Chicken Adventures and Building Beds…Again

I’ve got a post already queued up for Thursday and I don’t really want to push this one off until next week, so have an extra post this week. And it would appear I have a lot to say…who knew?

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Last week, the babies had their first outdoor, out of the run adventure (please excuse the mess). They’re still not all that confident about being out of the house, but they seemed to think scratching around all the way outside was fun…for about 30 minutes. The first time. The last couple of times I’ve tried to let them out, they come out of the run for about 10 minutes and then hurry back to the house. I’m hoping this is an age thing (they’re still really young) or an availability of food thing (there’s not really anything growing right now). The temperature has been significantly lower than it was the first time they went out too, which probably has an impact.

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The other news that I thought I might as well share while I’m writing a post is that we redesigned the beds on the driveway yet again. Seems to be another post I didn’t write (building them the first time). Remember I said Michael Judd was at the conference this year, talking about swales? Tony and I didn’t agree about the design for them in the front yard, but our idea for this part of the yard was pretty much the same, so we thought we’d start here and see how things went. Between Judd’s presentation and his book (we bought a copy while we were there), we built the A-frame for finding/measuring the slope and got to work.

To summarize, there are ditches between the beds. The dirt from those ditches is tossed onto the beds to raise them and the ditches are filled with mulch. That mulch is the path to walk on and he claims that in 18 months, that mulch is ready to be used as compost (dug out and tossed on the beds). He’s a permaculture guy, so he likes to put mushrooms in the compost to get more production out. As an aside, “permaculture” means a lot of things, so there’s no good single summary, but his focus for the talks I attended was “stacking functions”…putting more production in one space, as long as it’s complimentary. Back to mushrooms: they are not only edible, but also help the mulch decompose. We didn’t inoculate the mulch with spawn for two reasons:

  • the mulch we used was too old (he said no older than 6 months, ideally…ours was 12-24 months old)
  • we don’t have spawn

If it looks like we’ll have new enough mulch next time, we might see about getting some spawn. To get back on topic, this design is supposed to help catch rainwater and sink it into the ground (the ditches) and help keep the plants from getting too soggy, while taking advantage of the collected water (the raised beds).

It took all weekend to build the part we got done. We want to finish going around the tree at the bottom of the hill, but we ran out of time. We didn’t go all the way across/between the trees because Tony has perennials there and we’re not sure where they are. We may or may not go back and dig that part out…I’m leaning toward not just because of all the roots.

This garden needs a lot of help, drainage- and nutrition-wise, so I’ll give it a couple of years to not work before I give up on this new idea. It seems like it should work since you’re composting right there and tossing all of that decomposed matter onto the beds to give the plants something to work with. If nothing else, it’s more attractive than trying to force squared-off beds to try to fit into that kind of roundish shape.

The Rooster Learns to Crow

George II (Tony’s name, I’m not convinced yet) is trying to crow already. The first several times, I thought he was “Hawk!”-ing, but it turns out, that’s not what he was doing. Have a laugh or two. You’ll have to go to Photobucket to watch the video, unfortunately (WordPress doesn’t let me embed video).

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(I’m not sure what the deal is with the picture…sorry) In other news, I’m speculating that we may have far more males that we had planned on. One of the Rhode Island reds looks like a male (to me), one of the buff Orpingtons looks like it might not be a hen, and one of the Wyandottes looks suspiciously male. We’re coming up on the time period when it’s supposed to be clear (and when we can get money back for the ones that turn out to not be female). Looks like we’ll have some more fresh chicken in our freezer. I thought I wrote about culling the chickens before the wedding last year, but I can’t find it.

In my search, I discovered that I never actually talked about building the doors for the nest boxes. The short version is that I put two pieces of plywood side-by-side in a track. I haven’t used it since the chickens aren’t laying yet, but it keeps the amount of space required for the nest boxes down and it seems like it will be pretty easy to use. We’ll see what actually happens. Even if it doesn’t work, obviously, it’s accessible from the chicken side of the shed. There’ll be a post about that next week.

2017 VABF Conference

The VABF conference has become a tradition for me. I’ve asked Tony every year if he wanted to/would be willing to go with me. Every year, he says he doesn’t have time. This year, it was at The Homestead, a place Tony has wanted to go for a few years, so he made time this year.

The drive out was beautiful. The snow from a couple of weeks ago was still on the ground and part of the drive was right on a river. I tried to get Tony to take some pictures, but he didn’t understand what I wanted (his words, not mine), so no pictures.

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The hotel itself was a huge disappointment. The beds were horrible, the climate control was really noisy and didn’t seem to be super effective. It actually made me think of the casinos in Las Vegas – worn out and forgotten (sorry for the broken image links in that post…with Picasa dead, I have no idea how to fix it). Not that  there weren’t pretty spots, but overall, it just felt sad.

The first session I attended was a talk by Meredith Leigh (author of The Big Food Talk). The most useful thing about this session was that she put up numbers for growing pigs (who ever talks about pigs?!). I had my numbers on my computer, so I pulled them up while she was talking. Although she’s from North Carolina and her numbers are probably a little different from mine, my numbers were nearly identical to hers, so it’s nice to know that I didn’t have a huge amount of waste. It felt like her talk was mostly, “Stop beating yourselves up for not producing exactly by your values…you can work into it.” Which was nice, but not terribly informative. While I was in that talk, Tony was in a talk about plants for increasing biological diversity. He said it was a good talk and it made him a little more forgiving (I think) of the piles of brush, logs, and other “unsightly” things in view of the house. A bonus in my opinion. We haven’t talked as much about that as one of the sessions we attended together (I’ll get to that in a minute).

For the second session, I went to Meredith Leigh’s second talk (mostly because nothing else seemed more interesting). It was another hand-wavy talk that didn’t offer much that I felt like I could take advantage of. Tony worked on his own work during this session.

The third session was a talk by Michael Judd about growing a food forest. I had forgotten I’d seen one of his presentations two years ago, but it didn’t take long for things to start sounding pretty familiar. Turns out, I went to one of his talks in 2015 and that’s what started me thinking that I wanted to put an orchard in the circle. The nice thing about his talk was that it was very applicable: “If you want to do this, here’s a way to start…then play with it.” So not only was it concrete steps to get started, but also a reminder that your farm/garden/homestead is a pretty personal thing and the way you do things is also personal. Anyway, his two talks (I went to his other talk on Wednesday) were my favorite of the conference.

While I was listening to the food forest talk, Tony went to listen to Free Union Grass Farm talk about their meat poultry production. It sounds like it was a really good talk with good ideas. They’re on a bigger scale than we are, but some of their ideas (using electric to deter bears) are still useful for us.

The last session of the day (Tony and I went together) was Mark Jones from Sharondale Farm talking about growing mushrooms. Between not eating well (the food for the conference lacked staying power the first day) and doing a lot more hard thinking than usual (brains require energy too, not just bodies), I was wiped out. I don’t really remember his talk all that well. There were a lot of things he talked about that seemed like fun to try, but it turns out our wood is too old to use for mushrooms. While we can’t use any of our ideas right now, there are a few trees we talked about taking out to make just a little more light here or there and we’re wondering if those might be good mushroom media.

Wednesday’s first session was surprisingly good. I wasn’t excited about any of the sessions, but I’d gone to a class Ellen Polishuk taught in town and really liked her style. So, I went to her session. And it was really good. She talked about the physical, chemical, and biological components of soil. The really nice thing was, even though it was really sciencey, it was also really useful. She talked about what nutrient levels she targets in her soil tests (but she also emphasized that a soil test is a tool and not a goal).

Tony and I went Michael Judd’s “Harvesting Rain” class Wednesday before lunch. The one I originally planned to go to was full by the time I got there, so I bailed on that and joined Tony. There was some overlap from the session I went to on Tuesday, but there was a lot of new material too. The thing Tony got the most excited about was the idea of building swales in our yard. I thought it was a cool idea too, but we haven’t yet agreed on how we want to do it.

The last session I went to was called “Making Your Farm into a Business” by Rob Lisenby, who sells herdshares. I was expecting something pretty different from what I got. It was the end of the day and I hadn’t slept well the night before, so I really wasn’t into the presentation. The description made it sound more applied than it turned out to be. There was some practical stuff at the beginning (make sure you eat meals, make sure you rest), but there was a lot of, “I really like this business podcast, you should try it.” Not that that sort of thing isn’t useful, but between being tired and surprised by the content, I was disappointed.

After the conference, we were supposed to stay an extra night at The Homestead, but neither of us slept well the two nights we’d already stayed, so we bailed on the final night we were supposed to be there. They were nice enough to not charge us for the night we didn’t stay. I suppose I should make sure to say that all of the employees were really great. They were always friendly and helpful.

If you’re still here and not bored, I’d like to revisit one of the comments I made last year. The USDA processor talk ended up being hugely helpful. It gave me more confidence when it was time to take the pigs and it gave me some ideas to discuss with Dad about farmers he knows and how they do things. So while it didn’t seem useful at the time, I think that might have been the most immediately useful session I attended last year.