Friday, January 28, 2011

Coming this Spring~ Bees!

I just ordered a three pound package of bees with a local Queen from Bee Kind in Sebastopol.  The bees are from a locally adapted survivor stock that have been untreated for several years living in California Coastal climate. We will be picking up the buzzing box on April 16th and then we will watch as our own bees pollinate our garden, fruit trees, and wild flowers that beautify our property naturally.  Bee Kind offers an Introduction to Beekeeping class, which I will be taking.  The price is just right, free, and they will also teach me how to transfer the box of bees into their new home and eventually harvest the honey.  The complete bee box was given to us at no charge by a family friend (Thanks Joe!).


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Eggs

On the morning of January 24th, I was surprised when I went to let the chickens out and found an egg.  Chickens don't lay until six months, so apparently, one of the girls has been lying about her age.  To date we have found two eggs.  We think that Big Spoon is our producer.

Our Little Ladies

We bought four chickens from Western Farm Center in Santa Rosa on Monday, January 17th.  We bought one black Australorp,named Soupy, one white Plymouth Rock, named Big Spoon, and two red Sexlinks, named Stella and Juniper.  We brought them home and watched in excitement as they acclimated to their new surroundings.  We were told they were all approximately 3 1/2 months old, but Big Spoon (white Plymouth) and Soupy (black Australorp) are much larger than the red sex links.  The pecking order was obvious from the first day we brought them home.  Big Spoon is definitely the head hen, and also kind of mean, which is how she got her name; she loves to stir it up.  Soupy and Stella are vying for second in command, and little Juniper is bringing up the rear of the flock.  Although Big Spoon asserts her dominance over the others in the flock, when they are scared or feel threatened, she stands in between them and the perceived threat.  They do everything as a flock, from eating, to exploring, to grooming themselves and sleeping. 

video


Big Spoon

Stella


Soupy

Juniper


The Coop

Ah yes, the chicken coop.  We knew the entire time that we wanted chickens, no doubt.  We wanted to raise them for their eggs and enjoy them as pets.  Taylor started to design the coop in October and started building it in November.  We again visited Sonoma Compost, but this time to check out their recycled lumber.  We ended up spending just $20 on the entire frame of the coop.  We used some left over redwood 2x6 pieces for the legs and the door.  We assembled the most wonderful chicken coop on December 14th and all together, spent under $200.


We placed the redwood legs on cinder blocks so the wood wouldn't be directly in the dirt and then start to rot.

The egg box is divided into three nesting areas


Taylor designed these removeable trays for easy access into the coop for cleaning and maintenance purposes.  We planned this so the poop would fall through the grates, but chicken poop has a life of it's own, so now we lay down straw as a way to keep the area dry.



Here is the proud designer. 


Planting the Garden

We couldn't wait to get our hands dirty, literally, and in hindsight, I realize our jubilance for our new garden led to us overdoing our first planting.  We were just so excited, but what happened was we overcrowded the crops and received minimum yield.  It was still fun to watch everything come up in our first garden.



Three Sisters:  Pumpkin, Corn, Pole Beans
Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Carrots, Fennel, Onions, Beets, Radish, Green Leaf Lettuce, Butter Lettuce and Swiss Chard.

                                        







Sunday, January 23, 2011

Compost!

After we added all the organic compost and other amendments to the soil, we had to let the garden rest.  While we waited, we turned our attention to the composting system we knew we wanted to start.  We live on a hillside that stretches about 3/4 of an acre, and there is a lot of yard waste in the form of leaves and dried California grass.  We knew that all that "brown waste" or carbon, could be mixed with kitchen scraps, also known as "green waste", or nitrogen.  When we first arrived, part of the fence in the front yard was being replaced, and there was a lot of wood that we were able to reuse.  Taylor designed the 'U'-system and we built the composters in an afternoon.  It was during this project that I learned to cut a 2x4 and 2x6 cleanly with a manual saw.  This may sound easy, but it actually takes a lot of practice. 

Once we add the kitchen scraps to the compost, then we add about three times as much carbon, that way, there is no smell from the rotting food.  There are no animal products in the composters, except for egg shells, so the deer and raccoon population aren't drawn to the piles.  We created three bins so that once we fill the first bin, we turn into the middle bin, and that becomes the active pile.  We turn it back and forth, about twice a week, all along starting a new pile in the first bin again.  We stick a thermometer in the middle of the active pile, and I have watched the pile's temperature increase all the way to 150 degrees!  You could cook a steak in the middle of that pile!  Heat is generated as a byproduct of microbial breakdown of organic material, and we  use the temperature of the compost to gauge how well the system is working and how far along the decomposition has progressed.   Once the temperature starts to decrease, we know that the organic material has been almost completely broken down and we almost have our final product. 

The last step we go through is putting the compost through a shredder, and the result is a high-quality, nutrient-filled, 100% homemade mulch that we can use in our garden or in the landscaping around the property.  We have made almost two cubic yards of compost and have much more where that came from.
So, why compost?
Compost Makes a Healthy, Thriving Garden; you really can't find a better soil amendment than compost. It loosens clay soils and helps sandy soils retain water. And not only does compost contain no petroleum-based compounds (like most commercial fertilizers do), it can suppress plant diseases and pests. Gardens that are composted produce higher yields of healthier fruits, vegetables and flowers.
Composting Is Good for the Planet; landfills everywhere are running out of room, and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) estimates that roughly 25% of the garbage in the U.S. is made up of yard trimmings and food scraps. That's over 60 million tons each year! Instead of watching your local landfill get bigger and more expensive to maintain each month, try composting.
So that's it, the reasons we have created our composting system is that it provides a way not only of reducing the amount of waste that needs to be thrown away, but also of converting it into a product that is useful for gardening, landscaping, or house plants. 


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Designing the Garden

When Taylor and I were designing the garden, we had one thing in mind, to keep the deer out.  The deer in our area are known for crushing gardener's dreams of a lush and fertile crop, so we figured that a ten foot perimeter fence should keep them out.  When we started building the garden, I learned all about making the  frame level and plume,  how to use a reciprocating saw, how to cut a board manually, and how to rototill the ground.  After digging up the ground, which was mostly dry clay, we added three cubic yards of compost which we bought from Sonoma Compost, out in Petaluma.  Now, if you've been buying compost in the tiny 5 pound bags, you are getting ripped off.  It's all about bulk compost, and Sonoma Compost is the place to go.  The drive is also quite beautiful and on a sunny day, you feel like you are in some pastoral paradise.  




The lesson I learned from amending the soil with three cubic yards of active compost, let the soil sit for up to a month before planting the seeds.  We were running out of time and only let the soil sit for a week and a half, and we attribute this to our minimal yield, that, and overcrowding.






Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How it all started.........

It all started when Taylor and I moved down to northern California from Oregon, and we wanted to start our own organic vegetable garden.  We had tried for the previous three years to get a plot at one of the many community gardens in Eugene and then Portland, but to our dismay, we just remained on the waiting list and our green thumbs sat idle.  When we got here, the first thing we did was plan out our garden, how we were going to build it up to keep out the deer, how we were going to amend the soil, which was in quite a state of disarray, and what we were going to plant.  This is how it started, but what has happened has completely taken over my life, and I am the more healthy, more active, and more alive because of all it.