Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Little Deck from Reclaimed Wood

We salvaged some wood a while back from an old building in the woods that needed removing. We had a number of ideas what to do with this wood and settled on a little deck on the south side of our house amongst our pollinator garden. The wood was sopping wet when we started the project, but the additional weight just added to our physical work - not a bad thing sometimes.

Steve trimmed off the rotten ends...

and we ended up with a fair number of usable boards. By the way, won't it be fabulous when we paint the garage?!

Before we put the deck together, Steve added a plastic barrier to our foundation and spread beautiful river rock.

We decided to go for a free-form shape defined by the boards. Jennifer screwed the boards down with screws we salvaged from this property when we bought it in 2010! (There were A LOT of screws spilled all around the chicken coop.)

Steve spread stone on all the trails in place of the straw we laid last fall. Now, we have some nice composted straw for the garden as well.

Ta da! We finished the little deck and we love it. It's a perfect place to have morning coffee in the sunshine and soon it will be surrounded by hundreds of blooms.

Happy builder!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Skinny on the Chickens

We have mixed emotions about keeping chickens so here's a few thoughts:

  • They are interesting animals and fun to watch. We crack up a lot watching their antics.
  • Now that we've had them awhile, they are relatively easy to care for.
  • We have more eggs to eat than we ever desired...with just five hens!
  • We are the grateful harvesters of all their soiled bedding for use in our garden.
  • The chickens are great at eating bugs, though there are a lot of bugs we don't want them to eat so this fits in positives and negatives, I suppose.
  • There is a very defined pecking order, which usually works well so all chickens know their place. This results in pecking, which if blood is drawn results in a lot more pecking. These are blood thirsty birds and so we've had to stay vigilant and make sure no one does serious damage to each other. When we coated Rocky the Rooster's comb in Vaseline to protect against frostbite, the hens went nuts pecking it bloody since the red comb with the shiny ointment apparently made them think blood. Ack! Blu Kote usually helps us mask the red when blood is drawn.
  • The pecking order at some point early in the move to our place put Little Girl aka L.G. at the lowest of the low. You can see her outside the fence. She can in no way and at no time can be with the other chickens anymore. After not too long here, we discovered that she wasn't allowed to eat, drink or roost with the other chickens. During the extreme cold this was a huge problem since all the chickens were in the coop constantly. Once the weather broke and the chickens could be outside more, we tried to reintegrate L.G. BAD IDEA. Rocky the Rooster went after her, knocked her to the ground and started pecking her head. Ugh.
  • L.G. now seems to have crook neck or wry neck. This is a problem caused by genetics, head injury or malnutrition. We thinks she suffered from the latter two. Google it. It's terrible. She is still kicking, but drinking water is getting to be more and more of a problem. 

Because of the problems with L.G. and the other chickens, we build her a separate enclosure. This works well, but she can be outside only when we are home since she cannot get into or out of this space alone.

She finally gets to roost up high like the other chickens and even has a southern exposure!

She has access to her own food and water and feels safe. Her behavior is completely different than when she had to deal with pecking from all the hens and the rooster.

The increase in food and safety allowed L.G. to finally start laying eggs!

It hardly seems fair to us that as soon as we got L.G. all fixed up she developed this crook neck. Rocky's attack no doubt triggered it. She is still kickin' though and happy to run around in the garden. We will see what happens. We have been told that some of these aggressiveness problems are less when one raises chickens all of the same breed and starting out when they are chicks.

Chickens need space though, that's for sure, and keeping chickens makes us even more aware of the necessity to support humane raising of these animals. We're not sure what we will do in the long run, but we can certainly say this has been a learning experience!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Germinating Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

By now most of you have heard of the plight of the milkweeds, the monarchs and other milkweed dependent species. Boo! We all need to take action and plant some milkweed and all sorts of other native plants in our home landscape. We've planted milkweed here in our native plant gardens and this year decided to try our hand at germinating common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and potting it up. Milkweed seeds need cold and wet stratification, which we achieved by simply leaving the seeds outdoors until this spring. We then tried 3 different seed treatments prior to planting: no treatment, soaking seed in warm water and sealing seed in a plastic bag with a wet paper towel.

After 24 hours of treatment, we sowed the seed on a moistened potting mix medium, put a lid on the tray and set it on a heat mat. We achieved quick germination of all seed treatments.

Look at all these happy little plants!

After the plants germinated, we made individual newspaper pots to transplant the milkweed seedlings into. The pot maker is one of our favorite gardening tools! We don't receive a newspaper at our house, but a quick stop at the local recycling facility sets us up with enough paper for a year.

You can see our pot maker in this photo:

We just love these sunny days and so does can spy her in the window.

We transplanted a hundred or so baby common milkweed plants. They won't be able to stay long in these pots with their super long taproots so we will see what we do next. Even during transplanting, we noticed how long those roots already were. Wow! This plant species is notoriously difficult to grow in pots because of their growth habit, but our goal isn't to keep them in pots so will keep you all posted.

Here's a couple great resources if you want to take action:

Xerces Society Project Milkweed

Monarch Watch Bring Back the Monarchs

We've shared it before, but this is such a powerful article to read:

Gardening for Life, Doug Tallamy

It's encouraging to us that there is action be taken! Let's do it before it's too late.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Happy Vernal Equinox 2014!

We are so thrilled to experience some warmer days and thawing earth. We've been working in the garden whenever possible. Steve, being the super star he is, works in the garden after a full day of paid work, then comes indoors and works on wiring and bathroom gutting. That's a schedule not many want to keep, including him, but we will make it!

We are removing last year's growth from our garden beds in preparation for broadforking once the soil dries more. The main path got a new layer of straw and we are working on some new trellising designs.

Happy day! Look at that blue sky....we've really made it! The woodcock are finally calling up here in Morrow County and the turkey vultures returned a few weeks ago. Bird song increases every morning and nest making has commenced. All great signs that spring really is here.

We are piling some low garden beds with lots of organic matter and will add logs and soil soon to give hugelkultur a try.

The chickens are loving the milder weather and are doing a great job making lots of compost and laying lots of eggs....5 a day! We've experience some serious chicken drama here as evidenced by one hen (Little Girl aka L.G.) separated from the others. This story is a whole different post we will get to soon.

 Happy Vernal Equinox to all our blog readers!