Saturday, June 23, 2018

Homestead Update 6/23/18: Summer Begins Dramatically

Fluffy Buffy, who did not die, in all her buffy fluffiness.

What an intense month (and a bit) this has been! Not only did the weather make an abrupt and rather traumatic shift from spring to summer (then, mercifully, back to spring these past few days), but the past several weeks also saw us spending a week in Hawaii, rearranging the whole house (I fit almost all our books onto one shelf, a feat I formerly thought impossible), and dealing with all sorts of personal drama, from our nephew breaking his femur (he's in a cast for six weeks) to our car’s fusebox melting into a puddle (it’s been in the shop for a week, with nearly a week to go). We harvested our first tomatoes, celebrated Zach’s birthday, and one of our chickens almost died. Like I said, things have been crazy...

Chicken butt.
The Saga of Fluffy Buffy

We arrived home from Hawaii on a morning when the heat index topped 100ºF. Zach and I, thoroughly jet-lagged and not having slept at all on our redeye flight, checked on the chickens that morning, who were fine after being “chicken-sat” by my parents all week. Zach and I took a nap. However, when we woke up mid-afternoon, we walked outside to find Fluffy Buffy’s limp body hanging halfway out the henhouse, her eyes shut, her beak open, her whole body heaving. I freaked out and threw open the door to the coop, grabbing her limp body and pulling her into the shade. We sprayed her with water and dragged a fan outside and blew it on her, while she laid there limply. Tears streaming down my face, I begged, “Stay with us, Fluffy Buffy! Stay with us!” Although our chickens are certainly not pets, I hated to see her suffer, and I couldn’t stand the thought that my negligence might mean death for her. (Meanwhile, our incredibly compassionate other chickens kept on coming up and aggressively pecking her until I shoved them away.)

At last we carried her inside and placed her in a cool bath. She didn’t exactly perk up, but she began to look less distressed, and just laid there quietly, blinking at us. Finally she began making soft, inquisitive noises. We pulled her out of the bath and set her on the cool bathroom floor. She laid there in a fluffy pile, staring straight ahead and blinking. There wasn’t anything else we could do, so we left her in there and tried to make sure the other chickens were okay. I was already mentally writing a post titled, “A Eulogy for Fluffy Buffy.”

Trying to take a chicken portrait is challenging...
Thank goodness, she began to perk up after that, and by the next morning, she was able to walk again. We turned her loose with the other chickens and watched her carefully. She moved a bit more slowly than usual, but picked around in the compost and generally seemed okay. 

That’s when we realized that we needed a better way to combat the heat. We have a tarp over their whole coop, but shade wasn’t enough. We now have a fan hooked up, and I place a shallow basin of water in front of it for evaporation. We put ice in their drinking water every day and I hose off their enclosure to help cool it down. I’m happy to say that a few days ago, when we were gone all day, the chickens all lived through the day, even though the heat index was 105ºF! Fluffy Buffy has even started laying again. (Bobbie Dylan, on the other hand, seems to be on an egg-laying strike. She does noooot like the heat.) So, crisis averted, and Fluffy Buffy lives to tell the tale!

Summer crops

While our peas died and our lettuce and spinach bolted, our summer crops are taking off in a big way! Seriously, in the week we were gone to Maui, our cover crops grew a literal foot, and our tomatoes were so bushy that I’ve had to give them a major pruning— twice. The squash we planted (cucumbers, butternut, and pumpkins) are crawling in giant piles all over the yard. We harvested our first tomatoes of the year— two “mystery tomatoes” I grew from seeds at the seed swap. They are small slicing tomatoes, and very delicious! I baked them into an omelet with some basil from the garden and brie. Yummy!

I’ll be posting photos of the yard soon: I thought it had “exploded” before, but I had no idea what it would look like come summer.

Radishes and their greens— great for stir-fry!
Cucumbers attempting to take over the world
We'll have ripe cherry tomatoes soon!
Our hibiscus just starting flowering

One of the stops
I learned about this event earlier this year, and it was really cool! Basically, people all around the St. Louis area sign up to open their backyards to the public from 11-4 on a certain Sunday. The backyards feature anything related to sustainability: native plants, edible landscaping, permaculture, chicken- and beekeeping, solar energy, rainwater harvesting, and so on. The event puts out a guidebook listing where the yards are and what they feature, and you can put together a route of yards that interest you. 

Since there were a ton of yards in Tower Grove, Zach and I drove to Tower Grove Park, left the car there, and hoofed it around the neighborhoods. (This was the day the heat index was 105ºF, so we both got mild heat exhaustion, but it was worth it!) We saw all manner of amazing gardens and permaculture projects, as well as unusual animals like quail and rabbits. The owners were around to talk about their projects and answer questions.

Our favorite yard was pretty much the same concept as ours: sheet-mulched, with an emphasis on fruit trees. But the cool thing was that this yard was two years further along than ours, so we could see what it would look like! We plied the owner, Matt, with questions about his blackberries and passionfruit. 

My favorite moment of the whole day, though, was when Matt pointed out his Illinois Everbearing Mulberry, the same tree we planted this year. It stood about fifteen feet tall, and he said, “I pruned the heck out of it this year.” He told us to find a ripe berry and try the fruit. Now, wild mulberries are nice if you find a perfectly ripe one, so I was hoping that the cultivated kind would be a slightly stronger version of a good wild mulberry. However, when I plucked the fruit, which looks like an elongated blackberry, and popped it in my mouth, I was treated to an explosion of tart-sweet fruity flavor that was so intense I nearly cried for joy. (Okay, eating good fruit when you have heat exhaustion is a pretty euphoric experience, but still.) I couldn’t believe how delicious it tasted! It gave me a lot of hope for our yard. 

That’s what’s been going on the homestead this month! What have you been up to?


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