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Saturday, January 02, 2010

Snookered


Currently I'm taking water sprouts out of the plums and apples and rerouting a section of fence in the north pasture to give the mixed flock a little more room.

It took the chickens very little time to discover their new empire, and they piled in all around me, taking the tops off the surplus turnips and scratching up remaindered garlic bulbs. It took another half hour, as usual, for the ducks and geese to catch on. The idea is to have poultry wherever there is orchard, and orchard wherever there is poultry. The birds eat bugs that are wintering beneath the trees, as well as snails, slugs and weed seeds, benefiting the trees. Any fruit that gets past us at harvest time becomes available to the birds without having to be gathered and taken to them.

Ducks and geese are more compatible with the orchard than chickens, because they don't dig about the roots to make dust baths, or throw mulch all over. To me, eight chickens are like eight small atomic bombs. They can lay waste an organized garden in the blink of an eye. To keep mulch in place and roots unexhumed, I have to cage each tree in its own circle of welded wire.

Also, the new fence has to zag and zig several times in order to accomodate the compost heaps, which are right on the fence line, and I want to exclude the chickens from them. So as not to buy new fencing for this project, I'm piecing together sections of fence that were rescued from the blackberries in the south pasture last week. It's labor, but it's good for me, and once it's done you don't have to mess with it for awhile. The last place these fence sections served us, they stayed put for sixteen years.

Some of the prunings will be made into smallwood and the smallest of that will be bundled for quick fire starts. The leavings will be cut up also and be distributed around the fruit trees, inside their enclosures, as part of the mulch. Later in the year, these sticks will be covered with straw and grass clippings, and the trees will be served buckets of enriched water hauled from the duck "ponds" -- kiddie pools -- once a week or so during the summer drought. With the deep mulch they seem to need no other watering.

Beloved has also taken advantage of the clear, warm weather -- is it the January thaw already? -- to muck out the barn and the Annies' (Ancona ducks) shed and renew the straw bedding.

She disturbed a very large pack rat, which came out the barn door blinking in the sunshine, ran over to the gate, bounced off, ran in circles a bit, and went back to bed.

These things can be amusing, but they eat a lot of feed. So we are going to have to think of something inhospitable to do to about the pack rat, especially as we need to tighten security next month. The Annies, a drake and five hens, are supposed to breed.

That, according to the experts, will be in February, when their egg-laying begins again (unlike our Khaki Campbells, who lay year-round). Beloved built nesting boxes in the shelter and then introduced the Annies to them; they turned to her dubiously, as much as to say, "so, like, what are we supposed to do with these?"

"You know, for when you get all broody and such."

"Uh, huh. ... what's 'broody'?"

But she hopes they will get the idea eventually.

Passing by my fence weaving, she brought six wheelbarrow loads of soiled barn litter and dumped them in the garden.

On beds five and six.

Which are hers.

"Hey! Y'know, when I do this, I go along with the wheelbarrow and distribute evenly over all twenty-three beds." I waggled my fingers to demonstrate the tedious process.

"Uh, huh, well, you had two months to clean out the barn and do whatever you wanted with it -- snooze, you lose." She wheeled away, chipper as a bluebird.

"But, but wait! What are my beds gonna use?"

"The compost heaps, of course."

Actually, she's right. I do the early plantings. Bed six is to get blueberries and bed five is slated for hot weather to get its eggplants, tomatoes and cukes. So there is time for the chicken manure to rot down a bit and lose its pathogens -- not an issue with the compost.

So how come I still feel like I got ... snookered?
.

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