Category Archives: death

On bloody expectations



Bye-bye birdie

Perhaps I am in the entirely wrong frame of mind to write this, but getting it on paper (figuratively speaking) is helpful to me. I just buried Bonnie, one of my favorite chickens. She’s on the banner above. She laid our first egg. And this morning, she died in my arms. She was killed by a neighbor’s dog on the back deck of our house.

That it happened on the first day of spring, and likewise the fifth anniversary of the beginning of what we are calling The Iraq War is a bit ominous. Today is also Holy Thursday: a high holiday of hand-wringing in the Catholic and other Christian churches. Spring is supposed to be such a season of hope, of new beginnings. I hope that hope finds me somewhere, sometime, soon.

I ask myself: am I going around carrying a bagful of expectations? A file folder of Entitlements? I wonder.

Yes, I suppose it was not unreasonable of me to expect that a dog would come into my yard and find the chickens interesting: chickens ARE everyone’s favorite dish, after all. But why not take an obnoxious guinea, or one of our not-so-friendly chickens? I likewise expect (stupid of me, but there it is) my marriage to be a strong one, that my child grows up healthy and hearty and curious and happy. I expect my own health (mental and physical) to be good. I have a hope (can’t consider it an expectation) that we can continue to earn enough money to cover our basic needs.

I do expect my government to at least TRY to get out of this wasteful war. As an outlier, I expect it to admit that it was a mistake of our own making, so, hey, sorry to fuck up your country, why not just keep your oil profits from the oil you sell to us? We’ll gladly buy your oil, you know, as we’re too bullheaded to consider an alternative.

So this morning finds me considering the trappings of war in terms of electrified fences and other means to contain and secure the landholdings around here. I do not like this military mindset. Should the worst fears of many really come true, and Peak Oil and other disasters (all man-made of course) flesh themselves out into our worst nightmare, I suppose this is a mindset I need to embrace and keep. It wasn’t, believe me, why I moved to a farm.

I wish I had a job, though, where my main responsibility was to worry. Wow, would I be raking in the big bucks!

On greenhouse pests


A little picture of a little death

The only pest I had in the greenhouse, until this week, was my four-year-old. She loves to come in and sample the broccoli and bibb lettuces. I raised the latch and stopped her from her raids.

I noticed that a whole row of Italian dandelion was mowed to the ground, and a little nest made, in one bed on Wednesday. Aack! A vole! I had done my level best to prevent their entry, these fat, short-tailed mouse relatives. So, out came the traps, baited with exotic things like strawberry jam, bread, and chunks of peach.

I lost another 5 rows of seedlings (sniff!) but today I also lost one vole.

Gardening and the theory of Always

Maybe next year

If all these years of dirt-digging have taught me anything, the one thing I can definitely say is the word “Always” has no place in the garden.

I think there is something very gratifying in this statement, even though it’s a statement of insecurity. If there were an always, or a never, we would not try to plant things outside of our hardiness zone, or we would give up after one failed crop.

But it is a truism that pisses me off sometimes. I went into the main outdoor garden on Saturday, scissors and colander in hand, to retrieve some lacinato kale and parsley. I had a big pot of my navy beans boiling on the stove inside and needed the greenery to add to make soup. And lo, in the snow-covered garden, I was met with…green mush. What happened? This has never happened before, I have ALWAYS been able to harvest kale and parsley all year!

There is that word: always. It is humbling in its absence.

It also means that three seasons in one garden does not a pattern make, four is better and 15 better than that: I will know, in 2019, if I can expect kale and parsley to be reliably hardy. It means I have a lot of growing to do, too.

Back to my old friend, Compost

No photo today. My camera is in London.

If I were to separate my time in the garden into some kind of pie chart, a very large slice would be “Compost Making.” I’ve documented here, often, about my love of the stuff. But maybe the size of this pie slice is merely creative accounting on my part: not of the Enron sort or backdating stocks or whatever, but more that everything in the garden becomes compost, eventually.

My search for some nearly unattainable level of Farm Tidiness nudges me to gather any and all compostable material around here: Kitchen scraps. Fallen apples. Grass clippings. Branches. Leaves. Chicken poop. Weeds. Dead plants. Pet hair, broom sweepings. Cardboard boxes, junk mail, paper bags. All of it goes in.

I was mucking out the chicken coop Sunday, and for once I was thankful that my higher sense of order had actually NOT come to fruition. You see, I really, really wanted a concrete slab in the bottom of the coop. I had planned to put deep, deep bedding atop it to counteract the cold sink effect of all that concrete on those cold bird legs in the winter, but…well, we never got around to putting in the slab. And I am grateful!!! I muck the thing out with great regularity (about 6x a year) and when I get down to the bottom, to the dirt, you would just be amazed. The color. It is crumbly, BLACK DIRT. All that poop atop all that straw atop all those wood shavings equals microbe and worm heaven. So I scrape that stuff right up, put it in my faithful garden trugs, and layer it oh so carefully in the compost piles.

What’s with the compost love? Well, I have clay soil. It could use some lightening up, so I try my darndest to do so with all the vegetable matter I pile atop the beds. It’s helping. But even in the perfect soil of my Minneapolis garden (and it was, I swear), even the tiniest bit of compost goes a long way to ensuring happy plants.

So go out there and build a pile! Autumn is the perfect time, especially with all those leaves falling out there. And it will answer your need for tidiness.

More bugs

September is a beautiful month around here, but it is also Fruit Fly Month. Even if we don’t have any fruit/veggies lying around, they manage to appear. So, this is how we solve that problem. Take a piece of paper, 8.5″ x 11″, the thicker the better. Make a cone with a small hole at the bottom. Tape together, then place over a jar in which you have placed a juicy piece of fruit. Voila.

The disgusting thing is this is one day’s worth of bugs. I kill them by filling the jar with water (cone still intact) and adding a few drops of bleach.

Oh, well….

Alot at stake

The one thing I didn’t mention that happened Sunday evening, as I was washing up after my Grape-A-Thon, is that our well went out.

I can think of better ways to spend $5,000., can’t you?

But honestly, the well was the ONE thing we hadn’t replaced here on the homestead.

Bee worried

Bee-less borage: I spooked the one bee I saw this morning. Granted, it was early and the dew was up, but normally, it’s not one bee I annoy with the camera: it’s dozens.

This was to be the year that we got honeybees for our farm. I’ve done a lot of research, and let me tell you: hives are very complex things. Maybe it’s just the very social nature of the insect, but I find the ins and outs of beekeeping rather complicated. (Complicated, but not too much: I think my biggest downfall as a human is this oft-uttered statement: “Well, how hard can THAT be?”) Human society confuses me at times, too: I will never understand war, for example.

Of course, Colony Collapse Disorder is out there. Out there, and out HERE too. My bee guy (who, coincidentally, is my goat guy) has 20+ hives. ALL ARE DEAD. He doesn’t move his hives; he doesn’t live in a biological wasteland; he doesn’t do anything that would make his bees susceptible. There are no known beekeepers near him. Yet, pfft, all dead. He is very worried.

I plant many inedible flowering things within the veg garden to attract honeybees, and the more ubiquitous bumblebees (those little aerodynamic marvels: how DO they fly, they’re so big) and mason bees and the like. I still do see some honeybees on the parsnip umbrels and beautiful blue borage, and I see some worrying over the yard’s clover, but there are not nearly the numbers I have seen in the past. The bee balm, too: it’s empty, save the hummingbirds.

I am not alone in worrying, it seems. I will keep planting pollinator-friendly things, and keep my fingers crossed. My bee and goat guy got a few nucs and hopes to be able to give me one in a year. So, maybe next year? Maybe?

This I believe

You’re looking at billions of my friends

NPR listeners know this title is a revived Eisenhower-era personal essay program in which average Joes and Janes, and then some famous ones, voice their personal credos and tenets. With listening to enough of them, you start wondering what your own walking papers might be, especially since so many of them veer heavily into faith, or a leap thereof, into the unknowable. So I have done some thinking.

I believe in the power of microbes.

My smaller forays into food preservation have given me a healthy (and maybe unwarranted) fear of BAD microbes, so if I can something, I am most certainly doing it in a way least hospitable to something that can sicken us. With thought, though, I realize that most microbes are good, or at least benign. And, if you pair with them correctly, wonderful things can happen.

I am talking about sourdough bread, of course. But I am also talking about my other small steps into yogurt-, kefir- and cheesemaking, and those countless reliable others out there who brew beer, make wine, and make other wonderful comestibles like tempeh, kimchi, mead; soy sauce, miso, sauerkraut; bacon, ham, sausage, jerky. Salt cod, smoked salmon. All these wonderful things take advantage of something unseen. And if that isn’t faith, then I don’t know what is.

And then there’s the garden. I am in love with my compost piles, as has been well documented here. By pairing with compost, I give my plants a little microbial home cooking, in the hope that (most of them) will end up helping MY home cooking. Compost, of course, is the ultimate belief in the power of putrefaction; it’s little deaths, and their products, that make it all happen.

Most of what our food preservation is is a suspension of putrefaction: a short vacation before the ultimate death of what we eat. It’s a way to extend the harvest. And in most instances, it’s a delicious detour.

Small signs

Chervil perking back up

We haven’t been able to go over to the burned-out farmhouse yet; our kid has been sick so we felt it wouldn’t be fun for her, even if she were in the backpack. I will be very curious to see what remains, as that fire was huge and took about 5 hours to put out. The largest trees in the area had shaded that house. It would be another kind of loss if those white pines and sycamore and oaks died, too.

But back to life, and the living. I am beginning to notice that some things are beginning to grow. Many of the hundreds of bulbs I had planted had spookily started poking up in December, barely a month after they’d been in the ground. They seemed to reach some kind of plant limbo until this week. The crocus are blooming, but I won’t bore you with pics of them. We’re easing into spring, day by day.

Getting on like a house afire

As seen from our front lawn
Saturday night as we were driving up the country road to our house I saw what I thought was steam coming off the nuclear power plant’s processors (it’s another 7-8 miles up the lake from us) and I thought: how would we know if something went wrong at that plant? Such is my life: the battery in the car had been recharged and the electronic code to restart the radio was in the glovebox, which was locked and jammed shut. A detail.

Driving closer I realized it was a fire. It was the fire of an abandoned farmhouse: a HUGE abandoned farmhouse of a defunct asparagus farm. We have (of course) explored the house in detail. We found mail, postmarked 1979, so it’s been vacant since then. There was still furniture in the house; many windows were missing, and raccoons were the only residents that we knew. I’ve been the diligent gardener and retrieved iris, sedum and columbine that had naturalized away from its old gardens. The barn had been burned to the ground a long time ago, but the well house and the outhouse and the tractor shed (complete with tractor) were still there.

When we first looked into the house, I had asked my husband what he thought were unusual about the walls and ceilings. It took him a couple of minutes, but he saw there were no outlets, switches or lights. There was wainscoting over most of the downstairs rooms. It was a 6×6 (six rooms up and down) and there was a larger kitchen attached to the back. The house was probably built around 1890.

I feel very sad about this loss. Yes, I would feel a lot sadder if the house had been inhabited. But I liked looking at its stately self up on its hill. I liked exploring its 100 acres, retrieving its asparagus, exploring its old rooms. Arson (for that is only what it could have been) is such a stupid crime.

I woke up our daughter to see it. “Honey, I hope you never see another one in your lifetime.”

Six weird things

Bloody Beatrice last night with a mouse tidbit (a gift from us after the cats were done with it)**

I got tagged by Monica a couple of days ago with a meme about “Six Weird Things About You.” Hmm. The rules indicate I should tag six other poor souls, but I think I will spare the lot of you. I had to think a bit, mainly because I am probably SO weird that I needed some help deciding on 6 things. So I asked my husband.

Here are the six things:

1. My husband. Seriously.

2. Even though I am a vegetarian of long standing, I can kill anything, usually without much hesitation. I figure I am channeling some farmer ancestors.

3. I have done much genealogical research, and I can’t find any farmer ancestors, or at least none for the past 5 generations.

4. I eat popcorn with a fork (but I lower my standards when at the movie theater).

5. I am really weird about old food. Three days, and it goes to the chickens.

6. Since 7th grade, I had painted nails. Long ones. Then I had the kid, and no more polish. Now I bite my nails. (What is up with THAT?)

Happy new year to you all!

**the red in the photo above? Not blood, just the glow of the brooder light we have in their coop. When they huddle under it, I am reminded of the roast station at an awful buffet-style dining establishment. Poor birds.

And then there were three…

So we went to Chicago yesterday for an educational junket (King Tut, aquarium) but the chickens weren’t alone: the hawk came back and nabbed Phyllis.

I am so not good at this farmer thing. I am far too attached. I either need 100 chickens, or I need to really step way the hell back, emotionally. Fortunately, I don’t have to work much today and don’t have to work on Friday, so I am going to construct them a pen. They’ll be so sad, but it beats the alternative, certainly.

Signs like these

Pond, asleep

Last night we had a howler of a storm. It swept away the last of the warm weather, certainly; my hand is still trying to thaw after taking some pictures. The resurgence of 60-degree days brought the frogs back out on the pond. We could also hear treefrogs again. Such hopeful things! So I trotted out to the pond to see if I could see anyone scurrying/hopping away, and no, it was quiet but for the fish.

I also got my first seed catalog yesterday. That certainly seems a tad early, but perhaps it’s decent marketing as the last season is still fresh in our minds. This catalog is geared toward “roadside, U-pick and bedding” folks (Twilley). It’s fairly pedestrian in terms of choices, in other words. I mean, burpless cucumbers? Wha? So even if it isn’t something I would order from, it is fun to start thinking…

Oh, the horror!

On the hunt
Okay, a bit too late for Halloween, but YUCK I was reminded again yesterday how Chickens Are Omnivores. Yep. Just like people! They’ll eat anything they can get their beaks on.

Our girls are free-range, and because I usually have something better to do than chase them around all day, I am not particularly on top of their habits, gustatory or otherwise. But yesterday I was doing Round Two of bulb planting, so I was nose-to-beak with the girls for a good part of the day. Since they were small, they have realized that if I have a digging tool and my kneepad, it is definitely chow time. All four take turns kind of “helping” me liberate the worms when I dig up the earth. Okay, no big deal. There’re plenty of worms and other earth critters around.

This summer, however, I had noticed the chickens had a particular affinity for the fishpond. Was it the water? The deep cover? No, it was the FROGS. Once one particular amphibian was stupid enough to just sit there while they came by, it was lunch. After that, it was carte blanche, until those frogs got wise and would dive in at a sparrow flying overhead.

Okay. Back to yesterday. I was planting what I thought was the last of the crocus (there seemed to always be another bag) in the herb garden by the kitchen door, and I heard a rather pathetic squeaking. Ah, what do they have NOW? I looked over and Beatrice (Bloody Beatrice) had a vole. A VOLE! I mean, those things are BIG! Bigger than mice, smaller than chipmunks, but BIG.

So if you ever see eggs at the grocery store that say “vegetarian-fed hens,” realize that those are some sad chickens that, left to their own devices, would happily find and devour anything smaller than they are. Vegetarian? There’s no choice there: they’re spending their lives in cages indoors.

Our newest farm resident

This is our new kitten. She doesn’t have a name yet. (That’s Penny behind her.)

It is quite strange, the way some things coincide. Tom only got 3 eggs yesterday from the coop, and when he went to put the chickens to bed, only four were there. I searched the grounds and found what was left of Margie this morning. Something attacked them in the wooded section of our property. All the chickens are now huddling on the back porch, too scared to move.

I realize that if our chickens are free-range, we are bound to encounter a loss somewhere down the line; the odds in life are not stacked in the chickens’ favor. But I am so sad nonetheless. I really liked Margie; she was the friendliest of the bunch. Ah well. At least our daughter has a new pet to distract her.

Little deaths part 2

(No photo today; you’ll have to use your imaginations…)

Well, last Friday I gathered up the eggs in the incubator in the school’s lobby. The kids had a day off, and it was Day 28 of the usual 21 days it takes to hatch, so…it was time. Not wanting to just leave them in a bag at the school over the weekend, I took them with me. On the way out the door, I was stopped by the Upper El teacher (upper elementary = 9-12 year olds) who asked for a few of the eggs for a science experiment with them. I gladly gave her 4 eggs.

I went to work at the office, and then took the eggs home, and took the bag out to the compost heaps. I dropped them on to the top of the heap knowing I would bury them the next day on my day off. And sure enough, the next day I was out there with my shovel, and I broke up the eggs. Lo and behold, 4 of the 14 had…well, let’s just say they WERE fertile, after all.

And this was borne out (bad pun I know) by the kids’ experiments. I think their “work” involved lights and floating in water and I am sure something else very Montessori and hands-on. We are thinking that there must have been inconsistencies in the heating mechanism of the incubator, and that the eggs got chilled by about Day 10.

And the mice? There’s a tally on the chalkboard in the kitchen: it stands at a dozen.

Little deaths

Today, I cleaned out the eggs at school. There’s no school today due to teacher conferences, so it was a good day for it, i.e., I didn’t have much explaining to do.

Trapper Tom has been on a rampage. The mouse body count has been 9 in 3 days. Seems that when you get yardbirds, you also get yard vermin. Plus, it is fall, and those little creatures are looking for a warm well-stocked place to shack up.

Don’t count your chickens…

…before they’re hatched. Especially if they don’t hatch.

I am on the trail now for either chicks or young chickens. Seems our eggs didn’t hatch at school. I am so very sad.

(The photo, incidentally, is a baby Maude with our own baby this last April).

Doomsday is nigh

I cannot ABIDE these things. Yep. Squash bug babies. Squash bug teenagers, adults and geriatrics: I foresee a pyre, a big ‘un, upon which they shall all commit generational suttee TOMORROW.

Too bad, really. I have tried all known methods to otherwise coexist, then kill, these ugly things. But their legions are too many, and though the squash isn’t suffering, I certainly am. YUCK. I even had a gorgeous fried blossom with dinner last night, and that still did not sway me. No midnight appeals, please; tomorrow, the yellow crookneck, the zucchini, and the bush acorn plants will be GONE.

Death, and dinner

Red Russian kale

Things had dried out so considerably that I needed to go out to the veg garden and give it a good soak this morning. It took almost an hour! It is kind of meditative, though, standing with the hose and looking at the plants, coffee cup in the other hand.

My last pro-brassica post belies the fact that I will pull out any plant that is in my way. It has sufficiently cooled down at night that I can begin succession planting all the salad stuff again. I decided these kale plants had to go. So out they came, destined to be part of a potato-kale supper tonight.

Last Thursday evening, I took the Mother of All Colanders out with me to ostensibly harvest ALL the potatoes. I only got to the first 3 rows and the colander was full. So those Yukon Golds are in the shed, atop the old chicken coop, drying out on a burlap sack. We have nibbled at a few since then; quite yummy. There is no comparison to the things you purchase at the supermarket, even though these potatoes CAME from sprouted organic potatoes that we got at…the supermarket. Eat Local, baybee: there’s something about one’s own terra firma, and the short commute therefrom, but boy, is it nirvana on a plate. Bon appetit.


I spent the three hour drive back from Ann Arbor this morning thinking about the garden. I couldn’t wait to get into my grubby clothes and go pull some weeds.

The tomatoes are numerous and marvellously…green. Every single plant is reaching the top of their poles, so that means they are all pushing 6′ tall. I guess I will just have to wait, and keep checking.

This is the time of diligence for most gardeners. You certainly can find me anxiously peering under leaves and pulling back branches to judge the growth of my charges. Especially with most of the genus cucurbita, I seem to always miss the first and freshest catches. The cukes, I admit, I am pretty manic about harvesting when they are teeny tiny (under 4″ certainly) because their skins are not sour then. But inevitably I will be making the usual harvest and I will come across a gigantic one. Where did YOU come from, I will wonder; shouldn’t I have noticed you the past 6 times I poked around in here? Like the schoolkid who suddenly hits puberty and comes back from summer a head and a half taller than his peers, this cuke just appears, and nearly always startles me.

I have decided that zucchini and yellow squash shall have a short tenure in the garden, something like 2.5 weeks of production. You can succession plant these to keep them producing well. But certainly, my curtailing their lifespan will keep me from finding a club-sized zucchini in the patch, and it will also hopefully stop the proliferation of those disgusting squash bugs. Yuck. Nothing is more vile than these shield-shaped scurrying vermin making lunch (or–gah–whoopie) on your beautiful squash plants.