The permacultural theory behind the kiwis over the chicken yard is that they are awesome shade producers in summer, vigorous as it gets, keeping the chickens cool, but deciduous, leaving the sun shining through in winter. They will benefit from the chicken manure, positioning their roots to take advantage of the windfall without burning from the heat of their nitrogen-rich manure. The kiwis will shield the poultry from predators, drop fruit on them in season (I can't help but think of the apple trees throwing fruit at Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz), and host other birds, lizards, and beneficial insects. And hopefully, if all goes well, I'll be able to walk into the chicken yard with a basket and load up on dangling kiwis. They will be a treat for growing seasons following cooler winters...like the ones we've been having lately. We've had about 1200 chill hours this winter! (We're a 400 zone.) Might even get to sample my friends' apricots and filberts this year. Mine are still too small to matter. Back to the picture, the boxwood is coming out, and runner beans will grow up a trellis to the roof, with a bed of tomatoes in front of them. As soon as tomorrow I'll probably start laying a brick porch in front of the shed. The floor inside is nice flat brick and there's no reason for it. Bring 'em out where they can be enjoyed.
Pan left another click and you see mostly play yard, which is really more of a clothes drying and chicken tractoring yard at the moment. The big chicken tractor is back near the orchard fence. The hens are really enjoying the massive flush of henbit and mustards. The big mesa in the middle of the photo is a pecan stump! Big tree. The chicken tractor back left of it is 8'x4', if that helps with the size reference. We're thinking about smoothing it out a bit and burning a chess board into it. We could carve some big checkers and chess pieces to play when the weather is nice. What's showing is probably not even half of the play yard, and you can just see the corner of the pasture top left of the photo, before you get into cotton field.
Back right of the pecan stump are four tall posts set in a square. That will be an arbor for a nice long draping blue wisteria, and the entrance to the orchard from this side. I want something kind of dramatic for the kids, to mark the change in garden "rooms" where they will play. I'll build a low bench between the posts on both sides after it's covered, for a secret place for them to chill. (Or for Mama and Daddy to chill for that matter.)
Behind the play yard, where you see the tilled strips and mounds of mulch, is the orchard. Most of my nursery order will go out there. From south to north, north being the fenceline shared with the pasture, there are blackberries, my trial okra/peanut/duck/Stropharia mushroom polyculture, a pathway, the production tomato and basil bed, a row of apples, a variant of the three sisters guild, a row of pears, a different variant of the three sisters guild, a row of peaches (the three mounds you can see left of the tilled strip), another variant of the three sisters guild, a row of plums, and then a strip of perennial peanut for the ducks to graze on. I say three sisters, but it'll be more like four or five. I'm adding the Anasazi's cleomes for insect attraction, and potentially some improved amaranth, for grain variety, if the locals don't chide me too much about planting pigweed! East fence will be covered in bunch grapes, and west fence all figs and muscadines. Pomegranates on the section behind the chicken yard, that is just out of sight. There's another fruit tree tucked in the corner between the arbor and the chicken yard, an Illinois Everbearing Mulberry, which will drop fruit on all of the poultry for 3 straight months in late spring.
Ducks in the orchard, geese and turkeys in the play yard, and chickens in the run and wherever else we need them to be, like in the orchard to help break pest cycles in the fall. More food items to be found for them all in situ each year. Eventually I'm shooting for a closed system for ducks, geese, and turkeys, all of our native birds. Chickens, which originated in the south Asian rain forests where ecosystems regenerate at breakneck speeds 12 months a year, are probably a lost cause for energy descent in the U.S., unless you live in Hawaii; they have naturalized successfully there. Keep them while you can, they're great. And the fresh eggs are phenomenal. Nothing like store-bought "eggs." But I wouldn't confuse (modern) chickens with long-term sustainability in the temperate U.S.
This is Easter, the Bourbon Red tom turkey that a friend gave us a couple of weeks ago. He's called Easter because that will be doomsday for him. (Or more likely the Vernal Equinox; the unbelievably pagan methods for determining the date for Easter are too complicated for a simple druidic soul like me;) We've been offered a breeding pair of Royal Palm turkeys, and really want them, but having two toms and limited accomodations is a bad deal. So off with his head! And he does look delicious. Never processed a turkey before, I'm guessing it's a lot like cleaning a chicken, although I may need a bigger stock pot. He's hard to hang onto, so I probably need to do the deed at night while he's pretty much blind. He has been instrumental in pushing forward our habitat development for free-ranging turkeys though. Since he arrived I've planted two Sawtooth oaks, some red ripper peas, a few prolific winter squashes, foxtail millet, and lots of perennial peanut. I'll add a bunch of muscadines, some chufa, goumi, brown-top millet, honey locusts, hawthornes, Maximillian sunflowers, hippy wild roses, and more I haven't thought of yet for sure. They love grasshoppers, so I'm thinking if I can plant something that grasshoppers love out in the turkey habitat, I can draw them away from the gardens and into a trap! Any suggestions?
Here are 12 little bitty new additions to the farm. I love baby chick time every spring! We have 6 Auracana pullets - always searching for those blue eggs, and 6 straight run Blue-laced red wyandottes. They are stunning in full adult color. We may keep a roo and breed them if we get some really pretty ones. I'll probably end up giving a few of these to family members that want to start using chicken tractors in their gardens, because I certainly don't need 15 chickens. (We have 3 now.) I think I could produce the eggs I need, for us and to give away, with about 8-9 chickens total. And I'm definitely not about overstocking my system just because I have the space. This is the first time I've had an old water trough to turn into a brooder, and I really like it. Nice tall sides keep the bitties in and secure. We used an extra cupboard from our kitchen project last season, with a fireplace screen over it for protection. Pretty makeshift. I need to have these guys cleared out by the end of the month when our American Buff goslings and Welsh Harlequin and Blue Runner ducklings arrive. Which means I need to have the poultry run finished so I can move the laying hens out of the tractor and these guys in. Then they'll need to clear out of the tractor before the rabbit kits are old enough to go out on pasture...I think we can make this work??
Mushroom project is on the march. Here are the first dozen shiitake logs (pecan in this case) laid up and labelled. Since this picture I've added another 32 pecan logs and 90 oak logs. They are in the 4-week rest stage following harvest, and preceeding innoculation. Once the tree's anti-fungal compounds have broken down, I'll plug some of them and put them in the laying yard. Others will be reserved for demos later this year. We finalized today to teach a session on growing mushrooms at the Georgia Master Gardeners convention in October in Macon. Pretty excited about that one. Next up I'm doing a talk on enhancing the home garden with fungi for the Tifton Garden Club next Monday night, and then an all-day workshop at the Spring Folk Life festival at the Georgia Agrirama on April 2nd. This tiny stack looks so manageable!
Come see us at Tonic Permaculture in Tifton, GA, and this will be the first view of the garden from the entry gate. The salvaged-brick walkways of the kitchen garden are started, and the construct is mostly built. The rabbits are moving around in their tractors, scratching and fertilizing the few beds remaining to be built, and the horses are galloping happily in their pasture. Nearly everything has broken dormancy now, from an early nectarine that's just about done blooming to figs and boysenberries that are just starting to unfold their tiny leaves to grapes whose buds are just today starting to swell. We've only been here for 2 months, so it has a long, long way to go, but it's happening. It's a bit overwhelming some days, when it seems like there are more time-sensitive items on the list than there is time to get them done, but a deep breath and a good night's sleep helps with that immensely. I already see some places where we can improve the bed-to-pathway ratio without making it feel cramped, and maybe a set of beds that could be realigned to help the flow. By this time next month I'll have 3 more species under my care that I've never worked with before, but it keeps me on my toes and my nose in the books.
I'm starting to think of myself as something like a farmer these days, since I work from sun-up to sundown seven days a week. Not sure where exactly I'd fit another job in. But what we do isn't really farming either. There are certain implications in the term 'farming' that just don't fit this model. Fortunately, there are a lot of young people doing similar things these days, and since this trend is not part of the competitive, Earl Butz-ian "get big or get out" mentality, there is always room for more, and always will be as long as fossil energy keeps getting more expensive. The concensus among small local producers is that we can't keep up with the demand. And that demand is growing every week.
This is a good life. Beats the pants off of the commute-and-cubicle I bought into not that long ago. It does require some rethinking about what a need is, and what is just a want, but so far Jess and I have found the path to simplicity to be most rewarding.
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