Leaves spent, bees hunkered down for the cold weather and the garden operating on cold season mode with lettuces, kale, Swiss chard and cold tolerate herbs- parsley, sage, oregano, rosemary, and borage. The overnight temperatures dancing around the freezing mark have brought the seasonal shift in earnest and adjustments have been made.
The honey bees made their fall preparations on warmer days, knowing what was to come. The boxes are propolized (sealed with a thick, sticky sap) to keep out drafts from cold winds, food stores are shored up for the winter months (some better than others), and a skeleton crew of special honey bees are in residence (read: no boys allowed now). These female bees will stay with their queen over winter, waiting on the winter solstice to signal time to begin laying eggs again, clustering together and fanning their wings to preserve warmth, even on the coldest days yet to come.
The chickens too are adjusting to these colder days and nights. Their feathers provide ample insulation so there’s no need to do much differently, other than to protect them from drafts, just like the bees. Both can handle cold. It’s drafts and dampness that can be problematic. As such, I’ve closed the small windows of the coop and I take the time to lower their coop door at night to keep drafts out. There is plenty of ventilation remaining from the copula and the eaves.
The girls are providing a return on our investment by providing lots of eggs, in addition to much comic relief from their unpredictable and predictable antics. Everyone is laying as evidenced by the days when we collect eight eggs. We average between six and eight eggs a day right now, but I anticipate this number to drop as daylight hours decrease. Since they are young hens, they should continue to lay throughout winter, just at a slower rate and then ramp up again in the spring when daylight hours are extended.
The girls have been enjoying all of the pumpkins we collected the day before Halloween. The typical pumpkin nuisance created by the squirrels didn’t get my goat this year. I just moved the gnawed on pumpkins into the coop for the girls and considered it a share. I pulled the remaining pumpkins onto the screened porch and plan to use that for pumpkin soup and baked goods as well as for my husband’s amazing pumpkin ale.
There is a lot of fall clean up that needs to take place yet. Leaves, leaves, leaves! I’m finding them more interesting this year as I watch the girls scratch through them looking for bugs and other delicious morsels. I rake them into the coop every other day or so and sprinkle mealworms and scratch underneath them as they busy themselves in the yard, giving them something to do when they return to their run.
I’ve found a sweet spot in the day for them right now. Late afternoon has proven delightful for foraging as hawks seem to have found their spots for the night. I let them out for an hour or so, all under the watchful eye of our loyal pup and myself. It’s easy to call them in as they are sensitive to darkening skies and readily come in for the night.
The chickens have also proven themselves to be quite helpful in the vegetable garden. I’ve placed some barriers over my lettuces, kale and Swiss chard and let the girls scratch and peck, gobbling up worms, centipedes and other insects to their contentment. I need to rake out these leaves still but for now, the hens are helping me by eating the tomato seeds from fallen tomatoes, scratching the soil loose and eating insects or larvae hoping to overwinter.
Not all of the leaves have fallen. My dogwood turned a brilliant red over the last week. Likewise, my lovely Summersweet bushes that give off an intoxicating smell mid summer, now shine gold and the ninebark beside it is blazing crimson red after a summer of deep purple. Soon these leaves too will fall and all will be bare, but for now, I’m taking it all in while I can. And yes, the leaves are a lot to clean up but they bring us outside where nature reminds us that change is inevitable. It’s how we handle the change that defines us.
Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower. – Albert Camus