Monday, October 6, 2014

Fall Garden

October in the Chihuahuan high desert means monsoon season is over. The lush green grass and weeds that sprang up after all our rain are starting to go crispy. Nights are cool, daytimes still hot. The sky is dark until almost 8 oclock and sunsets around 8 pm. Humidity is low and the skies are clear.

The fig tree is still loaded with little green figs, but with the shortened daylight hours, they don't seem to have it in them to ripen up. That's okay. We have certainly enjoyed our share! A couple of weeks ago I was so distracted I couldn't focus on boring indoor tasks, so I spent several hours in the garden, tearing out the old, planting in the new. Covering everything with mesh, hoping to keep the scratchy hens out. Now there are beet, chard, kale, spinach, lettuce, radish and carrot babies growing. Plus arugula and cilantro that volunteered and I replanted.

For many years I dreamed of a fall garden, but with the busy schedule of back to school, I couldn't get beyond the dream.

Last year, September, my life was put on hold, and someone helped me get the garden in. Since I couldn't do much else, I went out and watched the garden grow. It proved to be an incredibly helpful therapy.

And a quite amazing producer.

Fall and winter is the best growing season here in our desert world. The cold weather crops don't mind a bit of a nip here and there. The temperatures are not so grueling. We ate several months worth of meals off of that garden. Which inspired me to roll up the shirtsleeves and get out there and do it this year, even if I didn't really have the time.

Gardening is so magical. There is nothing out there that offers such a picture of the divine spark. No better image of my life's journey.

When I went out, I wanted to be a bit depressed. The chickens had scratched up a lot of the remaining summer veggies. The sunflowers and zinnias and decided to join forces and take over the world. It was a beautiful coup, to be sure, but invasive to say the least. Do you know how hard it is to take down 8 to 10 feet sunflower trees?

Yank, shovel, shove, push, pull, stomp, drag. All of a sudden the garden looked a bit more like a garden and I had bouquets for every room of the house. And I didn't even completely eradicate the flower troops. Just left them with a few more boundaries than before.

I grabbed the seed packets and dug in. Hauled buckets of collected rainwater. Wondered if history would repeat itself, would the tiny little seeds, like grains of sand, actually burst forth into life, or would they not? Sure enough! Five days later, little tiny leaves of green shot forth from the soil.

The mesh is sort of working. The chickens have gotten a bit of the garden around the edges, but things are still growing. I wish I had planted a month earlier, but I didn't. So better a bit late, than not at all.

Seeing something grow makes me happy. Providing for my family gives me joy.

Speaking of joy, our baby chicks are now two weeks old! Did I mention baby chicks? Our hens, all ten of them, are doing well. We get enough eggs for ourselves and the bakery, now Patrick is gone! But the poultry we raised for meat is pretty much history. Delicious history.

Raising our own poultry for meat was pretty easy, here in our big backyard. I ordered thirty more baby broilers from Ideal Hatchery. Eight for a friend and her family and twenty two for us. We put them in the greenhouse, feed them awesome food and watch them grow.

I have chicken reality TV right outside my kitchen window.

There is really nothing more entertaining to me than chicken TV. They bob, they bounce, they run in circles. They play and play until they get sleepy, then they fall over in a dead sleep, just like a two year old toddler! They scream when hungry, chatter quietly when content.

Perhaps it seems inhumane to take joy out of these little critters who will become food for my family in another couple of months. I sometimes feel the need to remind myself why I do this. As we have not determined to be vegetarians, chicken is probably going to be on our menu at least once or twice a week. Knowing how the average chicken is raised on factory farms, I am thankful, deeply thankful, that our poultry are raised humanely. The little things have the opportunity to live out their lives as chickens: able to scratch, peck, hop, flutter wings, eat bugs and grass. They eat a diet that is diverse and healthy. When it is time to harvest the meat, it is done respectfully, with appreciation. Humanely.

And to tell you the truth, the chickens are not nearly as cute at that point as they are when tiny.

A tiny garden, poultry, freshly milled flour; these things feed us. And feed me in many more ways than just nutrition. When Patrick gets home for holiday from UT Austin, perhaps he will help me build a rabbit hutch. And help me make a fence that will protect the garden even more effectively from the free-ranging little monsters. I mean chickens.

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