garden and coop

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It’s been a mild fall here so far; hopefully I didn’t just jinx Michigan.  Only a couple of nights where it got below freezing, and generally pretty nice weather for late October.  Makes for happy lettuce.

With the changing seasons in mind, I putzed around in the girls’ coop.  Picked up a roll of faced insulation to put on their walls.  I’m not sure whether they’ll bother it.  So far, so good.  But if they start pecking it, I’ll need to get out the drywall tools.

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I also found a junk piece of plexiglass in the barn (full of pretty letters and arrows) that went up over the windows for keeping out those west winds when the temperatures dip to minus 20.  Not sure how much warmth it’ll keep in because there are roof vents directly to the outside, but from what I understand, drafts can be dangerous, but ventilation is necessary.

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My little blueberry bushes are still plodding along.  I’m pretty sure they’re not growing as well as they should be.  Our soil is naturally very alkaline, and I added natural sulfur to it last year, but the crude soil test I did still says it’s in the alkaline range.  I decided to mulch with naturally acidic spaghnum peat moss and see if that helps.  I you have any hints for blueberries, I’m all ears.

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a different harvest

When I was younger, back when I could remember things and bend my wrists without flinching, I believed that my favorite time of year was Fall.  All these years later it’s still my favorite season.  Except that now, so are Spring, Summer and Winter.

Fall smells better than any of them.  In your face, Spring.  Those dead leaves tended by the crisp air make the smell of Fall unbeatable…not even by Summer hay fields or Spring flowers.

But it’s two harvests that make me love Fall most; the leaves, and the wood.

I got a good start on my fall leaf collection today.  Fired up the mower and made piles of shredded leaves, mixed with some of those nice green grass clippings, for a little head start on the composting process.  I emptied out the chicken run’s shredded leaf floor (it only took a couple of weeks for the girls to really demolish them), and started filling next year’s Spring compost bins with that material.

Then it was time to refresh the girls’ run with un-shredded leaves and start filling my newly built leaf bin.

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The other harvest, free for the taking: trees that have died or blown down in the woods over the Spring and Summer.  It’s probably the most satisfying of all outdoor chores; materials are free, just add muscle.  There’s really nothing that can compare with just-finished rows of split wood stacked in the barn.  Hard to explain.  You can sense all the warmth that’s waiting to be released when it’s most needed.

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the chicken poop plan

I’m sure there are as many ways to handle coop and run litter as there are chicken keepers. But this is what I’m trying.

For a while I used pine shavings everywhere; in the coop, in the run and on the poop board under the roost. The method didn’t seem to fill my needs, and it ran through a lot of savings. Shavings also take a while to decompose in a compost pile.

A different solution that’s worked pretty well so far is a 3-pronged poop attack.

First, I’ve been using a product called Sweet PDZ on my poop board. It’s an all-natural, non-toxic product created for horse stalls, but it also does a great job of neutralizing ammonia smells and absorbing moisture in chicken coops. I just use a 1-2″ layer on the poop board and filter out the droppings with a cat litter scoop daily when I get the eggs.

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The droppings go into a 5-gallon bucket that I keep just outside the coop. Almost pure poop, and it’s easy to gauge amounts when adding to garden beds and mixing with browns in the compost piles. One bag of Sweet PDZ seems to last forever when used like this.

The second poop prong is the coop floor. Pine shavings seem to work best for me there as long as I keep them 5-6″ deep. Once the shavings are too pooped to pop any more, I shovel them out and move them to the outside run. This keeps the run from getting muddy and compacting (when combined with the third part of my poop party). It also continues to break down the shavings for the compost piles.

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In the run, mixed with the used coop shavings, I’ve dumped a thick layer of fall leaves. The chickens love to scratch through them looking for goodies. They do a better job of shredding and mixing than my mower, with less work and no gas (-oline). The leaves and shavings should help keep chicken toes warmer through the coming winter too.

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By spring, there’ll be a nice big pile of leaf/shavings/poop to goose up my compost piles.

yeah, pretty lame excuse

​Hello good friends, and my apologies for dropping off the face of the earth without a word. My thoughts are simple (as might be evident); I didn’t have anything interesting to say. If it wouldn’t interest me, I can’t expect it to interest someone else.

And then I kinda got sucked into the whole lazy thing.

The garden has wound down. Last night was our first real freeze. Frost on the windshields and brown pepper plants.

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I’m waiting for the rest of my free brown materials to fall from the sky. In the meantime, I fashioned a large leaf-collection bin, made from 20-some year old materials that were sitting in the barn waiting for their moment in the sun.

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The cold brings out the chainsaw. I use only deadfall trees from the property for firewood, and the scrub trees that die and fall are usually dry enough to use the same year. This year has been a little lean as far as deadwood. There was a nice big oak down, but that has to season till next year. It might just be a year for buying a little wood that some other fool cut up.

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I’m coming to the realization that cutting and splitting firewood in quantity is a younger man’s game. Somewhere along the way, I messed up my wrists and thumbs, and handling a chainsaw doesn’t suit me for long periods, nor does crawling around on the roof cleaning the chimney. But I’ll keep picking at it until I have to say uncle.

There’s not much activity in the garden. My fall cover crop mix is doing its job without complaint. After watching the deer happily grazing on last year’s crop, I decided to strategically place tomato cages to nip that kind of thing in the bud. So far so good.

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I planted garlic and shallots today in the space occupied by this year’s compost bins. And the lettuce plants that I sowed indoors in August are hitting their stride under a cloche.

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It’s good to be back in the saddle. But I reserve the right to be lazy at any time I choose.

garden helpers

I could well be that in 50 years the World Thought Police will have determined that it’s disgustingly barbaric to put chickens anywhere near a vegetable garden. The girls and I will either be dead or too old to care.  Right here and now, I get way too much pleasure from it.

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red glut

The garden looks pretty naked now; just a giant zucchini plant that I really don’t need and some peppers that taunt me with impossibly immature fruits.

But what’s different for me this year is having tomato plants that are still kicking out in mid-September. Something about having a decent tomato crop makes all of the year’s other gardening mistakes recede into irrelevancy.

I really don’t want any more tomatoes. They’re coming out our rears and ears. But it’s so much fun just looking at them in September and hoping that they’re here because of something that I did.

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If I were to wish for a glut of anything it would be, in this order: 1. Tomatoes, 2. Sweet corn, and 3. Raspberries.

Two out of three, high fives all around.

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a little fall lettuce

About a month ago I got off my rear for a second and planted a few six-packs of lettuce seed indoors. It somehow always seems silly planting a few seeds indoors when the whole garden’s bursting at the seams.

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But now it doesn’t seem silly. The little seedlings would have had a rough go outside in the last month of dry, 90° temperatures. They should do fine now. The temperatures are gradually decreasing, and the grass-clippings-mulch should keep them happy. Later I’ll get out a little cloche, that should help them through some light frosts.

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From experience I know that you actually have to think ahead sometimes. The cloche full of salad crops will be situated where I won’t grow melons next year until I change my mind.