Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer is really here

The day lilies continue to brighten the edge of the lawn and the front pathway with multiple shades of red, orange, yellow, pink and purple, lots of hot colors to match the hot weather.

I walked into the shed today to get some string to tie up the tomatoes and startled a baby wren that flew into the window.  It fell into a plastic tub of nuts and bolts, wings spread out.  I picked the soft brown baby up, unsure if it was going to revive, held it firmly but gently in my hand and carried it outside behind the shed to search for a safe spot to set it down.  The small eyes, with cream colored eyebrows arching above were shut, the eyelids grayish white. 

I feared the bird was dying, held it closer to my face to see if I could sense breathing or movement, just then the bird twitched and fought its way out of my hands.  The little one landed on the trunk of a big pine tree and within one second a parent was there feeding it.  Amazing; mom or dad, not sure which, was watching the whole time as I brought the fledgling out and was totally ready to rush to the rescue as soon as it flew from my grasp.  Pretty cool.

There have been loads of baby birds all around the yard and farm lately. Last week I spied 4 baby killdeer toddling around in one of the pastures.  Grey and white striped fluff balls on long toothpick legs.  They bobbed their heads and cheeped while the parents performed their best "Hey look over here" distraction routines, feigning broken wings, flopping around on the ground, running down the driveway ahead of me to get me off the scent of their babies.  Pretty funny.

It is to be close to 100 this week- finally summer comes with a vengeance.  I'm trying to get the last of the spring crops harvested now; beets and turnips need out of the ground, all the onions are curing, all the greens either picked and eaten or fed to the chickens because they were being consumed by caterpillars.  Summer crops are starting to trickle in, cucumber and squash are sweet and full of water, blueberries are ripening at the rate of a pint a day.  Still haven't had our first ripe tomato so I broke down and bought some from my brother at the market last weekend, we had our first BLT of the season tonight for supper with potato salad, beet and cucumber salad and an ear of corn.

Now that was a meal that really felt like summer.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Nature drama; bluebirds vs. black snakes

This was the scene of nature in action this morning.  As I was getting dressed I heard the birds making a ruckus and when I looked out the window, I could see a black snake disappearing into the bluebird house in the middle of the fence.  I threw on my clothes, grabbed the fireplace poker and charged to the rescue, I tried to hook the snake with the poker but it just kept slipping into the house and out of reach.  So I ran and grabbed a screw driver and came back and loosened the bottom screw allowing me to open the house by lifting the front up.  I then hooked the snake and carried it across the lawn and tossed it down.  One dead baby fell to the ground and another hopped out, two more were in the nest with their heads down.  I picked up the live baby and popped it back into the nest and closed the front.  I turned around to see the snake heading back so I tossed the dead baby to it.  The snake pounced on the little guy and immediately started choking it down and then slithered into the day lilies on the fence line.  When I looked over to the nest again the one baby had hopped out again.  The parents were flying back and forth chattering like mad.  I've seen this played out many seasons in our yard.  When the parents decide its time for the babies to fledge they fly back and forth across the yard talking to the babies, its like they are trying to coax them out. I realized it was this very behavior that probably drew the snake in in the first place, alerting him to the fact that there were babies to be had.  I picked the baby up again and shoved it back in but it popped back out- determined to make its way, so I watched as it hopped away towards the blueberry patch.

Thinking the snake had its fill, I headed onto my days task of weeding the blueberries. But no sooner had I gotten down to business than I heard the birds going crazy again and looked up to see a snake sliding across the fence from the right, I think this was actually a second snake, different from the first.  I grabbed a stick this time and wrapped the snake up like twirling a piece of spaghetti, pulling it from the fence and carried it down into the woods where I hurled it down.  Came back up and saw a baby bird hopping across the grass.  At this point I realized that I was out of my element getting in the middle of this whole play.  But I was still concerned for the baby.  The parents were again flying back and forth chattering, all the birds in the yard were getting into the mix, flying past the house, even perching on top and peeking in, first a chickadee, then a chipping sparrow. And everyone was making alarm calls.

Then I saw the adult bluebird hovering low over the grass and I realized the snake was heading back for the nest, I picked it up again with the stick.  It was doing its best cobra imitation, pulled back like it was going to strike, tongue flickering out of its mouth, it was even able to make its head look kind of triangular like a venomous snake, pretty impressive, but I still carried it on down to the edge of the lawn and gave it a fling.  this time it seemed it wasn't coming back.

I watched as the baby cheeped and hopped up across the patio and past the back door. I could see the parents were keeping an eye on it so at that point I went in and did some Google searching on baby bluebirds.  Turns out that when they fledge they spend the first 5-7 days hopping around on the ground-  it seems a miracle that any of them live to adulthood given the number of snakes and other predators that are around.  Once I read that, I decided I really needed to step back and let nature take its course. 

I did spend some time reading about devices and techniques to keep bird houses safe from snakes and might put some effort into snake proofing our bluebird house for next season. I also wondered about the other two babies still in the nest.  I resisted the temptation to open the box and peek in, figured they would either fly or die and it wasn't my place to interfere.  But it was an exciting if sad encounter, and I did get to hold a baby bluebird which was pretty cool.

On other fronts, it's day lily time and they are starting to really put on a show.  We added a bunch of new varieties including many in the red and purple color range a couple of years ago and they are starting to get well established now.
 Dark Star- these flowers are about 6 inches across

I harvested the first batch of early onions last week and they are curing, many more to come. And the garlic is out of the ground now and curing as well.  A good looking crop again this year.
 The blueberries are loaded and we are just waiting for them to start ripening up.

We've been having a spectacular patch of cool dry weather that came following an inch of rain.  Fingers crossed that the good weather and decent rains will continue into summer, I'm always skeptical and prepared for the worst, but for now its great to have the windows open and feel the breeze.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Vegetables keep coming, tender and delicious

Kales and cabbage dappled with raindrops

The greens continue to grace our garden and our plates on a daily basis, though their season is coming to a close.  I picked all the spinach last week as it was starting to bolt and I taste the lettuce cautiously before picking, expecting any day it will be turning too bitter to eat.
I tried this new spinach this year called Bordeaux.  Very pretty with the red stems and tender for salads but bolted fast, not a hot weather favorite.

The peas came on heavy for a couple of weeks and are now slowing down, but with a cooler week forecast, perhaps they'll have a renaissance?

Broccoli had to be harvested all at once before bursting into yellow flowers, I was kind of glad I only had 3 plants, that's a lot of broccoli to eat all at once, and there is still some in the fridge.

So the spring garden slowly transitions to summer as these greens fade out and squash, beans, cukes and tomatoes grow rapidly, begin to set flowers and soon will bring a new variety of flavors to our kitchen.

It's good to be alive and a gardener.