Tuesday, June 28, 2011

He's back

Yes, this is our little psycho bird, a Western Tanager, back for another day of doing his best to get into our house. He's an early riser, and this morning it's our dining room windows he's trying to get through.

He hovers in front of them almost like a hummingbird, then either bumps into the window or flies away. I have turned the lights in the room on, and off, trying to determine if it's his own reflection he's after, but it doesn't seem to make any difference. The window can't be acting like much of a mirror because he sees me as soon as I move into the room and flies away, which made getting these photos an exercise in patience.

What do you want, little guy?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Under siege

Like the looks of this little guy? Think he looks cute and harmless? Think again. This bird is psycho.

Well, maybe not the actual fellow in the photo (which isn't mine - it comes from here). But one of his relatives, who lives in our neck of the woods, spent the day dive-bombing our house, bashing into windows, going from deck to bedroom window to living room window, all around the house, doing his very best to somehow make it through one of those pieces of glass.

It started about 6:30 this morning. Petunia started to make her bird hunting noises as she prowled the window ledges in the living room where I was eating my breakfast, then I began to get glimpses of brightly coloured flashes in my peripheral vision, and then the first thump on the window got me out of my chair to have a look.

I'd never seen a bird like this before, and its colouring made me think it must be a finch or some sort of exotic bird. We're used to mostly plain-Jane brown birds around here - anything this brightly coloured must come from a pet store, I thought. But when I did a quick Internet search I discovered it is a Western Tanager. Huh. Who knew.

But back to the siege. This determined little bird flew around the house all day, from window to window, hovering and flapping and thumping into the glass. Why?

I thought maybe it was trying to fight its own reflection in the window, thinking it was seeing a rival. But that didn't make sense with the sun direction, and in any case most of the windows were shaded.

Until I discovered it was a normally occurring bird species, I thought it might be a household pet that had escaped and was trying to get back home, any home.

Maybe it just likes our taste in home furnishings. In any case, we're waiting with some anticipation for the morning, to see if it comes back.

Here are two interesting tidbits about Western Tanagers I found out today. (1) The red colour on their heads is not built-in. It's a result of the insects they eat. And (2) if you are stocking a bird feeder in hopes of attracting a Western Tanager, they respond well to cut fruit, nectar and baked goods.

Baked goods.

Does that mean freshly baked croissants, or would day-olds do?

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Summer arrived today, with temperatures warm enough and sun bright enough to send us scrambling for straw hats and sandals.

We mowed. We trimmed. We weeded. The orchard is finally looking respectable, and the perennial beds around the house got a good, long drink. And then, because Kim's still fighting bronchitis and my joints are still aching, we hauled out the garden furniture and put our feet up with a cool drink and a good book. Feet up: that's not a sight you see very often at Mucky Boots.

Petunia is the Lounging Queen, clever cat. She has a thing or two about setting good priorities to teach us.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lurching along

Summer may have arrived, but at Mucky Boots we're still stuck at Spring on the weather dial. Yesterday we finally had some heat and today promises more of the same, but the weeks of cool, cloudy weather have put the vegetable garden behind even last year's delayed schedule. We just picked the first barely ripe strawberries yesterday, and the pea blossoms are only starting to transform themselves into pods. The winter squash seeds decided to sprout after all, but unless we have an unusually long, warm fall there may not be enough time for the squash to ripen.

On the bright side, the brassicas and salad greens have been in heaven, doing all they can to make up for their thinner-blooded friends in the vegetable garden.

And on another, very bright side, every blooming perennial has decided that this is the year to put on a show. Could it be my expert, tender care? Probably not. Maybe it's Mother Nature trying to console us for Kim's stubborn case of bronchitis and my seasonal arthritis flare-up.

What ever the reason, anything in the front half of the property that blooms has gone to town: peonies, cranesbill geraniums, columbines, iris, lilies, wisteria, wigelia.

No wonder they call this a snowball viburnum - not only do its flowers look like snowballs, the fallen petals sprinkled on the path below look like a dusting of snow.

And the poppies! We knew we were in for a banner year in the poppy department, but for the last two weeks we have been blasted by the poppy equivalent of a double-orchestra symphony. Plants that last year bore three or four flowers are carrying eight or ten this year, and new clusters seem to have sprouted anywhere the conditions are even remotely suitable.

As usual, with a mind full of jobs wanting to be done and a body that isn't cooperating at the moment, I am wrestling with the lessons the garden is trying to teach me about patience, and acceptance, and living in the moment. So the lurching isn't just the weather, or my own progress down the garden path with sore joints - it's my blossoming into the person my garden wants me to be.

I wish I was a better student.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hector junior

We'd like to introduce you to the newest charmer in the chicken yard: Hector Junior. Yes, this eight-week cockerel is the love child of either Gertie or Alice. We're not sure. But there's no doubt about his papa: this young fellow is the spitting image of Hector, right down to his sweet, gregarious charm.

He's a big fella, this boy. Tall and long-legged, just like his dad. But because he's hanging out with his peers he's not the bottom of the chicken-status totem pole, like Hector was when he joined us. Instead, he's the biggest, handsomest, fastest boy of the bunch. Just look at that red comb and those wattles - and he's only eight weeks old!

But, just like his papa, he hasn't let his good looks and big size go to his head. He's a curious, calm, sweet boy, with chicken mannerisms that are so like Hector's we are agog, daily.

After losing Gertie so suddenly, it feels wonderful to welcome the next generation to the barnyard.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Goodbye Gertie

We lost Gertie yesterday. She was killed in the orchard, horribly, sometime yesterday morning. She leaves behind Alice, her inseparable twin, and Hector, the sweet little runt who grew up and became her protector.

We're not sure what got her. It was during the day, so it probably wasn't a raccoon. More likely it was an eagle or even a raven, but the kinds of injuries she had don't quite fit. We have been lucky so far with predators, but this week has been rough: first we lost an 8-week old pullet who disappeared without a trace from the chicken yard (probably nabbed from overhead, despite all the reflective tape and fishing line streamers criss-crossing overhead), and then yesterday, Gertie.

Poor Gertie. And poor Hector, and poor Alice, who were with her when it happened.

This is Gertie and Alice when they first arrived at Mucky Boots. They were so beautiful: soft and fluffy and so black, even their feet. They went everywhere together, and talked to each other in their special chicken language.

Gertie as a young pullet in the vegetable garden. She was a good forager, and laid beautiful creamy rose-brown eggs.

Gertie with Alice and Hector.

Goodbye Gertie.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Emergency preparedness

I have been working the last while to update our emergency kit. We live in an earthquake zone, in a rural area that loses its power with some regularity, in a part of the country that deals with fire emergencies every summer. It just makes sense to be prepared. So we have a big garbage bin filled with emergency radios and cell phone chargers, a ceramic water filter, camping equipment, first aid supplies and a crossword puzzle book to keep us occupied.

And in the workshop we have the bulk of our food storage. I'm aiming for a 3 month supply, but we're not quite there yet.

I know some people think I'm a little crazy (which doesn't matter, because I'd rather be prepared and not need to be, than not prepared and wishing I was). But today - well, today my emergency preparations came through for me when I most needed them.

Did we have an earthquake? No.

Did we have a power outage? Well, no . . .

Was there a flood? Er, not really . . .

What exactly, then was the state of the emergency?

A bad day. A really bad day. A long and tiring and really bad day.

And how did the emergency kit help with that, you might ask? It wasn't the first aid kit that I desperately needed and was so grateful for, or the sleeping bag, or the wind-up radio.

No, it was the chocolate covered almonds I had squirreled away. Boy oh boy, when I remembered they were there and went to fetch them and they were right where I had put them, my day instantly improved by a factor of about a million.

So don't let anyone ever tell you emergency preparations are a waste of time. They saved my day.

And, yes, I will replace the ones I ate, which by bed time will probably be the entire bag.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Something wonderful is happening in the sound scape at Mucky Boots: humming, lots and lots of humming. Bees, in every flowering plant from the chestnut tree to the stands of comfrey to the raspberry bushes to the rhododendrons. That's great news, especially in the vegetable garden, berry patch and orchard, because bees mean fertilized flowers which means a chance for apples and strawberries and peas and tomatoes this year. And with the collapse of bee colonies all over North America, it's not news we take for granted.

I tried to take a picture, but bees are busy little creatures, and wouldn't stay put long enough for me to point, focus and click. So instead, here are some of the blooms that had bees in them today - until I showed up with the camera, that is.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Welsh onion

Last year when I was surfing through seed catalogues making picks for the 2010 growing season, my eye fell on Welsh onions, described as a perennial onion. Well, anything edible that's also a perennial sounds good to me, so I bought a packet and grew six clumps that I transplanted into the herb bed. They grew happily, looking very much like scallions, and overwintered just as happily, staying green through all the snow. And now, this spring, they're flowering - gorgeously.

Here's my problem: what exactly is a perennial onion? I know I can cut the green part off and it will regrow, like chives. Is that all it is - a beefier version of a chive? Because for sure, if I dig up the bulb, the life of that particular perennial comes to a close. Somehow I expected more than just big chives. Did my imagination simply run away with me?

And while I'm asking what are probably really stupid questions, why don't seed packets give harvesting tips as well as planting information? Just wondering. . .

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Return of the poppies

It looks like it's going to be a banner year for poppies here at Mucky Boots. The San Pellegrino poppies (so named by me because they're the exact colour of San Pellegrino Aranciata, one of the most refreshing drinks known to humankind) have been blooming up a storm for about a month now, in their simple, modest way. But this week they were joined by their slightly-more-flamboyant orange cousins. . .

. . . and the first of the jaw-droppingly gorgeous, dinner-plate-sized Oriental poppies.

Look at all the future blooms on this one plant - and there are scores more all over the property. We're in for a show!
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