That is what we woke up to Friday morning—seven dead chickens and the rest of the flock unsettled and a bit blood-bespattered. It is always amazing at how little space nasty things require to get in and destroy. It took a while to find the hole, but whatever it was shifted an insufficiently heavy piece of wood out of the way and dug a 4” hole under the edge, killed birds and then left without eating them. We are thinking perhaps a weasel. My husband and the boys cleaned out the last stall, netted it, bordered it with chicken wire to prevent similar attacks and shifted over the waterer and the birds. While they were at it, we weighed the chickens and, miraculously, they have still not put on any weight despite their voracious appetites. Maybe they need my kids to go out there and show them how it’s done. Now watch, birdies—eat food, grow enormous, require new clothing! Maybe not the last part. I think we’re just going to call it for the last week of October and just eat them small if that’s the best we can do. Lack of animal forage/pasture/infrastructure/bodily strength strikes again… Anyhow, so far so good in their new spot. Odd thing, though, the boys counted them as they moved them over and found that we still have 50 roos. I’m not sure how that math works out with all the losses. Oh well, more little teeny chickens to put into the freezer.
In other rooster news, our volunteer rooster spent a night out in the wild and survived. He also lives entirely without chicken feed as he bunks with the goats and the boys couldn’t figure out how to feed him without feeding them as well. Sounds rather like HE should be the basis of our breeding program. Unfortunately, he is a bantam, but perhaps predator-proof, teeny chickens who live on air would be a couple steps in the right direction.
We have peas galore coming up! A couple of years ago I went through and figured out how many of everything we’d need to grow to keep us in it for a year. Peas worked out to between 200 and 400 plants. I don’t know if we have quite that many, but at least 50…planted VERY thickly because we didn’t know whether they’d germinate and so we’ll either be doing some transplanting or we’ll be supplementing our chickens with some pea sprouts. Now that we’ve got them growing we also need to start thinking about supporting them. Elijah has this wild and wooly branch trellis he built and occasionally adds on to for his cucumbers. As happy as it makes me to see that, I think we are going to go a little more industrial/modular for the peas. I have a design I am wanting to try.
I went out and threw some netting over the tomatoes. I saw some professional-grade bird netting in a video review this week. I thought about it the whole time I was trying to position and maneuver that plastic stuff around. You get what you pay for.
I also scratched the rest of the lettuce seed into the ground. I’m not expecting much but we’ll see what happens.
My husband and I are looking into to trying out the Mittleider gardening techniques at least for root vegetables this year. The yields are pretty darn impressive and, for what I understand, the techniques were developed in and for climates similar to ours. Besides that, we go out into the planned garden area and all that rock is incredibly daunting. And if we managed to get it out, is there even soil underneath? And how long before we could get it clear enough and light enough to be able to grow root veges? We’re still talking and I’m waiting on a book, but I am feeling inclined to start producing food in measurable quantities and this seems like s way we could do it.
I finally mapped the orchard! I’ve only been meaning to do that for the last nearly two years. Now I know exactly what we have and what’s doing well and what’s not. I know, for instance that we have a peach and a nectarine each on Lovell root stock that are struggling, while those on St Julian and Nemared are doing great. I also know that the cherries, both on Colt, are not doing terribly well. Today’s research revealed that there’s really not a great rootstock for our area and since cherry chill hours make them a long shot anyways, maybe we shouldn’t invest too much into this until they come up with something better. It looks like 2 out 4 figs have not survived the blistering summer—making me think that our nursery changing their guarantee from 12 months to 6 months was really more like getting rid of the guarantee since it’s over before it starts to get hot. Oh, well. The pomegranates are great, the apricot has a ton of suckers (Myro 29c) and a bad lean, the pears are gorgeous and graceful (on the ever-poetic OHXF333), the plums and pluots (also on Myro29c) are off and running and the apples (all on M111) are a joy to behold. They all need feeding, mulching and pruning, but it’s so great to go out and grip a sturdy little well-anchored trunk and finally be able to anticipate.
The sourdough has gotten through the stinky-cheese phase and I’m going to see if I can bake with it for the first time tomorrow. I am pleased at how quickly it’s progressed. Jordan was helping me the first couple of days, but hated the smell and now I can’t entice her back—maybe once we bake with it. In case I ever have to do this again I am going to briefly record my process: Combine 4 oz of spelt flour with 4 oz of water in a half gallon mason jar and mix well. Cover (I have used a loose plastic lid, this time I am using a rubber-banded cloth napkin) and set aside. After twelve hours, add another 4 oz of spelt flour and 4 oz of water, mix and re-cover. Repeat forever and ever. I remember from last year that to slow down the culture I could add a little less water to make it drier. This was helpful on very hot days where I’d otherwise have to feed it four times daily to keep hooch from forming on top. I’m also not a stickler for pouring off most of the starter every time I feed it. Again, if I’m getting a lot of hooch or if it’s overly sour then I know I need to use or discard a bunch of starter to get it back on track, otherwise I don’t worry about it too much. I sure wish I’d done better record-keeping last year. I have no idea where my favorite sourdough bread recipe is or where it originated!
I have been preparing to co-teach a basic herbal medicine class at church this Tuesday. The interest has been much more than we anticipated (as in 3x) and I think I bit off far more than I should have tried to chew. Trying to cram five different herbal preparations into 1 ½ hours will require a rigid timetable, flawless execution and a little bit of luck. One preparation requires decocting (not quite boiling, more “evaporating”) an infusion (a strong tea) down to half the original volume. I am counting on it taking less than an hour and I need to do a couple of time trials on it tomorrow. This is bringing back memories of my Senior show in art school when one piece required water to boil and a teakettle to whistle at precisely the right moment (it would be a long story) which, of course, it did in rehearsals and did not during the actual show…I am feeling my fate hinge-ing on a watched pot again.
This has actually been a pretty hard week. Isaiah had minor surgery to correct a lip-tie and he’s been pretty down physically and emotionally and the animal stuff slides and the house stuff slides and we still have un-bred goats and un-fattened chickens being killed by predators and the test plots have officially failed (how are we supposed to try to grow anything on that scale during the DRIEST month of the year? We will try re-sowing when the rains finally start and all the other grasses are growing) and I’ve been wondering about continuing to try to do so much animal stuff, or whether it would be wise to shift our limited energies and resources more toward the vegetable-growing side of things. Animal time requirements, infrastructure, inputs, etc are so much more substantial than vegetation’s. I don’t know. As I get stronger, it seems like I could take care of a lot of the garden work as it is not as time-sensitive as the animal work, but there’s still all the normal house stuff (meals, cleaning, repairs and maintenance), plus substantial food preserving that needs to be done and a still-a-baby and five other kids to care for. It’s hard to see how to make it all work right now. It’s difficult to know when to push on and when to alter course. I’m trying to remember that this is His land, His resources and His time and I am praying that His will concerning it all will be clear.