Wassail, traveler, and welcome to The Gable Grey -- a place of retreat, of renewal, and of resistance: a tree-shaded refuge in Dark Times. Now pass the threshold, and rest from journeys! For a cold wind is blowing; and here, if you wish, you may hear tidings of the world without...

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sights of September

I always welcome September.  It is the last month of summer.  Shadows lengthen as the Sun's course shifts.  The first leafy casualties drift earthward.  Cardinal flowers bloom in weedy bogs.  Cattle egrets can be seen winging their way in small groups southward.  Garden annuals -- those that survived the searing August -- settle in for their last months before frost.

It's a month for me to reflect on the year that was, a year usually spent trying to bring to fruition plans made the previous year.  I almost never compete my projects, but this year I have come very close, and may yet wrap things up as I had forseen.

I grew this young brown turkey fig from cuttings made back in April or May.  I'd never tried propagation of figs from cuttings -- my only experience with that method had been with hydrangeas -- but it worked well.  I made four cuttings:  two from woody stems, and two from green stems.  The woody stems took, while the other two died.  I watered it nearly every day, keeping it by the back door so that I could both get to it easily and be reminded of it every time I went outside that way.  It's done well in the mixture of mulch and topsoil I fashioned for it; I added a sprinkling of chicken manure for good measure.  The surviving cuttings have doubled in size since they rooted.  I will not set the plant out until late October or early November, when the last of the hot, dry weather is past. 

The parent fig in the foreground, now going on four years old.  I got it in a two-gallon pot, along with its mate behind it and to the right.  The one behind it made a very small crop this year; the bigger one, none at all.  I suspect it was due to the drought we suffered through in May-July.  The few figs we had took a long time to ripen.  Turkey figs can have both spring and autumn crops; looks like we will not be having an autumn crop this year.  A third, much smaller turkey fig is hidden about 15 feet behind the large one, at the bend in the L-shaped bed. 

Our tomatoes did... poorly this year, with the exception of a lone cherry tomato plant that sprung up all by itself back in March, and has produced several pounds of sweet, flavorful little tomatoes all summer.  The others, which my daughter and I propagated from seed, struggled to survive through this wretched June, and though they have a good, vibrant growth now, there are only about a dozen fruit on them, which will hopefully give us some nice flavorful late-summer tomato sandwiches.  I may skip the seed propagation next year, and just go with a flat bought from Wal-Mart or Lowe's.

Having a strawberry bed has been a goal of mine for many, many years.  There was one at one of the houses we lived in when I was growing up, and while it was a really pitiful, puny affair, the idea of having fresh strawberries growing in my own yard stuck with me.  This is a raised bed, attached to the main garden bed (it had been our vegetable garden area the year before), with a mixed medium of pine straw mulch, topsoil, cow manure, and chicken manure.  The 9 plants did well, producing some sweet fruit, and to my great satisfaction have spread over their square and established other strawberry plants.  Since this was their first year, I expect that much of their energy went into getting established; I hope that next year, if the weather cooperates, we'll see a nice harvest.

What a damned mess.  Two types of pumpkin -- white Luna, and orange Jack-O'Lantern -- yielded three embarrassingly small pumpkins and a host of vines that threatened to overwhelm any living thing within 20' of the garden.  They nearly crushed the cucumber plants to death, grabbed hold of the bell peppers and invaded the tomatoes.  I will never plant pumpkin so close -- no, make that "anywhere near" -- to the vegetable garden again.

After over two years of adjustments, fiddling, and general incompetence, the Citadel is complete. 

The Rammas Echor completely encircles the Pelennor and the Citadel.  Height varies from 5' to 5 1/2' due to the uneven terrain; this has so far prevented any flights out of the enclosure, which had become an issue before it was completed.  As far as I know, no hawks or owls have attempted a landing within, though I expect this to happen at some point, as the Polish are small enough for them to be carried off by a GHO or female RT.  About 85-90% of the wire fence is partially buried at the base, and secured with bricks that are themselves staked into the ground.  This assures that it is nearly predator-proof; our foxes do not seem inclined to even try to dig under it, or to attempt other types of seige warfare.  Perhaps they will resort to flinging chicken heads over the fence, in hopes of drawing out the defenders.

The Gate is a seemingly ramshackle affair, but upon closer inspection it reveals its sturdiness.  An old indoor pet-gate serves as the lower 2/3, which (due to its construction) can easily withstand the paws and claws of any carnivore less than a Gray Wolf, Warg, or Black Bear.  The top 1/3 is simply an extension of the fence, which is secured at its end on a hook from the T-post; I only have to simply draw the wire back when I want to open the Gate.  The top 1/3, when latched, also serves to keep the lower 2/3 in securely in place; a brick at the bottom gives added peace of mind.

I purchased the boards and have extra wire for a "proper" Gate, but until this one proves unserviceable I'm going to hold off.

Most of the T-posts are reinforced with a bamboo stake, which increases the stability of the Rammas, and also helps take out some of the slack of the top half of the fence.  I do not like a saggy fence.

One of our "girls," probably Thelma Lou.  We can tell who is who among our Dominicker hens by the shape of their combs and wattle size.  Helen has the longest comb, while Aunt Bea has the biggest wattles.  Bea is not very sociable, but Helen and Thelma Lou are very sweet birds, and will sit on your knee or shoulder if you get down to their level.  Hand-raising will do that. 

I have two feeding trays set up for their mash.  I had only one until recently, but the bickering and fighting in the mornings (when I feed them) was too much, causing all 18 birds too much stresss.  So I added another tray.  Plus, I think they enjoy getting in it and scratching around, which they could not do with a more conventional feeder.  I got these long plastic trays from my father-in-law; I don't know where he'd gotten them.  I use only Purina Layerna; the other brand offered at the feed store, while cheaper and produced in Mississippi, has too much chaff and dust, and the birds didn't take to it too well.

Until the Fraggles (the Polish Cresteds) were nearly grown, I relied on 1, 3-gallon waterer, plus two small "chick" waterers.  It soon became apparent, especially when it began to get really hot in early June, that more was needed, so I got another 3-gallon waterer.  These are not cheap, by my miserly standards -- they run around $25 at the farm & garden -- but they are easy to clean.  And cleaning they must have, at least once every two days.  They still have to be filled at least once every 2 to 2 1/2 days in the summertime, but that will decrease during the winter months.

We average 1 egg per laying hen per day.  Some days are better than others.  We always thank them when we collect the eggs.  May sound odd; but then, we are an odd folk.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  I've had enough normal to bore me till our Sun goes supernova.

Two 5-gallon buckets hold about 47-48 pounds of feed.  I keep the buckets suspended by bungee cords from the rafters, both to discourage pests and to give the birds a little more room to move around at night.  Roosting space is at a premium.

During the heat of the day, when temperatures in and around the coop flirt with 100 degrees, most of the flock moves to the Catacombs beneath the coop, where it is much, much cooler. 

I had initially blocked off the Catacombs with chicken wire, fearing eggs would be laid there in the darkness, and I would not find them or be able to get to them, and sanitation issues (always a concern with poultry) would result.  But the Doms literally beat down the wire to get to the coolness, and there have so far been no problems, so I've decided to allow them this small concession.

Our rooster, Lionel, named after Lionel Luthor, Lex's father on the awesome TV series Smallville.  Lionel is a Barred Rock, and was the "free rare breed and exotic" mystery chick included with the Polish back in April.  Lionel is easily twice as big as the Polish, and stands taller than Juan, our Dominicker rooster, whom I recently murdered.  Unlike Juan, who was a dirty bastard of the worst sort, Lionel is so far shy and retiring and (most importantly) non-confrontational; this is probably due to the fact that, unlike Juan -- who was hand-reared, like our Dom hens (his sisters) -- Lionel has not been held or hand-fed since he was a chick and old enough to get away from me; thus, I suspect, he never lost his instinctive fear of humans.  He is, I must say, an impressive bird, and much better-looking than Juan, who had a crooked tail.  (Note the regular comb on Lionel.  Doms have a "rose" comb.  That, plus the more defined "bars" of his plumage, marks him as a Barred Rock, and not a Dominicker.  They are very similar otherwise.)

Still wondering about the choice of "Lionel" for the rooster's name?

Compost pile, begun in May.  Wish I had started it years ago.  The posts are for wire that will keep stuff from spilling out -- wire that will probably not get installed until stuff actually starts spilling out.

Ouachita thornless blackberry.  We have 5-6 of these.  They are vigorous vines and produce big berries, but the berries are not as prolific or flavorful as wild ones.

Tifblue variety of blueberry.  Of the four types we have here -- the others being rabbiteye, premier, and homebell -- tifblue probably has done the best, with homebell being the worst.  All seem to take a year to get established, putting out most of their growth in the second year.  Our blueberry crops have been tiny, so far.  I hope our eight bushes will be producing lots of berries in 4-5 years.

One of two "muscadine grape" vines I bought last winter from Lowe's.  I think it's more of a grape than what we traditionally call a "muscadine" here in Mississippi.

"True" native muscadine, the biggest one on our property.  This one has taken over a mountain laurel bush, but has not killed it.  The mountain laurel blooms in early spring, before the muscadine leafs out in April.  The vine has not yielded any muscadines yet; I hope next year it will.  I love muscadines.

Jackson pecan, about 4-5 years old.  It only puts on around 3" of new growth per year.  The only mature pecan on our property -- it was really still just an adolescent, honestly -- was smashed by a water oak uprooted during Hurricane Katrina.  This pecan draws some of its nutrients from the decaying root system of a 60-year old hickory that I watched fall down during Katrina.

One of the best investments we made in recent memory:  our Fiskars Momentum Reel Mower.  Back in April, when I realized that I faced another season of misery and expense at the hands of our aged Snapper riding mower, I followed the example of my good friend and co-contrarian, Jeremy Williams, and purchased myself one of these mowers off Amazon.com.  It is similar to the old conventional reel mowers, which are making a comeback, thanks to higher gas prices and growing environmental awareness; but the big differences are the crossbar beneath the reel, which works with the rotating blades to "snip" grass blades instead of gnawing them off, and its four-wheel system, which allows for greater maneuverability and general ease of handling.

Of course, I've gotten a bit of wonder from friends and family members regarding my mower.  After all, around half of our 1.33 acres is grass, so it's a lot to cut by hand.  All I can say is, it ain't for sissies!  But I enjoy no engine noise or fumes, no gas and maintenance costs, and an incredibly intense workout of my arms, shoulders, and legs on a regular basis.  It stores easily, within the confines of our sunroom.  I will never, ever go back to a gas powered mower!  I still use our small electric push mower for the dogs' yard, which is usually chock-full of dog shit that I don't want on my reel mower.  But, other than that:

I cut the front yard about once every 1 1/2 weeks with it.  The far corners of the back yard only get trimmed once a month or so. 

This weekend, we are expecting much rainfall from Tropical Storm General Lee, which will be welcome.

Three weeks to go until Autumn.  I'm looking forward to the cooler months, fall colors, the return of winter birds, and hunting the wild DeSoto with my brother.

Wassail, friends.

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Whiles carried o'er the iron road,
We hurry by some fair abode;
The garden bright amidst the hay,
The yellow wain upon the way,
The dining men, the wind that sweeps
Light locks from off the sun-sweet heaps --
The gable grey, the hoary roof,
Here now -- and now so far aloof.
How sorely then we long to stay
And midst its sweetness wear the day,
And 'neath its changing shadows sit,
And feel ourselves a part of it.
Such rest, such stay, I strove to win
With these same leaves that lie herein.

-- William Morris, from
"The Roots of the Mountains"