Monthly Archives: August 2012

Wipe the slate clean!

OK not quite but sorta. Last week 2 things conspired to try to wipe the slate clean at my orchard/garden/chicken ranch.

  1. Mother Nature decided to toss a whompin thunderstorm at the East side of the valley
  2. Somebodies palm frond decided to plug up the brand spankin new storm drain just uphill from me

The Chickens are bouncing back nicely, I never did find my two Barnevelder babies but all of the others are present and accounted for.

A couple Black Copper Marans Roosters trying to figure who is the boss of the Juvenile Pen

The adolescent Golden Cuckoo Marans Rooster staking out his claim in the coop

Little Chickadee Alexa posing like a dork, oops I mean stork

The dominant Black Copper Marans Rooster tending to his girls

Karen had some of the perimeter fencing repaired which has freed up some chain-link gates that I am now planning how to use to divide my chicken run into three separate “paddocks”.The chicken run is approximately 15’x 55′, bouncing around in my noggin currently is a central 15’x15′ enclosure encompassing the coop with a 15’x20′ yard to either side. A Mulberry tree planted in the center of each of the three enclosures would provide shade & food in the summer along with leaves for the compost pile in the fall. We’ll see how those ideas develop, there is a lot of time for modifications as it is still to hot and humid to start on any major projects.

The Orchard came through fine, the flood waters beat up the trees a bit but didn’t rip any out and they don’t seem to be suffering from being waterlogged. Of the 7 comfrey plants I set out along the chicken-run fence only two have sprouted, there was a third before the flood but I can’t find any trace of it now. This whole area was mulched 6″ deep, it is back to bare soil now, just to the right of that bunch of what I think is Milo in the center of the picture was a good sized clump of comfrey that pulled a disappearing act like the one by the chicken-run. As soon as I harvest a couple watermelons and pumpkins that are hiding back under those leaves this area is going to cleared. If you look closely you can see a rebar stake on either side of the picture about the center up & down, they are 10′ apart and define the tree rows of my orchard. You can sorta see to the left lower center area of the picture how the soil looks kinda damp, this is a week after the flood and that section hasn’t dried out. Coincidentally I lost all of the trees on this end of the orchard to what I believe was wet feet. I’m not ambitious enough to haul in enough soil to raise the entire end but I am going to build 3’x3′ raised beds for each of the trees that will be planted this winter and a 2’x 16′ raised bed running down the center of that 10′ wide lane between the trees. I plan on hanging the “boxes” from 3′ T fencing posts driven in at each corner and then filling the raised beds with compost, sand, and native yucky clay soil. There will still be some fall from the North to the South end of the orchard but not as much which should  allow for better drainage. Rather than filling in the area between the “hanging” beds with soil I’m going to fill it in with mulch to create a large sheet composting system which over time will create a great area for the roots of my fruit trees to expand into.I’ve found over the years that if you just sit down and chill out for a bit you can usually turn most anything around. This flood that seemed so horrible last week is the spark that got my fire going for the fall season to come! A couple more weeks of yucky heat to research and refine my plans and I’ll hit the ground running and come next summer have an even better Orchard/Garden/Chicken Ranch. Who knows I might even find time to figure out a way to divert next monsoon seasons storm water!


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What a great common sense post.

The Great Flood of 012 or Chickens can float……can’t they?

I shoulda known somethin was wrong when I pulled up to feed the chickens and Oddie was hangin out on the roof. It’s not that it’s hard to get on the roof, there’s a deck up there with a set of stairs for access. It’s just that I’ve never seen Oddie up there before. By the way Oddie is my sons formerly chicken eating dog that always reminded me of this famous movie star:I’ve been expecting him to talk any day now for years and I swear if he tells me to kill someone Oddie’s goin to the pound and I’m checkin myself into the looney bin PRONTO! As an aside isn’t Summer of Sam a great movie? such a vivid depiction of the sheltered life of a group of people who think their living in the center of the world…..or not. So Oddie seeking high ground should have been a clue but as usual I was clueless.

As I was leaving I snapped a couple shots to send my good buddy from BostonMark.The first picture is from the front porch showing a modest amount of water flowing in the driveway from the street. The second picture ironically shows the area where public works installed a new storm drain this past year to stop my little piece of Heaven from flooding. At the time I took the picture water was flowing down the drain and everything seemed wet but OK. About an hour later I got a panicked call from my son Thomas that the house was flooding! This was as I was trying to get the Union Hall’s computer system back online after a lengthy power outage. The brand new storm drain inlet is right next to that power pole. Those gates were tie-wired shut.The view out the back of the house, My orchard/chicken corral is to the right of this picture.The irrigation system has been shut off, I don’t think my garden will need much water for a day or two.It was amazing how forceful the water coming through was.Notice the Georgia Buggy? it can be seen earlier in this post in the picture from the front porch. Alexa, Shanda, and Thomas were out in this mess trying to create a makeshift dam to slow down the water and rescuing chickens.

As you can see we have quite a mess to clean up. Those logs piled out on the street came from clear back by the jeep, they were washed down the driveway, out the gate, and into the culvert next door. The old saying about mad as a wet hen is absolutely false! My poor girls were just plain miserable, the only ones having fun were the ducks. Except for Chuck the ducken who was hangin out with his hatch mates bein miserable in the coop. The BCM roo on the roof got there when Thomas grabbed him from the storm surge as he floated by and tossed him up there for safe keeping. I honestly don’t know yet who else got swept away, I couldn’t find my 2 little Barney’s and the 3 little ones Karen had brought home from escondido were so wet and cold I thought I lost them. A couple hours in the brooder though and their doin fine.



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You make me spin right round baby

During an early morning web-crawl I stumbled upon an interesting post over at about SPIN farming that intrigued me. I began researching and became even more interested and as usual my head is now “spinning” with ideas for my Orchard/Garden/Chicken Corral. On first read the concept seemed to be a strange marriage of Square Foot gardening and Multi-level marketing.

I first became enamored with square foot gardening back in the 90’s when we would spend as much of the summer as we could in our R/V next to the beach in Oceanside CA. San Diego’s public television station had Mel’s show on everyday during the week and it just made so much sense. I couldn’t wait to get the book and have since given several friends copies of the square foot gardening book whenever the discussion came up about growing vegetables. It was familiarity with square foot gardening’s simple common sense approach to backyard gardening that made Dave Wilson’s Back Yard Orchard Culture ideas so attractive when I discovered them last summer.

Am I planning on becoming a locally sourced produce entrepreneur? I don’t think so. It isn’t the marketing/business model of SPIN that I am interested in. From what I have read so far Small Plot INtensive gardening is the exact same concept as Square Foot gardening but with an added marketing component, my garden/chicken farm is relaxation/therapy for me. Growing stuff and tending my chooks helps refocus me and keep me going in a positive direction, it most certainly is work but it isn’t a job!

The part that grabbed my attention though is the suggested bed configuration of relatively long narrow beds that you can easily step across and straddle. Currently I have my sunken beds and my Half-Assed Hugelkulture beds between the rows of trees in my orchard. The orchard is laid out with with four rows 9′ apart with the trees spaced 4′ apart within those four rows. My sunken beds are 6′ long and positioned in between the trees in the first three rows. Basically: Emerald Beauty/bed/Gold Kist/bed/Splash ; Santa Rosa/bed/Royal Rosa/bed/Dapple Dandy ; Flavor Grenade/bed/Blenheim/bed/Mid Pride ; Flavor King/bed/Flavor Delight/bed/Arctic Star. My three Half-Assed Hugelkulture beds are in between the last two rows of trees. The Half-Assed Hugelkulture beds are going to stay where they are and in fact as soon as the weather breaks I am going to add a fourth bed in between those last two rows of trees. All of them are 4’x4′ straight out of Square Foot Gardening, I am comfortable with that configuration and think that I will have plenty of room around them for the tree branches. The Sunken Beds are another matter, their E-W orientation in line with the trees is a bit confining and I am finding it a bit difficult to work in them. Truthfully it has become an overgrown mess. I’m thinking that if the existing Sunken Beds were replaced with a single 2′ wide by 12′ long bed run N-S between each of the first three rows of trees I would have much better access while at the same time reducing competition for nutrients. Additionally I lost several trees this year due to wet feet, this new configuration would increase the distance between the beds and trees reducing the possibility of over-irrigation.

Last night I was thinking about how I had things all mapped out in my head in regards to garden projects for the fall, now one little blurb I read on the internet has turned my head upside down. All of those well thought out plans have rolled away across the tile floor leaving a big vacancy for new ideas!

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When does then become now and vise-versa?

When your putting a little bit into a project on a regular basis you can lose track of progress. I lost a hen last night, not to anything scary or alarming, she fell into the duck pond and drowned simple as that. I’m not sure how she joined my little circus but I do know that she contributed in her own way and now there’s room for more. That’s what struck me when I found her this morning, six months ago losing a hen would piss me off! Thomas, the devious son, and I had a major rupture in our relationship over a chicken killing dog. That episode finally drove it into my thick head that animals are gonna behave like animals whether they are pets or livestock. We as their keepers have a responsibility to take care of them. The reality of that episode was that I wasn’t being a responsible chicken keeper by letting them free range on a 1/2 acre sub-urban lot, and Thomas wasn’t being fair to Michone (his Husky puppy) by just letting her run free on that same lot. We both blamed each other and felt as if the other had let us down but the truth was that we had both failed in our responsibilities to our animals. The hen I lost last night was an accident, nothing more, it was not a judgement on my skills and the realization that losing livestock to accidents is part of having livestock is something that I needed to learn.

The following pictures are from earlier this year when the trees were just going in and it was all one big space with chickens and ducks running everywhere. I thought I had everything all figured out and it was gonna run like clockwork.



Then came the itch of all of that nice ground between my fruit trees. From somewhere the idea for sunken beds came along, which eventually morphed into half-assed huglekulture beds. My head is filled even more now with ideas to squeeze even more outta my little 1/8 of an acre.



Things started greening up, more ideas formed and then surprises started showing up. Low and Behold maybe some of this stuff is gonna work! And most of all it feels good doing it, even on a miserable monsoony 114 degree August afternoon, I look forward to working in my orchard/chicken corral/garden.



I’ve come to realize that old ideas inspire new ideas and working through a problem really does require work. But the fruits of that labor, be it a fence that helps create harmony with your son, goofy nest boxes and separation that bring eggs to the table, or patience that helps develop a new friendship, is what life is really all about.



And then their are Black Copper Marans Roosters! Is anybody looking for one? or maybe 2 or 3?












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Does this look like a Cock to you?

The flock at the FruityChicken has really expanded but my ID skills, whether related to breed or sex, hasn’t improved much. So I am forced to rely on the kindness of strangers.1.  I know this one is a Golden Cuckoo Marans and am pretty sure it is a Pullet


2. This one is a Backyard Bastard and has very cute white earlobes and a blue tail


3. My Sweety, Karen, got this one down in Escondido. It was listed as a “fancy” pullet.


4. Another one of those “fancy” pullets from Escondido


5. Ignoring the EE in the middle I think the two black ones are Black Copper Marans pullets


6. A closeup of one of the suspected Black Copper Marans pullets.


7. This is another Golden Cuckoo Marans that I believe is a Cockerel


8. In this group shot I think I have starting at 12 o’clock a BCM pullet, 2 GCM pullets at 1, a White Cochin pullet at 5, GCM roo at 6, and finally a Buff Cochin pullet at the 9 o’clock position.

If there’s any chicken experts reading this please let me know what you think, If your not an expert your comments are welcome also!

P.S. Ain’t I got a pretty bunch of chooks?

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Starbucks Rewards and the Outriders of the Alien Invasion

The goal this weekend was to get the Comfrey plants in the ground, if they showed up that is.My nephew Steven called Friday to see if he could come over and hangout, the term “slave” instantly popped into my head. Steven is 15 and a great guy, he is a born cat person and loves to come over to play with Annabelle, Lola, Oscar, and sometimes even the devil incarnate Salem. His motivation this time was that I had posted some new pictures of Tri-pod on Facebook, commenting on how far he has come in 3 months. Tri-pod does come out from under the bed regularly now but his trust is centered mostly around me. He came out and let Steven pet him but only for a few minutes at a time. With me Tri-pod will come out and sit on my lap for quite a while making a general nuisance of himself by trying to swat my fingers while typing my blog posts. Now all I have to do is figure out how to broker a peace treaty between Annabelle and Tri-pod, the office had always been Annabelle’s domain and she is very bitchy about somebody else taking over her territory. The other cats come in the office, munch on Tri-pods food, use his litter box and just kinda hang out, Annabelle though goes into attack mode whenever Tri-pod shows his face. Hopefully I’ll figure out some way to ease this situation but I’m fresh outta ideas, if anyone has advice it would sure be appreciated.

Steven “volunteered” Saturday morning to help out at the Orchard. After going to breakfast with Sweety #1 & #2 we didn’t get a very early start. By the time we made it to the Orchard it was 10am and extremely hot & humid. We did get the seed for my custom fermenting mix and the GP poultry pellets unloaded and stored in the coop. Screening the compost didn’t work out so well and we moved on to the hole portion of the “fertile holes” I needed for my Comfrey. After 3 holes we both cried UNCLE and cleaned up and headed out. Usually I slip Steven $10 or so for helping out, work kept calling and I got distracted and forgot. Hopefully seeing as how he is 15, just got his learners permit and I let him drive my Jeep we may be even.

Tom over at Coes Comfrey exceeded my expectations! When I got home there was a nice little box waiting with 12 healthy looking comfrey plants inside along with a very informative planting and use guide. I had tried sending Tom several e-mails and had convinced myself he was like everyone else and out of stock for the season, not so! Tom means it when he says he prefers doing business by phone, his number is 828-321-4913 and he is a great guy to talk to. A bit of cloud cover crept into the valley during the afternoon so I ran back up to the Orchard and finished digging holes. Seven plants are going in along the fence that separates the chicken run from the orchard area with the remaining five going into my sunken beds interspersed between the fruit trees. The plants are spaced about 3′ apart along the fence and the plan is to put mulberry trees or some kind of chicken friendly shrub between each comfrey plant. What the hell is a chicken friendly shrub? something that produces leaves or fruit that my chickens can eat. Do you have any suggestions? The plants need to be somewhat drought and heat tolerant but other than that I am wide open to suggestions.

This mornings efforts focused on the fertile part of fertile holes. Before leaving last night I had filled all seven holes with water so that I wouldn’t have dry thirsty ground sucking all of the moisture away from my new plants. Then 5# of used coffee grounds from Starbucks went into each hole along with another filling of H2O. While emptying Starbucks bags I found another of their secret prizes! A couple of months ago I found a nifty stainless frothing cup in a bag of grounds that my middle son Thomas stole. Yeah I know he looks like a “Pretty Boy” but if you look closely at his eyes you can see a spark of deviousness. Until today I had thought this find was just a random occurrence precipitated by poor employee motivation at a particular Starbucks, but then third bag in this morning I find another heavy duty frothing mug! This is no coincidence caused by lazy employees. Obviously Starbucks has instituted some sort of “Starbucks Rewards” program for their eco-minded customers. I thoroughly searched Starbucks Rewards website and can find no mention of this innovative and intriguing program. The program must have been inspired by the “secret menu” at In-n-Out Burger. Let me know if you’re one of the lucky recipients of a Starbucks Rewards frothing mug and please keep this on the QT, we don’t want those not in the know running out and grabbing up all of those valuable grounds just trying to get one!

After the coffee grounds-slurry was in the holes I filled them up with a mixture of the unscreened compost, that I had let the chickens scratch through last night, and bagged cow manure from the home store. I do plan on developing a supply chain for manure in my local area but I aint quite there yet. After mixing well, the resultant slop made an excellent medium to plant my new Comfrey crowns into. All that is left is to extend my Greywater irrigation system down to that area. I think that project is going to wait for fall though, the combination of Vegas heat and Monsoon humidity is stifling. Overall this has been a productive weekend and who knows if the clouds roll in the work may not be finished. I would like to get my middle half-assed-hugel bed surrounded by fencing to keep the pigeons out.

By the way does anyone know an effective way to keep them demon spawned outriders of the alien invasion out of your garden?


This last picture is an update. When I removed my Starbucks Rewards frothing mug from the dishwasher I noticed a very disturbing thing: They personalized it! My name is embossed in high relief on both sides of the spout. How did they accomplish this remarkable feat of personalized marketing? I am confused and if truth be told just a little spooked!


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Hurray the work weeks over! Now let’s get to work.


The soil at my Orchard site is terrible, rocky, alkaline, and mostly clay. A big part of my efforts are towards soil improvement, from the mulch bed covering the entire area to the sub-surface greywater system that keeps the soil/mulch interface moist. Thinking about it almost all of my current efforts are going towards that goal. Reading the-real-bounty-of-the-coop on the excellent blog Northwest Edible Life made me realize how valuable that messy chicken run is. I practice the deep litter method in my 8’x10′ chicken coop, hold on a sec, doesn’t “deep litter method” sound awfully snooty? You can read all 33 pages of that article I linked to on BYC but in reality the “method” is all about lazy, but it works! If you keep a 6″ + deep bed of wood chips, pine shavings, or what have you in your coop it absorbs the moisture from the poop and helps keep the smell down. In addition it starts breaking down and really fires off when put in a compost pile. My coop sits up on 4×4 skids and the chickens slowly kick the shredded tree service mulch out under the walls, so about once a month I rake all of the stuff up outta the run area, toss it in my composter, and liberally wet it all down with duck pond water. Tomorrow is time to haul one bin’s worth out of the run and pile it up to mellow for a bit in the orchard area, turn the other bin into the now empty bin, then refill that bin with the scmutz from the run. I was thinking of using that batch of compost for my other task on schedule for tomorrow but I think I’m going to save it for my new half-assed hugelkulure bed that will be on the work ticket in a month or so.

Comfrey…..that is the focus of this weekends second project. Simpleunhookedliving along with Milkwood have both recently had excellent blog posts about Comfrey that are well worth the read.

This is one of the 4 plants my Sweety, Karen, got me from the Korean nursery in Pomona. I have no idea what variety they are but I do know that they are growing like mad and my chickens love the leaves. I searched all over the web for more and finally found some being sold by a true believer at Coes Comfrey. Coes site is a wealth of information and the owner, Tom, is an incredibly interesting guy to talk to. Tom prefers doing business by phone 828-321-4913 which is kinda ironic because his website is really well done. I ended up ordering 10 one year old plants that should be here saturday or monday at the latest. Thats where the work comes in, Tom recommends planting Comfrey in “fertile holes”, basically a 2′ diameter hole as deep as you can dig it, he even suggested using a post hole digger to let the tap root get off to a good start. I got too many rocks to get to deep but I am going to do my best and backfill the holes with steer manure and chicken poop. Everything I have read says that Comfrey can handle very potent fertilizer without burning, this includes fresh chicken manure and straight urine and I’m gonna find out. I have been “watering” my other Comfrey plants whenever the need arises and they are doing great.

What’s all this Comfrey for?

  • Chicken Feed: This stuff is very high in protein and my girls love it
  • Compost: It is also very high in nitrogen and low in fiber and is supposed to make a great activator for your pile
  • Mulch: Comfrey is a bio-accumulator and through it’s tap root mines nutrients and minerals from down deep
  • Fertilizer: When packed in 5 gallon buckets and allowed to break down for a month or so crates a nasty goo that when cut with water is supposed to be a great organic fertilizer

So hopefully with the help of my nephew Steven I’ll get a lot accomplished and have some nice pictures to post on here Sunday!

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