Friday, March 29, 2013

Food forest update 3/29/13

A Rhode Island Red Pullet.

One of our Ameraucana Cockerels.

    Life with chickens is good, but my plans have not survived the experience.  The past 6 months of hands on chicken care have really changed my thinking and I am now leaning toward a fixed coop for our setup instead of a mobile one.  I guess I feel that the dream of zero poop shoveling is not worth the stress on the birds and the security difficulties of constantly moving a mobile coop in a small paddock shift system.  I also can't see using so much good growing space to have enough paths and parking spaces for the mobile coop to work.

The chickens are digging up our bulbs!

     We  really need to get the flock under control.  As the ground thaws they are starting to dig up the flower beds and eat every bit of green they can find, even though we currently only allow them a few hours to free range most days.  If I want any hope of spring greens and peas this year we need to figure it out soon.  I am a little worried about how that is going to work now that they have had the run of the place.  Hopefully just moving the coop and fencing it off will do the trick.

      The layout for the food forest has undergone several revisions.  My head is swimming trying to reconcile the needs of the birds with the needs of the plants with the layout of the fencing and the spacing of the trees and the movement of the water and the angle of the sun and the so on and so forth...   So the "master plan" approach has been scrapped and I am going back to the basics.  Make small changes to the landscape and observe the results.  Starting with water conservation. 

     I still feel it is important for us to have a layout that works with the fencing, but since I haven't figured out what that is, our approach for this Spring is going to be to get the mobile electric netting system and muddle through the best we can.  We have been saving up this Winter and plan to purchase our electric netting from Premier this week along with a 12v battery energizer.

The above map is one I made after observing the water flows across our land this Spring.  I realized that a huge amount of water is coming down the driveway and veering around the barn and down the steep hill north of our property.  The runoff is starting to form a gully among the box elder trees there.

     What I envision is adding gutters to the garage and barn.  The North Side gutters will be directed East, where I plan to build a small swale type structure to keep the water on top of the hill and divert it back into our yard.  I know a swale is not the correct term for an off contour structure like this but the proper name escapes me at the moment.  I guess it's time to re-watch some Geoff Lawton videos. 

The small "swale" would get directed to a larger wood filled swale and then to a pond in the center of the yard.  The South gutters I would like to send to a large tank for use in irrigation and livestock.

      There is a high spot just beyond the pear tree that I am thinking will be the best place for the permanent coop.  This Spring we will park our hoop coop there and setup temporary fencing to see how it all works out.  I am really glad we chose a relatively inexpensive and mobile design to get started.

     As far as the seed ball plan goes I have gotten as far as pulverizing and sifting a jar of clay and acquiring most of the seeds I plan to use.  As usual I have more ambition than time and energy, but hey, at least it keeps me moving.

That's it for now.  As always your questions and comments are most welcome.


  1. Hey Joe! I SO wish you and Nikki could come and visit me out here in Washington!! Most of my friends here have chickens and another even has goats! We all bake our own bread and make our own laundry soap and I just recently got a recipe for making my own deodorant..Nikki would be so proud!! People here are very into natural living and Chris and I definitely still have our dream of our own homestead some day! One of my good friends has 2 large fenced in things, really large, that can be moved. So they are free range inside the huge thing ( I don't even know what to call it!) and then they also have the coop that he built for them to go in at night. It's such a neat set up, I wish you could see it! One of my favorite things about those chickens was throwing our watermelon rinds to them last summer, they eat those things up! It was great! I hope you and Nikki are doing well and I will try to keep up with your blog!

    1. Hey Mrs. M! Good to hear from you, give our love to the family.

  2. Hi Joe - love your blog. I've been using the poultry net from Premier for several years now and love it. One warning: go easy with the weed whacker! It will easily damage the netting. I never electrified mine; it's mostly for keeping the chickens in. I don't care for chicken poo on my deck! Predators have not been a big issue for me. Just luck I guess. I've recently been learning about permaculture after gardening for years. Been slogging through Mollison's Design Manual all winter. I'm in Racine County. Maybe we're neighbors...

  3. Hi Jennifer, thanks for commenting. I am excited to hear about someone in the area studying permaculture. Mollison's book is amazing, I will never look at a tree the same way after reading it. I know it is one I will keep coming back to. We're not quite nieghbors, but we are just one county south of you.