Archive for October, 2010

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Halloween Treat

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What eats Knotweed?

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MUD October 12/ 2010

Monday, which dawned with a beautiful blue sky, was the dual holiday of Columbus Day and in Canada, Thanksgiving Day. What a perfect excuse to go for a country drive in the Hudson Valley. We estimated that it would take two hours to get to our first stop, Lightning Tree Farm in Millbrook. We would pick up their homegrown organic chicken feed, and then if we were quick, visit some other farms for straw and pine shavings or hay for chicken bedding as well as some free range eggs and winter squash. Then a trip to Wild Hive Farm and Mill, for a winter’s supply of bread flour and some baked goodies would round out the day.

The girls (chickens) were already a week overdue from their allotted feed change. Just as we were late in changing the girls feed from Chick Starter Feed to Developer Feed during the proper week, we missed the dates to change them from Developer Feed to Layer Feed. Layer Feed has more calcium in it for strong healthy eggshells and we had none to give them. They are at the point of possibly laying their first eggs and this change of feed is crucial to their development and their eggs. They have been subsisting on newspaper for bedding and frankly we can’t keep reading at the pace that they require new bedding, so we would also pick up alternate bedding for them since we would be in the area.

The Museum of Urban Design (MUD) also required more supplies for the Vitrine/ Coop. MUD’s mandate, to be as eco friendly as possible meant that many things needed to be accomplished in the few hours allotted to the rental car. Our first stop after we woke at six am and collected the car was to go to a big box store for replacement disinfectant. We had used up a substantial amount because of the basement flood last week and we would also pick up a door for the Vitrine. The door that we had salvaged originally for this purpose was an interior door and was filled with cardboard. When we realized that we would have to change the height of the door and the hinge positions, we discovered that there was nothing to hold the door together internally.

Once finished with the Big Box Lumber and Stuff Superstore it was still an early start for the real treat of the day – going to the Hudson Valley – my first ever car trip there with the chance to stop off at local farms. After hours of delay on the bridge out of Queens, due to traffic accidents and construction, time and light was running out as we rushed and then got lost in the country. In our overshooting of the road the farm was on, we chanced upon a lovely Tack and Feed store, which luckily had the pine shaving bedding we needed. The sales clerk was a first time chicken wrangler too and her girls were about the same age as ours.

By great good fortune, when we finally got to Lightning Tree Farm we met Don Lewis, the owner of Wild Hive Farm who was there picking up grain for his mill. MUD’s objective is to have a green roof of Rye on the Vitrine – a traditional green cover crop in Brooklyn – or to grow an old strain of winter wheat. At Lightning Tree Farm, I hoped to ask about the traditional rye or winter wheat they grow and for a small amount of seeds. The family who runs Lightning Tree Farm has been growing and championing regional, traditional ancient grains for ten years now and Don Lewis not only mills this wheat with traditional pink granite stone grindstones but bakes bread from it, at Wild Hive Farm and Mill in Clinton Corners.

Don has also been raising chickens for years and we asked him for information that might help our little flock. We were hoping to grow a small amount of winter wheat or rye but he suggested that we grow Triticale, a hybrid grain over 90 years old that has a higher protein content than rye and would be better for the chickens nutritionally, though they would prefer the taste of rye. Don suggested that they would love the green sprouts and if we planted the grain in a tray with chicken wire on top, the Triticale would grow through it and the girls would get a healthy snack without destroying the roots of the plants and it could keep growing with a rest period.

He also gave us gave some tips about coop construction mentioning that you want to build a coop with space underneath so that cats can get under it to deter rats. Rats are able to chew through cement! If there is a tiny gap, they will make it bigger. Ooops, I had thought it best to prevent a gap under the Vitrine/Coop so that there was no heat loss. It was time for me to start attracting the feral cats to the yard then, instead of shooing them away politely.

By this time it was too late to visit any other farms as darkness descended on the windy country roads. Then it was off to search for locally grown apples and pumpkins, alas from a supermarket rather than a farm stand, which we had not seen in our travels thus far.  Frankly we could not have stopped because the farm would have been closed by the time we got there. Then we were on to another Big Box Superstore to pick up replacements for items that were damaged in the flood and plastic box containers to put feed in. The car was looking like a Jenga game and there was room for no more.

The weather started looking ominous and as we ate at a, gasp, highway restaurant; the local cafe we tried earlier in the day was closed for the holiday, and we had no references to help us choose more wisely. The rain set in and it was heavy. Funny, there had been no rain in the forecast. The rain let up a bit as we drove but then as we were nearing New York it became torrential. We had seen red lightning flashes as we approached but I never though I would be going over the Whitestone Bridge at the height of a lightning storm. I have a photo of a forked lightning bolt that hit the overhead cable lights right in from of the car as we reached the zenith of the bridge. Humungous bolts of lightning were going off beside us in DUMBO at the Brooklyn Bridge and the rain was like sheets when we arrived home. There was no letup. Hmmm, how to get bales of pine shavings and 50 lbs bags of feed into a house, across parked cars and up a flight of steps keeping them perfectly dry and free from mold in an already damp house? The answer, a game of backseat twister with contractor grade plastic bags and pulled muscles at 12:30am. Having accomplished this feat after already being exhausted the worst was yet to come. The basement had flooded again. We had the feed, we had the bedding but the shit was back.

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Pirate Queen of the Flock

The minute but feisty Lady Mary Killigrew, as an Australorp, should have been the largest of the flock but remains the smallest and in nature, channels a petite and proper Victorian lady, pirate queen. She has glossy, all black feathers with iridescent green highlights, an erect plume of a tail and with her refined disposition, her black legs and pearly white claws seem like tall kinky black boots. Her habit of elegantly picking one foot up and balancing for a few moments, motionless in contemplation and slowly placing it down with the utmost precision, style and grace, just adds to her Victorian lady demeanor. Often this slow, quiet, measured claw placement, is onto the backs of her sisters, when she wants to be where they are. This slowly applied pressure to her victim’s backside often elicits compliance with her position request, generating from her sisters, a squat and hurried exit from the disputed vicinity. This come-from-behind pirate attack strategy has been hers since she was 24 hours old. To add to this range of traits, at an early age, she would jump upon any object that was in any way taller than the surrounding terrain, stretch her neck slightly, cock her head and look at us. Arrrrr.

We have often been afraid that she was a rooster because of her dominance issues. Roosters are not allowed in NY proper once they start to crow, because of the noise they make. Rooster chicks are typified by being the most energetic, brash, entertaining and outgoing of chicks. Lady Mary Killigrew has all these traits but her sneak attack strategy suggested that she was not a rooster chick, or so we hope. There have been no eggs to confirm her as a hen yet so we are not completely certain.

Rather than outright confrontation, Lady Killigrew has a rule by velvet claw approach. If however, her opponent is being held, being moved or otherwise defenseless, she will quite happily switch tactics by jabbing and pecking at her sister, in a frontal assault. One becomes complicit with her by holding her victim and though it is by accident, she makes it feel as if it were by design. She blocks the entranceway of the emergency brooder and waits for her victim to be brought to her for justice. By unwittingly becoming an accomplice to her authority, by moving her sister into her range of punishment, you become a crewmember helping the captain keep the discipline of her crew.

Lady Killigrew is also a hearty bellower and announcer of her displeasures. Rarely has she not quietly crowed to me with avian admonishment as I have routinely picked her up: ‘You will be hearing from my solicitor’ or ‘I heartily protest to you actions upon my person.’ She has also begun to vocally complain by assuming the rooster role and crowing her displeasure. If the feeder dish has been overturned – which happens often, as I am using their baby feeder dish to give them space in their miniscule emergency coop and run – I listen to her demand that it be rectified intensify in frequency and volume. The crowing starts small and picks up volume and frequency, often only quitting when she is being held, if then. The most surprising form of unhappiness vocally registered is when the girls are certain they will not be let out of the emergency brooder box for a long time. This long time in the box, is signaled by my playing the chicken music mp3 disk, which skips often, randomly and with no warning and the sound of me getting ready to leave. At first there is bustling and shuffling, small cries and as a last resort, the forlorn chicken howl, a long, drawn out cry of avian despair, anguish and hopelessness; the pirate queen’s lament.

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It looks like it could all end before it has begun. Well, it has actually begun but has not officially finished. More rightly it began last October as a seed of an idea and has steadily branched out. The Museum of Urban Design (MUD) is an artwork, an offshoot project of artecoculture. MUD is comprised of a rare collection of genetic resources (seeds) with interactive displays (chickens, bugs, wildlife). It is a portable vegetable garden, philosophical experiment and chicken wrangling adventure all in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty in Brooklyn.

The crux of the ending of this stage of the Museum’s development lies in the complications of the building of the Vitrine and the possible need to disassemble it and move it before it has been completed. The Vitrine, which will be the more permanent display area for the chickens, has yet to be completed though we are constantly working on it. There have been many delays due to the weather, lack of transport and in the nature of a project that is a new experience, unforeseeable planning delays. The Vitrine is a roughly 6 by 7 foot chicken coop that is designed to be flat packed into a moving van along with the rest of the Museum. Made partly of recycled materials from local businesses that would otherwise have gone into landfill, it also doubles, if required, as an emergency shelter during extreme power outages. In the first 5 months of the Museum there were 3 blackouts. The staff accommodations are powered by electricity so continued warmth is a concern in the winter. We, the staff of the Museum have never built a structure and James is not handy (but is an excellent learner) so I am teaching him as we go along.

Construction has continued outdoors through the natural forces of rain, wind, the hottest summer on record in New York, constant fruit battering from a very productive Mulberry tree, fly population explosion from said fruit, swamp like mosquito infestation and the continued production and cleaning of temporary shelters for the expanding space needs of the growing chickens. Final completion seems to be constantly close but for one complication after another.

This week, the Museum’s possible ending before it had begun, was due in part to natural and man made disasters. In the beginning of the week, while correcting an overlap in the ceiling slats in the Vitrine, I inadvertently made the most frequent, classic and generally most bloody art school injury manifest, that of the box cutter slash. The chisel I had been working with was too thin as I worked upside down correcting the overlap to two ceiling pieces, so I switched to a utility knife which eventually slid across the slick as silk wood, into my index finger almost taking the side tip of it off. Really, the cut couldn’t be that bad, could it, as I staunchly refused to look at it. After hours waiting in emergency the next day, the kind doctor who saw it said ‘Wow! That’s a deep cut.’ The recourse after waiting so long was not stitches, too late for those but skin glue. Only thing though, I could not get it wet and I could not let it touch anything, i.e. gloves were out. I did get antibiotics to cure the cut and my five week old brutal bronchial infection along with a Tetanus shot. This seemed workable; James would have to clean the temporary brooder/coop for a while, is all, while I worked with one finger pointing upward to the sky as though I was hoping for free tickets to a Grateful Dead concert.

Then came the flood. At 4:30am on the 1st of October, it rained and rained and all the rainwater from the roof channels into our basement drain. It could not take the flow, even though James bailed like mad, soaked to the skin as I grabbed things off the floor. Then the sewer backed up and the shit flowed in up from the furnace room’s drain, meeting the 6 inch tidal bore of fresh water from the roof as that drain failed to function.

So the question is all about continuation. Will the museum have to move sooner than anticipated or no? We are in the midst of a cleanup and progressing on the Vitrine regardless, while the squirrel is discovering one of the seven apples from our apple tree in a bucket and is now bothering the lemon cucumbers. Ouroboros indeed.


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