Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lammas 2009

Haystacks in Late Summer c.1891, Claude Monet (1840-1926)

Lammas marks the midpoint between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox. A festival of the summer harvest, it is often celebrated on August 1st.

We're observing Lammas by eating white corn from our friend Astrid's vegetable garden.

Wishing you a happy harvest time!

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The back lawn is gone

The dog and I spent many a happy summer morning sitting under the walnut tree, watching the sprinklers run on the back lawn.

Watching sprinklers makes people feel good.

The previous owners of our house dug in that sprinkler system themselves. When they came to visit, a year after we bought the house, the four of us had dinner on the back deck. My husband ran the sprinkler system to demo that it was still working well. “Oh, that’s nice,” she sighed. We all sat smiling at the lawn.

That was 13 years ago. The lawn grew tired.

Mr. Daffodil Planter and I learned about dethatching lawns (fun!) and toiled in various ways on each inch of turf: kneeling with dandelion forks, spreading compost, pacing back and forth cranking handles of seed broadcasters, hoping each time that the gods of gardening would reward our efforts.

Last month we took a long look at the tussocky, patchy quarter-acre of turf. The only one really enjoying it was our galloping dog. And she didn’t have to mow.

Fate intervened. One sprinkler head refused to cooperate. “Let’s stop watering the lawn!” we said in unison.

And we have lived happily ever after.

We don’t know what we’re going to plant instead. Henry Mitchell would tell us that an open central area in full sun is perfect for a lily pool.

He’d be right, and then we could invite Animal Planet over to film all the mule deer, mountain lions, raccoons, and probably black bears who would stop by for a sip. So, short of opening our house as a nature-watchers' bed-and-breakfast, that idea is out.

We’re counting on the "no lawn" before-and-after photos at Blue Planet Gardening to inspire us.

In the meantime, the dog and I sit under the walnut tree in the morning and watch the Steller’s Jays.

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Friday, July 3, 2009

The Americana, Ameraucana, Araucana backyard chicken confusion

Trio of Ameraucana hens. Photo: Steven Walling

I'm stumped when my backyard-chicken-tending friends tell me they have Ameraucanas.

Thanks to Martha Stewart, everyone knows that Araucana chickens lay blue-shelled eggs; and again, thanks to Martha's commercial zeal, many living rooms are painted that blue color--giving new meaning to the paint term "eggshell finish".

With the word "Americana" on all our lips this Independence Day weekend, and the possibility of social gaffes looming when the party conversation turns, as it inevitably does, to poultry, here's the difference between Ameraucanas and Araucanas.

  • The breeds evolved separately and both come in lots of colors, so you can't tell by the feathers.
  • Ameraucanas have tails.
  • Araucanas have ear tufts.
  • Both breeds lay blue eggs, have pea combs and red earlobes.

You didn't know that chickens had earlobes until just now, did you?

Here's the tricky part. Ameraucanas are very rare:

  • If the hen lays blue eggs and the owner says it's an Ameraucana, odds are it's actually a mixed-breed hen in the catch-all category of Easter Egger. A real Ameraucana has slate-blue legs.

But don't bring that up, unless you want to ruin the Fourth of July party.

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