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Rabbit Ready (and Thrifty)

We're not rabbit ready at all but today we picked up a used rabbit cage (suitable as temporary housing or a quarantine cage) for $5.00 at a thrift store in Our Town. I have to say, Our Town has some impressive thrift stores. The prices are good, the assortment has been carefully selected for quality, the aisles aren't narrow and the shelves aren't so cluttered that one can't properly scan the merchandise without pawing through everything. I'm pleased.

We'll be getting a couple of female mini rex bunnies, I believe, after the construction of our critter area in the daylight-rich garage. I'm hoping to barter for design & labor.

Stylistic Considerations

Originally, I wanted to approach our yard with an "edible landscaping" sensibility rather than going with the hard contours of bordered raised beds. Someone convinced me otherwise for a time but now I've settled on a blended approach.

Our first borderless 4'x16' raised bed will be going in this week after the repair trucks are all done in our driveway and the landscaping company can leave us a mound of garden soil. Our fall veggies will go into this bed. The seeds from Baker Creek arrived today and I'm planning to get those started indoors over the next day or two.

A Shocking Discovery & A Happy Conclusion

Our rooster, Henry, went with the Barred Plymouth Rocks to the feed store two days ago. Last night, I was poring over the bantam section of the Meyer Hatchery catalog and surprise! Whose portrait did I see but that of a ringer for our dear Henry, who, as it turns out, is actually a Black-Breasted Red Old English Game PULLET. Yes, that's right. I took our favorite hen to the feed store.

As it happens, the feed store is closed on Wednesdays, which meant that only half a day of actual market time had elapsed. I left the house in time to arrive at the feed store when they opened (it's an hour drive) and was dismayed to find that the cage in which our four chickens had been deposited was empty. The Barred Rocks were gone and so was our dear little Henry.

Today was my lucky day, however. The surly manager who is normally there had the day off. Instead, his exceptionally kind brother was there. He told me about the desirability of Old English chickens, gave me a brief lecture about their history and assured me in a sincere fashion that our chicken had gone to a nice family as most of their customers are hobbyists. I thanked him. Then, numbly, I proceeded to buy two 1-gallon waterers. It was then that he checked a third place where some fancy bantams were being kept. Among the fancy black bantams was a very familiar little brown bird.

Henry (who is now called Jane) chirped quite a bit as we set out on the drive home, quieted down for the remainder of the ride and, when her box was opened in front of the coop, jumped right up on to the edge of the box and into her old familiar home.

Henrietta and Jane seem quite pleased to be reunited and have had their favorite treat this morning - cold red grapes. So thanks be to God - all's well that ends well. We will be sending a thank you card to the very nice man at the feed store.
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Deflocked

Sadly, we parted with four of our five chickens today.

The Barred Rocks were too noisy and boisterous for our limited space. I had attempted to find them a new home by posting on Craig's List but didn't get very solid-sounding responses and they had already grown to the point of being overcrowded in our temporary coop.

As I was loading the pet carrier into the car to take them back to the feed store, to my horror, Henry the Bantam Rooster let out his first two crows. We had hoped to keep him a bit longer as he was the friendliest, most well-mannered and charming chicken in our little chickenhouse. His crow wasn't any louder than a small dog's bark but it was loud enough to be distinguished as a rooster's crow and that is enough to destroy our chicken plans for good if anyone should report us (I have chosen to break the law by keeping chickens).

So - poor Henry went with his flock mates back to the feed store and Henrietta, Henry's pretty little bantam Easter Egger sweetheart, is left all alone for two weeks until we receive 11 bantam Araucana chicks.

My daughter was heartbroken and, when I have a moment, I will be, too (and now I am - tears are welling up as I type). We knew that eventually he would crow and we would have to give him up but the suddenness was a terrible shock for all of us - not least of all the chickens. Henrietta didn't eat for the rest of the day until she was hand-fed some grapes tonight when we returned (I could tell by her clean cage). I'm glad that the four that have left us are in a cage together, where they at least have familiar friends to pass their time until they go to new homes.

Ten Percent

I've decided arbitrarily that if just ten percent of our lot is used for food production - that's 720 square feet or so - and is managed correctly, we should be able to eat mainly the produce from our garden year round, provided we "put food by" for the winter.

If we have accomplished this in five years' time, I'll be happy, as "we" consists of my 11-year-old daughter and myself and I am presently the main laborer.

Seed Order

I've ordered some seeds for the raised beds this evening from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., based in Missouri. They have some wonderful heirloom varieties going back to the 1700s. In about 60 days, God willing, we'll be harvesting the following from our four new raised beds:

Cabbage:
-Nero de Toscana

Kale:
-Blue Curled Scotch
-Russian Red or Ragged Jack

Leeks:
-Carentan
-Giant Musselburgh

Lettuce:
-Tom Thumb
-Speckled
-Big Boston
-Merveille de Quatre Saisons
-Oak Leaf

Collards:
-Georgia Southern (Creole)

Okra (iffy but worth a try):
-Burgandy (their spelling)
-Clemson Spineless

Runner Beans (also iffy):
-Scarlet Runner

Chard:
-Five Colored Silverbeet (Rainbow Chard)

Spinach:
-Monstrueux de Viroflay (their spelling)

I'll be working on getting the beds together this week (budget may disallow four beds - we'll see). The company says it gets seeds out in 3-7 days. I'm excitedly looking forward to getting some seeds going!

A Garden Is Born

We haven't moved into the house yet as it needs structural repairs but we drove down today to do some weeding. As we weeded, I sussed out the best way to introduce the "radical" concepts of raised beds and no lawn. After some consideration this evening, I have worked out a four year plan.

This is my tentative plan:

This year (straight away), four 4'x8' raised beds will be placed on the south side of the house surrounded by existing mature plants (non-natives but I'll deal with that later). We'll also put planter boxes with greens on the east-facing front stoop (there are two successively higher tiers on each side of the stairs) and on our small deck, which has a strong western exposure. A palette-construction single compost bin will be created and placed in the southwestern corner of the property.

In 2009, I'll introduce a 2' butterfly/native/herb/flower border around the front edge of the property and on the north side, which is lined by the driveway, and replace most of the existing non-native ornamental plants with natives. I'd also like to put in a 4' picket fence around these edges, which the border will soften. I'd also like to put some climbers in to soften the fence. In particular, I'm thinking of Dutchman's Pipe (Aristolochia tomentosa), a fast-growing native vine with dark, broad leaves and striking flowers shaped a bit like the pipe smoked by Sherlock Holmes.

In 2010, four additional raised beds will be placed in the front yard. Any necessary changes in the herb/flower border will be made. Remaining non-native and/or non-useful ornamental plants will be replaced in the beds lining the house. The wildlife habitat area on the south side of the house (shaded by two old high-yield apple trees) will be developed by approximately 30%-40%. A proper three-bin wooden compost system will be constructed.

In 2011, the lawn will be eliminated, two more raised beds will be placed along the north-facing side of the house and the wildlife habitat area will be fully developed. Further refinement in the eastern and northern herb/flower border will take place.

Reflections On Back Yard Agriculture

A wheelbarrow, a trowel, a seed packet and a pair of gloves hardly seem the stuff of revolution, it's true. Gardening is as mundane a task as any at surface glance. Looking more deeply, however, at the way corporate interests have shaped our collective food consumption habits and then beyond at "terminator crops" and other government sanctioned genetic food modifications made in order to feed the bottom lines of international food conglomerates, it becomes apparent that the basic human right to choose and to grow the foods that we eat is becoming rapidly obscured and eroded.
Read more...Collapse )

Rabbit Tractors?

After watching a small livestock video from Garden Girl T.V., I've been reflecting on the fact that while many of us don't have the liberty of keeping goats and chickens for milk, eggs and compost due to local ordinances, most of us can keep rabbits. Rabbits hold great potential as waste consumers and producers of fertilizer (and, dare I say it, meat). Rabbit droppings can be used directly on the garden without being composted as, unlike chicken droppings, their pH is plant-friendly. Read more...Collapse )

Chickening Out

No, we're not running away - we're overrun with velociraptors disguised as Barred Plymouth Rock chickens. That doesn't seem like it's saying much, since our current coop is a giant bunny hutch housing three Barred Rocks and two bantam Easter Eggers (mixed Araucana/Ameraucana chickens who lay blue/green eggs) but these are some serious hoodlums! Read more...Collapse )
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