april, gardening, and compost queen(s)

April is a tough month for academics.  (Witness the gap in the blog of late.)  It’s the end of the semester and the end of the academic year.  Needless to say, we’re all ready for summer.  But there are countless events during April and often continuing into May, especially in a place like Ithaca where the weather (and thus travel) can be quite unpredictable, oh, November through March.  Then there’s the end of the semester usuals: general exhaustion, papers and tests, piles of grading, and such.  And then there’s the end of the academic year usuals: honors theses, grad student exams, dissertation defenses, last-chance meetings, and end of year celebrations.

April is an especially trying month for gardeners because all you want to do is Putter Around the Garden For Hours, but wage work does not let up.  After all, late-gardening-season fatigue (more harvesting? more processing?? sigh) has definitely waned.  Instead, the garden beckons: dig in the dirt, pull up weeds, collect rocks to toss elsewhere, start some seedlings like tomatoes, and–my personal favorite–turn the compost!

I started this “it really must be spring now if I’m turning the compost” task last weekend when we had an incredible three 75+ F days in a row.  I continued yesterday under cooler temps (mid-50s), but nonetheless sunny, warm skies.  It is always mind-boggling to me how a rag-tag assortment of leaves, weeds, twigs, and kitchen scraps can turn into a big pile of dark, rich compost in 6-12 months. 

This year I have compost helpers.  No, not the other human in the household, but the six chicken girls who are eager to scratch and dig through a new pile of compost plopped in the garden. 

It was pretty hilarious watching them yesterday.  They’ve been very nervous around the wheelbarrow when we’ve carted straw, bark, or dirt hither or thither before.  They were still nervous when I started bringing the first of eight–eight!–half-wheelbarrows of compost into the garden yesterday afternoon.  Daisy was being the brave matriarch and stayed a little closer, but she too was wary.

However, after they figured out that The Scary Wheelbarrow meant Yummy Compost was about to get dumped, they began to change their minds.  The five still held back somewhat, but Daisy became assertive and even piggy, wanting first dibs on all–all!–of the compost piles. She even started hanging around 10 feet away when the Scary Wheelbarrow went by just so she could dash to the latest (and apparently greatest) pile of compost.  No need to rake out the compost when you have six eager chicken helpers.

Today it’s a sunny and lovely spring day again.  The chickens have been outside all day yet again–digging, scratching, nibbling, resting in pig piles (chicken piles?), and taking dust baths in full sun.  Alas, this academic has a long to-do list to tackle.  Spring is thus taunting me.

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