Saturday, November 18, 2017

chickens, setup, and bed prep

One of the principles of permaculture is review and redesign as necessary.

It's been six weeks since we got the chickens and while they're a PITA to have to wake up and feed first thing in the morning, they're terribly cute, excellent garbage disposal, and destroying the grass at a wonderful rate!

My desire for chooks originally stems from Linda Woodrow's 'Permaculture Kitchen Garden' in which she keeps the chickens in the garden , preferably among the fruit trees to deal with the fruit flies and other nasties. And so, that's always really been my goal. The problem the coop that we got the chickens with hasn't exactly been very moveable. It's large and heavy (solid timber) and in spite of the wheels, it's not very moveable across uneven ground. Plus, there's wire across the bottom of the coop, so they can't actually scratch up the ground, dust bathe, or dig for worms. Very frustrating.


Also, while I let the girls just forage through the garden for a couple of weeks, my vegie garden was showing signs of exhaustion. Plus, Hainan has a habit of climbing onto a plant and basically scratching it to death. (Ever seen a chicken use a bush as a scratching pole? Seriously.) So I knew that sooner or later I was going to have to come up with a longer-term solution or I wouldn't have a veggie garden.

Cue the creation of a mobile chook pen (not coop) in which I put the girls during the day, locking them back in the coop at night so as to be safe from urban predators. (Cats, mostly, possibly dogs and urban foxes.) I've picked a spot in the shadiest corner of the garden for summer, and in winter, I'll put them either back where they started, or possibly up on the porch step, facing out into the garden. I'll decide once winter gets here - it's another six months yet!

So right now, the coop is here in the north western corner of the garden, almost right up against the house:
Chicken run

The pen, meanwhile, is in the sunniest spot in the yard, where I want to grow the productive fruiting annuals: corn, tomatoes, cucumber, etc:
Chicken run

And a wire tunnel joins the two, which I fashioned myself. I really need to refine it better (and make it neater) because the tunnel edges are kind of scratchy and they don't fit together very well. Right now, when I want to move tunnel pieces around, it's a bit of a production. The tunnel needs better modularity, and possibly some flexibility for getting across the yard...

And, of course, as always happens when wire is involved, there are war wounds...
Garden with chooks

Ultimately, I fear the wire is winning!

But the chooks seem pretty happy - the enclosed pen has some old vines I tossed over, and a plastic mat that serves as a shade against the hot midday sun. And I toss them the scraps to eat and scratch around. And they've happily dug out and mulched the area I want to plant out tomorrow! EXCELLENT!

I put them in a penned area yesterday with a few older plants, and Hainan rewarded herself by climbing the brussel sprout and trying to scratch it dead. On the other hand, they did find a few curl grubs and peck/bash hem dead. (They don't like the big ones, just the smaller ones which they can swallow whole.)

This is a picture of Hainan trying to kill the brussel sprout, while Honey digs for curl grubs:
Garden with chooks

As you can see, Hainan knows how to go about it.

We've started getting eggs - most likely from Honey. The first one was teeny tiny:
Garden with chooks

That's so small, it fits between the 2" wire gaps in the base of the coop!

Comparison with some other eggs.
Garden with chooks
Left is Honey's 1st egg, centre is an egg from a friend's home-ranged chickens who've been laying for nearly a year now, and the last is a commercial size.

She's produced nearly one every day for the last week, except for Monday. And we lost the one on Thursday, because I think she laid it while perching and then someone stepped down onto it, breaking the shell...

We eagerly await the day we discover two eggs in the coop!

Anyway, this morning, I moved the pen over, and the space beneath is pretty much ready for growing (I had to dig up some of the grass - the girls hadn't dug quite deep enough to pull out the runners):
Chooks in garden.

Tomorrow is the installation of an irrigation system, and planting/planting out day, particularly the perennials that I'm growing between the coop stations.

Monday, October 23, 2017

pics of the chicks

Hainan and Honey Soy. (My sister named them!)


I don't like the coop much, but working out something smaller and lighter in its place is going to be difficult. I definitely want a chook tractor, but the designs I've seen are very solid and therefore rather heavy. I want something that can be moved around the yard - but it's not a large yard, either!

Anyway, I'm still working out their personalities - and I think they're working out their pecking order. Honey tends to be the first into the feeder, and she hogs it something terrible when I hang it up, but Hainan seems to like prodding Honey - 'scaring' her, so Honey flaps away, or (when it comes to roosting time) climbing all over Honey until Honey gets off the perch and gets back up again. It's this big jostle-and-flutter on the perch, and somewhat amusing from a human perspective.


I'm contemplating a 'fixed coop' with a moveable dome, but then, where should the fixed coop go? The backyard is about 6m x 8m - about large enough to swing a cat - and honestly, I want most of it for garden space!

At least the biggest danger to them will be the local cats. Not ours who are kept indoors, but the free-ranging, wandering cats who are about the neighbourhood - at least two, maybe three. There are dogs in the neighbourhood but they're all walked on leashes and it's our backyard. There may be urban foxes, but the chooks are mostly in the coop all day, except for when I let them out to free-range. Not sure about rats, but if we have free-ranging cats in the neighbourhood, then they'll probably deal with the rats. (Plus, our cats may be in the house, but their scent is probably on the underside of the house which is the most likely place for rats to try to make home. At some point, I'm going to need to make some fencing/gates so the chooks can't easily get out without going up. Their wings aren't clipped, but they're not instinctive flyers.


Also, I need more fencing for seedlings! Luckily most of the summer seedlings I've got in the ground have pots around and over them. But the chooks have happily dug up the 'centre bed' which mostly housed the wintervege and coriander-gone-to-seed (coriander did AMAZINGLY in my garden this season, which resulted in my sister putting a chunk in the curry - and I do mean A CHUNK. As in, I forked up a bit of green...which turned out to be a lot of green, like an iceberg of coriander, with only the tip showing in the curry sauce...) I need to start collecting that seed, btw. So many things to do, so little time...

Thursday, October 19, 2017

we have chooked-off!

The chooks have arrived!

They arrived on Thursday, bought from and delivered by the very helpful guys at Rentachook, and are set up in their fully-enclosed chook tractor. There are just two of them, one brown, one white and my sister has already named them (respectively) ‘Honey’ and ‘Hainan’. *facepalm*

The coop is perhaps a little larger than I anticipated, which means less chook stations. Also, there’s going to be rather more ‘dead edge’ in the space under the chook tractor since the chooks don’t really go all the way into the low corners, which is going to make those weedy edges just a touch tricksy… Ah well, I guess we’ll see how the first ‘rotation’ goes.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

chooks in the garden

One step closer to chooks in the garden! They’re being delivered on Thursday morning, which means I need to work out where they’re going to go to start the rotation. (and, perhaps, to deal with the fruit flies and slugs!)

I have some planned-out chook stations, which I think will need to be better considered once the coop is actually in the garden and I have the size and scope of it all. In a circumstance that slightly complicates things, I planted out one of the beds on the weekends, and the growing period is nearly upon us (from Saturday for 10 days). It’s also the bed that has the most slugs in it, thanks to the leaf litter that I dumped on it a week ago.

The plus side of parentals moving: they’re not going to need all the mulch they’ve been making for the last couple of years. And I am going to be quite shameless about co-opting it for my garden, thank you!

(Which means woodchips for the paths, I guess. Luckily there’s no shortage of those around the place...)

The fruit trees are being...interesting this year:
all the Nectarines: fruiting really heavily but also fruit fly invasions
all the Peaches: doing pretty well thank you
Cherries: *waves a couple of fruit lazily*
Avocados: Three are 'fruit, what fruit?' and one is "I'm givin' her all I can, Gardener!"
Apples: One is "wait, I'm supposed to do WHAT?" Two are "...Oh wait, you want fruit? Come back to us in a month..."
Citrus: "yeah, yeah, we have flowers, talk to us in autumn"
Fig: "you put me in the ground three months ago and you want WHAT?:
Sultana Grapes: "Hey, I got leaves, don't ask for more this year!"
Red Seedless Grapes: *dead*

I do wish I'd gotten the chickens a few months earlier, though.

Monday, September 11, 2017

crop rotation

One of the things I want to do once I have chickens: Crop rotation.

Easy Crop Rotation - this is a seasonal one, growing one set of vegies in a bed each year. Could work with multiple beds, although may not necessarily deal with what happens in winter.

This link deals more in-depth with families and planting cycles, including seasons somewhat. Although I suspect that the best solution is always going to be one's own observations and experiences in one's garden space.

It's a little confusing because there are so many things that I like growing, but finding the space for them is another matter, and everything takes longer in my garden - I'm not sure if this is a ground nutrients issue, or something else.

Some thoughts on crop rotation:
Tomatoes/eggplant => cabbage/caulis => Corn/Cucumber/Pumpkins => beans/peas
Capsicums/zucchini => broccoli/brussel sprouts => beans/peas => Potatoes
Corn/Cucumber/Pumpkins => green manures => Tomatoes/eggplant => cabbage/caulis
Cucumber/Pumpkins => onions/carrots => silverbeet/lettuces => green manures
Potatoes => beets/radishes => Capsicums/zucchini => broccoli/brussel sprouts
silverbeet/lettuces => green manures => Cucumber/Pumpkins => onions/carrots

Hopefully, the chickens will help reduce the need for legumes/green manures, though.

Chook Dome: I still have fantasies about doing this circular, but I think circular may have to wait for the front yard, while I go for the space-saving option of rectangular in the backyard, still using a moveable chook tractor - just a rectangular one...

THOUGHT: Sow a line of barrel medic/lucerne along the fencelines, particularly under the crepe myrtle.

LINK: Growing Trout in a bathtub system...

Sunday, September 10, 2017

spring is in

I've rented some chickens for the spring. I plan to move them around the garden in a moveable chicken coop, but I guess we'll see how that goes. I know what I want for them to do, but actually getting them to do it may very well be another matter (honestly, it's largely fertiliser and fruit fly management).

None of the plants that I bought have yet been transplanted. Largely because I asked the lawn guys if they'd dig the holes on the outside of the fence, and they were worried about the council (which is decidedly punitive about things that they don't like which, peculiarly, includes not chopping down annoying trees, but not allowing people to plant trees that might otherwise flourish. *sigh*

Anyway, the lilly pillies died when I failed to water them during a hot spell after a long dry spell, and are not responding to my seaweed brew therapy. I think they're probably dead. As the grapevines I transplanted may be. (Dammit.)

The back fence has not yet been dug out (those damned rocks that the previous owner put in to deter weeds), and with hockey ramping up to the finals series, I haven't dared to wreck myself by going out and doing the work of a chilly winter evening. I think I need someone to help me with the garden - who doesn't cost the earth, and who doesn't mind a day or so of 'bit' work.

- passionfruit fence
- front hedge trees
- avocado

Monday, July 3, 2017


So, we have 4 passionfruit, 3 lilly pillies, 3 acerola cherries, 3 macadamias, 2 avocadoes, a loquat, and a fig tree that are going to various parts of the property boundary.

The passionfruit are to go along the back fence, hopefully climbing up the new fence to cover it, and provide some screening between us and the neighbour, who feels a little awkward since his study window looks straight into our back porch. The lilly pillies, acerola cherries, and macadamias will probably go along the front fence, with the avocadoes and loquat. The fig tree is going to replace the mandarin that doesn't produce anything.

Actually, none of the citrus in the front garden segment are doing very well. I think they may need more/better feeding. Like loads and loads of horse manure/green manures.

The plan is to keep the lilly pillies, acerola cherries, and macadamias well-trimmed along the front fence (western border of the property) so they don't impede the sun to the front lawn, which I hope to someday turn into a full-fledged vegetable garden.

There's a part of me which would like to keep the avocadoes safely in the backyard, or behind the fence, because, well, avocadoes! But I guess one of the things I consider pretty important in gardening is community involvement - sharing of resources, crop-swapping. And so long as someone isn't going to run off with all my avocadoes, or people ask, then I don't mind sharing...

This has been a tricky winter in which to grow things - not weather wise, so much as the fact that I've been working from sunup until after sundown, and it's difficult working in a dark garden. (Plus, the neighbour's dog yaps at me from the other side of the fence when I turn the garden light on.) I can plant some seeds at night, and I kind of have to - still have many winterveg seeds to plant out.

Planting out the winterveg seeds is the Thing To Do for this week. I'll have to leave the hole-digging and the claybreaking to the weekend, when there's light and time.

Some thoughts on rearranging the garden

Upper step bed near carport is difficult to reach; not a good place for grow-and-pick vegies, better for fruit trees and perennials.

Lower step bed near carport is easier to reach, better for grow-and-pick stuff.

1. move grapes to upper and lower beds against fence.

2. move sage to upper bed, move rosemary (under cherry) to upper bed

3. move chilli/perennial capsicum to upper bed

4. move lavender to upper bed

5. plant bulbs in upper bed (save lower bed and side for easy annuals)