Last month we ordered the Speckled Sussex chicks for arrival in April; the Cornish Rock crosses didn’t get ordered until last week.   They are due to arrive in early May, and will be butchered in early July; S-4 will be in NM, but the rest of us can process 30 meat chickens, especially if someone gets creative and makes a picker.  S-1 has told us how he made his, and his success with it, and picking is the time-consuming part of chicken butchering.

   The hope is that the Sussex will reproduce unassisted, as they are supposed to do.  Their press agents say they are good mamas, and the two goals we have for the chicken yard this year are: that they be rotated behind the cows and forage more of their feed, as well as spreading manure (the cows’ and their own) on the pasture; and, that they should begin doing what animal life does — producing offspring after their own kind.  It shouldn’t be necessary for farmers to buy their chicks from a hatchery every year, and we’re out to beat the game.  Expect updates.

   Spreading manure is what the girls and I did this afternoon.  The sliding manger is a great invention; the hay and manure of this winter lie in big circles on the pasture, and we went out with the hayrakes we use when we put up loose hay, to spread any hay that is lying too thick for the grass underneath to grow through.  It was very satisfying work, even though tiring, because with every motion I felt I was taking a material step in the improvement of the pasture.  There was one area where for some reason the manger was left for a couple of weeks without being moved, and the heavy mat of hay and manure there gave us a glimpse of just how compacted and impenetrable the buildup can be around a manger.  An hour spent forking the wet, dirty hay over as large an area as we could sling it leaves us with stiff shoulders and an increased determination to use the sliding manger again next winter.

   We began supplying the bees with sugar water a couple of weeks ago, when they were out flying and we knew of nothing that could possibly be blossoming yet.  They left it untouched for about a week, but now they are guzzling it every warm day, and we are into our second batch of syrup, mixed up at the rate of five pound per gallon of water.  There is activity around three of the four hives, the fourth being one that we split out last summer, but weren’t sure was strong enough when fall came to make it through the winter.  Bees are still largely a gamble for us; as Shawn says, they haven’t made it to the top of the list yet.  Still, they are climbing higher, and we haven’t bought bees in years, which proves we are succeeding in raising and keeping bees.  We just don’t always remember to harvest honey.  This year we put it  on the calendar.

   The garden is mostly turned and raked, all but the half bed where the sage and shasta daisies I started last year are waiting for me to transplant them to permanent spots; and the asparagus bed, which got a good blanket of composted manure last fall, and won’t be touched until the spears are up and I can see where everything is.  That bed is really only about half full, and the seedlings I coddled last summer, if they come up this year, need to be moved to fill in the gaps in the garden.

   The hoop house is recovering from the depradations of the cats, who found a bolt-hole and held high jinks in there, pulling down the row covers and even chewing many of the lettuce plants.  We open it on warm days, and the girls have planted more buttercrunch in there, where it should get the jump on the lettuce planted outside the house.  Spinach, beets, and carrots have also gone in, in an outside bed, as well as some white clover and rye covers, but the peas are waiting for Saturday, when we will have a garden seminar, and demonstrate some basics in gardening for interestedparties.  Not to run out of things to do, I’ve left the peas for then, and I’ll set them to soak on Friday night to increase the speed of germination.

   Isabel is up to three and a half gallons a day after her fit of indisposition.  Life can return to normal, but we have had our warning; she is aging, and some day we will have to deal with that fact.  We picked up the Farm and Dairy on Saturday, and we are watching out for a bred heifer.

   Shawn and the boys have put in the three posts for the north end of the barn addition, and the beam to carry the joists.  The wooden members are enormous, and look as though they could weather a tornado.  More would have been accomplished if Isabel’s little spell hadn’t diverted our week.