Monthly Archives: April 2013

Lessons Learned?

My wife met this really nice guy named Orlando when she was looking for someone to tile our house a couple of years ago. Orlando doesn’t actually do much of the work personally he is more of a facilitator/translator for talented craftsmen in the Mexican-American community here. Everyone he has brought over to do work for us has been in the country legally, highly experienced, and doing side work to keep their family afloat while waiting for “the big jobs” to get going again. Orlando and a nice young guy named Benny had been busting out the floor in the bathrooms at the Clayton Annex when my sweety Karen asked him if he could poor a new porch slab in front of the house at The Fruity Chicken. To look at the job we had to go through the gate I cut in the fence between the two properties and right into my Orchard/Garden/Chicken Yard complex, as soon as Orlando stepped through he placed his hands over his heart and in an emotional voice “This reminds me of home, it is just like Mexico!” Whereas Orlando’s sincerity touched me, My sweety went right on the offensive and hissed in my ear “see I told you that you needed to clean this place up!” That incident made me realize that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, where Orlando saw something that reminded him of his semi agrarian upbringing in Mexico, and I see the miracle of sustainability and productivity in the making, Karen sees the weeds, cardboard, tools, loose straw, wood chips, and various other clutter. All three of us were looking at the same thing but from different perspectives and there was truth in what each of us saw. When my oldest son, Michael, married his beautiful bride, Erin, the officiant was an amazing man who is a Benedictine Monk. The order he belongs to, The White Robed Monks of St. Benedict, preach or maybe more correctly live a philosophy of nonduality. In a nutshell nonduality is the concept that things may seem distinct while not being separate. A small part of my weekend I devoted to embracing this concept I find fascinating and applying it to the differing perspectives Karen and I have of my little piece of Heaven.

My new tomato trellis

My new tomato trellis

 

The legs were rusted off just enough on one end to make it set level

The legs were rusted off just enough on one end to make it set level

While I’m sure most people will only see a creative use for an old swing set, I see a feature that just might make my one true angel want to spend a little more time in my little piece of Heaven. Karen had stopped us from throwing this out so that we could “do something in the garden” with it. She had even mentioned using it as a trellis, but it wasn’t until I really thought about how she sees our garden that things clicked. No matter what my vision was all Karen was seeing was my mess. I know I refer to The Fruity Chicken possessively but I truly want it to be “our” place and it made me feel good to see the twinkle in Karen’s eye when I showed her the new trellis.

 

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Fruits of my Labor

Today was a big day, I harvested and consumed the very first fruit ever from my orchard!

Mulberries fresh from the tree!

Mulberries fresh from the tree!

We had a big wind storm last night and this morning I found several ripe mulberries on the ground around my trees. This weekend I had noticed one or two were starting to turn colors but not on the tree I found these under. All total I found a good handful under the 2 trees outside the chicken run. They were very sweet but lacked any sense of tartness. Not exactly what I was expecting but very good for my first mulberries ever.

These were hidden in my #1 raised bed.

These were hidden in my #1 raised bed.

Sunday I had chopped and dropped all the cover crop/weeds in my #1 half-assed hugel bed, under all that muck I discovered 3 strawberry plants doing well with ripe fruit on them. The strawberries were a bit tart but balanced out well with the sweet mulberries.

I think we are up to a dozen now!

I think we are up to a dozen now!

Silkie Chickens

Momma sure makes it hard to get an accurate count.

While they aren’t technically “fruits” and I didn’t experience “labor” in their creation these little puff balls are definitely another milestone for my little endeavor. They are the first chicks produced by my girls without any outside assistance. I love my fluffy butts that are hatched out in my incubator but there is just something magical about these little puff balls.

 

 

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Woo-Hoo!!! My Silkies are Broody and My Sweety ain’t!

Nobody likes to brood on things and it sure ain’t pleasant when someone you love gets that way but when it’s your Silkie Hens that are broody it’s GREAT!!

This was a couple weeks ago. They had been laying in the container I put in as windbreak rather than the nest box.

This was a couple of weeks ago. They had been laying in the container I put in as wind break rather than the nest box. You can just see the second hens face peeking out behind the other girl.

This Mornings discovery!
This Mornings discovery!

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This is my buddy Mark, he is always broody.

This is my buddy Mark, he is always broody.

As of this evening 4 chicks had hatched out, all of them have 5 toes and black skin so they are probably from the pure silkie and not from the mixed hen with the red comb. This is my first batch that have hatched out under a broody hen and it is taking all of my willpower not to scoop them up and put them in the brooder.

 

Karen was worried that Gooey wasn't eating enough Hay........

Karen was worried that Gooey wasn’t eating enough Hay……..

 

Easy fix,just put the hay on the other side of the fence!

Easy fix,just put the hay on the other side of the fence!

 

 

 

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Comfrey Fermentation

My next venture into Korean Natural Farming techniques is FPJ aka Fermented Plant Juice. Comfrey01 Comfrey02 Comfrey03 Comfrey04 Comfrey05 Comfrey06 Comfrey

The Comfrey I got from Coe’s Comfrey last fall are really doing well this year. In fact I should have paid more attention to where I had planted it, apparently I missed some when transplanting them out before tilling the area for the first of my new 4’x12′ beds and now there are little comfrey plants coming up all over. Those little plants are going to be allowed to get a little bigger before they get potted up and either transplanted or given to one of the Master Gardeners at the UNCE orchard. Comfrey Comfrey09

The first harvest of leaves resulted in a 1 gallon bucketful weighing a pound and a half. Four days later you can’t even tell anything was cut from the plants, this stuff grows like mad and thrives on high nitrogen sources like raw chicken manure and straight urine! Comfrey11Comfrey12

After mixing/macerating the comfrey at a rate of 2/1 with brown sugar the volume was greatly reduced. Comfrey14 Comfrey13

Four days later and the mix has started to funk up a bit but hasn’t gotten stinky….yet. Comfrey15

While not strictly according to the procedure laid out by Bryan McGrath in this excellent FPJ outline:  I added 3 cups of  dechlorinated water because it seemed like the right thing to do. At this point my Comfrey concoction smells sorta like canned spinach.

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Then it was back into my newest hidey-hole to ferment until next weekend. If my brew starts developing the dreaded hydrogen-sulfide rotten egg smell it’s going to have to move up to the orchard to escape detection by my sweety Karen.

 

 

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New and old beds

Last year I decided to redo the raised beds that run between my orchard rows. I now have two 4’x12′ beds along with my three original 4’x4′ ones.

4'x12' raised bed between the first 2 rows in my orchard

4’x12′ raised bed between the first 2 rows in my orchard

The bed above was whacked together in late fall/early winter. After filling the bed up with a bunch of stuff I called compost (really just partially decayed wood chips), litter from the hen-house, and some good old poopy dirt from the chicken run I heavily sowed it with oats, barley, and red wheat. The idea being to suck up some of that nitrogen from the raw chicken manure and mellow the bed a bit before spring. Red Wheat is all that came up and then not until about a month and half ago. It is hard to see but there are 5 tomatoes spaced about 18″ apart down the center of the bed with an artichoke anchoring the end in the foreground. Outside of the maters there is some spinach up at the top end with 10 chicory plants below that. My sweety Karen and Lexi picked out the pretty flowers to liven it up a bit and attract bees. Weekly I have been chopping and dropping the wheat forming the basis of a planned heavy mulch layer that should be in place by June.

This raised bed is between rows 2 and 3 in the orchard

This raised bed is between rows 2 and 3 in the orchard

This bed didn’t get setup until a little over a month ago and it shows. The fill is composed mostly of my compost/mulch piles that washed under the oleander during last summers floods. Mixed into this is another big batch of litter from the hen-house made up mostly of partly broken down star and chicken shit. As you can see the bottom end is similar to the previous bed in that there is an artichoke plant but only one tomato. Above that I am trying a “three sisters” planting. Down the center of the bed is a double row of sweet corn with 6″ separation between the rows and seeds spaced 8″ along the 8′ long rows. Six inches outside of the corn on either side is a row of pole beans again spaced 8″ apart but offset 4″ to give a little more room. Finally 6″ outside the beans is a row of yellow and green summer squash spaced 12″ apart. As before the women in my life have claimed the perimeter for “pretty” flowers and herbs. This bed didn’t get any mellowing time and I am beginning to see a bit of chlorosis, probably from the raw wood chips scavenging up the nitrogen. Hopefully an extra spraying of cold processed liquid fish will help get this bed on track.

What a mess!

What a mess!

This was the first bed I put in last year. It has a lot of scrap wood and coffee grounds under the soil(my half-assed attempt at hugelkulture) I’m going to chop and drop all the mess then plant a couple of pumpkins or squash plants and see what happens.

Bed #2 from last year

Bed #2 from last year

It is probably hard to tell but this half-assed hugel bed has already been chopped and dropped from an overwintering of cereal plants. There are four roma tomatoes in here that will be mulched with straw as the get bigger.

Hugel Bed #3

Hugel Bed #3

This final bed is again a sorta kinda hugelkulture bed with scrap wood, wood chips, and coffee covered with a load of compost from the UNCE orchard. It did OK growing broccoli and cabbage over the winter, I am going to chop the rest down and toss it to the chickens then plant peppers in here.

 

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Morning with Gooey

This morning was Gooey’s first in her new home. She spent her first night all by herself in her corral up at The Fruity Chicken. Even though she was very happy to see me she made it clear that she is a big girl now and can handle things on her own!

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Indigenous Organisms in my Chicken Feed

My chickens get a fairly diverse diet. Is that because I’m all into optimum chicken health? or is it that I’m obsessed with maximizing egg production? The answer to both of the above questions is an absolute resounding definite kinda maybe. Yes I care about my chickens health and yes I get bummed on slow egg days but neither of those issues independently drive my choices in feed. I find that as I get older I am becoming more concerned about sustainability. The most fascinating thing I have discovered about sustainability is that it meshes nicely with my deeply ingrained cheapness. The best lesson my Grandpa taught me was it is better to buy a good thing once rather than replace crap constantly. For some reason that lesson transmorphed in my head into a system that classifies things as either things that are “worth it” or “luxury” items that aren’t. Refined processed expensive Lay pellets have found their way into that “luxury” slot in my noggin.

Scratch and Grain Feed fermenting in IMO

Scratch and Grain Feed fermenting in IMO

Scratch and 8% feed grain mix fermenting in Lacto from Braggs vinegar

Scratch and 8% feed grain mix fermenting in Lacto from Braggs vinegar

About 50% of my flocks diet is coming from fermented feed. I have a 35 gallon Rubbermaid garbage can with a tight-fitting lid that gets filled up with whatever falls into my “worth it” slot while wandering the feed store. Currently there is Scratch, a little sweet feed, some 8% Grain Feed mix, and a little whole grain pigeon feed in the can. Sometimes my Sweety, Karen, gives me a bag of parrot food of one kind or another. It doesn’t really matter it just all gets dumped in. My fermenters are two sets of two 5 gallon buckets nested inside of each other. The inner buckets have a butt load of 1/8″ holes drilled all over the sides and bottoms to turn them into large colanders. Each bucket gets loaded with 5 scoops of the custom designed mix in my Rubbermaid garbage can, the scoop I use is that nifty one from Starbucks that I told you al about in my post Starbucks Rewards and the Outriders of the Alien InvasionThe hooch in the buckets never gets dumped out it just gets replenished with dechlorinated water when necessary. The orange bucket was originally inoculated with my homemade IMO and Lacto-Baccillus culture, while the blue bucket was inoculated with Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar which has the “mother” or active Lacto-Bacillus cultures. You can definitely tell that there is difference in the micro-organisms working on the feed in these buckets. The Braggs one has a very strong sourdough smell while the IMO one has a bit of an earthy sweet hint to the strong sour smell. Neither one has an off, bad, or funky smell though. According to my very basic understanding of fermented feed the idea is basically to predigest the feed to make the nutrients more bio-available to your chickens. The blog Scratch Cradle some very informative posts on the science of this process. I have tried fermenting other stuff but always find myself drifting back to whole grains, why? I don’t really know other than that mash and pellets get really gooey. In the winter I do add cooked rice I get from a local Asian restaurant but once it warms up it seems to jump-start the brew a bit much.

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