Friday, November 23, 2012

Crop Circles

It was planting day for the Santa Rosa Plums that I purchased a month or so ago. I've been told that Santa Rosa Plum trees are pretty and they produce prolifically -- especially if they have another plum to cross-pollinate with so I will likely purchase another plum to ensure a very good crop. But, for now, my Santa Rosa's needed to get into the ground. I had gotten a trunk load of cardboard boxes from church. I had thought those would go farther than they ultimately did but that's okay, there is more where they came from.

So, the first order of business was to mow down the weeds. Then, I needed to figure out the center of the circle. I used a fancy tool for measuring out the circle...a metal fence post with a string attached! Quite high-tech, don't you think? Then, I dug a big hole for the plum tree so I could incorporate rabbit manure into the soil that went back in and around the tree. I made sure to create a rim ring around the hole so that water will collect and keep the trees well watered. Over the rim, I laid wet newspaper as a weed barrier. Over that went partly composted rabbit wood chips from Rafael's cage. Then, the real fun began! I laid out cardboard boxes to completely covered the 12 foot circumference of the circle. Until the tree is full grown, I can grow annuals and cover crops into the circle but eventually, that will be shaded out and the plantings will be around the dripline of the tree.

Around the dripline, I intend to plant companion plants that will provide services to the tree and can be used for other purposes as well. Comfrey, an herb with medicinal uses for animals and humans, is also good for chemically repelling grass while also drawing up nutrients from deep underground. Comfrey is also a great compost and mulch plant as well. So, with all that going for it, comfrey is definitely on the list! Allium, chives, daffodils, and other bulbs are pretty grass repellers. Basil attracts pest-eating insects and is both culinary and medicinal. Lemon balm, marigolds, mint, and plantain are attractive and edible pest repellers. Alliums, lupines, and clover are nitrogen fixers. A well planted crop circle using some of each of these companion plants around the plums will make for a very productive and attractive planting! And, since there are three -- that is a LOT of productivity!

This is the beginning of my orchard. I hope to add figs, mulberries, blueberries, and perhaps a peach. I'm feeling a bit adventurous lately and ordered tree SEEDS to try to grow. I purchased:

Common Lilac, syringa vulgaris 100 Seeds
Red Mulberry, morus rubra 100 Seeds
Black Mulberry, morus nigra 100 Seeds
Silk Tree, albizia julibrissin 25 Seeds
Cornelian Cherry Dogwood, cornus mas 10 Seeds
Blood Twig Dogwood, cornus sanguinea 25 Seeds 

The mulberries will go in the "orchard" in a crop circle or two. The others, and perhaps some of the mulberries, will go as part of the boundary hedgerow I'm still trying to develop. The hedgerow had originally been envisioned as a single-plant-hedgerow (rosa rugosas) but those are taking longer to establish than advertized so I'm adding other plants. I'm also going to try my hand at propagating cuttings from Mother's gardenia and azalea bushes to add to the hedgerow and other areas in need of coverage. 

Slowly but surely we are making progress.  I am feeling more optimistic about seeing my plans come alive. It seems to have taken a long time and there is so much still to do and time to allow things to grow but if optimism is a fertilizer of hopes and dreams to bring them to life then I think we are going to see great things in 2013! We might not be there yet, but we are definitely making headway!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Farm Girl is Getting Things Done

Chicken coop and one sideyard.
 The chicken coop is finally DONE! Well, 99.9% done. I will be adding some more PVC panels on the side as I remove them from the old chicken tractor but the roof is done and the chickens are safe and comfortable. So, I count it as done!

The chicken coop is 6'7"X5'X5'5" and it has two yards running along two lengths of the dogyard which is 18' square. The coop is framed out with wood and chicken wire. The roof is green PVC panels. The inside walls are covered with feed bags (tyvek) with two of the walls (the two leading to the yards) only half solid so that the chickens and I can get in and out. The yard in the picture is covered over most of it's length with a chicken wire "roof" and the end near the gate with PVC rope zizzagged. The yard on the other side is protected from the top with more PVC rope zigzagged and woven. The covering is to keep hawks and muscovies out and the chickens in. The first few nights the chickens were in their new housing, they did find a way out -- I never figured out how, I just would find them roosting on the dogyard fence and have to put them back. They seem to have stopped that now.
Happy Chickens!
 As this picture shows, the hens are happy! Two bales of wheat straw I'd salvaged to use as mulch started sprouting so I put them in the chicken yard. The hens are happy as can be with that! They also received a big chunk of pumpkin and pumpkin seeds. I purchased the pumpkin from Holden Brothers Produce market for $3! I'll be getting more next week.

I know some of you are thinking that the chicken coop is not very secure against raccoons, possums, and such nor very warm for the chickens. To the first concern I say this -- I can not build Fort Knox. I read of so many folks trying to build an enclosure totally secure from predators. Such efforts have mixed results and cost tons of money. From my limited experience, neighbor dogs and hawks are my two main predators and this coop protects against both. I may find that I have problems with raccoons, possums, or snakes but I hope not. I don't see how I could entirely protect against them anyway. Now, as for the second concern -- no this coop is not an airtight, fully insulated Taj Mahal. Chickens don't need all that. They need to be out of the rain and strong winds. The rest their feathers and metabolism will take care of. Airtight coops which are all the rage with backyard chicken keepers allow ammonia and other fumes to build up which harms the chickens' lungs. So, the intention with this design is to allow my chickens to be healthier and more robust than more pampered chickens. Time will tell if I'm right as this is all a learning process.

View of dogyard & chicken yard
Oh, the blue tarp is there to keep the dogs from terrorizing the chickens. We are also teaching the dogs not to bark at them. They are actually learning to watch and not bark. The chickens watch the dogs, too! Just this morning, I went outside to discover a pow wow going on involving the dogs, the chickens, and the ducks. They had all gathered near each other and appeared to be communicating some plan or other. None are talking so I don't know what they were cooking up but apparently the rabbits were not invited as the powwow took place on the opposite side from the rabbitry!

We are hoping to fence in the remaining backyard this winter so that mother can just let the dogs in and out from the back door rather than taking them by leash to the dogyard. With her physical limitations, this process is becoming more and more dangerous. I got a good deal on 13 4x4x10 posts and now I just need the fence wire or other material for the fence. Once the backyard is fenced, the dogyard can be converted to other uses. Ideas for it include raising meat chickens or raising Nigerian dwarf goats in it. We go back and forth on the goat idea. The main sticking point is whether we want to be having to milk goats twice a day everyday year around. Probably for next year at least, it will be used to raise meat chickens. The goats are definitely further into the future than 2013.

So, with the chickens finally settled, it's on to the next set of projects. I have a never ending list of projects, one of which is some upgrades to the rabbitry. The upgrades for the rabbitry include changing out the cage supports. Currently the cages are set on sections of fence wire but this is not a good solution. For one, the wire stretches causing sag and shaking. I'm going to use some of the PVC pipe I have in abundance at the moment and make supports for the cages. The other thing I want to do if figure out a way to secure the plastic used to protect them from rain in such a way that it isn't constantly flying up and over the top. I have a few ideas to try on that front.

The other rabbit project I have brewing is to set up a system to grow fodder for the rabbits. Basically, growing wheatgrass and barleygrass for them. This is another project where I'll be using my supply of PVC pipe. I've been reading a lot about the benefits of fodder and there are youtube videos about the process. After much searching, I finally found a source for feed grade wheat. Once I have that, I can begin. They say that there is a 1:15+ ratio when growing fodder -- 15 or more pounds of fodder results from every pound of grain. Now, that is a great way to stretch the feed dollar while simultaneously providing even better nutrition! More on this in future blog entries!

I also have the beginnings of an orchard to plant, the Back-to-Eden garden project continues, and I want to try my hand at propagating the gardenia and azalea bushes. I ordered a bunch of tree seeds to try to grow -- lilacs, dogwoods, mulberries, and "silk trees" (aka momosas). Someone on the organic homesteading list is offering sunchokes for sale and I want to get those as well. And, my seed list for next year is growing by the day! I am so praying for a great year for the homestead in 2013!