Growing Along

So we’ve got the garden started!  The hens were in the garden house for about a month and they chewed through all the roots, weeding and feeding as they went. Let me just say working chickens are entirely underrated. After they moved out we let the ground rest (and the chicken poop wash) in two days of rain. Two days after that, the ground was ready for planting and biodynamics indicated it was a good day to plant leaf foods.

We transplanted organic green onions that we bought about three months ago from the grocery store. Green onions are a grass so we kept them in a water/dirt slurry in the bottom half of an Aquafina bottle, mowing them when needed. Green onions are a great addition to most anything we eat so it worked out great. We sprouted the kale and spinach from seed and transplanted on the same day. It took about half an hour for all the work and we made a timelapse video. Timelapse makes everything look easy.

Since then, we’ve planted peas, cucumbers, celery and radish. We also started the peas and cucumbers early and from seed. The celery was an organic vegetable from the grocery store (like the green onions) that we kept in coffee cups and water until the leaves resumed growing. The radishes are just seeds yet and we sowed them directly. Hopefully they’ll pop up soon! We also sowed some more kale and spinach seeds indoors. Although the freeze date has officially passed (yay!) we have may hail dates ahead, and it’s a good idea to keep back-up seedlings so the garden can bounce back after a severe storm.

Also I’d like to share a recent failure. No mother hens have adopted the three chicks. We tried and tried with the hens but each one preferred the freedom of the flock to adoption. Oh well, so it goes. Good news is, the babies are nearing big enough to join the flock! Once they are as big as the smallest two hens then in they go. We’ll be back up to ten hens and an intact rooster. Aiming for that perfect dozen means keep buying more. Maybe Alphonse can help us out in that department. Time will tell! Until next week then, indulge in a little simple heresy.

 

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Chickens as Working Animals, and Planting with Ancient Farmers

Hello friends, and Happy Busy Spring!

So the garden house went up without a hitch! (pictures to follow…) The big chickens stayed in the garden house for about a month, sleeping in the dog houses, laying as usual, and chewing up all the greens, roots, and seeds. The whole space is bare now and fertilized thanks to the presents the girls leave behind, and no I’m not talking about the eggs.

We have a flat of Kale and more than a few spinach seedlings to move the garden house where they will be safe from bunnies – which are in vast quantity this year. On the sixth (in the moon-sign of Scorpio) we transplanted the potatoes before thy outgrew their pots. Hopefully, we won’t suffer a late freeze. They looked pretty weakly after transplanting but were perky the next day.

According to the ancient farmers we should transplant and plant leafy items in a Virgo, Taurus, or Capricorn moon-sign which just happens to occur on the 11th of April (Virgo) so that’s the plan. We also have Brussels sprouts, cucumbers and radish but as fruits and a root, we’ll have to wait to plant until the 14th and 16th respectively.

Since the chickens did so well in the garden we made them an official a-frame tractor so they might continue working in the larger yard.

It was a two-afternoon project for the four of us. It’s lightweight enough I can move it by myself, and once S’s water hauling muscles return she’ll be able to push it on her own too. The good news is the chickens can mow two tractor spaces a day. The bad news is we have to move them 2x a day or suffer a bald spot in the yard. Good thing we’re ok with baldness. 🙂

We are happy the chickens are working and they seem happy too. We’ll still have to mow but we get to mow a little less this way and that is very nice.

We do have a bit of bad news: we lost a chicken on Saturday. In the morning we went out to move the ladies and a black australorp was dead on the floor of the tractor. She was completely intact with no visible signs of trauma even on close inspection. We think she might have been egg bound. The night before, she was not in the coop with her sisters, but on the floor and unwilling to fly. After some reviewing and research, egg bound is our best guess.

When a hen is egg bound they cannot deliver the eggs they produce. An egg may enter the vent shaft sideways and become lodged, or caught in an interior pocket. If a chicken keeper is aware of the condition then they can sometimes help the chicken lay with warm water baths and a few other methods, but we were unaware and so the hen died. Now we know to count the different kinds of eggs and pay closer attention to the shells because brittle shells can indicate a calcium deficiency which might lead to an egg bound hen, and if untreated – the loss of life. Turns out calcium helps with the contractions that push the eggs out, not just for shells. Who knew?

Lastly, the Mama hen and baby chick adoption project was an abject failure. No hens were willing to take on the roll of mother and the babies are still in the brooder. They are just emerging from the gangly teenager phase, have full body feathers, retaining little tufts of fluff on their heads. Alphonse is definitely a rooster and has started funny teen rooster chortling. He sounds like a recording of a hen if you ran it through a pitch modulator with faulty electricity so sometimes the playback sounds normal and sometimes it goes too fast, too slow, high or low with no apparent pattern! Yet, without the protection of a mother hen the three are too small to join the flock. They go outside daily to their separate tractor – a rabbit cage without a bottom – and came in at night until Saturday night. On Saturday we cleaned and moved the brooder to the porch and have a heating lamp for when the low dips below 45 degrees F but otherwise they are acclimatizing to the light/dark and warm/cool cycles of outside life.

Well that’s enough for this post!

Until next time – keep it simple!

 

Baby Chicks and a PVC Chicken Wire Garden House

On Saturday we purchased three new chicks.

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Aren’t they adorbs?!  We picked two Australorp hens and a blond rooster (center) who might be a Buff Orpington but we don’t know for sure. The hens were sexed and banded so we know, without a doubt, they are hens. We had to remove their bands Saturday night, and man, it just kills me to listen to their screaming as I poke the metal tag back through their wing. The rooster was not banded because we picked him from a straight run. So he might not even be a rooster. However,

we checked his feathers for pointedness 
and held him upside down to see if he would flail 
so all signs indicate that he is a rooster. 🙂

We also bought 5 lengths of pvc, some t-posts, and another roll of chicken wire to make a garden house.

greenhouseWe’re building a garden house for many reasons:

  • to put the big chickens to work tilling the soil and eating June Beetle larvae of which we have already seen three adult specimens. (AND IT IS ONLY FEBRUARY!)
  • to protect the plants from bunnies,
  • to protect the plants from hail,
  • and to protect the plants from the hottest summer sun (with a shade cloth).

All of this effort will hopefully stretch the planting season and let us humans enjoy the fruits of our labors. We hope…

I’m calling it a garden house because the structure is not insulated against the weather yet. We may decide to put up partial walls. Later we will cover it with contractor plastic. Which bothered my eco-minimalist sensibilities until I learned that plastic sheeting is as environmentally (un?)sound and lasts just as long as the pvc plastic panels in our area because of severe storms and hail damage we get every spring (and sometimes in the fall). 😦  It would be easy to enclose the garden house and we probably will – but we’re not there yet!

Either way – we’ll let you know how it turns out!

Seed Starting Soon!

We’ve had another unseasonably warm winter. If this keeps up warm will be the norm and cold – a thing of the past. I visited one of my oldest friends recently, and it turns out we are both contemplating moving north to escape the heat. Neither of us knew that the other was even thinking about moving, but great minds think alike…

Until we move though – I’m going to garden here. So that means it’s time to plan and start seeds! Since I’m into the bullet journaling thing – I wrote it all down in there…

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We use the square foot gardening method. It is intensive so we have to keep the soil nutrient balance carefully managed. It needs composts now, but no manure (at least not yet). The rectangular plot is 16×4 feet. It’s the box on the left hand side of the spread. The adjacent list shows what’s planted in the plot and where.

Starting on the left you can see a to-buy, to-do, seeds to plant, and when to plant list. In the seeds column I wrote (4×4) behind peas and radish because they get their own little plots. Radish greens make the best salads. Last year the radish roots were woody and underdeveloped because the nitrogen level was elevated in the soil. It turned out fine though because the greens were plentiful and delicious.

This year we’re starting the seeds in 100% biodegradable paper cups. We’ll tear off the bottoms and move them directly into the garden, preventing most of the transplant shock.

We’re really excited to see the way this garden grows. Through successes and failures – we’ll keep you posted!

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Winter Gardening: Biodynamics, Keratin, and Compost

Here in the USofA we are covered in a wintry mess. The garden lies dormant under a layer of ice and the fresh veggies are long gone. We still have veggies in the freezer though, and huddle in front of Netflix with big warm bowls of pumpkin soup. You can see our soup recipe (it’s GF, and vegan) on Bread Butter & A Cup of Tea. The warm summer days and sun-ripe veggies always sound the best in the depths of winter and so we start planning the garden now.

Biodynamics is a gardening system that incorporates gardening by the moon and soil replenishment through magical means. I’m not into the magical means but they are interesting to read about. One soil amending recipe calls for burying cow horns with quartz inside of them, directly in the garden, on auspicious days. Not really my thing. However, the scientific advantages of keratin in the soil are well founded.

Keratin for soil amendment is so valuable that somebody patented it. The patented keratin mix is intended for greenhouse soil amendment. It contains added elements that speed the oxidation process which helps with water maintenance in the soil, and is useful for replenishing nutrients. Luckily, chicken feathers are a good source of keratin (and much easier for us to come by than cow horns) but they take a long time to compost which is why we’re talking about gardening in the wintry depths of January.

Feather sourced from Radu Luchian. http://raduluchian.com/resources/chicken-feather
Feather sourced from Radu Luchian. http://raduluchian.com/resources/chicken-feather

In addition to veggie scraps, we compost the chicken poo and the shredded paper that they nest in. It’s a streamlined process now, but it took us some time to set up and get used too. We shred all the recyclable junk mail and use it as chicken bedding in the coop and nesting boxes. When it’s dirty we move the paper and poo to the compost bin and mix it with the veggie scraps. We find a 50/50, green/brown mix works well for us. It was really difficult to maintain the ratio when the pumpkin vines were composted, but now we’re catching up because we add more and more chicken bedding but not near as many green bits through the winter. Also – we learned that you can add dryer lint to your compost. It’s considered a brown item because it adds carbon and fiber to the pile, but we keep and use it for fire starter in the wood stove. There are so many uses for all the little things we used to throw away!

Adding the chicken feathers from the coop and nesting boxes provides the keratin the Biodynamic method calls for. I hope to see the difference this summer with our first harvest – even though it seems so far away from the here and now.

Stay warm all my Northern Hemisphere friends, and soak up some sun for me if you’re in the South!

Pumpkin Processing on Thanksgiving Day

Phew, what a day.  Before the day is over I just wanted to extend a thank-you to you, for following this blog, for your likes, for your comments, for your shares. It’s not an old blog, or a big blog, it’s not shiny, glittery, or sparkly, but it is very real. Thank-you, for keeping it real with me.

Although I’m tired, in many ways this Thanksgiving was less stressful than previous years. We didn’t go anywhere, nor did we host a gigantic feast. Instead we stayed home, worked, and ate as needed. Ha, sounds like a prescription for happiness doesn’t it!? That minimalist thing, in respect to saying no to self-imposed appointments is really nice. We may have found a new two-part Thanksgiving tradition! Step 1 – Stay Home. Step 2 – Be Happy!

Being *almost* out-of-words tired, here are five captioned pictures that summarize the work and joy of today, here, in our neck of the woods. 🙂

Step 1: Peel the pumpkin.
Step 1: Peel the pumpkin.
Step 2: Gut the pumpkin, reserving seeds for roasting, or planting, or the chickens, or the compost... but don't just throw them away!
Step 2: Gut the pumpkin, reserving seeds for roasting, or planting, or the chickens, or the compost… but don’t just throw them away!
Step 3: Bake pumpkin at 300F for 10 minutes, then cut into chunks.
Step 3: Bake hollowed pumpkin at 300 degrees F for 10 minutes, then cut into chunks.
Step 4: Shred pumpkin with food processor. I am so thankful for this handy-dandy, most amazing, kitchen appliance from my late father-in-law. It saved me umpteen hours today.
Step 4: Feed pumpkin to food processor with shredder attachment. Every time I say ‘shredder’ I have a TMNT flashback. Who’s with me? It can’t be just me! Anywho – I am so thankful for this handy-dandy, most amazing, kitchen appliance from my late father-in-law. This food processor saved me umpteen hours today. After shredding, transfer pumpkin in freezable containers. We went with 2cup and 4cup ziplocks because they take up less space in the freezer than tupperware containers.
Step 5: Eat pumpkin casserole and roasted broccoli-beets will vegging out on the couch with exhausted family. :)
Step 5: Eat pumpkin casserole and roasted broccoli-beets while vegging out on the couch with exhausted family. 🙂

Four of these b&w pictures are on instagram, in brilliant color, in their own little one post layout. If you wanted to check them out, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings one bit. 🙂

Until next time,

❅ Happy Holidays ❅

A Chicken Heater + Pumpkins = Eggs

Now that we are getting blissfully cool nights the chickens need a heater. After much research and deliberation S decided on a simple design.

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Of course this design would work with an unbroken cinder block, too, haha, but seriously, we are thinking about chiseling the remainder off to maximize the interior coop space. S built and installed the heater two nights ago and the ladies seem pleased!

img_20161110_142827   img_20161110_142659   img_20161110_142931We got extra eggs the following morning, one from each of the hens! Although – full disclosure – production may have peaked because they ate a pumpkin. 🙂

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Our pumpkin patch has proliferated and we have over a dozen on the vine. We foresee continual harvest until the first frost, which may happen any day now, or not until February. Thanks climate change, ol’ buddy, ol’ pal. My mother-in-law grew up in Pennsylvania and every year she spoke fondly of frost on pumpkins. I was pretty confused about why that would be exciting until she shared her pumpkin cookie and cream cheese frosting recipe. Yum. But we’ll save that for another day. Until then, soak up some fall sunshine and smile at the bounty of your life. 🙂

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