...sometimes even a single feather is enough to fly. (Robert Maclean)


special needs hen

For those of you who are curious about how Brahmie is doing,
I thought I'd give you a status update.

We had her in the house for maybe 2 1/2 days, 
and during those days we'd take her out to be with her sisters for a little while.

Every time we'd bring her back inside to her recovery area, she'd stand up as much as she could.
I thought, "Oh, being in the house must be helping her get stronger..."
Then I realized the errors of my thinking!

The last time we brought her in, she flapped herself right off the counter
and would have taken quite a tumble if I hadn't been there to catch her!

I don't understand chicken language very well, but suddenly it dawned on me...
Maybe all of the attempts at standing and the loose attempts at flapping
were signs that she wanted to get the hell out of the house!

After all, when her sister Dommie came into the house two winters ago, she never came back out! 
Maybe since Dommie came into the house, the girls started gossiping.
Hens are a gossipy bunch, after all.
Maybe they were clucking about the chicken yard, saying things like...

 "Oh, once you go there, it's all over.  That's the end of the line... 
You may as well throw in the towel, run into the road, or go visit the Foxy Loxy's den..!"

Brahmie wants no part of that end-of-the-line business.
She does not want this to be the end of her line, and even if it IS the end of her line,
she definitely doesn't want to spend it in a plastic tote in our kitchen 
listening to all the strange sounds of a house.
You know, with dogs and people... 
and NPR.

NPR is an ever-present entity in our house.
Even though Brahmie wasn't a fan of living in the house,
she was intrigued by NPR.

After all, now she's the most cultured
and in-the-know chicken in the flock,
not to mention the whole neighborhood block!

She was appalled at the news.
She'd turn her head from side to side. 
Bok Bok???!

(Just like my Boo talks back at the radio when it gets her riled up!)

Brahmie couldn't wait to get back to the coop to tell everyone about
the radio thing, with the voices coming out of nowhere,
and all of the things she learned about
like the shootings in Paris,
and how to fix a carburetor in a 1986 Volkswagen
from Click and Clack.

In fact, she liked NPR so much,
 I overheard Brahmie telling her sisters that if she could,
she'd send WSKG and WEOS some eggs for their fundraising drives,
or maybe she'd volunteer to answer the phone.

Enough about chickens listening to NPR.


The bottom line is, Brahm just wanted to be with her flock.
Her crew.
Her peeps.
Her sisters!
 (and her nieces, too!)

So, what to do?

We convened an emergency CSH meeting (Committee for Special Hens)
and decided that Brahmie is eligible for an ICP (Individual Care Plan).

Due to her sudden inability to walk and perch among other things,
we've determined she needs some accommodations.

For example, she has integrated co-foraging multiple times daily.

That involves a 1:1 aide taking her to be with her flock,
and providing assistance with food by preparing foods for her
(i.e. shredding carrots and cabbage, preparing vitamin water, etc.)
and setting her food in front of her where she can reach it and can choose what she wants.

Her flock was so happy to see her!

Grass!  I never thought I'd see you again!!!
That house didn't have any grass!!!

(Luckily there were a couple of warm days before the snow came over the break,
Brahmie got to enjoy some sun and fresh air and grass outside with her girls...)

She is not about to throw in the towel anytime soon.
Whenever she hears us talking about euthanasia,
(and now that she's listened to NPR),
she knows we're not talking about the Youth in Asia.

She's a smart girl.
So she starts saying to herself,

I think I can...
I think I can...
I think I can... walk again...!

(aka: the story of  the little hen that could!)

And we sure hope she can walk again,
because we definitely don't want to do that euthanasia thing.

We are not real farmers.
We are not even close to real farmers.

We are sentimental, sobbing,
grave-digging, funeral-having
chicken loving

But if Brahmie was clearly suffering,
I'd force myself to do it for her sake.

The awful deed.
The brutal mercy.

But luckily it doesn't seem like I have to do it.
At least not now.

With the accommodations we've made,
she seems okay...!

She gets to be with her flock, and that boosts her morale.

And as long as we put food in front of her, and she eats it, by golly,
she has a will to live,
and we'll keep taking it one day at a time,
and providing all of the accommodations on her ICP.

She also receives 1:1 physical therapy twice daily, in the integrated setting.

She has to keep her strength up and not let all of her muscles wither away, you know.
(Besides, she has to get some air on her underside since she's always sitting on her bottom now.)

Now there is a girl
who is determined to get better!

When she's outdoors, she also requires special protection from hawks
since she's like a sitting duck for a predator.
Well, she's a sitting chicken, of course.

We found an old rolled  piece of fence wire
that was formerly used to be to protect a tree from deer damage,
and we figured it would do the job in a pinch.

The cage wire wasn't just for the hawks, either,
we also wanted to see how her sisters did with her
once we put out her buffet of food,
knowing that they would want some
and could be mean to her and keep her from getting it.

We lifted the cage, and it was a beautiful sight --
no pecking, no fuss, just happiness at being together and sharing food together!

It's amazing that Brahmie hasn't lost any social status throughout this experience!
In a less docile flock, the others might sense her weakness and peck her... even to death!
Gruesome, I know!!!

But our flock seems to have barely noticed that there's anything going on with her.
Maybe they think she's broody and just sitting a bunch.
Either way, they're happy to share in her buffet of goodies and to keep her company,
and to listen to her tales about her adventures in THE HOUSE.

She even got to hang out in the dirt bath area.
Maybe one day she'll be able to fluff dirt up under her feathers again...

Oh, we hope so.

She got to nap in the sun with Specky,
and Commie checks on her regularly.

We even saw Commie preening her a little bit!  So sweet!
(Brahmie is looking a little disheveled since her ability to preen herself has been impaired.)

Sounds like another accommodation to me --
hygiene and personal care!

Oh, we love that girl.

She's quite a hen, whether she can walk or not, and she knows it...!

She doesn't like to be boastful,
But she does occasionally let the others know that her eggs
have routinely been rated "the best ever."

We're hoping that this spring she'll get better
and get back into the egg-laying business.
and she can boast all she wants!

Heck, if she can recover from whatever this is,
she can tell the world her story on NPR!

Her last official accommodation
involves spreading out a muslin canopy over her spot on the floor of the coop at night, 
to protect her from poop falling on her from above.

In the end, all of these "extreme measures" are totally worth it
because we totally love her.

Giving her fresh treats and water and exercising her a little
and moving her around doesn't take up THAT much time out of our days.

It's the least we can do for all of the amazing eggs she's given us over the years,
and for her sweet companionship.

Get well, Brahmie!  You can do it, girl!!!
Ira Glass is waiting to interview you this spring!


ordering seeds / aka the cure for the winter blues

 At one point over the holiday break I was really having the winter blues.
I'm not exactly sure what caused the blues.  
Maybe just the winter doldrums, paired with a lackluster Christmas. 
Maybe I was having some PMS.
Maybe it was all of the stress and antics 
associated with caring for a sick chicken.
I knew I must have been really down 
when the seed catalogs were pouring in the mail, 
and I thought,
"Eh, why bother?"
"Why have a garden?" 
"It's so much work.  It's way cheaper to buy a CSA..."

For future reference,
aka note-to-self,
that alone should be a tell-tale sign 
of depression.

No interest in gardening?
What was wrong with me?!

Thank goodness whatever was wrong with me 
somehow got righted.

I think that all it really took 
was actually opening the seed catalogs 
and looking at them
and organizing my existing seed storage
and then thinking about what I could do.

It triggered the daydreaming / imagining / planning processes in my brain
which must activate or link into those miscellaneous brainy things 
that release endorphins or dopamine
or serotonin... maybe oxytocin?
or maybe even anandamide (the "bliss" molecule)...


Whatever it was, all I know is that
once I got into those seed catalogs,
I couldn't stop myself.
 I got the garden bug, and I got it bad.
Depression?  Winter doldrums?
Blues and blahs?


You see, my approach to the seed catalogs is an intense affair.
It's not just a casual, 
"Oh this looks cool..." or "Hmmn, that sounds fun..."

It's more like a quest or a treasure hunt...

It's detective work, really...
 to uncode the mystery of garden amazing-ness...
and I hope that each year I get closer to unlocking the mysteries.

I wade through every picture and description
in an effort to find what will do the best in our zone and soil
and also deliver the most flavor.

I'm all about the flavor.
Flavor trumps yield every single time for me, though, ideally, 
I try to find a balance of both.
And beauty, of course.

Beauty, beauty


Speaking of beauty,
yet another problem with the seed catalogs
is that it's so easy for me to get swept away 
in the stories and romance of heirlooms,
especially Italian or French heirlooms
countries and cuisines that I make no bones about lusting over.

Heirlooms open my imagination wide,
far beyond gastronomy, 
and into the realms of history and culture.

Thanks to some Parisienne market carrots
dating back to the 19th century,
I can easily imagine 
having an excellent summer snack
with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

If you let yourself really have fun with it,
gardening with heirlooms 
is a little bit like armchair travel.

And do I ever like to go places...!

So I basically read every seed catalog I had 
from cover to cover,
and after doing that 
I had such a crazy list of things I wanted to potentially buy and grow
that even a real farmer would tell me I was nuts.
Certainly waaaaaaaaaay nuts for a 2 acre plot.
Totally certifiable, actually.

After my initial run-through,
I had online shopping carts for 7 different seed catalogs.

Luckily my sweetheart would have none of that.
Ms. Practicality.

Counterpart to moi, aka
Ms. Dreams Run Amuck.

I actually sought out her assistance with my dilemma this time around.
(Good for me...!)
 I have to pat myself on the back just a little because in the past 
I might have secretly ordered ALL of the seeds I wanted 
and then when they came in the mail said, 
"Oops, I guess I got a little carried away..."

Not this year.  
This year I walked up to her and said, 
"Hi, my name is Jenn, and I am a seed addict."
"I'm trying really hard not to buy too many seeds tonight, 
so maybe you can help keep me on the straight and narrow..." 

I've been buying too many seeds for a few years now.
I even seek out clandestine sources of seeds,
and get excited by the idea of seed swaps and
I practically pass out at the sight of the Seed Savers Membership Yearbook.
(more than 4,000 tomato varieties!  over 13,000 DIFFERENT 
fruit, vegetable and grain seeds...
many rare and hard to find varieties, 
passed down through family generations  -- all available, to me?!)

 Bring me the reviving salts because I could seriously faint!!!

 Alas, the temptation to go on a seed binge is almost too much to bear.
Life is too short to possibly grow and taste them all,
but damn, I want to keep trying!!!


In order to not have to swear off seeds ALTOGETHER,
It's critical that I consult with Ms. Practicality, aka my seed sobriety sponsor.

She reminds me about what is a reasonable accumulation of seeds,
and gives me the parameters I need to work within 
if I'm going to be a functional gardener.
"Do you want to be grumpy all summer?!  
"Only working in the gardens?"
"You'll throw your back out!"  
 (like poor Ralphie Parker in A Christmas Story, "You'll shoot your eye out!")


So, in all seriousness...
How NOT to bite off more than one can chew.
It's a real art form, folks.

Ms. Practicality gave me some parameters, 
all very reasonable, and I agreed with them.
After all, I don't want to be a grumpy gardener this summer
 all work and no play would make for a very grumpy girl, indeed.

BUT then squeezing my big big big daydreams
 into those "reasonable" parameters was definitely tough.

I had to say goodbye to some very special things,
I won't even bother to tell you much about them 
because it'll just make me want them more,
but I did earmark them as possibilities to revisit for next year.


Some things were disallowed.
Eliminated right out of the gate by Little Ms. No-Nonsense.

"No edamame or tomatillos.  We don't need to take up a whole spot in the garden for them.  
We don't use them a lot and we can just get some at the market." 
But... no fresh-from-the-garden salsa verde?
"Correct.  You can have fresh-from-the-farmer's market salsa verde instead." 
 No fresh steamed edamame with olive oil and salt? 
"That's right. Now you're getting the idea."

Moving on.
"Fava beans?  When did we last eat fava beans?  Let's just get those at the store."
But the descriptions say they're so buttery and amazing when they're fresh... 
incomparable to dried favas, and that you haven't lived until you've had fresh fava beans...!
  "Forget it.  You've been living just fine.  
And if you want all of those different pole beans and bush beans, 
you have to draw the line somewhere."
Alright, alright.  Fine.  Maybe next year.
 "Onions... every year you've tried to grow onions, they've been a flop. 
Onions give you heartburn anyway. Besides, they're so cheap to buy..."

 "Forget the potatoes, we just don't have the soil for it.
Too much digging anyway.  Let's just buy them at the store."

"Brussel sprouts seem tricky and they'll take up a bunch of space. 
We eat way more than you could possibly grow."
"Leeks... sure, they're beautiful, but how many leeks do we really use in a year?"
But... blue de solaise leeks are gorgeous french heirlooms, 
they're like edible artwork!
"Well, see if you can muster the strength to cope without them..."

 "You're not seriously going to try to grow heirloom wheats are you?"
"Tell me you're kidding."
"What?  You want an heirloom pancake patch?"
"You already bought a sickle?"
"I really thought you were kidding." 
"Well, you're on your own with that one.  Happy threshing, honey pie...
I hope your one pancake is worth all of that work...!"
"Tomatoes -- we've had blight for several years now.  
Last year was the worst yet.  Unless you plan on building a hoop house to protect them, 
you can scratch those off your list, too."

(So, guess who's planning to build a hoop house?)
(And guess who also searched and searched 
and happened to find two open-pollinated late-blight resistant tomatoes?) 

Heck yeah.


At least that was the end of the automatic elimination round.

Of the remaining contenders, I was allowed, on average, 
about two varieties per type of vegetable.
 (I bent the "rules" and cheated a little, but not too much...)


So, here's what we ARE planning to grow.
Most names I've been able to link to the catalog where I bought them
so you can see pictures and read descriptions if you'd like.

(a stunning variety -- hopefully worth sacrificing those fava beans for!)
Fortex Pole Bean
Emerite Pole Bean (OP)
garden of eden (romano)
Garden of Eden Romano Bean, Green, Pole Organic 
purpiat (romano) - reminds me of Willy Wonka! 
Romano Purpiat Bean
Soleil Bean
and dragon tongue  aka dragon langerie
two heirloom french types

p.s. I'll let you know how Gertrude and Alice B. are. 

crapaudine (the oldest beet variety on record, over 1,000 years old!)
plus cylindra 
Cylindra Beet  
Early Wonder Tall Top Beet
(in case old crap-o-dean really sucks, 
a girl's gotta have some back-up beets.)

giant of Naples - an Italian heirloom

Umpqua Broccoli Organic 


red express cabbage
January King Cabbage
gorgeous... green and purpley red!

and an heirloom cuke from the Hmong.


(Simply the best we've ever tried, 
and they don't give me any indigestion like peppers often do!)

Sooooooo many types of lettuce!
romaine:  truchas
Truchas Lettuce Organic & Pelleted

looseleaf:  bronze beauty
Bronze Beauty

butterhead:  little gem 
Carmona Lettuce Organic

batavian: pablo
Pablo Lettuce 

crisphead: superior
Superior 1 Lettuce Organic

Sweet Horizon Peas Conventional & Organic
Super Sugar Snap Peas
little marvel shelling pea
Garden Pea

kales (including a Portuguese type called tronchuda that's heat-tolerant)
some mild, sweet chard varieties (erbette, verde de taglio)
Verde De Taglio
and some others (spinach, mache, arugula).

late blight resistant:  legend and rose de berne 
Legend Tomato Conventional & Organic

Rose De Berne Tomato

delicious slicers:  pineapple, ananas noire, and black krim
Ananas Noire or Black Pineapple Tomato
 Black Krim Tomato

cherries:  peacevine, blush, isis candy
Peacevine Tomato Organic

Cocozella di Napoli squash
Japanese pie (c. mixta)
Japanese Pie Squash
Galeux d'Eysines (c. maxima)
Galeux d' Eysines
Delicata (c. pepo)
Delicata Squash
Rogosa Violina

4 types (Persian, lemon, lime, and of course -- Genovese)
I'll also be growing some other kitchen herbs,
but I have last year's seed stock for things like cilantro and dill to use up.
A couple herbs we'll get from local nurseries (rosemary, lemon verbena)
and most other herbs we have growing as perennials in our flower gardens.
We're always happy to see oregon, sage, and chives coming up!  

For the little feathered ladies I'll be growing
fodder type kales (thousand-headed, proteor, marrow stem), 
and various lettuce mixes so they can have a salad bar buffet
and a sunflower mix - they love sunflower seeds!
Plus I plan to grow trailing nasturtiums along their fence and run area
edible for us and for the girlies.

So there you have it.
The whole seedy ordeal.

At the end of it all, I feel like I've given birth!
My favorite kind of birth - to a new vision, 
an idea taking form.

Now I have plenty of things to look forward to doing 
with my hands
and my heart
out in the fresh air.

My head is dancing with time-lapsed visuals 
of seeds germinating 
and vines climbing 
and flowers opening
and bees coming and going...

Mental images of spring and summer 
and where to take the gardens this year,
and where the gardens will take me.

Plenty of thoughts 
to keep those blissful anandamide brain molecules at work! 
Wasn't it Joseph Campbell who said,
"Follow your bliss?"

Where will your bliss take you this year?