Happy chickens, enjoying the early morning sunshine--before it gets hot. To tell the truth, friends, if I'd've known that we were going to be experiencing the hottest summer on record here in the Hill Country, I would have waited a few months to get these guys. It's been a struggle to keep them cool, and to stay cool myself while I'm working with them. We built the coop about 40 yards from the house, so it's an 80-yard round trip. Don't snigger. If you hoofed this distance 8 or 9 times a day in temps up to 107, you'd count the steps, too.
The good part: with all that extra walking, I've lost 5 pounds (yay!) since this gang joined the family--which is interesting, because they've each gained 5 pounds. That's their weight this week, which means that some of them will be headed for the freezer in the next 8-10 days (the others later). I'm not looking forward to The Day, but I am looking forward to enjoying food I've cared for and raised with attention and respect. For me, bottom line, that's what it's all about. As the Inuit say, "All our food is souls." Something to think about, seriously.
Garden Report. The tomatoes (Porters) are still producing--I have about seven pounds waiting to be sauced. The okra and Southern peas are coming on and a few melons are ripening, but that's about it. Time to think about fall, so I've started some tomato seeds: Cherokee Purple, from Susan Tweit; Brandywine, and Porter Improved (wondering if there's a difference). I've also taken a half-dozen slips from the Porters--rooting them in mini-greenhouses. Other years, I've cut the spring tomatoes back for a come-again fall crop. But it's so hot this year and the sun is so bright (the drought means that we get almost no cloud cover) that it might not be a good idea to reduce the foliage. So I won't be doing that.
Weather Report. We had a rain shower a couple of days ago, but not enough to make a difference. I began watering trees, but our #2 well has quit (Bill says it's probably the pump--he'll work on it when he gets back from New Mexico next week) so that put an end to the tree watering. Our Texas heat has spread to the Midwest, so lots more people are getting a little taste of it. Here, the drought makes the heat worse. In areas that were flooded, I'm sure the heat turns everything into a sauna. In every local TV newscast here, there are segments on the drought, the heat, the lake levels (dropping fast), and the grid (overworked, rolling blackouts threatened). Not cheerful news, true. But I'm glad to see the media paying attention. This extreme weather is not something we can afford to ignore. There's a lesson in it, if we'll just listen and learn. Do you think we will? (Personally, I'm not optimistic.)
Book Report. On a happier note, I'm heading into the final chapter of The Darling Dahlias and the Confederate Rose--it's the wrap-up chapter, so it should go pretty easily. Then a bit of tidying up, with one-more-once through the whole text (which will probably end up with about 87,000 words), and it's off to NY. This book has taken fifteen days longer than usual: life has intruded in the form of garden, chickens, and this and that. I'm grateful to my editor for giving me a little extra time.
Reading Report. I haven't had a lot of time for reading lately (wonder why!). But a while back, I posted the reading list I compiled while I was working on An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days. I've been adding to it and will add other titles as soon as I finish the current book and have some time to update it. The list is heavy with books worth reading and thinking about--which, these days are the only kind of books worth spending my time on. I hope you're finding some time for reading this summer, and that there are some good books on your to-be-read stack!
Reading note:The generosity of the Earth allows us to feed all mankind; we know enough about ecology to keep the Earth a healthy place; there is enough room on the Earth, and there are enough materials, so that everybody can have adequate shelter; we are quite competent enough to produce sufficient supplies of necessities so that no one need live in misery. --E.F. Schumacher
My, my, how fast they're growing! Six weeks old, and the pullets (the girl chickens) weigh in at 4 lbs 3 oz on average, the cockerels (the boy chickens) at an average 4 lbs 10 oz. You can tell who's who by looking at their combs and wattles: the pale pink outfit belongs to the girls, the brighter combs and larger wattles belong to the boys. That's a girl in front and a boy in back. Other than these sex-linked features, there's no way to tell one bird from another, so there's way to name them, except collectively ("The Gang"). And since they're all destined for the table, I'm not eager to get attached to them. Naming brings you closer to the thing you name and makes it more difficult to part with it, when the time comes.
It's been a summer of paying attention to animals' needs. Our 12-year-old heeler, Toro, has a bladder infection. Our 5-year-old heeler is having seizures. Shadow, our black cat, got in a fight with a feral cat (she was defending her front porch) and developed an abcess. Knock on wood: the cows are staying healthy, although their pasture grass looks pretty dismal. And all the outdoor animals are stressed in this brutal heat and drought. The coyotes, coons, deer, turkeys--they all have to go farther for water.
The trees are stressed, too. We've lost a big Spanish oak, an elm is showing severe signs of distress, and one of our large cypress trees is already turning October red. Many of the Ashe junipers are losing needles as well. A couple of days ago, I took the laser thermometer outdoors and took some soil readings. Soil surface temps in the sun: 145 degrees. We're not watering grass this year: water is too precious a resource to waste on a lawn. And if predictions hold true and La Nina comes back again in the fall, this disastrous drought may continue into 2012.
If this were a temporary situation, I'd be less worried. But the heat (and perhaps the drought, as well) is the "new normal," according to NOAA's latest 30-year temperature map. Take a look and see where your state stands when it comes to temperature increases over the past three decades. And then think what this could mean for our food supply. Most plants don't adapt to the heat any better than we do.
Reading note. People tend to focus on the here and now. The problem is that, once global warming is something that most people can feel in the course of their daily lives, it will be too late to prevent much larger, potentially catastrophic changes.--Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker, April 25, 2005 So far this summer: 28 100+degree days in Austin.
Another week, another pound. Last week, these guys weighed two pounds, this week, three. And there are other payouts in addition to the healthful meat that will go into our freezer and the entertainment they provide. (Come and sit with me by the chicken pen some evening, and you'll see what I mean). I just trucked a wheelbarrow of chicken litter to the compost bin, and by the time I got there with it, it was already getting warm. Chicken litter, composted, is great for the garden.
From the garden: cantaloupe and watermelon this week, and plenty of Porter tomatoes. Those Porters just keep on keeping on--a miracle, through this heat. I put in a dozen plants (grown from seed), and so far they've produce about a dozen pints of sauce for the freezer. They're still blooming and fruiting, amazingly.
The corn (Merit) is another story: all tassels and no ears. Heat stress, I'm sure. We'll already had 22 100+degree days this summer. Cooling off with this wonderful Edisto melon, very sweet heirloom that does well, even in our heat and humidity. If you've guessed that it's a challenge to find the right veggie varieties for our Texas Hill Country climate, you're right! A lot of my gardening effort goes into choosing and trialing varieties that might do well here, and then learning to grow them even in the most difficult of situations. I remember my easy Midwestern gardens with such affection: plant seeds, watch them grow, weed the rows, and bring in the harvest. Or at least, that's the story that memory tells me.
From the writing desk. Too many distractions! When I can get to the book (the third Darling Dahlias), it goes well. And I'm making good progress, about 90% done, about 10,000 words to go. I really need to go back to the beginning and work through the whole book, picking up loose threads. There's a new character, Charlie Dickens, the editor of the Darling Dispatch, and I've been sidetracked with research (too much, probably) on small town newspapers in the 1930s. I tend to overdo the research, I'm afraid. A novel (and especially a mystery) can only carry so much setting detail. The story has to move along without getting bogged down. Darn it. Sometimes the bog is more interesting.
Reading note. When writing a novel, that's pretty much entirely what life turns into: 'House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.'--Neil Gaimon