Season’s Greetings

…the stocking is hung by the chicken coop with care…

As Advent draws close to Christmas and the cold days keep us tucked inside the warmth of our homes with those we love, I am relishing my Christmas tree and the many ornaments tucked within the twinkling lights that represent my hobbies.  In the spirit of the season, I’d like to share some of them with you, dear readers, both known and unknown to me, in hopes that their whimsy brings a smile to you.

My newest ornament arrived from my boss.  She finds the very notion of me keeping chickens in the backyard almost as peculiar as keeping bees, akin to someone once responding to my beekeeping with, “You keep them in your house?!”  Yeah, not so much but boy, wouldn’t an observation hive attached to my house be cool?!  That’s one procurement I know will never happen not just due not just to cost or malfunctioning concerns, but because of the sheer fact that I spend way too much time watching my honey bees as it is without 24/7 access to their inner workings.

IMG_5549.JPG
This sweet ‘hen house’ ornament was just gifted to me this year.

I’ve been collecting chicken ornaments for some time, likely longer than bee related items in my home quite honestly, since I always wanted chickens and “settled” for bees.  It felt so great to hang these chicken ornaments onto our tree this year with the knowledge of my chicken rearing skills now close at hand.

IMG_5306.JPG

IMG_5302.JPG

Honey bees will never cease to amaze me and I surround myself with tokens representing their contributions to our world from wax items gifted to me over the years and saved from the hive because they’re just so cool, to images and tchotchkes too many to mention, to the very plants surrounding my home that I carefully select with bees in mind.

IMG_5304.JPG

IMG_5307.JPG

Gardening goes hand in hand with beekeeping.  I have had many growing pains over the years and suffice it to say, despite having earned a Master Gardener certification through the University of Maryland cooperative extension branch in my county, I still have a lot to learn.  My mistakes are frequent and sometimes fall into the ridiculous category, but I accept them as progress towards improvement.

One thing I have learned is an immense appreciation for the delicate but thorough work of honey bees in making a garden thrive.  Once I had honey bees on my property and watched the effects they had on my plants, being able to watch them up close and personal, my eyes were forever opened to their role in our ecosystem.  I find more and more fascination with native bees now, small insects that get little attention due in part to their tiny size and the larger billing honey bees get for their vital contributions to our food supply, but that nevertheless quietly contribute to our world.  I pay more attention now to the bumblebees, mason bees, miner bees, parasitic wasps and myriads of native bees I can’t name visiting my plants than ever before, slowing down to observe and admire their efforts.  It’s that slowing down and watching, listening, and contemplating that really matters, something I’ve learned in part from my children and in part from just going out and being a part of nature.

IMG_5303.JPG

News from the chicken coop is that the girls are still laying!  This is a great advantage to having young hens and next year, my winter egg supply will not be as robust.  My Easter Egger stopped laying eggs weeks ago and I assumed she was taking a break with the seasonal shift of shorter daylight hours, but alas it appears she is the first to go through a molt.  Her new feathers quills came in around her neck and her energy has been directed towards new feather production, letting her lovely pale green eggs wait for another day.

IMG_5491.JPG
Isabella, our Easter Egger, showing signs of new feather growth with these quills which requires a lot of energy and stills egg production.

The girls are doing just fine with the cold weather, still looking forward to their time in the late afternoon when I allow them out to free range, under the ever watchful eye of my dog and I for hovering hawks.  In addition to providing fun scratching in the yard, the dried leaves I left in the back yard are proving useful as I rake them into the coop every so often and spill scratch and mealworms about, giving the girls something to do to keep them from boredom and potential problems there.

The last of the pumpkins has been opened for the girls but there’s no shortage of treats for my spoiled flock from warm oatmeal on particularly cold and aspiring mornings, to leftovers otherwise destined for the trash, to scratch, rich in cracked corn and hulled sunflower seeds.  They know exactly where the scratch is kept and just yesterday, while I was busy tidying the coop, Honey, our busybody Rhode Island Red, jumped right into the small storage area I use for their treats to inspect the options, bawking at me when I returned to let me know that she was in fact in there.

img_5354
The last pumpkin, the ‘giant’ gifted us by our neighbors, provided a wonderful winter treat as well as nutrition and busyness.

I frequently use a suet cage to hold garden trimmings I’m still harvesting such as lettuce, kale, parsley, thyme, sage and oregano along with suet and other offerings.  They run after me when I return from the garden with a full suet cage, knowing fun and goodness are about to be had!

 

IMG_5596.JPG
Yesterday’s offering of kale, lettuce, parsley and sage.

 

 

IMG_5513.JPG
Lettuce still thriving with the protection of a glass window in my cold frames.  I find the winter lettuces taste better than those grown in spring because of the crisp temperatures.

Yesterday, the girls got a special treat.  I often make my own yogurt and the whey that drips away from the yogurt is nutritious but not something I use.  The girls got a whole bowl of it and gobbled it up quickly.

 

IMG_5573.JPG
A bowl of whey from homemade yogurt.

 

 

IMG_5568.JPG
Jars of homemade yogurt that will be used for yogurt parfaits Christmas morning.  Everyone will make their own today using oats, honey, sliced almonds, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries.  Tucked into jars with lids, they will sit overnight in the refrigerator where the oats will soften and infuse with the honey.  This yogurt is so rich and creamy and while I mean to offset some of the treats of the season with this healthy breakfast tomorrow, only its goodness will be noted.

 

The girls are tucked into the security of their coop at the first sign of darkness, often as early as 4pm on cloudy days, enjoying the new roosting bar and the ability to look out of the coop as they roost during daylight hours.   Tonight they’ll surely have visions of yummy treats dancing through their heads!

Birds continue to delight me as I watch them twitter to and fro from feeders.  The squirrels, on the other hand, are not so endearing to me and fortunately I’ve mostly baffled them but they can really raise the blood pressure of my dog and I when they foil me, often enough as that is!

Bushes with winter berries for birds are still available, but others like my winterberry, chokeberry and American beautyberry bushes have been stripped of their winter offerings.  The birdfeeders are kept full to support the birds I’ve long enjoyed feeding and watching, also important to our ecosystem.

 

img_5535
Close observation reveals many missing berries from this Nandina that birds have consumed.

 

img_5309

On this Christmas Eve, the smells of freshly baked cookies will surround us and fill us with joy and laughter as we once again embrace our traditions, rolling out and decorating sugar cookies as a family while listening to Christmas songs.  My children will focus on the sugar part of this process, delighting in as much sugary embellishment as I’ll allow, but my eyes look to the eggs that are a part of the equation now, firm shells freshly cracked with their bright orange yolks from the girls’ daily offerings, hens that are within view of my kitchen window from my very own coop.  Joy.

 

IMG_5626.JPG
As I made the dough for sugar cookies, I couldn’t help but marvel at the eggs that came from my coop hours before and to admire their brightly colored yolks and thick egg whites.

 

After dinner this evening, our traditions will continue with chocolate fondue and the gifting of new ornaments.  This year, my husband will be bestowed with a glass construction hat as “Master Builder” of the chicken coop, a small but well deserved nod to his time and energy to make such a lovely coop for our chickens, chickens that have now garnered his attention as well as he enjoys giving them treats, helping with the chicken chores and laughing at their many antics.

Traditions vary from family to family, but all center around the love and joy our families and this season bring.   I hope your traditions are filled with peace, love and happiness in an ever changing world that despite all else, still roots itself in nature’s magnificent offerings.  Season’s greetings one and all!

 

IMG_5575.JPG
Blooming winter hellebores- makes me grin each time I see it for the beauty it offers in a cold, seemingly bleak landscape that is still full of life.

 

IMG_5337.JPG

IMG_5533.JPG

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.   – Charles Dickens

Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart and hand to hand.  – Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s