Spreading Little Wings

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know by now how much I love my critters. My teenage chicks got to taste their freedom for the first time a few evenings ago with some supervised time outside their run. It was so fun to watch them come bursting through their run door into the big wide world, and their explorations began. Curious little things.

I had been intending to start integrating them into the big girl flock for awhile, but this was prompted in particular by my rooster, Bernard, who is honestly just a jerk to all of his flock mates. He may end up in the soup pot if he isn’t careful. I have to say, I’ve enjoyed the big girls putting him in his place on a number of occasions…They came to inspect the proceedings and definitely aren’t impressed with Bernard.

The last few nights, they’ve gone out with the big girls, interacted pretty seamlessly with the hens, and managed to put themselves away successfully at sundown. How easy is that?

Bittersweet, But Wonderful

As summer fades into autumn, I ponder springtime. Autumn and spring are so similar, but with a mood and a flavor and a savor completely alien to one another. Both are an anticipated change from the previous seasons and both are transitions of one thing to another. Spring doesn’t come to bring spring. Spring comes to bring summer. Autumn doesn’t come to bring autumn, it comes to bring winter. And that right there, I think, is why their flavor is so different.

Spring means a warming up, and a bursting forth of new life, growing things, greening up, and the hope of what is coming. Hopeful optimism is spring’s emotion.

Fall’s coolness and moisture are a welcome relief, but with the bittersweetness of bracing for winter. Fall is a coming to fruition of summer, a completion, a finishing. Wistful contentment is fall’s emotion.

And there is wistfulness. The beautiful colors don’t last very long, the warm days will be short lived, and refreshingly cool will become bitingly cold. All the work anticipated in the spring and taking place in the summer is competed in the fall.

As rewarding as it is to be putting up my garden harvest, there’s a wistful regret to see ripen the last of the pumpkins and the last of the tomatoes, and it is a little sad to be clearing everything out of the garden, little by little. My flower garden is still beautiful but all it will take is one frost for that to be done for the year.

My little bum calf, Charlie, finally flew the coop and stopped coming in every morning for her feed, and joined two cow-calf pairs down in the hayfield. It is delightful to see her playing with the other calves, rough-housing and no longer lonely, but I miss her silly little calf personality every morning down at the barn.

The calves born in the spring are big and fat and sleek, a producer’s pride, but there’s a puzzling regret when they are sold.

The antelope family we watched all summer along our driveway seems to have joined up with another small herd, so we don’t see them anymore, but now we hear elk bugling on the ridgetop behind our house. I wish I could describe the haunting, chilling, beautiful song that those elk make.

The fall cow work with the best of neighbors from all along Spring Creek is just winding up, and is possibly the best part of the fall. It really doesn’t get much better than getting to spend long days doing hard work and then fellowshipping over a meal when the work is done. But as that burst of activity winds up and then winds down over the next couple of weeks, we’ll look ahead to a long and sometimes lonely winter season. But after winter comes spring, and those same neighbors will be gathering folks for work days and coming to ours.

The days are shortening from both ends, the shadows are long and getting longer. The madcap, productive days spent outdoors, trying to beat the heat with a sunrise start, sweating and getting sunburnt and filthy and finally tumbling inside tireder than tired will be a thing of the past and a thing of the future, and attentions will be turned to other kinds of work. It will be a quieter sort of work, as the outside world starts to slumber. Projects that get sidelined during summer’s busyness will be brought out, and planning for the next year will really begin.

Autumn is indeed bittersweet. Bittersweet, but wonderful.

Last of Summer, First of Fall

Fall creeps in softly, with that month of little hints, teasing us with the cool evenings, refreshingly chilly nights, and the freshness of throwing open the windows. Then – finally! – the turn of the seasons is unmistakable, as the cool days are followed by cold nights, blankets are added to the bed, a mug of hot tea doubles as a handwarmer, sweaters and flannels replace lighter summer wear, and fall is absolutely here with a flavor all its own.

Summer’s flowers fade and autumn’s fruits ripen. Everything is shades of yellow and red and orange and gold, on a canvas of warm browns. The last of the sunflowers reach heavenward, not yet nipped by frost, resolutely clinging to the last of the warmth in the shortening evenings. Rosehips, the fruit of love’s flower, deepen in color, gold to crimson, glittering like little glorious jewels in the underbrush. If the flower goes unnoticed in the chaos of summer color, the fruit refuses to be missed in the fading grasses. They’re rather captivating, and I find myself stumbling across them on my walks and feeling compelled to photograph them again and again.

Leadplant, a subtle summer beauty of grey-green and grey-lavender, flames out in the fall, and brown hillsides erupt in splendor as previously drab shrubby things, unknown and unnoticed in the summer’s green, take on incredible autumn hues.

Western South Dakota isn’t known for its fall colors, not like places out east which are tourist destinations in the fall. But I love our autumns. I love those little stands of aspen and other hardwoods in the low places or burn areas that suddenly make their presence known. What we lack in quantity we make up for in the delight of coming up over a hill or around a bend and finding a wonderful display of color in the draw below or flaming on the hillside above.

So at last fall is here.

Favorite Perennials

A well-tended perennial garden has a beauty all its own, and thejoy of it is amplified in that it keeps coming back, and keeps coming back, and keeps coming back! Perennials tend to get ignored in the springtime fury of planting, since most people fall for the immediate gratification of copiously-blooming annuals displayed at the greenhouse. Perennials tend to bloom later and don’t get the showcasing that annuals do….Not until the middle or end of the summer when the annuals have all had their hayday and perennials are still shining or just starting to!

The ease and flexibility of planting annuals in a container is pretty appealing to a lot of folks, especially if they don’t already have a garden bed ready for plants but, if at all possible, perennials are the way to go and, tended well, will come back for years to come. It is really amazing to me that sometimes all that is left of a homestead from the late 1800s or early 1900s is a hedge of roses or a few lilac shrubs, still blooming joyfully 100 years later. In fact, the lilacs Brad and I have outside our house are transplants of some lilacs blooming about a mile and a half away on top of a hill. The lilacs and some irises are all that remain of someone’s life on that little piece of hill country.

I was able to get my perennials in the ground early this summer, shortly after Brad and I got married, and planted a few from seed later in the summer, but fall is actually a great time to plant perennials. So I thought I’d share a little bouquet of my favorites.

Catmint. Not to be confused with catnip, which is a completely different plant, this perennial is one of my favorites in the garden. It is hardy, basically grows without any effort, and is a wonderful filler! Unlike some perennials which bloom and then are done, catmint seems never to stop. It can also be sheared in the middle of the summer after its first bloom if it is starting to look scraggly, and will grow back fuller for a second round of blooming. I bought a few catmints in tiny 2 inch pots back in June and these plants are now generous 18 inch bushes. They tend to get wider than they do tall, so they kind of work just about anywhere in the garden, and as I said above they make a great filler. Absolutely beautiful. A bonus is that the pollinators love these flowers. Another bonus is that, due to their fragrance, deer generally don’t mess with them. (Deer proof plants are a myth. They don’t exist. But there is such a thing as generally deer resistant, and plants with a pungeant aroma are generally less likely to be munched on by deer.)

Salvia. This is another one I just love. The typical shade is kind of a violet blue, but lately growers have developed some really wonderful shades of pink. In general, I’m not a pink person at all, but some of the salvias are just delicious rich berry colors. This plant does best with regular deadheading. Each blossom spike can be snipped back when spent, down to the first pair of new leaves, and this will encourage reblooming. This is another drought-resistant and deer-resistant plant, but is less forgiving than catmint. Salvia doesn’t get hugely tall, so it works well somewhat offset from the edge of the garden, but not too far back.

Yarrow. This is an easily-recognizable flower, if you pay any attention to native wildflowers, and the domestic varities have been bred for some gorgeous colors. Wild yarrow is white with occasional pink, but I was excited to plant one variety that blooms red and fades to yellow, and another variety of more subtle shades of pink and white. This is yet another drought-resistant and hardy perennial, and it blooms forever in the later summer! It has some height to it, so it makes a great middle of the garden flower.

As much as I love the change of seasons, I’m bracing a little bit for that first killing frost we have, since I’m enjoying my garden so much this summer! But it will be just delightful to see how everything comes back in the spring. Gardening is possibly the epitome of hope and optimism!

Ranch Wife Musings: Evening

As I tidy up the kitchen as my last home task of the evening, I get a good view of my little flock of chickens down by their coop, chasing a few last bugs. Clearly they aren’t ready to be tucked in just yet. The horses are visible just on the other side of the barn, having been given their freedom for the night, and sometimes Charlie the Calf comes wandering into the barn yard for a drink of water or maybe thinking I’ll give her one more little scoop of calf creep.

The sky turns orange then pink then lavender as the shadow of our little ridge is cast further and further east, until the last little bit of sunlit prairie has been covered in the comfort of evening shadow.

What a peaceful sight.

I love my little jaunt down to the chicken coop to do the very last of my chores for the day. Pearl comes with me, since she takes her chicken chores very seriously, and usually one or more of the cats run down to the coop with me as well. With an actual pounding of little feet, Yellow Cat (who probably slept all day until five minutes ago) races by, then Grey Cat (who probably worked all day), tearing around, then stopping suddenly and staring at absolutely nothing in the uncanny way cats do.

The chickens chatter contentedly amongst themselves and maybe greet me quietly when I come in to make sure everyone is accounted for. Yep, there’s Amelia, and Alice, and Audrey, and Goldie, and Little Red, Little Red, Little Red, and Little Red. And seven black chickens, including Henrietta, the only one who gets a name because she looks like a vulture. I close the coop windows or open them a crack, depending on the evening temps, and scratch one or two of the friendly birds on their backs before collecting my egg basket and closing the girls in for the night.

Pearl reluctantly joins me on the little walk back up to the house. The cats run and pounce on each other, occasionally scrapping and working out a few feminine feline differences. Rocket the Horse says something sarcastic to Jargon the Horse, or maybe that was Chip putting Rocket in his place.

And everything is still. I love an evening on the rim of the prairie. A distant coyote yelps. A nighthawk calls out high up and out of sight. Maybe there’s the soft roar of the nighthawk’s wings as he swoops and dives. The warmth of the last days of summer melts away and cool night breezes shift around gently, resiny, fresh, and sweet.

This is home.

Chicken Math

My husband is a very patient man.

Somehow two chicken fatalities several weeks ago strongly suggested an immediate need for a whole new flock of chicks, so two weeks ago that exciting noisy box came to the post office and eighteen chicks took up residence in our spare bedroom. Much to my delight, and to Pearl’s, who was overwhelmedly thrilled to have baby chicks to stare at for hours at a time. We actually caught her perched on top of the brooders, absolutely fascinated by her chicks, and without any intent to injure them. My husband says she and I watch the chicks with the same expression on our faces.

I steered away from Buff Orpingtons due to their apparent lack of healthy fear (they were the two fatalities) and instead leaned heavily on Ameraucanas and Light Brahmas, and also added a few Delawares. McMurray Hatchery threw in three freebies for the total of eighteen chicks. What fun. I split the Brahmas and three Delawares off from the Ameraucanas after the first day or so, since the latter were all on the smaller size and I wanted to avoid picking. I used the same brooder setup as before, made from large Rubbermaid tubs with screen inserts in the lids, but was able to get by very easily with one heat lamp for the two brooders, rather than one lamp each.

The chicks have done really well over the last two weeks, without any losses. One chick, who has been named “Little Betsy,” or “Little Bee,” for short, one of the seven Ameraucanas, got some hand feeding for about five days due to her small size. She took readily to the egg yolk on a Q-tip and loved feeding time. She’s still petite and does have a slight cross beak, which doesn’t seem to be affecting her ability to eat, and gives her the funniest quizzical expression. She’s a gentle little bird.

Today was moving day and the chicks, just starting to reach their awkward adolescent stage with pin feathers and scruff, were graduated from the nursery brooders to their grade school brooder, made of an old Lumix feed tub, about 4×8 feet in size, with plenty of room for them to spread their little wing stubs. The two mini flocks had shown a little schoolyard hostility over the last few days, when one chick would manage to get into the other brooder, but they combined rather well this afternoon, without any issues. The warm summer weather will be to their advantage, only needing supplemental heat at night, and they will enjoy all the extra room. It really is amazing how fast chicks double and triple in size!

At least now Pearl can do her chicken chores without running back and forth from the house to the barn and back again. Maybe she’ll even take up her old hobby of bunny hunting. Meanwhile, I can try to figure out how it is that 18 chickens – 2 chickens = 34 chickens. Math never was my strength anyway.