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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Chickens, Worms and Permaculture

I am lazy. I don't want to work any harder than is absolutely necessary. After seeing how beat-up my Dad got in his first couple of years of country living I am trying to learn from his experiences. How to work WITH natural systems and not fight with her so much. I gotta face the facts; me VS mother nature- she's gonna kick my ass every time! So how to set up our homestead in a logical, aesthetic manner which will work with our local ecology ? I need to use my brain not my puny biceps. Permaculture is the answer.
I am not going to lecture about permaculture design or theory here because frankly I don't know alot about it in practice. What I am concentrating on is the idea of using natural laws to achieve your desired ends. For example we plan to raise chickens, both for meat and eggs. Chickens want to be chickens, they want the scratch around, eat bugs, tender greens and seeds and poop (alot). How can I make this work for us?
I found Harvey Ussery's website, the modern homestead, in which he describes his season extending/poultry housing/worm composting hoop house. This is something I would like to emulate on our homestead. The basic premise is a plastic covered green house with laying hen housing at one end (and maybe rabbits as well?), the remainder of the hoop house is garden space for extending garden harvests. The twist is large worm bins dug into the center aisle of the garden space-lined with cement block and covered with heavy duty plywood. The worms eat pony poop or other waste, the chickens eat the worms, the chickens provide some heat and CO2 for the hoop house plants. The winter chicken yard outside one end of the hoop house is garden space covered very deeply with old hay. The deep mulch/deep litter protects the soil from becoming a wasteland of packed down clay, allowing the chickens to turn the deep litter into a living compost by the time the pasture is ready to take them in chicken tractors.
We are 2 zones colder, but I think we can work around this by making the worm bins deeper and using a plywood cover with insulation attached to the inner surface. Putting the rabbits in there is interesting too-they waste so much hay-I bet the chickens would enjoy what the rabbits spill!

Water is another concern for us. Northern WI is experiencing several years of below average rainfall, while the southern 1/3 of the state gets flooded. Will this be a continuing trend? I think yes. Our soil is very heavy clay so it is good at holding on to moisture it has received but how can I spend less time watering and more time smelling the lavender? Our property gently slopes toward the south. We plan to capture every bit of rain water from the roof of the garage and house and put it to use for us. Rain barrels located on the higher ground of our property and the garden, small fruits and orchard located down slope could provide me with a slow trickle -perhaps a system of drip irrigation? I would hate to run the electric well pump for watering all the time, and what if the electric is out? Call me paranoid but I am hoping for the best while preparing for the worst. This is a home I will live in until I die, and perhaps my kids will raise their kids here as well. It seems foolish to not build in some redundancy into our homestead.

I am working on permaculture 'Zones' as well. Zones can be thought of as concentric circles classified according to intensity of human intervention, on-site energy and resources management or physical characteristics. (ugg sorry I pasted that definition!)-Just common sense stuff. Zone 0 is the house, zone 1 is the area immediately adjacent to the house-containing things such as cold frame, greens garden or herb garden, compost site- things which require frequent attention. Orchard and main garden would be zone 2, etc all the way out to zone 5 of no intervention wild area. (judy if you are reading--chime in here about your perm. class -what text are you using?)

Monday, April 26, 2010

moving day

Not out of our suburban house, but moving the camper onto our own patch of earth. I wish i had pictures but it was a very highs stress situation for DH and stopping to take pictures would have been a very BAD idea! We have a nice big Dodge truck but it is not heavy duty or anything. The trailer is a 26 footer at the top end of the Dodge's hauling capacity. When we hooked it up the hitch only cleared the ground by 6 inches on flat ground. The road out is nice for a car but bumpy with curves and runs through a slough which has washed out and been redone a few times since we put the camper up in the woods.

On the right-the road out of the woods and through the slough-taken 2 (3?) years ago

DH was having visions of the camper tipping into the wetland. The hitch began to catch dirt before the slough. DH went to town to put more air in the truck tires (and recover his cool), meanwhile my Dad, brother-in-law and I went to work removing the raised 'crown' of the road and redistributing it to the sides, raising the tires and giving the hitch a low spot in the middle. Success!
Thank you to everyone in our 'work party'. Our camper is now parked on our hill. It looks like redneck heaven right now, but we will get things straightened up over the next few weekends. We watched a hawk float in the wind not more than 30 feet from us. He was dropping towards the grass looking for mice and swooping back up into the wind without a wing flap. The first of many encounters I am sure.
The wind will take some getting used to-we had 40mpg gusts Sat night and the camper sure rocked. I think some some digging may be in order to lower the campers profile a bit-either that or tie-downs :)
We have 130 freedom ranger chicks coming in June along with 12 laying hens, the floor plans are done for the house-just waiting now for the estimates so i can go to the bank and ask for $. It is all feeling very real!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Plead Temporary Insanity

I have a half-baked post at HWW about multitasking and the importance of focus. Taking my own advise, I am putting a moratorium on my blogging. I need to focus on what I am doing here. I want to have my house listed in 2 (or 3) weeks, we have several chicken tractors to build for the 130 freedom ranger meat birds-why 130? Well it involved some wine and all I can say is chicken 'beer goggles'.!

The house plans are drawn up and our building loan is 3-4 weeks away. We will be moving into our 26 foot camper for the summer in 6 weeks and I am feeling a little spastic. I am also still working over in my mind how to make my work life managable, at least until the bank has okayed our final mortgage :b

Peace and send me good vibes!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Too Busy To Post

I am finding it harder and harder to call this place home! We becoming more invested (emotionally AND financially) in the Grass Works Family Farm, and I so look forward to the time school gets out so we can relocate. This weekend I planted onions and garlic and turned over another 2 rows of the raised bed garden. The dandelions were having a field day-but no more! I still cannot get the girls interested in their gardens. They will help me but want to play, not work. I won't push it but they WILL be required to help with the main garden.

View of the building site from Dad's hill. The truck is parked in it's staked out 'garage'. The brown patches of dirt mark the area which tested okay for the drainage field. Below those is a low spot we hope some day to build into a pond!

DH broke in a new tool, the pick axe, to dig a ditch in which to place heavy duty PVC pipe to improve Dad's road through the slough. Every spring it washes out, and every summer more material gets added. Perhaps this new drainage under the road instead of over it will be the answer.

We were both very tired and stiff, so naturally today was a good day to transplant spruce trees for my Aunt's gravel pit (THANKS PEGGY!) to the western edge of our field. In 10 years we will have a nice wind break :)

We are meeting the well driller this week, and arranged with a local farmer to have our field planted to pasture. He will plant a timothy, orchard grass, white clover and alfalfa mixture -along with oats. The oats will grow tall more quickly while the rest establishes itself underneath. He will combine and harvest the oats and straw in August leaving us with a usable pasture by late summer. It is cheaper than buying a tractor this year, but I need to check around to be sure he is not taking these city folks for a ride!
Tired but happy and taking glucosamine for my aching joints!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Peas and Oats

Two more work days in. The last of the charred remains have been hauled away -the entire patch rototilled. We used the garden tiller-didn't want to have to replace one of Dad's tractor tires by running over a metal spike :) Then the girls and I flung a 50/50 mix of field peas and oats over the area. The feed mill guy said the typical application rate was 2 bags per acres--well we used 3x that much -but we aren't machines planting in rows and we had seed fights (I had oats in places where the sun don't shine!) One job complete!
Then DH got out the 'big tiller' which runs behind the garden tractor. He tilled up about 1/2 acre and the peas and oats girls went to work again. He plans to work up another plot this size to plant sweet corn in (for both us and the wildlife), and start a rotation between corn, p&o, and pasture. We girls decided we don't want to seed 1/2 acre of corn by hand--I see a seeder purchase next month!
My next job was to help the girls with their gardens, just lay out the walkways with mulch. That didn't go so well. Erin turned into this evil pouting thing (i think it's a tween phenomenon) Fine with me-it is YOUR garden. If you decide not to plant it I'll turn it in to popcorn, or flax, or sunflowers. It's all good. She will just have to ask me NICELY if she wants help in the future.
I planted a double row of both shell peas and sugar snap peas, a little spinach and lettuce and a few kolrabi seeds. Nothing too crazy. It is still April in Northern Wisconsin and historically speaking we still have 6 weeks before the 'frost free' date. It is just so damned dry and warm already. We had 80 degrees last weekend and only one nice rain this spring. I have an extra package of peas- what do i have to loose if they get frozen?
I just realized I neglected to buy any seed potatoes. I meant to do some research about blight resistance but never got around to it. Does anyone out there know what the latest word is. We didn't have any problems with either the tomatoes or potatoes last year-but we have had drought conditions.
DH is going back out to do some more work tomorrow, while I stay home to catch up on cooking and housework. I love having homemade bread, yogurt and leftovers for lunches but it takes time! My body is tired-i will let Tom dig fence post holes tomorrow, I know he will enjoy the alone time.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

not working

I have a post today at HWW about not working, for wages at least. I am so lucky to be in a position where I can make that choice and not have it made FOR me. I certainly cannot quit working for a paycheck altogether, but we are seeing the results of many years of frugality and hard work. We are NOT debt free by a long shot. It is certainly something to strive for, but if I make that a prerequisite for getting off the ol' rat race...well, I can't wait that long.

I have been thinking alot about jobs and personal economy. When did it become mandatory for a person to earn dollars in order to survive? Then families needed TWO income streams to make it. Maybe I have just read too many Little House books. I have also been reading Pop's 5 Rules (one of which is Don't Specialize). When did I become so specialized that I need to pay someone in order to feed and clothe myself, get water and heat for myself, to entertain myself. Am I really so helpless? By specializing I am betting my success on those skills being in demand- if no one requires my skills- well, tough luck. What if someone needs your skills but doesn't have the dollars to pay you. When did our self worth get so wrapped up in dollars? What if I/we could develop my/our skills to a point where we don't require so many dollars to buy the things we need? Notice I said NEED not WANT. Wouldn't thant be something to be able to take your dentist a couple gallons of maple syrup in exchange for a procedure or barter the IRS man twenty chickens to pay the property taxes.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Our Ginseng Clean Up

Goodbye YMCA membership -there is a new fitness program in my life. It's called the Grassworks Family Farm and I have never been so tired. It's a good kind of tired, that comes with a sense of accomplishment and a tangible outcome. Two overweight, out of shape, city folks got initiated this week. This is our project:

Ginseng made some Marathon County farmers very wealthy, but like so many things it was not sustainable. Part of our acreage was in ginseng 15-20 years ago, the roots were harvested and the slatted wooden rafters (a ginseng crop needs artificial shade) stacked up for another crop. Except the prices dropped by more than 50% from $40/lb for dried root and $100/lb for seed. So there sit the stacks and stack of rafters. We asked that they be removed before buying the property and they were-mostly. They missed a little bit:

What was left behind was pounds and pounds of metal-staples, spikes, nails, etc-all the hardware which held the artificial shade structures together. We don't have the equipment to bury it so we are hauling it to the scrap pile on Dad's property. Every farm around here has a rock pile/scrap pile where stuff goes over the decades- his has coils and coils of rusty barbed wire, old implement parts, rusted out livestock watering tanks. I used to look at these sites and think ick, what an eye sore-but now I see them as a necessary evil and sort of an archaeological site-lots of information about how farming has changed over the years! Anyway -THANKS DAD!

We spent our freakishly warm (80 degree) April Fool's day raking and shoveling and dumping. When we realized we were NOT going to finish in one day the fight went out of us and we moved on the the garden -something we CAN finish(see previous post). I think we will finish this burn site next weekend and get the area hand rototilled (not with the tractor -I don't want to have a punctured tractor tire to replace!) and spread some sort of grass/clover seed on the site. I will never feel 100% comfortable grazing livestock over here, but since this will be the main 'cross-country' route between dad's place and ours we won't leave it as is. There are 2 more burn sites like this one running parallel to our driveway, we won't tackle these this year.

Ahh, the grass is growing and spring is here. Hopefully next year this will be an established pasture and pond at the low site at the right.

Friday, April 2, 2010

First Workday at Future Farm

Our plan was to get the garden rototilled and organic material hand forked under. This garden is the same one I used last year on my ftaher's property. Since he is 'winged', he will not be able to do much gardening-so our family will have the entire fenced in space-it's big! (1/4 acre??) What ever we don't need for vegetable garden will go to buckwheat, flax, or peas 'n oats for chicken food.

My DH hooking up the rototiller to Dad's garden tractor-I love it when he gets dirty!

See my 'chair' is in the garden already!

Six raised beds to turn by hand-the rest rototilled

The bigger project was cleaning up the burn site, which I will have to write about later as I am late ! (A pile of 20 yr old gingeng rafters15ft high in a 200ftx15ft stack-torched -and we get to clean it all up!)