Getting grounded; wishful thinking or reasonable goals?? Update with our spring plan

So far, the fish tank-green house hasn’t worked out as planned. We added a high-low thermometer on day 3, and the temps have gotten as high as 95°F. At night it looks like it is getting as low as 40, and that was after a light frost we had one morning. But, it is probably too cold outside “green house” or not. It has been 13 days and we should have noticed spouting seeds by now and we got nothing! So the planters have been moved to the garage, where we will give them a couple more days to sprout. If no progress, we will add few more seeds to each container, bring them inside the house, and hope for the best. This has already put us back a couple of weeks with our starts, but it’s SCIENCE! And Carpinito’s has great starts.

Paul and I are planners. We make to do lists and then prioritize the list and do our best to accomplish the tasks. This year, I think we got a bit ahead of ourselves when we made our list. Our first priority was the pallet garden and here is why. Lettuces, peas, and spinaches are cold sturdy and we wanted to get them planted sooner than later to enjoy greens in the spring and allow our girls to forage more. However, our chickens had a different plan. With the days getting longer and nicer, they started to fly over our 6 foot fence and venture to our neighbors and the street to forage for fresh bugs and greens. This, by the way, is the true meaning of free range chickens vs. the free range that we see in the grocery store which means the chickens are not in cages but does not mean they are outside in the pasture.

Here is a good example:

Chickens that are free range/cage free on a farm

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Chickens that lay eggs for the grocery store and are labelled free range/cage free/natural nesting…

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There is no way that a farm large enough to supply eggs and meat to a large corporation like Costco or even Whole Foods has enough space to allow their birds to roam freely under the blue sky. If you search for the term “cage free farm” online, you will be shocked at what that can truly mean. Cage free does not equal free range, and even then, unless you are buying your eggs from your neighbor, there is no way to tell what conditions the birds that laid those eggs live in. And even if animal welfare is not of your utmost concern, the chickens that live in factories are not getting the quality of nutrition that a free ranger would, and thus are producing less nutritious eggs. And those eggs have to be bleached before sitting in cold storage for weeks or months before going to market, where they can sit for many more days before you buy them. All this means you are getting ripped off buying old, nutritionally inferior, chemically treated “organic” eggs laid by miserable animals, at supermarkets and big box stores, when you could be strengthening your community by supporting a local farmer that has been struggling to compete against those same stores, selling you on a name; Organic. Oh, and they taste better.

Anyway, we did not take into account that our little feathered friends would deplete all of their natural resources in the back yard to such a degree and move to the front yard like they have. The pallet garden that I yearn for so, will have to be placed on hold. If they have no shame and fly over the six foot fence, then the four foot fencing that we bought to protect the pallet garden will certainly not deter them. The same goes for the main garden. We will have to focus on the new chicken coop and run to avoid the girls pestering the neighbors and of course not destroy our efforts in the garden.

So here is our next plan of events; Build a new chicken coop in the front yard. We have made a few mistakes with the original coop and hope to improve the design. Everywhere we read, it said that chickens need about 3 square feet (per bird) on the roost. I honestly don’t know why? We followed the recommendations and made a huge coop but if you were to peek in the coop when the gals are roosting, they utilize half the available space and huddle together. So the new coop will be a bit smaller. They will still have plenty of room to stretch out if they so chose to but definitely not three square feet per chicken. As mentioned in the previous post, we hope to have the chickens help us turn and process the compost piles so the new coop will have access to that along with a run, so they will always be confined to our yard and not get into the neighbors territory. Our neighbors are wonderful people but we don’t want to abuse them either. The one chicken that had the impacted crop was so used to being in the garage, she constantly tries to come back in…even if it’s not our garage or jumps into cars, again, not all ours.

Along with the coop or after the coop, we will also be putting up a fence in our front yard. We will let the girls forage after we pick our crop and during non growing seasons, so it would be nice for them to be kept back in our yard (or so we desperately hope to do). Additional netting might be a necessity or we might try trimming their feathers again.

After the chickens are a bit more contained we will focus on the gardening. The pallets will be finished; still will be netted with chicken wire to keep our four legged family members out. The main garden beds will be dug. Paul has been measuring and planning every chance that he gets and after that, we can do some official planning. We hope to have most of this done by May. Until then, we might resort to container gardening and wishful thinking. If anyone is interested in some good reading about container gardening, check out this book.

It’s a great resource to someone who doesn’t have a lot of space or wants to have a well decorated garden. I highly recommend it.

After all that, we still have one more garden area that needs a lot of work. As many of you know, Paul got certified in Permaculture design. He took a six month course that was taught by Toby Hemenway, the author of

Using his newly certifiable skills (I am having a proud moment here) he will be upgrading our second front yard from a weeded eyesore to a beautifully designed edible garden. There we plan to put in all of our berry bushes (blueberries, raspberries and strawberries for sure) and artichokes, asparagus, goji berry bushes, and a few corn/bean/squash patches. We already have two cherry trees there. The plan for this space is ever evolving.

We hope to have most if not all of this done by the time our son arrives. We might be kidding ourselves but we sure will try. If we can get some stuff into the ground before he comes, I will be super happy. If not, we can always plan on a fall garden. Lately we have come to a conclusion that we can plan all we want but there is only so much we can do while working full time and having young children.

Thanks for reading!

 

So much time and so few things to do…

Wait, no, scratch that. Reverse it.

We had high hopes of finishing up the pallets and putting in some more garden beds this weekend. Unfortunately we didn’t get to any of it. We did have a busy weekend, and ended up buying a new (to us) car at the end of it all. It was a pretty miserable weekend, weather wise. Hopefully we will get a break from the rain and some good long hours in on the garden next weekend.

I did upload some more photos of our seed starting operation last week.

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Here we are filling up our self watering pots. We even got the kid to help!

 

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Lina planting the seeds. We had some left over from last year that did well, especially the yellow pear. These were either from Carpinito Brothers in Kent, or Seed Savers Exchange. We have been ordering from SSE for a couple of years, and really enjoy being a part of their mission. Carpinito Bros. is one of our favorite, and only local, farm stands to visit, and we just can’t help but pick up seeds when we shop there in the spring. We also ordered from a couple of new seed companies this year. Victory Seed Co. and High Mowing Organic Seeds. We may try to get over to the seed exchange at Sustainable Renton on April 12th as well.

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So the idea here is that this old aquarium we had will be like a mini-greenhouse. We will see. We started seeds indoors the last two years.

The first year the seeds germinated really fast, and we had 3 inch tall plants in no time at all. But after a couple of weeks we noticed the plants were really spindly, and most likely were not getting enough light. We started them in what we thought was the sunniest location in the house. But even after adding a 4 foot shoplight, the plants were still not getting enough light. A couple of weeks went by like that before the weather got nice enough to put the plants outside. We ended up with probably 60 really tall, skinny, dead tomato plants at the end of 2 months or so.

Last year we decided that we would keep the starts in the garage, hoping the cooler temperatures would keep the plants from outgrowing their modest amount of light. We stuck 4 foot shop lights on top of 3 standard start trays. The germination took longer, and the starts did look better. The took much longer to grow. After many weeks, I forget exactly how many, we had 4-5 inch tall starts. We ended up planting them, along with a bunch of big sturdy foot tall starts we got at Carpinito’s.

It is pretty clear that we have a temperature problem and a light problem. The bulbs in the shoplights are probably the suitable for growing plants. The high temperatures and low light inside the house are also not a good environment for starts. So I am hoping that by giving them full sun and what have been so far very cool temperatures, our starts this year will be strong and bushy. We have been getting a lot of rain, and thus a lot of cloud cover. I put a high/low thermometer inside the aquarium a couple of days ago, and so far the lowest temp has been 40 and the highest 65. I am a little worried about how much the temperature is fluctuating, and about the amount of light. So far nothing has come up. It’s SCIENCE! So most likely, none of it will work. But if it does, it is a pretty simple solution for making starts, and if it doesn’t, Carpinito’s is already selling some pretty good looking tomato plants.

Thanks for reading. More later!

Spring, bees, and busy

With the arrival of spring, our chore list gets significantly lengthier and more time consuming. Working full time and having two young children means that sacrificing sleep and well planned days are a must. Last weekend, Paul concentrated on making a pallet herb/salad garden. We cleared off some space in the front yard and put down five pallets. In the permaculture world, this is going to be our zone one garden. We still need to put up a temporary chicken fence around them (the girls will destroy the garden in all of five minutes if we don’t keep them out). Here are a few pics of our progress so far.

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We hope to finish the garden this weekend and get the lettuces, spinach, kale, chard, herbs and some flowers planted.  Once the pallet garden is complete our next gardening chore will be getting the main garden beds up and putting up a fence in the front yard. After work this Wednesday we got home a little early. Paul went to get the girls and pick up a pizza and I started to get our planting gear ready…on full speed. We had saved 20 two litter club soda containers. I cut each in half, put them neck side down into the bottom half and threaded the neck with a half foot piece of yarn.

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When Paul got home with the girls, we quickly ate the pizza outside and Paul filled the ready to go planters while I kept the gals happy and fed. Then came my favorite part—planting the tomato seeds. We have never used this method before and hope that it works. The theory behind it is that the piece of yarn will provide capillary action so the containers should be self-watering for at least a few days. Avoiding watering directly onto the seed or the seedling will prevent root exposure and potentially rotting of the seed. We will let you know how it goes. Another new technique we are employing this year is starting our starts in our “green house”.

Last summer Paul picked up a free 100 gallon fish tank that had a little crack in it. Initially we thought—verimculture! Having a worm bin for the precious compost is still on our to-do list but we repurposed it into a greenhouse instead. We put the starts under the fish tank along with a thermometer and are now waiting to see what happens.

 Following that project, we will be building a new and improved chicken coop, installing some hugel/woody bed gardens and fencing off the front yard.

Stay tuned!

Impacted crop = death…Say WHAT!?

Last Saturday when Lina let the chickens out for the morning, she noticed one acting strange. She immediately went under a tree, instead of eating with her sisters. Her mouth would move open slightly and make a wheezing noise over and over. She wasn’t making any of the usual clucking or other normal chicken noises.  Her tail was down, her feathers were all puffed up and she was not moving around like the other chickens. After a couple of minutes observing her, she called me outside.

I was getting ready for my second to last day of the permaculture design course I’d been taking, and already stressed out. Lina pointed out the chicken and I picked her up. It was one of our Rhode Island reds which tend to not mind, or even enjoy being handled. But when I picked this one up, she was even more docile than usual. Lina got on the interwebs and started searching.

One of the first hits she got for sick chickens was worms. There are many worms than can infest chickens, among the worse are gapeworm. A chicken infested with gapeworm may show symptoms very similar to what we were observing. There was also brief discussion of mites and viruses. We decided we should quarantine her, and made a makeshift infirmary in the garage.

Admittedly, we sort of thought she might be a goner. We talked about taking her to a vet, and even called the local emergency vet, that had helped us with some other poultry problems we had last summer. We contacted our regular vet via text too. She is really great about soothing our more than occasional paranoia fueled pet crises. Some internet searches suggested surgery was going to be her only hope. Tensions were high.

As I was handling her, I felt that her crop was hard.

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Lina didn’t think she had eaten, so I thought that might be another symptom. So back to Dr. Internet, DVM. The first hit was for impacted crop. Since this blocks the GI tract, this is a potentially life threatening condition, and has lead to many a backyard chickens’ early demise. The symptoms matched and the home treatment was to pour either olive oil, warm water or both down her throat and massage the hard lump until it was able to pass. Still in my bathrobe, I ran downstairs with a coffee mug of warm water and olive oil, and a kids medicine syringe. Lina was trying to keep things under control upstairs; making the kids happy, breakfast, trying to figure out how we could help our poor chicken and checking the other birds for symptoms.

I got probably 25 ml of the oil/water mix down her throat. She didn’t resist at all, and maybe even liked the attention. I started massaging the hard lump, and after a few minutes it had gone from feeling like a golf ball to a water balloon. One word of caution that I didn’t read until later; it is very important not to let the chicken aspirate the oil. This can cause a life threatening condition!

By now I was concerned with getting to class on time, so I plopped her back in her hospital bed (a plastic tote with a bath towel on the bottom) and ran out the door. In class I mentioned our morning ordeal with a fellow chicken herder. She mentioned the oil/water home remedy, with a modification. When she had done this to one of her chickens, she tipped it upside down after administering olive oil only. This allowed her bird to expel the mass in her crop. She also said that her bird’s breath was quite rank, and was probably suffering from a related condition called “sour crop.” This is an impaction that has been stuck long enough for the contents to begin rotting right inside the crop, creating a foul odor and risk of bacterial infection, in addition to the problems associated with impacted crop.

Lina kept an eye on her all day, and got another 15 ml of anti-impaction concoction in her. The other chickens did not present with symptoms. By the time I got home at 7:00pm, she looked slightly better, but was still gasping and making wheezing noises. We said goodnight, and hoped for the best.

By the next morning she was looking a lot better. She was still gasping, but not as frequently. We offered her some yogurt, and she hungrily ate it up. She had also pooped quite a bit during the night, which was encouraging. We were still concerned, however. Most of the forums we had read said that we should expect more immediate results from the home remedy. So we were thinking that maybe we did have bigger problems. We began to research antibiotics and antihelminthics.

Lina went down to check on her again before I left for class again. The chicken was looking a lot better. She was walking around and making some normal chicken sounds. Lina also noticed that her tail had moved back to its upright-prepared-for-landing position. We decided to give her another day before getting her on drugs. I let her out in the front yard for a couple minutes. She looked almost normal, poking around the grass and strutting around. Her gasping was much less frequent, down from many times per minute to maybe just one or two. Throughout the day she had two soft meals and some scratch, to make sure her crop was functioning normally. She passed her finals!

We are happy to say that this morning she got released in to general population. After a moment of disapproval about being taken from her dry garage and put into the soggy back yard, she disappeared into the flock.

Now that you know more than you ever wanted about impacted crops, we hope that you will never have to deal with one.

On a happier note, with our increasing daylight hours, our chickens are laying more. We even have an over achiever, as you may notice in the photos below.

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Thanks for reading!