Summer’s end

The cherry tomatoes, undeterred equally by months of drought and by the torrential rains that followed, still bear more fruit than we can eat. Planted two to a pot and having long since outgrown their stakes, they intertwine with their neighbors for mutual support and have strength to spare for the morning glories, whose blue and purple flowers now swarm the fence, clashing riotously with the orange tomatoes.

But even these prodigious plants now weaken as the first frost approaches: we found three tomato hornworms this week devouring the green leaves. One was healthy, plump, nearly the size of my index finger; we pinched off its chosen stem and sent it to face our avian death squad. Saffy, the adventuresome eater, tasted it first but dropped it when bossy Eddy arrived. Through a fascinating combination of slurping, tossing her beak, and dabbling in the pool, she was able to choke down two-thirds of this huge worm. The last third, snipped off in her bill, fell to the ground, where Francie quickly plucked it up and swallowed it.

Raising ducks: 3–4 months

The ducks have completed their second molt, so they have their full coat of adult feathers. The new feathers look just like the old ones, but there are more of them: the ducks have finished growing now.

Preserving the harvest

With the exception of a few tomatoes and some basil, we have given up on the garden this year. The drought is simply too severe, and the raised beds were taking more water than they are worth.

But professional farmers with drip irrigation systems are surviving, if not thriving, and we have been eating well from the farmers market. I have spent most of my Saturday mornings lately canning. This summer we have put up strawberry and blackberry jam, yellow tomato marmalade, cherries and blueberries for pie, three kinds of pickles, chowchow, pickled beets, and I can’t remember what else.

Most recently I put up sixteen half-pint jars of hot pepper jelly, my own private recipe, which I believe I have finally perfected. A whole habañero in every jar, that’s the secret!

Nighttime duck pen

Adapting available space. It ain’t gorgeous, but it’s secure.

For their first year and a half, the ducks spent their nights under our deck, which is nearly a full story off the ground and was already enclosed with chain link fence. (We think a former owner kept a dog under there.) Note: I long ago built a house for the ducks, but some of the information here may be valuable to others.

Prayers for rain

On a trip to Pennsylvania in late June I bought the finishing touch for our duck pen: a hex sign. It bears an eight-point star and rosette, for fertility, surrounded by raindrops. The fertility wishes, needless to say, are for the ducks. The rain is for all of us, and dear lord do we need it.

Almost as I crossed the state line into North Carolina with my new totem, a light drizzle began to fall. Bythe time I reached home it was raining, the first real rain in more than a month. Rain fell on six of the next seven days.

Coincidence? Well, yes, probably. But I have taken no less delight in trumpeting my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage and the value of a few good superstitions.

The end

Spring was framed by death.

At the end of winter we lost Kishi, our kitten, only ten months old. She had never been an especially robust cat, on the scrawny side, retiring and prone to recurring bouts of worms, but we thought her fundamentally healthy until the day in late February when she stopped eating. When she refused even tuna we took her to the vet, who made an educated guess: respiratory infection? She spent the weekend on antibiotics and ate a little, but by Monday she was no better, and we took her back for bloodwork and more tests.

Tuesday morning she collapsed and could not walk, only dragged herself around by clutching her front claws into the carpet. Wednesday night, after two more days of failed forcefeeding and inconclusive tests, we laid her in the bed between us when we went to sleep, knowing she would probably not last the night. By morning she was dead.

Raising ducks: Weeks 7–10

First flight: Polly makes a break for it. Toby is concerned.

The ducks look like adults now. Their feathers are all in, and their wings, especially, have grown—as you can see in the photo. Most evenings before we herd them in for the night we let them wander around the yard, and they have started trying to fly. They will run across the yard, flapping their wings and hopping, and occasionally get a few inches off the ground.

They are turning into beautiful ducks. Each brown feather is tipped with white and their flight feathers are partly white, so that they provider a range of colors. From a distance they still appear solid brown, but the closer you look, the more beautiful they are. Until one of them craps on your shoe, anyway.

Raising ducks: Weeks 4–6

Yes, I am one hot little duck.

The ducks are now six weeks old and have been living outside for two and a half weeks. One morning in their fourth week, when I went in to the brooder to take them out to their grazing pen for the day, I found Patsy running around the outside of the brooder peeping at the top of her little lungs. (All the others were running around the inside of the pen peeping at the top of their little lungs. Where the heck is Patsy?) So I picked Patsy and the other six ducklings up, took them outside, and that was the end of life in the brooder.

In full bloom

It has not rained for four full weeks. We are barely able to keep enough water on the garden, but the big raised bed is going strong. The cabbage and broccoil have yielded several meals, and we have pulled out the spent pea plants and planted cucumbers at the base of their trellis. (Well, "trellis" is an overstatement: it is a piece of old wire fencing. The peas didn’t seem to mind.) We have eaten the first tomatoes; the potatoes are nearly ready for harvest; and the herbs, which can take a little dry weather, are growing well.

Meanwhile, the ducks are growing fast. They have moved outside now, and they look and sound more like adult ducks: they have all their first feathers, and they are quacking more than peeping. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…


Raising ducks: Weeks 2–3

Attack of the killer ducklings! (At least if you’re a mosquito.)

The ducks have been here three weeks today. They are now living outside in their grazing pen during the day and coming inside at night to stay warm and safe in the brooder. We are securing their nighttime pen this week so that they can move outside for good in a few days—they are getting large and stinky. In the meantime they are enjoying the fresh air during the day and their baby pool, to which they have free access.