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.

 

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!

 

How To Introduce a Hen to Baby Chicks

So the three babies are a week old. Rosemary, Vera and Alphonse are happy and growing. We hope to introduce them to the flock in seven to ten more weeks, depending on the weather and how quickly they swap chick fluff for pullet feathers. They could use an advocate when they join the flock so we are pairing them with one of our broody little hens, Demitasse. Initially we thought Demitasse and her sister Cappuccino were Easter Eggers, but it turns out they are Sicilian Buttercups.  Who knew?

Demitasse is low chick in the pecking order. We picked her instead of another quasi-broody hen so that she will have three friends, and if all goes well, the rooster Alphonse will protect her from the other hens when he’s an adult. We are not chicken psychologists so we’ll have to wait and see how this little social experiment works out.

In the following video you can see Demitasse in the small brooder with the chicks. We also outlined the plan in a little more detail. There are 5 steps to creating a surrogate chicken family.

  1.  Identify a broody hen.
  2.  Get chicks.
  3.  Place the hen in the brooder with 1 week old chicks.
  4.  Keep mother and babies isolated from the rest of the flock until fluff is gone. The chicks will be 10 to 12 weeks old.
  5.  Reintroduce the family to the flock.

How’s that for farm science?  We’re not sure how this is going to work out but we’ll let you know!

Baby Chicks and a PVC Chicken Wire Garden House

On Saturday we purchased three new chicks.

chicks2-2017bw

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!

We’re glutton for punishment: Spring Chicks at a Farm Store near you.

This time last year we were contemplating chickens. Now, we’re doing it again. We have nine ladies at this time, and too many eggs for our family.  That we’re contemplating more is a sure sign of chicken fever.

If (and that’s a big if) we get any chicks this year we’ll only get three; a rooster and two hens.  It would be nice to let the flock clutch on their own and sell the pullets throughout the year. We can’t do that without a rooster. Our beloved Lanchester gave his life to protect the ladies. We might be lucky and get a good rooster again! Maybe we could name him Valentine.

chicks
Photo by Elena Blokhina via Shutterstock

We still have the brooder. The tractor is already built (although it needs some improvement), and the winter run is in use. We’ve finished the heavy lifting of chicken-care on the homestead. Three babies would be a nice addition, and after four weeks they wouldn’t be babies any more.

Keeping chickens is stinky work. The kind you can’t really get out of your nose. The kind that comes back whenever you hear the word pullet. Oh, but it is worth it. The glamorous side of raising chicks is the soft sound of peeping, the warmth of the brooder light, the nuzzle of downy feathers, and the smell of fresh woodchips.

We have a v[egg]an in-house now, too. Our 16yo daughter is on the vegan train and her two main sources of protein are lentils and her homegrown chicken eggs. Plus, the mail lady volunteered to take 18 eggs a week. That keeps the pile of eggs down to a manageable mountain. Three more chicks, only two of whom can produce eggs? Seems like a fine idea.

After all, a dozen is a perfect number; especially for chickens.

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!

Wood Stove Installed!

Ch installed a wood stove in the living room.

It’s so pretty.

I catch myself just looking at it.

wood stove

As you can see, there are a few bits I need to touch up with stain, and some ash to clean up beneath the door, but it’s so pretty and it did such a good job keeping us warm last night, I just had to post. It took a long time to get to this point and we’re so glad to be here.

The Earth Stove is a vintage 1970’s model with a goldenrod ceramic shield in the center of the removable door. It the quickest wood stove we’ve ever had: It can boil a pot of water, from first spark to rolling bubbles, in half an hour. Although you can’t see it in this picture, it has an adjustable, outside air, intake damper. It has a flue damper too, so we can control the draft, either increasing or decreasing the rate of burn.

The bricks are beautiful gray and natural reddish, king bricks, set with natural colored mortar. The process was a mess but well worth it!

bricking img_20161021_153129

At the same time, we also venetian textured the walls. Venetian texture requires the application of many layers of colored plaster. We went with a neutral light gray, lighter than the mortar but not a stark white, despite our minimalist leanings.  We’re thinking about adding vertical boards for the traditional waddle and daub construction look, but it’s just a thought at this point!  Honestly I’m glad the stove project is coming to a close. It was a lot of work, but well worth it!