Tag Archives: Orchard

Fall Fun?

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The days are finally cooling off a bit and it is back to being pleasurable working in the garden. It is so pleasing to see that the girls are finally getting back to business after 3 floods and a molt.

Todays Haul

It had gotten to where I was lucky to get 2 or 3 eggs a day and now I’m back up to averaging 7 or 8. Last week on craigslist I found a 10’x10′ chain link dog kennel for a very good price that only got better when I picked it up and found that it was brand new! Maybe tomorrow I will start on separating my Chicken Run into three sections. The plan is to have a central area with the Coop, Duck Pond, Feeders, and Waterers with a large foraging section on either side. What I am envisioning is the flock only having access to one flanking section at a time while the unoccupied section has some type of pasture recovering/growing in it.

Pumpkin Patch?

Will they eat it?

Today I started cleaning up the tangled mess of Pumpkin vines between the Orchard rows. In the Upper picture you can see that I found quite a few pumpkins that the girls are sure to like come winter. The Comfrey that I planted earlier in the year is doing quite well and I even found a Swiss Chard plant that I had forgotten still plugging along.

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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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Barney(s), Comfrey, and Mullberry’s

My Barney hatching went off OK I guess. A 25% hatch rate ain’t great but at least I got 4 cute little Barnevelder chicks in the brooder. WOW that sucks! I just went in to take a picture of my 4 Barney’s and noticed that two of them are having leg issues. 😦 Karen and I just put hobbles on them but I don’t have very big expectations, I tried this once before and all it did was delay the inevitable.

You can see the one in the foreground that is rocked back on his bum, him and the one behind him are the two having issues. They were fine yesterday, I wonder if I am doing something wrong during incubation? Karen thinks maybe the flock they came from is inbred? If you have any ideas let me know!

Tomorrow I am going to plant my two Mulberry trees, one positioned on the west end of my orchard to provide shade from our brutal afternoon sun. The other I am going to plant just on the outside of the Chicken run so that eventually its canopy will overhang the run to provide some shade and drop fruit into the run. Both trees need a little trimming so I bought some rooting hormone and am going to try propagating a couple new trees. While I’m at it I am going to cut a stalk from my Timber Bamboo and try potting up several cuttings to see if I can get the start of a windbreak going.

The 4 comfrey plants are going to be planted in my orchard, two at the head of the lanes between the first two rows. I think I am going to put the last two at the bottom of the center two lanes where the ground dips a bit causing the area to be a little moister than the rest. I’m not quite sure on that though, the idea of putting in a fourth 4’x4′ raised bed keeps popping back up in my head so we’ll see.

Lastly I am struggling with an egg eater(s), I have isolated the likely culprits but my egg production hasn’t gone back up. Before putting them in quarantine I would find 4 or 5 broken eggs a day now I’m not finding any broken eggs or shell remnants but am only finding 1 or 2 eggs daily.

If you have any advice I could sure use it on any of these issues.

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A Day at The Fair

Karen and I are spending the day running her booth at Everybody’s Bird Mart at the L.A. County Fairgrounds in Pomona CA.

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We came down Friday evening and spent the day Saturday picking up supplies both that Karen needs for her business and for her booth at the bird mart. She probably thinks I haven’t noticed but she is employing her infamous “carrot & stick” tactics.

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After getting all of her running finished we went by Holt Garden Center in Chino, CA where she found me 2 nice Pakistani Mulberry Trees and 4 Comfrey Plants. The Mulberry’s are going on the west end of my orchard where they will serve many purposes. Being a rapid growing tree they should start providing afternoon relief from the brutal summer sun by next year, their long fruiting period (2 months) should distract the wild birds from the other fruit in my orchard, Karen loves he taste of mulberries and is looking forward to making jam, and finally the my chickens are gonna love foraging under them!
The guys at Holt Garden Center knew exactly what Comfrey was and had a bunch of it! The owner is Korean and apparently it is very popular in oriental herbal medicine. So now I have four big plants to put between the rows of my orchard, hopefully they will grow as well as sources on the Internet claim. Comfrey is a ” bio-accumulator” that accumulate’s nutrients and minerals in the soil that may not be readily available to other plants because of other factors such as alkalinity and through composting converts them to more usable forms. In addition it is supposed to grow very fast and chickens love the greens.

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To much shit goin on so here’s a recap of my greywater system.

I am jonesing a bit because I’m going to be tied up most of the day this Saturday which is going to severely impede on my weekly dose of chicken and orchard communing. Rather than breaking my cycle of blogging I have put together this recap of what I have accomplished so far on the Orchard side.

I have a 1/2 acre lot on the East side of the Las Vegas Valley (Nevada), water is expensive here so the previous owner just turned off the irrigation system about 6 years ago, since acquiring the property about 3 years ago I have been exploring different ways to utilize the land, cut down on dust, and not bankrupt myself with water bills.

For various reasons I kept coming back to fruit trees. A little research led me to a system of high density orchard keeping called “backyard orchard culture” and low and behold the University of Nevada has an experimental orchard here that has been testing those practices in our valley since 1995! That was huge, now I knew it could be done and more importantly what to do do and what not to do.
I put my orchard in 4 N-S rows 9′ apart. The 2 Eastern most rows have 7 trees each spaced 4′ apart and the 2 western most rows have 4 trees each again spaced 4′ apart.

Now comes the Greywater part. I’m cheap and hate wasting anything so I got to thinking about greywater, my laundry area is on the back porch and had been just dumping in the backyard because I hadn’t tied it into the septic system yet. I had to install a surge tank which collects the water from the washing machine and allows it to be released in a slightly slower manner into the drip system.

 

The drip system came from Irrigray and is designed to handle greywater, it came  with a filter, 5/8″ poly distribution line, and 150′ of 1/2″ dripperline with 4 gallon per hour drippers built into it every 12″. My orchard area has a slight N-S fall to it so I ran the dripperline 1′ north of each line of trees, these lines are run E-W and therefore end up being spaced 4′ apart.

To cover the drip lines I hauled in enough ground up tree trimmings from the tree service companies to cover the entire orchard area to a depth of 6″. The system has been operating now for 4 months. I can go anywhere in the orchard and pull back the mulch, even dead center between twosets of lines, and the soil is moist and full of worms. The filter is a 400 micron filter and it is claimed you only need to clean it twice a year, I have cleaned it twice now and neither time did it need it.
I am currently using ECO brand laundry detergent, it is supposed to be Bio-Compatible rather than Bio-Degradable. From what I have read the difference between the terms is that bio-degradable just means that the substance will break down into it’s component parts,whatever they are, when exposed to the elements and bio-compatible breaks down into environmentally friendly components. The main reason though that I chose this brand as opposed to Oasis, which is the main one you find recommended on the web, is that my local Costco carries it.

Isn’t that a nice picture? This is a view looking down into my surge tank, on the right you can see the black ABS drain pipe coming from the washing machine. The white 3/4″ PVC just below the drain pipe is connected to an automatic sprinkler valve. My son, who lives in the house at The Fruity Chicken, currently doesn’t do enough laundry to supply the water needs of the orchard. Rather than install a parallel irrigation system I ran this line to supplement the greywater, currently this valve is set to run for 2 minutes once a day.

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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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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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