The Southern Belle Blogs Again

A Bittersweet Moment in Chicken Keeping

EmilyOne of the hardest moments in having chickens, especially when you are first starting out, is that moment when you lose one of your birds. At least, that is what I thought was the hardest moment, until we lost four of our chickens (out of five) in one month.

To give you a little backstory, we got our first four birds in April of 2015 (a white one: Whitey, two Rhode Island Red hens : Emily and Debbie, and a RIR Rooster: Kellogg). My boyfriend quickly dispatched the rooster for supper (not that we have anything against roosters, but we live in a subdivision; we will make up for it one day when we have acreage). A few months later, we ended up getting one more hen (Barred Rock: Iggy). But later that summer we lost one of our birds. As we never knew the age of the birds when we first got them, and she was past laying, I think it was related to her age. So we got another hen (Australorp: Squeeta). We stayed at four birds for quite a while, until earlier this year Ameraucana: Lil B). Five chickens seemed to be the magic number, especially for where we live. We had plenty of eggs (to keep and give away), and the girls seemed to have the “pecking” order worked out. Things were peaceful.

Fast forward to last month. Hurricane Matthew swept across Northeastern North Carolina while my boyfriend and I vacationed in Alaska. We were fortunate. Many others in our area were not. We only lost three chickens. Others lost everything. We hemmed and hawed over if we wanted to get more chickens now (knowing that we wouldn’t have eggs again until spring), wait until spring, or wait until we got out of the subdivision.

Our love of chickens prevailed, and I began searching for some pullets. We didn’t want biddies, and we wanted chickens that lay moderately but have an interesting aesthetic about them. I found the perfect group the same weekend that we lost one of our remaining two chickens — to my dog. It all had to have happened in a manner of five minutes, and I never heard a peep from our normally most vocal chicken. But I looked outside to find my dog plucking a deceased chicken. I’m still uncertain if she killed the chicken (as she has never shown much interest before), nonetheless she received the blame.

Down to one chicken, that made our decision absolute. We needed more. So we set off and drove about three hours roundtrip to pick up three, 20-week-old birds — a Buff Brahma, a Barnevelder, and a Barred Rock. We are still working out their names (once we have our farm and are raising meat chickens, that is when naming will cease), but they’ve proven already to be interesting.

chicken

They don’t bother Lil B, but Lil B wants to bother them. She keeps picking fights, as she was bullied with the last girls. She goes after them with her little ear muffs all fluffed out. She quickly gets defeated (even though she’s older, the Barred Rock is twice her size) and goes upstairs to the coop to pout. It is sort of pitiful (and hilarious). I think they will all adjust though.

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Anytime a critter dies in my care, it makes me sad. Some may say that it is just a fact of life and I will get used to it, but I don’t want to get used to it. I think that the moment you stop feeling something about a creature’s demise, that may be the moment that you stop honoring the fact that they were once alive. I’m grateful for every creature that gave up its life for me to eat. I still need that disconnect of seeing the exact moment a creature dies, but I’m working on it.

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Heritage Harvest Festival

EmilyThomas Jefferson is quoted as once writing, "No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden." The third president of the United States had a passion for agriculture, as well as a passion for food.

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello and see his passions come to life. The Heritage Harvest Festival, hosted by the Thomas Jefferson FoundationSeed Savers Exchange and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, brings together people interested in gardening, sustainability, food, history, and more. 

view from the top

I am in love with the garden at Monticello. If you have ANY interest in gardening or plants, it is hard not to fall in love with the beauty of it. I would love to wake up every morning and have that view.

The garden

Just the variety of vegetables is amazing. I can't wait until I have that amount of space to garden and grow all sorts of items. (on my agenda for new items for 2017 is sesame!)

Beans

One of the highlights of the event seems to be the Tasting Tent, where you can not only taste lots of different tomatoes, melons, and peppers, but also where you can taste all the delicious items that local vendors have to offer. I purchased quite a lot from those vendors, ranging from seed packets (9 different ones) to kombucha, to hand-harvested sea salt.

Tasting

I also had the opportunity to attend Jeanine Davis' presentation on "Unusual Edible Plants & Fungi for Home Gardens." Jeanine is a horticulture extension specialist with North Carolina State University (my alma mater), and she made me eager to try my hand at growing wasabi again. I love unusual plants (which explains why I'm attempting to grow ginseng behind my house). She brought a lot of different items for us to touch, smell, taste (such as dried ramps for a ramp spice rub), and take home! 

Workshop

The staff and volunteers all worked really hard to provide a fun event for everyone. My legs were tired from walking, my arms were tired from carrying around all of my purchases, but my stomach was full from trying different products and my mind was happy.

Volunteer

It's worth taking a trip to Monticello to view the beauty of the area, but I certainly suggest that you plan to attend the Heritage Harvest Festival next year!

Me!

For more pictures of the Heritage Harvest Festival, please visit my personal blog, The Southern Belle Blogs.

Reflections on a 2015 Growing Season

EmilyI received my first seed catalog for 2016 yesterday. It couldn’t have come at a better time as the days have been dreary and the temperatures have dipped around here lately. About the time I receive the first catalog, I like to take a moment to reflect on the past growing season just so I can prepare myself for the new growing season. This past year was a difficult year for me, garden wise. Not because my crops failed, but because I split my time between two houses – my mom’s house and my boyfriend’s house – both with gardens. It was hard for me to keep track of the progress for each garden which is why my gardening journal has few entries for 2015.

Notes on mom’s garden: 2015 was probably the last year that I will actively grow crops in mom’s garden (besides my well established asparagus, I also had gourds, garlic, and shallots). While productive, the soil in her garden lack nutrients and the plants were nowhere at prolific or strong as the ones in my boyfriend’s garden (he amends his soil regularly). I do plan to fix that for my mom in 2016. The biggest failure in her garden was the Amish Paste tomatoes (out of all the tomato plants planted, this one struggled with blossom end rot), though everything planted struggled with the exception of an eggplant accidentally purchased and planted. Eggplant flourished! The fruit trees need a good pruning and the strawberry bed needs some serious work.

eggplant

asparagus

Notes on Robb’s garden: Our lone peach tree and blueberry bush struggled so I will need to treat them both with fertilizer (they were both recently planted). His garden did amazingly well and I think that the chickens, even though they did tear up a few plants, helped the garden. The first picking of broccoli heads was great, though the second picking was infested with little green worms. All of the zucchini and summer squash did well until the squash bugs came (which I do think for 2016 we need another couple of plants). Squash bugs also wiped out our winter squash as well. Okra did fabulous and if we planted watermelon a month earlier, I think that we would have had a few to eat! We were overrun with Black Vernissage tomatoes, though the Better Boy and Early Girl plants just did okay. Tomatillos were probably the biggest failure, next to onions and cucumbers (which the chickens wanted to dust bathe where both of those were planted). Snap beans were great, though after the first two pickings, the plants were spent and should have been pulled up. As we move into fall, collards did wonderful; as did lettuce and our new broccoli plants are great. We attempted Brussels sprouts 3 times – two packets of seeds, a flat of plants – and none took.

robbs garden 

For 2016, I would like to expand my boyfriend’s garden (just a few feet on one side) to take over some dead space that is a pain to mow. I also need to go ahead and get my garlic in to the ground (in the next week) and I would like to experiment with a few more crops that I’ve grown before, just not in a while (leeks, radishes, rutabagas). I don’t want to really plant more trees if we want to move in the next 5 years, but I may see what he thinks of establishing a small strawberry bed. The chickens have already torn up the flower beds in his backyard, so maybe I can make use of one of those.

What were some of the biggest failures in your garden for 2015 and what do you hoped to change for 2016?