Learning By Mistakes

Don’t paint outside when there is a forest fire raging 100 miles away.

That was the lesson I learned the hard way last week.

Just when I start to think I might have a little intelligence, I do something like the following . . .

I woke up one morning last week to a fine dusting of ash on the ground and cars.  There was no doubt where the ash had come from.  We have four major forest fires going on in Washington State, and with the wind shifting, blowing from eastern Washington to western Washington, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the ash was a product of those fires.

So I did my writing thing for a few hours that morning and then decided to paint the picnic table the same color as the outside sheds.  It was a hot day and that was pretty much all I planned to accomplish outside that day, but I was determined to at least do that. I whipped through that chore in good time, washed off the paint brush, put everything away, and poured myself a nice, tall, cold glass of water, quite pleased with my accomplishment.

An hour later I was reminded that I’m not nearly as bright as I want to believe I am.

Yes, the ash fell on the new paint job, stuck to it, and left the picnic table looking like a cheap knock-off of some Jackson Pollock painting.

Sigh!

Welcome to my world!

I do that stuff quite often.  I get so focused on getting a job done that I don’t take the time to properly plan the job out.  Part of the problem is no training.  I’ve had to teach myself practically everything related to home improvements, so I make a ton of mistakes.  But I do learn eventually, so there’s that to embrace.

PLANNING FOR NEXT YEAR

That’s our main focus right now, getting ready for next year.  There is still about 30% of our backyard which is not used for much of anything, and that bugs the hell out of me.  Bev and I need to figure that out fairly soon.  The problem is the chicken population we have.  Planting in that remaining 30% yard is problematic with the chickens running loose. They would love to dig up anything we plant.  Yes, we could cage them, but I won’t do that to my birds.  Perhaps, and I’m not joking about this, I’ll cage the new planting section instead.  I have enough leftover chicken wire.  All I need to do is make a hay bale garden section and cover that section with a wooden frame and chicken wire.

New puppy

Something to think about, and that’s a project I can do without worrying about forest fire ash.

SOMETHING ELSE TO THINK ABOUT

Three years ago I built our first aviary.  I followed that up with another one the next year.  We have a third out at our son’s farm.

No, I know nothing about building, but I studied enough framed buildings to understand the basics, so I did all right.  I was a half-inch off plumb with that first aviary, 10’x12’ in size, so that ain’t bad for an amateur.

Soon to be a greenhouse

Anyway, the reason I mention it all is this: those three aviaries have been great multi-use structures.  One is currently holding our firewood for this coming winter; the other is holding fifteen nine-week old hens until we sell them as pullets.  Those aviaries have also been homes for quail, other chickens, and have served as greenhouses.

One thing I would suggest for those of you who are not talented in building things: plan the aviaries, or any building projects, so they are the size of pre-cut lumber.  Please note I said my aviaries are 10’x12’….those two sizes are standard cuts for 2’x4’s at any lumber yard, so I didn’t have to do much cutting while building the aviaries.  That may seem like a small thing, but I don’t like to do any more work than is absolutely necessary on any project.  Anybody who would build a structure 15 feet in length has a screw loose.  LOL  Pardon the pun!

THAT’S ALL FOR THIS WEEK

Rain is coming!  I can’t tell you how excited I am to report that news after the summer we’ve had.  Of course, check with me about November and I’ll be singing a completely different tune. J  And I’m really not complaining about our weather.  After watching not one, but two hurricanes on the news, I’m quite pleased with Western Washington weather.

Bye for now!

Bill

 

 

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Shifting Gears for Fall

It never ends!

Balancing a full-time job with developing and upkeeping an urban farm is endless.  It should be one or the other, but both?  Maybe for someone younger than me, sure, but I’m about to turn sixty-nine, and I’m feeling it.

I’m just whining. Stop me when you recognize the tune.  LOL

FRONT YARD

No more lawn

Seriously, we created a monster in the front when we took out the lawn and inserted close to thirty berry bushes.  Three years later the berries are quite healthy, quite happy, and threatening to take over the neighborhood.  I say all of this with a smile on my face, but it does also mean more work to add to the to-do list.

My dad loved lawns.  He was always out there with his pesticides killing dandelions, always out there with the edger, cutting perfect lines on the periphery, and of course always out there with the lawnmower making sure the lawn looked uniform and well-cared for.

What a friggin’ waste of time.

Of course, I never told him that.  This boy is no dummy!

THE BACKYARD

Yep, same tune, different lyrics.  The grapes went crazy this year.  The watermelon vines literally grew up the side of the aviary

Backyard bounty

and over the top, mixing with the vines of the thorn-less blackberries and the grapes.  It’s like a lush jungle back there, and I absolutely love it.

We’ve been feeding the rabbits fresh lettuce for a couple months now.  We have enough potatoes to feed all of Ireland.  About the only thing that didn’t grow in abundance was corn, but that never does in our backyard and I’m okay with that failure.

Oddly, my mom and dad weren’t much for vegetable gardens. I say oddly because they came from Iowa. At one time, my mom’s parents owned a large corn farm.  Maybe that’s why my mom didn’t care too much about raising a garden.  She spent far too much time as a child among those tall, green, rustling stalks.

Me, I remember vacations on that farm, and the wonder of it all, soil so dark as to seem artificial, white cumulous clouds floating overhead, fireflies at night, bullfrogs singing in the dark, it really was a magical kingdom for a pre-teen.

CHORES

I’m in the process of painting right now. Then I’ll be in the process of hauling away brush, and then in the process of pruning, and then in the process of . . . well, you get the point.

I’ve always been like that when it’s property I own.  I like doing chores. I like building things.  I like the challenge, and it is a challenge since I really don’t know what the hell I’m doing half the time, but I do love the challenge and I love the results.  It beats the hell out of watching The Bachelor on television.

For those of you who are reluctant to try odd jobs you aren’t trained for, I will say this: if this boy, with zero training in any of the base skills, can build and repair, then anyone can.  There are tutorials on YouTube which can teach you practically anything if you are willing to make the occasional mistake while learning.

QUAIL

They are just about done laying for the year, which means they are just about done residing on our property.  I’ll sell off the flock in September and start fresh with new birds in February.  Yes, we could use artificial light and they would lay eggs during the winter but honestly, I don’t feel like doing that. I want to take the winter off and concentrate on writing novels.

No, we will not slaughter any. We tried that and we didn’t enjoy it.  There’s something about raising a bird from egg to adulthood, taking care of it, being with it daily . . . I find it real hard to cut their heads off after forming that bond.  I know, silly old urban farmer, right, but that’s just who I am and I’m fine with that.

CHICKENS

Our brooders have been very good moms this summer. Two of our original hens have taken chicks under their wing (literally) and raised some fine chickens.  We are currently selling off fifteen Blue Andalusian hens for $10 each, and once they are sold we’ll bring in more chicks and raise them and sell them.  I’m pretty sure we’ll raise chicks all winter long since it’s a fairly easy process using the aviaries we have in the backyard.  The heat lamps are already set up to provide heat during the cold days and nights, so I’m pretty sure that’s what we’ll do.

I don’t know if I mentioned this, but Bev manages a farm and garden store here in Olympia, and they sell chicks at that store, and this summer they sold over 3,000 chicks from that store.  I think that is fabulous news because many of those chicks went to first-time urban farmers who wanted chickens in their backyards, which means there are a whole lot of people in our city giving this urban farming thing a try.

HOORAY!

OUR NEW PUP

By the end of September Maggie May will join our little farm. She is a Northwest Farm Terrier, a relatively new breed of farm dog, and we are excited to have her here. They are great herding dogs, especially with chickens, so we’ll put Maggie May to work next spring…and pamper her this winter.

PLANS FOR NEXT YEAR

Our plans will center around the farmers markets. We have decided to keep raising quail, mainly because we just love those little birds, and the eggs ain’t bad either.  We will be making some herbal dips to sell at the markets, packages of spices and herbs which people can mix with sour cream….and I have another coloring book I want to publish before the markets begin in April.

Our sons are putting a new roof on our house in late September, and after that is completed I’ll attach a new arbor to the house for our grapevines.  And I have a new deck to build for the grandma’s cottage out back.

And I plan on sleeping in past six several days each week.

I could tell you more but I have work to do.

Catch ya later!  Thanks for stopping by and Happy Farming to you!

Bill

Random Thoughts On An Urban Farm

No more lawn

We can’t eat all the berries we have grown this year.

I know, I know, freeze them!  We will, but that’s not the point.

The berries are coming from our front yard, which is no longer a lawn but instead is a cornucopia of thirty berry bushes.

Too cool for words!

It began in earnest three years ago. We laid down cardboard, put hay over that, and let nature do its thing. We kept adding cardboard where necessary, added fallen leaves, added more hay, and when we could we started planting the berries.

Three years later we have a harvest fit for a neighborhood of kings . . . and queens.

I hate lawns.  I hate mowing lawns.  I see no purpose in lawns.  I think lawns are stupid.

Backyard bounty

On the other hand, berries are not stupid, but wise.

Any questions?

MOVING ON

A young couple we know just purchased their first home.  Pretty exciting news for them, five acres just outside of town, a partially-constructed workshed along with the house and land, plans already being made by this young couple, and it is hard not to be excited for them.

They asked me yesterday if I knew anyone who raised goats.

I love sustainable living and the strong sense of community.

Just so happens our son has a goat farm.

Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding!!!!!!!!!

Community!  Too cool for words!

FALL CHORES

I’m exhausted thinking about my to-do list. Why get more tired writing about it now? If you have an urban farm you know what I’m talking about.

LOOKING FOR ADVICE

I don’t mean this as mean so please don’t take it that way. I am actually amused by it.  I recently queried why my quail would suddenly stop laying eggs, and within an hour I had fifteen different responses, all from very earnest people, all dead certain that they were correct based on their experiences, all highly-critical of the other opinions.

I personally think the quail stopped laying because it was too hot, but that’s beside the point.

The point is this: one size does not fit all in farming.  What works for one person may not work for you, and what I do to solve a problem may not be considered wise by you.

It’s okay!  Really!  We don’t all have to solve problems the same way.  Take a deep breath and relax.

Share information with each other . . . give suggestions when asked for . . . and chill the hell out!

GRIT

If you raise chickens and quail, you are going to need grit at some point.  Grit is used as a way to properly digest food.  It goes straight down the bird’s gullet and “mashes” up the food they have eaten.  That’s because chickens don’t have teeth, so the food they eat goes into their stomachs as lumps and not digested, chewed food.  Grit does the work of teeth.

Many farmers use ground up oyster shells as grit.  We use chicken egg shells as a substitute. I put the shells in a plastic bucket, and pound them into little pieces using a splitting maul.  You then take those shells and bake them in the oven for about ten minutes or so. Some people don’t even bake them. I’m not sure which approach is correct.  Either way, our chickens will eat it, as will the quail.

Yes, chickens eat chicken egg shells. Call it cannibalism if you want, but they love them and the shells are good for them.

I GOTTA GO

Enough of this writing stuff (even though it pays the bills).  I’ve got work to do outside now that the heat wave has ended. For one I have to collect eggs. The girls are laying again. J

Bill

Preparation and Flexibility

Soon to be a greenhouse

Anyone who has ever had a farm will understand this next statement: I’m willing to bet I don’t have one section of chicken wire or hardware cloth on this property that hasn’t been used for at least three different projects. You know how it goes . . . you build a chicken run and then six months you don’t need that run anymore, but you do need to protect the garden from roaming chickens, so you take the chicken wire and you build a temporary fence around the garden, but then after the harvest you need that wire to protect garlic planted in another section of the yard, so you pull the wire up again and move it . . . and . . .

And so it goes!

In fact, we recently went to the dump, and one load consisted of nothing but old projects using chicken wire which were all at least six years old. They had finally worn down to the point where I couldn’t use them for anything, so I was forced to get rid of them.

As I look around the place, I see quite a few examples of this “re-use” philosophy.  We have large plastic totes that are always being used for new projects.  I raised red wigglers in one and three months later modified it to raise mealworms, and six months after that I needed it as a portable holding station for baby chicks.

The aviaries I built to raise quail in have been used for the quail, for baby chickens, and as greenhouses. This winter one of them will store our firewood while the other will be for baby chickens again.

The carport made out of PVC pipe and plastic is being dismantled and will be a forty-foot greenhouse next spring.

And so it goes!

FIREWOOD DELIVERED

A cord of seasoned firewood was delivered the other day.  I spent the next few days moving it to its new home in the aviary.  It feels good knowing that chore is taken care of.  Next up is painting the shed out back, and then the next chore is . . . well, there’s always a next chore.

IN DEFENSE OF URBAN FARMING

I recently saw a cartoon on Facebook.  I don’t remember the exact wording, but it was about tomatoes, and it said “Tomatoes, something you plant and then wait four months in order to save $2.17.”

That’s actually a fairly accurate statement, but it’s also not a complete statement.

Urban farming is not about saving money.  If it were, most of us would be failing miserably.  Of course it is more convenient to purchase tomatoes at a supermarket.  It is also less expensive to do so . . . but . . . there is no way this boy is eating tomatoes sold at Safeway.  I’ve done far too much research about pesticides to ever eat produce or fruit from a supermarket.  Urban farming is a life choice.  I want to know where my food comes from, and if I don’t grow it I damned well make sure the produce we are buying came from a local farmer, one who practices organic farming.

Urban farming is also about community.  I can’t control what’s happening nationally.  National politics and policies drive me crazy.  I can, however, do my part to support local farmers and neighbors and businesses, and that’s what I will do.

And finally, urban farming is about joy and satisfaction.

WHAT DO CHICKENS, QUAIL, AND ME ALL HAVE IN COMMON?

The answer: none of us are worth a damn in hot weather!

I noticed this the last two years but still it surprised me when it happened this week: the chickens and quail all but stop laying eggs when the temperature gets too hot.  We are being promised cooler weather next week and then the girls will start laying again, but at first it’s a bit disconcerting when eighty quail and seven hens all of a sudden stop laying eggs.  LOL  Makes one think the end of the world is upon us.

Nope, nothing so sinister . . . it’s just too hot!  The fowl are on strike!

Buttercup is on the left

TIME TO GO DO SOMETHING CONSTRUCTIVE

I’ve got a shed to paint but hey, it’s too hot, so that will wait until next week. For now I think I’ll just make sure everyone has enough water and let it go at that.

Have a great week of gardening/farming. I know I will.

Bill

Animal Stewardship and Brooders

 

I’m no expert on urban farming.  I’m a “hit and miss” sort of guy. I have no biology degrees or certificates of expertise in horticulture.  I just keep plugging along, trying this, discarding that, and sticking with the things I do well.  I mention that because I don’t want you to think you are reading the words of some guru.  In fact, the best we can hope for, on any given day, is that you’ll learn from my mistakes. J

My wife and I are in the process of putting together a master plan.  We have decided that our randomness is hurting our productivity, so we’re trying to get organized and actually put a plan on paper which will be our guiding beacon.

Thus the quandary over quail.  We’ve been raising those little birds for almost three years and we love them . . . but they don’t make us a profit.  So we have a decision to make after this summer ends: continue with them for the sheer love of them, or move on to other pursuits.  I suspect, knowing Bev as I do, that we’ll keep raising them because that’s just the way we rock n roll on this mini-farm.

So take everything I say here with a grain of salt.  We’re just like you in that we make a ton of mistakes, and I suspect we are just like you in that we love gardening, farming, and animals.

QUAIL

Raising quail is a lot like raising any animal or bird on any farm: for it to be a profitable venture, you have to do it in volume. We currently see about five dozen eggs per day, or 35 dozen each week.  We sell almost all of those eggs each week, but the volume isn’t enough to offset the cost of raising them. We would need to raise at least double that number . . . the main problem is that Americans have not embraced quail eggs the way other cultures have, so right out of the chute it’s a tough sell.

And then we face the same question after each summer: do we provide artificial light during the winter, so we’ll continue to have eggs but shorten the lives of the quail; do we sell off the quail each September and incubate new ones in the spring; or do we simply feed unproductive quail over the winter, thus prolonging their lives but cutting into the profit?

We are still sitting on the fence as of this writing.

I’ll let you know what we decide when we decide it.

For those who do not know, quail eggs are higher in nutritional value than chicken eggs . . . much higher!  They are higher in protein, higher in Vitamin B1, have twice the amount of Vitamin A and B2, have five times the amount of iron and potassium, and are richer in phosphorus and calcium.

But they are tiny and they are a tough sell.

Anyway, stay tuned!

ANIMAL STEWARDSHIP

While I’m on the subject of birds/animals, allow me a couple minutes while I come close to preaching about the responsibility any farmer has towards his/her animals.

This is serious, now, so listen up.

Bev and I go a little overboard on this topic, and I realize that, but that just means it is dear to my heart.  We love animals.  We really do.  Any animal, or bird, that we take care of is dear to us.  It’s just the way we are wired, but it is also the only humane way to have an urban farm.  Even if you are raising animals/birds for meat, we believe it is our responsibility to give those animals the best possible life while they are with us.

We really don’t believe in cages. Our quail live in a 10’x20’ enclosure. I guess someone could say that’s just a large cage, but it is large enough to allow the quail to walk freely and even fly if they choose to do so.  They are happy, well-fed, and protected from the elements.  I raise them from birth.  I’m the first human they come in contact with. I hold them, talk to them, and comfort them if they are dying.  I just think it’s the least I can do considering they live their entire lives giving me eggs and enjoyment.

The same is true for our chickens, rabbits, and any other critter we have here at any given moment.  This really is a sanctuary in the city, an urban farm sanctuary, and animals are not only welcomed but downright pampered if under our care.

And again, I believe that is the responsibility of anyone taking care of any animal.

If you want to see me royally pissed off, or Bev brought to tears, mistreat an animal within my line of sight.

End of sermon!

BROODER

We have a brooder. Her name is Helga.  She’s a Buff Orpington.  For those of you not familiar with the word “brooder,” it is a hen that seems to have that “mothering” gene.  Not all chickens have it.  Many will lay an egg and never return to it . . . but occasionally you’ll come across a hen which is quite content to lay an egg and sit on that egg for days and days.

Anyway, since we have no roosters and hence, no fertilized eggs, it is a moot point unless we decide to buy little chicks from the supply store, and then the moot point becomes a very important point.

Baby chicks need warmth and a lot of pampering.  It is entirely possible to raise babies without a hen.  A heat lamp, water, and feed is all that is really needed, but if you have a brooding chicken then you are living in farming heaven.  The brooder will, in effect, adopt the baby chicks.  She will sit on them for warmth, she will watch over them for protection, and she will teach them valuable lessons about growing up to be an adult chicken.

Bottom line: if you have a brooder hen, keep her and cherish her. She is worth her weight in gold if you decide to raise little chicks.  We have one and we’re feeling pretty cool right now.

FARM DOG COMING

Bev will be Bev. There is no holding her back when it comes to adopting a new pet.  She saw a new breed of dog posted somewhere and just had to have one. The breed is called a Northwest Farm Terrier, started here in Washington State about thirty years ago . . . anyway, a woman down the road has two, and she bred them, and the mommy just had ten  puppies, and in two months we will have our brand new puppy.

Northwest Farm Terriers are amazing animals. They are natural herders. They will gently herd chickens back where they belong. They will gently pick up rabbits and bring them back should they get loose.  And they will protect their home at all costs. Raccoons, weasels, even coyotes beware.

Anyway, we haven’t named the new puppy yet.  We’ll wait and see what her personality is before naming.

AND THAT’S WHAT’S HAPPENING ON OUR LITTLE FARM

Thanks for joining me.  It’s always a pleasure having you stop in.  On your way out, gather up some berries and enjoy the sweetness.  We grew them just for you.

Bill

Summer Update on the Farm

Summer has arrived, thank God!  Everything is growing quite well, the birds are all happy, and our little corner of the world is moving along on all pistons.

NATURE ADJUSTS

It’s been an interesting spring with the birds.  The chickens, which are getting a little long in the tooth, haven’t minded the rain at all, and are laying eggs at a record pace.  The quail, on the other hand, act like they have never laid an egg in their life.  I have to assume it is the weird weather that is affecting all of this.  Nothing else has changed on our farm to explain it.  We need those quail eggs for the farmers markets, so I’m hoping the upcoming good weather will encourage our little ladies to start laying daily like nature intended them to do.

I wrote that paragraph about a month ago. Since then the weather has warmed up, and the quail are laying in a productive fashion, about five dozen eggs each day, so all is well.

We did have one of our original chickens die.  No reason for it that I could see; she just got sick and died. Such is life on an urban farm.  Buttercup will be missed, and now that she has passed, a new pecking order has been established.

Buttercup is on the left

CHICKEN FEED

A little information about chicken feed you may or may not know.  A chicken needs the following for good health:  corn for energy; soybean meal for protein; and a variety of vitamins and supplements.

Most people who raise chickens use pellets for the main staple.  Pellets, comprised of the right amount of corn, soybean, and vitamins, are available at all feed stores.  Pellets are preferred because they pack the most punch for your buck.  Chickens eat little amounts often, and they expend a lot of energy in the process, so pellets meet their requirements and match their lifestyle.

Chickens also love mealworms and red wigglers, both of which I grow here at home in plastic bins.  Let me repeat: chickens love mealworms and red wigglers.  As in LOVE them!  If you want your chickens to love you, provide them with mealworms.  Be forewarned, though: mealworms are expensive, so I highly recommend that you raise your own.  It is easy to do and inexpensive . . . in fact, once you purchase your initial 1000, they just keep reproducing at no cost to you, and if you have little kids, the biology lesson, as the worms go through their transformation into beetles, is fascinating.

QUAIL FARMING

We are in the process of determining whether it is profitable to be raising quail.  We’ve been doing this for two years now, going on three, and we should see a profit this year. If we don’t we may have to say goodbye to that experiment and move on to the next.  If it fails it won’t be a loss.  Farming is never a loss.  The aviaries can be enclosed and used as greenhouses at very little expense, which is what we might do.  Then we can grow herbs because we have this idea of dried herbs used in food dips….so we’ll see which way we go once the summer ends and we tally up the dollars and cents.

FARMERS MARKETS

We are selling our quail eggs in three markets this summer. Sales have been consistent. Quail eggs are a tough sell in the United States.  Asian countries love them, and the French have baked with them for centuries, but here in the States, size matters more than health. Still, we are selling everything our girls can produce, so no complaints.

We have a new idea for the markets next year….dips made from herbs, as I mentioned earlier….we’ll spend this coming winter preparing for the new products.

THAT’S ABOUT IT FOR THIS WEEK

Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for following along.  If you are new here, leave me your website URL so I can repay with a following and visits.

Bill

Finally it is Planting Season in Western Washington

I haven’t written in this blog for a few weeks now.

It’s been wet!

End of story!

Seriously, I was getting tired of writing about the weather. I was beginning to sound obsessed, which I think most of us in Olympia were…obsessed…depressed…waterlogged!

But the Winter of Wet, evidently, has ended.  All manner of records were broken, all manner of cuss words were spoken, but now the sun is out and our first seventy degree day has arrived.

And with it newfound hope on our urban farm!

FARMERS MARKET SEASON

We just filled in last Saturday for Bev’s son and his wife, doing the Puyallup Farmers Market.  This week we begin our two-a-weeks….Tuesday I’ll be doing the West Olympia Farmers Market, and on Wednesdays I’ll be helping out at the Tumwater Farmers Market, the one Bev manages.  It’s that time of year, solid markets until October.  Last year all we sold was quail eggs. This year it will be eggs and my coloring books.  Hopefully it will be a great season!

QUAIL LAYING

Finally our ladies are laying eggs.  It’s a bit late and I suspect the weather had something to do with the tardiness, but we are starting to see eggs daily. At full production we should see seven to eight dozen eggs per day, and that should happen within a week to ten days.

CHICKS TO PULLETS

As I mentioned earlier, we have been raising forty chicks to pullet age, and they are just about ready to be sold.  We had pre-orders for almost all of them, so the quick math is:  forty chicks at $3 each…sell them at $20 each….decent profit after the cost of food.  It will be nice to have them out of here.  Then I’ll turn the aviaries into greenhouses for our next project .  .  . and I’ll tell you more about that after I finalize my planning phase.

GARDEN

The ground was totally saturated, but it’s finally ready to sow seeds.  I’ll be doing that this week as time allows.  We did start some seeds in a mini-greenhouse, and they are doing fine, but it will be nice to get seeds in the ground and get this growing season officially started.

REFLECTIONS ABOUT CHICKENS

They really are entertaining birds.  After three years of raising them, I really can’t imagine not having them.

Did I mention the independent eye thing? I think I did, but just in case….chicken eyes are independent of each other. One eye scans the ground for bugs. The other eye scans the area for predators.  I just find that fascinating.

I was working in the yard the other day, and there was a hawk circling overhead. That bird must have been a good 300 feet in the air, turning slow circles, looking for prey down below…the hawk wasn’t making any noise.  If I didn’t happen to look up I wouldn’t have known it was there…but the chickens knew. They all went silent and immediately went undercover…in fact, they are the reason I looked up. Again, nature is fascinating!  How those chickens knew there was a hawk high up is a mystery to me, but they knew…and consider the fact that these birds have never had interaction with a hawk. It is a natural predator, but how do they know it?  Because it’s in their genes, from birth, and again, I find that fascinating.

If you aren’t raising chickens yet, consider it.  They will not disappoint.

NATURAL PESTICIDE

Take a clove of garlic, a couple hot peppers, and a ¼ cup of water and put it in the food processor.  When you finish, take the mash and boil it for twenty minutes.  Then let it sit and cool.  Stain the mixture and you have a nice liquid natural pesticide.  Aphids do not like garlic!

THAT’S ALL I’VE GOT FOR YA

Seriously, I have to run. Way too many things to do.  I hope you all are well.  If you ever have questions about urban farming, fire away in the comment section.

Bill

Battling Rain and Time

Allow me to introduce you to a friend of mine, and in particular her gardening blog….follow this link to Marlene’s page…Fresh Food Garden!

Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty!

GARDENING

What gardening? It’s been raining, raining, and raining again. Each month we set a new all-time record for wetness.  Let me give you a couple facts which should tell you how dreary this winter has been.

Since October 1, over six months, we’ve had exactly three days that qualify as mild, meaning sunny and above fifty.

Since October 1, over six months, we have had a grand total of eight sunny days.  Eight!

Since October 1, it has rained 87% of the time.

My grandfather would say it feels like a cow pissing on a flat rock . . . all the time…there is no drying out.

So we finally had a dry day last Saturday, and I went out, squinted against the glare, and decided to use that day to turn over the soil and get the garden ready.

Wrong!

The ground is saturated.  The ground is clumpy.  The ground needs to dry out.

So now there is a sheet of plastic over the garden area, and hopefully in a week things will be better.

IN THE MEANTIME

In the meantime I started seeds in the greenhouse, so all is not lost.

In the meantime, a part of the garden is being cultivated by the chickens. All eight of them are out there right now digging and scratching and doing all kinds of good things.

And in the meantime, I have more than enough other things to do . . . like quail!

QUAIL

All the babies have been born.  Add them to the adults and we now have over 200 of our little birdy friends, and any day now I expect to see some eggs. They better hurry because the farmers markets begin May 3rd.  I’m in the process now of selling males since they are fairly worthless for our needs….just like most males, right ladies?

PULLETS

In the meantime, the 43 chicks we raised are now almost pullets, so we will be selling those in the next few weeks.  They were finally moved out of the garage and into the aviary/greenhouse.  The final step in the process will be to turn off the heat lamps and acclimate them to the outside temperatures, which we are doing now.  After that we can safely sell them.

Did you know that the eyes of a chicken are independent of each other? One eye searches for food while the other searches for predators.  Fascinating birds, chickens!

TEACHING A WORM CLASS

This afternoon, as a matter of fact, I’m going to be teaching a “How To Raise Worms” class to fourteen teenagers who are spending a week on a nearby farm.  Should be fun, a way for me to return to teaching without having to grade papers, and a way for the teenagers to learn about urban farming and making compost.

And I just had an order for four jars of worm tea at $5 per jar….I love little payments coming in from different directions.   I need to mix up a new batch of worm tea and also rabbit tea and sell those as well.

AND BEV

And my wife is busier than a one-armed paperhanger with crabs, as my dad used to say. She is ultra-busy as the new manager of the Tumwater Farmers Market, and she also works at the local urban farm and garden center.

It’s going to be a busy season!

Bill

Coloring and Learning Fun

Allow me to share with you my project of the last two months…The Urban Farming Coloring Book!

By yours truly!

I had a ton of fun with this project.  I think it’s something adults, and kids, and families, can all do together.

I didn’t want this to just be a coloring book.  I wanted it to be informational as well, so that’s why every “chapter” has information about one aspect of urban farming…how to raise chickens…how to prepare soil…how to compost…how to raise worms….and so on, with a corresponding coloring page.

It’s a great way to teach your kids about gardening/urban farming, something I am passionate about and something I think is very important for this next generation.  I firmly believe that, as a society, we need to get back to our roots.  We need to get our hands dirty.  We need to start raising “good” crops and not that GMO crap you find in stores.  We need to come together as a community and help each other, barter with each other, and share with each other.

So that’s why I created this coloring book.

It’s available on Amazon, and of course I’ll be selling it around the area at farmers markets and selected stores.

That’s all I’ve got for you today.  If you have a child, or a grandchild, or nieces or nephews, this is a fun activity that will also teach them something, and how cool is that?

Thank you!

Bill

Lacto-Fermenting Chicken Feed

Too busy for words!

That pretty much sums up life on our urban farm.

We have 43 chicks that need to go outside.  The only problem is it is still too cold to send them out to the aviary.  I’d like the temp to rise above 50 degrees for a few days, but so far Mother Nature is not cooperating.

Sigh!

Meanwhile, it’s getting crowded in the garage, because the 120 quail need the enclosure currently being used by the chickens.

Sigh!

It will all work out, but for now we have some unhappy birds.

I know how they feel.

And the garage stinks!

DO YOU HAVE CHICKENS?

If so, here’s an idea I ran across for fermenting their feed.

Lacto-fermenting feed has been used for literally thousands of years, but surprisingly few people in the United States do it.

Lactic acid bacteria, like the probiotics you find in Greek yogurt, are great for making chicken feed easier to digest, more nutritious, and it also helps to stretch your feed dollar a bit further.  Here’s how you make the stuff:

  • Measure out the amount your chickens will eat in one day. For adults this is about a ¼ of a pound of feed, per chicken.
  • Pour non-chlorinated water over the feed and mix thoroughly. You’ll want two or three parts water for one part feed when mixing.  You can do this in a big bucket.
  • Let that mixture sit for three days. By Day 3 you should see bacteria reproducing, giving off gasses, and you’ll see bubbles forming on the top.
  • Each day after Day 3 you will mix a new batch…on Day 3, pour the excess liquid on top of measured new feed; this will be the starter culture.
  • Feed the mash to your chickens daily in an open container.

And that’s all there is to it!

Trust me, it works.  Our chickens are very pleased with their new gourmet meal.

ANOTHER THING ABOUT CHICKENS

It’s about time for you to prepare the garden outside, right?

Why not let your chickens do the work for you?

Try this:

  • get a rototiller and turn over the area you plan on planting.
  • Turn your chickens loose on that area. You can cover the area with a homemade chicken tractor and put the chickens inside to ensure they will work the area you have planned.
  • Leave them there for a couple of days and watch the magic happen.
  • Remove the chickens and rototill one more time.

I guarantee your soil will be magnificent when the process is completed.

SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION

I finally published my Urban Farm Coloring Book. You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

THAT’S ALL I’VE GOT FOR YOU THIS WEEK

If you don’t have chickens, give some thought to getting some. They really are great birds to have in an urban environment, and those fresh eggs are to die for.

Just don’t start out with 43 of them in the garage during a prolonged rainy period.

And don’t get me started talking about Bev and her new job as the Farmers Market Manager…craziness!

Bill