Two’s Company


This morning, Hazel and Colette decided to lay eggs at the same time, and sat down facing each other. Who was there first? It probably was Colette as she doesn’t look that happy. Though when you think about it, she’s be less happy if she had her face in Hazel’s other end.


Is It May or Is It July?


A few days ago some of the potatoes started blooming. I’ve never seen potato blossoms in May here before. I staggered my potato plantings over five weeks, so I should have potato blossoms through July. Up close, the flowers are complex. Why do they have all that fine hair on the back of their petals? What purpose do the folds of the petals serve? What about the patterns of their petals? What do the flowers look like in ultraviolet, which is how bees see them? How many thousands of species of bacteria thrive on a potato blossom? Are there species of bacteria, fungi, and/or micro arthropods that exist only potato blossoms? Could be.

The more you look at a single blossom, the more questions you have. There is enough information in these intricate flowers to write several dissertations. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to sit in on an oral exam of a PhD candidate who has written a dissertation on potato blossoms? What questions would the professors toss at the candidate? It could become the basis for a Netflix original series.


We All Need Forests


This time of year, I start mornings with a walk through the woods. I never imagined that one day I’d be able to walk through a forest just a few steps from my front door. At this early hour, the chickens are just starting to come down off their roost. In an hour, they will start scratching their way through the thick brush, searching for good things to eat.

The forest provides so many good things. A quiet place to walk, a constant buffet for the chickens, and clean air are just a start. “One acre of trees annually consumes the amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to that produced by driving an average car for 26,000 miles. That same acre of trees also produces enough oxygen for 18 people to breathe for a year.” Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.


Radiant Hen


Hens sitting on eggs become radiant. Their eyes become so focused. They are not about to let anything happen to their precious eggs, so they give anyone approaching them an evil eye. There’s an intensity that beams from them. Get too close, and their feathers puff up. Get closer still, and they start to growl and shriek.

For 21 days they barely budge. Yet, they are gently shifting and turning their eggs underneath them all the time. It’s a mystery how they know what to do. How is such complex behavior controlled by DNA and how do hormones or whatever chemicals manipulating their minds get them to sit for such a long period? It’s like they have a thousand page manual with detailed instructions on what to do buried deep in their little brains.

All of nature is like this, far more complicated than we can fathom.

No Time to Sit Still


Rachel and her chicks are ready to move. The last of the chicks hatched during the night, and none of them want to sit still. After breakfast, she takes them outdoors. How many chicks get to go outdoors the day after they hatch? Most chicks hatch in incubators by the tens of thousands. They’ll never see their mother, and will spend their chickhood under heat lamps with tens of thousands of other chicks.

Many commercial chicken farms which raise free range chicken don’t let them outdoors until they are two to four weeks old. Having a mother hen makes all the difference in the world. The single most important thing little chicks need and crave is love.


After a long adventure outdoors, Rachel tucks all her chicks under her for a warm, afternoon nap. It’s amazing a hen can fit nine chicks underneath her without a single one visible.


What Money Can’t Buy


I saw an article on おはよう日本 – Good Morning Japan, on TV Japan yesterday, about a public bath house with a large community hall. For about $10, you can spend all day, enjoying the hot baths, and relaxing with neighbors in the community hall, where you can bring your own food and drink. Many people go to the bath house just to relax and visit with neighbors in the community hall. There is a stage where you can sing and dance and put on a performance. According to the newspiece, anyone is welcome.

People tell the owner that she could tear down the community hall, build a high rise condo and make as much money as she wants. She told the reporter, “I know I could make a lot more money. But each day, I have customers going home with smiles and telling me what a good time they had. Money can’t buy that.”

Money can’t buy everything. It can’t buy the tranquility that I get from a morning walk in the forest. The forest is a treasure trove of life, much of it in the soil. In an old growth forest, up to 75% of the weight of the soil can be fungal matter. The trees look like they are just standing there, not doing much, but they are converting sunshine into sugars, sending much of the sugar down into their roots to feed massive amounts of fungi. Fungal eating nematodes come along, eat the fungi, and leave fertilizer at the roots of the trees so they can grow even taller.

Everything we eat starts as sunshine. When we bite into an apple, peel an orange, or crunch on a carrot, we’re eating sunshine, converted by plants into energy. Money can’t buy sunshine. So when you’re having a meal, look outside and wave at the sun. Thank it for making your life possible.


Money can’t buy the joy I feel seeing Rachel’s new chicks. They started hatching yesterday, and today she has them off the nest. I’ll know in a day or two how many she has. Money can’t buy the wonder of seeing new growth on a redwood tree. Money can’t buy a lot of things.


Posing for a Family Portrait


I found Skunky and her four siblings taking an afternoon break in an old rabbit hutch the hens use for laying eggs. During the day, the two brothers of the bunch are often off on their own. It’s almost like they knew I was coming and got together to pose for a family portrait.


Potato Blossoms in May?


WoodPrarieFarmPotatoesIn the valley, the large scale potato farmers are starting to till and spray and plant their fields. The first row of potatoes I planted March 17 are putting out flower buds. They should be in bloom soon. I spaced my potatoes over a six week period so I should have a long potato blossom season with purple, pink, and white blossoms. Wood Prairie Farm in Maine even sells a selection of potatoes, Organic Certified Potato Blossom Festival chosen for “their exceptional blossom beauty and fragrance”. I’m waiting to read the novel where the dashing prince is smitten by the beauty whose sweet fragrance is as soft and pure as the fragrance of potato blossoms.


Berry season is fast approaching too. Thanks to the many native bees who work tirelessly, the salmon and thimble berries are filling out and taking on color. When you bite into a berry, close your eyes and think of all the prickly bee feet that walked all over the flower and pollinated it while collecting pollen. You owe them a favor.


Out of the Garden Today – May 19, 2015


It’s nothing like picking out produce in a grocery store, but this tangle of vegetation is where lunch starts. A bit of weeding and I have the ingredients for making a great fried rice lunch: ruby streaks mustard greens and gobo (burdock root).


Ancient Shared Genes?


A cool, foggy morning gives no hint of the sunny day to come. In the woods, the thimble berry flowers are blooming, with their petals falling like big snowflakes.


Two young roosters are off on their own. Two months old, they are spending more time with each other than with their sisters. As roosters become juveniles, they spend more time together than they do with their girls, not too different than human boys of a certain age. The genes that tell little boys to avoid little girls must be a billion years old, and date back to a very distant ancestor both chickens and humans share.

Another ancient shared set of genes, are those which make little children to play in the mud. Miasa-hime looks down off the bridge at her chicks which are running around in the creek bed. They are next to impossible to see, but two of her chicks are visible in this picture. They are close to the edge of the bridge. One is a few planks to the left of her feet. The other is hidden in the grass toward the lower left of the picture. Mother hens have many of the same problems human parents have with their children.