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19 week old chickens, barred rocks, ameraucanas, silver laced wyandottes

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.

late blightIn 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.

I plant radishes promiscuously in my garden.  I plant them with the lettuce because that puts my salad all in the same place.  I plant them with chervil because someone said they’re good companion plants.  I plant them around the squash to keep the beetles off (supposedly the bugs don’t like the smell). I plant some to grow big and set seed. In other words, when in doubt, radish.

The problem is, I sometimes lose track of my radishes.  I have 16 beds, and it’s easy to see what’s growing in them in April–nothing.  In July, it’s a different story.   It’s a circus in there.   And it’s no use looking in my garden database worksheet (yes, yes, I’m a nerd) because I don’t take my computer out to the garden.

These are some radishes I forgot about and found in a neat row in bed 10–bigger than golf balls, some of them.  They’re French Breakfast radishes and they were probably just perfect 7 days ago.  I cut them open after taking the picture and, surprisingly, about half of them are still good–not woody or spongy through the center as you might expect of an old radish.

It must have been seven or eight years ago that we planted the blueberry bushes, back when the garden was still just a passel of herbs and some flagstones. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but we dug generous holes and fed the blueberries compost and, sometimes, coffee grounds.

Over the years, the blueberries would come and go–a peck, a pint, a quart. We lost many to birds and bears until we learned to cover them with netting. Meanwhile the garden grew, and the fence hopped over the blueberries, enclosing them.

The kids grew too, and played under the netting when the blueberries ripened, eating till they could eat no more. Violets seemed to thrive under the blueberries, and they kept the grass down, so every time I found some in the garden, I moved them beneath the bushes.

Yesterday, having returned from a few days away, I went out, banging the empty strainer against my knee, to see what there was. Half an hour, I was still there, picking with both hands.

My son and I gorged on blueberries, but we could not eat them all. Fortunately, it happens that my next assignment is…a baking book. I think I know where those blueberries will end up.

Now cooking

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