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  • Jane Shellenberger

Cows, Horses, Blackbirds & More

The plains landscape where I live near Hygiene is decidedly horizontal, especially in winter when late day shadows of trees or people stretch way out to the east over the pastures. Many people who live out here on a few acres (or more) have animals, or did when they moved here in steadier, more affordable times. Horses and cows are still part of the fabric of the land. Some of us, especially those who previously lived a more urban life, tend to idealize "livestock" and see them more as pets than experienced ranchers and farmers do, though even they have special ones. 

Photo by: Jane Shellenberger

I’ve had horses for 23 years. When my daughter still lived here, we had four, now it's two. She was the real rider. I've had my moments, but have less confidence up on a horse. (I’m no Penn Parmenter, riding up snowy passes to hunt elk in the vertical landscapes.) I never stopped to consider that I might still be doing the work involved in caring for them at this more advanced age, it just became part of my twice daily routine along with gardening. The chores sometimes overlap. Friends sometimes shake their heads and mutter, "I don't know how (or why) you do it."  Sometimes on cold nights I wonder too, but there's still magic in it. I'm sure I see more shooting stars than most.

Photo by: Jane Shellenberger

We’ve had little snow so far this winter though it looks like other parts of the state have been getting it. It’s not unusual for winters to be dry in the steppe climate we have along the Front Range. The warm, dry, and so-far-not-windy weather has been great for getting garden beds ready for spring. It's too early for me to start seedlings inside but it's time to get ready. I have a lot of leftover seeds I intend to sow this year, more time to do it, and the beds will be ready.

Taking care of my trees, big and small, has been a great investment over the years. Except for the ashes, honey locusts, two ponderosas, and the screen of now huge junipers, I planted all of them, most bare-root. And I'm fortunate to have a very willing, occasional helper, the grandson of a dear old friend who is no longer with us. I’ve known Tim since he was a tow-headed kid. Now he’s tall and lanky, a Nordic blond with light blue eyes who wears a strand of softly clanging, clunky bells around his neck giving him a shepherd-like demeanor.  Whenever he comes to Colorado to visit family he checks in to see if I need garden help and I always do. 

An itinerant gardener with a van full of tools and no permanent address, Tim knows a lot about pruning and permaculture, and has introduced me to handy new tools and methods I’ve never heard of. Sometimes he shares his latest vegan concoctions, like kale saag or his flat-but-tasty amaranth muffins. He’s not above moving manure around, stacking hay, or indulging my whimsical garden schemes, and he's sympathetic instead of judgy if they don't turn out well. Above and beyond getting things done, it’s a pleasure to spend time with such an open-hearted younger person who’s living lightly on the planet, has a sense of humor, and is easy to get along with. That's just rare.



We see a lot of birds out here but I’m in a quandary about feeding them. Whenever I put seed out the redwing blackbird scouts summon the flock and descend on the feeders, hogging even the ones designed for smaller songbirds.  A few bold chickadees manage to get a turn in, but for the most part the blackbirds crowd out the others. This year I’ve put suet in feeders that supposedly only allow in smaller birds and those with long bills like Flickers. But the blackbirds still try and try, succeeding often enough to keep at it. I do love it when they fly in and fill up the trees around the house with their “mellow, slurred whistles and short scrambled twitters”, especially in summer. It’s complete bird immersion.  But I can’t afford to feed the multitudes so if anyone out there has a suggestion I’d love to hear it.  

Winter garden conferences and workshops are coming right up so check our calendar.  BTW, I'm looking for someone to keep the calendar updated this year so please get in touch if you're interested. 


Read Kelly Grummon's latest Q&A »

Q:  I have a couple of Amaryllis bulbs that I kept after they bloomed the first year.  I keep them dry and dark until they show signs of life the following winter.  Then, I start watering them and move them to a spot in the living room that’s bright but not sunny.  The leaves always grow big and green but neither one ever blooms.  Should I give up and toss them?

Read Kelly's answer here »


Winter garden conferences and workshops are coming right up so check our Colorado Gardener Calendar. BTW, I'm looking for someone to keep the calendar updated this year so please get in touch if you're interested.

Enjoy the longer days ahead. May this be a good gardening year.

Jane Shellenberger



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