Update on my lazy no till beds.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted and I’d love to say that it’s because the garden is in such abundance that I can’t tear myself away! I can’t say that. Sadly, I am learning many lessons this year on our first spring/summer on the homestead. First, it’s a few degrees cooler here than our last place – that may not seem like it would have much bearing but it truly does. Second, we have actually had quite a chilly spring in the Portland metro area and here it is, July 8th, and I am seriously contemplating putting on a sweater! And third, the garden predators are different and I was caught unawares. The birds! The damn birds have been liberating my garden of all of their lovely seedlings. Jerks! But I digress, the real reason for this post is to give an update on my no till/lasagna beds. They work quite well but we have made some important adjustments so I will explain what those are and why they were needed.

IMG_4134.jpgThe first realization came once the grass started growing really aggressively in spring – our grass is very thick and grows at an alarming rate! It became clear that the grass was not happy about being sacrificed to the garden and wanted to take it back. We kept the edges well mowed but it became more and more difficult to keep the grass at bay. We needed a barrier to keep the grass out and the dirt in. We considered building wood frames around the beds but honestly, after only about 5-6 years at the last house the wood was about to need replacing. I didn’t want to have to replace the wood frames constantly so we looked at cinder block. While it may have been a bit more expensive up front, I believe it’s worth it in the long run. 3 Pallets of cinder blocks were able to be delivered to within feet of the beds for just about $400. To me, totally worth it.

IMG_4129We honestly should have done this before starting the beds but it was all an experiment, you know? Live and learn. So they are a bit uneven in places because the beds were already planted when we put the blocks in so we had to kind of gingerly frame the beds without disturbing the goods growing within. We cut strips of cardboard to put around the beds, and the blocks went on top of the cardboard to try to keep the weeds down.

A weed whacker does the trick to keep the surrounding areas nice and trim. I tried planting marigolds and various other plants in the holes of the cinder block only to realize that the holes dry out pretty fast so unless you are watering them often not much will grow.

This was done about a month and a half ago now and the beds are currently doing quite well. I should mention that this is where we have the things that don’t need as much attention – the potatoes, corn, brussels sprouts, drying beans, garlic/onions, etc. The kitchen garden is closer to the house and ready to undergo a big expansion! As we harvest crops from the beds we will be adding more dirt to them now that we have frames to keep the dirt in place! Oh yeah, another 5 yards of compost mix was ordered. The investment this year was not small, but we shouldn’t have to do too much more in the coming years – now we are reaping the return!

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Moving on up…

There are a few things that your memory downplays about raising chicks from day old. First, the fine dust that covers, literally, everything. Where does it all come from? Second, no matter how clean you try to keep their pen, the smell is not, shall we say, rosy. Our girls are about 8 weeks old at this point and needed more space and we really needed our shed back; it was time to be introduced to the big girls.

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Cici, Greta, and Camille protesting the addition of new pullets by hanging out as far from the coop as they can.

We partitioned the coop to give the pullets a safe place to be while the big girls get used to them. Then we fenced off a decent sized run within the chicken yard so they have a safe place to explore the world and the big chickens can’t pick on them. In case you weren’t aware, chickens (well, most birds really) can be really mean. If we just threw new pullets in the coop and walked away, we may very well find dead chickens later on. The chicken hierarchy is very well established and hard won. They do not take kindly to usurpers invading their territory.

So here we are. We put each pullet in their new coop, taking care to clip each one’s wing – only one side – so that they will stay on their side of the partition; good fences make good neighbors, after all. The top hen, Cici, has made it quite clear to all involved (loudly I might add) that she is less than happy with the situation but I’m confident that in a weeks time she will accept the newcomers with grace and dignity (actually, chickens are neither graceful nor are they dignified).

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The girls getting used to their new space

The girls seem to be pretty happy with their new setup and have been exploring their yard with excitement. Hopefully, in a weeks time, we will have a happy, integrated flock and the partitions can come down!

The Ides of March…

Okay, I suppose the Ides of March was actually yesterday but it is what it is… IMG_3898

We have had a string of nothing but dark, wet days. It’s been torture as I’ve been dying to get out into the garden. I took a few days off this week to start the fence around the lasagna beds but the weather was so disagreeable that we opted to do some other things instead. In chick news, we decided that it was as good a time as any to move them out to the shed. Even in the empty spare room they created a huge amount of dust, and even cleaning out the pine shavings every few days there was still always a slight smell in there; it was time to get them out of the house. Honestly, they are all fully feathered, we were waiting for the Silkies to catch up to the big girls and they pretty much have. We won’t be putting them out with the existing flock for a few more weeks; they are still so much smaller and, well, chickens are mean! The Ecoglow brooder heater is doing a good job of giving them a bit of supplemental heat. I put it inside a storage tote turned on its side and it does create a nice warm nook for them. It really is far too small for more than 3 to fit under at this point but at 6 weeks old they really don’t need much (we are in the 40s at night and 50s during the day).

IMG_3896Because this will be our first Spring and Summer on the farm, we are having some worries about where the best place to plant will truly be; light, wind, accessibility, etc. For the time being, we have decided that much of the planting this year will be in containers so we can move them if necessary. We will be putting the plants that need to be checked/harvested daily (tomatoes, peppers, berries) closer to the house while the crops that are pretty low maintenance (corn, potatoes, squash, etc) will go into the lasagna beds at the bottom of the hill. It’s an experiment, we’ll see how it goes. Honestly, I haven’t had a huge amount of success with containers in the past so it will take some dedication on my part to ensure they thrive. I did a faux permaculture technique in the containers adding branches, grass clippings and leaves to the bottom of the containers before adding the dirt so hopefully this will help feed their needs once all that starts breaking down.

IMG_3900The starts are getting big and most seem pretty sturdy and healthy. I had my heart set on getting a fair amount out by the end of April so I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for the weather. We’ve found that with the heavy wind out here, things just get battered. We added a cheap greenhouse 2 weeks ago that is feeling the affects of the wind, for sure; but it will be so nice to have it when the starts are ready to go outside. I hope the late Winter has been lovely for you all! Happy garden planning!