Posts Tagged ‘compost’

Cleaning day

June 16, 2009

Today was the day to clean out the brooder and the movable coop. I haven’t cleaned out the movable coop at all yet, so it wasn’t pretty. However, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been since the Big Chickens have been free-ranging and pooping elsewhere (though my back porch has seen better, less smelly days!). The part of the movable coop where the Big Chickens roost at night is covered in hardware cloth. So this helps a bit with the mess as some of it falls through. The brooder has the same kind of bottom, with bedding on top. I don’t bother with bedding for the movable coop because the Big Chickens are really only in there at night to roost and for a while in the morning while they wait for us to wake up and let them out.

So anyway, the cleaning involves these steps:

  • Move stuff out of the garage so that I can then move the brooder out of the garage,
  • Enlist Tom’s help (usually Tim, but he is out of town) to move the brooder out of the garage, near the movable coop,
  • Have the kids help get the chicks out of the brooder and into the movable coop,
  • Call Aidan over to fend off the Big Chickens, who are wondering what those little punk ass chicks are doing in THEIR coop,
  • Keep putting chicks into movable coop, while telling Mo to be careful with the chicks and yelling for Aidan to come guard the chicks,
  • Let the Big Roosters go in to check things out, while holding a kid’s sized ho in my hand to shoo them out if necessary,
  • Shoo out Chicken Joe because he pecked at a chick,
  • Hurry up and finish moving chicks so I can clean out the brooder,
  • Used big metal dust pan to clean out brooder and put droppings and bedding into a bucket to take to compost pile,
  • Turn brooder completely over to dump it all out,
  • Start cleaning the movable coop out, while Mo plays with the chicks in the run part of the movable coop,
  • Take a break because the sun finally came out and now it is humid AND hot instead of humid and pleasant,
  • Go back out and move the chicks from the movable coop back to their brooder (minus bedding so they can eat some grass),
  • Clean out the movable coop a little more and then put down fresh bedding (forget what I said earlier, bedding will be good),
  • Put water and feed back in brooder
  • Fill up water dish and feed in movable coop
  • Put brooder back in the garage
  • Fill feed troughs and water for chicks

OK, so that is done for a while. It is by far the worst part of having chickens, but on the whole I’d say it isn’t much worse than cleaning a cat box. The coop cleaning is once or twice a year and nasty, but the cat box is ongoing and easy.


I’d rather be gardening

May 30, 2009

I never have enough time to work in the garden, it seems. I think we only stayed home one day this past week. Unfortunately I was not feeling particularly energetic that day. It didn’t much matter because I couldn’t mow because of the rain and couldn’t work in the garden because we hadn’t been to the nursery to get plants, compost, and vermiculite. Now it is Saturday and I didn’t get as much done as I had hoped. I think that is probably how spring is. It’s been so long since we had a real spring (spring in Phoenix is subtle and doesn’t last long) that I have forgotten.

I weeded a bit and am grateful that I haven’t had to do more. I think the square foot/raised bed gardening works well at keeping weeds away. I have had some problems with grass growing, but mostly along the edges and the corners. The Pie Bed (rhubarb, strawberries, and blueberries) has had the most grass growing in it. I did not dig in that bed, and then I added turned over sod on top of the partially dying grass. However, even that bed did not have a lot of grass. Soon I will probably be pulling out saplings since the cottonwoods are doing their cottonwood thing. It’s really cool and looks like it is snowing. The muddy areas on either side of the driveway looked like they were covered in snow. 

The Herb Bed is beautiful and mostly full. It has three squares of dill, four squares each of oregano and parsley, one square of chives, and three squares of cilantro. The final square was a dill transplant that I started from seed, but it didn’t survive. I have more basil to transplant, as well as some lavender, mint, and rosemary. I will grow the mint and rosemary in containers so that I can contain the mint and bring the rosemary in during the winter. 

The tilled area of the garden is doing OK. The bad news about the tilled area is that the grass is starting to grow back in places. The good news is that the soil is still nice and loose, so it’s quite easy to pull or rake the grass out of the soil. I spent some time making more mounds for the corn, beans, and squash (Three Sisters) so that I can plant some more. Some of the corn is about 4 inches tall, which means it is time to plant the beans and squash, according to Renee’s Garden, which is the plan I am using. You can do the Three Sisters in a square foot garden, too. Since we have plenty of room I figured I would used the tilled area instead of using more wood to make the boxes. 

I posted a few pictures of the garden on the May 2009 page, where you can also read my incredibly detailed garden notes if you are so inclined. I’m not sure it makes very interesting reading, but it will prove useful next spring, I’m sure!

Gardening with chickens

May 6, 2009

Yesterday I planted peas. Yes, I realize I could have planted them weeks ago, but I was waiting for the tilling and needed to make a box, etc. So yesterday I finally made the 1′ X 4′ box for them, dug up the sod, added rotting leaves, compost, and potting soil, and newspaper, in that order. That’s not exactly lasagna gardening (or read this if your attention span or time is short), but I think it’s pretty close. It’s not exactly the mix Mel recommends in his square foot gardening books, either. He says to mix compost, peat moss, and coarse vermiculite in equal parts, but I don’t want to use peat moss because it is usually shipped from far away. However, I did read in Mother Earth News that you can substitute leaf mold for peat moss, so that’s part of why I used the decaying leaves from behind the garage (I was pretty excited to find that stash of leaves when we were mowing!). I suppose if I can find coarse vermiculite anywhere, I will try Mel’s mix. I must admit I’m having fun experimenting. Every bed is different, some dug and some not, some with the sod turned over, some with potting soil and compost, and now one with leaves, compost, and potting soil in layers. It will be interesting to see how things will work out. I think I will try the lasagna type method again, but without digging up sod.

As far as the peas go, I will need to make a trellis, of course, but that requires another trip to the hardware or lumber store, which we might do today since Tim has a day off. I’m not sure if we want to use metal in the form of electrical conduit, as Mel recommends in the All New Square Foot Gardening book or just wood. Wood would be cheaper, but I’m not sure it would last as long or be quite as sturdy. So I will have to think on that for a bit to decide what to do for all the vertical plants.

Oh, and I didn’t mow yesterday as I intended. Instead, I had to go to town to buy more cat food, pick up a prescription, and have lunch with Tim. The lunch was optional, of course, but it got the kids out of the house more than cat food or a prescription would have. So I spent the rest of the day working on the garden. Oh, and trying to keep the kids away from the kittens. Mama Cat has brought the kittens to the back porch, or maybe they came on their own. They have a place to sleep there and are getting used to us. I find it amazing they are used to us because Moira and Aidan want to carry them around, put them in the basket of my bike, take them down to the creek for adventures, and put them in hamster cages. I can understand their excitement about the kittens because they are, well, kittens! They are cute and fuzzy and playful (I can see my grandpa rolling his eyes about now and telling me I should just drown a few of them in the creek!), which makes it hard for the kids to contain their excitement. I am having a hard time getting the kids to understand that they are babies and that they do not want to go for a bike ride and they don’t want to be in a cage, nor do they want to tap dance or be stilt walkers, which involves the kids holding up their front paws to make them dance or walk around. I also reminded them that the kittens do not want to be far from their mama and that we are pretty much cage free around here. Even the chickens get to run around now and then as long as they are supervised to protect them from the outdoor cats.

Anyway, it is time to go out to the garden and do some work of some kind. I know the chickens will be happy to be out in the garden area. They are keeping the weeds down, and yesterday when I was digging up the sod for the peas, I found a bunch of red ants. I am happy to report that the chickens loved the red ants. The chickens did make it hard to do much digging, since every time I went to a spot to dig they would come running over to see what delicacy they could eat next. Digging while the chickens were out took longer, but it was a lot more fun.

Garden Experiments

April 28, 2009

I’ve been doing daily updates on the Garden in Progress page, but it’s time for a longer post about the goings on in my garden. Our original plan was to get the garden area tilled, then fence it in to protect it from deer, rabbits, raccoons, and all the other critters that live in the woods right by our house. The tilling has not been possible due to rain and mud, so perhaps this year we will skip the tilling after all. I am really waffling on the issue of tilling, but the weather might be the deciding factor. If we end up not tilling, then we will still spend money on compost and soil. However, if the raised beds do well, then we will be set for next year. We’ll just have to add compost, which we are in the process of making, and mulch and rotate crops next spring, I think.

While waiting for the tilling, I’ve been experimenting with killing grass. I have three 4′ X 4′ garden frames built and they are all out in the garden. For Experiment 1, I put newspaper on the bottom to try to kill the grass. I was too impatient and went ahead and put some potting soil and compost in the frame. I finished marking off the grids with nails and yarn, just like I did with the bed where I dug up the sod. In the middle of the last week I planted two squares, one with spinach and one with cosmic purple carrots. Then on April 25, I planted two more squares of carrots and yesterday (April 27) I planted another square of spinach and two squares of romaine lettuce with radishes in the corners. So I have 7 squares planted in that one, and will probably transplant the broccoli to the top/north most facing row.

For Experiment 2, I put down cardboard instead of newspaper, mostly because I had cardboard and didn’t have any more newspaper. The grass is dying, but not as quickly as I would like (did I mention I get impatient?). I don’t really want to put soil and compost over the cardboard. I know it will decompose eventually, but not nearly as quickly as the newspaper will. I think I will take the dug out sod from Experiment 3 (see below) and put it on the bottom, then add compost and potting soil to finish it off. That bed is too close to the others to do any vertical crops, so I think I will plant my herbs in that bed.

Experiment 3 isn’t really an experiment anymore. I dug out the sod and poured soil and compost in the frame and already planted. This is the first bed I planted and happens to be the north most one, though eventually I will have other beds north of this one. So, I will be calling it Bed 1. Here are some pictures of the progression of this bed:

Partly dug up sod

Partly dug up sod

Garden helper

Garden helper

Partly filled raised garden bed

Partly filled raised garden bed

Filled with potting soil and compost

Filled with potting soil and compost

Grids marked with yarn

Grids marked with yarn

Bed 1 (Experiment 3) fully planted

Bed 1 (Experiment 3) fully planted

This last picture was taken on April 22. Since then, bibb lettuce, radishes, spinach, parsnips, and leaf lettuce, and onions have started sprouting. It’s quite exciting. To the left of the picture (which is the north side and what I think of as the top) are the broccoli transplants that Scott the Farmer gave us and helped us transplant. We planted onion sets in each corner of the broccoli squares. The column to the right of the broccoli is where we transplanted some leaf lettuce and bibb lettuce, with some onion sets in the middle. The next column is kind of a mixture, with two squares of bibb lettuce seeds, with radishes in the corners. Then there is a square of spinach and a square with two celery transplants and some onion sets (not sure how many since the kids were helping!). The column all the way to the left (or what I think of as the bottom row) is leeks, carrots, parsnips, and onion sets. Those squares are not quite a full square foot, so instead of planting 16 of each vegetable, I only planted 12.

So far, no bunnies or deer have bothered this one, but I need to make a cover for it. There’s a quick and easy plan in All New Square Foot Gardening, so I just need to sit down with the book in front of me and try to build. Eventually I will have to use the saw myself, despite my fear of cutting off my fingers. So the next step is to build a cover (UPDATED to say this is done and there is a picture here) for the beds planted, build more frames and trellises for the vertical plants, and get an area ready for the corn, beans, and squash. I’m not going to make frames for those because that seems like a waste of wood. I will, however, try to make a raised area for it.

In a related note, I was doing some research on herbs in the square foot garden and I came upon this site, which I’ve added to my links. In particular, the page about plant spacing and herbs in the square foot garden were very useful. There’s a lot of other really good information, but I leave it to you to explore that page on your own.

No tilling?

April 11, 2009

Our neighbor, Jeff, recommended that we talk to a local nursery about having them come till our garden plot. He said they have a reverse tine tiller which is supposed to get the sod up better. Well, we talked to them about how much it would cost and all that, then finally decided to do it. I let them know and now we are waiting (I’m waiting patiently, Tim not so patiently) for them to call to tell us when they are coming out to till.

In the meantime, we have only built one box for the garden. It’s 4 feet by 4 feet (that’s 1.2 some meters, for you metric users) and is made out of 1″ by 6″ boards. I want to make a bunch more of these, as well as some 1 foot by 4 foot boxes for vertical crops, but we just haven’t had time between building the movable coop, Tim working, and my unwillingness to use a saw. I’m afraid I would cut my fingers off!

So we are waiting for time and tilling. But, now I’m reading more about no till gardening and rethinking the tilling. Here are some of the things I’ve been reading that are making me rethink the tilling:

Raised Bed Trials at From Dirt to Dinner.

Raised Vegetable Garden at No Dig Gardens.

No-till Gardening

No till and raised beds boost yields

No till gardening feeds the soil

No till gardening beds save water and labor

Now, I already knew that tilling isn’t always good. It does break up the soil, but it also exposes anaerobic bacteria to oxygen, thus killing them. Also, what about the worms that are already there? Wouldn’t tilling kill them? It seems like it would, and everyone knows worms are good for the soil. I have been thinking about tilling for a while, but was just too lazy to do the research, I guess. Our neighbor recommended the reverse tine tiller and I figured that was a good idea. Also, in the square foot gardening book I have, he mentions tilling, though I did wonder why you would need to till if you are adding your own soil anyway. Heck, even Mother Earth News recommends tilling eventually.

So I’m thinking maybe we will take the box we built out to the garden area and then lay some cardboard, newspaper, or whatever we can find down and see if it kills the grass. Then we will add soil, compost, leaves. Or something like that! I need to read and think about it more and see what we can find. We don’t have any compost of our own yet, so we might have to buy some. I was thinking of asking the diner in town (the small town near us, not the big town) if they would give me their vegetable trimmings and eggshells to use for compost. As far as mulch, we have an abundance of leaves since we have woods all around us. Also, I do recall reading somewhere that hair trimmings work well as mulch, but of course I can’t remember where I read that. I will ask Marvin, our barber, if I can have the hair trimmings from his shop. I bet he will think I’m weird, but heck it’s free and all I have to do is pick them up.

Is it Spring yet?

March 16, 2009

That’s what Aidan keeps asking me. Is it spring yet? The poor kid is so confused because it’s really that between time, between winter and spring. I keep telling him it’s like they are dueling it out. Of course, he is also asking because we have said all winter about all the things we will do in spring: get chicks, start a garden, build a train building/green house/play house, etc. So he is anxious to start all those things and so am I!

It’s easy to think spring is finally here. The weather is nice and the forecast is for 50 degrees or higher for the next 10 days. We’ve also been doing spring-like activities. I have pulled up some weeds already and am clearing out one of the planter areas to put in flowers, and I have flower seeds started indoors already. I also bought a bunch of vegetable seeds. I considered not buying them and trying to stick to heirloom seeds, but I have to admit I’m just not ready for that. I’ve never really gardened, so it’s all new to me. I figure we’ll start with regular seeds, grow them as organically as we can and then see what comes next spring (or even this fall if we manage to build a greenhouse this summer).

We also bought some hardware cloth to secure the coop and to build a compost area. I made a call to a nursery up the road that our neighbor told us about. Apparently they have some kind of reverse tiller that will be good to get the sod up and start a garden. Our neighbor used Roundup and waited a year, but we don’t want to wait or use Roundup! Tomorrow I think we will put up some marks for the garden, both to figure out for sure where it will be and how big it will be.

Right now I have some unexpected time to myself at home and if I just close my eyes and listen, I hear the following: insects, woodpeckers, all kinds of birds, the hum of my laptop, the occasional frog, and Cleo’s bell on her collar jingling, as well as some kind of howling. There are some other animals noises that I do not recognize. I have a lot to learn about that, too. One thing I know is that the country is quieter than the city, but that it is not quiet by any means, especially in spring.

Why we want chickens

February 28, 2009

One reason we want chickens is because we want to move towards being self-sufficient. Having hens and our own eggs is one step in that direction. I think we will eventually have either a dairy cow or goats, and maybe some sheep or a pig or two. Who knows. I do know that of all the farm animals to choose from, chickens should be the easiest for us to learn about and take care of. So that is part of why we are getting chickens first.

After reading more about chickens, I also realize there are other benefits. They will often eat table scraps. This is a great way for us to deal with the issue of trash in the country (I might have to research and write about that at some point). Most of our food waste will be composted or will be eaten by the chickens. That is great! Right now we put all kinds of stuff on the compost pile that probably shouldn’t go and will eventually attract critters. Having chickens and outdoor cats to feed scraps to will help with the trash. Yet another benefit is that chicken poop makes great fertilizer.

The primary reason we want hens is for eggs. We eat a lot of eggs and it will be great to not go to the store to get them. It will also be cheaper because I usually spend around $3.50 per dozen of eggs because I get the organic or cage free eggs (Yes! I buy cage free eggs even though I know that cage free doesn’t mean what it should mean). Anyway, having eggs will save us money and trips to the store.

We have also talked about the possibility of getting some chickens for meat, but Tim seemed reluctant to do that. I think he is worried that we will become attached to them and not be able to eat them. I think that is a possibility, but from talking to Scott the Farmer, I think that what most people do is have their hens separate from their “fryers” as they are called. The fryers are in a movable coop all the time or are free ranging and then in a separate coop at night. Doing it that way seems like it will keep us from getting too attached.

I think, though, that we will start with 4 or 5 hens and just collect eggs for a while. Then we will figure out if we want to have some fryers. Our neighbor is going to get some hens, some fryers, and a hog. I think he built a movable coop for his fryers. We’ll have to go see it and talk to him. I am sure we will do things a bit differently, but it will also be interesting to learn from each other.

As far as whether to get chicks or hens, I am leaning towards chicks at the moment. The benefit of getting hens is that they are already laying eggs and are easier to take care of. There are lots of reasons to get chicks, though. One reason is that they are so darn cute. The kids will LOVE the chicks. I can just hear Moira saying how cute they are. The chicks will get used to us faster than hens would, too. That will be helpful when they are out roaming around and the kids come bursting out the door. I do remember reading (this article, again!) that if you want your chickens to forage for themselves, it is better to get chicks because they are smarter, or at least capable of learning. If we get hens and the hens have not had to forage, they won’t learn.

Chicks will require a bit more work, especially if we get them when the weather is still cool since we will have to keep them warm somehow. This article gives me some ideas. In fact, we have a guinea pig cage that my sister-in-law gave us that might work really well for a while. And the forums at Back Yard Chickens is really helpful, too. Of course, the best advice is to get the chicks in midsummer. I like that idea, but that’s so long to wait! I am impatient to get started with some chicks.

So right now I’m thinking we’ll get chicks. The next question is what kind and how and when to get them. That means more reading and talking, of course. I’ll have to talk to our neighbor and see where he is getting his – and when!