Spring is around the corner. Paul and I have been cultivating a plan for expanding our garden, providing a better and happier environment for our chickens and preparing ourselves for canning season. This year will be a particular challenge for us since we will welcome a new member of our family in early summer. We currently do the bulk of our planning and canning after the girls go to bed. Hopefully our new addition will motivate us even more…since we will be up half the night anyways.
In our journey to become self reliant, food is at the top of the list. So far, that is really a dream, more than a reality. We have a single garden bed that provides us with a pound of peas a day for about a month (our eldest daughter does most of her vegetable eating during that month), 20-30 lbs of potatoes (during a good year), cucumbers, tomatoes, chard, kale , beans, spinach, and some lettuces and herbs in a bed we made out of a pallet. This year we would like to expand our into three garden beds, keeping the pallet garden for lettuces and herbs, some potted plants and an experimental raised bed area.
When we initially built our garden bed, we did not account for the slope in the yard as well as we should have. Watering the bed has been a pain and a waste of water. So this year, Paul is going to make the slope work for us. He will put the beds in such way that when we water our bed on top of the slope, water will work its way down watering the lowest garden bed. We are also planning to incorporate some rain barrels into our system. Once it is constructed, we will have lots of pictures available.
The pallet garden for my herbs, mostly cilantro and dill, lettuces and spinach work really well for us! It is not the most beautiful bed but it does its job well. The greens are nice and clean since they are not resting on the dirt, slugs and bugs don’t mow the young plants down and it’s easy to sow in rows. The boards also act as a mulch, shading the otherwise bare soil underneath, and preventing weeds in between rows. I highly recommend this style of gardening. This year, I will plant my lettuces in beginning of March and then every two weeks until it gets too hot, greens tend to bolt fast if it is too hot outside. I figured, whatever we don’t eat, the chickens will gladly devour. We also have a few pots scattered around the garden with other herbs such as lavender, rosemary, mint and peppermint and a bay leaf tree (not an herb but still in a pot).
We got our 13 girls and one boy last March. They have been a wonderful addition to our homestead. Unfortunately, we lost one little chick on day two and one pullet at about three months, leaving us with 12 chickens. We later learned that one of the was definitely a boy, a beautiful Australorp. His birthday gift to Paul was a nice loud and repeated crow. We knew we had to get rid of him so the neighbors would not get annoyed. We could not cull him and eat him, so we gave it to a friend of my folks who I am sure had no issues making soup the next day. It was a sad day for us—but it had to be done. Now we are the proud owners of 11 girls. They started laying in the fall and have been good layers throughout the winter.
Paul built the girls a beautiful chicken coop in our back yard and that seemed to work quite well, except the fact, that our back yard is no longer ours. The girls are free ranged and poop EVERYWHERE meaning that our human children aren’t allowed to be out there. During our dreary Pacific Northwest fall and winters this is more or less acceptable, but during summer it would be nice to have the back yard to ourselves.
We are planning on rebuilding the coop closer to our garden, near our front yard. Hopefully this will make us, and our hens happier. The backyard has been depleted all of the few bits of green it had. We feel with better access to green space the chickens will be happier. Happy hens produce happy and abundant eggs! This will also stack functions, allowing us to use the chickens to help us fertilize the gardens, and clean up after the harvest. Paul is also hoping to utilize them to help turn the compost pile, similar to the way Karl Hammer at Vermont Compost uses his chickens. Once the plans for the new coop become a bit more realistic and we will have more details, pictures and descriptions will be put up.
As for planning for the canning season—right now it’s in it’s infantile stage. We are still eating foods we preserved last year and accumulating all the canning jars. We usually start in later July and end in October. Since there is no way we can grow all of our food, especially for storage we rely on a local CSA (community supported agriculture) from Helsing Junction Certified Organic Farm. This farm provides us with all of our vegetables and majority of our fruit needs for 18 weeks. For our family of 2 adults and two kids their small share box is more than enough. We also get their bulk share, canning share and storage share. We get additional fruit and veggies for canning and eating from a few fruit stands and farmer’s markets. Some day we hope to do it all on our own…
A few of our past preserving efforts…just writing about canning gets me so excited. I am hoping to organize a canning party so anyone who is interested can come and can some goodies for the winter…ooh, it can be a potluck!