The fast growth of Spring is back

Zen rocks training branches for a good spread on fruit trees

This month marks a number of new experiments and the completion of several projects. Thank goodness for longer daylight; there is a ton of stuff to do.

Highlights:

  • The fruit trees in the food forest are blossoming just in time for the arrival of our bees. This year I’m hanging rocks on various branches to help guide their shapes for balance and fruit production. Feels quite zen when walking by them.
  • The kids and I have been training the chickens to follow us using scratch corn in a shake can so they can weed in the food forest for us. We enclose the area in an extra strand of electronet to keep them out of areas we don’t want them (like the burgeoning garlic patch) and let them do their chicken thing on the soil.
  • Pair of rocket stoves built with a friendFinished building a pair of rocket stoves built with a good friend (and our kids). We used perlite and cement inside, so while heavy, they are still luggable for car camping and at-home no-electricity cooking. We’ll rely on our Biolite rocket stove for  backpacking. The initial test burns worked well and we quickly learned what type of fuel works best.
  • Starting a hugelkultur (“woody beds”) experiment with our potatoes this year. Same soil, same location, same seed potatoes, but will compare the trenching method versus a hugel method of burying wood debris at the core of a bed with straw and soil on top. Hugels retain water well and attract mycelium to make for very rich growing soil. Here’s a 10-second visual description of hugelkultur.

Lowlights:

  • Hugelkultur Experiment with PotatoesI somehow messed up the recipe for soil blocks and had one grow light burn out unbeknownst to me while I was gone for a week of work travel. I came back to moldy soil blocks growing mushrooms rather than chili peppers and squash. Oops.
  • The Biopod I purchased is not working. At first I failed to attract local Black Soldier Fly, and then when I stocked the unit with purchased BSF, they did not take. I’m sure this is user error rather than a flaw with the Biopod design, but I’ve not yet figured out what I’m doing wrong.
  • Our new bees colonies are in, but we lost one immediately to an epic war with ants who showed up overnight en masse. Thankfully our local supplier had an extra package of bees which I installed after assisting the remaining bees in their righteous battle over the ants. Dug out the ants, *carefully* applied dichotomous earth, and left a bomb of boric acid + cat food for them to carry down to their queen. All three hives are now up and running.

Re-balancing pastured poultry paddocks, and prepping for bees!

Bee Hive Comparison: Perone, Kenyan, Langstroth

Bee Hive Comparison: Perone, Kenyan, Langstroth

Highlights for the month:

  • We’re back in balance with a smaller flock of 20 layers after selling 10 birds to local farming friends. The smaller flock means less eggs for my son to sell in his first entrepreneurship venture, but also significantly less work for me hauling extra food/water and less work for our family when rotating the entire poultry paddock setup to fresh pasture.  Now I’m re-thinking how to capture all that great compost that we’re currently leaving in the field through a combination of a permanent coop with movable paddocks.
  • As my friend Laura – purveyor of Modern Victory Garden – says, we’ve returned to the season of the Seedling Shuffle with rapid rollout of seedlings from our grow lights to our greenhouse, and then (for the cold hardy) out into the food forest under mini hoop houses.
  • After spending enough time on Permies.com forums, I finally realized I should be growing my own chicken food. I’m now reseeding our pasture with similar ingredients as what is in our commercial feed that we buy direct from the manufacturer via our homesteading group of friends. By the time the birds return to this same ground a year later, it should have a healthy crop of what they normally eat ready and waiting for them. I also added a Biopod to our vermicomposting setup to convert kitchen scraps into grubs for the chickens.
  • Ready for the 2013 Battle of the Bees, where we’ll be able to directly compare how our Italian bees do in three radically different hives. From left to right you see a new Perone hive (named after the Argentine inventor) I recently built with our local Bee Godfather, a Kenyan (aka Top Bar) hive, and a classic Langstroth hive. When the bees packages arrive later this spring, we’ll install two packages in the large Perone hive and one in each of the others. Will report back later in the year how this direct comparison between the hive styles pans out, at least for our microclimate here in the Pacific Northwest.

Lowlights for the month can be summed up in just this one graphic. Ugh.
Showers, with a chance of rain