30 January 2011

Just Teasing

Saturday & Sunday were both glorious: still, sunny, almost no clouds, the azure blue sky and cold cutting light of winter BUT with temperatures in the mid-50s today. It could have been the first day of spring but we all know better here. A year ago, it was in the single digits and snowing hard. Mr. Fuzzy prefers this year's January 30th.

The cats and dogs and chickens all had a dose of spring fever today. You could feel and see the change in their energy.

Its going away soon enough and perhaps several days of rain will follow, with subfreezing temperatures as lows. Nonetheless, unlike last year, the critters all know that relief is coming soon: warm sun to doze in, freshly hatched bugs to enjoy, mice and moles to chase. Ah, what pleasures to look forward to - in about six weeks.
And no, your eyes do not deceive you - that is the trusty Sears riding mower behind Mr. Cocky. Mr. Fuzzy spent three hours mowing out in an area that had been a thicket but was cleared in the spring of 2009. He wanted to cut it all short to control the weeds and briars - and to be able to easily observe what germinates soon. Some ground was very slippery because it was hard frozen, some was very slippery because the top half-inch was mud on top of frozen ground. It was a challenge to keep the mower forward.

29 January 2011

Return of the Dread Community Organizers

This weekend was an especially good one as the temps have gotten into the mid-50's (F) and the sky is a brilliant, cloudless, blue. Mr. Fuzzy and I spent most of today proactively fighting next season's weeds. He on the riding mower and I with mulch in the garden. The two sections off the hay field we had cleared of hawthorn trees are now well covered with "early colonizer plant communities."

Please allow me to translate that for you: brambles, invasive roses, and more hawthorn trees. One area looks as though we had it seeded in the thorny beasts! Mr. Fuzzy reports that much of the mowing has been done and that he is becoming quite skilled at getting the little mower/tractor un-hung from the many hidden holes the moles have left us.

Who needs weight machines when you can just lift your 750 pound tractor ten times a day?

Yesterday was almost equally lovely but with enough chilling wind to make it feel OK to find inside garden tasks. My big inside task yesterday was to attend the annual Seed Swap hosted by Miracle Farm at the Floyd Country Store. I am informed by our English friend B. that this must be a "peculiarity of the American race" as it "would never happen over this way." I think the Scots might go for it if pitched just right...

The setup is this: people who have leftover seed, extra seed saved from their own plants, or old stock seeds from retail shops bring their offerings and set them out on tables, hopefully with enough labeling to be helpful. The organizers provide tables, pencils, and little paper packets to hold your selections. Lots of people come and take as many seeds as they need for themselves and a good time is had by all. Folks are remarkably honest about only taking what they need.

I took our last remaining pumpkin from the 2009 harvest and a few dozen pumpkin seeds to give away. I wanted folks to understand that these were Good Keepers. The pumpkin has not left our kitchen counter since October 2009 and is still quite sound. I came back with a pocket full of packets of lettuces and herbs. Not a bad trade. Many folks managed to collect all the seeds on their list, helping them grow more vegetables than they could have afforded if they had to buy their seeds.

26 January 2011

Atmospheric effects

Although the views here at Stratheden don't extend to infinity as the views at Casa Tetzcoco did (yes, the peak of Mount Taylor, about 90 air miles away was visible unless the pollution from Albuquerque interfered), they are more varied. The sunsets are not as frequently stunning but can be just as stunning less often.

A couple of nights ago was especially noteworthy for the crepuscular ray display.* This photograph is as it came from my camera with no intervention except to re-size it. The effect was even more pronounced and dramatic to the eye.

*With a warm thanks for SuAnne for the proper identification of this phenomenon. She located it in THE CLOUDSPOTTER'S GUIDE by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. You might know him as the founder of The Cloud Appreciation Society.

24 January 2011

Thoughts on Keeping Chickens

Dear Midnight Baker,

I thought I'd share my thoughts on what I've learned about keeping chickens since I started studying up on it, and then living with them, a year ago. I really enjoy my subscription to Backyard Poultry Magazine and highly recommend the (unrelated) Back Yard Chickens website.

  • Chickens are easy to keep, super funny, and a bit more expensive than you imagine.
  • Get the coop built, including nest boxes & adult height roosts, before the chicks arrive. Doing it before placing your order is even better.
  • "Straight run" means at least 50% roosters. Be prepared to butcher, order all hens, or go in with someone who only wants meat birds.
  • Flightless types get eaten first.
  • Deep litter is cheap, low maintenance, and doesn't stink.
  • Hanging feeders and nipple waterers are better than floor models. A well supported bucket-style waterer is probably better than a hanging jug because you can stick a heater in it.
  • Roosters crow. A lot. And very early. I mean it. On the other hand, a rooster helps the hens in many ways. They remain watchful when hens hyper-focus on food. Brother roosters work together.
  • Free ranging really does reduce pecking & bickering amongst chickens.
  • Light & heat in winter = more eggs.
  • Say goodbye to your mulch.
  • Automatic doors are worth the money. Spending $50 for a solar panel is worth it too. (Wish I'd gone that route.)
  • Good feed & plenty of bugs = great eggs. If you enjoy bug zappers you'll really enjoy observing moth season in the coop.

23 January 2011

Eggs, We Got 'Em

"Twa Hinnies Aroost"

All the hens are consistently laying and, since the departure of Number Three, we've had no observable issues with the roosters. (Except not having enough hens for them.) Everyone seems quite content in their little coop. I started keeping daily production records at the turn of the year and am happy to report that they are gifting us with four dozen eggs a week.

Salvadora gives us three "extra small" eggs a week. They are exquisitely proportioned with the color and texture of Parian ware. The remainder are small to large and anywhere from light beige to nearly chocolate brown depending on the chicken. In the photo above, you see our largest bantam hen and one of our big Cochin gals sharing a nest. Mind, there are three more empty nest boxes just two feet away. Guess they wanted to gossip.

How are we getting so many eggs out of eleven hens? Well, partly it's because hens normally lay well their first winter. They also get extra light and heat from the heat lamp I leave on overnight to keep their water from freezing. I thought this would cause a lot of stress but they seem to be fine with the situation. (They do get a night off now and then.) The chickens are also getting to forage for bugs and greens in the woods. They spend several hours a day out there turning over leaves. Being able to scratch definitely makes them happier.

19 January 2011

Nothing new to report today so I thought I'd give a plug for one of my favorite, similar, farm blogs. It's by my old college pal, Wilson, over in Charlottesville, VA. They've got sheep, pigs, dogs, and poultry as well as a kid and two lunch spots called Revolutionary Soup. Hopefully I can get myself over that way soon as I'm certain his taste in food is equal to his taste in wine. He's always been quite the gourmand.

Anyway, go check him out. He's got cute animal pictures and dreamy menus to moon over.

18 January 2011

Changing the Litter

Ok, admit it. You thought it bizarre and possibly even disgusting that I do not change my chickens' litter as often as I change the cats' litter. The truth is that changing the litter often is not as healthy for the birds as our false-sanitation obsessed culture would have you believe. For one thing, the birds hate it. They get all in a tizzy for three days or so when I go messing about with their house.

What about the stink?
There isn't any. Mr. Fuzzy would report that pronto!

What about ammonia fumes?
There aren't any unless I get lazy.

What about nasty microbes?
They aren't present in significant quantities.

What about all that built up poo? (!)
It's composting.

Deep litter, or "layered litter" as it was called back in the early 1940's, is a system wherein you build up the litter over the poo, keeping everything well fluffed and limed, until it is at least 12 inches deep. When the final depth is reached any new poop is turned under daily and the whole floor fluffed to encourage good air exchange. The result is that the manure is effectively composted.

In the winter this has the added benefit of making the coop floor nice and warm for the chickens. Even though my flock rarely chooses to spend the day indoors (they go for a walkabout no matter how cold, wet, or snowy it is) they must surely appreciate the warmth, especially the three sorry looking bantys who like to sleep on the floor. We hadn't thought about this until we saw a temperature reading over on the Avian Aqua Miser Chicken Blog.

I know several of you still aren't buying this idea so let me quote from the Ohio Experiment Station's reports of 1948 & 1949. You can read them in their entirety here.

"The prevention or control of coccidiosis by starting day-old chicks on old built-up litter could have been prophesied years ago. It has long been recognized that chicks exposed to small dosages of coccidia at an early age developed a resistance which gave protection against heavier dosages to which they are often exposed from 4 to 12 weeks of age. Built-up litter has thus proved the most practical and effective means by which this resistance can be established."

Coccidiosis is the leading cause of chick death, even now.

Chickens raised on this sort of litter are less prone to cannibalism, gain weight faster even when eating poor quality feed, and hatchability of fertilized eggs is increased. It is theorized that the composting litter adds some positive element to their diet, although the experimenters did not know what. Robert Plamadon suggests it may be an increase of B-12 from bacterial fermentation in the litter. (Yes, folks, the chickens eat a little litter now and then.)

I had wondered how often the layered litter "ought' to be changed and was delighted to read that it's much longer than I'd imagined:

"The same built-up floor litter has been successfully used in brooder houses at the Station’s poultry plant for six succeeding broods of chicks. Likewise, most of the layers are on built-up floor litter that started nearly 3 years ago. Thus far, no disadvantages have been experienced from the long-time use of the litter, either in brooder or laying houses. The older built-up litter is, of course, more effective for the prevention or control of dampness because of its greater depth. It appears the only need for removal is to keep it within convenient bounds."

Mr. Palmadon reports that his results have not been as good as the Ohio results however his system is based on open-air coops and he admits to being a lazy chicken keeper and not keeping up with the fluffing as he should.

17 January 2011

Windrow Building Continues

Mr. Fuzzy is working on an editing job so sends his apologies for not posting any of his lovely photographs for your enjoyment.

We had a little warm up on the farm over the weekend. A balmy 41 and 42 degrees Fahrenheit. This allowed me to comfortably get a little more done on the garden front. (When it's 22 and howling I do not go outside.) One garden row now has a completed compost windrow and the second row is nearly done. I think I'll burn some brush for the ash and be done with it. The other option is waiting two weeks for enough ash to build up in our fireplace to "lime" the next pile and chipping the brush at some later point.

The piles are made up of kitchen waste, chicken litter, coffee grounds, garden trimmings, wood ash, and rye straw. Each windrow is fifty feet long, two and a half feet wide, and about the same height. The coffee grounds may not be the best choice for our acid soil but they're free. I'm hoping three buckets of wood ash per windrow will balance things.

These things are developing maddeningly slow but that's just how it is in winter. I'll need a total of 625 cubic yards of input for our little vegetable garden. This slow accumulation is good for the chickens, however, as it decreases the frequency of my theft of their coop litter. (More on why cleaning the floor isn't so great tomorrow.)

For our few friends who are not gardeners, I will explain how the piles are composed. The bottom layer is a mix of coffee grounds, banana peels, and kitchen compost. All the books tell you not to put meat in your pile but I do so long as it's cooked. The animals seem to loose interest when it is covered in coffee and it will, eventually, break down. Next comes a fluffy layer of straw to add carbon and promote good air circulation. The third layer is, ideally, a mix of garden trimmings followed by more straw. On top of this goes a layer of used chicken litter (about 18 cubic feet) followed by three buckets of wood ash. Finally, the whole windrow is covered in two and a half bales of straw. This insulates it to keep in the heat, helps reduce weeds, and makes it look a whole lot nicer.

15 January 2011

Rearranging the Chairs

Dearest Readers,

If you have ever visited the Fuzzy home you will know that we have a surfeit of furniture. Indeed, our living room has eight chairs, two couches, and 17 other pieces of furniture. Oh, and there's a small crate for Rocky. That comes to a grand total of 27 pieces to fit into the puzzle.

After two years I think I finally have made it all fit in a way that is comfortable and welcoming without looking like a school breakroom.

14 January 2011

Home Veterinary Practice

The pussycats are all champion hunters. At this moment we have one lying in wait under the bird feeder and two more sitting in the big apple tree for an aerial assault. Their abilities are wondrous for keeping our mole and vole population to a non-destructive minimum and their avid winter birding scares the winged beasts off the garden once we cease feeding in spring. Yes, our cats are working farm cats.

We never intended to have as many as we do but now that we have them I'm not certain I'd want fewer. They are fascinating to watch as a group (the dynamics are completely unlike having two or three) and they earn their keep. Sadly, though, their job description comes with a few pitfalls. Most commonly worms and ticks.

We buy our (excellent) veterinarian a new horse each year with what we pay to treat 9 cats and 2 dogs for ticks, anual exams, and fecal floats. Sorry about that last image but it's part of the package. MamaCat still refuses to see a doctor so she doesn't cost us anything. At this point I think I can reasonably well diagnose their common illnesses so I have begun to do some of the animal's vetting myself.

Yesterday you read about my learning how to deal with chicken feet in an emergency. I've also learned how to give vaccinations ($4 per shot from the Humane Society) and am deworming the animals with human-labeled Pyrantal. A pint of the stuff from Lambert Vet Supply costs the same as two doses from the vet, though syringes are extra. The veterinarians on staff there have worked out the dosages for all relevant species so it's as easy as a phone call to get accurate information. I expect that one bottle to save us a hundred dollars or more this year.

What I haven't come across is a good tick preventative. Frontline and it's clones only work for about ten days around here and then we're back to tick city on the cats. The chickens do a great job eliminating the monsters near the house but they don't range far into the woods. If any of you folks out there have a safe and effective solution I'd love to hear about it. The new meds my veterinarian suggested would cost us $200 a month (!) just for the cats.

13 January 2011


Another story from around Christmastime because nothing of bloggable consequence happened today.

Above is a foot on a live and uncomfortable rooster. It seems he got a couple scratches that became infected. It costs $75 and an hour's drive down the mountain to see a bird doctor. The only bird doc in the area. So we went with plan B: Google.

A chicken forum helped me diagnose the problem, which is called Bumblefoot, and I found good directions on how to lance the area and drain it. It's a good thing that neither blood nor pus make my stomach turn. Mr. Fuzzy took photos but I think his camera ate them. You might wish to say a silent "thank you" about that. After about half an hour, with Nurse Worrywort holding No. One still, our rooster had his wounds filled with neosporin, a comically bandaged foot, and was in his overnight crate with a nice bowl of cat food in his belly. Gotta keep the patient's strength up, you know!

The rooster's name is Number One because, well, he's the lead dude. We tried keeping him inside, in a crate, but he was bored and worried about his flock. We were choking on chicken stink despite changing his litter daily. The hens were worried and the other roosters beating eachother up to see who would get to take the lead. Too bad, because that meant that three days after "surgery" he was out and about in the dirt.

If I could have kept him inside for a week or two I would have doped him with Doxycycline from the pet store. They sell it for parakeets and macaws and the like. But, since he'd be eating and drinking from the common feeders I couldn't take that tactic. So, instead, I fed the chickens a whole lot of chopped garlic every day. Garlic is a generally accepted topical antibacterial agent and the only definitely safe thing I could think of to use. My herb books all agree that it works the same way internally too. It's also an herbal dewormer and by the looks of "things" it probably had that effect too.

It turns out that my chickens LOVE garlic. The boys crowd the girls out to get at it. It's as though they are addicted to the stuff.

No. One's foot is slowly looking better. He doesn't limp or favor it any more. Everyone in the hen house seems happy to have their leader returned too.

Well, except Number Three, who was actually 2nd in charge. (There was a change of pecking order after he got named.) He was pretty ticked off about it because he was managing to wrest that top spot from the other guys. But it's OK. He went to a new home with some roosterless hens a week or so ago. I hear he's doing well.

12 January 2011

Farm Research

This is the season for reading. With 20 degree days, howling wind, and snow cover there is every incentive to spend as much time as possible sitting with our feet to the fire, a cat in our lap, and a book in our hands. Or, in my case of late, a computer hugged close for warmth by the Jack Tar.

I am sticking to my promise not to go planting the lower garden this year. This is despite a new garden catalog full of glossy photos and fantastical claims appearing in the post box most days. I will not succumb! The seeds I planted a few days ago are starting to come up.... slowly. They are old seed after all.

Instead of planting I am PLANNING. The first step to this is to fill my head with good ideas and book knowledge until I have enough information to set a course of action. Last night it was the basics of Biodynamic gardening and the Biodynamic Standard as set by Demeter International. Unlike what I had been told, there IS a legal definition to this term and Demeter is what has set that standard since 1928. They are incredibly strict so if you buy something with their certification you can feel good about its quality.

That said, I don't think we'll be going down the all-homeopathic route just yet. I'd like to read Dr. Rudolph Steiner's actual lectures where he postulated these principles and judge for myself what he's telling me about farms as systems. The holistic organic movement (as distinguished from the USDA program) also owes its' philosopy to this man's thoughts by way of the Rodale Institute which opened in 1947. I'm looking forward to exploring their website in great depth at my soonest opportunity.

Right now I am working my way through the helpful pamphlets available on the National Sustainable Argriculture Information Service website. So far, I have read three of these. For all you folks who would like to use fewer insecticides I would certainly recommend their "Biointensive Integrated Pest Management" and "Farmscaping to Enhance Biological Control" information. You can find them here. What both of them come down to is this:

Plant borders to feed the beneficial insects, leave a little mess for the spiders, learn about your pests, practice thoughtful plant rotations, and only use added controls when the cost of crop loss exceeds the cost of treatment.

That's my book report and update on what I've been up to.

Mr. Fuzzy has been inventing new swear words.... he's installing a cork floor in my studio this week. As with everything in household improvement, it is not going as smoothly as planned.

11 January 2011

Saving Pumpkins

This is another can't-find-the-cord photograph from early December. While we were away the painter shifted things on the porch to get some more work done and this included moving the pumpkins out onto the grass. When we got home they had frozen.

Not wanting to loose all that good food that I'd bought, Mr. Fuzzy brought them in a few at a time for me to cut and roast them for proper storage. As you can see, they were very cold.

Although the freezing and thawing made it very easy to prepare the pumpkins I cannot say it has helped on the flavor front. Even so, they are nice for soups or pumpkin sauce. If you add enough brown sugar, butter, and chiles any winter squash will become tasty.

The dogs and chickens gave a positive review of the seeds. After an entire day of dealing with the pumpkins we discovered yet two more hidden away outside. Those have gone into the chicken yard for them to eat as they please. They seem to enjoy their edible toys.

09 January 2011

Photo Essay Time!

Gentle Reader,

It only took me a month this time to find the cable to my camera so I now present to you a few photographs made during or since our wonderful trip to New Mexico. Unusually, these three have titles. So, from the dummycam of Mrs. Fuzzy I present to you the following animal reactions to we huminoids:

"Little Bit Copes" (With Our Thanksgiving Conversation)
"Golda's Commentary on Artspeak"
"Grover, post-Christmas."

07 January 2011

The Studio (Part Too Many)

We have gotten to a place where getting the house in proper order has become our number one priority on the giant Honey Do List. Living in controlled (?) chaos is driving us nuts.

To that end I drove down the mountain into the Roanoke Valley and purchased a new floor for my studio. That's a sample of the pattern to the left. It's an engineered cork "click" type floor which should be tremendously comfortable to work on as I generally craft standing up. Also, what could be more inspiring than having "Dali" under your feet all the time?

Once the floor is in I'll be able to move my crafting things back into the room and free up a LOT of space in the den and landing. That done, Mr. Fuzzy will be able to lay new flooring in those spaces and turn them into the beautiful, usable, spaces they so desperately long to be.

06 January 2011

Seed Starting Time

The lower garden may be under renovation and the outside temps are still cold enough to freeze everything piled on the next new compost row until it starts cooking but that doesn't mean we are unable to grow food in January. We have a greenhouse, after all!

My Pepper Experiment failed again this year. The heat lamp I hung in the greenhouse to keep them going pulled on its' thermostatic plug and never came on while we were away over Thanksgiving. Now the peppers and tomatoes are compost and I have space in there that wants filling.

Today I assembled some old salad boxes and cold cut trays and turned them into mini flats for cold crops. There are seeds for broccoli plants, lettuces, bok choi cabbages, spinach, and beets nestled in deluxe seed starting medium made from our own compost and the lifeless (but ultra friable) peat mix they sell for the purpose. Once the seeds have germinated I'll move the flats into the greenhouse. Once they're large enough to handle I'll transplant them into my growing bins where they have the benefit of bottom watering every time it rains.

And the now-well-behaved heat lamp will keep them from freezing and, so, able to grow.

A Giving Community

Here's a big shout out to Floyd's excellent Jacksonville Center for the Arts and their successful campaign to raise 20K in the month of December...

in a down economy....

in a community with no large employers...

nor many wealthy individuals...

and with no budget to advertise the appeal.

May the Jax enjoy continued success and the great good will of their community in 2011!

05 January 2011

Animal Tricks

There's no proper news to be reporting; I just thought I'd say "hello" and let you know we're still here. Us and the chickens, you know.

The Rooster Confinement Project is thus far not working and I have changed tactics. Horace remains, flightless, in his pen with two tiny hens and Guido to keep him company. Having gotten past their desire to run with the big birds, they all seem content to not be pecked and bullied all the time. Interestingly, Horace does not appear the least bit interested in the others.

The girls are giving us an average of six eggs a day. We're now bribing the neighbors with eggs and I suspect I can barter with them for a Spanish class I saw advertised today. The poster did say they'd barter for useful things.

Sunday evening we had a fright due to doggie illness. Mr Rufus left some, erm, highly scented gifts, on the carpet and we thought I'd have to take him to the emergency vet because he wasn't his usual in-your-face needy self. It turns out he just had a tummy ache (from God knows what in the forest) and was milking us for extended sympathy. When he saw me pull the car around he made a sudden, and thorough, recovery.


Mr. Fuzzy is now convinced that Rufus may, in fact, be smarter than an Akita. You read that right, Teddy & SuSu. Chetworth will attest to hearing the words from Mr. Fuzzy's own lips: Rufus may be smarter than Haiku.


02 January 2011

Attic Fan

Favoured friends, Mr. Fuzzy spent much of a beautiful day in the dark attic, sigh, tackling a long overdue task: winterizing the attic fan.

For those of you not old enough to remember them, attic fans predate air conditioning. They are in the ceiling of the top floor of the house and suck hot air out of the house (if the windows are opened) and blow it into the attic and thence out of the attic vents, thereby cooling both the house and the attic, using far less energy than an air conditioner. Of course, it only works when the outside temperature drops below the interior temperature, i.e., at night. If there is little diurnal variation, it isn't helpful but here in the Blue Ridge mountain, it is useful on most summer nights.

The only evidence of an attic fan is the set of louvers in the ceiling. When the fan is activated, the louvers are opened by the immense flow of air. So now you know the theory of attic fans.

Now let me tell you about the one in the Fuzzy's home. When we first used it two summers ago, there were obvious issues: (1) the louvers only opened partially and (2) one louver stayed closed. I dismounted the metalwork and took a look inside - the problem was obvious - it had not been installed correctly (given this house, it that a surprise?). There was a cross brace in the ceiling opening and the installer simply disconnected the single louver that hit it. The group of louvers didn't open all the way because of a clearance problem, too. All I had to do was add and extra 3/4 inch of clearance from the ceiling by reframing the louver box and viola! They worked as designed for the first time, enabling an increase of perhaps 40% more air flow. Wow, what an improvement.

Now comes the next issue: those louvers form a very incomplete barrier to air flow when the fan isn't in use. In warm weather, no problem, In the winter, the cold air, being heavy, falls through the louvers. Worse, when there is a gust of air, it blows through the louvers, poring ice cold air into the upstairs hall. I am incredulous that two previous owners never bothered to make it air tight in the winter... I piled loose insulation over it last winter, a stop-gap measure, but now it was time to make a permanent solution to this heat robbing set up.

Mr. Fuzzy decided to build a box from rigid two inch foam insulation. No big deal, right? Four sides and a lid. Well, part of the problem is no place up there to stand and there are supports, wires, ducting and the large stove pipe which vents our heat system in the basement. The insulation is just deep enough to hide the joists that you need to stand on... or fall through the drywall. Then there is the problem of simply moving through all of the stuff... So the four sides were cut in the shop and then one at a time lifted into the attic to be glued to one another. It's difficult to stand on one small board and try to reach all the necessary places; balance is key. Oh, did I mention that there is no light up there? I had to rig a drop light and extension cord from the bedroom below to see... here is a view from the attic door.

Once the four sides were in place, which took more than an hour, then it was time to fabricate the well-fitted lid (if the lid didn't fit tightly, and the air could still infiltrate, then all was for naught). And here comes another problem. The aperture in the bedroom ceiling which leads to the attic almost seems to have been a post-construction afterthought. As amazing as that seems, the placement of the hole (in a bedroom) and strangely framed, seem to point to that. It also isn't very large... small enough, in fact, that although the pieces were cut in the shop, they couldn't be assembled in the shop. Instead they had to be passed up into the attic one at a time and then glued and finished while standing on one leg... the photograph shows the finished foam box before burying it with loose insulation.

The entire project was absolutely necessary and extremely frustrating. But its done and the house will be much warmer now.
The Rooster Confinement Project is thus far failing. I've not gotten them moved into the walled garden yet so they are simply flying over their little fence to be with the girls.

Except Horace, of course. He can't fly.

This flight is taking place despite clipping their wings. Both wings. It seems I need to get that fence erected in the garden.

New Gardening Techniques

The gardens of Stratheden Farm are lush, filled with flowers, and producing exactly the right amount of food at the right time and in the perfect combination. There are no weeds. The deer fence is festooned with hops, grapes, roses, and hardy kiwi vines. There is a smallish fluffy yellow cat napping under the rhubarb bush until an edible plant predator appears. Maybe it'll actually happen today, she hopes. If not she'll chase butterflies a little later.

Yes, dear reader, Mrs. Fuzzy's garden is perfect. It's also completely fictional inside my head and the pile of seed catalogs sitting on the table beside me. Ah, yes, a gardener's most blissful time of year. I did not understand it until just now. The perfect season: Catalog Time.

As part of my Total Garden Rehab project I am sworn from ordering any seed that is not a cover crop or to be grown for selling or gifting as starts. That's one thing I do know how to do: grow gorgeous baby vegetables. Still, I can dream my impossible dream of growing tepary beans next to pole beans without getting mosaic virus everywhere. Some day I will figure a fix for that problem. (Teparies tend to be carriers.)

The thing I am allowing myself to do with all these "perfect-garden" resources is plan. I have re-read Elliott Coleman's Four Season Harvest and last night completed the useful parts of Lasagna Gardening by Patricia Lanza. (It's mostly in the first 20 pages.) To a great degree they are talking about the same thing: compost in place, minimal tillage, and wide bed methods. Mr. Coleman's farm has many of the same conditions as Stratheden with the exception that his soil is coastal and therefore too sandy whereas ours is clay mixed with rock. His soil's Ph. was even lower than ours!

What I am formulating is to use a fairly traditional approach in the lower garden where I can use the new tiller Mr. Fuzzy gave me for Christmas to work amendments into the soil. My gut tells me that plants prefer not to be cut off from the soil and a barrier of paper over the ground would do this for several years.

In the walled garden I'll be implementing something much closer to Mrs. Lanza's method because the roots of our apple and peach trees preclude much use of digging tools. I'll use the roosters to denude the soil of the weeds that grow so prolifically there then start to lay out a whole new design for a pretty cutting garden. Once the paths are marked I'll lay down the compost layers to rebuild the depleted soil and plant a cover crop. Next autumn I hope to move out the over sized bushes and add more suitable perennials.

This "sheet composting" method will, I think, also work well in awkward areas that need tarting up like around the greenhouse or the blueberry patch. The trick will be making it look nice while excluding the chickens. Perhaps movable picket fencing is in my crafting future?

01 January 2011


Thanks to our friend Bob the hennies have new nesting boxes! The girls have, until now, made do with two straw filled crates on the floor which work well enough. Everybody can access them and they are easy to clean. Occasionally a chicken will decide to sleep there overnight or Rufus will go in and steal an egg. Now they have a super-deluxe three hole sky nursery with a lovely roost bar for them to walk along when selecting their room of choice. As my littlest hens cannot fly I will have to build them a little ramp. Frizzles are beautiful creatures but I don't think I will acquire more for this reason.

As today is scheduled to be a mild but rainy one I had best get going before the weather turns. Thankfully, I thought to get a few bales of straw last week for the chicken yard so that area won't actually become Mud Hole City. The straw also restores the lost leaf cover our trees are accustomed to having. Happy chickens. Happy trees. Happy humans.