Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chicken Update 4/25/13

     There has been quite a bit to talk about concerning chickens, but it has been hard to find time to post now that Spring has sprung.  For starters two out of our three cockerels went into the cooking pot a few weeks ago which resulted in a lovely chicken dinner with some friends.  They were pretty birds, but three cocks is simply too many for a flock our size, and I don't like feeding birds that don't produce.  It has definitely been quieter around here since then.

Winter hoop coop  setup

     Last Saturday, the 20th, was moving day.  We repositioned the coop and netting into the first paddock area for the combination food forest/chicken paddock that I am envisioning for our back yard.  It was a lot of work, cleaning out a winters worth of deep bedding, moving all the straw bales, putting the wheels back on the hoop coop, and then moving everything into position.  Since the new paddock includes part of the yard I set them up in for Winter, we were able to move the coop on Saturday, then move the fencing Sunday morning before releasing the birds for the day.

     Under the outer tarp, we found a few hidden nests with 20 some eggs that we didn't know about.  We mixed them with some wood chips in the compost pile since we didn't know how old they were.

     With the hoop coop up on some saw horses, I put the wheels on...

while Nikki used a stiff brush to clean the old litter off the wire mesh.

     Here is a closer look at what I am calling our lever up wheel assembly.  It is made from commonly available hardware.

     The two wheel assemblies attach to the front corners of the 2x4 frame with 3 heavy duty wood screws, one on the side and two on the bottom.  A lynchpin is used to lock the wheels in the up position.

     This is the custom hitch that goes on the front of the hoop coop, allowing us to use a trailer dolly to easily move it around the yard.  It is attached to the bottom of the 2x4 frame with 4 lag bolts.  Please don't laugh at all the grinder marks, this is the first useful thing I ever made on a welder.  It's also quite a bit heavier duty than it needs to be, but the c channel scrap I had available just happened to fit the hitch, so I went with it.  It is made in 2 pieces bolted together so the height could be adjusted if needed. 

     Above is the new paddock.  There are still a few weeks until the last frost in this area, so we moved some bails in as well.  Since the winter setup used the barn wall for one side, it was quite a bit bigger than what one 164' poultry netting can encompass.  The chickens are less than thrilled with their new, smaller accommodations so far.  They have gotten out several times this week.  It started with a few birds flying over on Monday from the top of bales that were placed too close to the fence.  On Tuesday, it rained and one of the stakes in the soft sandy gravel driveway fell over.  I came home from work to find the entire flock, soaking wet and happily turning the straw left over from the winter setup.  Wednesday I found the one cockerel and two hens had flown out and torn out the peas I planted in the back lasagna beds.  I was able to pick up the hens without too much fuss, but the rooster was too wary.  After about five or six laps running around the netting while swearing loudly, I wondered if the neighbors were watching and decided to change tactics.  All I had to do was move one end stake inward so it made a spiral instead of a circle, then do one more lap and chase him in the pen.  The rest of the flock was nervous about the commotion and stayed inside, so I didn't have to worry about the opening in the fencing.  My threats and angry noises must have had some effect, because he stayed inside for the rest of the day.  Today, of course, he was out again; along with one of the Rhode Island Red hens.  Ok, make that twice today.  Sigh.   Looks like we are going to have to electrify the netting after all.  If that doesn't work we will try clipping wings on the offenders.  I may end up caging off the garden as well, though I hate the inconvenience of it and, other that the chickens, we don't really have problems with foragers. (knock on wood)

Friday, April 19, 2013

3013 Seed Starts and plant order

     Seed Starting dates for 2013

3/12  Orange Bell Pepper - SSE
         Margaret's Pepper   -WVF

3/24  Petunia  -WVF

3/25  Amish Cockscomb
         Painted Tongue
         Jalapeno Pepper- SSE
         Petunia, old fashioned viking

4/1  Tomato, Wisconsin 55- SSE
       Tomato, Amish Paste - SSE
       Tomato, Gardener's Delight- WVF
       Lupine, bluebonnet- WVF

4/13 Siberian Pea Shrub
        Goji Berry
        Blueberry- BG

4/14  Basil, Sweet Genovese
         Basil, Lemon
         Basil, Holy
         Parsley, Darki

     Also, we got our order of plants from Jung yesterday, it included;

Astilbe (1 each of 10 different varieties)
6 Cinnamon fern
1 Lingonberry
6 Wintergreen, Creeping
3 Wolf berry (Goji)
2 Blueberry, Northland
1 Blueberry, Pink Lemonade
1 Currant, Ben Sarek Black
1 Currant, Pink Champagne
1 Currant, Rovada Red

Not sure where all of this is going yet, but we will be working on that and planting some more cool weather seeds outside this weekend.  We have planted Peas, Lettuce, and Kale so far.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Making Seed Balls

Masanobu Fukuoka - "The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings."

     This is my first attempt at making seed balls as inspired by Masanobu Fukuoka.  The theory is that by encapsulating the seeds in a mixture of clay and compost they are protected until conditions are right for germination.  This allows seed to be sewn on top of the ground without the need for tilling and was a critical part of the way Fukuoka grew barley and rice out of the same field without plowing, fertilizing, or pest control.  In his small farm he produced extremely high quality food without any of the machinery or chemical inputs that were standard for his time. My plan is to use them to seed our forest garden after the chickens have destroyed the lawn.

    Digging a post hole last fall produced some good clay which I dried in a bucket in the garage.  Pulverizing it to a powder proved to be fairly challenging.  At first I tried using a hammer and a piece of flat rock inside a plastic tub to catch the dust, but this was a very slow process.  I had much better results by rubbing the flat rock across a 1x4 piece of wood and crushing the clay pieces in between them.  If I am going to do this more than I couple of times I think it will be a good idea to make a large wooden mortar and pestle out of logs like I have seen Fukuoka's people using.  Using a small piece of window screen I sifted the powder into a jar.

     I never got around to sifting and drying some compost for this project, so I substituted some seed starting mix instead.  For the fist batch I started with just white clover seed in a smooth bucket.  holding the bucket at an angle, I lightly misted the seeds with water then sprinkled some powdered clay and a little of the seed starting mix, then turned the bucket to mix.  Repeating this process until balls started forming.  The mix tended to stick to the sides of the bucket and needed to be scraped off frequently.  A rubber scraper is a handy too to have for this.  The balls that resulted from this process were rather uneven and rough, and a lot of seed remained free.

     I did not manage to get all the seeds on my original list.  Time being a factor I ended up going through my seed box and making a mix out of what I had available.  I have to admit it did seem a little crazy to be dumping dozens of packets of seed together in a bucket so hopefully we get something good out of all this.

Here is the final mix
(In no particular order)     
White Clover
Chard (Fordhook & Gold Glebe)
Daikon Radish
Kale (Pentland Brig)
Nasturtium (Mixed Dwarf)
Chamomile (German)
Hairy Vetch
Jung annual flower mix 
Wild flower mix (wedding favor)
Bachelor's Buttons
Pea (melting sugar)
Columbine (Deep blue alpina)
Black Locust
Marigold (Harlequin)
Carrot (Dragon)
Spring Greens mix (sand hill)
Delicata Squash (just 2 seeds)
Lettuce (various)
Beans (various)
Shasta Daisy

     Using the same technique as my first try, I coated the entire mix with clay and seed starting mix.  I ended up running out of clay and spreading the mix out to dry on some brown paper bags overnight.  The next day I crushed another jar of clay and re-coated the mix.  Still not satisfied, I began to roll small balls out of the mix between my hands.  This seemed to push the seeds in and leave a nice coating of clay all around.  I squished the round ball flat so it wouldn't roll then worked it like putty to close up the cracks that formed when I flattened it.  I then rolled it in some dry powdered clay to coat the outside and keep it form sticking.  I did this for the entire mix, frequently needing to re-wet it or add some more clay to bind the loose seeds.   Eventually I got better at getting the right moisture level to avoid cracking, and got quicker at making them. 

      About 1/2 of the balls formed deep cracks when drying and many of them broke apart when I put them in paper bags for storage.  This might be a good thing, as I made them somewhat large and each one could contain dozens of different seeds, so some smaller chunks are nice.  Many of the large seeds especially beans and peas broke free of their coating.  Many of the seed balls, though, were more solid and stayed intact.  So I think there will be a diverse range of protection on the seed offering a staggered germination rate and greater chances for success.  We will see.  It won't be long before the chickens have wrecked the lawn on their first paddock and it will be time to sew.  Then we are taking Fukuoka's advice to throw the seed balls with a child like mind and let nature guide us on the details. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

First Spring Blooms!

  The crocus blooms provide some of the first nectar of the season out here, nourishing pollinators and other important beneficial insects.  These hardy bulbs can even survive in a lawn, as they bloom early before the grass needs mowing then die back to bulbs for the rest of the year.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Chicken update 4/4/13 Fencing

     We got our fencing yesterday and it's keeping the chickens contained even though we have not electrified it yet.  I obviously overestimated the chickens reasoning capacity in thinking they would try to break free to get to their favorite foraging spots.  They really just deal with what is in front of them right now.  I had to laugh as I saw one of the ameraucana pullets try to figure it out.  She stared at the fence for a bit then started following the perimeter.  After about 10 steps she got distracted by something in the grass.  About a step away from the fence, she froze as if she just realized she was supposed to be doing something important, but couldn't remember what it was.  Bird brain.  They still make me laugh every day, and the  daily chores don't seem like chores at all.

This will be their setup until it is warm enough to uncover the hoop coop and put the wheels back on.  I put our picnic tables and some pallets in for overhead cover.  It's good to get some control over the situation.  Now I can plant some peas and lettuce!