I think our chickens enjoy my sister Eleanor’s visits as much as we do.  Incredible TLC from NYC, including twice-daily poop removal service–our Chicken Hilton really lives up to its name when Eleanor is here!  It’s been really fun watching them together on this recent visit.  We mostly stayed close to home, but did take some local walks, including a visit to the Appalachian Trail suspension bridge over the Tye River.





Based on my experience the past three years down here along the Blue Ridge Mountains, I sowed much of the spring garden early in March: snap and snow peas, lettuce, collards, swiss chard, cold-weather herbs, and turnips.  By this time in those years, virtually all those seeds would have sent up healthy shoots and leaves.  But March this year has been a different story–much colder than usual, with temperatures in the 20’s or low 30’s most nights.  And to top it off, we got five or six inches of snow again yesterday.  Nobody’s happy about this, not even our chickens, who, having rushed outside in their usual way, rushed back inside when they saw the snow.  Later, a few ventured out into the white stuff, but most stayed close to home.


Even here in the country, there are sometimes lines….

I harvested most of our potatoes mid-July, but in the past few days, as I’ve dug up part of the potato patch for plantings for the fall garden, I’ve been coming across the ones I missed.  So I’m still harvesting!  We estimate a total harvest of about 170 pounds of three varieties of yellow potatoes (Satina, Carola, Yukon Gold) and one white potato (Kennebec).   While Satina was the most productive, Monika’s and my eating favorite so far this year has been the Carolas–nice color and great texture and flavor, especially when boiled, mashed, or fried.  Our onions were grown from sets rather than seeds, and experience seems to be teaching, as the gardening literature suggests, that onions grown from sets don’t store all that well.  We’ve had to throw out quite a few soft ones, and next year I’ll try seeds instead.  They taste fine, though.


We continue to get a steady flow of cucumbers, and several varieties of squash, including the prolific and interestingly-shaped Zucchini Rampicante, pictured above near the row of sunflowers we planted this year.  Several varieties of pole beans are now coming along strong, and butternut, spaghetti, and acorn squash have spread out extensively and appear to be ripening nicely.  Most of our first original tomato plants, after an initial period of high productivity, have succumbed to heat and wilt, but we’re just beginning to get tomatoes from a second planting of wilt-resistant hybrids that I planted in early July.


Our eleven chickens continue to give us 6-8 eggs most days, despite the heat.  Between the barred rock on the left and the Rhode Island Reds on the right, Monika holds Poet, one of our two Black Australorps, who has the misfortune to be at the bottom of the local pecking order and therefore gets extra TLC from time to time.



Above: John and family posing, eating, walking, reading, and (Calista) feeding crickets to the chickens during a visit in early August.

Above: Eleanor loving our chickens!


Above: Rafey Habib and family at Crabtree Falls and at Saunders during peach season.


We’ve had a generally mild and snowless winter–until mid-afternoon yesterday.  This was our hens’ first experience of snow, and they didn’t take to it.  They promptly headed not just into their run, but most of them continued right on into the henhouse.  In mid-morning when we open up the outer door to the run, the hens generally come charging out: today one black australorp gingerly took a few steps out, looked back at all the others who were hesitating, and ran back in herself. (Cold by itself they have no problem with.  But chickens are…chicken.)

In any case, Monika and I enjoyed the snowy afternoon and evening by our wood stove, and then the beautiful vistas in the sun this morning, here and down by the Tye River.    By afternoon, the four inches of snow were rapidly melting away.  And the hens were pecking away at the remaining small clumps of snow.

click here for more pictures of our 24 hour winter

click image to enlarge

Today began with this beautiful view out our living room window, as the full moon was going down and the early sun rays beginning to reach the trees.  And it’s turned into another gorgeous day, still without snow this season.  While pruning our butterfly bushes in the back, I looked over to our chicken run and saw one of our Wyandottes lying on the ground, looking dead, which she proved to be when Monika and I examined her.  It appears that she died from a problem with an ill-formed egg in her cloaca canal.  This was our first loss since the death of one Black Austalorp in (mail) transit from the hatchery.  We buried her with sadness in our back yard, at least knowing that she had a good life here.

“Blessed” is very much part of Southern vocabulary–sometimes with an explicit religious connotation but otherwise simply constituting a recognition of the many things we cannot take personal credit for but that enrich our lives deeply: the extraordinary beauty of our surroundings in Nelson County, the expanding web of friendship we’ve become part of, the  local knowledge and resourcefulness we’ve benefited from, and much more.  And at Thanksgiving this year, we felt blessed not only to have Nic and Alison, Tim and Megan, and my sister Eleanor with us, but be able to share in their impressively interesting and productive lives.

More of a surprise was the bonding that went on between Eleanor and our chickens, whom she was “meeting” for the first time.  Eleanor became the main egg collector, snack provider, and even poopy cleaner-upper for the time she was here, and she shared in the pleasure we take from simply sitting in the chairs alongside the outer pen and watching the antics and machinations of our flock of fourteen hens.

Our Thanksgiving turkey was an organically-raised and free range Midget White from Tall Cotton Farm (not that midget at twenty pounds), a breed we were surprised to learn has not only been rated as the best-tasting turkey by Mother Earth Magazine but was developed by a plant geneticist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, from which Tim and Megan just received their Ph.D.’s in Computer Science.  We were joined at dinner by two local friends, Mikel and Linda, and it was a lovely time.  Later on, we introduced the kids to Recipe, a card game we’d learned down here from our (93 year-old!) friend and neighbor, Virginia Page, whom we also feel blessed to know.

click here for more Thanksgiving pictures

We were spared the recent nasty nor’easter that blanketed much of the northeast with snow and (thanks to our country’s antiquated infrastructure) knocked out power for almost three million people.  But a light snow did fall on the Blue Ridge around us, even though we’ve yet to get any where we live.  We’ve had a few light frosts, but no real killing frost yet.  We’re still getting collards, kale, chard, turnips, parsnips, kohlrabi and hardy herbs from our vegetable garden, with rutabega (a new crop for us) coming along.  When our pepper plants died back, our chickens were happy to gobble up the several dozen large but immature peppers still on them.

Our 14 hens have been averaging 10-13 eggs per day for the past several weeks, and today our cumulative total surpassed 500!  Since we can’t watch the laying boxes inside the coop all the time, we’re not absolutely sure if all the hens are laying (we think that one black australorp is not yet ready) and which eggs come from which hen, although we’re pretty sure that the darker brown eggs come from the Barred Rocks.   Monika continues to spoil her “babies” rotten with special treats, which they gobble up with great gusto.   I guess cold and dark winter days may test us down the road, but so far we enjoy the routine and structure that caring for our flock gives our life here.  And they remain fun and fascinating to watch!

Below, some recent pictures and a link to more…



click here for more (annotated) pictures

p.s. We haven’t been eating all these eggs.  We’ve been sharing them with friends and neighbors.


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