A Little Nest

Nestled deep in tangled vines
We found a little nest
It was made of grass and string
For a little egg to rest

The egg was white and tiny
With speckled brownish dots
The nest was snug and cozy
A perfect cozy spot

A few brown birds were flying
Circling in the sky
They cheeped and chirped down at me
A panicked, startled cry

I smiled at them and whispered
I don’t mean any harm
I just wanted to say thank you
For visiting our farm

Cast Out

A day like any other
The old hens all went mad
They attacked a little chicken
She looked so weak and sad

They chased her round the henhouse
They moved in as a team
White feathers flew all over
A gruesome, horrid scene

I made a quick decision
I had to move her fast
Out she jumped so quickly
She was free at last

Once she shook and cowered
And trembled hard with fear
Now she chirped and strutted
As slowly she came near

The new ones saw her coming
They knew she was no match
Three of them could take her
And win without a scratch

Our lonely bird, deflated
Ran fast under the coop
And there she hides and cowers
Cast out from both the groups

Swallowtails

Four black swallowtail caterpillars found their way into Joe’s bughouse a few weeks ago. We fed them from the plant we found them on and watched them grow and grow…and grow!

The biggest one made a chrysalis first followed by two more a few days later. Our teeny tiny guy ate his way steadily through the dill we’d stuffed the house with until, tired from all his munching, he joined the others and made a chrysalis.

A few days ago, the first chrysalis started to wiggle and wobble.

We’ve been watching it off and on, hoping to watch the beautiful swallowtail emerge. We never did get to see them make their chrysalis. We turned our back and poof! it was made.

The chrysalis went from bright green to a faded dull pea green as it shook and twitched.

And then…

Wibble, wobble, twitch
A butterfly breaking free
Emerges and flys

The Big Molt

The new girls are now half again the size of the leghorns and their feathers are fluffy and shine in the sun.

They are truly beautiful birds, and the old ones?

Well, they are looking…pretty bad.

Their feathers are missing, they are pecking at each other and raw red patches of skin are showing.

They’ve become more and more bedraggled over the past couple of weeks. We change their water regularly, keep them in food and clean out their coop so what the heck is going on?

I was sure they were slowly murdering each other.

Ray thought they might be molting.

I liked my explanation better, but I looked up molting anyway.

Bingo. Our leghorns are going through a rather hard molt.

Great patches of feathers are missing. Some of the hens look fuzzy with odd looking new feathers growing through stubby old ones, while others look like they’ve been plucked alive.

During molting, all of the feathers fall and new feathers grow. Feathers are more than 80% protein so growing them takes a lot of energy.

Energy that is normally used to lay eggs.

Our egg production has not gone down that much, but it has dropped from 11-12 a day to 8-9 a day.

In order to balance things out a bit, we are going to start supplementing their diet with extra protein.

They’ll get mealworms, sunflower seeds, fresh herbs and maybe leftover scrambled eggs…maybe.

Few fluffy feathers
Hastily hobbling hens
Bare, bedraggled birds

Little Brown(ish) Eggs

The new girls have started laying eggs!

At first they were tiny and cream colored with titanium shells. Seriously, they took a few good whacks to crack. Crazy enough, every one has had a tiny yolk!

After about a week, they started to get a little bit bigger and the brownish hue deepened into a nice caramel color.

And then today I collected the biggest so far. It’s barely smaller than the behemoths the old hens lay. It’s not as brown as the others have been, but it still has a cream hue.

Old hen egg (left) vs New hen egg (right)

The new girls were pretty proud of themselves and were rewarded with grapes…their favorite.

Little brown(ish) eggs
Growing so slowly in size
Soft and creamy white

Regrowth

We came home from a long weekend and discovered something miraculous.

The kiwi had started to heal and regrow.

It had been ravaged by angry beetles for weeks, but it was coming back. Leaves were sprouting out, healing vines and kicking out the crunchy brown leaves.

The Japanese beetle’s 8-week reign of terror ended. Finally.

We were relieved that the pests had not done any lasting damage to the roots of the kiwi. It would have been depressing to have to cut out all that dead kiwi and start over again.

The grapes and hops are coming back as well, but it is the kiwi I am most impressed with. It had truly suffered and I had my doubts as to whether or not it would survive into next season.

I’ve never been more happy to be wrong.

The kiwi is coming back and we have a plan of attack for next year. A plan that will, with any luck, insure that the Japanese beetles lose the war.

The kiwi returns
To the homestead so bright, green
Leaves dance in the breeze

Ninja Bug

They creep up to the window
They climb up on the plants
They sit up on a green leaf
They watch the wasps and ants

We like these bright green ninjas
We love the way they work
We see them move so slowly
We watch their long arms jerk

When they’ve caught their target
They sink back down again
And munch the bug they’ve captured
Antennae, legs and skin

They’re really kind of scary
They move so soft and quick
If they were any bigger
I’d smash them with a stick!

In all seriousness, the praying mantis is an amazing insect and extremely useful in the garden. They are silent and efficient hunters and they prey mainly on common garden pests.

Most of the mantids we have found are in and around our rose bushes. There are–or were, a large population of Japanese beetles on these bushes. I think the mantids enjoyed a daily feast.


The Next Wave

Just when the Japanese beetle population starts to dwindle, the next wave of garden pests show up laying eggs on almost every available squash leaf.

Squash bugs.

While I detest squash bugs, I absolutely loathe Japanese beetles. In comparison…these aren’t so bad.

Every day, I eagerly go out to the garden to squish the eggs and vacuum the bugs that have emerged.

The process is more satisfying than drowning beetles. I think it is because I can squish all the eggs on a plant and vacuum most of the bugs.

This year, I am going to try applying neem oil to the leaves in order to deter more egg layers.

I have to be careful not to hit the squash flowers though. I want the bees to continue pollinating so we can have a good crop of watermelon, butternut and pattypan this year.

Squash bugs aren’t the worst
But are really annoying
Squish, vacuum, squish-squash

Wild

I took inventory a few days ago in my walk around the homestead.

The milkweed is still everywhere, but the beetles have started attacking it now that they’ve eaten everything else.

They seem to prefer the flowers to the leaves. Probably because they aren’t as thick and furry. I keep hoping the milkweed bugs will attack. No luck.

The prairie grasses are looking wonderful. The black-eyed Susans are back and flowing in the breeze. A variety of wild grasses blowing in the breeze.

The cattails are getting thicker. I think I’ll clip a few of these along with some black-eyed Susans and bring some wild prairie inside.

I did notice the Japanese beetles, but they are fewer in number and seem to be getting lazy. I can dispatch them easily at anytime of the day now.

I don’t know if these are new, but they are a lot shinier than the others I’ve killed.

They’ve finally started in on my oak trees and a few of the nut trees. I sure wish they’d attack the thistles instead.

As I walked back to the house, I noticed my lovely herb spiral.

The nasturtiums came back, as well as the bee balm. I planted more cilantro, thyme, basil, marigolds and a few salvia. It looks beautiful and the beetles have left it completely alone.

This year, it is more of a flower spiral with a few herbs sprinkled in and chocolate mint trying to take over.

I’m still not sure where the mint came from. I never would have planted mint in the spiral on purpose as it tends to take over.

I keep pulling it out and transplanting it to the swales. It can take over there with my blessing.

The landscape, so wild
Grasses dancing in the breeze
A tangled jungle

Processing

It only took a few days to get ready to process the two roosters we butchered last week. By day three, I was ready.

They had soaked in a saltwater brine for the full three days. Some say to soak them longer, some say just a day. I picked three days only because we went on vacation.

For the dinner, I threw a bird in the slow cooker with apples, onions, carrots, celery, fresh garlic from the garden and a random selection of fresh herbs.

I cooked it on low for 24 hours and then switched to “keep warm” for the afternoon. The aroma that filled the house was mouthwatering.

For the bone broth, I filled a big stockpot with water and dumped a freezer bag full of onion tops, celery and carrot scraps I’d been saving for just such an occasion. I also threw in two whole bulbs of fresh garlic.

I simmered it for a full day. When I went to strain the broth, the chicken fell right off the bone. The boys and I sampled it. It does not taste like store-bought chicken and it is much darker with very, very little fat.

I added the shredded chicken to the crock pot and the veggies went to the chickens. They were happy little hens.

I cooked rice for dinner and spooned the tender chicken and veggies over it.

It was delicious. The apples added a nice sweet flavor and the carrots were perfect. The meat was not dry like it was the last time I tried cooking a fresh bird and the boys each had two helpings.

From two big roosters, we got 6 quarts of bone broth and 3 days worth of meals. I’ll freeze the little that is left over and make enchiladas next week. YUM!