We’re Still Here

A downed tree blocks the footbridge

Last week’s derecho left a few downed trees over the trails here on the Quarry, but they’ll be clear by the time the Defiance County Junior Master Gardeners’ visit on July 11.

The big impediment to the clearing progress has been and still is the heat. Still no power, which means no blog, no running water nor AC and ice water for the our small clean-up crew. Blessings be on our neighbors for offering the use of their hand pump so the farm animals can be fresh-watered. The wading pool wasn’t filled fast enough for Beatrice the pygmy pot-bellied pig, though. Her Royal Porcine Highness did her best last evening to have a lie-down in the dogs’ water bowl.

If you’re out this way and have a cool, powered home with shower to return to, stop by for a nice game of pick-up-sticks along the paths. There could be a cookie or two in it for you at the cabin.

Recipe Share?

Help us combat voracious invasives in the kitchen! Or, as The Quarry Farm’s Board President Laura says, “If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em” (thinly-disguised, blatant plug for one of the Quarry Farm’s presentations–see WORKSHOPS AND PRESENTATIONS).

I’m asking you to share any and all recipes using invasive flora. For instance, did you know that garlic mustard (Alliaria officinalis) is a year-round salad green?

Check out RECIPES FOR SUSTAINABILITY in the menu bar on The Quarry Farm home page. I’ll post shared recipes to that page as I receive them. Recipes don’t have to be for edibles. Who knows? Maybe your great-great aunt passed down a tried-and-true mosquito-repellent ointment recipe using juniper berries.

The Appalachian Forest Heritage Area offers the downloadable “Garlic Mustard: From Pest to Pesto, a Culinary Guide”. Now if we can just find a good use for Japanese honeysuckle… http://www.afha.us/garlic_mustard/gm_recipes.pdf

It’s All Give and Take

Trawling for Crumbs

Oftimes chickens giveth breakfast, yet other times they taketh away.

This morning I was out on the front deck encouraging Her Porcine Highness Princess Buttercup Beatrice to come in. I was eating a lovely ciabatta toast smeared with cream cheese and topped with lettuce fresh from the garden. When she came up the steps, I leaned over to pull a fuzz of some sort from her chin.

My mistake.

The Priscillas (all of the original Hubbard Golden Comets here are named Priscilla–another story for another time) had also come up the steps. One of them flew into the air and handily snatched my breakfast from my fingers and ran under the elderberry bush.

Toast Thief on the Run

We love our girls. They are beautiful, happy, insectivorous and give us the best brown eggs. But sometimes a friendly chicken just doesn’t honor that whole personal space thing.

Pig in a Blanket

The newest resident of the conservation farm is in recovery as I type. Beatrice the pygmy pot-bellied pig was spayed this afternoon by Dr. Kathleen Babbitt of Lima Animal Hospital. Vet Tech Kaylie called with the news that Beatrice came through surgery with flying colors. Dr. Babbitt took lots of photos with her cell phone, including the image posted here.

Although Beatrice has only been with us for several days, our research led us to the conclusion that it would best for her health (and our collective sanity) to have her spayed as soon as possible. Seems that as they age, intact female pigs are prone to fibroids and abdominal tumors.

This morning this sweet pig thoroughly explored the back rooms and surgery of the hospital before I left for work. Although she squealed lustily (quite piercingly, actually) when I picked her up to put her back in the carrier, Dr. Babbitt exclaimed, “I love her!” Lord love her, that woman is a joy and a godsend to our sanctuary as she is the only vet in a five-county radius willing and able to take on The Quarry Farm pigs, crows, and Johnny the Canada goose.

More about Beatrice later. In the meantime, you just have to love this little face.

The Buzz

I’ve been struggling to find some clever way to start this post, to write the hook I need to pull you in and I’m failing miserably. Miserably. So, because my brain is fogged with the ridiculous heat we’re dealing with, I’ll just say that it’s about bees. Yeah. Bees. The kind that make honey, that bumble flower to flower, that kamikaze in defense of their homes, that, in conjunction with birds, create a happy little euphemism for sex. And sex is sexy, so maybe that’s all the hook I really need.

Clever me.

So, the bees. We set up a hive in mid April. Anne’s cousin, Brian, made all the arrangements for the bees and we took care of the materials: the hive body, the supers, the frames, the feeding troughs. We provided them a steady diet of syrup (sugar and water) and we’d pull off the hive cover and the inner cover on a nearly daily basis and ogle them from a distance. Yesterday, we got up close and personal. Brian came up from Columbus and he and Anne cracked the hive, pulled out the frames and checked out the action. The news could have been better.

Brian Erchenbrecher examining a frame from The Quarry Farm hive.

While the bees had developed new comb on the frames, there wasn’t nearly enough. And, again, while there were eggs and signs of developing brood, there wasn’t much and indications are that the developing brood are mostly drones. What are drones, you ask? They’re ne’er-do-well playboys, eating the nectar and giving back nearly nothing. They have no stinger, so they can’t protect the hive. They have no pollen sacs, so they can’t gather food. Their idea of work is chasing virgin queens.

Think Bruce Wayne, but no Batman. There you have it. Drones.

So what’s the big deal? So what if the hive’s Bohemian, populated with lotus eaters? If there are  only drones and no workers, there’s no comb. Without comb, there’s no honey. Without honey, the bees starve come winter. In fact, come late autumn the worker bees force the drones from the hive. They have to. Driving them out could well mean the difference between starving to death and surviving until spring.

It’s been suggested by scientists who study bees that a bee hive operates very much like a human brain. I mean, there’s no higher cognitive function, but otherwise, scientists have posited that their operations are very similar. If that’s the case, then our hive brain is more like Forrest Gump’s than Stephen Hawking’s. Which is not to say that it can’t improve. There is still hope, albeit one akin to the Flowers for Algernon variety. Realistically? Odds are, based on what we saw yesterday, that the hive will fail, the brain will die and we’ll have to start fresh next spring. That’s not what we wanted to hear, but there’s still good news.

And here it is.

The catalpa hive

Down the road from us, near the intersection of Roads 7-L and O, there’s a line of catalpa trees. In one of those trees is a hive of feral bees. This is a very cool thing, particularly when you understand that the hive has survived and thrived for roughly four years. With the population of bees dwindling as a consequence of a host of issues, to find a succesful wild hive is seriously cool. Why? Bees are our primary pollinators. Without them, plants that reproduce through pollination, and that’s the vast majority of our fruits and vegetables, simply don’t reproduce. No reproduction = No food.

So cheer on the bees, both wild and domestic. We’ll keep you posted on their progress.

Who Are You Calling Chicken?

There are milestones in all lives: births, deaths, graduations, marriage, love. As much as this statement may sound like the prologue to a soap, these are the events that shape our lives. I’ve experienced all of the above and have to include another: chickens. I’m going to wait a few seconds while you take that in, get whatever comments you feel you have to make out of your system.

Everybody okay? May we move on?

Now I’ll say it again. As much as any other event in my life, chickens have helped to make me who I am, here and now. And, man, did I fight it.

It was Anne’s idea to get chickens, Anne’s and Rowan’s. I had … reservations. Many of them. They smell, right? They’re mean. They’re stupid. They’re noisy. They attract pests. The list was longer, but I’ve forgotten most of it. All of it was true in my head at the time and all of it, as it turns out, was wrong.

They came in a little box, delivered via USPS by our local mail carrier, Dorothy. There were sixteen of them. We had ordered fifteen, but somebody counted wrong or it’s the practice of the hatchery we ordered them from to throw in an extra. At any rate, there were sixteen Hubbard Golden Comet chicks in a little container that was half the size of a shoebox. We set them up in a storage tub in the house, dedicating a room to their safekeeping. They were tiny and yellow and fuzzy and cute and busy in their dedication to growing. I found myself fascinated and spent hours watching them, holding them, talking to them. We called them all Priscilla, each and every last one of them, and, yes, there’s a story there, but not one for the telling here, now. I discovered that all of the preconceived notions I had about chickens were, for the most part, wrong. Do chickens smell? Only because their living quarters aren’t properly maintained. If you keep their coop clean, smell isn’t an issue. Are they mean? They give what they get. If you treat them like property, like machines, and take, but never give, then yes, probably. I wouldn’t know for sure. The chickens here are friendly. Are they stupid? Well, they’re not going to be doing calculus any time soon, but, then, neither am I.

Priscilla

They presented us with no problems, no surprises, and eventually we moved them outside to a coop. I was still fascinated, spending hours with them, watching them live their lives. I discovered that, for me, they were more than fascinating, more than simply interesting observable phenomena. They brought me a degree of peace I’ve rarely experienced. They calmed me down. They made me think. They inspired me.

And now there are even more than there were to begin with. Big Girl, an Ameraucana, came to us through Nature’s Nursery. So did Audrey and Miss Kitty. Barbara, Karen, Nancy, Jeff, Ralph, Bernie and Sid all came to us from people looking to find a new home for birds they found they couldn’t handle. Most of these birds are still with us, ranging across the property and perching in the trees. Others haven’t fared as well.

Audrey

Audrey was found wandering along Interstate 75 somewhere south of Toledo. She was so docile when I picked her up from the people that had found her that I honestly believe she’d have been content sitting in my lap for the hour-long drive home (she didn’t; I transported her in a dog kennel). She’d been debeaked. Most hatcheries offer this “service.” A hot wire is used to slice a chicken’s beak from its head. This is done while they are chicks. The idea is that irritable chickens that have been debeaked will do less damage to other nearby chickens and, I suspect, to the hands that feed them. On the downside, this practice can also lead to feeding difficulties and respiratory issues. Even so, Audrey was one of the most benign animals it has ever been my good fortune to meet. She was nearly always the first one to greet us in the morning and would come and sit in our laps. She established a relationship with Buddy, a miniature donkey that lives here, and would spend a part of her day riding around on his back. She lived with us for just over a year before she died.

Miss Kitty

Miss Kitty died yesterday, much to our sorrow. He (and, yes, Miss Kitty was a rooster, though we didn’t know that when we named him) was, we assume, a meat production bird. Initially we believed that he was a Catalana hen (hence Miss Kitty). It wasn’t until he started crowing that we suspected the truth. He grew extremely large extremely fast and, as a consequence, developed a host of physical issues. He was less than a year old when his body simply and finally failed. Over the last few days of his life, all of the hens cared for him. He was never alone, one of the girls was always nearby. They were warm days and dry, and he spent his time lying in the shade of a crabapple tree or under the branches of an elderberry.

Big Girl

And then there are the successes. Big Girl came from a pretty rough neighborhood near downtown Toledo. How she got there is anybody’s guess, but we know how she came to be here. She was rescued by an elderly man who drove off a group boys. They were menacing her with sticks and stones. He called Nature’s Nursery and Nature’s Nursery called us. She was nervous, at first, and maintained her distance. If you took a step toward her, she took a step away. She stayed that way for months. Now she’ll shift out of the way if it pleases her, otherwise we have to step around.

Bernie and Barbara and Karen were part of a flock that kept dwindling, their coop mates the victims of an undetermined predator. Ralph and Jeff were abandoned (Jeff because he crows twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and Ralph, I suspect, because he’s cock of the walk and not afraid to let you know it). While these two do lock horns, so to speak, they spend the bulk of their time pointedly ignoring one another. Sid was simply unwanted.

I suspect that our flock will grow again this year. I sincerely hope so, at any rate. I look forward to it. I gain far more from them than I give.

And I’m not just talking about eggs.

The Quarry Farm Musicians: Audrey, Buddy and S’More