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Today the girls reached a landmark – every one of them laid an egg in the same day! For a few weeks we would once in a while reach 7 out of 8, though 4 or 5 a day is more usual. Either somebody hadn’t started laying yet, or somebody was having a day off, or somebody laid a rogue egg out in the yard and we never found it.
Stormy and Stripèd, the Silver Laced Wyandottes, are probably our most reliable layers – 3 days out of 4. Feather and Spalty, the Easter Eggers, lay the most beautiful ones (greenish for Feather, bluer for Spalty).
Of the 4 Barred Rocks, Two Patch and Lumpy have emerged as champions, hustling up to the nests to lay perfectly formed, large eggs right after their breakfast. One Patch, the earliest layer of the flock, lays a small, tapered egg that’s easy to identify, every other day or so.
The really dirty one is a “floor egg,” laid on the ground in the coop (I had to hunch over and go inside to get it). It’s probably Jumpy’s –she’s a late bloomer and an erratic layer, and she might not have the hang of laying in the nest box yet.
[In case you're wondering how I know whose is whose? I haven't watched them lay every egg, honest! though I've certainly wasted a lot of time out there. It's mostly a matter of shape, and to a lesser degree a matter of size and color.]
For those of us lucky enough to have a working stove, some chicken broth on hand, and a couple of eggs, these soups may provide a little comfort without much fuss after storm-drenched days of coping.
I didn’t catch them at it, but this morning there were two beautiful palest blue eggs in the coop. They could only have been laid by Feather and Spalty, even though only Feather has shown all the signs of maturity.
One of the girls was apparently taken by surprise and didn’t quite make it to the nest box. Nevertheless, both eggs were delivered safely, and without apparent drama.
One Patch, on the other hand, continues to raise high the roof beam with cries of indignation for an hour every day before she lays.
Incidentally, the eggs are crazy delicious.
*since originally posting this, I’ve made a terminology change. I’d thought my girls were “Araucanas” but they’re almost certainly not. They could be “Ameraucanas”–a white and “blue wheaten” perhaps. Or they could even be “Easter Eggers,” Araucanish mutts. Regardless, the eggs are beautiful, and so are the birds.
I was there when it happened!
I went out the door to check on the girls, and I thought I heard an egg song so I dashed inside for my camera before walking over to the garden. I looked in the nest box. No egg. Big circular hole in the straw, though, with the linoleum showing through. I went and got some straw to add to the nesting box, but when I got back One Patch was already there–fussing and making swirlies in the straw and playing with the wooden dummy egg. No more complaining, just quiet clucking.
Then she settled in and just sat. I took a picture or two. Lumpy and Two Patch came up to visit and watch her. After about 10 minutes of me watching them watching her, I was ready to head inside and leave One Patch alone for a while.
I took a look at the other birds, who were hanging out in the downstairs of the ark. I inspected the 4th Barred Rock for distinguishing marks–they’re quite hard to tell apart. Just as I’d decided it was Jumpy, two more Barred Rocks came down the ramp. And then another. Drat! I thought, now I have to figure out who you-all are too. And then Wait! that’s 4 Barred Rocks! Who’s minding the nest?
I went round to the egg door, opened it, and there it was, a beautiful light brown egg exactly the size of the little wooden dummy egg sitting next to it, but speckly and yes! still warm!
The flock is exactly 21 weeks old today.
Well, the girls are 21 weeks old tomorrow, and we’re all waiting anxiously for the first egg. There’s been pacing, and growling, and constant checking out of the nest box. And that’s just me.
One Patch (Barred Rock) has been ahead of the game all along. Her comb and wattles were the first to redden, and a couple of weeks ago she started to do the “egg squat,” flattening herself to the ground and spreading her wings. Since then, Feather (Ameraucana), Stripèd (Silver Laced Wyandotte), and Jumpy (Barred Rock) have all started doing it too. The others still run off, skittishly, when you try to pet them.
We’ve moved the portable ark to garden bed #2 and fenced it in with bed #4, so the girls have a place to play, forage, hunt for bugs, and generally be chickens while cleaning up the debris from my tomatoes, pole beans,and cucumbers. After they’re done here, we’ll move them down to beds #4 & #6, #6 & #8, and so on till winter, when they move into Chickhenge, the fortress-like permanent winter coop.
Today, One Patch has been more edgy than ever, pacing the edge of the fence and popping into the ark several times an hour to look at the next boxes. She’s being very vocal, too–a sort of raspy, downward, protracted, complainy kind of growl, like a rusty barn door being opened and closed repeatedly by a restless toddler. It’s about equally cute and annoying.
I understand all of this is pretty typical behavior for a pullet about to lay. (Some people call it “chicken PMS”.) And I know that first egg could be today, tomorrow, next week, or November. But it’s sure hard to wait…which is probably why I’m sitting here balanced on the corner of the asparagus bed with my laptop on my knees.
It’s been silent and cool in the household these first few weeks since the kids have returned to school. The only sound has been the subdued but furious clacking of the keyboard as I catch up on stories I scheduled for the fall re-entry, plus maybe the occasional gasp of bemusement when I’m checking in with the ongoing election coverage.
In the garden, late blight has romped through Bed Number Two, sparing only a few last Sungold cherry tomatoes. Squash vine borers have claimed the zucchini and pumpkins. The garlic and fingerlings are out of the ground, replaced by a buckwheat cover crop. But the tender, slender Nickel haricots are still bearing pods, and great fans of chard and kale still wave over Bed Five. Along with the inevitable failures, there is always at least one bewildering success, and this year I have oceans of flat-leaf parsley I have no idea what to do with.
The once-miniature chicks are now 19 week old, “point of lay” pullets. I know not to expect eggs until November, but I can’t help checking the nests every day anyway. One Patch has the brilliant red comb and wattles of a fully developed young hen, and is even doing the “egg squat”–squatting submissively when you put out your hand to pet her, an indication of maturity. And I heard someone singing the “egg song” (the distinctive cackling of a hen who’s just laid an egg) the other day, although no egg was to be found. I wonder if the singer imagined she had laid the wooden “teaching” egg I put in the nests to show the girls where to set…!
We almost lost Spalty, our chestnut and russet-colored Ameraucana, a couple of weeks ago, when she swallowed some mystery object she shouldn’t have. She went from hiccuping to choking in the space of a few minutes, and lay down, gasping for air, with what seemed like every intention of expiring. We frantically called our neighbor Macaylla, the chicken guru, who urged us not to lose hope. We isolated Spalty in the movable chicken ark overnight, fearing the worst. But in the morning she was up and about, pecking and fluttering, and her labored breathing was gone by the following evening.
Meanwhile, Husby has taken on the excavation of our decrepit entryway and demolition of our sagging, propped-up porch roof in preparation for a new porch (a 12-year-old dream at last coming true). The 6th grader is entering fencing tournaments. The 1st grader has homework for the first time.
I often feel in the quiet of September, dreaming up a new workload, sipping my coffee, watching the kids walk down the street to school a few inches taller than the previous spring, that I too am being re-invented. In the coming year I don’t know what stories I’ll tell, what thresholds I’ll cross, or how I’ll turn out in the end–but even the freedom not to know seems unaccountably precious and rare.
It’s the first true week of summer, and the garden is brimming with good things. The shell peas are done already, but the sugar snaps have climbed 8 feet to the top of the trellis and the fat pods are in full spate.
The prickly yellow flowers of the cucumbers are budding, and the vines began to run overnight. I can never quite believe those tiny flowers will set actual, life-sized cucumbers. Why is it that a cucumber’s flowers are so minute, while a zucchini’s are as big as a hibiscus–when the fruits turn out roughly the same size?
The complex, beady green clusters that will burst into white blossom are emerging at the junctions on the Nickel filet beans. Carrots are ferning, lettuce is bolting. And after years of wishing, I have eaten my first harvest of fava beans, fat and emerald green and worth all the trouble it takes to shell, skin, and blanch them.
The borage volunteered this year, flecking the beds with stars of brilliant blue.
Meanwhile, I am scratching my head again over a mystery plant. I started my usual two types of tomato seeds in April: Sungold, the popular golden cherry bursting with sugars; and Rose de Berne, a well-formed small pinkish-red tomato with deep, carrying flavor. I planted the Sungolds in one row and the Rose de Bernes with some Purple Cherokees from a friend in the other. But now that they are setting fruit, I see that many of the Sungolds are not Sungolds. Instead of setting small, alternate branches of many tiny fruits, they’re setting lusty, assymetrical branches of large and irregular, faintly striped fruit. I’m sure they’ll be delicious. Still, I’m baffled.
Meanwhile, the chicks are 7 weeks old and pullet-shaped. The Barred Rocks have lost many of the markings I used to tell them apart, and they look like almost-identical quadruplets. But if I look very closely, I can see that Two Patches’ almost-gone pale markings give her eye an almond shape, and she still likes to forage away from the others. One Patch’s patch is gone, but her beak has a dark band. Jumpy’s lost her J, but her beak has a light, spotty, disorganized pattern. Lumpy still has a lumpy pink beak, complains all the time, and is the last to arrive. They’re so busy pecking and scratching in their movable run, though, that I can rarely get a still glimpse of their faces.
The Wyandottes are quick on their feet, fearless (for chickens, anyway), and enterprising. Stormy is the most endearing bird in the flock–she comes running when I start pulling weeds and never leaves my side while I work. Here Stripèd does what chickens do best: hunting for bugs, and incidentally keeping sections of my garden weed-free.
It’s days like these I remember why we moved to this crazy old farmhouse, this scruffy and uncivilized property, this place of frostbound winters. It’s not always an easy row to hoe, but it sure is a rich one.
Who can not love a vegetable garden in June? A hundred shades of living green begging you to touch, pick, taste. Blue and celadon shadows of green under the leaves, lime and chartreuse on the sun-facing fruit.
I was making up my weekly grocery list yesterday when I suddenly realized: it’s the first week this year I don’t have to buy any produce! The garden is its own produce aisle, no refrigeration necessary. After I finish out my formal recipe-testing for the current cookbook, it’s time to ponder the delicious dilemma: what can I make with spinach, peas, scapes, baby fava beans?
I’m not 100% sure yet, but maybe I’ll make some paneer for saag paneer. The scapes will go into scape pesto. The favas will be tenderly turned with mint and maybe some butter. And the peas! Well, the peas will likely never make it to the table. They may not make it past Bed 16. They’re simply too adorable, too perfect, too delectable just as they are.
Technically, I think they’re “pullets” now that their lovely feathers have grown in. Last night Husby made good on his promise and finished the chicken ark just in time for the girls’ 4-week birthday. He and our friend Mark hefted the monstrous thing–4′ x 8′ and full of plywood–into the garden, where it is now parked.
Initially, there was clucking and panicking. But by this morning, everybody was not only still alive but acting all casual, like, “OK, now what?”
I let two chicks out at a time to free-forage while I worked in the garden, figuring that with just two (just like kids!) I could keep an eye on them before they did any damage to the tender greens. Mostly, they were just interested in digging around in the moist, weedy edges where the beds meet the ground, and that was fine by me.
Meanwhile I eradicated most of the tall grass inside the garden. While not exactly a vision of order and rest, it’s still a very pleasant place to be: 17 big beds of vegetable goodness, plus some random stuff like the pea trellis, the strawberry refugium, and the blueberry bushes.