Friday, September 23, 2011

Sugar Shack update

Back in January, I left you with a picture of four posts and a roof, finished in a brief thaw. By the time we tapped in March, the shack had FEMA-style sides made with tarps.

We had a barrel-style stove, and burned mostly cut-up pallets. It did well, boiling over 550 gallons of sap. The pan only holds 18 gallons, so there were lots of late nights.

Since then I've been making some improvements, like recycled redwood siding:

The door and frame were left behind by the previous owner. Thanks!

The best shot of all - it's done!

Wood storage is on the back side, in the shade. The top panel with the window tilts out to let out steam when we're boiling. Can't wait to make syrup in style next year!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Chicken update (or whole story)

So I couldn't stay away all that long. Too much to say I guess, and a few things to show off.

Come sit for a spell, dear reader, and I shall relate a tale of innocence and innocence lost, of a despicable act of murder, and of resilience. This is the story of our first adventure with raising chickens.

My tale begins in April of this year, when I put the finishing touches on our hen house and the fencing for an outdoor run,

We were invited to adopt two mature hens from a colleague in town, who had too many hens for his space. So with giddy innocence, we took in Elizabeth and Annabelle, who promptly started giving us eggs.

Our spring day-old chick order arrived on April 28th, so in a couple weeks we also had six more tiny and adorable lives to care for. All went fine until the first week of June, when Annabelle, the lovely Buff Orpington died for no apparent reason. She had even laid an egg a few hours before. The remaining hen, a Barred Plymouth Rock, seemed lonely, so I hatched a plan to put the chicks, now 6 weeks old, in a pen adjacent to hers. I even rigged a little door so the younger birds could mingle and meet their elder, who frankly wasn’t all that nice to them. On a Monday morning, about June 12th or so, LR found a scene of ghastly mayhem and mass murder. Four of the six pullets were dead, and a fifth was mortally wounded. Only one chick had been eaten. She also found evidence the identified the attacker in the form of a big pile of raccoon shit. The family was distraught, and I spent the morning cleaning up the mess. One of the hardest things I’ve had to do was bury my 6-year-old’s favorite chicken.

In the meantime, we had ordered 25 chicks to raise as broilers. I quickly changed to order to replace the lost layers, and those chicks arrived at the end of June. Be advised that 25 chicks in brooders in July REALLY stink up the garage in a hurry! Our flocks now consist of 1 Buff Orpington, 4 Black Austrolorps, 2 Rhode Island Reds and a Silver-Laced Wyandotte for layers, and 18 Rhode Island Reds as meat birds.

I elected to get RIRs for meat on reports that they taste really good, and on comments by Carol Deppe in The Resilient Gardener the chickens don’t acquire a really beneficial fatty acid profile (more omega-3 fatty acids) until they are past the 8-week butchering age for Cornish cross broilers. I plan to butcher them sometime in October. Until then, they are doing fertility duty in the expanded Zone 2 garden (it’s a permaculture thing). Eat, grow and poop, that’s all I ask. Next year we’ll have some better soil to plant in.

The garden is surrounded by four-foot wire fence and a strand of electric wire to prevent invasion and more murder by Evil Raccoons or marauding coyotes. Note the welcome presence of an autumn olive next to the pen! The girls go nuts for the berries.

Just today, the 18 RIRs got to run around in a fenced-off section of the garden so they can poop-n-scratch. They'll stay that way, with the tractor as an overnight shelter, until The End.

Check back in October for the Egg Watch and more adventures!