Witwithwords Blog

Archive for May 2017

My brother Woody (Howard Jr.), an avid organic gardener for the past 10+ years, lives with my sister Linda after they bought the family homestead in northern NJ, (the nice part no one knows about these days.)

The two of them are like an old married couple now, dividing chores & it has worked, with few squabbles! (They had young nieces & nephews who were very confused when one of them started dating someone. Even though their mothers explained that they are brother & sister, in the children’s eyes, they were married!)

Woody plans, seeds, composts, waters, tends his yard of divided plots and flower beds like a true Scorpio – all or nothing. About mid-August, much to Linda’s chagrin, because of golfing &salt water fly fishing, he loses interest in weeding & controlling the abundant gardens.

Alexa, Lauren and Dylan hang out in the garden

First Woody started growing plants from seeds & transplanting them. Then came the huge composting drum & the building of a shed – color-coordinated to match the house, per Linda’s insistence. He then designed & built a beautiful patio & put in a fire pit with oil lanterns, (chosen by chief decorator Linda.) Next came irrigation & when critters became a problem, he put in a light & water spray system to scare the deer & any other natural intruders away. He also has an air gun near a window that overlooks the backyard for the pesky critters that brazenly come to forage in daylight!

Next came the honey bees, taking part in NJ ‘s bring back the bees’ program where he has hives on his property & the NJ Beekeeper Association maintains them. (As a reward, he gets to keep half the honey produced & his flowers and plants love it.)

Luke with Bees

Zack and the bees with honey


Woody’s been threatening to get some chickens for years, but Linda kept saying NO, threatening to move if he did. Well he just built a 2-story mobile hen house & bought six young chickens from a local farme. Linda came home from work to find the chickens. When she looked in the pen, she discovered one small egg. She grabbed it & took it inside for breakfast the next morning.

Linda collects an egg.

My brother named five of the chickens – Alma, Ann, Alice, Cricket, Cathy –after my grandmother, mother, aunt, her daughter & a cousin. For a week, Linda kept bugging my brother… what is the sixth one’s name? Knowing she had lost the battle on having chickens, she suggested he name the 6th one after her. (Once he told her, “You have to be dead,” she gladly gave up that campaign.) The sixth one became Frie-eda, after our cousin Freddy who tragically died too soon.

The six hens are starting to really show their personalities. The largest, speckled Alma, is the first egg producer, with larger, dark brown eggs. “Better start producing,” she clucked. After hearing Woody name them, she muttered,” Ah, shucks, does Woody really think we are pets? What is he going to do when we no longer lay eggs?”


(In her day, Alma was known to chase after a chicken in her yard, catch it, chop off its head and then pluck it on the backyard step before cooking it to feed a whole household.)

The next pair, pretty white and black chickens, Ann & Alice, strutted by. Ann folded her wings across her chest & started clucking in protest. “My son would never eat me,” she insisted. “After all, he was my youngest & the only boy! Look what a beautiful garden he has here…he took up gardening after me …& he’s got all of my favorites!”

“Puck, puck, puck, puck,” snorted Alice ….”He wouldn’t kill me either! I used to put on the coffee & bring him breakfast treats after I got my husband on the train. Plus, he loved my potato chips & coke when he came to play at my house or sleigh ride.”

One of the two red hens, Cathy, the smaller plump one came rolling down the ramp, all smiles. Bashful, she was proud to do her job, laying two eggs to the other red hen’s one. (Cathy was just happy to be with family again, sunning herself in the sun & smelling the scented flowers.)

Cricket, the other red hen, just strutted down the ramp. She did a little dance around the pen & twirled her feathers. “I really miss that rooster,” she swooned.

“Laying eggs is hard work,” she complained to Alice, her Mom.“You’re no longer a teen. You may be younger, but it’s time you start laying, girl,” Alice warned her. Cricket skittled over to the laying straw because she didn’t want to disappoint.

(My brother says that Cricket is the loudest clucker in the bunch, especially in the early morning hours.) “She lets us know it’s time to be fed. She’s the troublemaker,” he says. “If she keeps it up, she’ll be the first to go.”

Finally, Fri-eda, different from all the rest, rolled sideways, clunk, clunk, clunk, down the wooden plank. “Girls, girls, let’s get our groove on! If we’re lucky, Woody’ll come home &start playing that music on his phone or play that Martha Vineyard radio station while he gardens! He’s a smooth character – I really like his style!”

Oakie is tempted, but follows Woody’s commands!

Kelley Drukker’s dog, Oakie, serves as their guard dog, following the chickens when they are out of their mobile pen foraging for worms and grubs.

Jerry. Linda and Father Bob

The chickens rarely stray far from the property into a neighbor’s yard, Woody said. When that happens, my brother and Oakie round them up by circling them, & march them back to the coop. Sometimes, goofy Gerry Valenta is around & he performs a chicken dance, with arms swinging wide and clucking to help round them into the henhouse.

Alma usually leads the pack, with Cricket bringing up the rear, squawking in protest as she tries to catch up to the pack. (Note, Alma did stray far from the property recently & 30 people looked for her in vain. Just before sunset, Alma strutted back to the patio, complaining loudly to my brother the whole way in a loud squawk.)

Kelley and Michelle in the garden

The adult nieces & nephews are now all jockeying into position to take care of house and chickens while my brother goes away! They understand the environmental benefit to what Woody has done with this beautiful garden and now the free-range chickens. My father Howard Woodbury, grandfather Sydney Woodbury & farmers Uncle Dave Van Blarcom & Helen & Archie Coll are chuckling too!

How’s Linda reacting? So far, so good. She now gathers eggs every morning & night with an attractive (of course) lined bread basket. She makes just one small egg for breakfast most mornings. (People are already plotting to get this fashionista chicken gathering duds – color coordinated in her favorite colors, of course!)

What’s next for Woody’s “farm?”… Who knows? Only time & mother nature will tell.

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