Marty's Gardening Journal, April 25th 2011

Gardening on a plot no larger than 1/5 of an acre, with the house taking up a chunk, I am feeling the constraints of boundaries. I am also feeling the constraints of gardening in a development and wish for something a bit more … rural.  Frankly, I am suffering from chicken envy!

Growing up in Holland we always had chickens. Yes, our village was small and the nearest town was miles away. It took about 20 minutes to bicycle to Zeist, or 30+ minutes to nearby Utrecht. Our home was in a development, but at the end of the block there was still a working farm, albeit a very small one. When the farmer retired his property was developed and a few very nice houses were built, right there on the riverbank. Meanwhile, dad built a chicken coop in our garden. The chicken coop had a nice long run filled with sand; a place for chickens to scratch (yeah, that’s a chicken thing). The coop itself had two nesting boxes where the chickens could lay their egg. A little door at the top of each box allowed us to grab the eggs with minimal disruption. Most of the time the chicken would announce to the world her job was done for the day and minutes later a still warm egg was there for the taking. Since there were four of us in the family, there were also four chickens, although I do not remember eating eggs every day. Surplus eggs were probably shared with family and neighbors.

 Marty with chicken June 1963

Some chickens were nice and friendly, eating out of your hand when you ventured into the chicken coop. One chicken was just plain mean; that was the one that nearly pecked my eye out one day. One year dad raised the roof on the chicken run; parakeets were added to the mix and other tropical birds followed. While the chickens dominated on the ground, the others soared above.

Of course, chickens take a little while to get up to their egg laying days and they do not continue laying eggs until their dying day. As on a working farm, once the bird stopped laying eggs, it was literally time for them to go into the pot. Dad did not like that day, but it would only come around every couple of years or so. The first time the birds needed to be slaughtered dad learned one lesson the hard way; don’t let go of the chicken immediately after taking the head off. He ended repainting most of the inside of the garage that weekend and we were not allowed to take a peak before it was done.  I also learned a lesson that day as well. Chickens don’t just produce one egg every day just like that. There are actually a whole bunch of eggs within the chicken from tiny to larger, each one getting larger every day until it is ready to be laid.

One year one of our favorite chickens was getting old(er) and didn’t lay eggs on a daily basis any more. Again, being one of four chickens, it was a little hard for dad to pinpoint which chicken was slowing down, but eventually, he figured out which one it was. Unfortunately, for dad, it was our favorite chicken and for weeks we managed to fool him. Just about every day we would take an egg out of the fridge and put it in the henhouse, which left dad scratching his head about that one chicken. One Saturday we got caught. Mom and dad were out doing the grocery shopping, while sis and I were out playing in the garden. We should have put the egg in the hen house the minute they left, but instead we thought we had enough time. Too soon we saw the car returning and ran to get an egg out of the fridge to put in the hen house. Not three minutes later dad went to check on his chickens and found a very cold egg as well as a few warm, freshly laid egg. The gig was up and we confessed. A week later there was chicken on the menu.

Now in today’s environment, more and more people are trying to become more self sufficient and chickens are becoming popular as well. And that’s where my chicken envy comes in. I just don’t see how I could fit a little chicken coop and run into my garden. The vet who takes care of my fuzzy ferrets recently got a variety of chickens, but he lives further out on a larger spread with fewer neighbors around. I am also not yet ready to relocate to a larger property just so I can have chickens (and a goat or two), but one day we will. And being more squeamish than dad, our chickens will probably live a long life until they drop dead from natural causes. Or a predator gets them if they happen to be out scratching around outside in the garden, away from the protection of the chicken coop. Till then I will continue to read up on raising chickens while The Spouse hones his woodworking skills for that day he gets to build his first chicken coop.  He may not know it yet, but that day will come….