Coming-out Day

Are you all tired of pictures of fruit trees in bloom? Too bad. It’s spring. That’s what you get. This one is the Gravenstein apple. I do think apple blossoms are my favorites in the orchard. The combination of pink and white just out-dresses any of the others, and the moment before the bloom opens, that swollen pale pink potential embraced by itself, that’s the best part of the display.

Yesterday we had rain and gloom. Today the sun came out, the orchard is in bloom, the bees are flying, and the pullets are ready for their move into outdoor quarters. Remember those fluff-ball chicks from a while back (March 2 post)? They’re adolescents now, and ready to move up in society. Today they graduated from their screened bathtub in the barn to the little chicken tractor in the garden.

First Day Out in the World

The chicken tractor is a pen with no bottom meant to be moved when the girls have used up the good ground beneath them. This should be a huge relief, or a revelation, to the little hens. Truth is, they were completely suspicious of the arrangement when we put them into the pen, and wanted nothing but to tread down the grass and get away from it. They’ll figure it out. Green feed and live bugs will very quickly become their preferred diet.

And besides, they have some work to do. All that grass needs to be worked into garden soil, and I am ever so eager to have someone working on it besides me. We suffer from a heavy soil here (Jory Clay Loam, it’s called), and it holds the winter moisture well into spring. I tried sticking a shovel into it this weekend, and found it still sticking like gumbo. When we lived in town, by this time I had half the garden planted in the hardier coles and lettuces. Out here, we wait. We wait for the one moment between gumbo and adobe when the ground can be tilled. So I say, let those young hens have a go at it. They’ll benefit from the spring grass and I will benefit from having some eager young things to scratch it up and turn it under.

So the day was still shining, and though I smelled like chicken litter (what a good thing to have moved out into the garden that is!), I set to work in the orchard. I had ordered little trees a while back, and they had spent the winter in pots. Three young fruiting quinces and a pie cherry.

The glorious quince

The quinces are not so usual in orchards these days. Time was, not a fruit lot went without a quince tree. The hard golden fruits, when still uncooked, can be anywhere from acrid on the tongue to complexly sweet. They’re mostly used in cooking, as jellies and jams, poached with spices, as sauces, in compotes, as pastes, as ingredients in baked goods. I remember quinces first from the time when I was a young teenager. Mother and I would go to an old farm property, an empty relic with a broken gate and a long driveway overgrown with grass and brambles. The house was falling under the weight of a rampant wisteria. In spring we would find mushrooms under the orchard trees. In fall we would go back and find quinces on the same trees. The apples in the orchard were ancient and bitter. The quince trees, however, continued to bear large yellow fruit, and we brought them home in baskets. Quinces make the loveliest jellies you ever saw.

The pie cherry comes with a legacy, too. For years we benefited from the prodigious yield given by my Aunt’s pie cherry tree. Oh, those sour-sweet jewels, they came off in clusters, like a tree dripping rubies. When my old Aunt passed, the tree passed, too, to new ownership, and our privileges went with it. I have longed for a tree like it since then. So today I put one, just a slight little thing, into the orchard. I’ll be patient. Cherries will come.

Well, but the day still shone, so, with an eye to catching a little bit of early vegetable planting, I set out the red cabbages, not into the garden, but into great big pots. It’s an experiment. In another year I might get an earlier start on the tilling, but for a year like this one, maybe setting the early sets into pots is a solution. We’ll see how they do there.

Red Cabbage

And still that sun was high and bright, so I went to work clearing some brambles from the orchard. It’s needed to be done, and the rain has kept me sulking in the house, so out I went with my loppers and clippers and my assistant cat.

Yellowcat on a spring day

In fact, that bramble was one of her best vole-hunting thickets, and the look she is giving me is not necessarily one of approval. The bramble is much improved now. From my point of view.

At last the sun was sinking wearily behind the hills. We came inside and decided one last gesture in acknowledgment of the weather was in order: Richard opened the grill, cleaned the racks from their winter’s slumber, and we did hamburgers on the barby. A long day, well-used.

I hope the pullets are pleased with their new digs.

Published in: on May 4, 2008 at 11:06 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Beautiful cat. No better friend than a good gardening kitty :-).

  2. Yellowcat made herself a gift to us a few years ago. By the time we understood she was staying on, we’d been calling her That Yellow Cat for some time, so she kept the name Yellowcat. Right now she is still wearing some of her winter plumage, and is leaving it all over the place in gobs of gold attached to everything she passes.


  3. I saw my first chicken tractor here in NC a couple of years ago. What a terrific idea!

    It reminds me of the chicken moat, an idea I read about many years ago: you surround your vegetable garden with two fences and put chickens in between them. Apparently few bugs get into the garden.

  4. Oh, yes. Like having a flock of velociraptors on patrol around the garden.


  5. I’ve always heard that geese can be used to weed out gardens or potato patches, yet I’d be anxious that they might take out the wrong shoots inadvertently. Will you have any problems with local critters that will cause you to have to sequester the chickens at night, or is the screening on the tractor secure enough?

    (I’d joke about how they reach the pedals, but hey, well…I should have.)

  6. Geese are prodigious weeders (as are chickens and ducks), and completely indiscriminate in their destruction of growing things. Hence the pen. It is a movable feast, like Easter. The photo doesn’t show it, but the pen has screening on top and a shelter at one end. The wire is stout. I think little mousies can get in but, given the chance, a chicken will eat a mouse, so the pullets may have some epicurean delights ahead. Watch out, mouse!

    Reaching the pedals: we put in special controls. And wing windows.


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