Scenes from a Winter Garden

Part One: Violet and the Ghost of the Great Pepper Tree

Violet doesn’t belong here. She wasn’t invited. And neither was her brother, Squats for that matter. These were random chickens that were squeezing their tiny fluffy butts into my garden through a gap in the fence.

Just big enough to fit little peeping babies that would peck and scratch the shit out of all my garden beds and make a hell of a mess on my manicured pathways. My precious, precious pathways.

This I could not abide for long. An action plan began forming in my head and I decided to set up some chicken traps and capture these usurpers of my calm. I set up a net at the end of my long cement makeshift patio. A tunnel of many confusing obstacles leading to a hidden circular lobster net. I then went inside and waited. Maniacally so.

After a few hours, I went out to find them in my veggie garden picking, scratching and eating all my vittles. Our eyes locked and all three of us were frozen in the timeless dance of predator v. prey. I pounced, barefoot and snarling. As planned, they leaped out of the raised bed and began sprinting down the long cement pad with me slapping bare toes behind them.

They hit the hidden net like so many drunkenly applied darts into pub dartboards. *thunk, thunk*. With wings flapping uselessly, they could do no more than submit to my gentle yet firm grasp.

After some moments of gentle cooing, I placed them in my little elevated chicken coop for newbies. And there they remained. The day was won!

After a few days, I was able to determine their source and reached out to the apparently coop-less neighbor who hatched these cute little devils. He was chicken full and we worked out a deal. I keep the hen to add to my flock, and he takes the cock back to do whatever. I’m a law abiding citizen and to have a rooster in my hood is illegal. Not that that fact stops anyone other than me.

So Squats went away and Violet remained.

I’m not sure if the raised coop helped, but Violet being at eye level to this hairless (mostly) ape seemed to quicken her trust in me. In short order she was cooing excitedly on my routine visits and feedings. She was showing signs of the kind of sweetness only found in my dear and precious Piper the silkie. Who’s doing so well these days by the way. My oldest hen and she’s still laying eggs! The other girls (a year younger) stopped two years ago. Magical.

Violet quickly became a favorite of mine. She’s an English Game Hen, so she’ll always be a lot smaller than my other girls. But her personality makes up for her tiny stature. When she was big enough to join the other hens, it quickly became evident that she would use her brains to outwit all the big bitches trying to give her grief. She is fast and agile and able to climb the orange tree when the other girls are too clumsy to follow suit.

From that vantage, she would descend upon the big ladies and snatch up their treats and be gone in a flash before they knew what hit them. Clever girl. My love and respect was solidified.

Here’s the rub. She’s also amazingly skilled at escaping the run on the daily. I would trim feathers, modify and fortify the enclosure, and finally try human-to-chicken reasoning. All seemed to fail miserably. Once again, one of my beasts has become smarter than me. Pooped and demoralized. That’ll be on my headstone one day.

So, once again, my precious pathways were being assaulted. Constantly.  I even gave up after a while. Smaller plants were being suffocated from a constant barrage of flying mulch while Violet searched for grubby yum yums. It was total anarchy.

Coinciding with all of this was an unrelated development. One day I went out to gaze upon my vast oasis. I couldn’t quite make out what at first, but something was vastly different. I proceeded to stand in the center of the yard and scratch my butt for a pondering.

It took far too long to realize that the massive pepper tree in the corner of my neighbors lot was no longer there. How could I have missed that!?

The light in the yard was so different now. Foreign and exposed. Just like prom night…

I was never a fan of the pepper tree as a species. They literally pepper the soil and create a no-grow zone all around them. As this tree was right above my compost bin, I had to take steps to block any and all of its many droppings.

Like my little hobbit house above. Passion fruit vines to block as much of the peppercorns as possible. I also would climb up the tree and systematically cut all the branches directly above my lot corner. From above, it must’ve looked like a slab of pie was removed.

But now, the entire tree has vanished in a single day! I was mystified, pleased and saddened all at once. When I took a peek over the fence, I could see the giant pile of dismembered pepper tree. Poor thing didn’t know what hit it in that fury of chainsaws and pain.

It then occurred to me that I could make use of all the wood. I could fortify the beds and strategically place logs to help keep all my mulch where it belongs. Also, it wouldn’t cost me anything more than a sore back to get the job done. So I spoke with the neighbor to get the blessings and he was more than willing to have someone else remove that giant pile of wood for free. There were even perfect giant sitting logs. For the sitting.

I don’t own a truck though and I didn’t feel up to pushing a wheelbarrow around the block six to ten times either. So, I decided to power lift these water-logged logs over the eight foot cinder block wall into the neighboring property and then semi-power lift them over my fence. I deployed a drone to best illustrate the maneuvers for you.

Drone footage courtesy of Skywise Technologies.

Also of note, I love seeing my little oasis plopped in the middle of dry dusty wastelands. Gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling.

So after hoisting about seven or so logs, I could feel my lower back scream with the promise of pain. I decided that if I stopped now, I would soon seize up and not be able to move for a spell. So, smartly, I kept going. And going.

These guys were the heaviest and I ended up placing them pretty much where they landed.

Future spot for the growing of…stuff.
Bolstering the wall.
Ring around the olive tree.
A perfect fit.
Bolstering of the passion fruit bed.
Strategically placed logs.
The tower of log.

Makeshift benchery is afoot.

There’s nothing better than free landscaping supplies to this wayward weekend warrior. I also like that all of these logs will provide homes for so many critters. Using natural materials in the garden is the best way to insure a diverse natural habitat and a good healthy soil.

Ready for the great irony of all this hard work? My last trimming of Violet’s flight feathers have seem to do the trick. She has not escaped since the day I moved all these logs.  Oh well, at least I’m ready now for future escapes.

Part Two: Winter Garden Updates

I also wanted to take a little time to show off the winter growth. My winter cover crop this year is blooming like crazy. I ended up adding a few leafy greens to the mix as well.

For more information on my winter cover crop and why its so important, check out this article:

Planting a Winter Garden: Soil Repair Time!

Mind Your Dirt News!

It’s been so long since I’ve posted here. I’ve been so swamped with art conservation side jobs that I feel as though I’ve abandoned you all. I was also going through a bout of depression lately which tended to zap my energy levels to the point of immobility. Heavy inertia you guys. Losing the two kittens back to back like that also bummed me out. And another thing, which I’ll not mention here for the sake of moving the fuck on with my life.

As it turns out, I was taking Chantix to try to cut back on my smoking. It was working well, but also taking a toll on my moods. I should’ve known better than to alter my beautiful brain chemistry. I had it set just the way I like it yo. I’ve stopped altogether and after a few days I returned to my happy and obnoxious self. So keep your eyes peeled for a slow and deliberate return to Mind Your Dirt. Of note, I do always reply to comments no matter what. I also am still heavily active with the Mind Your Dirt social media accounts. So at least that’s something right?

I’d also like to take this opportunity to introduce you to a new member of the Mind Your Dirt flock! One of my local readers reached out to me a few months ago with a conundrum.  She had a poor little one-eyed hen named Pirate (I know, a very obvious naming) that was getting overwhelmed with the other hens in her flock and was unable to get food as efficiently as her two-eyed homies. The reader thought that she would find peace staying with my flock so asked if I would take her into my oasis.

Pirate the one-eyed chicken

So welcome Pirate the one-eyed chicken! She is living with sweet Piper and the two of them get along swimmingly. She no longer has to compete for food so she’s filling out nicely. And talk about sweet!? She is so tame and loving. I just adore her! Now I just need to figure out a sweet patch for her dead eye, because who wants to see that creepy shit amiright? I am also thinking about changing her name to Fluffbeard the Pirate just to jazz it up a little.

27 Replies to “Scenes from a Winter Garden”

  1. I vote for “Pirate Jenny,” like the simmering revenge character in Bertolt Brecht’s 1928 Three Penny Opera. Google it and check out Judy Collins’ version of the song…perfect for this hen recovering from the insults of the flock.

      1. I’ve been in hiding, too. Nothing so dramatic as your wrassel in the world of big pharma, though. Just a garden variety descent into wintertime vitamin deficiency. How’s the effort to quit/minimize smoking going?

        1. Well, the cravings are back in full force, but my numbers are still down. Being my normal happy self is way more beneficial than some easy to manage cravings though. I’m all giddy again. Giddy, goofy and mirthish. Like the majestic penguin, it’s time to fly! Oh…wait. Damn it.

    1. You just made my morning! Thank you. I’m trying so hard to find the balance here. I was supposed to be working on a conservation project. But I so miss writing MYD stuff. Thanks again Anna!

    1. Pretty much right after I got her. Damned FIP. Apparently the shots she got from the vet a few days before helped to speed up her demise. Came home to the poor thing. A month after Stumps.

      A lot to process and I was feeling cat cursed. I didn’t like many events in 2017.

  2. RIP pepper tree! May its limbs live on forever in your yard. Pixel the Pirate is a cutie just as she is and she says if you don’t make Sasha wear clothes, she doesn’t need to wear an eye patch. So there.

    1. So. The chickens are talking to you huh? Let me know when they urge you to kill again okay? Note to self: add straight jacket to my shopping list at the pirate eye patch store. Hope they have them in stock.

      Also, did I see a Pixel name drop slip in there? Clever girl.

  3. Oh no!! I’m so sorry! FIP is awful. I hope the rest of 2018 makes a better impression. Please don’t give up on being a cat daddy … there’s another cat out there who needs you, and he or she will find you!

    1. I know, I think I just need a little time. I’ve been soooo attentive to Sasha as a result of two losses in as many months. I feel like the whole thing was confusing and sad for her. The moment she got close to a kitten, the kitten dies. With Kevin, Sasha was stuck inside all day with the body. My heart broke even more.

      In time, another kitten will come, but not just yet.

  4. I love your description of Violet. She reminds me of Leaf. Thankfully, Leaf is afraid of white string mops. When she gets out, all I have to do is pick up a string mop, shake it a little and she runs “home”. Mops do not go in the chicken yard – ever.

    1. Huh, mops eh? Only thing is, you gotta be there to mop attack. While I’m at work, Violet goes cray cray on my landscape dreams. All day long.

      Although, the last wing clip seems to have stopped her in her tracks. Just be flightless amiright?

  5. I’m so glad to see you back online and posting James! I should really watch my social media feeds more often. I love the artistically placed wood chunks in the garden beds and I’m digging how great the winter garden is looking!

    Nice to see you have new hens Cyclucks and Violet. Are they laying for you now they are in your lush oasis?

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Hi Emma! Indeed, I’m never too far away from MYD, but not posting for this long has been slowly driving me mad. It gets tough doing the hustle in San Diego and making ends meet. Crap, now I have “do the hustle. Do-do-do-do…” song stuck in my head.

      I do have a secret plan I’m hatching that should prove to give me more blogging time but it’s a crockpot slow cooking kinda plan 😉

      Okay. Cyclucks is such a perfect name that I’m saddened that I didn’t think of it. I’ve even read the Odyssey not too long ago and I have no excuse. Totally stealing this and running with it, so a thousand thanks! And yes, they are both beginning to lay. Violet’s eggs are even smaller than Pipers are. Teeny tiny.

      I’ve been working on finishing the back half of the run this weekend and have much to do today. I’m also trying to add some plants inside the run with a little chicken wire at the base to keep them from scratching out the feeder roots. Iris’ seem to work well for keeping beaks at bay.

      Great to hear from you!

  6. You are more than welcome for Cyclucks!

    Please post about how planting in the run works out! I have a chicken yard/run to build that I permaculture designed to have herbs and some greens inside the run but I couldn’t think how to stop my 11 hens (don’t ask) from tearing the shit out of everything!

    I totally get it trying to do the day job, the chores, the walkies, the gardening and the blog and YouTube when you can! You have some superpowers for sure and I now have do the hustle song in my head…damnit!

    1. I definitely will. Along with the back half and finally completed chicken run. Two posts in and secured, two more to go!

      So far, snake plants and iris’ are holding their own. I added chicken wire around the bases and staked it down. 24hrs and they’re still holding fast. More to come soon!

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