Friday, May 31, 2013

Poultry in Motion: Party Fowl

I'm really sorry about that, but I couldn't decide which pun I liked better.

This has been a big week for chickens at MFW.  For starters, we have a rooster.  Christy and I had been talking about getting a rooster to help keep an eye on the hens (or more to the point, the eagles), in hopes of free ranging them more often.  It just so happened that our good friends Berry and Stacey of Springboard Farm came up to spend one of their infrequent days off with us, and had a mature Birchen Maran rooster slated to make his way into their freezer.  They packed him into a cardboard box and drove him up the peninsula.  There was a very brief pecking order dispute between the rooster and the alpha hen, our largest Silver-Laced Wyandotte, but one flash of those impressive neck feathers was all it took to put her in line.  Since then, everyone has been getting along like gang busters.

In keeping with the tradition we picked up from Jim and Teri at Tarboo Farm, hens don't get names, but roosters do.  I introduce to you, Günther the Rüster.

Why a German sounding name?  Yes, Birchen Marans are a French breed if you're going to picky about it, but Günther just seems to fit him, don't you think?

As if an attractive, German sounding rooster with umlauts and everything weren't exciting enough, we also have new chicks!  Well, more like pullets than chicks, being that they're eight weeks old and fully feathered.  The owner of the restaurant Christy and I work for was looking to get rid of them, and naturally thought of us.  Bringing our total flock up to fourteen are two more Ameraucanas and three Golden Laced Wyandottes.  They're still a little shy, but seem to be very happy in their new home.

We decided to keep the pullets separate from the rest of the flock until they get a little bigger.  To do this, we added a tiny run adjacent to our existing run, and built a small coop out of some scrap wood.  A mini-coop, if you will.  They have roosts, straw bedding, fresh grass and a small shelter for food and water.  The new run shares a fence with the old, so all the birds can get accustomed to one another before the official introduction.  When that time comes, we'll be expanding the whole run by about twenty feet, to accommodate our newly-doubled flock

I don't mean to end things on a somber note, but it's worth noting that we had to cull one of the pullets.  There were six.  One of them was scissor beaked, a deformity of the skull that causes the lower half of the beak to grow at an angle away from the upper half, making it very hard for the chicken to eat or drink.  It only would have gotten worse with time, and it would have been a pretty miserable existence. We knew it was the right thing to do, but that didn't make it any easier.  Neither of us had done anything like this before.  Christy stepped up and did the compassionate act.  We knew this was a threshold we would have to cross at some point, as responsible semi-farmers, stewards of various animals.  We're not city-folk anymore.  Well, Christy isn't, at least.  I've been trying to find any excuse to talk about two stroke motors, or other such manly things to make up for wimping out on the dirty deed. The experience gave our responsibility towards the rest of our flock a little more gravity, and we're making extra sure now that everyone gets the best life we can give them.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Dizzy Decisions

No one can really accuse John and I of over thinking things.  Both of us have taken some wild leaps in our lives;  I mean we moved in together roughly 30 seconds after meeting.  On the house we generally found a recycled material or crazy window and decided to just go for it pretty quickly. So it has surprised me that we have both been over thinking the garden so much.  The garden is a space that is impermanent so the risk is less, we should just jump into it, right? Well... it hasn't been that simple.

Over Thinking #1. The space is huge! At nearly 3000 sq feet we bit off more than we can chew this year. Or next year.  I want to set the space up so that it works the soil for the long term.  Our soil is lovely, moist humus with random stripes of clay running throughout.  I would love to reign in this problem.  One way would be to rent a rototiller and do the entire area and plant a cover crop over half the space. Maybe even 3/4.  The other idea being that we go all raised beds and dig up each small area at a time, putting in walkways between each bed. Raised beds are good for lots of things and offer many benefits  to the Pacific northwest gardener, such as warmer soils, but they're not great for everything.  And I want the garden to work for everything. The solution is obvious but took us a while to reach; do both.

Over Thinking #2. Where do the raised beds go? They will be used for heat loving plants like tomatoes, who are so much happier with warm roots, and root vegetables like carrots, beets, and radishes, that get stunted if they hit a small pebble.  We have the benefit of having watched the sun over the garden for the last two years and have solid ideas about summer versus winter crops and location, but this might be where we get into trouble. The entire garden is sunny most of the time so chasing down the sunlight hours per crop may have led me down a rabbit hole.

Over Thinking #3. The quadrants.  After much discussion , we finally decide that the best idea is to divide the area into quadrants. One is for raised beds and permanent crops like Asparagus and Artichokes,  two plowed areas, one for summer crops and one for winter crops, and one area of a cover crop.  This is the long term plan.

I have drawn so many possible garden maps that I think I finally learned my lesson. Just start somewhere.   So I bought a Rototiller.  I called around about renting one and determined that for the cost of renting one three times I could own one, so I found a nice used one on-line and got to work.

Here is my new beauty. She is a serious workhorse and my new favorite tool.

This year I will plant half the garden with a cover crop to enrich the soil, and plant the other half with whatever I can. I am going to get the raised beds in one at a time as I can find the time and Asparagus will get planted in the fall.  One thing at a time. One thing we know for sure is that our summers are short and time is awastin'.

Here's how it looks now.
                   After 4 passes over the entire area. The soil is now loose to 5". I am looking to get it to 8".

Now that the soil is loose and I can see the quality, I am more focused on soil enrichment than have a huge garden this year. I need to ease into a garden this large.

One last picture, this one is for Suzie and Betty. I found the perfect spot for Versie's green glassware.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Garden Begins

This spring we're having here, which is the earliest and most amazing spring I've ever experienced in the Northwest, is proving to be, like most things, a blessing and a curse.  It sure feels nice after a long and wet winter in a yurt, and our home really shines in the early morning light, and the late afternoon sun shines directly into the bathtub on the back porch.  The ground is drying out, and we can finally get that load of gravel we've wanted without fear of a dump truck getting stuck in the driveway.  The benefits are many, and that's without even mentioning the beauty of spring in this part of the world.

The curse?  Well, when things warm up around here and the days start getting longer, the growth rate of all plants can suddenly become overwhelming.  That grass that's maintained a neat trim for the last seven months?  Well it just grew two feet in the last week and a half!  Everything is waking up, and waking up with a vengeance.  For those of use hoping to harness a bit of that vengeance and turn it into edible food for us, this is time to scurry.  Our growing season is generally in the short side, so as soon as the weather gives you this kind of invitation, you need to get your seeds in check and start breaking ground!  That's what we've been doing for the past couple of weeks.

Our house is a nice, reasonable 1,100 square feet.  Our garden, or what has been fenced in and designated as garden space, is somewhere around 2,700 square feet.  For two of us, that's a serious footprint.  Being that we're both working full time jobs through the summer, and are still working on details in the house, it's become obvious to us that we can't expect to utilize all of that space this year.  We've designated long-term beds for our perennial fruits, and have been keeping on top of the weeds, and plan on setting up beds over roughly half of the garden in the next couple of weeks.  Enough to grow tomatoes, corn, zuchinni, squash, beans, melons and berries.  The rest of the space, as the plan goes as of the last debate, will get rototilled and spread over with a cover crop.  This should help to keep the weeds down and make the non-producing half of the garden lower maintenance on a week-to-week basis.

Since this is our first spring living at MFW, we are just now using our two-and-a-half-year-old greenhouse for it's designed purpose!  Throughout house building, it served as a catchall dry spot, and became pretty cluttered.  It was very gratifying today when we cleared it all out and set it up for plants.  Lots of sun, lots of space, and lots of plants.  And lots of garden.  What have we gotten ourselves into?!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Serious Furniture SCORE

We had been talking about a coffee bar / hutch piece of furniture for the kitchen for a looooong time. We had all sorts of ideas; ideas to build it, ideas to find it, ideas to scrap it. In the end we decided to scrap it. The space we had marked for this grand coffee bar / hutch was only 29 inches wide, we didn't want the piece to stick out into the kitchen more than a foot, and we wanted to put cookbooks on top so it couldn't be that tall.  As this seemed like an impossible thing to find and we felt we had much more important things to build, we set the idea aside.

THEN I found this ad on craigslist from someone selling an Art Deco dental cabinet. I would click on anything that had these words all together and so I clicked and a furniture miracle happened.

 It's only 59 inches tall, 28 inches wide, and 12 inches deep. In nearly perfect condition, it even has a light in the upper cabinet and the infrastructure for glass shelves.

It makes me so happy that such a beauty found a space just waiting for it.