Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Raised Bed Dilemma

Our farm came with 12 raised beds.

 I even grew things in them once. This one time. Years ago.

I think this was our first lettuce crop. We grew peas, lettuce, radishes, all sorts of stuff in the beds. I planted all twelve of them.

They were built with rods of steel rebar driven into the ground in three places on two sides. And they came with these PVC hoops that you can put right into the rebar. We draped burlap over them to create shade for the cold-loving lettuce.

Here is a slightly closer view seeing the hoops on the outside of the raised bed. But really, I put this photo in so you could all see the back of Hobbes' head. He was behaving himself around our very first batch of turkey poults, who did a great job of eating bugs, and not the lettuce.  Anyhow, I digress (I miss Hobbes, he was awesome...)

So, my dilemma is that back when this photo was taken, we had less birds. The fencing around these raised beds was less than stellar, but most of the birds lived elsewhere, and didn't bother the garden too much. We took the turkey toddlers in under supervised conditions, mostly because they were little, and hawks could get them, and they couldn't get back to their coop from there on their own. So all was good in the garden.

I will admit, that after we built our greenhouse, the raised beds became neglected. I had a bigger toy to play with. One that reaps other benefits... birds can only get in there if I want them to, or if the plastic is torn. Plants are safe from marauding turkeys (who get much much bigger than those little tykes in the photos above) and once, even bedded down in my tomatoes, which could have crushed them. I digress again.

Since these photos were taken, we have fixed the fencing around the entire raised bed area, most of it is now 5 feet tall, which still doesn't keep ALL the birds out, but it helps. Last year, I planted rhubarb, mint, radishes, lettuce, peas, and beans.  Only one mint plant survived the attack from the chickens.

The problem is that when small plants are sprouting, chickens and turkeys can easily spot the tiny spot of green, and eat it, and the plant is gone. When a garden is big and lush and full of crawly little bugs, the chickens eat those first. I watched my little rhubarbs sprout and get eaten, radishes sprout and get eaten, etc.  I need to protect my raised beds.

So I have been considering this problem. I have the hoops. I have some shade cloth and some extra plastic from the greenhouse. I have the materials to make covers over these beds. But they can't be like before, they have to be totally enclosed, so the chickens don't get inside. Like my greenhouse. 

I figured I could sew the shade cloth to the hoops, with thick upholstery thread, which is what I use to make chicken huts. OK, that would be easy, but I'd have to sew the ends tight so they couldn't sneak in, or use velcro, fine, I could make it work.  But I might want to use greenhouse plastic on some houses, for the warmer weather plants. I know my sewing machine can handle the job - it has sewed upholstery thread through billboard tarps for the chicken huts. But I didn't know how well the plastic would hold up to having small holes poked in it. Would this project fail the first time the wind blew, or a dog leaned on it?

Then I got smart. I can't believe it took me all winter to think of this. It probably helped that we had been working in the greenhouse during the warm January to prepare for planting.

We also have lots of extra wiggle wire for our greenhouse, we just need wiggle wire track.
 Voila. Wiggle wire track. Available online from the greenhouse company that built me the kit for our fabulous greenhouse (which is Rimol, I highly recommend them for anyone considering a high tunnel or greenhouse, and we desperately want to build the Rolling Thunder, but again, I digress). One box of 20 8' sticks will be able to let me cover 9 of my raised beds.

 When you install the wiggle wire over the plastic, into the track, it holds it in place like this.  I can easily cut and drill through these aluminum pieces, and screw them into the sides of the raised beds, between the rebar, and along the ends. I can drape the plastic or shade cloth over the hoops, and tack it down snuggly with the wiggle wire. Chickens are kept out, it's secure on all 4 sides. We can run irrigation under the plastic, so we can still water the beds (and it will help keep the water from evaporating away, like inside our big greenhouse)  9 mini greenhouses to help me get some plants started in the beds.

I have dreams of planting at least 2 things in these beds. Things people tell me I will regret, things that apparently grow like weeds and never die and everyone hates them. Raised beds are a perfect place for these things, because it will control their spread. And if they come back on their own every year, all the better and less work for me!  These things? Rhubarb and Mint. YUM. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Snowy Day

We finally got some decent snow. Not sure this will bring the snow pack back to expected levels, or fill up our pond, but we can hope.  Here are some images of the animals toughing out the cold. I made sure everyone had food inside their barn or coop, so they didn't have to brave the snow, but many did anyhow.
A snowy beak

Trying to keep warm

Duckies marching in the snow

Some of them are staying warm under the trailor.

The sheepies wish they didn't have to come outside


A turkey trudging through the deep snow
Everyone else was complaining, but Moose thought this snow was great!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Taking the Lambs to Arapahoe

I should have taken a picture this morning. There's just something surreal about driving from Berthoud to Erie with a load of lambs in the back of the truck - during most people's normal morning commute.  I find it so odd. If I had seen this in Detroit, obviously, it would have been an oddity, and in today's age, I would have taken a photo with my phone or something and told all my friends about it. But out here, granted, most of the cars that were driving past me (sorry everyone, I try to drive careful with lambs in the truck! They don't have seat belts!) just didn't seem to notice. On their way to the office, or to drop their kids off at school, I was amazed at how many people didn't seem to notice my load of lambs. Ah well..

I said goodbye to 5 little friends today, and the nice folks at Arapahoe Meat Company always remind me NOT to name my lambs. I do anyhow. So more fresh lamb is coming for the freezer. And these guys won't be wasted at all! I found a tanner to take the skins, and someone else who wants the insides for dogs she raises on a raw, predatory diet. So the meat will come back to me, and the other parts will be distributed to places that will make use of it. How wonderful!

Goodbye Pixie, Dixie, Jane, Pete and Snaggletooth.

Monday, February 11, 2013

February Update

January has flown by, and it may have seemed that all is quiet on the farm. Indeed, that is not the case at all! We have already started planting in the greenhouse, we have been cleaning coops and barn stalls, and we have been doing a lot of calculations for prices, our CSA model amongst other things.

We will be announcing our CSA model soon, we hope. We just need to get a few more details ironed out.

We are also looking at the possibility of running a completely organic batch of meat chickens this year. Our products, right now, are all natural. Our fruits and veggies would be considered organic, because we add no pesticides, fungicides, or chemical fertilizers to our soil.  However, finding certified organic feed for our birds is really difficult, we finally found it, but it's more than twice the cost of our current feed.  So we will be publishing pricing for 100% organic, pasture raised, free range, chicken, but we need to see if there is as demand. Once we buy the feed, we need to know that customers are going to buy the product, and that will be our challenge.  That is always the challenge of any farmer or rancher - all the inputs are paid for up front before we know anyone is going to come along and buy the outputs - and the outputs have a shelf life!

We do have some products getting ready for sale again - we just processed 7 of our ducks this weekend, and have fresh duck in the freezer again.  And, our female ducks are starting to lay eggs, so we will have a limited supply of duck eggs available each week. That's exciting news! Everyone is waiting for eggs.  Our chicken hens are turning back on their laying frequency, too, and sometime in March, we expect to surpass our restaurant demand, and have enough eggs to start selling off the farm again. So keep posted. 

In the meantime, we have plenty of lamb, duck, and did I mention lamb? Available on the farm, right now! We hope to see you stop by soon!