Monday, February 13, 2012

The Beauty of a Good Lawn Tractor

Cub Cadet with mulch bound for the garden
One of the best buys for our garden was a Cub Cadet lawn tractor with superior mulching capability.  We ran that thing ragged last year and practically filled up the garden with our own homemade mulch.  The areas where we mulched the most and refrained from planting are absolutely beautiful this year.  (We piled the mulch about four inches deep in those parts.)  The chickens shredded and tilled the remnants of mulch under for us, and now we have a section of garden finely prepared for planting.

Farm field trip hayride

Not only was the Cub Cadet perfect for cutting and mulching, the little trailer pulled a host of kids for hayrides around our back pasture throughout the year.  (More on our hosting efforts in another blog.)

I am actually looking forward to the grass peeking through the moss so we can start cutting again. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chickens in the Garden

The bones of the house
One of the best things on our farm are the chickens.  They are extremely easy to upkeep and are surprisingly versatile in benefits.  Aside from the obvious, eggs, these pretty girls and boys make the richest compost on the property, and they tend my garden all winter-long so I don't have to.

A trap door for the chickens
We built our chicken house from a picture we found in a book about playhouses for children.  I loved the whimsical design and the fact that it was up off the ground.  Herman sketched out the plan on his trusty grid paper and went to work.  The house comes complete with a side row of nesting boxes that allow us to open and check for eggs from the outside.  I love the cedar shakes we used for siding, and the clear roof on the south side allows the sun to warm up the house a bit even in the winter.  In the Pacific Northwest it doesn't get very hot, even in summer.  However, we just open up the front door and chicken run door in the back for fresh air and cooling when the weather warms up.  During the winter we pile in plenty of straw to help insulate.  As the layers of straw build up, we scoop the mess out the little chicken run in the back and add it to our compost bin.  The compost bin is in the chicken yard, so the chickens continuously scratch and turn the pile while adding their own droppings to the mix - a perfect, no fuss solution.
Nest boxes perfect for the ladies

Chickens find shelter under
a net covered with snow
We created a small chicken run behind our garden with temporary fencing so that it can be moved around throughout the year.  We lost a couple of young chickens to hawks, so we discovered an inexpensive way to protect them in a large area using fishing wire.  Wire strung from the trees, house and fence in a web-like network gave us the protection we needed.  It lasted really well throughout the spring, summer and fall, but the winter ice storm ruined it.  Looks like we'll have to reapply once a year if we want to keep those hawks out.  After we harvested all the crops, we let the chickens into the garden.  They have worked wonders in there!  Slugs are under control, weeds non-existent, soil tilled up regularly, and wonderful compost is being worked into the soil without us lifting a single finger.  I'm sure it will be a challenge to keep them out once growing season begins, but they are really enjoying the freedom and extra space.  They eat so many bugs and grasses from the garden that we only have to throw a small amount of feed out in the morning.
Straw insulates the house
Branches for roosting
A virtual chicken playhouse

For benefits vs. cost, chickens are the all-out winner on a small farm.