Monthly Archives: May 2011

Broken Tree

Readers might recall that back in the late fall I set two apple tree whips into the little strip of earth between the sidewalk and the street in front of my house. I chose that location deliberately, because I very much like the idea of sharing those fruit trees with my neighbors. In fact, while I was digging the holes, Anna, the eleven-year-old girl who lives next door, watched me with curiosity, asked what I was doing, and ended up helping me backfill the holes with soil and compost around the root balls.

Baby apple tree with new growth

I was delighted when those two twiggy  saplings began to show some signs of life. Green shoots emerged from brown bumps — first tentatively, then with a rush of vigor. I went out in April and looped string over the branched of both trees, then secured the string down taut in the ground with bent pieces of wire coat hangers to encourage the branches to grow horizontally, prompted by this comment on my original post about the trees.

And then one day, heartbreak. I came home from work to find that the top third of one of the trees had been broken off. By someone or something, I don’t know. On purpose or by accident, I don’t know. But someone had tried, strangely, to put the tree back together. The broken top of the trunk had been propped back up and was listing crazily to one side, held in fragile place by the strings, which had been haphazardly rearranged. I took the broken-off part into the house and put it in a jar of water, where it remains, even though the leaves are beginning to yellow. I haven’t been able to let it go. And for several days after, I couldn’t even look at the broken tree, it made me so sad. I think my feelings were hurt.

What amazed me, though, was that I wasn’t the only one distressed by the fate of that little tree. Over the next few days, many neighbors stopped me to tell me how upset they had been, too — that they had been keeping a fond eye on those trees since I had planted them. I had left the nursery tags on them so that passers-by could note that they were Fuji and Gala apples. Unbeknownst to me, folks had been as thrilled as I was to watch those green shoots emerge. They were curious about the web of string stretching the branches out as they grew. I wasn’t the only one with visions of a little apple festival on our street in the fall. And the sadness we all shared over the broken tree really was a kind of grief, as if a neighbor had suffered an injury.

The good news is that while the broken tree looks a little funny, I think it’s going to be just fine. It continues to push out new spring growth. It is shorter than its mate, but I’m hoping what it lacks in height it will eventually make up for in girth.

Even without apples — even before they bore a single leaf — those trees are already bearing a kind of fruit. I think they are off to a fine start.

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Filed under Community and Citizenship, Gardening

Time to Eat

In the past week or two the sheer volume and scope of food rising out of the earth has exploded. One can literally make a meal standing in the middle of the garden, picking, and eating.

Lots of what is ready in my garden never makes it into the house (the strawberries especially), but I did manage to get enough basil into my basket to makethe first batch of pesto of the season on Monday, tossing some into some cappelini and fresh sugar snap peas and freezing the rest. On Wednesday I harvested kale, cilantro, more sugar snaps, and mushrooms for a stir-fry with ginger and tofu. I have also picked six pints of strawberries this week; two went into the freezer for ice cream I’m planning to make for a special party the week after next, and the rest will go into some jam.

The mulberries are starting to come in, too, and a lot of folks have been picking them off the trees that hang heavy over the streets in my neighborhood and making pies. I picked about three cups today during my long morning walk with Caleb, and when I got home I decided I wanted to try making some scones. I modified a recipe I found for oatmeal scones, adding a touch of orange extract and using the mulberries instead of currants, and here is the result. In a few minutes I will  take a few of these next door to my neighbors.

The sugar snaps are copious and remarkably sweet this year. I love them in the pasta and stir fry, but I also love them fresh and crunchy, right off the vine.  That’s the experience I had in mind when I took a platter of them to a little farewell gathering this week for a friend who is moving away. I mounded some hummus in the middle of them, tossed on some kalamata olives and feta cheese, drizzled it all with olive oil, and sprinkled salt. Here’s what the platter looked like.

Enjoy this lovely day! I’m going to pick more sugar snaps.


Filed under Feasting, Foraging, Gardening

The Library Boks

Last Thursday about mid-morning, I received an email from a neighbor of mine who works in the Woodruff Library at Emory University: “I hear numbers between 15-20 for chickens in the library this morning. They are all rounded up, do you think there is a chicken rescue out there, or neighbors that would be interested? I think the library has called animal control.”

Now that is an email one doesn’t see coming, even in the life of an urban homesteader. But I have worked at Emory as a writer and an editor for seventeen years, and for some reason the message felt like a natural confluence of two aspects of my life that don’t usually overlap. So I got right on it. I called the library and begged them to hold off on calling Animal Control . . . too late! The birds were on their way to chicken jail.

But the librarian filled me in: some members of the Emory University Senior Class of 2011, in a classic “college prank” maneuver, released a bunch of pullets, a couple of hens, and a rooster in the reference section of the library. Here is the video of the birds making quite an impression on a bunch of strung-out students in the middle of final exams:

And here is a video one of the librarians took after the security crew rounded them up in the loading dock area and secured them with — what else? — book cases (I’m really sorry I missed seeing that):

Undeterred, I then called my next-door neighbor and one of my partners in all things chicken, Bill, and begged him to drop whatever he was busy doing and drive over to Animal Control with me. He laughed and, not one to dodge a wacky adventure, helped me load up as many animal carriers as we had between the two of us into his Jeep, and away we went. Here is the video I shot of our trip:

We brought home ten. I sent a few emails, and by the end of the day, I had identified more experienced flockkeepers willing to adopt them than I had chickens to place in new homes. So I decided to return to Animal Control on Saturday morning for the rest. But by the time I got there, the others had all been taken, save the rooster, who had wriggled free at some point and is now roaming the woods around Animal Control (I have secretly named him Lynyrd, as in “Freebird”).

The ten we gathered up seem vigorous and healthy. The little hen, whom we have decided to keep for ourselves, is already laying (we have named her Dooley, and the other two we are keeping are Charlotte Brontë and Dorothy Sayers, since they had such literary beginnings with us).

The Library Boks, taking it easy with a snack and some sunshine after their big exciting day.

The Library Boks will spend a full week in quarantine to make sure they are free from any sneaky diseases that might spread to other flocks. I devoted most of this weekend to placing them with their new families and helping folks figure out how to best manage the transition (the key is to do it gradually and to give the new birds a safe place to hang out while it’s happening, and to not be alarmed by some aggression while the pecking order is being established). Everyone who took some of the birds agreed to follow through on the quarantine. Here are some pictures of them as they meet their new flockkeepers:

David, with the pair of white ones he took home

Rebekah and Walton with two of the three they took home

And Rebekah with the third one

Scott and Margo with their adoptees, who have already been named "Emory" and Eagle"!

I know some have been troubled by the student pranksters’ lack of regard for the animals’ welfare. But chickens are resilient creatures, and these birds seem to have not been too traumatized. And they all have good homes and will have the best possible life a chicken can have. I love a happy ending.


Filed under Community and Citizenship, Flockkeeping