Tag Archives: chickens

I do like a little hen indeed.

“We kept good hens out in the back, brown and white, and some good layers from my father’s sisters that were black. There is happy our hens. All day they peck for sweet bits in the ground, twice they come for corn, and in the mornings they shout the roof off to have you come and see their eggs. And no trouble to anybody.

“I do like a little hen indeed. A minder of her own business always, and very dainty in her walk and ways….”

That is a clipping from How Green Was my Valley, by Richard Llewellyn, which I am currently reading/listening to. The narrator is Ralph Cosham, whose rich British voice perfectly accompanies the author’s prose to double the amount of atmosphere evoked. What a wonderful story! I’d never read the book before, and I’m not sure I ever saw the movie. I have probably seen fewer movies than anyone I know.

Many such short passages make me wish that I were reading the novel in print, so that I could underline them, and have an easier time copying them to share. But I’m not, so I won’t. Instead, I hit the replay button from time to time and pause whatever I’m doing to listen more carefully, in love with the sentences and the scenes and the Morgan Family.

Probably because of all the people I know who during the pandemic especially enjoyed their chickens, or started keeping chickens for the first time, I also began longing to have chickens again. I walked around my property eyeing every nook and cranny, but concluded once again, sadly, that every spot is taken. Any ground not being used by plants or furniture or greenhouse did not qualify on account of being sweltering hot, or too close to the clothesline, where I wouldn’t want chicken dust.

If I had found room I could have taken quick possession of the healthiest year-old hens you ever saw, Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks, that one friend had to give away, a flock of ten that he had acquired as day-old chicks during covid. I did get to eat eighteen of their eggs; they were the best I’d ever tasted, and I have tasted lots of home-raised eggs.

Instead, I sent word to friends all over the county (and into the next county), everyone I could think of going back 40 years that I’d ever known to keep livestock. I finally found a good home for those girls. And for myself, I will go back to my dream and plan of raising worms. I do have the perfect spot for them, whom I imagine are the tiniest breed of livestock….

You would think that in thirteen years of keeping chickens I would have a few good photos of them, but it was in the days before digital cameras, and I couldn’t waste film on targets that moved the way chickens are likely to do. But I did locate this one above, the three older children in the 80’s, each holding one of their pullets. It’s almost the opposite of the kind of picture I wish I had, because adolescent chickens are inelegant, and these that you can barely see in the shade are definitely in the gawky stage. But it does show that we enjoyed our hens.

Until yesterday our area of California had been miraculously, blessedly free of wildfire smoke. Smoke from our fires out West was drifting all the way to the East Coast, and plaguing most of my children and many friends on the way — but not coming here. But yesterday it arrived. I don’t know which fire it is from. Once again, I have friends who lost their home, this time in the Dixie Fire 200 miles north of me. I’m sure that the personal connection increases weight that was already on my heart; I’m finding it hard to focus on anything and apply myself. It is some sweet relief to see in my mind’s eye the dainty hens in the Green Valley, when I visit vicariously in the coal mining town in Wales.

Another heartening little thing that surprised me today was a volunteer zinnia. I still haven’t cleaned up my planter boxes where most of my vegetables usually grow. In one box the parsley, hyssop and chamomile have all grown into a seedy jungle, and in the other a single zinnia plant sprouted in secret under the squashes and Painted Lady beans and grew up spindly toward the light.

May the Lord’s grace light our way and warm our souls.

But for you who fear my name,
the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.
You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Malachi 4

The Green Doctor, kindred souls and squashes.

While I was waiting at the fairgrounds gate I saw people leaving with their arms full of watermelons. A woman walked past me wearing a green t-shirt with bold letters proclaiming, “Things go better with kale.”

Then my friend Linda arrived. We entered the Farm-Garden-Homesteading-Everything show and soon found ourselves at a poultry exhibit. When she invited me last week I hadn’t investigated ahead of time what all there would be to see, and chickens were a happy surprise.

As we were admiring the different breeds one exhibitor explained to us that the truest Rhode Island Reds are a very dark mahogany color, and there was a rooster to demonstrate it. He told us about the “Frizzle” gene that causes the feathers of any breed to grow backward.

We got into a discussion with him about whether the upcoming winter would be warmer than usual. He mentioned seeing scores of baby lizards at what would normally be too late in the year, and wild birds setting on new clutches of eggs. I wondered myself yesterday when I saw a bird pulling rice straw out of my strawberry barrels.

Last week I heard another opinion, that the lack of sunspots of late foretells a cold winter coming. I didn’t even know what sunspots were, and will like to see how winter reveals itself. A related question of no import is whether I will remember any of this come winter!

A young woman I’d met briefly at church was at this fair, selling wool that comes from her family’s fiber mill. Another friend was at the medicinal hemp oil booth. I listened to a bright lady from the South talking for 45 minutes about fermenting, as she occasionally sipped from her bottle of kombucha. I even took extensive notes on that talk, and her recipe for kimchi, knowing full well that I will never make it.

More applicable to my life was the cherry tomato tasting, from which Linda and I and even Master Gardener people at a separate booth concluded without a doubt that Green Doctor was our favorite. It was developed by two women who are both doctors 🙂 . By contrast, I ate a little Yellow Pear, while telling the volunteer behind the table that one summer I had grown this variety and thought I must have got a “lemon” of a pear because every fruit on the vine was tasteless. She answered flatly, “They always are.”

For someone like me who avoids shopping, the shopping at this event was certainly great fun. There were two places with vintage clothing and other used items, from which I chose aprons! One seed booth featured corn, beans, and amaranth, all of which were appealingly laid out in varied and rustic baskets. I did indulge in a packet of orange amaranth seeds, and Linda bought a scoop of the Hopi type below; we will share with each other.

By the time we reached the moringa booth I still had some adventuresome energy to expend, but was slowing down a bit in the legs and feet. When I saw the jug of very green drink they were freely offering, signed “Peppermint Moringa Tea,” I helped myself to a cup, and it felt like Strengthening Medicine. From what I learned, the leaves are in fact concentrated nutritionally, but more pertinent to my situation long-term were other aspects of the plant, that it is easy to grow and can thrive in my area, and — look at these dear seeds! I have to try some. Linda bought a small tree. Now I am trying to figure out some way I might organize all my hopelessly burgeoning garden ideas.

It was refreshing to listen to a motivational speaker who was urging us, not to maximize our financial wealth, but to find ourselves and our joy by digging in the dirt and learning how to grow things. To talk to a man who has been hand-forging beautiful tools for fifty years. We hated to leave his booth, where the trowels, coat racks and trivets wanted to be hefted and stroked and admired, and their creator seemed content that they be appreciated, knowing that most of us couldn’t afford to own them.

Hundreds of people all in one place with whom one might discuss natural pest controls and sheep breeds, Mason jars and succulents…. and species of scented geraniums. Linda and I each took home a little nutmeg-scented plant which will remind us of our outing together. I have a few close friends who are fellow-gardeners and who love to share our excitement with each other, but never before have I had a day as full to the brim of like-minded folk as bright and colorful as the squashes we had come to see.

Whatever winter will bring this year, it is not yet upon us, which means more hours and days I might prepare for it, while bringing in extra basil, strawberries, and figs. Now that I’ve returned from the dream-invigorating festival, it’s back to the Real, my own garden.

Wandering into Urban Homesteads

God willing, today was the last day I will have to live out of my car. The floors took two weeks instead of one. In the meantime I have forgotten how to keep house–having a thick layer of fine wood dust on everything each night has beaten me down–and haven’t learned how to be a gypsy. I’ve been leaving the house at 9:00 and wandering around the county doing little errands or some shopping. I can take all the time I want to try on clothes or look for that special title at the library’s used book store…

But today, Memorial Day, the library was closed, and there was no place to be. My bed, my computer, and some vegetables were what I longed for. I have lost all my sociability and courage and just want to be a housewife hermit for a few months.

But before today’s last straw, some outings I enjoyed were gardening at church, and having a long-overdue chat with my priest; sitting in Starbucks on a day of pouring rain and drinking the largest Café Mocha I’ve ever indulged in; and visits with crafty gardening friends.

K. and S. got more chickens, and a hive of bees! They are growing everything from parsley and onions to raspberries and blueberries. K. has been knitting sweaters and socks. It was lovely to catch up on their homesteading developments.

One night we visited with our longtime friends who I will call Art and Di. Di is one my best-ever book friends; we never have enough time to sit by a fire in winter, or on the patio in summer, to talk about our reading and how it is all connected. She and my husband never tire of sharing music from their old and new favorite musicians.

Art creates beauty, whether it’s in his sketchbook or the garden. Among the santolina, lavender, germander and California poppies he had this yellow-flowered giant I wasn’t familiar with. He said it was sage, and wanting to know just what sort, I went home and researched it online.It didn’t seem to be in the salvia group, so I set several of my botanical sleuths on the chase and found out that it is Jerusalem Sage, not a salvia but Phlomis fruticosa. I also learned that Salvia and Phlomis are both members of the Lamiacea family, also known as the mint family.

In addition to propagating unthirsty plants such as the ones that populate the textured garden in their front yard, he has created a clever drip/wicking irrigation system that gets the needed amount of water right to the roots of his back yard vegetables. In the photos here, if you look closely you can see that the wick goes into a piece of hose carrying the moisture deep to the root zone. The paper bag that normally hides the water pot from the sun has been lifted briefly for me to see it.


Writing about these inspiring gardens and people I love is helping bring my most stressful day and fortnight to a better close than I thought possible when I sat down here an hour ago. Just remembering gardens and books and good friends is soothing and healing.