From GENE LOGSDON
Almost every day I observe something on our homestead that is quite remarkable in a humble sort of way. I think maybe I should write about it but then the big news of the day comes flooding in and I almost feel guilty that I find joy in these little things around me. I should be all hitched up in the nervous regions about how the world is falling apart. But I am going to ignore the world’s apparent disintegration today for what could be more important events in the long run.
Trivia No. 1: We store potatoes over winter in a plastic bin sunk in the hillside of the backyard. Maybe three inches and the lid stick out above the ground. I went out to clean out the few old wrinkled spuds left over from last year to make way for the new crop. I was taken aback to find a potato plant, about six inches tall, growing out of the lid. Impossible. Carefully lifting the lid, I found a long potato vine had grown up from an old potato under the remnants of straw (we store the potatoes with alternate layers of straw) in the bottom of the bin. Somehow it spotted a hint of light above (can potato eyes see??), climbed up the side wall and squeezed through the edge of the lid and upwards into the sun. I was totally mystified, because the lip of the box is rounded and the lid fits down over that lip, watertight and, I thought, light tight. But then I remembered. I had drilled tiny holes around the edge of the box to allow for a bit of air circulation. That vine had snaked its way up to one of those holes, perhaps the only one that emitted light, and squirmed through. You can imagine what luck I’d have if I deliberately tried to grow potatoes that way.
Trivia 2: Chickweed is one of our most bothersome weeds, as I have written more than once. This year, almost zero chickweed. It had to be the twenty below nights we experienced last winter. But if that were the case, why didn’t the weed rally in midsummer from seed and strangle the earth like usual? Did the cold kill the seeds too? Anyone else experience this? There were hardly any mosquitoes or deer flies compared to other years either. In fact we enjoyed an almost perfect year for gardening. I am resolved never to say again one nasty word about that damned polar vortex.
Trivia 3: I have had to keep the hens penned inside much of the summer because foxes or coyotes or something were killing them off one by one. Finally we got a canine-proof fence up around an outdoor lot for them so they can get out and chase bugs and eat a little green stuff. Before that I worried that they weren’t getting a rounded natural diet. I noticed that giant ragweed was growing up round the coop and remembered reading that all matter of fowl like ragweed seed which are rich in protein. So when the seeds started maturing, I pulled heads of them and tossed them into the coop. Sure enough the hens ate them greedily. Later, when they had access to the lot, they ate the seeds of regular ragweed growing there too. After all these centuries, most of us still have a lot to learn about feeding farm animals.
Trivia 4: As all the world knows, cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. As I understood from reading, this was bad news for the other birds because the young cowbirds eat all the worms that mother bird brings to the nest and the other chicks starve. So I have dutifully kept an eye on chipping sparrow nests around the garden area and flipped cowbird eggs out whenever I found any. This usually gave mixed results. Sometimes the chipping sparrow mother abandoned the nest when I did that. I decided that cowbirds and chipping sparrows had both survived all these centuries so maybe I should just mind my own business. This year Carol found a chipping sparrow nest where the eggs had all hatched and both chipping sparrow chicks and cowbird chicks seemed to be doing okay. Mother and father sparrow managed to feed them all and eventually all left the nest, fully developed as far as we could tell. But we wondered. Then came the strangest sight I have ever witnessed at our bird feeder. Some birds, like cardinals, feed their new fledglings, or sometimes, in courting mode, males feed females at the feeder. Now a chipping sparrow was feeding a fledgling cowbird. I am done with worrying about the depredations of cowbirds. Another of those beliefs that “ain’t necessarily so.”