Sunday, April 13, 2008


The chickens by far have been the most fun, the most challenging, and the most rewarding aspect of working close to the land. I get the chance to watch these animals do their thing without them really caring about me. There are a whole lot of things that I wish they did not do, however, like eat young grape leaves off my newly sprouting vines, or scratching up the freshly sprouted herbal lawn I've been working so hard to get going.

But other than that, it has been a blast watching them as they've evolved their pecking order or as they wallow in the dust under the old citrus tree. Here are a few of the culprits we have running around these days. I found one more little one dead the other day from unknown reasons. Happened pretty quick and never saw it coming. So we have a flock of 20 now, with about a dozen and a half eggs a day right now.

We have 2 roosters an 18 hens. That is a pretty good ration of rooster to hen. Plus, the two roosters grew up together, therefore establishing their social rank early on. They have not yet fought, but have been seen playing chase.

This guy in the picture above, that's Buster. Chasing around one of his hens, getting her into an area of dense cover where it is safer. He's the big boss. He is a big bird. Very smart, very wary, always has a close eye on you. He started crowing at an earlier age than the other rooster and I am sure that is one of the main reasons he is dominant, because he matured faster. He is a beautifully colored bird, a Brown Leghorn variety. Great bird.

This guy. He's the other rooster. His names Keaton. Still very big, very menacing, he's the mean one. Buster rules through admiration while Keaton would rule by fear. It's like a Shakespearean play with this sort of power nuance. He's a great bird, does a good job helping the flock stays safe, they all watch out for one another.

Monday, March 17, 2008

March Madness

This is definitely the month for planting, spring is just upon us, the weather is warming, and plants are growing. All I am trying to do for the next 2 months is plant, plant, plant. There is not much time to do anything else, I have no time to finish mulching pathways, no time to do any stone work, only time for planting and anything planting related.

Today I seeded almost 100 six packs. I must say, efficiency wise, six packs are not the way to go, get the 72 or more cell trays. Those things are quick to fill with dirt and to seed. I do six packs because whatever I am not planting at my place I am going to sell to the community. Today I planted beans, basil, zinnia, echinecia, sunflower, and more. My grow tables are starting to fill, I will have to make more soon, I am going to have thousands of plants this year, it should be awesome.

I also got a chance to let out the chickens, gotta keep a close eye on them though, they have been getting into some of the freshly seeded beds that I have in the backyard. I am going to put up a temporary fence tomorrow to keep the little buggers out.

Work is never done.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Cold Fronts

Sometimes in Southern California, the weather gets so warm in the spring that you think that it is here to stay. Then a chilly cold front moves in while your still in your shorts and sandals. Starting mid morning on Saturday the air quickly turned cold as the winds kicked up from the NW. Brings us back to reality that it still isn't quite summer yet. I like working when it is a little chilly outside but I do not like these winds.

I have been hard at work in the garden lately. I have been planting out many of my rooted cuttings that I have had growing for a few months. I put out some lavenders and sages amongst the citrus that we have growing in the backyard. Lavenders and sages are both high in medicinal value and love attracting beneficial insects. I also planted out some artichokes along the pathway , working as both an ornamental and an edible. I planted out some borage as well. Borage is a great plant. It is easy to grow in our soils and climate, bees LOVE it, you can make tea from the flowers, and it is a beautiful plant and a great addition to any garden.

I also have a few beds growing vegetables now, all double dug and grown using the GROW BIOINTENSIVE approach. We utilized double dug beds, we have grown our own compost, we used close hexagonal spacing, and grew our plants together in a way that they would contribute to one anothers health. So far we have planted out garlic, rossimo and flame head lettuce, leaf lettuce, radishes and carrots, as well as some potatoes and cauliflower.

At the same time I have built two more grow tables and have seeded some flats of corn, tomatoes, cucumber, kale, and more. I need to do a lot more seeding.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Daily Chores

The past couple days have been heavy ones for me. The death of that little chicken has had a profound effect on me. Thoughts revolving the circle of life and death go through my head all the time. And whether or not I did the right thing for the chicken, I guess I will never know. Many have told me the best thing that I could do is allow the chicken to be warm and comfortable to ease the passing and I definitely tried to make that happen. What will be I guess.

The passing of our little hen has opened my eyes to appreciating the ones I have left a lot more. They are fun animals to watch and they really enjoy it when the get a chance to roam outside. Too bad they eat everything in sight.

I have been planting the garden, cleared out 3 beds of cover crops, double dug them (more on that in a later post) and planted lettuce, cauliflower, carrots and radishes. I built some cages to keep out all of the little critters from eating them, so far so good. I planted some lettuce outside of the cage and they got eaten already. I have to figure out something for the peas because those are getting ravaged by a squirrel and the cages I have made will not work for them.

More work to be done I guess.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Life & Death

My little hen passed away on Sunday night. I named her Hope. She was the same hen that I was worried about a few weeks back. I have never been witness to death before. It was heart wrenching. I really wanted her to get better and believed she was. Then, quickly she took a turn for the worse. She could not breathe, she was really gasping hard for air. She started fluttering around and panic and just as suddenly, silence. She passed away. I loved that little hen.

My only wish is that she is roaming some nice green pasture with all sorts of grains and insects that she can devour. My she rest in peace and be in my heart.

This experience led me to think whether or not I did the best thing. Should I have taken her to a vet right away, put her out of her misery, or have done what I did, try and save her. I thought she was getting better, that she was just weak on the first day and she needed to regain her strength. I feel so bad, partly responsible. But I know that I will have a plan for whenever this might happen next time. A solid one that has been well though out to maximize chance of recovery.

Hope, you gave me hope. Watching how you really fought hard to survive. I am proud of you and wish you the best.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Injured Chickens

I have been working hard trying to recuperate our little hen. She is hanging in there and progressing slowly. I am glad she is progressing. I really think that the close personal contact is what is helping her get through this.

But for a Saturday, it was a pretty mellow day. A nice warm sunny day here in Southern California. Got a chance to go for a late morning surf, it was really fun out there. My dog also got a chance to get in the water as well. She loves it. She's a lab by the way.

Other than that, I just watered the seeds I have started around the property and seeded a few more flats of some specialty greens, corn, Fordhook Chard, chives, elecanampe.

Building an Herb Spiral

I had a bunch of bricks lying around and plenty of time, so I decided to build an Herb Spiral. An Herb Spiral is a common project used in permaculture to highlight a few key concepts. First off, an herb spiral condenses 30 square feet of bed space into 6 actual square feet due to its design. It also creates various microclimates and zones.

To start an herb spiral, measure out the space you would like to use, clear it out and make it level and begin to draw the template, either in your mind or place a few bricks to give you perspective. All I did was slowly lay the bricks in a spiral pattern, slowly building it higher and higher. After a certain height, I fill in the space between the bricks with drain gravel on the bottom and a good mix of top soil and compost above the drain rock. This will keep the bricks in place as you build even higher. Eventually you will get the height that you are looking for and you will have the whole thing filled in.

See, pretty simple. After all done I layed out some drip tubing along the whole of the spiral and I planted my herbs. I planted drought tolerant plants such as rosemary on top and more moisture loving herbs on the bottom such as lemongrass and mint. There are also an east, west, north and south aspects that can help determine which herbs go where. My spiral goes like this, Rosemary, Oregano, Thyme, Basil, Chives, Marjoram, Lemon Balm, Peppermint, Cilantro, Green Onions, Mint, and Lemongrass.

It grows with almost zero maintenance and it is in a small space not being used normally right by our kitchen. Bless the Herb Spiral and all that it has to offer.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Easter Eggs

Its spring and Easter is just around the corner. I was reminded of the fact when I collected the first eggs from my chickens on Thursday March 6th, almost 5 months after we got the little chicks in the mail. It hasn't been without its hardships.

The first night the chickens went into their coop, 3 were killed by marauding raccoons. I little while later, I found one dead for no apparent reason. And just yesterday, I found one of my hens jammed into a tight spot unable to get out. Boy was she happy to see me. I think she was there for a day or 2, she did not have any energy to move.

I put her into one of my tables I made for starting seeds which doubled perfectly for a Chicken Triage. She can only lay on her side, cannot stand or really move at all. I have been feeding her by hand, at least she is feeding. I hope for a full recovery, but I do not know the extent of the damage she has. Close care and a watchful eye is all I can do right now.

It is sad to see an animal hurt, you want to help but feel helpless at the same time. Prayers and vigilence are all that I can offer right now. Let us all pray for her and her speedy recover and subsequent acceptance back into the flock.

Cage us in...Please

It is the beginning of March and instantly you can sense spring in the garden. Plants are growing faster, fruit trees are flowering, and the wildlife can be seen in ever increasing numbers around the property. It is for that last thing that I have spent the last week building cages for tender seedlings and other appetizing plants.

I was recently graced with a visit by a local ground squirrel who really enjoyed some sweet peas that just started bearing. The squirrel thought it was so good it ate everything I had, along with some parsley, kohlrabi, chard and more. That is not going to happen again.

This week, I have been building caged tables for seed starting as well as cages for the growing beds to house young plants until they are no longer appetizing to the local wildlife. Just the other day I seeded 15 flats of vegetables only to have them dug up by a little sparrow the minute I turned my back.

I have built my seeding tables out of old pallets and scrap wood, with concrete reinforcing mesh and chicken wire to act as the cage. This has worked well for seeding as well as for a Chicken Triage Center (more on that in a later post). The cages that are going on the beds were built out of old pvc pipe and chicken wire, making them lightweight and sturdy. I am going to experiment with a different design tomorrow. I'll let you know what works better.

The seeding tables received their first residents today with the reseeded flats of Florence Fennel, Royal Oak Lettuce, Red Deer Tongue Lettuce and Bee Balm. I will be hand watering these until I get the automatic watering system in place.

Tomorrow I hope to start a new Biointensive compost pile by the nursery. I will include my first bed of compost crops that I will chop down tomorrow into the compost along with mature material and garden soil. I will discuss compost more thoroughly at a later time. The same bed that I took the compost crops from will be the same bed that I double dig, add some compost and amendments to, and transplant lettuce and direct seed radishes into. The first bed of the season.