Well it finally happened, the Dashwoods and the Nuggets have become a flock. Just as there was no big fuss when we introduced the Nuggets to the Dashwoods, only a refusal to associate with each other, the merging was without fuss too. One day they were foraging on separate sides of the garden, then on the same side but at a distance, and then they were together. And one day they were sleeping on separate ends of the coop, then on the same side, and then they were together.

Ethel is at the bottom of the pecking order and still gives Elinor plenty of space, but Ethel no longer has to run to the edge of the garden, while Elinor is in the middle, to get around her. Lucy, the australorp, is second from the bottom and is as calm and unconcerned about things as our Margaret was. Lucy is still quiet though and we are hoping she eventually finds a cackling laugh within her like Margaret had. 

chicken looking in the window
Sia looking in the window with Ethel and Lucy behind her and Elinor’s tail on the side

And Sia, well she is third in the order of the five. Her bouffant allows her zero peripheral vision, which gives her a boldness none of the other chickens have. So she races around the garden with Lucy and Ethel in tow, crashing into Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood’s sedate browsing. Elinor and Mrs. D are not especially bothered by her and allow some leeway for her rambunctiousness. But while Sia crashes the Dashwood party, Lucy slows down and kind of strolls through mostly unnoticed. Ethel honk-croaks in a panic and runs as fast as she can around everyone and waits for Sia and Lucy on the other side. 

When it was the four Dashwoods, Mrs. D was top chicken. But after Marianne and Margaret died, Elinor has taken on head of flock duties. And with the three Nuggets making the flock five, Elinor remains very much in charge. Now that it is dark when I get home from work, the chickens are all in the coop when I go out to close the coop door for the night. But Elinor sits at the top of the ladder in the doorway guarding the entrance. When I open the run and go in, I stand beside the ladder and tell Elinor what a great job she has done and she can now go into the coop too and get warm. Most of the time she turns around and goes in, sometimes I have to give her a nudge.

They all sleep in a pile in a corner of the coop like puppies. The Dashwoods never learned to roost, they had no chickens before them to teach them and they never figured it out for themselves. Given how the Nuggets liked to fly and around and sit on the food jars and the edge of their brooder before we took them outside, I thought for sure the Nuggets would roost and then perhaps Elinor and Mrs. D would give it a try. I did not consider that the youngers would look to the elders for instruction on how to be chickens. But that is what has happened. There is no roosting. And the Nuggets no longer fly or jump on top of everything because the Dashwoods don’t.

Well Ethel flies now and then. She made a low-level flight across the garden this afternoon when Sia and Lucy took off running. She looked up from her scratching to see them with a big headstart. She began running after them and then decided to fly across all the garden beds instead of running between them. It was pretty spectacular. As chunky as she looks, she is a good flier. I am grateful, however that the Dashwoods put the lid on the Nuggets flying (for the most part) and jumping up on things. The fence around the garden is only four-feet tall and I was worried the Nuggets might make frequent escapes and I would need to learn how to clip their flight feathers. But, for now at least, we only have low-level Ethel flights and everyone sometimes flying up the two steps that lead from the chicken garden to the main garden.

And speaking of gardens, it is garden planning season! I got my first seed catalog in the mail two weeks ago and I have spent this Thanksgiving holiday weekend going over my garden notes, taking inventory my seeds, and pouring over the catalogs in print and online. I have lists here and lists there and slowly I am winnowing them down to reality. I love this part of gardening because right now, anything and everything is possible. 

Just like a chicken needs a flock, and most of my garden would not be possible without pollinators, everything on this planet is interdependent. Which leads me into letting y’all know about Lost Species Day on November 30th. First held in November 2011, the day is intended to call attention to the stories of extinct and threatened species, cultures, and communities that have been, or are being lost, due to human activities. The theme for this year is interdependence. 

Coincidentally, I recently read a wonderful book called Bicycling with Butterflies by Sara Dykman. Part book about monarchs, part bike touring travelogue, and part environmental manifesto, it tickled all my loves. Dykman cycled the monarch migration from their wintering grounds in Mexico to Canada and back again all in one 10,000+ mile journey. Those of you who know how much I love cycling can probably guess my mind was whirring while reading, trying to figure out how I might be able to make a bike trip like that, or even a small portion. Ha! It was a great fun book and I highly recommend it. The only disappointment is there are no photos, but Dykman has a website where she posted a lot of pictures of her journey.

Monarchs are an excellent example of interdependence. They are pollinators who help plants reproduce and they require milkweed in order to reproduce themselves. Here are a few things I learned about monarchs from Bicycling with Butterflies:

  • The monarch population is measured by how much space they take up in their winter grounds. From 1996-97 they covered 52 acres (20.97 hectares). In 2013-14 they only covered 1.65 acres (.67 hectares). The population has rebounded a little, in 2019-20 they covered 7 acres (2.83 hectares). Scientists say a healthy population target that would put them out of danger of extinction is 15 acres (6 hectares).
  • A female monarch lays 300-600 eggs and only one egg on each milkweed plant to make sure the caterpillar has enough to eat. Of those eggs, 20% become larvae, 10% reach 2nd instar stage, 2% survive to the 3rd instar stage, and fewer than 10% of eggs reach adulthood.
  • Reproductive adults live 2 – 6 weeks. Overwintering monarchs live 6 – 9 months.
  • Tropical milkweed (asclepias curassavica) is becoming a popular garden plant. This milkweed is not native to the U.S. and it tends to live year-round in warmer southern climates. If a monarch migrating to Mexico encounters it, the monarch will get confused, enter a reproductive state, lay eggs, and die, never making it to Mexico. But it gets cold even in the southern U.S. and any resulting caterpillars might die from cold. If they survive to be butterflies, they will need to continue the migration to Mexico but they won’t make it because there will not be enough food for them to eat along the way. So only plant native milkweeds!
  • Also, don’t plant anything—seeds or plants—that have neonics, neurotoxic insecticides. These insecticides are applied to seeds and roots, dissolve in water, and are taken up by the plant so the entire plant from roots to leaves to flower to pollen becomes poisonous. The toxin persists for years. Neonic plants kill monarchs and most other pollinators. If you buy your plants from big box store garden centers (like Home Depot) they will most likely be poisoned. No matter where you buy your seeds and plants though, ask them about neonics!
  • And one more reason cars are a menace: scientists have studied the affects of big, wide highways on the southern migration and estimate that 2-4% of the migrating monarch population is killed by cars.
  • A group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope.

I am not certain yet how I will mark Lost Species Day. Perhaps I will light a locally made candle and observe a moment of silence and reflection, remember what has been lost and what might be lost. And perhaps I will read a few spells from Robert Macfarlane’s Lost Words.

One final word. If you are looking to read some excellent books about climate change, Marcie at Buried in Print has published a most excellent article at Herizons Magazine called Rewriting the Climate Apocalypse. Check it out for some really good fiction and nonfiction titles you may have missed.

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14 thoughts on “Interdependence

  1. I’ve said this before, but I hope you are keeping even more Chicken Notes. They are such great stories!

    Those are interesting stat’s about monarchs. Just sharing that kind of information reminds us how complex these creatures’ systems are. And I am not buying seeds just now, but i did not know that about the chemical treatments of commercially prepped/sold seeds. i think about that, when it comes to things like dried herbs and spices too, that so many people don’t know how entire “commodities” are treated as they are packaged and sold and transported (and how we wouldn’t want to have anything to do with those practices, but we just aren’t paying attention to these well-established industrial “standards”).

    Also, speaking of great stories, thank you kindly for sharing the news about my article; it was so interesting to interview such a variety of storytellers, all confronting climate change in their work, all thinking about the crisis and working towards solutions, sometimes taking very different routes and developing contrasting (seemingly even conflicting, at times) ideas about how we move towards a better tomorrow. So many good books to read, to be informed and inspired.

    1. I’m glad you enjoy the chicken stories! The blog post are pretty much my notes. Maybe one day I will gather them all up and see if I can make anything out of them, perhaps even call the, Chicken Notes! 🙂

      Neonics are used on seeds and live plants so be sure to check if you buy plants in pots too 🙂

      Happy to share your awesome article! I hope you have plans to write more!

  2. I love how you tie this all together with the theme of interdependence, Stefanie. It’s such a simple and fundamental fact of life, and yet as a species we ignore it all the time. Here in Barbados, I’ve been visiting for 20 years and see fewer and fewer fireflies each time. Many of the measures taken to get rid of mosquitoes, like cutting back bush, eliminating standing water and regular “fogging” (mass spraying of chemicals) have also killed off the fireflies. I don’t know the statistics, or even if anyone’s tracking it at all, but it’s very noticeable to me. And the same kind of thing is happening everywhere, to all kinds of species. We solve one problem by creating ten more. As the COP26 fiasco showed, our leaders can’t even see our interdependence on each other as humans, let alone other species.

    Sorry to dump such a negative comment on your blog, Stefanie. I didn’t intend to do that, but it’s how it came out. There are solutions, of course, like the ones you highlight in your post, and there are plenty of people who do recognise the interdependence of our world and want to help it to heal, so maybe we’ll eventually get to a point where we live in a symbiotic rather than parasitic relationship to our fellow beings on this planet.

    1. Oh no, please don’t be sorry! We need to talk about the positive and the negatives and some days the negative wins and that’s ok.

      The missing fireflies in Barbados makes me sad. They are going missing in the United States too. I used to see them all the time and now, it’s a rarity because of all the pesticides. You are right, we solve one problem by creating ten more. It’s the way we go about solving the problem–someone has to make money from it. But the more people who understand our interdependence, the more there will be to speak up and speak out and hold those in power accountable. It won’t be easy, power is not willingly given up, but change can happen. It will happen whether we want it to or not.

  3. I didn’t know this about tropical milkweed – thanks for the info! I’m pretty sure the milkweed seeds i’ve bought in the past have been native. But so far it hasn’t sprouted. I don’t know if I’m not planting them in the right time, or under the right conditions, or what. I also have to remind myself that even though the plants look pretty at the big box stores, they’re poisonous! That doesn’t seem right at all, for that to be allowed!

    1. Laila, have you just planted your milkweed seeds right out of the packet? If so, that might be the trouble. Milkweed needs cold stratification before it will sprout. Here’s a bit about it from Monarch Watch:

      Seeds of most temperate plants need to be stratified, which is a fancy way of saying that they need cold treatment. To stratify seeds, place them in cold, moist potting soil (sterilized soil is best but is not required) in a dark place for several weeks or months. Since most people prefer not to place potting soil in their refrigerators, an alternative is to place the seeds between moist paper towels in a plastic bag. This procedure works well, in part because there are fewer fungi and bacteria available to attack the seeds. After a stratification period of 3-6 weeks, the seeds can be planted in warm (70˚F), moist soil. Without stratification, the percentage of seeds that germinate is usually low. Seeds from the tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica (and other tropical milkweed species) do not require this treatment. “Shocking” seeds that have been refrigerated by soaking them in warm water for 24 hours also seems to improve germination rates.

      And here is their whole page on growing milkweed: https://www.monarchwatch.org/milkweed/prop.htm

      Alternatively, you can plant the seeds right outdoors in the middle of winter if you are not concerned about where they might take root. Just sprinkle them on the snow in the area you want them to grow and let nature do the rest. 🙂

      Good luck!

  4. You are just a totally lovely human. I feel the energy and passion coming from you through your writing. When I was in elementary school in the 1990s, I recall seeing monarch butterflies EVERYWHERE at my parents’ house. They surprised me with their beauty, but not their presence. Then, suddenly, it was like I didn’t see one for years and years and years. I find it sad now that when I was in high school we still were not talking about modern-day ecology in science class. Shouldn’t we have looked at case studies of the local plant, animal, and insect life and learned about why the monarchs (and frogs, too, actually) were disappearing?

    1. Aw thanks GTL! Yes, I agree, we never talked about ecology or climate change or anything like that in my science classes in high school. When I was a kid family vacations usually meant camping and there were long drives to get to national parks. We’d arrive with the grill of the car covered thick with dead insects. And as the years went by there were fewer and fewer and I didn’t realize what was happening until I read a great book several years ago called The Moth Snowstorm. And then my heart broke. But I am delighted to be on the monarch migration pathway and my garden is bursting with milkweed and butterflies. 🙂

    1. Thanks Jenny! We were really surprised how influential the Dashwoods have been, but it makes sense, the younger birds learning from the older birds. So unless we house a rebel chicken one day, I think they will never learn to roost.

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