How the Hen House Turns: Weeds

How the Hen House Turns: Weeds
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

My cloudy Sunday morning started with a sudden pink display that gradually turned peach, a lovely time with even light. I decided to take pictures of what the rains have produced in our back yard.

I took a walk through our New Mexico jungle, following Kiebler and Ms. Ritz back to their pen and letting Lucy and the big birds out for a swim in the stock tank before the noon thunder announced the daily summer sprinkle.

Today I am taking a break from Hen House history to share with you the miracle of what last years’ bare dirt has brought forth. Until 10 years ago, we used to mow and water this half-acre.

The list of scattered bouquets growing all over the back yard this summer includes lilac Fleabanes (we used to call them Asters), two different Sunflowers and peach colored globemallows that have gathered in a dozen places.

Geese taking a walk. Photo by Cary Neeper

Here come the ducks, Mom Khaki and daughter Puddles, for a swim in the stock tank. Good thing they didn’t see the big bull snake taking a drink. He’s safely under the scotch broom, probably full of mouse steak.

Let’s see. What else is blooming amidst the mallow weeds (which make great paver fillers)? There’s spurge, purslane, pigweed, and goosefoot. Oh yes. There’s cosmos, blown over last year from the neighbor’s yard, some scarlet Penstemon, and a huge patch of dramatic white-blue sage.

The lovely white bindweed (I prefer to call them field morning-glory) has been totally overgrown by all these hearty bloomers. There’s not one left. When we had early spring rain, the old government rye grass would come up as tall as three feet, and the bindweed decorated it beautifully. The neighbors have finally wised up to it and let it add a decorative touch to their short, steep hill paved with stones.

I almost forgot the Apache Plume volunteers below the Hen House pen. They are also blooming now.

Well, nice! Here comes Gwendolyn the Americauna hen that lays green eggs. She just hopped up on the bench next to me for a brief cuddle. She’s never at a loss for a quiet conversation, with a pianissimo bawk bawk. Soon she will get bored and go off to find goodies in the weeds or under the pine needles.

Penstemon and fleabane in bloom. Photo by Cary Neeper

Our local blessing of almost no insects is a hen’s disappointment, but she keeps scratching and hoping. The only downside to this amazing, always surprising, wild place—our gift of the old-fashioned monsoon rains—is that she and the ducks disappear in the foliage, making it difficult to keep track of them. The white feathers of Lucy and Bobbi shine through, wherever they are.

When the first thunder of the day booms, I’ll get out the scrap bucket and tell all the birds it’s time to go back to the pen and relieve the dogs from watch duty. The birds never object or run away, but march together down the hill and into the pen, expecting me to serve them melon rinds from the bucket.

They all have favorites. Turkey likes the seeds, Lucy prefers the meat of honey dew or miniature seedless watermelon, and the ducks ask politely, would I please dig up some red worms or go buy some iceberg lettuce. Bobbi prefers to honk at me. Hens will eat anything, except onion, banana peels and citrus.


Bindweed, aka field morning-glory. Photo by Cary Neeper


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