Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fowl Pen Evolution

"No Fly"netting has been moved to a vertical position;
the hens were perching on top of their tent and
several easily flew out, even with a clipped wing.
The chicken pen continues to evolve. Eventually we will get it right!  LOL 

Some of the strongest and most active fliers -- including an Aracana with a clipped wing -- were easily clearing the horizontal "no fly zone" netting by taking off from the top of their "tent" shelter. One of the reds found that she could perch on the edge of the netting to get a boost.

We had three hens out every day though some of them flew back in of the evening, and some would run in if we lifted the pen a bit. That still was NOT what I had in mind, even though they had not gotten into the garden and I am convinced that the Aracana (Pheasant by name) flew out deliberately to lay in the "porch nest" under the old church pew.

K had the idea to extend the netting vertically; the fiberglas posts were long enough to easily raise the netting to its maximum height and leave enough post below the top of the fence to secure to the vertical post with cable ties. With the structure being 7' tall now, there also is no worry of deer jumping in. Not that there WAS worry about deer jumping in, mind you, but I'm pretty sure that now, they won't try. LOL

In between rains I have scuffle hoe-ed the potato rows and weeded the first planting of beets and chard. More will follow, as will more weeding. I plan to mulch the potatoes as soon as weather and time off work coincide, and to put Agribon over the rows, securing it to the earth and holding it up with paint sticks pounded into the ground... hopefully a barrier to the potato bugs. Probably that will mean they will attack the tomatoes, but I do not think I will cover them. Pea trellis has been completed; I got a roll of the 7' deer fence for that, and cut it in half as I deployed it along the row. Cheap, it was. Durable, it is not likely to be. I haven't told K that it is the same stuff that we had covering the first round of fowl pens... which has a terrible tendency to rip and for pieces to disappear into the grass and weeds... until you come along with a cultivation implement for it to tangle in. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Memorial Day Weekend, Time to Plant The Garden

Unlike the typical gardener here in Maine, I do not plant everything all at once Memorial Day weekend. The common wisdom is that this is the time to plant and tilled earth springs up like magic in yards everywhere one turns. It doesn't matter that some crops like the cooler weather of spring and others need the soil to be thoroughly warm. It doesn't matter that, by putting in just one planting of each crop you only have a relatively small window in which to enjoy each crop fresh, and in which you go nuts processing, if you are the sort who puts food by.

This year has been really strange though. Warm (hot actually) and then snow, and rain, rain, rain. When it finally would dry out enough to work the soil it froze and baked some more. None of my early plantings got in on time, partly on account of the weather and partly because of the chicken pen follies. Marauding fowl are not conducive to planting. I did get some early lettuce and cabbage transplants out (covered them up to protect them from the fowl) and seeded a bit of lettuce, beets, carrots and planted the potatoes but only recently have they shown themselves. The spinach never did come up and the first planting of peas is terribly spotty.

In the herb bed, the Chinese lanterns are returning from last
year, though they got beat badly by the hail. Calendula and
basils, along with other herbs, have been added.
With the abundance of mulch hay from the great chicken barn that protected them from the elements this past winter, I am planning to do a LOT of mulching; Hay over the opened paper feed sacks should make an adequate weed block for some crops and keep the soil moist as well. Many of the seedling herbs are small, so it takes a bit of time to mulch, leaving holes for the seedlings to emerge as they grow. Just beyond where the garden cart sits in the photo to the left I have planted Goldenseal, in an area that gets shade from noon on.

I was pleased to see that the discounted living Yule tree that we bought for the past holiday has decided to grow and thrive. As per instructions, it was only in the living room for a little over a week; the rest of the winter it lived in the cold back room, by a window and was watered fairly regularly. I was worried, since it was hard to water (the pot being larger than would fit well into the largest garden saucer I could find) and had been discounted as well.

Today was spent working in the main garden; I planted out most of the tomato seedlings (over 150 row feet) and seeded corn and pinto bean rows (200 row feet of corn, 100 of pintos) in the area of garden that K just got tilled. I started planting with the potatoes, pretty much in the middle of the garden, this spring. I was trying to keep a bit of separation between the 'maters and 'taters. I wanted to make the potato beetles WORK for their chow.  LOL  So the last of the tomato plants and a few peppers will go in beyond the corn and bean rows, adjacent to the potatoes.

Deer Fence
Also got the deer deterrent fence deployed. Not to be patting myself on the back too hard, but this is the first year I got it out BEFORE anyone started eating in the garden.

It consists of white plastic step in posts around the garden, with 2 strands of lightweight nylon monafilament fishing line stretched between them. Believe it or not, this actually keeps the deer out and has for the past 3 year. Even after they KNOW there is good stuff to eat inside (as they did the first few years, when I was slow getting the fence up) they will not go through it. They cannot see it to jump over and when the walk into it, I guess it's like us walking into a spider web unexpectedly.... the FREAK and RUN away. No, I have not seen this, but I have seen the gently stepping footprints walking up to the fence and, dug deeply into the muddy driveway, the tracks of the same animal departing on a different path.

In The Flow

Do you know what I mean when  I say that I am "in the flow" at least a little bit, at least for a while, again? It's that feeling one gets when one knows they are where they need to be, doing what they need to do... not paddling 'cross current trying to reach some possibly unattainable goal on the shore; not stroking like crazy trying to get back up stream from when they just came.

Sometimes one can get SO in the flow that it an unmistakable "religious experience" regardless of your path. Most times, though, we dip our little toe in and wonder "is that really where" or worse yet, splash across a tributary to the main river and never notice.

Yesterday I was in it, but something was awry. I am still not sure what, but it was. There was work and seeing a friend/delivering eggs/picking up pots and planters. There was a nice sit down with a group of ladies who spin and knit and embroider and some raise goats and some raise sheep... at the home of a lady I just got introduced to (initially virtually) by another friend/client/healthcare provider. There was home, and rest, and a brief flurry of worry over deer in the garden (they had not been there to eat... yet...but had walked through) and an intense lecture on meteorology followed by a late supper of salad and biscuits. And in each part, it felt right but somehow it didn't quite fit together.  Hummm...

Usually, two RI Reds and one of the Aracanas fly the coop.
In the tall grass, finding eggs is fun.
Today and tomorrow are home and garden days. The crazy season has me "behind" in that endeavor and more so as some of the early crops have not emerged at all. But the rainy and damp of the last few days maintained into the morning and I kept to bed, subtracting a bit from the sleep deficit that comes as a result of 4 AM wake ups for work and the long, sunlit evenings of the season. Still have not been out to tend the birds, but that will come soon. I hear the escapee hens clucking that they have laid in the porch nest. I am plotting to extend the posts that hold the supposed "no-fly" barrier, just need to find some sort of hollow medium that will fit securely over the top of the insulators on the posts. 3/4" PVC is too small, 1" too large... already tried samples of that. I guess on Sunday I'll take an insulator with me and run around the lumber yard like a mad inventor, hoping that the staff will not ask if they can help me. Trust me, guys, it would take longer to explain than for me to just run around your store. LOL

New duck pen encloses the old one, which will remain until
the eggs hatch or the moms give up trying.
Chicken pen gets moved today, to give them new grass. Duck pen has been completed and moved to surround the smaller, original old pen which now opens into the new one. Once the nests hatch or are abandoned, these fowl will be movable, as well. Cleaning their pond is on the list for this "weekend", too, as is photographing their new pen.

Along with the gardening, there are as always, hex signs to complete. The two-sign order will be delivered locally once their owner returns from vacation and plywood has been brought home to cut the next orders, two 3' signs of different designs going in different directions. I only have the room to paint one of that size at a time, so cutting and sanding will begin soon as well.

Breakfast granola has been eaten while I write and the outdoors calls. It's wet but not raining... muck boots and jeans (which will be covered in mud by days end, I am sure) await. ... and I am off...

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Flying the Coop

The "no fly zone" netting is not working as good as I had hoped. Pheasant, one of the Aracana hens, has been getting out regularly, as has at least one -- possibly more -- of the Reds. They have a tendency to fly back in later and so far have not gotten at the garden, BUT...

I am clipping a wing as I catch them (Pheasant has been done) and considering putting longer posts in to hold the netting upwards. Considering adding a piece of pvc over the fiberglas post, to make them 5-6 feet tall.

On the other hand, the hens who escape seem to want to come to the porch nest to lay, so maybe they are doing this to protect their eggs from the egg-eating members of their flock? My chicken psych and sociology is not up to snuff.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Chicken Pen V2.1

It's been a busy month here on Hearthfire Hill. Hex orders just keep coming (Thanks be to my customers and to the Gods for their support!) but so has the rain and strange weather. Like much of the country, we scratch our heads almost every day and wonder "what now?" In some ways, the earth is responding as if it were an early spring: we have picked two (count 'em... it wasn't hard) asparagus spears... a month earlier than usual and were seeing lilac bushes in our area opening their blossoms by Mother's Day, a good two weeks earlier than usual. It is easy for me to remember this natural season marker, as my girls always picked lilacs for me when we lived in eastern WA and now that they live in Utah, they still pick them for their own tables. We've had discussions and shared photos over the Internet for Mother's Day... they of beautiful, lovely scented bouquets and me of the tightly curled, dark purple buds that have just barely begun to form.

As noted in the two previous posts, (Fowl Deed Indeed and Fowl Pen Fail), the biggest project/challenge of this spring has been the design and construction of a low-cost, easily movable large pen to contain the chickens and another for the ducks. The ducks have been contained through the winter in a makeshift pen which would be very difficult to move and the chickens wintered in three slightly crowded "chicken tractors" which we moved close to the house and surrounded by a "fort" of baled mulch hay (straw not being easily available or affordable here) that we had intended to cover. The cover part never happened, and thankfully we had a less snowy winter. By the time the ground was beginning to show the hens and their companion roosters were more than glad to be allowed to roam. But I was less than glad to have them in the garden. The minute they spotted the seedling broccoli and cabbages, the winged crew attacked and only covering the seedlings with Agribon kept the birds at bay.

Chicken Pen V2.0, with fowl
After discovering the weakness of the first design I tried using a combination of a 45 degree elbow, a very short length of pipe and then the T with the vertical support to repair the first, failed, pen. That repair held, so I moved on to collecting materials to build Version 2.0, a larger, 8-sided construction with the 45-degree elbow-pipe-T design at each joint. Tractor Guy was concerned that the larger diameter would make the design weaker and harder to move, but that proved not to be the case.

Flight Proofing Detail
I had hoped to find bird netting sufficiently large to put over the pen to keep crows out and the hens, who do like to fly, in. Unfortunately I have not yet found such a large piece of netting. The outside diameter of the pen is 26.2 feet and the area 483 feet (no I did not do the math... ). Birds were wanting to fly out, though... so I used a 4' wide netting that I bought for the pea trellis, securing it around the perimeter, initially with clothes pins, making pleats at the corners to take up the slack and holding it out, horizontal, with fiberglas poles topped with electric fence insulators, which we happened to have on hand.
Mostly this works. We have one Aracana hen who insists on flying out and she will get one wing clipped next time I catch her. The netting has been secured with cable ties, both to the tops of the posts and to the perimeter pipe, as our brisk winds have a tendency to knock it loose both places.

Now, I can get on with serious planting; the occasional hen who has gotten out has not damaged the garden. And we have hauled the other two chicken tractors to the same area where the big pen is, populated each with a rooster (keeping them from fighting for now) and are rotating the hens through a brief separation from the flock. Hopefully, this will allow us to determine who is laying and who is eating eggs, as we do have a problem with that.

None of the hens has gone broody, but three of the ducks are currently setting. One is brooding a handful of hen eggs along with several of her own species. Fingers are crossed for a good hatch. I  hope to trade a few ducklings for some turkey poults; one of our friends lost all their ducks to predators and have a broody turkey!

Growth hex, 24" diameter on exterior plywood
for outdoor display, $240 plus shipping
On the hex sign front, I showed my new design, Growth, at an art show in Belfast, Maine this past week. During the artist reception, I introduced the art form to several folks who were unfamiliar with the concept and meaning of the tradition hex sign, and met several other people who had lived in, or visited, Pennsylvania and fallen in love with the signs. Many of my brochures were taken so my fingers are crossed for more local sales. I am currently painting two signs for the owner of Maine Sacred Practices and have two other large signs on order.

Maine Rock Hex
I have once again begun painting on local Maine rocks. This rock sign, with the Growth design, was requested by one of my daughters in Utah.

Rocks being one of our main crops, look for more of this application of hex to rock as time permits. They CAN be shipped (the smaller ones... this example is about 14" across), and for local folks I can paint them on any rock on your place, or that you are able to deliver to me for painting!