Tag Archives: chickens

December 30– getting near the end

Aw heck, once again it’s been a week since I’ve  had the chance to sit down and update the ol ObserVA.  As  you might expect, the past week has been full of family and holiday cheer, and not a whole lot of obervating.  In fact, all of these photos are from last Tuesday, which in addition to being  a gorgeous, (relatively) warm winter day, was also the day in which my trusty Canon Elph camera crapped out on me 😦

But I digress– let’s go in the wayback machine to last Tuesday, December 24, Xmas eve.  The day started, as so many Tuesdays do, with a tofu delivery run to Charlottesville.  It was a pretty short delivery, as several places were closed, and once I was done, I did a quick hike in the Monticello woods to check out a couple of places where I had previously found oyster mushrooms.  As the photos below show, it was a nice walk on a pleasant early winter day, but as I didn’t find any mushrooms, I didn’t tarry for too long.Image

Nice view of C’ville from the mountains just south of town.Image

I got home with lots of afternoon to spare.  On the radio, I had been listening to a doctor talking about seasonal affective disorder, who claimed that the best way to combat the condition was to soak up as much natural daylight as possible, to take maximum advantage of every bit of every sunny day at this time of year.  Well I had nothing to do for the rest of the afternoon, so I decided to take his advice to heart, and spend the rest of the afternoon outdoors.

As I was turning into the driveway, I encountered Free Willy, the rebel rooster.  About a month ago, we decided to cull our entire flock of chickens, turn them into meat.  As it turned out, about 5 or 6 of them escaped the axe, including of course everyone’s favorite survivor rooster.  In the next couple of weeks (due to insufficient oversight on the part of the chicken team), the hens that avoided the slaughter became food for hungry wildlife.  That is, all but ol’ Reb, the ultimate survivor.  I hear that these days he’s moved into the dairy barn at night, and spends his lonely days at the compost pile.  Long may he live!Image

Although there weren’t any oyster mushrooms around C’ville, a quick walk through the Twin Oaks woods revealed that there were a whole bunch in our forest.  For the first time this fall/winter, I was able to pick a whole plastic bag full of ’em!  Image


lots and lots of pretty oysters!Image

After unloading the tofu truck, I spent a couple of hours gathering up mycelium-infused logs from several spots in the woods (always being careful to leave more logs than I took from any one spot) and gathering them together in a pile in the woods right outside of my house.  I was going to document the process, but this was the exact moment when my trusty camera, my companion for the year, kicked the bucket.  Fortunately, I was able to borrow my son’s camera for the day (which is actually much nicer than mine), but I suppose I’ll have to buy a new one now.  Alas.

So now I’ve got a big ol’ pile of oyster logs just a few steps from my kitchen that I hope will provide me with a steady supply of wild mushrooms for years to come.Image

Here’s one of the logs that I filled with oyster plugs this spring, just bursting with baby mushrooms.  I don’t know if the stump project was successful, but I am optimistic about the logs that I seeded.Image

Once I was done with that, there was still an hour or so of daylight, so I took a bike and went for a ride.  What a gorgeous sky!  What a gorgeous day!Image

Beautiful sky and clouds on a pleasant winter afternoon.Image

I think I’ve probably posted several photos of this sycamore tree in the Twin Oaks courtyard, but I just can’t get over how beautiful it looks all lit up in the late afternoon winter sunshine.Image

reflection of sauna and trees in the pond, turned 180 degrees.  Wooo, artistic!Image

Took a bike for a ride around the half block right around sunset, determined to enjoy every bit of sunshine this afternoon.  Got a very nice series of photos along Old Mountain Road right as the sun was going down and everything was all turning red.Image

Xmas eve sunset.Image

Another leafless tree all lit up with sunset colors.Image

Trespassed on a neighbor’s field in order to find the spot where I could see clear to the southwest horizon, in order to enjoy every possible second of the sunset.Image

Dramatic cloud colors just after the sun went down, as I sped back home on my bike.Image

So those photos were all from last Tuesday, Xmas eve.  Since then, there hasn’t been much change.  A bit of sun, a bit of rain, a bit of frost.  No snow, nothing dramatic.  All around, nature seems to be settling down into winter dormancy, getting ready for a new year.  And I’m feeling a mixture of emotions– satisfaction and a bit of pride that I was able to keep up the journal for the year without getting overly distracted/discouraged/just plain lazy; relieved that I will no longer have the self-imposed pressure of keeping it up; and more than a bit sad that it’s coming to an end.  I suppose I’ll put up one more post to finish out the year, then it’s on to the next project, whatever it may be.  I’ll spare the emotional farewell for now, but just want to finish this post by thanking everyone who’s read along so far.  Look for one more post early in January, once I’ve recovered from tomorrow night’s NYE debauch.


June 28 – beetlemania and chanterelles

A typical Virginia summer day, fairly hot and sweaty but nothing too extreme.  As usual on Friday, I was taking care of the chickens, which as always involves several trips to and from the chicken yard over the course of the day.  Walking down the road, looking up at the clouds, thinking this is for sure a classic summer sky:Image

Later in the afternoon, I had more serious work to do– getting rid of some damn Japanese beetles!  These wretched beasts have been multiplying like crazy, eating our fruits and the leaves of the fruit trees and bushes, and have no place in  my backyard garden. Image

Here they are swarming a ripe currant– so nasty!Image

There are so many of them.  It’s time to do something about it.  Image

Several years ago, we had a massive outbreak of beetles that stripped our cherry tree to a withered brown skeleton by midsummer.  That year, my housemates and I went on an aggressive campaign of picking them off of the trees and drowning them in soapy water several times a day, every day.  I’ve been wanting to get on it while the cherry tree (below) still has some green leaves.Image

One of our newly planted persimmon trees, with cute little unripe persimmon and beetle-damaged leaves.Image

So here’s what I have been doing this past week:  I took a one-quart plastic measuring cup and filled it with an inch of water at the bottom.  The beetles, when disturbed, have a funny habit of dropping straight down before flying away.  You can put the cup below them and tap the leaf that they’re on, and they all fall into the water.  Here’s how many I was able to collect in about 15 minutes.  They’re actually kind of beautiful (but the mess they make of the fruit trees is anything but).Image

This year, instead of drowning them in soapy water, I’ve been keeping them alive in non-soapy water and walking up to Tupelo, where they have a mini-flock of 8 hens.  The hens are used to seeing me approach with the beetle cup, and when they see me, they all come running because they know I’ve got some tasty treats for them!Image

They like to pull a whole clump of beetles out of the cup with their beaks and peck and peck until they’ve got them all, then do it again.  The beetles are delicious candy for these hens!Image


As I was walking back, I noticed something a little ways off through the woods.  Could it be…. it was…. chanterelles!  Oh joy the chanterelle season has begun at Twin Oaks!  Oh how my belly will celebrate the return of these tasty tasty fungal treats.Image

Look at the bottom of this chanterelle.  Such a beautiful looking–and smelling– mushroom.  I’ve heard the scent described as apricot-like.  It’s a pretty subtle odor when freshly picked.  Once you’re cooking them in a bit of butter or olive oil, the apricot scent fills the room and sets your mouth watering in anticipation of the deliciousness to come.Image

Went up to Tupelo with a cupful of beetles, returned with a cupful of chanterelles– not a bad trade if I do say so myself…Image

May 14-17 – hard times

It’s been a rough week for me and for this project.  As noted before, I’ve been dealing with a heavy “indoor work” type workload, so haven’t been able to get out as much as I would like.  Then, on Tuesday morning, I was loading the tofu truck when I felt a tweaking, crunching sensation in my lower back, which steadily got worse throughout the day (and the next day, and the next).  Without going into too many details, let’s just say that the past few days have been pretty unpleasant.  I’ve been overworked, in constant pain, and feeling less motivated than I have been to keep up this journal (hell, I’m not really sure if five months in, anyone’s even reading it).

But for now, I’ll try to keep plugging away.  On Wednesday, one of the first really hot days of the spring, I went with a bunch of kids to a creek along the eastern edge of Shenandoah park, in search of cool clear water to swim in and rocks to climb on.  And we found plenty of both.  Here’s a photo of the creek, clear and cold and altogether more inviting than the muddy waters around Twin Oaks.Image

Our first “cooling off” spot of the day, just a few steps from where we parked the van.Image

It didn’t take long for the kids to start engaging in their favorite activity; rock hopping!Image

I’ve been to this part of Shenandoah a few times previously, and have always been impressed by the number of butterflies I encountered.  This time was no different.  In the parking lot, there must have been some sort of mineral or something that the butterflies need, as there was a cloud of them swarming around and landing in one particular spot.Image

As we walked up the trail alongside the creek, I discovered other similar spots, each with a resident population of butterflies.


This was the best shot I was able to get of this particular tree, with purple bell-shaped flowers.  I’d never seen this type of tree before, and it seemed to be near the end of its bloom; the flowers were turning brown and growing deflated.Image

The first part of the hike was along a road that was, technically, open to vehicles, but you would have needed serious 4-wheel drive to get up it, and we didn’t see much traffic on this section, which followed the creek through some lovely green woods.Image

About a mile up, we stopped at an area with a deep pool to swim in, and plenty of suitably dangerous rocks on either side of the creek for the kids to terrorize me by climbing up down and across.  I’m starting to realize what I put my own parents tImage

The next day, Thursday, I spent pretty much the whole day inside being grumpy and injured and trying to work on my index.  In the afternoon, we were treated to a regular whiz-banger of a springtime thunderstorm, with high winds and sheets of rain.  In this picture, I was trying to photograph the tops of the trees across my yard, which were being violently shaken this way and that, trying to hold onto their leaves. All told, we got about an inch of rain in about 30 minutes, and if I had the time (and wasn’t injured), it would have created perfect conditions for hunting mushrooms today.Image


And finally, a few photos from this morning, as I let the chickens out into the yard at the beginning of another beautiful, unseasonably cool May day, which I am spending (like most of the days this week) in front of a computer with an aching back.  Grumble grumble grumble.

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March 11- up Tupelo creek

There can be no clearer metaphor for the retreat of winter and the advance of spring than the scene playing itself out all around the community.  The snowbanks of winter are quite literally retreating before the advancing tide of tender young shoots.Image

Although the daffodils have begun to flower, it is still the season of the crocus.  They mostly occur in small patches here and there; masses like the one below are generally the exception.


Took a walk along the creek that I have started thinking of as “Tupelo Creek,” a seasonal waterway that in wet times of year is a tributary of Tofu Creek.  It branches off in the woods below Tupelo house, and parallels the path from Tupelo to our warehouse.  Most of the snow in the woods is already melted.  All that remained was tiny patches here and there, mostly on the north side of trees. The creek itself had a nice little trickle, the ground saturated with recent snowmelt.


There was even a little waterfall.  When I see little cascades like this one, I like to imagine that the size scale is all off, and I am looking at a mighty cascade plunging into a deep pool in some far-off mountain range.


Further upstream, the channel of the creek deepened into what is, for a seasonal rivulet that’s usually not much more than a trickle, a pretty impressive “canyon.”


Another spot where the “canyon” walls are held close together by four parallel roots bridging the gap.


At the head of the little “gorge” was this “headwall,” which is probably pretty impressive during or immediately after a storm.  It is a scooped-out area where the flow of water has undercut and washed away the banks, leaving a network of roots hanging down, reaching for the moisture of the pool.IMG_2461 IMG_2466

I continued upstream, past a few pretty little pools like this one, to the spot where Tupelo creek begins, in a flat marshy bit of the woods. IMG_2469

I pumped up the saturation on this photo to make a point, but in fact the moss all over the woods is thick and bright green, clearly thankful for the moist conditions.  Still no leaves on the trees, but the abundant moss certainly gives a verdant tinge to the forest.


Passing by the place where we are putting in a new fruit orchard– the fruit trees and bushes have been laid out but not yet put in the ground.IMG_2474

During the three-day blackout, we moved our generators around in order to give a few hours of power at a time to the different places in the community that needed it.  Our wellhouse was one of those places; periodically powering our pump allowed us to have a mostly uninterrupted supply of fresh water.  The grassy field beside the wellhouse was, unfortunately, a casualty of the blackout.  IMG_2477

Just before noon, I took a whole cartload of expired veggies down to the newly free-range chickens.  They are truly lords of the compost heap these days.  IMG_2481

Despite their successful foraging, they do come running when they see me pulling up that cart o’ produce!Image

Now don’t that look dee-licious?  Those chickens certainly think so!IMG_2476


March 8- the big melt, day one

Freezing again temperatures again in the morning, which made for a pleasant dawn trip to let out the chickens.  Easy to get up early today, since the lack of electricity has led to generally early bedtimes and wake-up times.  As I walked down, I saw that the pond had a thin coating of ice, funny that it should be frozen in March when it spent so much of December-February not frozen over.Image

It was actually quite lovely down at the chicken yard, with the sun rising and nice crusty hard-frozen snow not soaking my boots.Image

It didn’t take long for the temperatures to rise above freezing, and when they did, we experienced some fairly extreme melting and MUD!  As it was my chicken day, I had to make several trips down to the chicken yard, which, this time of year, requires walking past the compost piles.  The melting snow and thawing compost had combined into a foul nasty mess, a moat of disgustingness that I had to cross several times today.  Each time I passed, the air was warmer, the rivers of snowmelt were faster, and the horrible mud was deeper.

Here’s how things looked in the early afternoon– still a lot of snow on the ground, but it’s melting fast!Image


rivers of snowmelt running out of the cow pastures and through the horrid compost.  In a weird way, all the melting snow reminded me of hiking through the Sierra Nevada in California in June many years ago, sheets of cold, clear water running across the landscape, puddles and ponds of snowmelt everywhere you look.  Although much less scenery and more compost around here…Image

A couple weeks ago, we decided to open up the fence around the chicken yard and let them be free range down in their bit of the farm.  The result has been much happier chickens, who generally spend their day picking through the compost and hunting bugs in the brush.  I’ve been feeding them thrown-away produce from our local supermarket dumpster, and they sure do love it.  I’ve been enjoying my time with the chickens much more now that they’ve been let out of their enclosed yard (which was getting pretty muddy, entirely free of grass and vegetation, and pretty disgusting).Image

And, yes, Free Willy, AKA the Rebel Rooster, is still kicking.  He has joined the flock, without apparent resistance  from or conflict with the other roosters.  He’s been roosting in the henhouse with all the other chickens, and seems to be quite happy as part of the flock, no longer the lone rooster.Image

Feb 8– ’rounding the corner

Most years, winter is an ambivalent season in Virginia. It snows, but always melts, and often snows again. It freezes, but the thaw is never far off.  This ain’t the far north, and winter’s icy grip is never all that firm. Some years, winter hardly happens– Juneuary is followed by Februly and Margust. Last year, fall rolled on into spring sometime around the middle of January; we had about 36 hours of proper winter weather. Conversely, I have experienced winters here that stayed warm until the beginning of March, then ended with three solid weeks of snow and sub-freezing temperatures. So one certainly hesitates to read too much into the oscillations of the thermometer, especially when trying to assess the turn of the season.

Last night, we had an overnight rain, and the morning was sparkling clear, sunny and warm.  Was spring in the air? If not exactly that (after all, I am quite aware that we’re still only a week into February, and as I write this, New England is being buried under several feet of snow), then it at least feels like a new phase of winter.  All around, I am noticing the very beginnings of buds beginning to pry apart, revealing intrepid new leaves, the brighter green of freshly grown vegetation.  It’s still winter, no doubt, but today for the first time I’m feeling like we’re beginning to ’round the corner.’

I don’t know what this plant is, but it’s certainly putting on some new growth:Image

All around the community, daffodil plants are beginning to push through the ground, in preparation for the floral displays of March.Image

These daffodils even have flower buds!  When did that happen?  How come I didn’t notice this until today?Image

Azalea buds open, revealing tiny leaves.  Pretty soon, it’s going to be leaves, leaves, leaves everywhere! Image

And finally, for all those following along at home, Free Willy the rebel rooster is alive and well.  I tossed him a handful of grain when I was down feeding the chickens this afternoon, which he seemed to appreciate.  Indeed, a noble beast.Image

Jan 5- Lake near Mineral and hawk near chickens…

Every Saturday, I do the Louisa trip, which involves driving around Louisa and Mineral doing everyone’s town chores.  Sometimes on the way back, I take a road out of Mineral that is a bit shorter distance than the highway.  Since it is a slow windy dirt road through the woods, I don’t think I save any time, but it is more scenic.  During the winter when the leaves are down, I can sometimes see a bit of a lake off a ways through the trees.  Last night, I was looking at Google Earth, and zoomed in on this particular lake, which looks kind of like this:


You can see the road I usually drive along the east side of the lake.  This morning, on my way home, I drove around to the grassy area near the dam at the SW corner of the lake.  The view from there looked like this:

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It’s unusual to see a lake of this size in this part of Virginia that is entirely undeveloped.  Unfortunately, as I was driving in, I saw real estate advertisements for lakefront property, so I don’t know how long it will look so pristine.  I might try to come back at some point this year to do some exploring along the lakeshore.  A sign there says that it is open to fishing with permit, but swimming is not allowed.  But I bet if I went away from the grassy area near the road, I take a little illicit dip once it warms up!

When I got home, I went to feed the chickens a bunch of vegetables that I took from the Food Lion dumpster.  Unsurprisingly, Free Willie was still hanging out outside of the chicken yard:


Suddenly, while I was tossing the veggies into the chicken yard (and some outside of the yard), the ‘happy cluck’ of the feeding chickens turned into ‘alarm distress squawk,’ and they all ran under the henhouse.  I turned and saw across the field a large hawk (or maybe an eagle?) sitting in a tree eyeing the chickens, and I reckon the chickens saw it too.  By the time I got my camera out, it had taken off and was soaring over the treetops:

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Later on, while Sami was chasing Free Willie through the underbrush, trying to feed him some lettuce, I noticed the severed tail of some mammal on the ground in front of me.  I’m not sure if it was placed there by a person or another animal, or what the tail even originally belonged to.  It looked a bit like a little curled up squirrel or something.  I wonder what the story was there…


This afternoon, I went down to the pond to check it for ice.  We’ve had a couple of cold nights, and days that aren’t getting much above 40 degrees, so I was thinking we might be getting a bit of icy crust.  We are, but not much– hopefully we get some proper cold weather sometime in the first half of January.  By late January, there is too much daylight to get really thick ice that people can walk or skate on.  But as of 1/5, this is all the ice we have: