Home For Phoebes

Phoebes are friendly song birds who like to nest close to humans.  Perhaps they discovered that they can take advantage of the fear we instill in other birds to protect their nests and young.  They risk choosing the wrong humans when they build so close, but it must work for them because they continue to do it.  This particular pair of phoebes has built a nest for several years on the yard light beside one of our doors.

While it was sweet to have baby phoebes so close, having the birds there became a problem.  The constant fluttering as they came and went from the nest to feed the young attracted the attention of our six house cats.  The cats would climb the screen door trying to catch the birds.  When I found the screen partially dislodged and within seconds of allowing the cats out, I knew we had to keep the door closed.  Then the cats proceeded to climb the curtain over the window in the door.  I had to take the curtain down.  Very aggravating, especially since I’d like to leave the door open on nice days to cool the house and catch the breeze.

Last fall I decided the nest had to move.  During the winter I searched until I found this solid aluminum shower shelf.  It was under $7 with shipping.   In March I secured it to the house under the eaves far enough from the door so the cats would no longer see the birds.  Then I blocked off the area over the lights to prevent the birds from building there.  Phoebes build a large, heavy nest using clay mud.  They line it with soft moss, grass, hair and feathers.  This complicated nest takes a lot of effort so the birds return every year to the same nest, repairing it when necessary.

I didn’t want to destroy all their work.  I moved the nest to the new shelf.  It would be interesting to see if the birds accepted the new location of their nest, built a new nest or went off somewhere else to live.  In early April the birds came back.  It seemed to ruffle their feathers to find the nest moved.  After a bit I noticed them hanging around the new location.  Then late last week I found  mother phoebe on the nest.

It’s wonderful to have the birds nearby and still be able to keep the door open.  Phoebes like to have two broods per year so they hang around for most of the summer.  I will enjoy watching the baby birds grow up without worrying about the cats tearing the door apart.

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News From The Farm

Spring is in full swing here at the farm.  The primroses, daffodils, narcissus and hyacinths are all blooming.  It must have been a fairly mild winter compared to the winter before last.  I do remember some bitterly cold weather in December of 2017 before we got snow cover.  The flowers were not so impressive last spring as they are this year.  The bulbs are strong and both the star magnolia and the forsythia are in full flower.  Last year there were only about a dozen flowers on the forsythia.  This year it’s gorgeous.

One of the two baby mountain ash trees I planted last spring survived the winter.  It’s looking pretty happy about its spot on the side of the hill that supports our driveway.  Luckily the voles and field mice did not nibble the mountain ash over the winter.  The same can not be said for the expensive crabapple tree I planted two years ago.  Even though I wound a plastic tree protector around it last fall, after giving it a good covering with white paint, the voles still got at it.  They pushed the plastic out of the way and gnawed off large amounts of bark from the first 2 feet of trunk.  I don’t think the tree will live.

Last year we suffered from an over population of field rodents.  They attacked grown apple trees, killing a couple dozen, and chewed up large regions of grass roots in the hayfield leaving bare patches.  I read that painting the lower parts of the fruit trees with white latex paint will repel rodents.  This past winter the rodent population must have been down.  We’re not seeing grass damage like last year, nor as much tree chewing.  But several apple trees that I sprayed white with paint were chewed.  Looks like the rodents just scratch away the bark until the paint is gone then proceed with devouring the tree.  They sure devoured my crabapple.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained is the old adage, but I spent over $100 on paint for the trees, plus my time and effort to apply it, to no avail.The horses, Vista and Maddie, are happy to see green grass!  Especially since their hay is almost gone.  The weather has been quite chilly, slowing the growth of grass and causing us to use more hay than usual.  It’s great to finally have enough grass to sustain two hungry horses.

Vista (on the left) is now 30 years old.  It is possible this is her last summer.  She is really beginning to show her age.  We may have to put her away in the fall to avoid having to deal with a down horse next winter.  A sad time for me.  Vista has been with me since she was 10 months old.  She has always been a loving, loyal, hardworking and willing animal.  A wonderful saddle horse, we have spent many memorable hours together including two trips to the carriage trails of Acadia National Park.  I will sure miss the old girl.

New Chicks

The newest baby chickens have arrived at Phoenix Farm!  They hatched out on 4/21-22, the first for 2019.  There are twenty-four babies, most are silver standard Ameraucana, some are silver crossed with black Ameraucana.  The pure silver ones look like chipmunks with the stripes running down their backs.

The new incubator is doing a great job.  The hatch rate for this first batch was 96%.  Only one egg didn’t open.  The babies are very calm, quiet and curious.  They watch everything with serious, studious expressions on their fluffy faces.  Even being stared at by a four-year-old and two large kittens didn’t fluster these chicks.  They are mellow, taking everything in stride.  I credit the new incubator for the birds’ temperament.  A stress-free beginning in a comfortable environment creates laid back chickens.  The investment in a Brinsea incubator was well worthwhile.

New Baby Fig

My beautiful four-foot high fig tree died because it got too chilled during winter storage so I bought a baby that arrived a few months ago.  The the tree was about a foot high.  I potted it and put it in the south window of my kitchen.  After a month or so the baby had established roots and started to sprout leaves.  Then it did what figs do, it set tiny fruit.

I figured the fruit would wither and die on such a small plant.  But, no.  They are getting larger and more fruit are setting!  It is so exciting to think of growing fresh figs right in my kitchen.  I’m considering making this into a bonsai tree so it stays small and can grow in the house.  It is one of the smaller-sized cultivars so perhaps keeping it in the house will work.  The lengths I’m willing to go to just to have fresh figs in Maine!

First Brood in the Incubator

And we’re off!  The first brood of Silver Ameraucana eggs went in the incubator on 4/1.  I expect chicks to start hatching on 4/20, or even a bit earlier.  These Silvers always seem to start a day early.  Can hardly wait for the first little peepers!  Chick hatching season is one of my favorite times.

Here are some of the moms and dads of this year’s eggs.  There are a total of 20 hens and 3 roosters in my breeding flock.  Fingers crossed that I get some nice babies from these birds.

Carrot Tops

Bunnies love greens, everyone knows that!  They especially need greens during the dark, cold days of winter.  Munching greens gives rabbits vitamins they need in a natural way.  Plus, they are delicious for bunnies.  Affording greens to feed hungry mouths in winter is another matter.

In the past my grocery store carried dandelion greens and they were right on the edge of what I could pay to keep the livestock satisfied.  This year they have no dandelions.  I’ve been substituting parsley, but that gets expensive.  The idea of growing my own greens became very attractive.  So I started an experiment.

The tops of carrots are generally cut off and tossed when preparing supper.  These are not wasted at our house, they go to the horses.  Sometimes the carrot tops will actually start growing in storage in the fridge.  I thought, why not try sprouting them for the bunnies?

So I cut off the top inch of a dozen carrots.  Roots grow from the eyes on the side of the tap root that is a carrot, so at least an inch is needed to provide enough eyes to support the sprouts.  I stuck the roots in a large pot of soil, put it in the south window and kept watered.  In a few days green began appearing at the tops.  It is slow going at first as the carrots develop roots.  Soon there will be a good feathery growth of sprouts.

The tap root will not regrow.  The pot provides plenty of room for this experiment.  If left to develop, these tops will eventually flower and produce seeds.

I’ll wait until there are lots of stems before cutting a few at a time for my angoras.  Now that I see how easy it is to grow carrots tops, I’m going to start a second pot as well.  These should get the rabbits through until spring arrives with its abundance of green treats.

Canterbury, UK

On this first day of March, snow over two feet deep, temperatures hovering in the 20s F with a bracing northerly breeze here in Maine, I think back to March a year ago when I was in warm England.  My mum and I spent a delightful couple days in Canterbury.  This town is one of the larger in Kent and the seat of the English church since the 600s.  Although it is a religious center and the destination for thousands of pilgrims over the centuries, Canterbury is much more than its cathedral.

River Stour as it flows through Canterbury

In ancient times the site of Canterbury was a settlement at the mouth of the River Stour.  It was situated on the banks of the river’s large estuary opening into the Wantsum Channel, a wide arm of the sea that once formed an island out of Kent called the Isle of Thanet.  Great storms over the centuries silted in the channel, creating dry land.  The river now runs about twelve more miles to join the sea beyond Sandwich.  The Romans built a town called Durovernum Cantiacorum after their invasion in the year 43.  By the year 200 they had completed a wall around the town.  The wall was rebuilt in the Middle Ages and portions of it still stand for the strolling pleasure of tourists today.

image courtesy L. Winslow

In the late 500s Canterbury was the capitol of the Saxon king of Kent who married a Christian.  Her influence likely brought about the mission of St. Augustine, sent to England by the Pope to convert the inhabitants to Christianity.  Augustine founded the cathedral after he was made Bishop of England in the early 600s.

The current building dates from medieval times.  It has been repaired on several occasions:  after various fires, following periodic neglect, and the depredations of the Puritans during the Civil War when stained glass windows were smashed and horses were stabled in the Nave.  The oldest section is from around 1077 and is called the Martyrdom.  It is a staircase and parts of the north wall, the area reputed to be the site of the murder of the Archbishop Thomas Becket.  After his death on 12/29/1170, rumors of miracles brought a flow of pilgrims to Canterbury that has not fully abated.  The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer tell of life on the pilgrimage and are a popular motif in the town.

image courtesy L. Winslow

 

After the obligatory visit to the cathedral, the remainder of the town beckons.  My mum and I stayed the weekend in one of the oldest buildings in the town, constructed in the 1500s as an inn, and currently the Pilgrims Hotel.  The place is charming and transports one back in time with its large common room, narrow stairways and cozy rooms.  Our room was situated above the taproom and the ambient sound of chatter and music drifting from below was undoubtedly much the same as it would have been in the 1600s.  In the photo below, our room was the one with the double windows overhanging the entry and sign.

The Westgate

After a lovely cuppa tea and some biscuits, we explored the famed high street shopping area of Canterbury.  Extending about one-third mile from the Westgate (the only remaining medieval gate in the city wall) to Whitefriars Shopping Centre, the streets are closed to traffic during the day, creating a bricked pedestrian way often crowded with shoppers. The thoroughfare is lined on both sides (and down side streets) with shops.  It is such a great draw that at times navigating through the crush can be difficult.  Buses disgorge large groups of tourists, often from non-English-speaking places, who traverse in impenetrable packs.
Buskers strum guitars and play other instruments, adding music to the scene. Street vendors sell roasted nuts, hot snacks, nick knacks and trinkets, further narrowing the congested ways with their carts.  Yet, it is a congenial crowd, well fed at the numerous restaurants and sated by endless purchasing opportunities.

So many of the buildings lining the pedestrian way are ancient, dating from the 1600s or earlier.  They jut over the sidewalks, providing a window-shopping experience similar to that of long-ago.  Although, I’m sure the streets are much cleaner and better smelling than they would have been when horses were the mode of transport and chamber pots were emptied from upper windows with a call of “guarde loo!”

After a strenuous day of shopping, I enjoyed a lovely roast of lamb in our hotel’s taproom restaurant.  With a nice glass of rose, it was a scrumptious way to relax.  Canterbury is such a fun town that I hope to return for another stay and to perhaps catch a performance at the Marlowe Theater, a popular playhouse just across the street from our hotel.