Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

End of Times.

Posted on | July 30, 2013 | 3 Comments

Well, it has been a summer of rain and cool temperatures.  I finally took notice when I was mowing the yard, in the middle of July, on an overcast 70 degree afternoon, and barely breaking a sweat.  That isn’t normal.  Normally, just thinking about mowing the lawn in North Carolina on July 12th at 2pm is enough to make you fall over with dehydration and leg cramps.  And since I didn’t have to take a water break every 15 minutes, I started thinking of all the weirdness this summer.

We’ve had so much rain that I have only watered the vegetable garden twice.  Twice.  Usually we have to decide by the end of June if we want to risk losing the garden or running the well dry.  Yet despite all the rain, the vegetables have failed to flourish.

The cherry tomato plants are bushy, but they lack the overflowing redness of a full crop.

Generally, by this time of the year we harvest cherry tomatoes by chucking them over the garden fence for the chickens.  Because we have run out of uses for them.  This year, Middle sneaks down to snack on the 2 or 3 that are ripe every couple days.  He calls this “weeding.”  But I am on to his game and am forced to secret them away in 4 oz Tupperware containers so I have some for lunch.

The children just assume that Tupperware containers in the fridge contain leftovers.  So they are safely hidden right in plain sight.  I might be outnumbered by the children in this household.  But I have yet to be outmaneuvered.

And although the large tomato varieties are loaded with produce, the tomatoes remain stubbornly green.

I am forced to pick orangey tomatoes and ripen them on the windowsill or else they are lost to rot.

But tomato sandwich season hasn’t only been threatened at our house.  The General Assembly had to wait for their tomatoes, too. And my neighbors’ farm put the top back on their field greenhouses so they could control the amount of rain their tomato plants are exposed to as well as rely on the plastic to amplify the limited sunshine and raise temps around the plants.

Meanwhile, the insects are having a field day in the wet conditions.  The diatomaceous earth and Dr. Bronner’s peppermint castile soap I use to discourage insects simply washes away in the daily rainfall.  As a result we are struggling with squash bugs and Japanese beetles and ants and potato beetles and aphids and this freak that we spotted for the first time ever on the garden fence.

It’s an Eastern Eyed Click beetle.  Which, as an adult, doesn’t pose much danger to the garden.  But it has probably deposited a load of plant-eating larvae in the struggling eggplants or beans.  A bunch of larvae that the guineas might miss while they are busily eating all the cantaloupe.

Cantaloupe-eating is a direct violation of our living-in-the-garden agreement.  You would think my last 2 remaining guineas would be grateful that I have provided a fenced-in space that is safe from the neighbor’s shotgun and the murderous traffic on the main road.  Eating fruit when the garden is loaded with insects seems like such a cruel betrayal of trust.  Don’t be fooled by this, er, honest face.  She’s in serious breach.

Even the flowering plants that are typically immune are being overcome by insects or blight.  Sunflowers,

canna lilies,

and even elephant ears.

Let’s not even talk about the grotesque number of spider crickets living and breeding under the lid of the nest box.

At least half of the population hopped off when I opened the box to take this picture.  Meaning this pic only shows half of the spider crickets we encounter there on a daily basis.  By “we” I mean “me”.  Because the kids draw the line at spider crickets jumping onto their hands and arms as they collect eggs.  It’s enough to drive the boys to tears and even Pretty takes a pass.  Guess it takes mature ovaries to handle this kind of Ugh.

Perhaps the only insect insurgence we are enjoying is the huge number of butterflies.  The zinnias are awash in Swallowtails.  The kids and I have counted 12-15 at a time on the flowers.

And that doesn’t include the extra ones fluttering around the property.  Although even the number of butterflies is a bit alarming.  The population is so large that it’s impossible to drive the country roads without butterflies constantly striking the windshield and crashing into the car.  Massacring a bunch of butterflies on the way to work just can’t be good karma, can it?

Never mind that while driving around, inbetween butterfly kills, I have noticed the leaves of the dogwood trees already beginning to turn color.

I’ve seen the dogwoods turn brown and drop leaves plenty of times in the summer during drought years.  And dogwoods are always the first of the trees to show fall color.  But not in the new rainy season of July.  What in the world is going on???

It’s something to ponder while sitting at the kitchen counter, sipping coffee, and watching the hummingbirds at the feeder.  Except there are almost no hummingbirds.  Instead of spending my summer washing and filling feeders and frantically trying to prepare sugar water as hummingbirds hover impatiently outside the window, I stop in awe when a hummingbird actually appears.  Others in the area have noticed this, but no one seems to know the real reason why there are so few. (Diggin’ In article)

But if the hummingbirds are disappearing, then the deer are multiplying rapidly.  Everyone around here has a fawn story to tell.  Does with twins and triplets can be seen all over the county, any time of the day or night.  And local authorities have been inundated with reports of abandoned fawns, prompting the NC Wildlife Commission and the local newspapers to remind people that most fawns are not abandoned as much as hidden away while their mothers are grazing. Fawns should be left alone in their hiding spots to await their mother’s return.

Luckily, Bruno keeps most of the deer population out of our feed troughs.  However, he can’t do much about our new nocturnal visitors.  Any time we step onto the deck after true darkness sets in, the air fills with sharp, ear-piercing peeps.  The colony of Southern flying squirrels in the backyard explodes into the treetops, leaving the birdfeeders swaying from their quick retreat, and sounding their alarm call throughout the canopy.  I know what you’re thinking.  Flying squirrels are rare in North Carolina.  Most people who heard of our squirrels were doubtful and stated that, in their lifetime, they had only seen 1 or 2 of the elusive creatures.  Even The Other Half, who has spent years moving through the woods in the dark after leaving his tree stand, had only seen a flying squirrel on one occasion.

That was until he spent an evening, crouched with me and the kids on the deck stairs, as somewhere between 8 and 10 of these critters took turns raiding the feeders and flinging themselves from the canopy to lower branches, and in one spectacular feat, about 30 feet from one tree to another.  I would show you a picture but they scramble around so quickly that they are hard to watch with the naked eye, never mind get a picture with my pathetic photography skills.  You’ll have to take my word for it that they are there and this picture by Dr. Weigl to know what they look like in flight.

Officially, the Southern flying squirrel is not rare.  It is just nocturnal and so is often overlooked.  Perhaps we have always had a colony of flying squirrels in the backyard.  Yet it is only this wet, wacky summer that they have set upon the feeders in hordes.  Huh.

Even the farm animals aren’t immune to this summer’s idiosyncrasies.  The goat forums are filled with reports of the bucks going into an early rut and does going into heat, even in states struggling through heat waves.  Now I am not an alarmist.  I am concerned about the changes in the environment, the reports of global warming, and all the resulting effects upon the species of this planet.  But I do not panic.  However, in the face of all the bizarre characteristics of this summer, I felt forced to take action.

I opened the gate to the pasture surrounding the buck pen so the does can feel free to sidle right up against the bucks through the fence.  As soon as they are in heat, I intend to start breeding.  All of them.  Every single doe.  Never mind the complications of kidding in the frigid temperatures of December and January.  Or trying to create separate stalls for each of the 7 does as they kid.  Or not being able to leave the farm when the entire herd is close to kidding.  If the end is near, this world is going to need goat babies.

And although the bucks are enjoying the female presence, they aren’t too thrilled with the feed competition that has flooded into their pasture.  Really, boys, is a nice meal out to much to ask in return for a bit of affection?  Really?

I was a bit worried that I had just sold off the last of the ducklings.  Muscovy ducks are hardy and prolific and exactly the kind of breed that will needed be when sustainability is an issue of survival, not just political correctness.  Good thing that just before the new owner arrived to take away Blackbeard’s ducklings, more ducklings were hatching in the barn.  Take that, Apocalypse!

Another bit of luck is that I haven’t sold my 2 extra sheep yet.  And I’ve gotten them all eating out of my hand now.  Literally.

A flock of friendly sheep may just be needed in the frightening days to come.  Plus, thanks to the arrival of a set of carders and a spinning wheel (!!!!!!) from my Aunt Peggy I am now ready to clothe the world.

As long as the world is willing to wrap itself in scarves, shawls, and headbands.  ‘Cause that’s all I know how to make so far.  But I bet my knitted headbands will look pretty versatile when there’s no Fruit of the Loom, people.

We may have to consider eating the fat pig this winter,

but saving the other one to breed.  Because OMG how cute would it be to have piglets!  tiny sweet piglets!  to hold and cuddle and…. they might just end up being the last of the pork that’s available.

I am also blessed with friends that are just as fortuitously prepared as me.  On a whim, one of them recently hatched a tubful of hardy Bobwhite quail.

Without even realizing it, she has opened the doors to a plethora of sustainable survival delicacies. And I’m sure I could finagle a way to get a handful of that adorable fluffiness essential meat and egg producing species over here.  With an overflowing barn of dairy goats, an entire flock of sheep, piglets, ducklings, chickens, and quail, we should be ready for Armageddon.

What?  What?!

I can’t help it if I have been accidentally entrusted with the survival of the human race.  Haphazard, happenstance animal hoarding farming is apparently my superpower.  Nobody asks for that kind of responsibility.  It’s given to us by forces that we cannot possibly understand.

Probably the same powerful force that has led us to have 2 broken fridges sitting in the yard for several weeks now.  We thought they were trash and we were just too busy hoping someone else would haul them off to take them to the dump.

But those broken insulated boxes may be the closest to refrigeration that the next generation ever sees.  The fact that The Other Half never got rid of them is a sure sign that we are two of a survivalist kind.  You and me, baby.  Meant to be together.  Forever.  Until the end of times.


Really.  No one appreciates Fate anymore.


3 Responses to “End of Times.”

  1. Laura
    August 1st, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

    You had me laughing through the entire post: we’ve exchanged weather! Seattle has had an unusually DRY and SUNNY and WARM July. Your tomatoes are familiar to brave souls in the Pacific NW who try to grow them, but this year growers and tomatoes both are doing great.

  2. Jill
    August 5th, 2013 @ 9:17 am

    It’s weird that the hummingbirds are less plentiful. Usually there is a WWI flying ace competition here at least once per day — not this year…

    And the ticks… sick of ticks

  3. Jackie
    October 5th, 2013 @ 5:16 am

    Such an enjoyable post! It’s been weird weather and sad plant-wise here this summer as well, in the Panhandle of Texas. None of our flowering plants did well compared to our previous years and garden production was less than half. I’ve been pondering the possibilities also – would love to see more of what you discover posted here.

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