Bzzzz January 22nd, 2008

I have no idea why I want to raise chickens so badly.

Ever since I saw chickens the first time at the county fair, I have longed for chickens. They’re beautiful!

Yes, I could conceivably be rewarded with fresh, organic eggs from my very own free-range chickens. And yes, I think they will be fascinating—even amusing—to watch. But the desire goes beyond my culinary and entertainment needs. It’s something deeper, more visceral, than that.

Chicken-Books.jpg

Hey, I think I’m a farm girl! I’m gonna git me some overalls and a straw hat!

People keep looking at me as if I’ve grown antlers when I tell them I’m planning a chicken coop. They are absolutely incredulous when I tell them we’re hiring an architect to design said coop. I can hardly wait to see the architect’s reaction when we tell him we want him to design A CHICKEN COOP!

To be fair, it’s not JUST a chicken coop. It’s a combination garden shed and chicken coop. I want clerestory windows. And a cupola. And window boxes. I want it to merge seamlessly with my Colonial theme garden. And I want it to be beautiful!

I want what Martha has—a Palais de Poulet!

My husband is, amazingly, on board with this little fantasy. He has even found the builder and put his detail-oriented mind to work combing through all the chicken books I’ve collected to put together an initial design for the architect’s input. I have contributed bunches of sketches and photographs of my dream garden shed/chicken coop.

Chicken-Palace-Plans.jpg Harry’s Chicken Palace Plan

The idea is that one side will be the chicken palace while the other side will be my garden shed. They will be connected with a door so that I can store the chicken supplies on the garden side and access them easily.

I can finally move my riding mower into more appropriate quarters, hang my tools on cleverly designed pegs, have a garden potting bench and even some bins for bulk supplies. I am all a-tingle just thinking about it.

Now I’m thinking about chicken names. Of course, I have to wait and see what kind of personalities they have. It would be cruel to mis-name a chicken, right?

How about politician names? Dick Cheney and George Bush? Nah. Not enough women’s names—yet.

So how about Hollywood names? Lucy and Ethel? Marilyn Monroe? Betty Davis? Paris Hilton? Would you name a chicken Paris Hilton?

Help me out here!

Posted In: Chickens

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Bzzzz January 18th, 2008

After weeks to backbreaking labor that included hacking clay boulders the size of small cars into pebbles, hauling and digging in tons of leaf mulch and moistening and kneading bags and bags of peat moss into something workable, The Big Dig had left its marks on me.

In fact, I was now habitually admiring the raised, hard calluses on my hands at odd times. Fortunately, the hard labor also resulted in something that reasonably resembled garden soil.

Garden-Before-Fence-Two.jpg The Early Garden – 2002

Since I had spent what must have amounted to dozens, if not hundreds, of quality hoeing hours ruminating on the new garden, I had a very clear idea of the garden layout—six rectangle beds surrounded by a 3’ border, with mulched pathways.

It was a happy day when I marched outside with a measuring tape, pencil, paper, ball of twine and some stakes. After some basic measuring of dimensions, I realized that our garden wasn’t even close to being the rectangle that I had originally described to our farmer friend with the disking machine. It was more like a trapezoid—a lopsided rectangle.

I realized I had no choice but to even things up with—oh my God—more digging. I did what any sensible woman would do in those circumstances. I cried.

Garden-Before-Fence.jpg The Early Garden – 2002

I measured, stretched and staked twine and then measured again. I could hear my mother’s voice from my sewing lessons days: “Measure twice, cut once.” (Yes, smy mother made me take sewing lessons—and typing classes. A whole year! Man, can I type.)

The final dimensions would be about 30’ x 40’. It took a whole extra day of digging to even out the lines.

When the digging was finally behind me—at least for now—I headed off to the garden center in Sparky, my 1983 Ford F100 pickup truck, and purchased 30 bags of Virginia Fines wood mulch. It was the happiest work yet to spread the mulch on the paths I had outlined in twine. The result actually started to look like a garden—even if we didn’t yet have any plants.

By the time all this work was done, it was well into the first week of May. I had no seeds started and no idea what would go where in my garden. I did have asparagus crowns, which I dutifully planted along one short border. Another trip in Sparky to the garden center loaded me up with tomatoes, cucumbers, Brussels sprouts, squash, peppers melons, Swiss chard and more. Yet another trip to a local herb farm ensured I had a good supply of herbs and the start of the perennial beds.

Planting was a happy event. But it became clear very quickly that something was missing—a fence.

More trips with Sparky to Lowe’s. Unfortunately, my options were not good. I couldn’t afford the fence of my dreams, so purchased materials for a 4’ green wire fence and a makeshift gate from a section of wire. I spent another weekend pounding 6′ stakes into hard ground and wrestling wire into them with stubborn little clips that only Mr. Rubrik could figure out. It wasn’t magazine material, but it was a start.

We had a bountiful harvest all summer long. Since there was no way we could eat all the vegetables, I would load up my car whenever I ran errands and drop bags of produce off to friends, my son’s teachers, the copy shop lady, the wine shop man. I was a regular Meals on Wheels!

If you read Bumblebee Blog much at all, you probably already know by now that subsequent years meant the installation of the fence of my dreams, a wooden picket fence with arbor gate. I also added raised beds made from 4” x 4” cedar boards and a 5’ wooden garden bench, where I could meditate—or pass out.

In my memory, the garden that first year was the most prolific ever. Everything was beautifully green and luscious. There were no pests. The rain was just right—not too much and not too little. The vegetables all tasted divine and were picture perfect.

If my first crops had failed I’m not sure I could have worked up the psychic energy to try again. Since then, I have come to believe that all new gardeners work under some charm. Initial gardening success is God’s way of ensuring that fledgling gardeners actually come back to give it a go the next year and look forward year after year to exploring what else nature can produce with a little help.

Birthing a garden is not for the faint of heart. But the rewards are indescribable.

Posted In: Gardening

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