Or is that a reluctant freight train?
So we’re just moving out of one of the coldest, wettest springs I can remember. Blustery, wet, and chilly, with plenty of late season frozen stuff (hail, frost, sleet and even a little snow as late as mid-April), it’s been one for the record books, again. I know we’re not alone in this, as the Midwest has been unseasonably cold too. But this isn’t a weather blog, or even a weather whine. Really. It’s just observation. I’ve been waiting and waiting to prep the garden patch, because the more I read about where our food comes from (more on this topic in a future post), the more determined I am to close the loop and produce my own food – all of it, from veggies to milk and meat. It’s definitely a work in progress.
So I’ve waited through the reluctant spring, reading seed catalogs, making lists of seeds I wanted, buying seeds, and wondering what kind of garden pests I’ll encounter in this patch. The slugs are a given – they’re voracious and already decimated a salad burnette sprout I purchased at the local plant sale. I don’t remember salad burnette being a big draw for slugs when I grew it before, so it’s possible it wasn’t slugs (I did find some unearthed annuals from the sheeps’ visit to the front deck on one of their evening outings). I can deal with slugs (I think) but I’m really hoping I don’t get any leaf miners here, a pain in the ass scourge of leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, and chard. It’s one of those pests that loves organic gardeners.
So the weather has up and down – beautiful, the-hills-are-alive sunny days interspersed with cold, wet days. Spring growth turned a corner last week, and even with the cold and wet, suddenly it’s a jungle out there. The Northwest spring, especially the month of May, gives one an inkling of what it must be like to live in the tropics, with everything growing at Jack and the Beanstalk speed. The pasture seemed to gain several inches overnight, and I’m now putting the sheep out there every day. They haven’t made much of a dent in it yet.
But it’s still about 10 or 15 degrees cooler than it normally is for this time of year. I’m still wearing my parka to work every day. Even on the sunny days it’s needed when taking the bus because people seem to think sun means hot. It does not, of course, but they open the windows on the bus like it’s 100 degrees out, not 65 degrees like it is. On the few miles of freeway, I’m bundled up like an Eskimo with my hood up, my parka zipped to my chin, and my gloves on, trying to keep from getting too chilled from the cold wind blowing through the bus. I don’t understand how I can be the only one that gets this cold. It’s another reason I frequently dislike taking the bus, but that’s a topic for another post.
The bees continue to look good. I’m concerned that I didn’t place the hive in the warmest, sunniest spot, but the warmest spot on the property is pretty much my driveway, or my garden plot, and both are really too close to the house for a busy beehive. And busy they are. I am so in love with these critters. I knew I liked bees – I’m a fan of most insects (mosquitos, biting flies, and fleas being the exceptions) and love spiders and dragonflies – but the joy these industrious girls bring me is immeasurable and unexpected in its fierceness. I love to go out and sit by the hive in the late afternoon and watch them close up. Many of them fly in with their pollen sacs packed with bright yellow pollen (as opposed to the orange pollen of a few weeks ago). It almost looks like they’re wearing little yellow legwarmers or Uggs. I have to move away when the bird dogs come over to see me, check out the activity (and chase bees), and it turns into a bit of a circus. Silly dogs. I’m taking a hands-on beekeeping class tomorrow with a local natural beekeeper, so will be able to figure out a few of the questions I have. No matter how much you read or ask, it seems there are always more questions.
The newest additions to the menagerie are…ducklings! Now, I’ve been thinking about getting ducks for several months now. After the wet, cold winter we had, and seeing how miserable the hens have been, then reading a fabulous book by Carol Deppe advocating for ducks (Khaki Campbell ducks lay as good or better than the average laying hen, and are much more comfortable in the cold, wet weather of a Northwest winter), I began to do some research. When the chickens’ 25 x 15 run was covered with running water at one point during the 40 days and 40 nights (and more) of rain we had this winter, sluicing down the hillside and making the run look like…perfect duck habitat, I really started to seriously consider ducks (they’re champion slug eaters too, and while incredibly messy, ducks aren’t nearly as destructive to a vegetable garden as an industrious hen). But I’m trying NOT to add to the menagerie at this point, especially when I don’t already have adequate shelter and situation. So far sanity was winning the battle. I even passed on some turkeys I wanted. I want to get turkeys, but after chatting with their current keeper, I realized I wasn’t ready for them. Yet.
Then fate intervened and I spent most of last Sunday afternoon rescuing Mallard ducklings. I’d let the dogs out around 12:30 that day, after a quiet morning indoors,and a minute later they were both galloping up the driveway, chasing a low flying Mallard duck toward the north fence line. I thought maybe they flushed her out of the lower pasture, but it was odd how she flew so low… Then I went outside and heard the distressed peeping of babies. Ah. She had done a wonderful job, luring my two bird dogs as far away from the babies as the fencing would allow.
I went down the driveway to the gate and saw her clutch of babies going down the driveway toward the road, peep peep peeping the whole way. I don’t know if it’s me and my mixed up maternal instincts, but that tone of peep is like a mainline to my protective side. I went out to ‘guard’ them, staying far enough from them so I wasn’t scaring them, but making sure they didn’t go too close to the road, and to make sure the resident pair of ravens, now flying overhead, didn’t get them. At a certain point the entire clutch of ducklings just headed into the woods via the super-thick undergrowth along the driveway. Pal and Farley were pretty excited, though Far was still up where the mama had flown (though she was long gone). I put Pal in the pasture to get him away from the fence line. I heard the mama quacking on and off from the wetlands and fields across the street, and at one point she flew around to where the babies were hiding. Something had spooked them and they’d stopped peeping for a bit just as she flew over, circling through the trees and quacking for them, and that was basically the last time I saw or heard her around. I had to go grocery shopping, so left for an hour or so, and hoped the family would be reunited by the time I got back. No dice.
I got back from the store later that afternoon and heard the babies as they moved through the woods along the front of the property, and then sounded like they were on the neighbor’s property (again, wooded with heavy undergrowth). I tell you, that peep!peep!peep! call is incredibly distressing! It was a decent afternoon weather-wise, but every time I went outside to work I heard the peeping and had to go back inside. It was so upsetting to hear them and I couldn’t stand it. They were covering an amazing amount of territory for such tiny creatures and at one point I almost called the neighbors to let them know I’d be coming over to rescue ducklings. I hadn’t seen or heard the mama since I got home from the grocery, and it was at least four hours after the dogs had chased her. Then I heard the peepers in the front of my property again. I went down the driveway and saw one across the street, running along the shoulder of the road. I was able to catch him and put him in my pocket. Another one was in the tall grasses near my mailbox and disappeared before I could get him. I heard more peeping and I saw a handful of them in the drainage ditch along the road next to my driveway. I took off my jacket and threw it over them like a net, which helped for all of 10 seconds, and I grabbed at them as they paddled, dived, and ran. Two got away, but I now had seven of them in my pockets. They quieted down as soon as I put them in my pocket – it was probably the first time they were warm since that morning and I imagined the dark warmth was maybe a little like the soft underbelly they’d left that morning.
I put the seven in a box in the garage and went down the driveway again. I caught two more and a third got away – for a few ounces of fluff it’s amazing how quickly they moved through the undergrowth. I waited a while longer and almost caught him again, but eventually lost him in heavy cover. They stop peeping when I’m chasing and catching them, and take a while to start up again, usually a lot further away than you think. It bugs me that I didn’t get that tenth one (and I’m pretty sure I lost at least one or two others, too), but there are nine of them in the garage now. When I said I want to get ducks, this isn’t what I had in mind! Thankfully they had no hesitation with eating (sometimes wild critters have to be “taught” to eat manmade feeds) and have been growing like weeds. I have them under a heat lamp in the garage and they are at least double the size they were five days ago (I don’t think they were more than 48 hours old that Sunday afternoon, and I’m thinking the mama must have been a first time mother – she gave up pretty easily). Since the mama was so wild, hopefully they’ll stay wild and I can let them go to be wild ducks when the time comes. Of course that’s a whole other ball of wax. In the meantime they’re radioactively cute.