Princess Jane was much more welcoming than we expected when we opened the box of week-old chicks and gently deposited each one into the shaving-filed aquarium where they will live until they feather out. She had, after all, just come inside from disemboweling a chipmunk who made the mistake of venturing out of the woods, but it might have been her full belly that made it possible for her to treat the new arrivals — pullets all – as ladies in waiting rather than waiting dinner.
It took less than a week of staying home to realize that, even with Thing1 home, we were saving piles of money by not eating out, not driving, not buying anything except what was on the grocery list. It took less than two weeks to remember that we could brush off our gardening skills and, without sending Thing1 to the Army (who wouldn’t take him and his malfunctioning immune system anyway), have some fun and make a sizable dent in that bill as well.
So the garden plan was drawn up. Seeds were started. And chicks were ordered.
We’ve had chickens in the past, and they’ve always been fun and educational . From the ladies, we’ve learned that it’s never too early or late to enjoy a good meal. From the roosters, our kids learned more about the facts of life than we were ready to explain. We learned a few unpleasant facts of life from the foxes, and the roosters learned the hard way not to pick on my chicks.
This time around we ordered pullets instead of a straight pick. We only need 6 but, wanting a few different breeds, we ordered the minimum 6 each of Rhode Island Reds and Americaunas from the feed store. Our chicken tractor will hold six comfortably (comfy chickens lay better eggs – seriously), so when they get bigger, we’ll give half of the flock to neighbors who want home grown eggs.
I’m calling it the Homesteader’s Dozen.
When I was a kid my parents and some friends rented a community garden plot in Baltimore. Our yard was mostly gravel and shade, and I remember the first summer my dad carrying on about the victory garden his parents had when he was a kid and the experience he wanted to replicate. We got a few salad and more zucchini then we could eat in 10 summers, and then we moved to a house with a big yard in the Midwest where, ironically, we grew only lawns and flowers. I’ve let my gardens lapse here and there, but this year, I have a hankering for victory.
I had my first back to the land epiphany when we moved to Vermont and wanted to make the most out of space. Every power outage and snowstorm that socked us in, every trip up our rutty road in mud season made me more determined to have my grocery store growing in my backyard, feeding my freezer through the summer. Whenever I dig in, however, I get a lot more than just groceries out of the dirt and my sweat.
My ongoing pulmonary issues and Thing1’s compromised immune system prompted us to initiate a ‘stay home’ protocol well before the governor issued one for everyone in our state. My body has limited how much heavy work I can do right now, but as long as I have the strength to whisper the words “I have an idea” to my husband (and now kids) the resurrection of a big garden was inevitable.
This year I’m experimenting with Straw-bale gardening, laying ground work for no-dig sheet mulching in the fall. So far the weather has been too cold to allow more than a few pea shoots to establish themselves in the conditioned bales, and trays of seedlings and propagated cuttings add welcome green to my office window.
The current experiment is much less work and may produce slightly fewer jars of tomato sauce. As long as there’s something green and hopeful flourishing, however, I’m calling this garden victorious.
I expected some savings during the quarantine from not driving, going out to restaurants or ordering takeout. I expected an equally big bump in our grocery bill when Thing1 returned to the nest, but, even with two giants to feed (13-year-old Thing2 hit the six foot mark this week), thrift, apparently, is part of our new normal. It’s one of the few welcome surprises this month.
I thought about it as I came across a video about propagating root vegetables from cuttings from store-bought veggies. Always a sucker for a recycling project, I knew I’d need a place to keep my cuttings safe from cats looking to knock things over. Before the pandemic I might’ve stopped at the garden center on my way home from work. With every project and new recipe lately, however, I find myself going shopping in my attic or the recycle bin with an eye on repurposing items that might’ve been forgotten or even tossed.
Last year I, along with a plethora of other Americans got swept up in decluttering — removing things from the house that didn’t spark joy. I quit when I got to the book stage (might as well declutter cats or kids), but I was already fumbling during the closet clean-out. I was never going to get that perfect pink size 6 dress on again, and I’m sure it found a better home with a more dedicated dieter. There were plenty of items, however, that went to donation bins whose goals of redistributing old clothing, I later learned, may be doing more harm than good.
For environmental and economic reasons, we were off grid for over a decade. We obsessed over every watt we consumed, but this sparkling solitude has made me question my own material consumption.
A few days ago I stumbled on a wonderful movie on Netflix called “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind“. I highly recommend for anyone with kids — I even ordered bought the book for my middle schoolers for fall. The story takes place just at the time of the 9-11 attacks and follows a high schooler in Malawi named William along with his family as they endure flooding, drought and subsequent crop failures. The change in family fortunes force them to count every grain in every meal. For William, a born tinkerer who loves fixing things, the changes mean the end of school, but, consumed with a vision of wind-powered irrigation for the village, he sneaks into the library to conduct research on his own.
There are so many powerful themes throughout the movie — strength, family in all its complexity, perseverance, and the power of education – but, as I watched William rummage through the village landfill for scrap metal and used electronics to build his turbine, another, smaller, theme emerged. Education, not merely necessity, was the mother of William’s inspiration, but it was thrift and ingenuity that helped him use whatever was on hand to bring together his turbine and save the village.
Now, a year after my failed purges, I am rethinking every purchase and every creation in terms of its embodied energy and its impact on our budget. The purge got me thinking about what happens to those things when we’re ‘done’ with them. Watching a determined teenager cobble together a life-saving machine with recycled parts, however, provided a sober — and inspiring – new perspective that will make me consider much more carefully exactly when I’m ‘done’ with something and when it still has another life left in it.
Most of our house is buried to save on energy bills. When the wind tears through in the spring and fall, however, I find myself wishing we’d buried the entire thing until I look at the sleeping Sisters from a Different Litter.
The wind and rain have completely blurred the view from our cave at times this morning. It howls through the mountains, making 100 year old trees dance and sway like a bunch of twenty-somethings doing the Batusi — and it’s just as hypnotic (and occasionally horrifying) to watch. I play Monday morning sportscaster, wondering which tree will twist too hard and go down and which one will live to play another day. Anything that could fly into a window is secured against the house, but every once in a while a gust will come from the south, actually pushing on the glass. A gust will come through the forest at the north end of the house making us wonder if that massive pine tree is too close to the part of the house that isn’t buried.
But then Monday morning sports turns from Tree Dancing to the Sleeping Sisters competition. Today’s event – who will move from their cushy spot last (with no cheating by the refs by opening the food bucket lid in the kitchen)? Popular wisdom has it that animals can sense when something is wrong, so when the gusts make the entire forest seem to bow to the ground, I always expect a response from at least one of the Sleeping Sisters.
The wind has made the windows heave at least three times, and, so far, the Sleeping Sisters are in a dead heat. Literally.
So, for the moment, I’m listening to popular wisdom and putting my faith in their instincts over my over-active imagination.