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Archive for October, 2011

We get asked a lot of questions by customers, neighbors, readers of this blog and other curious sorts, about the diets of our animals.  Mostly they are regarding soy, antibiotics, growth hormones and corn.  Some are from people genuinely interested in facts.  Some are from people who’ve recently watched Food, Inc. and are looking to change their eating habits or want to make sure we aren’t cruel to animals.  Some, though, are well meaning, but misguided.

One of my favorites is from people looking for eggs, “Do you feed your chickens an all vegetarian diet?”

“Umm, no, why would we do that?”

Usually, that’s followed by an indignant, “You don’t?” and a rapid end to the conversation.

I always hang up the phone with an amused shake of my head.  The question is so bizarre, that it makes me wonder about the American Public School system.

Ok, to be fair, the marketing of some supermarket eggs, labeled, “fed all vegetarian diet” contributes to the confusion.

The simple fact is, chickens are omnivores just like most other birds, pigs, dogs, cats, grizzly bears and humans.  Ever heard the phrase, “The early bird catches the worm”?  Note: worms are not vegetables.  Chickens love worms, bugs, slugs, ticks, grasshoppers, milk and even meat.  If a chicken dies in the pasture, the rest of the flock will usually eat the thing pretty darned quick.  I’ve seen a carcass picked clean as a whistle by a flock of hens.

A vegetarian diet is not natural for a chicken.  They want to roam the pastures finding goodies hiding in the grass.  Sure, they eat the grass, too, along with corn, oats, wheat and almost anything else that will stay still long enough.

There is nothing noble or healthy about a vegetarian chicken.  We find that our chickens are happiest when they are allowed to free range and eat whatever they can find.  Even after a day of foraging, they clean up their chicken feed and still have room to muscle their way into the pig trough for a bite of whatever goodies the porkers are chowing on.

Admittedly, B and I have only been raising chickens for a year and a half, but we’ve had several hundred pass through the farm and we have yet to meet a vegetarian among them.

Cows are vegetarian. So are sheep, goats, mules, donkeys, rabbits and horses. Chickens and yes, turkeys, are omnivores.  Don’t tell PETA, it will ruin their delusion.

 

 

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Ok, I’m a hypocrite.  After posting all over Twitter that I don’t blog on weekends because no one reads it, here I am.  I just wanted to write this before I forget it, since I’m using this space as my journal.

We are using feeder goldfish for this experiment.  Since we were having some nutrient deficiencies, we added some more fish last weekend.  A couple of the fish died the next day.  That will happen with thirteen cent goldfish.  The nutrients have improved.  I think I still need a few more fish for cauliflower.  I should have started with spinach or something.  Now it’s a quest.  The plants are showing new growth, but it’s slow.  The system is not really mature enough yet.

Everything in the water is in balance except the ph, which is still low.  I added some egg shells but they did not move the needle.  We use oyster shell grit at the farm for baby chicks, so if we have any, I’ll add a little and see what happens.  I’ll add slowly.  Just like salt in cooking, you can always add more, but it’s hard to take it out once it’s in.

EzGro Hydroponics Unit

I have my second experiment just about ready. I cleaned out my old EzGro hydroponics unit and am converting it to an aquaponics garden.  Since the tank is only 3 gallons, it will also be a goldfish garden.  I intend to use it for greens and for starting seeds.  I am using hydroton clay pebbles for the growing medium in this one. I think I’ll have it up and running by the end of the week.

While I was at it, I planted some sugar snap peas in an Earthbox out in the sunroom.  I’m also going to start some cherry tomatoes and see if I can grow them in a container in the sunroom through the winter.  Nothing to lose by trying.

In related news, I finished planting this season’s onions.  I still need to get some garlic in the ground, but I’m out of space.  Must dig out some large containers an put them in one of those.

Today was a gorgeous day for working outside.  I really enjoyed it.  Got a lot done and even had time for a nap.  Yeah, baby!  That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

 

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Meet Curry

We were expecting him, just not quite so soon.  B and I had discussed the fact that Sunny was getting close to giving birth, but was probably a week away.  We talked about getting a stall ready for next weekend.  We were wrong.

On Saturday, I noticed Sunny laying down in the field shelter, but it was a warm day, the shelter was comfortable, so I gave it no more thought.  Sunday morning, when we went out to do chores before Church, she was up at the fence hoping for some grub.  She still looked pregnant.

Sunday afternoon, Brittan and I were in the pasture picking up what mules leave behind, when I heard B exclaim, “Sunny has a baby!”  I dropped my manure fork (I don’t need a lot of encouragement to do that), hustled over to the shelter and sure enough, a little agouti buckling stared up at us from his little napping spot.

What a little cutie.  We noticed, though that he limps on his left front leg.  I don’t know if it was a problem from birthing or if Sunny stepped on him, but he is a bit gimpy.

Brittan picked the little man up, I hoisted Sunny and we took them to a nice stall in the barn.  We got some fresh straw down and settled everyone in.  We didn’t leave until we saw the little man nurse.  We had a bottle ready, just in case.  Once we witnessed him getting a good meal, we felt we could safely go back to other chores.

The limp wasn’t any better yesterday.  He doesn’t like walking around, but will do it.  We are not confident he is eating enough, but he won’t take a bottle, which suggests he is nursing.  He is as cute as a button, but doesn’t look as robust as we’d like.  Time will tell.  Nature has it’s ways.

Sunny is a good mother and very experienced.  She will do what’s right.

We will keep you updated on his progress.  Oh, we named him Curry.  I know, it’s ironic and a little twisted.  What did you expect from us?

 

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Here is what all the fuss is about.  Introducing, the Goldfish Garden prototype.  The GG consists of two major parts and a bunch of smaller ones.

The fish tank is a standard tank from Petco.  We have cheap feeder goldfish in it.  During the spring we grew basil in a floating raft sitting right in the tank.  It grew well, but our sunroom didn’t have enough direct light so it got a little stretched and stayed thin.  Good leaves with good flavor, though.  It bolted earlier than the ones grown outside.  We will be adding a few more fish later this week.  I don’t believe we will get enough nutrients for multiple plants from the few fish we have.

The upper container is an earthbox.  B and I have been EB fans for years.  We have about 40 of them for our outside garden.  I have modified this one a couple ways to make it compatible for aquaponics.  First, I put screening material around the divider between the growing segment and the water reservoir.  I also put screen on the inside and outside of the overflow drain.  I added the screens to filter out growing media since I’m using this as a flood and drain unit.

I have an aquarium sized submersible water pump (75 gal per hr capacity set at 50%) running from the tank to the feeder tube in the Earth box.  The pump is attached to a timer that is set for 3 minutes at 6 a.m. and three minutes at 6 p.m.  For now that allows the reservoir to overflow.  The overflow runs back into the fish tank.  The next generation will have the overflow run through a filter tank and then back into the fish tank.

The fish tank has a bio filter to assist in maintaining beneficial bacteria balance.  I have also incorporated a single air stone for extra oxygenation in the water.

The growing medium is coconut coir which is lightweight and ph neutral if any should get into the fish tank.  Coir wicks water well and should support plants effectively.

Speaking of plants, this unit is hosting 4 cauliflower seedlings.  As they grow, they will require a good amount of water and nutrients so we’ll add fish and adjust the water timer as required.  We may also need to bring in an LED grow light, if it doesn’t look like the box is getting enough direct sunlight.

Now it’s time to watch the results.  I have water quality testing products to monitor ph and nitrogen.  If this works, I already have a design that incorporates  a 300 gallon fish tank for Tilapia, an earthbox for larger plants like tomatoes and peppers, a floating raft for greens and an open tank for duckweed. But first things first.  Let the growing begin.

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The last two days of rain sure have been welcome.  I went out to the garden for morning chores a while ago and everything, including (maybe especially) the weeds have taken a growth spurt.  I don’t thing the value of rain can be over stated.  Between the absence of chlorine and the existence of micro nutrients, rain offers real benefits that city water can never provide.

We harvested the last of the jalapeno and bell peppers on Friday.  Now it’s time for me to amend that bed and plant some winter crops.  Clover or beans would be best, but I need the space for onions, so the bed will get an extra helping of compost and rabbit manure.

We got an extra nice harvest of turnips on Friday, as well, along with the first of the collards and some squash.  We’ll have beets in time for our tasting party next week and the turnips are almost ready to be gathered in.  I’ll probably plant some clover in the turnip beds, since those beds have had sweet potatoes followed by tomatoes, followed by turnips.  They need some rest and extra nitrogen.  If I don’t get a cover crop in them, then they will be bean beds next spring.

The squash has been mixed.  We’ve had a few nice squash and round zucchini, but they have not been prolific.  It’s late enough that we’re not getting a huge amount of pollinator activity and I am not going out there with a q tip or a paint brush to hand pollinate.  We have a few more to harvest, but a lot of wasted flowers.  It’s no big deal, I just need to set my expectations differently for fall squash and to plant more during the spring.

Our collards and kale look pretty good, if a little behind schedule.  The cabbage don’t appear to be heading and bugs devoured my broccoli and cauliflower.  We can’t grow cauliflower to save our lives.  I’m trying a few inside in our goldfish garden aquaponics experiment to see if that works any better.

Beans look good and should harvest a few soon.  If the frost holds off and days keep getting warm, we may get a few ears of corn.  It’s going to be close.  The carrots are growing, but I don’t think they want to.  Shallots are in the ground.  Garlic goes in tomorrow morning. If the weather holds, we’ll get a handful of late tomatoes.

I think that pretty much covers the progress report.  On the whole, fall gardening is a bit harder than spring and summer.  There seem to be more bugs and as I’m mentioned before, germination rates have been smaller.

Oh, one more thing.  I’m still getting Ghost peppers and noticed a few last minute Trinidad Scorpion peppers this morning.  I love that, for sure.

 

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If you’ve been by the farm lately, you know that our Belgian Mules, Laverne and Shirley, pretty much dominate the skyline.  Surrounded by miniature goats, miniature cows and a miniature donkey, not to mention a handful of laying hens and 11 turkeys, the girls tower over everything like skyscrapers in Lilliput.

The mules are positively gorgeous and can be quite fun, though they do get moody from time to time and want to be left alone.  They are powerful, energetic and offer a kind of interaction you can never get from a tractor or an ATV.  We love them.

There are, however, some downsides to owning draft mules.  First, they eat like horses. Sorry, couldn’t resist.  Seriously, though, these girls can put away some grub.  The two of them go through pasture grass like a mower.  And they are chowing down a big round bale of hay about every two weeks.  That in itself is no big deal, but what goes in, must come out.  Wow, can those ladies produce manure.  We will have enough fertilizer in the spring for every organic garden in metro Atlanta.  I could spend hours every day just cleaning up after them, never mind the rest of the chores.

Another downside to owning draft mules is the cost of horse drawn farm equipment.  Frankly, we can’t afford to buy it new and haven’t found any used equipment in decent shape.  Not true, we did get one saddle from a cousin of Brittan’s.  And we did buy harnesses with the mules. There’s just nothing to hook them to. So until we can come up with the coin to get a wagon or at least a fore cart, the mules will be merely very large pasture ornaments and fertilizer factories.

Owning draft mules is cool and practical, but as you can see, the start up costs are a bit steep and the maintenance has a bit of a sweat equity price tag.  I’m not complaining, just pointing out the downside to getting started.  I wouldn’t trade them for the world.  B and I are pretty attached to them, but we have a favor to ask.  If you run into Santa Claus when you’re out and about,  please ask him if he could put a mule cart in his Sleigh when December gets here.  We’ve been awfully good little boys and girls….

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