This last day of June, the hydrangea are starting to bloom. In Japan, hydrangea bloom during the rainy season in June and July. Growing up I associated their flowers with rain and snails. When I close my eyes and think of hydrangeas, they are always wet with drops of fresh rain water dripping off them. Here, hydrangea bloom during the dry season from July through August. They are rarely wet and in this land of no snails, you never see a snail sliding across a wet hydrangea leaf.
South of Tokyo in Kamakura you’ll find Meigetsu-in, a Zen temple founded in 1383 also known as the Hydrangea Temple 紫陽花寺 because of its many hydrangeas. There are some 2,500 hydrangea on the temple grounds with 80 to 90 percent of them an old variety known as Princess Hydrangea. On busy days when the hydrangea are in bloom, the line of visitors waiting to get into the temple grounds can stretch for a third of a mile.
There are no lines here to see the hydrangea. Only a handful of people have ever seen the hydrangea bloom at A Man and His Hoe®. Actually, more chickens than people have seen them in bloom, though this morning, the chickens are more interested in pecking through the duckweed I pulled out of the pond for them. Maybe they will pause and admire the hydrangea when they are in full bloom and they have had their fill of duckweed, tadpoles, and waterbugs.
Looking at two cats snuggled together on a chair, it’s easy to see that love is important to cats. In her book Animal Madness, Laurel Braitman states that animals think, feel, and experience the same emotions that people do. Live with animals and it’s as obvious as saying that the sky is blue.
It’s not only cats and dogs which thrive when loved, so do little chicks. They thrive under the watchful eyes of their caring mothers. When they are snuggled under their mother’s feathers, safe and warm, listening to her heartbeat, you wonder what they are feeling. And what is she feeling when there are little ones gathered under her wings? Is she feeling the same warmth a human parent feels when their children are snuggled in their lap, listening to them read a children’s book?
Researches warn against anthropomorphizing animal behavior. And yet, since we are animals ourselves, and have very distant common ancestors, just as we share many of the same physical characteristics such as hearts, lungs, legs, two eyes, etc., wouldn’t it be reasonable that we share many of the same emotions? For example, love is essential to the survival of every mammal and bird species. Without at least one parent’s concern for it’s offspring, all these species would quickly go extinct. Their offspring would quickly die off without their parents looking out for them.
It would seem rather specious to think that many of our emotional states developed only after homo sapiens arose. It would seem more plausible that our emotional states go far back down the evolutionary chain and began hundreds of millions of years ago in the distant past. They were as important to the survival of distant species as they are to us today.
Shopping for groceries in a supermarket can be stressful. All those people. All that noise. So many decisions to make. Which head of lettuce is the freshest? Which carrots are the sweetest?
Gathering vegetables for dinner in the garden is much less stressful. Few vegetables are so humorous as garlic scapes. They curl into the most curious and funny shapes. Why do they do that?
Going through a garlic field pulling garlic scapes is far less stressful than pushing a shopping cart through a busy supermarket. After pulling a mountain of garlic scapes, it’s on to the cherry trees.
The cherries are ripening early this year, and the birds are leaving them alone for a change. There are plenty for the table and extra to scatter for the chickens. They love sweet fruits. After the cherry trees, it’s on to pick some raspberries and greens. On the way, there is the first Shasta Daisy of the season to smile at.
And here is tonight’s grocery section. It doesn’t take long to fill my “grocery cart”. There’s no shortage of good things to eat tonight.
Washed and ready, there are plenty of good things to make a summer evening meal. There is no going hungry tonight.
So what do I do with garlic scapes? One way I like to make them is to cut them into one to two inch pieces and then sauté them in garlic oil until tender, which is what I’m doing tonight. They are also good roasted, used in soups, eaten raw if very tender, added to omelets, and on and on. What do they taste like? They are like string beans with a hint of garlic.
I have a problem to solve and the solution involves building a simple box I can hang on a wall.
And here is where the problem is, inside the hay shed.
Two hens have decided that tops of hay bales are the perfect spot to hatch a clutch of eggs. For three nights, I’ve tried moving them into a more appropriate brooding place. When it is dark, the hens will stay calm and you can wrap them in a towel and move them easily. Sometimes, they will take to the new location, but more often, once a hen has decided on a spot to hatch a clutch of eggs, even dynamite won’t make her budge.
With the brooding box ready, I’ve marked the eggs to put under the hen. Once a hen goes broody, she stops laying eggs, and this hen is sitting on a single egg laid by another hen this morning.
With the brooding box fastened to the wall above the bale of hay, the hen is back on her nest with a full clutch of eggs under her to hatch. When the chicks hatch in three weeks, it will be easy to move her and her new chicks by lifting the box off the wall and putting it in a quiet spot in the nursery.
Tomorrow I will make a brooding box for the other hen who is sitting on a bale of hay on the other side of the hay shed. She is a feisty one and will draw blood if you reach under her. She will make a very protective mother.
Of all the chickens, Lucky is the most photogenic, and she seems to know it. She loves to pose. It’s almost as if she is saying, “How about this look? What if I move my head to the side?” She is also the first hen to come check what I am doing in the garden when I go out to weed. See Lucky’s story ~ why we call her Lucky.
On the other hand, brooding hens are in no mood to pose. They stay as still as possible, hoping that you won’t see them, and that you will move on and leave them in peace.
In one of the hoop houses, the squash are starting to set. I”m not sure what kind of squash this is. I bought one several months ago. It was a squarish squash with a bit of a waist. I planted some of the seeds and will soon have a supply to last through the fall and possibly into winter. You can see the waist in the forming squash.
The two mothers sharing two chicks are doing fine. It’s been over a week since their chicks hatched. The chicks go freely from one hen to the other. Sometimes the hens scold each other when they aren’t happy with the other’s child rearing methods, but for the most part they get along.
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It’s Thursday, time to take eggs and salad greens and garlic scapes to Tweets Café in Edison. I was thinking that it wasn’t that big a deal delivering my produce by bicycle. It’s only five miles, hardly far enough to use a car. Like, what sane person with good legs uses a one to two ton piece of machinery to only go five miles? That’s crazy talk.
But what am I going to do as production ramps up? How many cartons of salad greens can I safely carry on my bicycle rack? It’s time to start designing or looking for a light trailer I can hitch to the back of the bicycle.
Then again, delivering eggs and produce by bicycle is a big deal. How often can you go to a store and buy eggs or produce that has never been in a motor vehicle? What restaurant can you go to where you can eat something that was not transported by a vehicle burning fossil fuel?
At Tweets! Granted, most of the things you eat there will have spent time in a fossil fuel burning truck, but at least some of the eggs and salad greens will have arrived without ever having been in a motor vehicle. Kinda neat, don’t you think?
Yesterday I had a bit of cream left, maybe a cup and a half, so I set it out in a bowl to culture overnight to churn it into butter this morning. I ended up with a small ball of butter. It got me thinking into how little selection people have anymore when it comes to buying things like butter. It’s all made in vast quantities by just a handful of companies.
Yet, the milk from every cow is slightly different. The milk a cow produces each day is slightly different, depending on the season and what she ate recently. Even the weather has an effect on the milk. Did she just spend a peaceful, stress free day in warm sunshine, or was it cold and dreary with a cantankerous farmer thrown into the mix? The milk from each farm varies as the vegetation the cows eat and the soil the vegetation grows on varies from farm to farm.
But all of those wonderful differences are erased in modern food production and we end up with endless quantities of the same tasting butter no matter when or where we shop. Food safety regulations make it cost prohibitive for small, single farm dairies to exist. Which is sad as flavors which stand out occur at the micro scale, not the macro scale where everything is blended together.
When you make your own butter, you get to decide how much buttermilk you squeeze out of the butter. This changes the consistency and taste of the butter. You get to decide how long to let your butter age on the counter at room temperature. Are you going to add a bit of yoghurt to help age the butter? If so, what kind of yoghurt are you going to use? Are you going to churn it by hand or with a mixer? You get to decide which farm’s cream to use. All of these things affect the taste of the butter you make.
If there were hundreds of small single, farm dairies within a short distance of a city, those living in the city could have a tantalizing variety of butters to choose. People would be keenly aware of the difference between spring and fall butter, the difference between summer and winter butter. There would be prized, single-cow butters. Food critics would wax eloquently about the exquisite taste of Bertha’s butter from the McMann farm, or the robust flavor of Molly’s butter from the Svenson farm, or the sublime essence of Henrietta’s butter from the Amstutz farm. Life would be infinitely more fun!
The last decade we’ve witnessed beer being liberated from the huge breweries. Now there are thousands of local breweries delivering a variety of beers unimaginable twenty years ago. It’s time for a dairy liberation and a proliferation of butter, milk, and cream varieties. Hopefully, twenty years from now we will look back and wonder how we managed with just a handful of butters on the grocery shelves.
The thimble berries (rubus parvilorus) are starting to ripen. This year there is a bumper crop. Chances are, you will never see them in your grocer. They are very fragile and soft when they ripen. If you don’t eat them within a day or two, the berries will droop and then fall.
The best food isn’t purchased, it’s gathered by yourself.