My dream of rain and a lush garden the second half of summer has not happened. And, based on the forecast, is not going to happen. The drought continues. Minneapolis has imposed water restrictions and you’d think the world was ending for some people who are pissed off that they can’t water their lawn whenever they please. I have been shocked to learn just how many people think that if their lawn goes brown in summer that it is dead. In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, it is discouraging how little people know about water conservation. Having lived the first quarter of my life in southern California, I have careful use of water baked into my being and I am appalled by how wasteful people in Minnesota are.
James and I continue to find sources of gray water for the garden. We had yet another heatwave last week and the air conditioner condenser water filled a 5-gallon bucket every day and a half. Today I filled another 5-gallon buck with rinse water from the washing machine. I could have gotten more but that would mean sitting in the basement for 45 minutes as the wash goes through the entire cycle. The laundry gray water was a last minute idea today. I will put my thinking cap on for a better way to capture it next weekend.
While the garden is clearly stressed, we’ve managed to keep most things alive. We’ve gotten through the first flush of green beans—yum! and the pole beans are getting ready to start now. Our sole tomato plant is producing cherry tomatoes, a few at a time. The corn is tasseling. I got enough gooseberries for the first time this year to make a little jar of jam. And the bush cherries are ripening faster than we can pit them. They are smaller than they would be in a water-plentiful year, but I am just happy to have them no matter what.
I had a wonderment last week. James was working late, it was around 7 in the evening. I was standing at the deck sliding glass door brushing my teeth and looking out into the garden, watching a monarch butterfly float through. And then, and then, more sparrows than I have ever seen in one place swooped into the garden. They were everywhere, in the trees, on the ground, on the fence, on top of the chicken coop. Some were on the nettles, others were on the seed stalks the curly dock sent up, others were on the corn. As some flew off, others would fly in. Sometimes something would startle them and they would all rise up at once—how could there be so many sparrows in such a small space?—before settling down again. I stood there with my mouth full of toothpaste, watching in wonder. There must have been 100 or more sparrows in the garden. Slowly, slowly, as some flew off, fewer and fewer dropped in to take their place until finally—15 minutes? 20?—they had all moved on.
The next day the garden was visited by a large flock of grackles, perhaps 20-30 of them. Like the sparrows the day before, they did not stay long.
Between these two wonderments, some cherries got eaten and almost all of the—still unripe—elderberries at the top of the tree. But nothing else. I am unable to see Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood from the house, so I have no idea what they thought of the bird visitations. I am disappointed about the elderberries, but grateful they didn’t eat more. I have never seen anything like this, but I suspect it has much to do with the drought. Even the squirrels are being more aggressive than usual. The hazelnuts are not even close to being ripe but the squirrels have already eaten most of them. And they are eating unripe crabapples too. They also tore open a box the mail carrier left on my porch the other day, and ripped through two plastic bags to get at the chocolate wafers a friend of mine had sent as part of a present.
One thing the squirrels have not been doing is bothering the planted box on my deck, the one they stole the row cover fabric from for their nests and then proceeded to dig up in the spring. The carrots that made it through the squirrel-pocalypse are doing really well. Since they are right outside the kitchen they get lots of random watering. So I decided I would plant radishes in the box again.
I seeded some watermelon radish I had leftover from last season and the final few seeds of cherry bell radish from this season. Between the tail-end of last week’s heatwave and plenty of water, they sprouted up within two days. And on the third day I looked out to see a squirrel butt on the edge of the box.
The front end of the squirrel was digging up the newly sprouted radishes. Seriously? I was so mad I threw open the door and swore at the squirrel, who scampered off without an overabundance of haste. I pushed the dug up sprouts back into the dirt and looked around for something I could put over the box to protect the radishes. I found a small wire mesh shelf. It would be really easy for a squirrel to push aside, but so far, no one has bothered it. Fingers crossed this continues. In the mean time, I have turned my brain to how to protect the corn when it gets big enough to be of interest. I have maybe a week or so to find a solution.
Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood are doing well. They are two resilient chickens. Chickens don’t have sweat glands so the multiple heatwaves this summer have been hard going for them. When they are allowed out of their run, they wallow in the dirt in the deep shade of the elderberry.
We had a message from someone on Thursday that he had found our Rhode Island red chicken—Elinor—five blocks away from our house that morning around 10:30. We leave the chickens locked in the run when we are away, but could something have happened? And then he said, oh she was real friendly too. She came right over when he called to her. We knew then it was not our Elinor. She does not come when called. She comes when she feels like it and is just as likely to peck a hole in your hand as she is to be friendly.
But the chicken rescuer, who has chickens himself, went to a lot of trouble to even find us. He posted on Nextdoor, someone suggested it was us but didn’t know our exact address. So the man drove around the neighborhood until he saw our coop. Then he somehow found one of our neighbors who had our phone number and called. We thanked him profusely for all the trouble he took., and I hope he eventually found the hen’s home. We are really glad he didn’t assume she was our chicken and leave her in our backyard. I was surprised about the sparrows and grackles, imagine coming home to an extra chicken!
The new chickens, Lucy, Ethel, and Sia, are still indoors and doing well. They are four weeks old now and have as many real feathers as they do baby fluff. They have gotten tall enough that we took the top off the brooder and extended the sides upwards. Immediately Ethel started running around and flapping her wings and got some air. Sia discovered she could flap up to the edge of the cardboard box and kept trying to perch there, but with the external barriers extending above the edge of the box, she had no room and was unable to find any balance and ungracefully flapped back down into the box. She’s a jumper though and we will have to keep an eye on her.