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2.17.2012

A time for planning

I mentioned after Christmas that my main activity in January and February is planning.  You see, when I was younger I HATED the post-Christmas period.  In high school I was miserable from the day after Christmas until the first day of forth quarter (beginning of March).  The only time this hasn't been an issue was the five years we spent in California.  It was obviously cabin fever (aka vitamin D deficiency).

Last year, our first back in the Midwest, I knew I would have problems.  It wasn't as bad as I was prepared for, but I still spent most of January and February unmotivated and mildly blue.  The only thing that got me through the gloom was seed catalogs and garden planning.

This year I feel better.  I'm sure it's the vitamin D and the serious lack of snow on the ground, coupled with the new puppy (more on that later) and having to be outside everyday to take care of all the animals... this time last year I had a dog (poor Kitty had just passed away).  That's it.  Now we have 22 chickens, two cats, and two dogs.  Oi.

But I still have garden on the brain.  I have one big project that needs to happen this year no matter what- the garden fence.  Last summer I wasn't sure I was going to free range my chickens- I was very nervous about it.  But I started letting them out of the run a few hours at a time each evening, supervising closely at first.  Then I "trained" them to come when I call, which gave me confidence to let them out more (chickens are very habit-based animals, so it took them like two days to get the idea that when I yell "here chick chick chick" and they come, they get treats...).  By mid fall they were spending most of every day out... which was fine then, because my garden was all but done, and the tiny patch of greens still growing was surrounded by a very crude fence of chicken wire and metal t-posts, and I was glad to have the chickens raid the rest of the garden to eat bugs (and their larvae- fewer bugs next year!), weeds, and weed seeds (fewer weeds, too!) and leave behind a little fertilizer.

When spring rolls around this year, though, they will want to be out, and I will want them to be out to reap the benefits of all the healthy spring greens and bugs.  But I won't want them eating and scratching up beds of seeds and seedlings and new transplants, nor will I want them taking bites out of my ripening zucchini and tomatoes as the summer progresses.

I keep changing my mind about what I want to do.  Either way I need to fence the garden itself, but I originally had thought I would fence the garden as well as the side of the property that borders the neighbors.

Then I thought about a book I read in the fall- Harvey Ussery's The Small Scale Poultry Flock.  And I remembered an article I had read last summer on setting up a chicken run for rotational grazing (it wasn't this article, but the idea is the same).  Comparatively, it would be a lot cheaper and meet my needs better to set up rotational runs.  There is a large open area North of my garden where I had planned to expand the garden and plant fruit trees.  Then I also remembered an article I had read in Mother Earth News on self sufficient 1 acre homestead (which I don't believe is fully possible, BTW, but that is beside the point...) where they recommend rotating the garden with the pasture to maximize soil fertility.  All of that information, plus a really deep PDF I downloaded on cover crops, congealed into one kind of ambitious but exciting idea, and one I can do in phases easily enough- I am going to fence my existing garden, probably into two 25x50 sections.  North of that, and possibly East as well (in the long term) I will build a series of similar sized pens out of 5 or 6 foot welded wire. 

This spring I will put my chickens (existing 22 chickens as well as 25 new layers, 15-20 Buckeyes, and a few Guineas).  In the pen next to the garden and let them graze it down to dirt.  Then I will move them to the next pen and plant a mix of nitrogen fixing and carbon rich cover crops in the first pen and let them grow for 6-8 weeks.  Then I will move the chickens BACK to the first pen (possibly sowing cover crops in the second pen as well, depending on it's condition and the season) to graze down the cover crops.  By next spring this first pen should be ready for me to plant potatoes and/or turnips to further loosen the soil.  Voila, instant garden expansion, no backbreaking work for me.  Eventually I will "rest" the existing garden by repeating the same process.  See what I'm getting at?  Better soil, more garden, less work.  Only drawback- the cost of fencing.  But this year will be the worst- I will have to fence the existing 50x50 garden as well as two 25x 50 pens.  That's like 500 feet of fencing and posts.  Oi.  Good thing I've been saving for this very project.


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