Friday, August 14, 2009

Tale of Two Plants

At the beginning of summer, just as I was beginning this whole urban farming extravaganza, my daughter and I planted two heirloom tomato plants.  One was "Mr. Stripey" and the other has since been named "Mrs. Peach."  

From the moment these two plants touched their identical soil, Mrs. Peach has flourished, and Mr. Stripey has languished.  Too much water?  Tried fixing that to no result.   Pests?  Nope. Too little water?  Uh uh. Too much light?  Nein.

None of the usual fixes seemed to address whatever was bugging Mr. Stripey.  And while, inches away, Mrs. Peach grew, and flowered and set out dozens of fruit, Mr. Stripey made a single fruit, and then sat there, bad tempered, for the rest of the summer. Fed up with nursing him, I let Mr. Stripey stew in his own juices.  If he wanted to be a bad plant, nothing I was going to do was going to change that.

Then, two days ago, out of the blue, my daughter rushed in to the living room, bouncing with uncontainable joy.  "The 'mato on Mr. Stripey changed color!  Can we harvest it, Mama?"

I had no idea. What constitutes ripe on a "Mr. Stripey" tomato? I consulted the oracle named google.  My five minutes of research revealed that there are two cultivars that carry that name, one of which was ripe when orange, the other when red.  So...did I have the orange version? Or was my fruit orange only as a way station on the road to red ripeness?

I couldn't figure out a way to tell, but with KK buzzing around like an Africanized honeybee I decided to take a chance. With great ceremony, we harvested our first Mato of the season. Would it be a brilliant success? Or a dismal, unripe failure?  

I sliced it, cutting away the little black area where some bird or bug had made a little hole.  I put one pretty pink and orange slice on each plate, sprinkled it with salt, and, in unison, we each took a bite. We broke into identical grins. It was firm, but juicy, full of tomato flavor but with a faint citrus tang.  Deeelishus.

I felt almost guilty for how badly I had treated Mr. Stripey. Sure he had a bad attitude.  Sure he refused to grow, and produced yellow, diseased looking leaves.  But boy, could he make a tomato! One tomato. Just one. But it was a doozy.

I went outside to apologize to him.  He squatted there, ugly as ever.  But as I looked at him with new affection, what should I discover but two more baby stripeys, plum size, hiding among the unattractive greenery.  How I'd misjudged him!

Next door, Mrs. Peach preened, covered in flowers and small, unripe fruit.  I looked at her, and shrugged my shoulders.  As far as I'm concerned, the score is now Mr. Stripey one, Mrs. Peach, zero. 

Sunday, August 9, 2009

We have a coop!

The eagle has landed!  Or rather, the eagle's nest has landed. 

Last night, Dru and Rich, with the help of our much-beloved next door neighbors, the Abuyen family, maneuvered my 1000 pound poultry palace into its picturesque place in my yard. (I'm not sure what the actual weight of the coop is, beyond the fact that it is heavy. Very Heavy. We'll use our artistic license and call it 1000 lbs.)

This was not as easy as it might seem. I mentioned that it's heavy, right?  And it's also 4ft by 4ft...if you don't count the nest box, which juts out and extra 18 inches from the side, making the actual width closer to six feet.  This made it way too wide to fit through any of our gates. So some intense preparation was involved. 

First, my husband, in a display of marital devotion, spent much of the day preparing the coop site.  He cut down a tree, moved rocks, and ripped up bushes.  I provided cold beverages, and ripped up weeds, but the major manliness was all Rich. 

Then, Rich and the Abuyens cleared a path for the coop through THEIR yard.  This involved moving furniture and boxes, and planters,  and even using a saws-all to cut through the remnants of an ancient dog run.

As all of these people labored to make my dream come true, I was hit by a wave of anxiety. What if I don't even like the chickens? What if I've made all these people go out of their way for my crazy pipe-dream and then I just want the chickens dead in a few months.  I confessed this to Rich and he laughed. "Well," he said, chuckling to himself, "If you don't end up liking them, at least it won't be because you didn't do your research!"

Preparations reached crescendo at 7:45 at night,  when Dru arrived with my coop in the back of his rented trailer.  (Small Photo One) Dru expertly backed the trailer down the Abuyen's narrow driveway.  Rich tossed back a red bull.  The Abuyens poured from their house, work gloves donned, to help out. I stood there like a movie heroine, nervously wringing my hands. 

Dru, Rich, Hector, Ryan and Adrien set the legs of the house onto twin dollies, and rolled it down two planks from the trailer onto the driveway.  Then, they rolled it all the way through the Abuyen's back yard.  (Small Photo Two) While the menfolk toiled, I offered moral support, devotion, and photo documentation. 

Then, using the saws-all once again,  Rich cut through the fence separating our two properties. (Did I mention we have the best neighbors in the freaking world?) The men then lifted the coop up on a set of long bamboo polls, and carefully, steadily, gently, walked it into its position in the yard.  

Look at it. (Large Photo) Doesn't it look like it was meant? Tucked into its little pocket of greenery,  I almost expect to find fairies hovering around it.  

As this stage of project chicken comes to a close, I wish to offer some thanks to the Abuyens: Stephanie, Hector, Ryan, Adrien, Gabriel and Isaac, for always going above and beyond the call of neighborliness.   To my husband, for supporting in me in this, just as he does in every other crazy endeavor in my life.  And to every single one of you who has had to listen to me blather about chickens for the past four months...Many thanks to you all. In a few more months, there will be fresh eggs for everyone!!!