Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Chicken tractor

We went to the flea market aka The Dog 'n' Gun in early May and I bought 16 chicks from a hatchery there, 7 Barred Rocks and 9 Rhode Island Reds. At first we had to keep them in a box in the house because it was still a little too cold outside for them. During the day we put them in the coldframe where I'd started many of my vegetable plants.

That seemed to keep them warm enough. Usually people keep chicks in a brooder and try to maintain a temperature of about 85-90 degrees for the first couple weeks of their lives. The brooder has a heat lamp in it much like the kind they use to keep fast food hot. The lamp takes the place of a hen who would, under more natural conditions or in the old days, keep the chicks warm. I would love to have a hen to sit on the chicks but "broody hens" are hard to come by these days apparently. Heat lamps have taken their place for the sake of convenience and mass production and broodiness has been bred out of most breeds because it is not desirable in the world of mass-produced eggs. Anyway, since those lamps use at least 500 watts of power I had to find an alternative. I just kept them in a box with a compact flourescent lamp in it. They stayed at around 80 degrees in the box at night and though they huddled together under the lamp, they made it through just fine at that temp.

Eventually they grew more feathers and were insulated enough to be outside in the chicken tractor all night. The nighttime temperatures eventually warmed enough for them to be fine outside. Now they are close to their adult size and have been in the tractor out to the vineyard for about a month. So far I've had no problems with predators, which was my main worry. The chickens are still making chick sounds and the roosters have yet to crow, but I expect they will start sounding like chickens soon. They are doing a great job of fertilizing the vineyard. At first I was feeding them chick starter, which is prepared food, but now I've switched them over to local organic grains, like barley, corn, and flax. They love the clover I planted in the vineyard rows and can't wait to get into the fresh pasture each time I move the tractor.

Last week I was able to work more on the soffit on Wisteria Lodge and finally finished it. That meant I could finish the arbor on the front of the house. Mary Beth came up with a design for the cross pieces and I installed them, so now the arbor is done. Just in time too, because the wisteria vine is rapidly making its way up the arbor post. It still has about a foot and a half before it reaches the cross pieces.

The garden is mostly planted. I got the ok to rent additional garden space on the south side of Skyhouse garden and with the hard work of my work exchanger Charles, we have sheet mulched, fenced, and planted almost the entire new space already. Sheet mulching allows you to quickly create a garden without having to till up the soil. You just mow the wild plants, cover the ground with cardboard, and put straw mulch on top. To plant, you just cut a hole in the cardboard and drop your plant in. The space went from a wild field to a garden in a very short time. The space had actually been someone's garden in the past, but hadn't been tended for several years. I decided to put the tomatoes, squash, cukes, and beans there because they are easier to plant in a sheet mulched garden.

We've been harvesting tons of strawberries lately. The small beds we have just keep producing. We've made jam, syrup, and strawberry ice cream. The ice cream was really good because Mary Beth used only cream to make it. It was a hit with everyone here and was quickly eaten. We are probably going to make strawberry wine with the next harvest.

Another crop we've been enjoying lately is salad greens. It's nice to have fresh local veggies again. Soon we will be adding other veggies and herbs to our diet.

Mary Beth created an herb spiral in the garden recently. She'd been inspired by the herb spiral we saw at the Hostel in the Forest. Hers looks really good now, and the many herbs she's planted are taking hold well. Rosemary, lemon grass, nasturtium, oregano, marjoram, creeping thyme, parsley, cilantro, chamomile, thai basil, sweet basil, and epazote, a mexican herb much like oregano used to flavor beans. We'll be doing a lot of drying of herbs so we can use them year round.

The vineyard is growing like crazy in this rain we've been getting. Some vines are already almost 6 feet tall, which is as tall as I want their main trunks to be.

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