Sunday, September 12, 2010

Early Fall

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I've really been enjoying the sustained cool weather of late summer. I'm trying to get caught up on my winter firewood. I should get it chopped in spring and early summer so it dry out all summer but coming off of winter I'm usually chopping wood daily for the next day and getting the spring garden going so I once the weather warms I've had my fill of chopping and put it off. Right now it's not a big problem as much of the wood I have has been down for a few years and seems to dry pretty darn fast once I've chopped it up and gotten it covered. In the next couple days I should be able to get enough wood done to last me through December. If the weather is good over the next week or two I should be able to get enough done to get me through January or February. I actually don't mind chopping in the winter as it is the only exercise I get and it warms me up on a cold day... as the saying goes, wood warms you up twice.

Aside from the wood I'm slowly working through the jungle of weeds that the summer garden became when I gave up on it. Putting them as a big layer of mulch out around the blueberries so they'll compost into the soil. There is no doubt the soil around here has been greatly improved over the past two years. So much looser and full of earthworms and nutrients... yes, I'm very happy with the soil!  Really, that's what I love the most is the soil. I enjoy gardening but I love enriching the soil and digging my hands into it. I'll probably cover the garden this fall with lots of cardboard and straw which I did not do last fall or spring, hence all the weeds. As I said recently I don't plan to plant the garden next year. I'll just let it sit and rest. The real problem is it is way too big for one person.

Next big outside project is to get any rotten wood hauled up into the small garden to start the Huegelkultur process. Next year I'll focus on a smaller area and see what I can produce. I think I'll be alot happier. Other than that we've got to get the new well house built and I've got to get my new waterline winterized. Oh, yeah, I've got water straight from the well now! I don't think I mentioned that before. So nice to turn on the faucet and have cold, drinkable water! That luxury will make living here in the winter so much easier!

Kid's Cabin

Bees and chickens, chickens and bees. I don't know if I want to keep the bees. I hate to give up on a project but I just don't know that I want to keep them and am leaning towards selling them. I spent a good bit of time this past fall and spring keeping them well fed with sugar water. I did everything (almost) by the book and had such an amazing healthy hive back in March only to have it split twice and end up with a fairly small hive that hasn't produced much in the way of honey. We got one good, full frame which gave us two pints of beautiful, sweet honey. The remaining frames are only partially pulled out and capped. Not counting the equipment investment,  I probably spent $15 in sugar... those are two very expensive pints of honey! You could argue that the cost of the boxes, if spread out over 10 years is a good investment but the sugar water is something that has to be fed ongoing. On the one hand I do love certain aspects of bee keeping but I'm not sure it is enough to keep them. It's a project that only gets bigger and more time consuming as the hives grow and split and grow and split.

The chickens have been another frustration this summer. The egg harvest went way, way down and really I was/am confused about what the exact cause was. Part of the problem was my own doing I think. Somehow I missed the lesson about the importance of calcium in their diet. I knew they needed it and had been feeding them their ground up egg shells. I did not realize just how important it was though and didn't know that I should probably also be feeding them oyster shells. I did notice their shells were not real strong and then a funny thing started happening. Egg production started to decline back in June and I also started noticing eggs with just a membrane or in some cases no shell at all. They would just sort of lay a blob of egg. This was happening at the same time that black snakes moved in and started stealing eggs. I think I captured at least 8 in July and August. But because of the snakes I didn't realize that they were starting to lay fewer eggs.  Add to this mix the fact that I caught the hens themselves eating a few eggs and I've got at least three or four variables/explanations. As of the past two or three weeks I've been lucky to get 2-3 eggs a day from 11 hens.

New Interior of Red Cabin

While I do adore my girls I don't keep them as pets and I want to be able to sell enough eggs that they at least pay for their feed.  I've been feeding them oyster shells for a month and am hoping that helps with the soft shell and reduced egg laying. In a way it may be a  good thing that they are taking a break from laying because I'm seeing that they are getting their feathers back. Now that I've got their diet fully rounded with the calcium source I'm hoping that perhaps we'll go into the fall with fully feathered, rested hens that have a more balanced diet. I feel terrible that my ignorance contributed to them not being as healthy as they should be.

All in all it was a difficult summer but we've made real progress. A covered porch, running water, renovated interior in the red cabin, lots of new perennial garden beds and no major losses. Kerry and Greg and the kids will be able to spend alot more time down here thanks to the red cabin remodel so that is good news. In theory the work done this summer should make for more frequent and more comfortable visits for my folks as well since they stay in the red cabin too. The next big project is a porch for the red cabin which we should be able to knock out in a couple weekends next spring. There's a good bit of perennial landscaping I'd like to do around the cabins next spring but nothing too crazy. Next year should provide lots more time for enjoyment and less time with construction.

 

5 comments:

Anne said...

Not a beekeeper.. but I'm fairly sure sugar water is offered when there isn't enough honey until the spring bloom kicks in (or to supplement fall reserves). May want to check around at this beekeeping forum
http://beesource.com/forums/index.php

Were the chickens getting dark leafy greens? (broccoli family.. kale, mustard greens, beet greens, turnip greens)
maybe check here for some suggestions
http://www.small-farm-permaculture-and-sustainable-living.com/what_do_chickens_eat.html

denny said...

Anne,

You are correct. It is a fall/spring feeding to supplement what the bees have produced themselves. Even so it ends up being quite a bit of sugar as the ratio is 4 parts sugar to 1 part water which really adds up if you do a couple weeks of that in the fall and couple weeks in the spring.

Yeah, the chickens have pretty good access to a really great variety of plants though not necessarily leafy garden greens. Part of the year they are free range and when they are not they are in a polyculture pasture with a great diversity of clovers and grasses and native species. Aside from the oyster shells I'm really happy with the diet they have as well as the daily exercise they get outside. In addition to all the green stuff they get lots of time with mulch covered soil full of worms and insects.

denny said...

Oh, forgot to mention, they also get a good bit of comfrey which is very high in protein as well as a variety of minerals. By the way, thanks for the comment and for the link... lots of great info there!

Wes from PB said...

I must say Denny that I have been raising free range chickens for 4 years and have never had to supplement their diet with oyster shell beyond an occasional handful when the shells develop soft spots.


That said, I have to say that my egg production suffered dramatically as well. I am fairly confident that the lack of rain and extreme heat were the main culprits in the decline of egg production.

Anne said...

Nutritionally, in general the brassica family of veggies is high in their calcium content in than others. (significant amounts of calcium). Kale can also be somewhat overwintered with some protection.

Bummer about the chickens. I wish them a speedy recovery, and you more luck!