Monthly Archives: May 2012

Closing a few loops

My best friend’s son Cody had his first successful hatch today and I think he’s hooked. My recurring chore of hauling mulch went off without a hitch with the one exception that John wasn’t there to discuss whats going on with my pluots or to see my super duper silenced air gun. This weeks load of mulch went into the chicken coop, I had filled the bottom of the henhouse to a depth of 10″ about 3 months ago. In that time the depth had shrunk to about 4″ due to the girls scratching it out under the sides and natural composting action. The mulch had also reduced in particle size from large shreds down to pieces 1/2″ and smaller.

My Sweety Karen came out to practice her Photography skills at The Fruity Chicken Orchard/Chicken Ranch today while I puttered around. She did a much better job with her Olympus than I do with my I-Phone.

I finally got around to setting up my compost bins on the west side of the henhouse. The idea is that I can go out once a week or so and rake up the girls feeding area and dump it all in the bins. Just cleaning up the accumulated mulch, chicken poo, and dried up vegetable scraps filled up one of the bins. Every ten shovel fills or so that got dumped in were followed by two bucketful’s of vile smelling water from the duckpond. All indications are that this compost pile should heat up rather quickly so that in a week, maybe two, I should be able to turn it into the second bin and start refilling the first.

That vile smelling duckpond is also on my radar, I know that it is full of valuable nutrients just waiting to transformed into something useful. The first level that will be implemented in this system is the introduction of duckweed into the pond. For a couple bucks I got a plastic baggy of water and a little bit of green stuff. Truthfully I felt that I got ripped off till I dumped it into a bucket that I had half filled with water from my Koi pond. That stuff goes everywhere, in addition to the bucket I now have several plastic shoe boxes with it in it. I read that it doubles in anywhere fro 24 hours to 10 days, we’ll see. I do know that the little bit that I put into the Koi pond seems to have multiplied several fold overnight.

Over at The Soulsby Farm Blog they had an interesting article on rain gardens, now we don’t get a lot of rain out here in Vegas but the article did make me think that I could do something similar in the outflow from the duckpond. The same drip irrigation system that refills the chicken waterers twice a day also refills the pond and creates a small amount of out flow. The challenge will be finding appropriate plants that will be able to tolerate our scorching heat while having wet feet. If anyone has suggestions please let me know.

The theme of this post ties into my overall purpose in writing this blog. Now keep in mind that this a personal purpose not some bigger than the sum of its parts, gonna change the world kinda purpose. Am I a great writer like Sara over at A Scribe’s Tale? or an amazingly talented Artist/Photographer like my sister Lorri over at The Eff Stop? The answer to both questions is an obvious NO! What I am good at is putting concepts together. Thats what I am doing on my Blog. Stealing other peoples ideas, twisting them about, then talking about how I think these ideas are going to work in my situation, and finally documenting the success or failure of my efforts. Yeah I sometimes am trying to entertain, brag, stimulate, or maybe irritate readers. My core philosophy is to keep focused on the things I have control of and to make things better one little thing at a time.

In summation if you have ideas or are doing things that might help in my situation, please comment and let me know about it. Or you can just like my post, you can be sure I’ll surf on over and glean something useful to plagiarize.

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What now?

What are my plans for The Fruity Chicken this week? Your guess is as good as mine. At my day job our membership ratified the 3 agreements that we have been working on for the past 3 months and that has left me just blehhhhhh. I was looking at my orchard today and found myself just kinda blanking out, I’ve lost 3 plums that just kinda burned up. So maybe I should try to erect some kind of shade structure? but is that just going to be a short term crutch for a tree that may not thrive anyway. I’ll get some pictures and post them this weekend and maybe someone will have some advice. I did chase a bunch of the teenagers out of the juvenile pen so that they can start mixing with the big girls. Again I’ll get some pictures and maybe someone can help me identify what breed these hens are. Saturday is mulch day, my henhouse needs a refill and my compost bins need to be set up. My wife Karen got a line on a dozen Barnevelder and a dozen Basque hatching eggs, I can only assume that means I have yet to reach critical mass on chicken density. That reminds me I need to get an accurate count so we have a baseline for our “when will Karen snap” contest. Wow I’m feeling a bit better already now that I have some projects lined out for this weekend. Life truly is about work, but work isn’t always something your required to do. In a healthy life it is all about working towards goals or working to maintain achievements. 

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Where the Wild Things Are

My incredibly talented sister Lorri, who’s awesome work was first seen in the blogosphere in my classic post “My eye, Your Eye”, finally jumped into blogging with both feet. Her first post ever made “Freshly Pressed” status on WordPress! Check her stuff out, you won’t be disappointed!

Max

the eff stop

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I’m easily distracted by any photo op.

After riding the rails to Denver, Karen and I caught a cab to the Car Rental lot in Denver near the airport. As she inspected the car I caught a glimpse of a bunny face-off in the small patch of grass separating the lot exit from the street. I dropped my luggage and grabbed my camera – I no longer cared about what kind of car we would rent, or mileage, or color, or insurance, or anything else. My whole world revolved around capturing the images of those bunnies. The scuffle was short and I missed a chance to get the loser flipping backwards – but the victor hung out with me for a few shots.

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Karen apparently turned around to ask me a question and discovered I was no where near the car – I heard her mutter something like “Where’d she…

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It’s gonna work! Ain’t it?

Petriatic Pet Nursing Unit

In a previous post I shared how it was my wife Karen’s fault that I am addicted to hatching eggs. She really should have known that if she brought home an incubator I would have to use it, and when her evil stepmother repossessed that incubator did Karen did get me the little Brinsea mini I asked for? Nope she got me a Brinsea Octagon 20 advance!! This thing holds 24 chicken eggs, that must mean she wants me to hatch lots of chickens…..right? Well thats how I construed her actions, and when she suggested one of her pet hospital units might make a good hatcher that sealed the deal. Karen wants lots of chickens. I honestly don’t see how her actions could be interpreted otherwise.

I had tried sprouting grains for the girls last week and they loved them, last night i was thinking about the rice I get occasionally. It struck me that if the simple act of throwing a handful of grain to your chickens can be made more complicated by sprouting there must be something similar for cooked rice. After hours of intensive research I stumbled upon the concept of fermenting your livestocks feed. While the five minutes I spent skimming the first two pages of this post on Backyardchickens didn’t make me an expert,

it did provide me enough info to go off half-cocked into the world of fermented feed. My raw ingredients are cooked rice and expired active culture yogurt. The hardware are two five gallon buckets and one lid, I drilled a bunch of little holes in the one bucket basically turning it into a sieve that goes inside the other bucket. To start this very technical process I dumped half the rice into the holy bucket squirted in the yogurt then dumped the rest of the rice on top. After putting enough water in to just cover the rice I put the cover on loosely and stored it in the back corner of the coop. Why the orange cream yogurt? well it was in the back of the fridge, but also in that article on Backyardchickens.com they discuss using unpasteurized to provide the culture to start the fermentation. I didn’t have any and Whole Foods is way on the other side of town, so I googled fermented livestock feed and found that in Korea they use something called Lactobacillus to ferment animal feed. Didn’t have any of that either, but when I googled Lactobacillus up popped  Acidophilus which thanks to Jamie Lee Curtis everyone knows is in yogurt and the rest is in the bucket! Is this gonna work? I honestly have know idea, but it sure made for an interesting morning and provided yet another way to make me feel that I really am doing something more than just throwing out feed for the girls.

Tomorrow or the next day I should have an update on the fermented feed project. As to when I hit critical mass in chicken production, I’ll let you know the number of chickens that finally tips Karen over the edge and prompts her to hide my incubator. In fact maybe we should make it a bit of a game, how about everyone posting the number of chickens that make Karen snap in the comments section of this post! I’ll send a dozen hatching eggs to the person that gets the closest.

 

 

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Work

All week I have been thinking about work. Currently I am sitting in a Hotel room in Reno looking forward to seeing my Daughter in law get her Masters Degree from UNR. Erin is a great example of someone with a strong work ethic, she works full time, goes to school, writes a blog, and does a great job of keeping my knuckle headed son Michael pointed in the right direction. In my work I am surrounded by a lot of people like this but unfortunately have to deal with the other end of the spectrum also. Every time I got fired or caught up in a one man layoff I knew exactly what I did to create the situation I found myself in, likewise when my three sons got into trouble my first question was what did you do? In our house you were guilty until proven innocent. Apparently not everyone thinks that way.

Where I am going with this, besides bragging about my daughter in law Erin, is that my Orchard/Chicken project is about work. None of this stuff is set it and forget it, in fact if it was I would probably figure out a way to put some effort into it. A good example is feeding my Chickens, feed isn’t that expensive and I could afford to purchase top quality food for my girls. It is just more stimulating figuring out how to “beat the system” and find free or nearly free ways to feed them well without going to the feed store. This really sunk in when I was rinsing the seeds I was sprouting

20120517-161934.jpg Why was I doing all of this stuff just to feed my chickens? And why have I been working every weekend setting up and tweaking a greywater irrigation system for my Orchard? Because I, and I believe most urban farmers, are really looking for a challenge. And that challenge comes from using your wit and your back to overcome obstacles that may well be easier overcome with money.

It’s very hard to explain to the uninitiated the sense of satisfaction that comes from collecting your own eggs, or picking your own fruits and vegetables. I have had people try to quantify things from a business perspective explaining that my eggs are really costing me 4 or 5 times more than I could purchase them for, and that doesn’t count my labor. The old saying about the fruIts of your labor is probably an abstract concept to these people, but in my case it’s a literal concept and one I think more and more people are striving towards. In this modern world where so little is within an individuals control it is comforting to know that I had at least a little bit of control over the quality of the eggs I eat.

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Much ado about Mulch

I started this weekend trying to fight off that wee little bugger in the back of my head that was arguin for havin a layabout weekend seein as how my sweety Karen was off an adventure with my sister Lorri. Thats Karen in the picture to the right, it was taken in the lava tubes on the Big Island of Hawaii the year our oldest son graduated from college. I love this picture of Karen because I think it truly shows that inner light that burns so fiercely in her, don’t tell her I posted it though cause she’ll kill me.

But I digress. Mulch….yup I got up early Saturday morning and went out to the UNCE orchard and saw my buddy John. He filled my truck up and smashed it down with the tractor really good so I could close the cover. He also hooked me up with the chelated iron that works in our calcareous, heavy clay, and high PH soil. Sprint 138 right around $100 for 5# but it only takes an ounce per tree of bare root size and it WORKS! I have tried everything from Ironite to Sulphur and nothing will lastingly green up plants in our terrible soil, but this stuff does!

Once I got all that mulch that John had wedged in the back of my truck out I had a fairly respectable pile. Did I break out the Garden Fork and Wheelbarrow and spread it all out? Hell no! it was frickin hot yesterday. I did plant a couple of Artichoke plants and sowed some Indian Corn seeds both of which my afore mentioned sweety, Karen, really likes. Oh I did set up my new fangled ScareCrow Sprinkler thingy, I’m hoping that this will keep the pigeons from chompin up all my sprouts.

But if not it should be worth a laugh or two watching it get unsuspecting little egg thieves like my Granddaughter Alexa. She absolutely loves the chickens and sees absolutely no conflict between her love of Katy Perry and her love of chickens. And yes she will be mad at me the first time she gets sprayed but then she will have a blast trickin everyone else into the kill zone.

SQUIRREL!

I scraped back the mulch about midway between my dripperlines to see how moist the soil is getting. These photos are from two separate rows, as can be seen the soil is moist. In fact in the area in the right hand photo it was dripping wet!

The most encouraging thing I found is in the third photo WORMS!!!!! They are a sign that I am moving in the right direction.

My greywater system has a 32 gallon rubbermaid garbage can for a surge tank, originally the washing machine we had would 3/4 fill that on every cycle. After 12 years that damn thing decided to up and die! The replacement high efficiency top loader my wife replaced it with only uses about half as much water so I’m thinking that each load is discharging about 25 gallons into the orchard with an average of 6 loads a week plus I have a sprinkler valve that comes on every other night for 1 minute which also puts in roughly 25 gallons, I estimate the orchard is getting a total 225 gallons a week. With 400 sq ft being irrigated this is a little over 1/2 gallon per sq ft. What’s all them numbers mean? I don’t know but I do know that is a whole lot less water than the same square footage of lawn takes in this wicked climate. So did I accomplish anything this weekend? You Betcha! I got a load of mulch picked up, unloaded, and spread out; I collected 3 dozen eggs 20 of which I put in my incubator to see if my cocky little Marans rooster is gettin busy; I enjoyed a nice BS session with the UNCE Orchard manager and got a bag of the right kind of Iron supplement, he also sicced me on Master Gardner Fran with whom I had a very informative discussion about what will grow during the summer to feed my chickens and finally I did squeeze in enough time to read a couple hundred pages of Dianna Gabaldon’s 6th installment of the Outlander series! What a great book, really makes you wanna be a sassenach hatin Highlander!

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How important is Mulch?

My plan for tomorrow is to go pickup a load of mulch from the UNCE orchard, am I going to do it? I hope so. It has been a hectic week at work and I keep finding myself slipping into rationalizing sitting on my ass all day reading instead of spreading mulch in the 100 degree sunny day predicted for tomorrow.

The reality is that it needs to be done. Mulch is a key component of all of the individual projects that collectively make up whatever it is that I’m trying to create.

The Backyard Orchard Culture philosophy that I am trying to follow not only stress’s mulch’s importance but the 17 year history of the UNCE expiremental Orchard has proven that it is vital for an orchards success in my area.

I have seen with my own eyes that my greywater irrigation system does not work properly without mulch, transpiration and evaporation prevent the flow of moisture between my dripperlines and that isn’t even considering the perceived need to sub-surface irrigate with greywater to isolate potential pathogens.

Finally my chickens are pushing the limit of capacity in my neighborhood so I need to keep them as unobtrusive as possible and I have found that a deep litter system, really just mulching your chicken coop, really cuts down on the flies and all but eliminates any odor issues.

So am I gonna get my butt up and go visit John at the orchard, BS about guns, find out what type of Iron Chelate I need to get to treat the chlorosis I got happening , and load up the truck with mulch? Yup I probably will…..I’ll let you know tomorrow.

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Chicken Forage part 2

This morning I set up a dinner table for my chickens next to their coop. The idea came from this article I read over backyard chickens.

Some stuff in that article seem a bit off to me, like worrying about your chickens eating where they shit. Come on! it’s the other way around, they shit everywhere! when one dumps a really good one the others come running over to see if there might be something good in it. In my opinion to many people try to apply human sensibilities to animals and trying to keep your chickens eating in a clean sterile environment is just nuts. But the idea of putting something in my run to get the girls to jump around and put a little effort into getting their food seemed to mesh well with other stuff I had read regarding foraging and paddock systems.

I got lucky in finding a local restaurant that the chef was willing to give me scraps from the kitchen as long as I provided a couple of clean buckets. This morning the girls first take out order came in, I wasn’t sure what to expect but if todays haul is typical we hit pay dirt! The buckets had melon halves that still had plenty of flesh, carrot peelings, bell pepper cores and tops, scallion roots, and all of the seeds out of the melons. As you can see the girls went nuts.

With these great vegetables and the cooked rice I have been getting my feed bill should stay under control. Currently I have been going through about 1/2 a bag of all-purpose pellets a week for my 25 chickens, 5 ducks, and 1 ducken.

The pellets are provided all the time in my treadle feeder which really helps keep down the amount the pigeons eat. When I first got this feeder last year it took my chickens about a week to figure it out but now when they hear the door go CLACK they come a running!

Overall I’m finding that while my situation may not be perfect for a by the book paddock/forage feeding plan as Paul Wheaton out lines in his article, Raising Chickens 2.0, with a little creativity I can create a hybrid system that should make for happier healthier chickens and lower feed bills.

As I was going back through this Blog post it dawned on me that the key to making foraging work for a suburban flock is for the flock tender to do the foraging. Most of us don’t have the resources to produce our flocks entire feed needs. Either we are short on space, the climate is a bit challenging, or any other number of things such as regulations restrict our plans. Instead of throwing in the towel and relying on commercially produced feeds I am discovering that you need to think outside of the box and focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t.

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Chicken Forage

I read a very interesting article about raising chickens that advocated a paddock system as a way to reduce feed costs. The area in use for my flock isn’t big enough to separate into areas that would have time to rejuvenate between rotations but being roughly 20′ x 60′ I believe I can devide the area in half and still not overcrowd the girls. For a foundation I am going to plant a red mulberry tree in each 20’x30′ paddock, then I need to find some durable shrubs that will hold up to both the chickens and the hot dry summers here in Vegas. Does anyone have any suggestions? Will chickens eat rosemary? I know that stuff is tough and who knows maybe it would preseason my unwanted roosters! Bamboo is another plant I was considering, I have two big clumps of oldham bamboo that I can cut a chunk out of to transplant into the paddocks. I was kinda thinking that I would put a clump of bamboo near the overflow of my duck pond in the one area then place my 2′ diameter water basin in the second area with the bamboo located in the overflow from that. There is irrigation lines that have drip manifolds in both areas that are on a time clock to fill the waterers. I would sure appreciate any advice, expert or otherwise.

Max

My eye Your eye

We had a Professional Photographer show up at our door a couple of months ago who offered her services in return for room & board.

She set out to document a day at the Fruity Chicken Orchard. This was in mid February and we were putting our last couple of trees in the ground.

I have always appreciated good tools but never viewed them as part of an interesting composition, although I’m sure the Kool Krew were convinced they were the main focus.

Who would have guessed that something as routine as staking and painting tree trunks could look so interesting.

Usually it’s just me working on my little project, a camera shows up and my nephew suddenly becomes helpful.

  

My Sister Lorri has a definite gift for finding the beauty in everything and capturing it on film.

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