Sunday, May 29, 2011

Who needs TV?

I have said that animals are often more entertaining than TV. The chicks and the geese are proving to be a constant source of entertainment. The chicks are fun to watch as they go about their usual business and I find it amazing at how quickly they are getting their feathers. Being a city girl, this is all very fascinating and the kids are having a blast.

Plymouth Rock about one week old.

Rhode Island Red about one week.
 They have now been moved outside into the chicken tractor so they can have more room and get used to being outside. We have started construction on the coop and I plan on buying the fencing this week so we can get one paddock put up. If we can buy materials every payday, then we can have the entire system set up in just a couple of months. They have actually gotten a lot more feathers since I took these pictures so I will have to take new ones soon. They are almost three weeks old now and it is becoming more apparent which ones are the males.

The chicks in the chicken tractor.
 Right now it looks like we may have about four male Plymouth Rocks and 2-3 male Rhode Island Reds. It's still hard to tell but they are beginning to challenge each other. One interesting thing I've learned is that 5 goslings can out eat and drink 20 chicks. They are also noisier and smellier. Within the first week the geese were going through as much food in 24 hours as the chicks were in two days. That doesn't count the water! We have gone to letting the chicks out during the day so they can eat grass in addition to their feed and they now have use of the 1 gallon water container. They are going through at least half of that a day plus what we put in a large dish for them to splash around in.

We have also started taking them to the creek once or twice a day to let them take a dip and cool off. The temperatures have been pretty warm the last couple of days and they enjoy being able to get in the water to swim around. We will wait about introducing them to the pond until they are bigger. They actually have done very well about staying by the house when we are not outside with them. As long as they have shade and water, they will stay around the house munching on grass. Of course the funny part is how they will follow us around. We have taken to calling them our fuzzy children.

Let's go for a swim!

The garden is hanging in there and I plan on harvesting the Romain lettuce soon. The potatoes are growing like mad and we added some soil to them today. We are beginning to think about what we may want to plant for a fall garden. It's almost June so we have to start planning now. We are also thinking about ordering some berry bushes so we can get them planted this year. It will be a slow process to get all of the trees and bushes that we want but we just have to take it one step at a time.

As we make progress on the chicken coop I will post pictures and keep you updated on the progress of the chicks and geese. In the meantime, Happy Memorial Day!

Potatoes before we added more soil.

Monday, May 16, 2011


Finally! The chicks and goslings have arrived! And I have to say...they are so cute! They all arrived safe and sound and have been making plenty of noise since they arrived. We ordered 11 Rhode Island Reds and 9 Plymouth Rocks. We also ordered 5 African geese.

The geese checking out their new home.

All 20 chicks.

Plymouth Rock

Rhode Island Red

African Goose
The cat isn't too sure what to think about the whole thing. So far she has just sat and looked at them so we are keeping the boxes covered with a wire mesh. I just wanted to share the pics and I'll be giving updates as the grow!

They think the blue bowl is a pool.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Wonderful World of Poo!

And no, I'm not talking about Winnie the Pooh.

Before we ever moved here we had discussed getting a composting toilet. I had looked into the commercially available toilets and thought that was what we would end up getting. I liked the idea that the compost bin only needed to be emptied once or twice a year but I knew the cost would keep us from getting one for a while. Once we decided to move here, I knew that we had to come up with another solution that would be much more affordable since we wouldn't have running water for a while. That's when we started to seriously look at sawdust toilets.

For the last several months we have used a sawdust toilet but we had been placing a bag into the bucket and disposing of the bag. A few months ago I finally finished reading The Humanure Handbook and we were inspired to get to work on our humanure composting bin. Using some scavenged lumber, my husband has gotten one bin completed.

And yes, the posts on the left are taller on purpose. Eventually there will be three bins total. The next one to be built is the center bin which will have a roof over it. Hence the taller posts. This bin will store the hay and probably the sawdust as well. The hay is used to cover the humanure so there is no odor. The third bin won't be used for about a year. Deposits will be placed in the first bin for a year and then we will switch to the other bin. The first one will be left to age for a year and then we should have some rich compost that can be used in the garden.

 We also dug a hole in the bin and filled it with about 12-18 inches of hay. This forms a biosponge that will absorb liquid and help keep it from running off. We have only been using this for about a month but so far it is working very well. Our clothes line is pretty close to the bin and I have never smelled anything while back there.
The hole before we added the hay
Once there is a roof on the center bin, we will add some guttering that will lead to a rain barrel. This will collect rain water that can be used to clean the buckets every time they are emptied. Overall it is a pretty efficient system and not very hard to manage. We have decided that we will continue to use this system even after we finally get running water. Eventually, I want to build a nice box to encase the bucket so it looks a little prettier and not so obvious.

If you would like to see a well established system, check out this You Tube video. If you do a search I'm sure you will find more. I'm also providing the link to The Humanure Handbook website.

If you're thinking about a composting toilet don't discount a sawdust toilet. You may find it's your best choice after all!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spiral Herb Garden

I have finally been able to implement a project that I have wanted to do for some time. I took a Permaculture Design course before we moved here and part of the class was to build a spiral garden. We did this during the class as a group but I have wanted to build my own ever since. When we moved last summer I just didn't have the time or the materials to do it but now that it's getting warmer I have finally been able to build one!

First I placed some hay on the ground to help serve as a weed barrier and it will compost and add to the soil. Then I laid out four bricks in a square that measured one foot square and filled in the rest of the shape to form the spiral.

Once you have the initial shape it is simply a matter of continuing to stack the brick to build the walls. You can start in the middle and build that area up first to get to the height that you want and then finish the walls. As you finish the outside walls, you will want them to taper down allowing sunlight into different areas of the spiral. By doing this you are creating microclimates for various plants.

3 courses of bricks

Getting closer!

It took about 3-4 hours to rake and clear the area and then to build the spiral. I have put some old hay in the spiral that has already begun to compost and will finish it with some fresh straw. Once the new straw is in, all I have to do is move the hay aside to place a couple of good handfuls of soil in a hole and put the plant in place. The idea is that the plants will get the the nutrients that they need from the soil and the roots can spread out into the hay in search of water. As the hay composts I can add more until eventually the entire spiral will be full of soil. I would like to build some more with stone just because I think they look prettier. You also don't have to build them this tall but since I was working with brick I knew this was out it would turn out. Here's a picture of the final product.

If you look on You Tube you can find some videos of various spiral gardens and how they were made. I will put a picture up when I get all of the plants in so you can see how it looks. In the meantime, happy planting!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Spring Fever

The temperatures are finally getting warmer and we are beginning to see signs of spring. Not only are we seeing signs outside but the garden centers at our local stores are bustling with activity and new shipments. Spring Fever has set in and we are getting busier since it is finally getting warm enough to tackle outside projects again.

In the last couple of weeks my husband has built three raised garden beds and a cold frame. Yes, I finally have my cold frame! And it does look good if I say so myself. We have also been gathering the compost, peat moss, and vermiculite we need to make our soil for the garden. We are going to use the Square Foot Gardening method this year and see what happens. We will probably buy some plants that have already been started from local nurseries and others we will try to start from seed.

One of the garden boxes
 I may have mentioned it before, but several months ago we came across a door like the ones that are used on refrigerated cases in convenience stores that had been set out to be thrown away. The door was in excellent shape and that is what we are using on the cold frame instead of windows. I can't wait to really put this thing into use! I'm not sure but I think it is almost 5 feet long. A cold frame is built on a slant to catch the sun and work as a mini greenhouse. It is 18 inches tall in the back and 12 inches tall in the front. I also love that the door has the handle intact so it will be easier to open.

A view of the cold frame from the front.

A side view so you can see the slope.
 Our seed potatoes also arrived this week. We ordered German Butterball potatoes and I hope to get them planted soon. Hopefully we will get something from them but we'll see. We ordered these from Seed Savers Exchange and they are certified organic. This particular type is supposed to be a good all purpose potato.

Our bag of seed potatoes

And last but not least, we finally have a grain mill! I am so excited! I know, I'm crazy. It is a manual mill but that was what we wanted. I didn't want to get something that I had to rely on electricity for. It will mill from a coarse consistency to a flour consistency. I can't wait to give it a good try but I still need an oven so I can do some baking! Ah well, everything in time I suppose. From what little we have tested it, it seems to do very well. We wanted to get a mill so we can mainly mill our own flour. To me this is all part of creating a simpler life.

The front of the mill

The back
 As we continue to work on our projects here, we are keeping a close eye on what is happening in Japan and the Middle East. To be honest, I don't think things look good but all we can really do is wait to see what happens. If all of this doesn't re-emphasize the need to be prepared, I don't know what does. I hope everyone is getting started with their own spring projects and hopefully I'll be back with some new updates soon!