Sunday, October 30, 2011

Misadventures and Chicken Tractors

Best laid plans of mice and men or so they say. What we plan and what actually happens are often two very different things. When life and people do not work according to plan, plans get seriously messed up! And, so it has been here at the homestead. It seems that each time I adjust the plans for the behaviors and doings of people or conditions, something or someone else comes in and twists it all up yet again. At moments, I want to just give up and go hide in my room. But, I can't do that. I have to keep trying. And, sometimes, better ideas come of it.

The Fall Garden as conceptualized in my head was quite a bit different from what actually happening. The actual Fall planting is a simple garden of mustard greens (smooth leaf, as according to everyone in these parts it's the only type worth growing), kale, spinach, and collards. They went into the ground rather late but I'm hoping we'll enjoy some greens this winter anyway. Hope was that after getting this little bit planted, we'd have time to determine a site for the perennial vegetable beds (asparagus, etc) and get those "beds" heavily mulched and doing their magic for a Spring planting. I also wanted to get some clover planted to cover all the bare soil. Did I mention that nothing is going quite to plan?

I got a call from the Backdoor Neighbor announcing that he was going to be planting 20 blueberry bushes along his border, effectively nixing my garden plans by putting conventionally raised blueberries right at our boundary. While giving me a bit of an upset, a new plan has arisen from it that will be quite beautiful. It will have to wait until the Spring after the Fall Garden is done. Then, we will create a berm-and-swale along the border with ornamental trees, bushes, and grasses along the berm. The swale will serve to hold water after a rain allowing it to be absorbed into the ground rather than run off. The berm and it's plantings will serve as an attractive barrier between his conventional gardening and my organic gardening. It also will give me an area to satisfy Mother's craving for ornamental trees and bushes. Theoretically, this all fits within the principles of Permaculture I talked about previously. Or, so I tell myself so I can feel better about this twisted dizzy road I seem to be on.

Chickens. Chickens were supposed to be here this past Spring. I should have been enjoying their services in the garden for months now. But, for various reasons the coop and the chickens have been delayed. But, that might turn out to not be such a bad thing. Various thoughts and opinions and ideas have been considered and tossed around. Each with their benefits and drawbacks. From the beginning what I really wanted was a chicken tractor -- a portable chicken coop with attached run. But, because Mother was not yet on board with that idea, some form of stationary coop was going to be built. But wasn't. Which turns out to be a good thing as I have since been able to convince Mother that a Chicken Dome is both attractive and has more benefits than drawbacks. Square and rectangle tractors are probably easier to build, perhaps cheaper, but for about $200 we can have a large Dome.

Why a tractor and why a dome? Well, with a chicken tractor, you move the chickens around on a daily or other set schedule so they have fresh graze and leave their fertilizer around instead of all piled up and stinky at the coop. It is better than true free range because the chickens are protected from predators and I get to place them where I want them rather than them just going wherever and possibly eating seedlings they shouldn't be eating. The dome is aesthetically more pleasing and being made from PVC means it is very light and easy to move around.  There is a youtube video of a tractor a man built that has plastic panels enclosing one side forming a shelted roosting area. I like that much better than the tarp-over-the-top idea.

I got the replacement plants from Direct Gardening so we had a lot of holes to dig yesterday. They made a mistake and set me a Hazelnut instead of a lilac but that is fine with me. That got planted up front at a corner of the property. I planted 6 rugosas, two pawpaws, 4 Hansen's bush cherries, and 6 dwarf cherry bushes. The cherry bushes were planted along the back border. The only thing not yet planted was the forsythias. I haven't quite figured out where I want to plant them. I can't plant them where I originally wanted them due to changes in property lines and the new plan for the berm/swale. Need to figure out where to put them and get them planted this week.

We also had a miracle come our way -- or coming our way. A retired Methodist preacher is going to build us a storage shed in exchange for the old camper. I've learned my lesson -- this time, I get the building before I give up the camper! Once burned, twice shy.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Plant Inventory October 9 2011

Backwoodsjon of Organic Homestead Gardening fame challenged us last week to take a plant inventory of our homestead. He suggested we tally all the permanent plants (trees, bushes, perennials) we have. Even though I had a good idea of what I had, I thought it was a good exercise and a good chance to go out and take measurements to form a more accurate map of the property. This is important for making plans for future plantings and for knowing what food producing plants I have. While I was walking around, I also took note of a few plants I did know names for that are "volunteers" (aka weeds) with potential value.

Here is the result of my walk about yesterday:

Pecans (6) --ranging in size from sapling to old ancient
Oaks (4)
Holly (1)
dogwoods (3)
pine (former "living Christmas tree") (1)
crape myrtle (1)
camellia (1) --largest one I've ever seen...very happy near the septic tank!
Wild Cherry (3 or 4)
pawpaws (2 -did not come out of dormancy, will be receiving replacements)
Japanese Tulip (1)

hydrangea (6)
Azaleas (4)
orleander (1) --highly poisonous! Keep away from animals and humans...Mother loves their flowers
thyme (1)
holly (must be removed--pretty bush in a bad location)
boxwood (1)
old-fashioned rose (it is looking better already after pruning off the dead wood. Will do more when it goes dormant.)
Hansen cherry (1 -awaiting a replacement for the other 4 that did not survive)
forsythia (1 -awaiting a replacement for the other 3 that did not survive)
lilac (1 -awaiting a replacement for the other that did not survive)
rugosa roses (10 -awaiting a replacement for the other 12 that did not survive)

day lilies (lots)
lily (type unknown) (1) --needs to be transplanted as it is lost amongst the hydrangea
hosta (1) --needs to be transplanted as it is lost amongst the hydrangea
Cannas (lots)
pampas grass (being eradicated)
Carolina Willow (1)
purslane (hoping it survived the unexpected plowing)

evening primrose (ditto) 
Red Wood Sorrel (Oxalis rubra)
Smartweed/knotweed ..Persicaria maculate (Lady's Thumb)…

Phyllanthus urinaria, called "Chamber Bitter", which is in the spurge family
Stachys floridana, called "Florida Betony" or "Rattlesnake Weed"

Heliotropium amplexicaule
Diodia virginiana

I had hoped to order blueberries and a few other fruit trees this Fall but with having to pay for a lawyer to get the boundary line question resolved and deed filing costs, that may not happen.

Son and I have a saying now, "the vision in our head is wonderful, it's the accomplishing of it that isn't so simple." But, while we may be be there yet, we are not's just taking more time than we wish it would.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Deer Apples and Homestead Animals

Mother has been wanting to make and can apple sauce. She's been waiting with baited breath for the mountain apples to arrive at Holden Brothers. And, they have arrived...a variety of delicious apples all from the North Carolina Mountains. A box of them would be around $30. Not bad. But, not great. Then, I saw the sign that said "Deer Apples $10 per box". Deer apples?  We located the owner and she gave a few bewildering answers and then finally something that made sense--apples that have bruises. Ah, perfect! A mixed box of apples that are perfectly good with exception of a bruise or two. No problem. Now, mother can work on making apple sauce.

In my last post, I discussed some of the permaculture principles I want to incorporate into my little homestead. One of the cornerstones of my overall vision is livestock. Before we lost a chunk of our property, I had hoped to include dairy goats, miniatures, in the plan. But, with less space and after considering all the new factors we are dealing with, I've decided goats aren't a good choice for the Not Quite There Yet Homestead. Instead, we will focus on chickens, ducks, and rabbits.

Chickens: This is the quintessential first livestock accquisition for homesteaders. In fact, there may be a rule that one can not call oneself a homesteader without a few of these running around. If such a rule exists, we aren't officially a homestead yet. The chicken coop we had hoped to have this past Spring appears to have taken a wrong turn at the Green Swamp and gotten lost. Fortunately, our friend Captain Jeff does more than just take care of yachts, he also has chickens and shares the eggs they produce. I can't wait to have some cochins and some EasterEggers running around and laying brown and green and blue eggs. But, it isn't the color of the eggs that make chickens the first choice of permaculturist homesteaders. Chickens provide several benefits: eggs, meat, manure, pest control, turning compost, and entertainment. As long as you don't have a rooster, you shouldn't have issues with the neighbors.

Ducks: I've gone back and forth on whether to get ducks or not. They are messy and some breeds are noisy. And, I've never eaten duck. But, muscovies do offer benefits to the homestead: they make good weeders for the garden, eat their weight in mosquitoes and will also eat slugs and mice and even small snakes. Their meat is said to be of the taste and quality of grass-fed beef and leaner than other duck meat. They are also quite prolific which means you can raise enough for the freezer and have some to sell. I already have interested clients and I don't even have ducks yet! Muscovies are much quieter than other ducks, don't need ponds, and don't require much housing beyond a simple doghouse style shed to retreat into when foul weather arrives. I definitely want muscovies! (But, every homesteader has they duck breed that they feel particularly passionate about. They should be a duck for you if you look around.)

Rabbits: Another excellent livestock choice for the small homestead. A small breeding herd can produce a good amount of meat as well as the best most coveted manure with the exception of worm castings. And, if you put a vermiculture box under the rabbit cages, you will have black gold to enrich your gardens or sell at ridiculous prices to the rose growers in your area. You can also opt for a breed that produces wool and have yet another income stream or product for your homestead. I could go two different directions with breed choice: New Zealand or Silver Fox. New Zealands are plentiful and easy to get at cheap prices. Silver Fox is neither plentiful, easy to get, or cheap. But, Silver Fox is an endangered breed, is stunningly beautiful, and very efficient at creating meat. If I decide I want to get involved in going to breed shows, or simply want to raise meat with a rabbit that is docile and beautiful, it makes sense to go to the trouble of getting Silver Fox breeding stock. I'm definitely leaning in that direction.

These three choices of livestock serves the purpose of providing three sources of meat, two sources of manure, two sources of pest control, one source of weeding, two or more income stream options, and three sources of entertainment. While I will buy feed, the chickens and ducks will supplement through foraging and all three can help consume excess produce. This makes them excellent choices for a permaculture plan and for self-sufficiency in general.  All we need now is the required shelter...we just aren't quite there yet with the shelter. God will provide.