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ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: The semi-organic gardener

© Another Day in the Country

Out-of-town company and rain kept me indoors, so when the last of the guests headed for home, I walked across to look at my garden and how it had fared through rain, wind and hail.

The potatoes seemed to be the only thing suffering, and when I looked a little closer I discovered they were covered with potato bugs. This infestation is a once-a-year occurrence, and I always hate to get out the bug dust, being an organic farmer at heart if not always in practice.

“I know what I’ll do,” I said to myself. “I’ll let the chickens out for a little while and let them clean the bugs off those potato plants.”

I had grand organic waves of oneness with the earth as I let my older flock of eight hens and one rooster — definitely senior citizens in the chicken world — out of the pen and tried to encourage them toward the potato patch at the edge of the garden.

The chickens wondered, “What the heck?” This is precisely the place where I’m usually shooing them away from!

My young potato plants with their freshly laid mulch of hay are the perfect place to play, according to my hens, and they mess up my rows of mulch and generally raise havoc with the newspaper that I lay under the hay.

And, here I was trying to coax them into this very spot. But they weren’t interested.

What caught the rooster’s attention, and of course that meant he called the hens to “Come see!” were mulberries all over the ground.

During our rainy holiday weekend, mulberries had ripened, and the grass and the back deck were littered with lovely purple, bite-size fruit.

I had to laugh remembering a time I talked my cousin’s little kids (who were city children) into helping me pick mulberries.

I told them how as a child I loved climbing in the mulberry trees and eating berries to my heart’s content while my mother fretted at the base of the tree.

Not only did she think climbing trees was dangerous; it was the stain of those berries on my dress (and she always had me in dresses) that bothered her the most, along with the fact that she deemed mulberries “filthy” because of how they attracted flies and she was sure I’d have an infestation of one kind or another from eating dirty mulberries.

I still love mulberries. Today, out mowing around the mulberry trees, I stopped to pick “fresh washed” berries off the tree — after all, it had just rained briefly — and this brought back memories of my cousin’s kids (now all grown up) picking berries.

You can imagine the color of their mouths and hands when they were done, and that was it. We made a mulberry pie, with me rationalizing “a berry is a berry,” but the kids who picked those berries would have nothing to do with that pie.

Pie fillings come out of tidy cans from grocery shelves in their world, and this was much too raw, too close to nature, for them.

Meanwhile, here I was, waiting patiently for my chickens to wander into the garden once they’d had their fill of berries. But they had more important things to do. They went over to a cherry tree and try picking low-hanging fruit — not quite ripe, but tantalizingly pink.

Later, I brought my salad bowl out to eat lunch with the chickens. I do have to keep an eye on them when they are free in the yard.

They all came running, so I went over and dropped bits of salad amongst the potato plants. They ate the salad and ignored the bugs.

I tried flicking the bugs off onto the mulch, gathering up a bunch of bugs and calling them. They weren’t interested.

I offered one of the hens some of my salad on the end of my fork. Avocado — she liked it.

“What about celery?” I said.

She took it off my fork and then dropped it, and another hen grabbed it up. Salad was good, bugs not so good.

When I finished my salad I sat the bowl down for them to clean out. They gathered around, commenting on the scraps. I’d seasoned the salad with dill and lemon. They ignored the dill, but the lemon dressing in the bottom of the bowl they seemed to like.

Earl Gray, my rooster, came over and took a sip of the dressing, pecked at a stray lettuce scrap, and then took another sip and clicked his beak as if he were tasting and approving of my seasoning.

He called to the hens, “come try this, not bad!”

And they did.

And then he gathered the girls and led them back to the chicken house.

I followed them, throwing down scratch grain as a treat, and closed them inside. My organic gardening dreams will have to wait for another day in the country, and I’m heading out to the potato patch with a can of Sevin!

Last modified June 8, 2016

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