty bucks!!); we didn’t need to bid on this one. A pair of women immediately bid, but no one else challenged. It looked like they were going to get the second lot for super cheap like we did!

The auctioneer kept trying to get something going, to start someone else bidding, but no one went for it. That was when he lost his temper, slamming his hands down on the counter, then pointing at the two women in disgust, “I saw what you did!” he sneered. “Moving all the good stuff into this lot and putting all the crap in the first lot! Yeah, I know what you’re up to!”

“So…we’re gonna go with auctioneer’s prerogative here! Sir?” he snapped, turning to us, “you took the first lot, so I’m giving you dibs, would you like to take the second lot for $20 too? We stared blankly at him for a moment as howls erupted from the two women. The rest of the crowd stood silently, no doubt enjoying the drama. Then… “sure!” we agreed. I mean how could we not? I was on the auctioneer’s side anyway. Naive us hadn’t noticed those two ladies’ pre-auction shenanigans. But the auctioneer had. Probably everyone else had too, and that was why nobody but us bid on the first lot.

The argument went on for a bit, the women loudly protesting about the unfairness of it all, and saying he couldn’t do that, and the auctioneer giving them hell for cheating, and saying he could do whatever he bloody well wanted. It ended with the two cheaters being bounced from the auction. We hung around till the end, happily paid for and collected our two lots, and headed home, feeling like we really did well at our first auction.

We shared our largess with family and friends, and that Christmas, we went whole hog, putting up every speck of those decorations, along with all the stuff we already had. The results were over the top and the kids LOVED it.

Little did we know that we had set the bar so high, we would spend every Christmas for the next 25 years doing the same. It’s just part of our tradition now, and thank goodness everyone pitches in to help. The ladder work especially takes longer than it used to. Some of the decorations have disintegrated over the years, and some I conveniently “lost” (spray snow and window stencils…NEVER again), but we still have plenty of mementoes of that long ago auction in Sooke.

Last year, with one of our three daughters unable to make it home thanks to Covid restrictions, we were more subdued, some boxes stayed under the stairs. But this year, over the past couple weeks, our wonderful children have all pitched in to help, and the place looks crazy Christmas, as always. We are ready, and excited, because this year, with everyone vaccinated and living much closer, we will all be together again. ❤️ I can’t wait. ❤️

A Storm for the Record Books

The meteorologists warned us well before it arrived. “An ‘atmospheric river’ is on its way!” they excitedly predicted, “and a windstorm!” Rolling our eyes at their hyperbole, we got ready anyway, pulling the foot bridges off the creek, putting the carport freezer up on blocks, moving our vehicles to higher ground. The weather has been nuts this year, anything is possible. We charged all the things; the neck lights and headlamps, our phones and tablets. We filled the potable water jugs, lining them up along the kitchen counter. The well pump won’t run if the power goes out, and we like our tea, so we need plenty of water. We stacked firewood by the door, made sure there was gas for the generator, and that the barnyard crew were well provisioned.

Saturday around noon, right on schedule, it began to pour, and it didn’t let up until 48 hours and 153.9 mm later. More rain at one time than we’ve seen since we moved here almost a quarter century ago. Over the last ten years, only seven MONTHS beat the rainfall we saw in TWO DAYS. We didn’t quite make the top ten, but our Malahat (Island Highway) did.

Now, I love the rain, but this was too much rain, and all the time it fell, my nerves were on edge. When would it stop? Would we flood out? We live in the bottom of a valley, right beside (…like, within six feet of) Goward Spring creek. The barnyard is next to the creek too, further down the property. In other words, we are about as exposed to flood risk as a beach dweller is to a tsunami. And an atmospheric river was flowing.

After dark was the worst, because we couldn’t see what was going on outside. We could only hear the enemy, drumming on the skylights. We took it in turns through Saturday and Sunday nights, putting on raincoats and headlamps and tromping outside to monitor water levels while practicing SAR whitewater safety – “stay far enough away from the rushing water so that if you do slip, you won’t slide in”. That could easily end badly. The water was roaring through our valley so vigorously that we had to shout to talk to each other outside. One of the nights, I forget which, RG flashed her light in our window, doing a bed check, and woke me up. Why was she looking in our bedroom window at 3 in the morning in the pouring rain? She’d been doing the rounds, and DH had left his office light on and the back door unlocked, and she was worried he’d gone out to check on things and fallen in. But he was snoozing beside me. So she went to bed too, and soon after that I got up, and we carried on.

For the last year or so, seeing our weather misbehave more often, and reading about weather events around the world, we have paying more attention to planning for disasters. One improvement that we had been debating was putting a culvert in on the far side of the driveway bridge, to redirect water away from the house if the creek flooded over the bridge and rushed down the driveway. We hadn’t broken ground yet though on that little job, and this weighed on my mind as I watched the rain fall. Were we too late? Had we dithered too long?

But much to our relief our house stayed dry. All our floodwaters went to harmless places. The people who built this house did good when they put it on the high side of the creek. Our little watercourse burst its banks quickly, growing from her usual five feet wide to more than 20. She overwhelmed the driveway bridge, but harmlessly, splitting into three streams temporarily, then rejoining herself and flowing out across the yard in an big double arc that combined again well below the house. She did not come down the driveway towards the house at all.

The coops stayed safe too, the creek banks get quite tall down that end of the place, so there was enough capacity to carry the excess water away with only a bit of flooding on the far side of the creek. It was close though, if the water had risen another few inches, the hen hotel would have turned into a spa.

The property right below us flooded badly. The creek widened into a lake across its entire 200 foot width, and spilled over the public path that runs alongside. Luckily there is no house there yet. Although they are trying to get a permit to build.

The deep ravine at the other end of our lane flooded too, sending water sheeting across the road so that DH’s brakes temporarily failed as he tried to negotiate the corner. All a bit of fun for him, I suppose. Motorsport man would have enjoyed getting out of that little difficulty.

At noon on Monday, the rain finally stopped. What a relief!! And then, literally half an hour later, our valley ringing with emergency vehicle sirens, the creek roaring like a jet engine, and a line of cars strung out along the far side of our place turning around because the road ahead was submerged, the wind started blowing hard. It was surreal. Almost immediately, grove of 3 or 4 big alders crashed down across the roadway, the rain soaked soil letting go without a fight. The power went out and the roadblocks went up. It would be almost 24 hours before the road reopened and the lights came back on.

“It’s a good thing” I thought at the time, “that we’re not trying to run any pumps”. We didn’t need to. Our little creek was a champ, working 24/7 to whisk all that water away down the Colquitz watershed to the Salish sea.

It’s been a week now since the storm began and here on the island things are starting to settle down. Parts of the lower mainland are still a colossal mess. Thousands of farm animals dead, thousands of people with flooded homes, and people missing in highway slide areas. The main routes to the rest of Canada were still closed Saturday morning, three of them finally opened in the afternoon.

Over here on the island, our grocery store shelves are half empty, the feed stores have no feed, and gas is rationed. Our island highway has reopened, single lane alternating, but hey, it’s not closed for 12 hours a night anymore! They’ve managed to stop it dissolving down the mountainside.

Here in our muddy valley, we’re in clean-up mode, and watching the weather forecasts. Another storm is expected this week. North of us this time though, they say. Like many people, we can see the weather is changing, so we will keep doing what we can to be ready. It’s only sensible. We’re not going full tinfoil hat prepper, with big buckets of dried food in the basement and an AK47 in the closet; not even close. We made sure to get pictures of the storm’s impacts, and I am storing these online along with the rainfall stats and my observational notes. Data yields information, which yields actionable knowledge, which yields… we hope, a roadmap to guide next steps. We know now that we don’t need a culvert, for example, and we have the pictures to prove it..

This weekend, as I work around the place, I will keep an eye out for trouble spots. I might take more pictures, make a couple more notes, and I will definitely stake the high water marks where we plan a new bridge over the creek. All jobs best done while the storm’s scars are fresh on our minds and on our environment. Because there will be a next time, and the gods help those who help themselves.

Eating Local

Wednesday is my day off, and the day I head to the feed store. The feed truck arrives early in the morning on Wednesdays, so I know they will be freshly stocked. Some weeks, they sell out of my poultry feed by the weekend.

Although stocking up on fresh feed for my feathered friends and the rest of the barnyard crew is my primary goal, my route takes me down country roads past many micro farms like ours, so all year long I stop along the way to pick up whatever is in season. The less I have to buy at the grocery store the better, and there is just something special about eating seasonally. Everything tastes so good! And fresh produce preserved in season runs a close second.

RG grows lots of different veggies and fruit, so my stops are predicated by what other locals have that we don’t. One farm grows wonderful kiwi; it’s on my list from November through till February. Another place grows delicious organic cherries. In early summer as soon as their ‘Cherries for Sale’ sign goes up, they get a visit from me. The cherries always sell out completely in less than a week. I usually stop at Dan’s Farm Market too, he grows a wide variety of unsprayed food, if we’ve eaten all our broccoli for example, or our lettuce has bolted and turned bitter, I can get some there.

Then there is the little table at the end of a long driveway on Oldfield, steel cash can welded to its side, that in July and August proudly carries a selection of good sized mixed bouquets tied with twine, for the ridiculously cheap price of, (I kid you not) a TWOONIE! These twoonie bouquets always sell out before noon. I try to buy two.

Also starting in July each year, Wednesday becomes corn pickup day, right through until the crop is done. Resident Gardener grows sweet corn each summer, she has a nice patch growing now, but she doesn’t grow near enough to keep us in corn for the whole year. Luckily sweet corn grows incredibly well on our peninsula so it’s easy to get. There’s a place on my route that offers a baker’s dozen of peaches and cream corn picked that morning for twelve bucks, and worth every penny.

I buy enough on my Wednesday trips to see us through till next summer, and freeze it. It’s worth the trouble. Home frozen corn tastes about a million times better than store bought, and it’s so easy to do. We all love to sit down to a nice feed of summer sweet corn in the middle of winter!

This also means of course that Wednesdays are corn-on-the-cob days, which Dear Husband likes very much. I cook up a couple cobs for us to butter, salt, and gnaw on, and in the same pot of boiling water I blanch the rest of my bakers dozen for 3-4 minutes, plunging them into ice water to cool quickly. After dinner I stand each blanched, cooled ear in my trusty Angel-food cake pan, and slice off the kernels. If I had a table with a hole in it, I could just set my pan above it, push the cobs through, and the kernels would effortlessly strip off, like you see on the internet, but I don’t. Maybe one day.

From there its into a freezer bag and then the freezer. All in all it takes about twenty minutes each week to process my bakers dozen. I used to spread the kernels carefully on cookie sheets and then bag when frozen, to keep each separate, but I’ve learned that if I just reach into the freezer and shake up the bag a few times while it’s freezing up I can cut the cookie sheet step out entirely.

By October my freezer is bursting with corn and lots of other homegrown and local food that we usually manage to finish over the winter. The bits and pieces we don’t get through by the time the season rolls around again go to lucky chickens. But they never get any sweet corn, it’s so darned tasty it’s usually all gone by May.

Duckberta the Accidental Duckling

I had read about getting hens to hatch duck eggs, and since I had fertile duck eggs, but no broody duck, I thought I’d give it a try. Spring was turning to summer, and so far, no prolific duck mama had come sauntering out of the bush with a passel of ducklings (also something I had read about).

So I gave a broody Orpington hen a half dozen duck eggs and put her to work. A week later, I went out after dark one evening and candled the eggs to see if they had started developing. Hmmmmm, none had. It seemed our Duckbert might be a dud as a stud. So I disappointedly pulled the duck eggs and gave her some chicken eggs instead. At that point, it was the shortest, straightest road to my Orpington finishing her brood cycle in a timely manner, which would keep her a happy, healthy hen. 

Twenty one more days passed uneventfully by, at the end of which mama Orpington produced a most satisfactory passel of chicks. I added a few more chicks out of the incubator and all was well. 

When a hen finishes her hatch, she moves the family, lock, stock and barrel, off the old nest and onto a fresh one. Once my hen had made the switch, I moved in to clean out the old, tired nest. And lo and behold what did I discover, tucked away behind the broken egg shells in the furthest corner of the nesting box? A duck egg! I guess I hadn’t got them all, three weeks before, when I had switched out the eggs. Oops. But it couldn’t possibly be alive. Could it?

It was possible actually. Muscovy eggs take 10-15 days longer than chicken eggs to bake. So if my Orpington had been sitting on that egg all this time, and if it WAS fertile, it would be due to hatch within the next week. And it was suspiciously heavy.

 I took the egg into the house and candled it. Yep, there was a little duck in there. Damn! What was I going to do with one duck egg? And potentially one duck? Ugh. I was in the middle of tearing out my incubator room, preparing to move to a new one, and didn’t have any other hatches on the go. Singletons were a pain to raise. But I couldn’t just let it die. Sigh. So I unpacked my smallest incubator, plugged it in out of the way in a corner of dear husband’s shop, and placed the egg inside. “The chances of it hatching are slim”, I reasoned with myself. “But I have to let this play out.”

Over the next few days, as we continued with our reno plus the spring farming chore rush, the egg sat there baking in DH’s shop. I forgot to turn it. A bunch of times. It ran out of water (used for humidity) several times too. Daily ten minute cooling as is recommended for hatching ducks? Hahahaha. We were all just so busy. Whenever some member of the family asked, I told them not to get their hopes up and assured them it couldn’t possibly hatch. 

Until the day DH came in the house and announced excitedly “there’s a chip out of that egg!” With the egg being in his shop, he’d taken a bit of a proprietary interest in it.

“Oh crap” I thought. “if the damned thing does hatch, what on earth am I going to do with it? I have no incubator room, no brooder. It’s all packed away in boxes!”

By the next day, with my family all eagerly awaiting events, and me warning everyone that this likely wouldn’t end well, the egg had a clear hole in it. It was a hard hatch, as is to be expected when an egg goes through as much as this one had, and it took another whole day before little Duckberta, named for her father, appeared. (We have no idea if she is actually female, she may be renamed to Duckbert the Second at some point.)

Duckberta was quite weak, but rallied enough within 24 hours that I thought she just might make it. We set her up in the laundry room, in a Rubbermaid bin with a grate over it; a heat plate, food and water inside, and stepped around her as we went about our family life. She started in crying pretty quickly. Lonely, as singletons always are.

DH helped, by taking her into his office next to the laundry room, where she snuggled and tunnelled around inside his hoodie as he used his computer. This is the man who generally has nothing whatsoever to do with the farm animals, except driving the hay truck once a year. He has taken a liking to ducks though, and before long Duckberta had him wrapped around her little webbed finger.

After a couple days of ongoing peeping complaints, at times strident, from one lonely little duckling, I realized mama Orpington could spare a child, and I brought Duckberta a little Barred Rock buddy. He quieted her down immediately, and they lived together quite happily for a couple more days. By that point though, we were all getting tired of stepping around a smelly chick brooder every time we went into or out of the laundry room. It was time for a more permanent solution. 

I wondered if mama Orpington would take Duckberta under her wing, if she showed up with little Barred Rock? It was worth a try. That night after dark, I took the chick and the duckling out to the hen hotel and slipped them under mama’s skirts where they settled down immediately.

The next day, Duckberta was ambling around the brooder in the middle of a crowd of 17 Barred Rock and Rhode Island Red chicks, just another one of the gang. She didn’t move as quick, and she made more of a mess when she ate, but other than that, she seemed to fit in just fine. Thank goodness. A couple days later when I accidentally spooked mama off the nest one night, I noticed that Duckberta had staked out the prime nest real estate, right under the middle of mama. Evidently she was coping just fine.

There have been a few challenges, like figuring out how to get her the extra vitamin B she needs to grow strong. But we are working things out as she grows, and, a much faster grower, she is now twice as long as the chicks, although not quite as tall. A duck out of water in one sense of the phrase, she has taken to life with her chicken family like a duck to water! 

Although the day she comes across her first real puddle or pond, she will likely give her poor dear mama a heart attack by jumping right in for a swim. As ducks do.

The Winter Field

One of the cool things about living for twenty-plus years on the same piece of land is being able to see the long term results of our actions. Like the 150 foot hedge that we planted along the busy road fifteen years ago. It’s twenty feet tall now, ten feet wide and impenetrable. And beautiful in the fall.

Or our “winter field”. The winter field got its name because it is the only field that stays dry enough that we can have the horses on it a little bit in mid winter when everywhere else is too muddy. To protect both the land and their feet, our ponies spend much of the wet season in their roomy barnyard paddock, on top of some serious drainage (4 feet of rocks, gravel, then hog fuel).

When we first moved to our muddy valley, a couple horses had been left too long on the winter field, nibbling it down to bare earth. After the horses left, we did nothing (no money, no time and three small kids) and by the next spring, much to our relief, it had greened right up with a mix of grass, clover and plenty of weeds. A couple years later we started putting our own horses on it. They ate down the grass each year, but not the weeds, because horses are picky. We tried to encourage the grass, because more free grass means less outlay on hay to feed hungry horses. We did our best to avoid overgrazing and kept the weeds sort of under control by mowing, hand pulling and, one expensive year, even plowing the whole bloody thing, fertilizing and reseeding. We tried the same approach in the northwest field.  Sadly, a couple years later, both fields looked just the same; grass, clover and plenty of weeds. 

More years went by, and then in 2012, we got six chicks and built their coop next to the winter field. By 2013 we had lots of chickens (that’s another story), who happily free ranged in the afternoons year round, nibbling greens and enjoying bugs, scratching things up a bit but not too much, leaving their droppings behind. 

Life continued, and here we are another eight years later, with the winter field transformed! Especially the area nearest the coops which looks amazing. The thick emerald grass is trimmed slightly tall and fairly even by the flock’s sharp beaks, and completely weed free. It looks like the ‘after’ picture of a weed n feed commercial, except for the chicken poops nestled here and there. Ten feet away, the grass is still lush, with scattered bits of clover. Ten feet more, the grass / clover mix is more pronounced and there is a weed or two. About forty feet away from the coops, where the birds don’t hang out as much, it looks more like the before-chicken winter field.

It has to be our free range poultry who have made this dramatic difference, nothing else has changed! It appears that given the right set of circumstances, chickens are superb groundskeepers. 

Regenerative agriculture is having a moment right now, and I totally get why. One regenerative ag strategy involves running livestock lightly on the land where they can forage their own feed, fertilize with their droppings, and disturb the soil moderately with their activities, improving fertility and production. Our winter field, before and after introducing chickens, is an accidental testament to this idea. It’s quite remarkable.

Around here, as we experiment with more regenerative approaches (my new raspberry patch is ‘no till’ and RG uses lots of the techniques), the health of the soil and the plants and animals that it nurtures just keeps improving.

If I had the time and energy, I would have chicken tractors, staffed by feathery groundskeepers, set up at forty feet intervals all over, and let the place really go to the birds.

Phytophthora In My Raspberries

Phytophthora root rot fungus has been creeping through my poor raspberry patch for the past few years, wreaking its slow motion havoc on first one cane, then another. 

High soil moisture, something we have no shortage of around here, creates an ideal habitat for Phytophthora. It prefers heavy soil and slow drainage and its spores can swim from plant to plant through the soggy ground. In my patch, affected canes grow, set fruit, then wither away, their roots rotten. It really sucks.

I have two means of control, removing infected canes and improving drainage. This helps, but the patch is slowly declining. So this year, I decided to start fresh, and put in a new raspberry patch in a higher spot. I had to buy new canes, since mine are probably all infected, so I chose Phytophthora-resistant varieties, some summer fruiting and some everbearing, ordering them in January to be sure of supply. 

I’m planting them without disturbing the soil underneath, a regenerative gardening technique that we have good success with here. I lay down feed bags, pile RG’s precious compost high on top, and plant straight into it. The feed bags will rot, smothering the weeds and grass I laid them on top of first, and the raspberry roots will grow down into the earth, and all through the delicious compost. I will seed grass on the pathway bare spots, and as the grass grows between my bermed rows, I will mow it and use it as mulch. (I’m imagining broad emerald green pathways between fruit-laden hedges…can’t you just see it!?!)

It’s nice starting from scratch, having the opportunity to change what I don’t like about my old raspberry patch. I made the pathways between the rows good and wide so I can get a lawnmower around easily. This will provide plenty of elbow room for picking at harvest time too, my old patch is crowded and it’s hard to get down the rows and spot all the berries.

Deer and rabbits are plentiful here, so an effective barrier is a must have. I used metal posts that won’t rot in a few years like my old pencil posts did; some recycled from an old rain shelter and some good old t-bars that were lying around. DH kindly chopped the ends off some rusty bed frame rails for me, so I’m using those too. 

Metal hardware cloth or chicken wire works well to deter the bunnies. I went with the cloth this time, folding it so that half lies on the ground, skirting the entire border, and half climbs up the fence. I top this skirt with several feet of deer netting, zip tie it all together, and secure it to the ground with six inch landscape staples. That’ll keep the little buggers out.

The gate is half recycled 2×2 and chicken wire panel and half bent green willow, with zip tie hinges. No need for it to swing freely, it won’t see a lot of traffic. I still need to hang netting or something in the archway.

I planted my new raspberry canes the other day, and picked up two more today to fill the last two spots. If these do well, I shall put in two more rows next year or the year after, planting them up with suckers from whichever of my resistant varieties (Prelude, Nova, Killarney, Joan J and Honey Queen) do best. 

I have a few marionberries and a couple thornless blackberries well established  in my old raspberry patch along with my ailing raspberries, so if the new patch does well, I will let the marions and blacks take over the old one. Phytophthora doesn’t affect them. 

One of the gardening hacks I’ve learned over the years is to flow with the realities rather than struggle to make something thrive where it doesn’t really want to. If my old raspberry patch doesn’t want to grow raspberries any more, I won’t compel it to. In the garden as in life, persuasion is better than force.

The Chores Equinoxes

Spring is just around the corner, March 20 to be exact. Here in our muddy valley, the first chores equinox of the year, which took place yesterday, is a sure harbinger of spring.
Chores equinox happens twice a year; it is the first and last days that the evening chores, which must be done at dusk, are done after one sits down to dinner.
I love both the spring and the fall chores equinoxes. This time of year, I look forward to all the long evenings I can spend outside after dinner. In the fall, I look forward to chores being the last outside job of the day, followed by dinner and a snug evening indoors.
It felt a little strange walking out there with a full tummy last night, rather than an appetite!

A South-facing Barn

In my experience, nothing beats a south-facing barn. On cold sunny winter days like today, with the snow blue and crunchy and the mud frozen into hard ridges underfoot, the morning sun rises at just the right angle to flood both stalls with sunshine right to the back wall. Lucky equines, to be snug and dry and munching breakfast while sunbathing.

In the summer the sun tracks much higher in the sky, and except in the very early morning the stalls, thanks to the roof’s overhang, are plunged into deep shade, a cool retreat from the heat of the day.

Our prevailing south westerlies and winter northerlies are well blocked by the barn’s design. In stormy weather, the big sliding barn doors may sway a bit in the wind, but they never slam open, or shut. The rain never blows inside the open stalls either. It’s the height of mud season right now, and except where our little desert flower donks have peed the stall floors remain dry as a bone. Resourceful and fastidious donks have set up their own temporary “indoor” pee spot, about 2 x 2 feet, which they use carefully and exclusively, so they can avoid putting even one dainty hoof on that horrible white stuff. They have a separate small spot where they deposit their manure. Good donks, this makes them easy to clean up after.

The loft stores upwards of 250 bales of hay and thanks to our new roof vent keeps it dry and mold-free year round – an impressive achievement in our wet west coast climate and a real money saver, since we can buy enough hay for the whole year at the peak of haying season and at its best price.

I don’t know if the builders were barn design experts, or if our barn’s functionality was just a happy accident, but either way, the almost fifty year old building still does its job beautifully. Over the past few years, it’s needed some restoration work, as well as a new roof, and it’s been money well spent and a job well done by our soon to be son-in-law. This morning, as I hung out enjoying the sunshine and listening to the equines contentedly munching their hay (such a peaceful sound), I once again quietly thanked whoever designed and built it. Form and function, this humble barn has it all.