Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Rain, Rain, Go Away!

I know I should not be saying that. The rain is helping the compost and manure work it's way deeper in the dirt, but I want to plant. The seeds and starts are all here, ready to go in the ground.

Jenn mentioned a book she once had about growing "more vegetables that you ever imagined" so we went and got a copy a couple of days ago. It is chock-a-block full of great ideas about companion planting and crop rotation. I never really thought about rotation on such a small farm. Soils get depleted. Size does not matter. The tome is a bit more scientific, and has less pictures than I would like, but I am wending my way through the thing because I want to be an absolute success at this.

Work on the chicken run and coop is on schedule. There are only a few small things left to be done. The chicks are healthy and growing. The three older girls, Dolly, Buffy and Brusier Woods are really starting to feather out. I am sure they will be beautiful once the transition is complete. But to me, right now, they look like aliens or prehistoric birds. The little girls, Laverne, Shirley and Penny are pretty much still in the cute baby stage of development. Cleaning up after six messy birds three times a day can be a pain. How is it that such tiny creatures can make such a mess is beyond me. I know, by the amount of waste in the brooder that we will have a large supply of poop to put on the garden over the summer, and can stock pile enough poop filled straw for next year.

Today, I read the overly scientific tome and draw a map of what needs to grow next to what. Pictures of the results in a few days, if the weather will cooperate.

Monday, April 20, 2009

From Chef to Farmer

My role has changed. instead of calling myself a cook who writes, I am now a farmer who cooks and writes and has chores to do every morning.

My day starts in the garage, our version of a barn. I feed and water the chicks, change out the bedding in the brooder and spend a little time bonding with the girls who will be our egg providers. They are starting to grow adult plumage. Real feathers instead of the downy coat they are born with. I am falling more in love with them everyday.

My next stop is in the field. Ok, it's not really a field, but I don't want to call it a LARGE garden. It is my field of dreams. Right now I water the starts, dig a bit more of the grass out of what will be the six or so beds, stir the compost and add the bits and bobs and coffee grounds from the house. I know it's not much, but by next week there will amending, and watering and weeding and more planting than I've ever done before. I am thinking of getting a new garden hat, like the ones I've seen in pictures of farmer's wives in the 1940s.

I am enjoying my new role and hope to be a success at it.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Trouble With Baby Chickens

is that some of them die. We lost two of the first three we brought home. I don't know why it surprised me. Last spring we were in San Diego at an RV park. A mother duck with a dozen little ones made the rounds everyday. By the time we had been there a week, she was down to four or five little sets of webbed feet following her around the park. I did not mind so much that her brood grew smaller. I did care that ours did.

The two chicks, one yellow and one black, are buried right outside the chicken run. I thought it would be nice for them to spend whatever eternity chickens have close to the place where they would have lived. And yes, I understand I did that for me and not really for them.

We decided, the day we found the second dead chick, to see if we could get a couple more that appealed to us as replacement flock mates for the one we have now decided to call Bruiser Woods, a Black Maran that will lay dark, chocolate brown eggs. She picked on the two little ones that died so much, ran over them to get to food, and certainly was the dominate presence in the brooder. We found two that looked hearty and were certainly large enough, we thought, to hold their own against the Bru. Two days later, everyone is still alive and thriving. We are so certain about the new kids survival that we have named them as well. Not a flower in the bunch. We have a Delaware that we named Dolly and a Buff Orpington not so cleverly named Buffy. Jenn wants a one of the reds she will call Penny and I want a Laced Wyandotte that I will call Buttercup. We have to have at least one flower name in the bunch!

It is work to keep up with their needs, especially the cleaning up of the poop and scattered food. But, they are entertaining and calming too. Jenn and I sat out in the garage late last night for an hour just watching them do chick things, like falling asleep and falling over, or practicing their scratching techniques, or just being cute babies. They are still covered in that soft down you can't help but stick your face into. The down on their wings, however, is giving way to the start of real feathers.

I love them all so much and will be a very proud "flock momma" when one of them lays her first egg!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

There is Much to Learn

I am reading Barbara Kingsolver's book, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle". Early on she talks about how the school year was set up to run from fall to late spring in order to make sure children weren't in school when the crops came in. The people who set this schedule up knew things I don't. They knew when the last frost arrives, when the first one will come in the fall. They knew what plants can go in the ground before that last frost, and which ones will keep over the winter. They knew what you needed to can or preserve. There are still people out there who know the rules of Mother Nature. I am not one one of them, at least not in the truest sense.

In my attempt to expand my own sense of living differently by creating my urban farm, what I've come to realize is that my agrarian gene is gone. I have no idea when the last frost comes, or what plants can go in the ground before that last frost. It isn't enough to build a place for the chickens and till the land for planting, there is studying I now need to do in order to be a successful urban farmer. I have to read The Farmer's Almanac and consult with experts in the field of growing food. I've only done one small garden since moving to the Pacific Northwest. It went in late, but had what I would consider to be an above average yield. This year, there are way too many variables to consider. I am planting so many things. There are 37 different fruits and vegetables going in the dark, verdant, beautiful smelling ORGANIC soil. If I just do thing all willy nilly I won't reach my goal of a killer harvest. If what I've read is correct, my partner and I will be begging people to take some of our harvest. The plot of land we tilled should give us more than enough to sustain us.

This move is a process, and everyday I find out just how much I don't know. Good thing I am not afraid to ask for help and get the information I need to be successful. I am very much enjoying this journey to a more self sustained existence.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Coop(ed) Up

Yesterday we finsished the hen house and coop for the chickens, and I found someone to come and till the garden.

Like anything tried for the first time, the whole thing took longer than Kate or I thought it would. But, the finished product was created from 95% recycled materials, and a whole lot of sweat, tears, and love. I am proud of the fact that we had much of what we needed, and the new neighbor next door had the rest. He just finished a bunch of work and had a fabulous scrap pile in his backyard that we tapped into several times. We have a very earth friendly place for the girls to live.

Next comes tilling and the laying out of the beds. We are going to grow 34 varieties of fruits, herbs, and vegetables. I have made room for everything on paper. I hope that my paper plan translates well to the soil.

I am starting to realize that is garden, and the birds, are going to take up a lot of my time. I don't think I've bitten more than I can chew, but it will take more effort than I first thought. I am not going to give up. I am not going to grow less, or have fewer chickens. We can do this. I know we can.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rain Stops, Construction Starts

My contractor is a go-getter of a woman. She stopped by yesterday afternoon, right as it stopped raining. Her "I just came to check things out and see what kind of materials we have" turned into construction. A couple of hours later, we had the footings in, the posts up, and a frame for the floor. We have lift off of the hippy-dippy, made from recycled materials, hen house and chicken coop.

Today, we continue. I am exicited about the way it will look, although a lot of the actuals about the design will come as we go. One thing that was not part of the original plan is a deck that is taking shape outside the hen house door. The little ladies will have a place to sit to watch the sunset. They will also have a large window, a roost under the hen house, and a yard with soil full of worms to et. They, luck bitches, will be living over the most tended and fertile part of the garden. I worked that soil myself, with a shovel, amending it to death two years ago when I started my first garden here.

Pictures tomorrow....

Friday, April 3, 2009

Rain Stalls Coop Construction

Yes, the rains stalled the start of the construction of the chicken coop and hen house. We had planned on starting late this week but the weather left us no option but to postpone. Looks like this weekend will give us drying time and maybe a chance to get it done before the next spring storm arrives.

Working around Mother Nature is a real pain. I'd like to stick to the schedule. The chicks arrive on the 7th and I'd like to have a space ready for them. Not that they can just have the run of the place, but they can live in their little cardboard inclousure inside the hen house. All warm and dry and not in our house!

I was wandering the garden, looking for things that might have wintered over from what got planted last year by the people who stayed here while we were gone on our trip. I found some mint, and a few things that are probably medicinal herbs, but I have to study up on them to find out. I will dig everything up, and then put it back in once the tilling is done. Who knows what we might end up with later on in the year.

The adventure of being an urban farmer continues.