Saturday, March 29, 2014

tomatoes more chicken stories

Long into the night, Ed searches the Internet for fencing solutions for our foster chicks. Movable. Any enclosure has to be movable. But the chickens need space! Should we put in posts? Not in our clay soil! By August, that dirt is hard as cement! We watch endless youtube videos. We read pages and pages of comments on what does or does not work (and when I am dozing off already, Ed reads some more). Finally, we decide to invest in a very large dog pen -- on sale on Craigslist. It's made of chain-link panels (movable!) and it's big enough (we think!) to keep our hens happy.

But the person selling it is far south of us. Nearly an hour's drive. No matter: Saturday dawns to be a beautiful day! An outing would be just fine.




Early, just after the sun rise, we let the guys out of the coop -- and they are in a hurry to be out! -- and we are reminded how adorable they can be. Morning is their good time. And it's our good time too. They're refreshed, we're refreshed.  They're happy to be foraging and curious about our movements around the courtyard.

I hesitate about leaving them out while we eat breakfast, but Ed convinces me we can eat and watch from the kitchen window. We do that.


And except for one panicked moment (where are they?? I don't see them!), we manage a meal inside without a major chicken mishap.

Outside again, we tend to small farmette chores.  And again, it is such a good stretch of time! The chickens scratch, peck, move around freely and when they tire, they rest under the rose bushes. But mostly they don't tire. They follow us like bandits, watching, as if to learn our steps, as if we could open doors for them, as if we were the holders of keys to life's more interesting rewards.

All the while, Oreo never lets down his guard. Well, except when Ed goes off to get some compost soil. Oreo wants to follow for some private guy time.


Because it is a beautiful, sunny day (42F is indeed heavenly when the sun is out), we decide to launch our great tomato seed planting project. I'm noting it down this year in my planting files: March 28, seeds go into soil cups.

Well now, we have company. Compost soil? Interesting! Anything there for us?



At first we're all smiles and playful pats on their curious heads. After a while, we're wishing the kids would go out and play away from the picnic table and leave us to our work. Lexie, the petite hen, is predictably, the biggest troublemaker. When she wants your attention, she will peck at you until you deliver. You can't push her away. She pecks harder then. You fare better if you swoop her up, pat her head for a minute or two and release her in another spot in the garden. Your hope is that she'll be distracted. Sometimes she is, other times, she is right back at your side, hammering for whatever it is her sweet little chicken head imagines is an appropriate reward for a chicken. The bigger girls don't have any patience for Lexie's intrusiveness. We're more sympathetic, all the while thinking -- by this afternoon, we can put them inside a big pen!

Oreo crows. All will be right again.

But I have to admit, tomato seed planting is a bit crazy this year. If I thought I would be more organized with it, I was wrong. The chickens, the arrival of Isis, protecting him from them and them from him (so far, no one has declared war -- they all just stare at each other) -- all this is hard when you're counting seeds and labeling each planted cup.


I tell Ed -- it could well be that packet X went into cup labeled as Y.
He laughs. What does it matter? Orderly planting has never been a top priority for him.

But, we make progress. 60 cups planted, 30 to go.

And now it is time to drive the pickup truck south for our chain link panels. And it's as if all the quirky pieces of our foster chicken experiment at last begin to fall into place. The panels are enormous, but easy to lift. True, the connector pieces are missing, an we're sent to a different household at the other end of the earth, but in the end we have everything we need to build a contained, free range space for our brood.

You may wonder -- is it free range when there is a fence around them? What is free range anyway? Possibly you'd be surprised to know that there is no regulatory explanation to help you out: no consistency, no agreement, no definition at all. If a farmer wants to stamp "free range" on her carton of eggs, she may do so, even if the birds spend only five crowded minutes in some outdoor space -- dirt, grass, concrete, it hardly matters. It's different in Europe where the rules are precise: give each bird at least 4 square meters of space at all times or wipe that free range label off your egg. Oh, that Europe! Always regulating everyone to death! Can't just let the marketplace function of its own accord like we do!

We're home now. It's late -- the afternoon shadows are long and it's harder to find a warm sunny spot in the farmette courtyard. We let the chickens out (and oh, are they anxious to get out of that coop!). They keep an eye on us, but they're happy, too, to fan out into the warmer grasses beyond the courtyard.


I finish planting the tomatoes (96 containers, 1 - 2 seeds each!), Ed begin work on building a base for the coop and then, finally we get to setting up the chain link panels. We position the coop inside the cordoned space. It's not the most beautiful sight in the world, but it makes us so very happy to be done with it. (We have a better location for it for later in the season. For now, we want them close to the farmhouse.)


We shake our heads with amazement: how lucky to have found this set up on Craigslist at one tenth the regular cost of fencing! How delightful it will be to get up in the morning and let them out and then roll back for a few more minutes of sleep if that's our inclination! We put the pen under trees -- safe from most hawks, safe from daytime predators (we hope).

The sun has nearly disappeared by the time we put the last wrench and screwdriver away. The chickens squawk about going back into the coop (they must be locked in for the night to be safe from racoons) in much the same way that kids squawk when they don't truly understand what's good for them. I give Lexie a nice cradled hug after one of the brood pecks her hard on her little head. (That girl is a pest, but she surely bears a disproportionate share of grief at the hands of her buddies.) I close the coop, then latch the gate.

We have Chinese take-out for supper. Please, nothing chicken related. And tomorrow? Tomorrow I'm hoping to return to more sane routines.