Lisa Bondurant

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I spend my time raising kids, gathering eggs, cutting wood, scoping out trees for tapping, making syrup in the last days of winter, watching my garden NOT grow in the summer, writing, wishing that there were more hours on the clock for sleeping.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Closest I Come to a Bucket O' Chicken

Blame it on my childhood and my past, but I have too many old hens running around. Happy, fat, alive old hens, that have no purpose but to look pretty scratching a pile of hay...

...or looking pretty in the new spring grass and daffodils.
Catch that? I said alive! Yep, alive with their heads on and their feathers! I can not bring myself to get rid of old hens because in my childhood I had had, to many headless chickens running after me as my mother butchered.
Then there was the research farm. I was the herdsman on the dairy research division. The poultry division calls one day and bribed me, with money, to leave my safe, happy place milling about the herds of Holsteins on green pastures, to help on a project on the poultry farm. Soon I find myself in the stinky, dark confines of a 104 degree chicken house, with no air moving at all, to oversee the butchering of hundreds of chickens. Chickens who were dieing only to weigh their neatly trimmed breast meat, to determine if an additive was producing heavier meating in fowl. Halfway through my three days in that sweltering cave of a hell hole of rotting chickens (yes, rotting because they left the already butchered birds sit in 50 gallon barrels and did not empty them for the 3 days) I lost my cool in more ways then one. The man killing and butchering the hapless birds asked me, in all sincerity, if I wanted for him to save some of the breast meat, for taking home to eat. I looked up from weighing meat, in surprise of such a disgusting suggestion, only to find that he had grown bored waiting for my answer and had started to torture the chickens that where hanging in a long row before us. One by one he tortured the helpless birds with the electric knife he used for killing them! I ordered him to stop. He laugh and tortured another. Something inside of me snapped. I leaped out from behind my stainless steal table and scales and bellowed like a drill instructor, shaking a pen at my former friend (oddly enough he became former at that very moment) and threatened to end his life, if  I  ever saw him torture one more chicken. I ranted on crazily to the wide eyed man and kicked at the door (blocked by a oil drum of discarded chicken, so I had to kick it to get out) and stormed out to sunshine and semi-fresh air and buzzing flies, vowing to never eat chicken again, never to kill chicken again and never to leave my happy cows and green pastures again.
 Oh no!  There I go ranting again and after all these years, but a long story short, I did not eat chicken for three years and I have to many, very old, spent hens with no heart to butcher them .This leads me to a new problem. My bucket o' chicken.
A four year old hen who needs to go. She is old! She is a pecker head! (eats eggs) and she does not lay anymore...till now! She heard me talking about her one day, saying that she needed to be butchered and that was just how it was going to be! So what does she do the very next day? She hurried down to our front porch in the morning and climbed into the egg bucket I had left there after washing the previous days eggs. She squeezed herself into the bucket and laid an egg.  Yeah, an egg! And she has done this everyday for a week. Then she stands up tall and starts cackling, not the usual short cackle of a hen that just says "..hey, if anyone cares... I laid an egg... and now I'm done talking... and I'm going to go eat..."
What she says is "...I LAID AN EGG! DO YOU HEAR ME? I LAID AN EGG AND NOW I WILL SCREAM IT OUT AGAIN, I LAID AN EGG, I LAID AN EGG, I LAID AN EGG..." and she says it, Oh, I mean cackles it and cackles and cackles and won't stop for at least 30 minutes, just outside our door.
She won't stop, till every living thing on the mountain is very clear that ...
So what am I to do? Butcher her? I don't think so! She did lay an egg and I still have my bucket O'Chicken!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Moods of April

"Spring is here! Springs is here!," my son sings out. "Do you see the flowers and the Sun?"
"Don't be fooled," my daughter warns! "Spring is tricky! Tricky like that rooster is. He will sneak up behind  and peck you." 
The next day she points out the window. "Tricky like the rooster, snow on the daff-o-dills. Come on, we must save the flowers." Every flower is freed from snow by gentle tiny hands. Soon they find out just how moody April can be.
Note the look of disgust on my sons face

                                            The moods of April swing crazy on our mountain.

                                                         Chocolate milk mountains streams, my kids say. I could hear the boulders crashing beneath the roaring waters. The vine stretched tight is still attached to a tree washed in from the last high waters.

The valley is spared no less as pasture lands are flooded.
The willows like this I think

War Branch and willow trees

Flooding banks of Dry River, yep, Dry River!
The moods of April, crazy April...

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Building a Layered Garden

To have a garden in the mountains is a challenge, and I do mean a challenge! The sunlight does not come over the mountain till at least an 11/2 hours after the valley below us is bathed in full light. Then the sun sets earlier as it slips behind the tallest mountain to the west and darkness floods in. The season in general is much shorter, with a frost date that is the same as areas of Pennsylvania. Then there are the animals! Over the years we have built a fortress of  electric fences and deer netting. The fences may work one year, then the critters figure out your defensive strategy and you must change and adapt. A fence that keeps out a deer will not keep out a ground hog, a fence that keeps out a ground hog, the rabbit squeezes through. One year I built chicken wire cages that went over every row, a 3 sided box. How could anything get through that I had thought!
 The first year it worked, plants grew safe and happy beneath the fortress of wire, I had baskets full of veggies.
 The second year they stomped a bit at the cages, but still all was well.
The third year the deer laid on and rolled over the cages till the vegetables poked out and they ate till their heart's content. Never again did the cage method work.
Then there is the changing weather. In the mountains we have almost always enjoyed a wet and lush summer, with gentle rains almost every evening. Not any more. Our climate is changing into a warmer, drier weather pattern with more severe storms. For at least 4 to 5 years our mountain garden , if saved from animals, it has then been lost to drought and insects. Terrible, earth cracking drought that sets in just after the heavy spring rains. No fence can save us from that enemy, but perhaps a lasagna garden can. The idea behind this is to build up a thick, nutrient rich, raised bed that hold moisture, prevent weeds and feeds your garden and also eliminates the need to till. I like that!!!

A year ago I attempted the lasagna garden (Lasagna Garden by Patricia Lanza) in a small patch of about 6x10 feet. After the spring rains ended and the earth cracked to bits, the only successful garden left growing was my small test patch.
 I had 25 huge bushel gourds, from one plant, at the edge of that garden. The gourd was so healthy that it nearly took over the entire garden and most of the chicken field.
 The layers preserved moisture, fed the plants and the weeds were minimal. This year it is all or nothing, the whole garden goes into a layered garden. I could get into how each layer is suppose to work, but you would be better off looking it up online or reading the book.
I will just try to show the layers as I built them...

The Layers as they happened!

We laid down thick layers of news papers and cardboard and junk mail, ( it was gratifying to trash the junk mail this way) wetting them as we went to keep the papers from blowing away and to start the breakdown.

A couple of tiny helpers with a water squirt er from the dollar store really helped.
On top of this a layer of composted chicken litter and bedding was added.

Leaves from last fall were then piled high on top of the chicken litter. Looks neat doesn't it? Well not for long...

The laying hens escaped from their hoop house and decided to help out!
After raking the beds back into shape we added about 2 to 3 inches of compost from a dairy farm.

Next- bring in the straw, leave the chicken!
Everyone wants to be involved...


A thick layer of straw down will make 5 layers.

Ashes make six layers, this will apparently help with neutralizing acids that maybe added with layers such as leaves and shavings.
At this point you can plant or let the layers "cook" or begin to breakdown. As the book points out the newly built garden can be covered in plastic to quicken the cooking process.
We have a few weeks till our frost date so this will be "cooking", but till then I have planted onions and cabbage in another layered patch.

A lot of work, but what garden isn't! The great idea behind this kind of garden is the work is all done in the cool spring and then you pretty much let the garden take care of it's self  through the hot summer
 In fall you add more leaves or compost. 
Next spring part the layers and plant. No tilling. 
Keep adding layers and watch the garden bed build up rich and thick!
But for now...
... we wait and watch...will it grow?
The next problem to solve it insects!!! 
I know a couple of ducks that may help with this problem!
 That is another story!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Listening for the Dragon Slayer

   I have heard the woods come alive in early spring. The awakening can be heard if you stand very still and listen. You might have to close your eyes and hold your breath for a moment. You will hear it, like a whisper carried on the cool breeze, soft tapping from far... near... all around you. Tiny drops of sap falling from the highest tips of branches that scratch at the lowest sky.  As sunlight warms the forest floor and thaws the dark soil beneath the blanket of  last summer's leaves, the tapping is winters last warning to leave the forest to Spring.
 I have caught a drop on my hand and wondered at the clear, watery magic of this blood of trees. Wondered at how something so pale and simple could be drawn up from the frozen, depths of dark earth to awaken a forest, chase away winter and then be boiled down into a golden syrup that warms your soul when it touches your tongue.
 I had imagined that this humble looking sweet water, was a true elixir, brewed up in some wizard's underground, crystal lined chamber at the center of the Earth. Then sent up through the stone and soil to slay what dragons may tromp upon the surface of the Earth. I had imagined that and then laughed at myself. Perhaps I should have believed more in flights of fancy.
Perhaps we should all believe more in the magic of nature.
 The news is now buzzing with the newly discovered magic of maple syrup and how it could help to fight cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Read more at the link below.
   I will listen again, for springs awakening next year, and for the coming of the dragon slayer.
 Maple syrup has 'champion food' health benefits