Six tiny chicks showed up at the local post office in the late part of summer 2009. It was August, we had just gotten home from a great road trip vacation to Yellowstone NP, Grand Teton NP, and Glacier NP. (This was the vacation where Aimee really got to get in some serious "wheel time" driving the Subaru. I napped in the passenger seat and woke up to find her cruising along at 83 mph in Montana. Yikes!) The coop was nearly finished, and the brooder box was warm and waiting. Portia, Ellen, Raquel, Ursula, Ingrid, and Norma Jean all thrived in those late summer weeks. By December we had our first eggs.
Sadly, we lost one of our chicks in early 2010. Norma Jean, tragically named after Marylin Monroe, died young of an overdose. If only we could have sensed the foreboding in her name. It was a terribly sobering event after such initial success, and it forced us to come to terms with how attached we had become to our little ladies in the backyard.
Bartering eggs around the neighborhood opened up new lines of communication, friendship, and sharing, and we credit the chickens and the garden in the front yard for much of this. One neighbor was so caught up with the beauty of our hens than he asked us to raise a few for him. He built a great little coop and run, and his three chickens are now happy and healthy, and I think they're probably a bit spoiled.
That same batch of chicks brought three new lives into our own flock, though we could never have guessed how much they would teach us or force us to grow over the course of a summer. Winona, the luckiest (or unluckiest) little Wyandotte I have ever known, started out a little slower than her brooder box mates. I dropped a board on her and nearly killed her, but she simply refused to give up. After a few days in isolation under a heat lamp, she rejoined her sisters and has grown up to be pretty close to normal. As it turns out, her inability to prevent getting whacked by me is probably related to her scissor beak condition. To this day, her beak must be clipped regularly, her eyesight leaves a lot to be desired, and she's extremely shy about portait shots with the camera. Though she consistently peck an inch to the left of snacks on the ground, she's a fighter. In other words, she's really darned plump.
Dark Meat is the embodiment of pure joy. I have yet to capture a video of her antics, but believe me that it will be worth the wait when that movie shows up. Perhaps a dedicated post to our funniest chick is in order soon. Neither of the two youngers chickens have started to lay eggs, and this Friday they will be 33 weeks old. They seem to have the support of the toughest chicken union I have ever negotiated with.
Rusty, formerly known as Milla, was the most robust, beautiful, and biggest chick we had ever seen. We remained firmly in denial about his gender until the infamous "borkle" sound I heard one afternoon. We struggled with our decision to slaughter him, and we learned so much about respect and personal limits, none of which were anticipated. Though we have received some criticism about butchering our own animal, it was an important step for the future farm we will someday own. On a personal level, slaughtering an animal I genuinely loved has changed my internal compass for eating, and it has opened my eyes to behaviors and practices I feel I can no longer ignore.
We cut down the massive, very old, and incredibly frail douglas fir in our front yard during the peak of the summer heat. That seemingly simple act has opened up a world of possibility for our small raised bed garden, and we are now looking forward to more work, more harvesting, and more sunlight in our future.
What's to come in the future? If we have learned anything in the last year of urban farming it is that planning is fun, but the farm will make its own decisions with or without our input. Below is a list of hopes, and some of them feel a bit like New Year's resolutions, which is to say that fulfilling or ignoring them are both viable options.
- Honey bees are the next big goal. We'll be starting out with a single hive in the front yard in the spring, and we hope to learn much about the lives and organization of bees, pollination, listening to the weather, and collecting honey.
- Meat birds are the next logical step after Rusty. Though this particular item is under some heavy scrutiny at the moment, it will eventually happen in the coming years, even if next year is not good timing.
- The garden shed will be getting a concrete floor, and we hope to have this completed before the end of 2010. Both it and the garage could use a lot of love and work, but we'll handle that one project at a time. In the meantime, we need a safe place for storage, and we're looking forward to growing more of our garden starts under cover.
- The reclaimed "acreage" in the front yard needs to be converted into beds and a mini orchard. Building raised beds can be a lot of work, but we've had such great success with those that we already have, and Aimee really wants a place to grow raspberries. I'm hoping to rig one or more of them to accomodate a mini hoop house for tomatoes, cukes, and possibly some other fun veggies.
- The line of stumps in the backyard is gone, thanks to the fine efforts of the chickens. A second mini orchard may find its home there.
- Our parking strip is the last vestige of grass (by which I mostly mean weeds and clover) in front of the house. One bed of herbs is already planted, and at least four more are planned. In my mind (as idyllic and ridiculous as it is known to be), I imagine our neighbors casually wandering over to clip oregano and parsley for their dinners in the summer evenings. In reality, I am prepared for more than a little cat poop.
- Many of the bedding plants around the house are going to be removed and re-homed to make way for rhubarb, berries, and who-knows-what-else. We both agree that the calla lilies are waning, the single mum doesn't get enough light, and the dhalia always gets infested with aphids. It's time for edible permaculture.