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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?)


fullfreezer said...

Have you read Gaia's Garden? It's a great resource.
I'm excited to have my second permaculture class coming up this weekend. This one is on ecological design. Should be fun.

hickchick said...

I have not read that one, I will check into it-thanks Judy!