Sunday, October 19, 2014

Growing grass with chickens (again)

Earlier this month I wrote a post saying that I had stuff growing in my in-place compost.  It didn't last.  Between the chickens and the heavy rain we had last week all of the green is gone.
The rain really made a mess of things.  I raked the area to level it out.  I need something to grow there quick.  I need root structure to hold everything in place.  I threw my 2x4 screened box to the one side.  Then I scattered winter rye over the entire area.  (Winter rye germinates down to something like 35*.) 
It didn't take long for the chickens to find that seed.  In the past I've put up netting to keep them out.  I didn't want to deal with that today.  The deer haven't been bothering my garden this year, so I thought I'd use the scarecrow to keep the chickens away. 

The scarecrow is a motion activated water sprinkler.  It works great!  I wasn't able to get video or pictures, but the few times the chickens have ventured into this area they set the thing off.  The water spraying spooks them and they take off.  Even the dog has avoided going near there. 

I have it on its most sensitive setting.  It went off frequently today.  That's fine.  It's keeping the new seed watered.  The biggest problem I have had with the scarecrow is that it eats batteries.  Having it on the highest sensitivity probably won't help with that.

Friday, October 17, 2014

My favorite outdoor clothing

Back in August I went almost 3 weeks without a post, and I heard from 20% of my readers (sure it was just 2 people, but 20% sounds better).  Anyway, I thought I better post something since I haven't written anything in a while.  There's just one problem.  I don't have a lot going on right now.  So I thought I'd mention some of my favorite clothing to wear outside while doing all of these backyard homesteading projects. 

I used to just wear old cotton T-shirts and jeans shorts.  They were pretty standard "yard clothes."  It gets hot in North Carolina in the summer so I sweat.  The cotton shirts would cling and be very uncomfortable.  I needed something better.  I got out one of the shirts I wear backpacking.  It was a huge improvement.  I love the EMS Techwick T-shirts.  They offer ultra fast wicking and they're quick drying.  They are great to wear outside in the summer (or any time of year really). 
http://www.ems.com/product/index.jsp?productId=23420986
These shirts list for $30-35.  I've never paid that much for one.  They go on sale all the time and frequently they end up on clearance.  I generally get them for $10-15 although I've paid as little as $6.98. 

For pants I've found that I really like the REI Sahara convertible pants.  They're lightweight, water resistant, and if I do get too hot I can turn them into shorts.  They also have a lot of pockets for carrying things.  Some of the pockets even zipper or Velcro shut so you don't have to worry about stuff falling out.
http://www.rei.com/product/861659/rei-sahara-convertible-pants-with-no-sit-zips-mens-30-inseam
I don't pay full price for these either.  They go on sale several times a year for 20% off.  It's hard to get a better discount than that from REI. 
Appalachian Trail near Boiling Springs PA - 2009

If it isn't apparent already, I pretty much like to wear the same stuff I would wear on the trail.  So for my feet there is only one option.  Hiking boots!  I've been wearing hiking boots as my main footwear since I was 15-16 years old.  I love them.  I wear them on the trail, in the yard, to work, to the store, and to church.  Even with all that use, I generally get 3-4 years out of a pair of boots. 

I've tried a lot of different brands of boots over the years, but I have decided that Asolo boots are my favorite and I will be buying them from now on.  I will say right up front, that Asolo boots are not cheap.  They list for $250-300. 
Luckily you can find them on sale from time to time.  I think I paid around $150 for each of my last two pairs.  I got my current pair from sierratradingpost.com.  The pair I got before that came from campmor.com.  The downside to buying boots online is that you can't try them on to see how they fit.  I think that's a risk worth taking given how much money you can save. 

Anyway, I'll have to find something new and interesting to do around here.  That way I'll have something else to write about. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

In place composting experiment continues

A little less than a year ago I threw shredded leaves all over a low spot in my back yard in hopes that they would compost in place.  I'm pretty pleased with the results so far.  It's clear that a lot of the leaves have broken down.  When I walk through there and kick over the remaining shredded leaves I find earthworms everywhere.  There's a lot of life in and under there.

The question now is, how do I transition this area back into yard?  I'm not sure I have the best answer to that, but I can tell you what I've done so far.  Last month I sorted through my seeds.  I found a lot of carrot seeds that were old.  They got tossed into this area.  I also found turnip and rutabaga seeds that I didn't even know I had.  I threw a bunch of those down too.  Then I threw down some of my cover crop seed, clover, wheat, and hairy vetch.  Now this area is turning green with more life.
I don't know if the combination of what I put down was a good idea or not.  The carrots, turnips and rutabagas are root crops.  I figured they would put down tap roots that would break up the hard soil under this new compost (and provide something to eat).  That's my theory anyway.  I don't know if it'll work.
The cover crops, the wheat, and hairy vetch should grow some root structures to hold the compost in place.  They also provide green material that will die or be cut down to add more compostable material to the area. 
Amazingly enough, the chickens have left this new growth alone.  I haven't seen them in this area at all.  Normally they get into and eat whatever they can.  Maybe fear of being eaten by a hawk is keeping them from venturing too far into the yard.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Granny Smith Apple Tree.

I went to the Farmers Market in Raleigh the other day and found a guy selling Granny Smith apple trees.  Granny Smiths are my favorite apple and I've been looking for a tree for quite some time.  I've never seen them at Lowes or Home Depot.  Anyway, the tree looked nice and it was only $25.  I bought it without any hesitation.  Luckily it fit in the van.
I dug a hole that was slightly bigger than the root ball of the tree.  I probably should've made it bigger.
I put compost in the bottom of the hole, and then removed the tree from the pot and placed it in the hole.  I filled in the remaining space with more compost.
The final step was to install an IrriPan (like I'd done with my previous trees) and then water it.  It'll probably be a few years before I get apples, but that's how it goes.  If I don't put in a tree I'll never get any!

Friday, October 3, 2014

The latests news regarding the new chicks.

We lost another chick today.  We have one left.  My wife heard a commotion outside and went to see what was going on.  She saw the one remaining chick under the deck with the rest of the layers.  The mother hen was have a tantrum by the coop.  We're pretty sure that a hawk got it.

I'm actually kind of glad.  The chick that was taken had a pretty bad scissor beak.  We noticed that the top and bottom of its beak were not aligned when it was about a week old.  It got progressively worse.  I talked to a few people and the consensus I got wasn't good.  It was suggested by two people that I euthanize the bird.  It was noticeably smaller than the other chick.  I think it had a difficult time eating and drinking.  That would have only gotten worse with age. 
The scissor beak bird is the one in the lower right.  This picture was from a few weeks ago and it wasn't much bigger than that today when we lost it.
The last remaining chick is almost as big as the mother hen.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Garden Status for September 2014

This might be one of the last monthly gardening status updates this year.  I did start some Fall garden maintenance the other day.  I still have some more to do.  In terms of harvests, I don't have much left.  I still have some pepper plants and some beans.  I put in some kale, some of which could be harvested, but the rest is going to take a few more weeks.
Peppers - September 14
September 14
Pole beans - September 14
September 14
Peppers - September 17
More beans and the last tomatoes - September 21

Rainbow chard - September 23
Kale and chard - September 25
Mostly empty raised beds - September 27
 I did put down some hairy vetch seeds in some of the beds the same way I did last year.  I haven't seen any of it germinate and sprout yet.  I thought that my seed from last year would still be good.  Maybe it isn't.  If something doesn't appear in the next week or two I'll put more down.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Experimenting with cover crops -- tiller radish

The other day I wrote a post about using cover crops in the back yard to improve soil.  I put down tiller radish and organic wheat.  The wheat grew so fast that I couldn't tell if the tiller radish did anything or not.
I threw more compost on the ground and moved my screened-box-thing over top of it.  This time I planted only tiller radish.  It didn't take long for them to sprout.
September 25.
September 28.
I have no idea at what density I was supposed to plant them.  There appear to be a lot of them in there.  I have no desire to thin them out.  So I'm just wait and see what happens.  I'm hoping they get enough light in this location.  They didn't come with any instructions.  I just have to hope for the best.