Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Queen of our Coop

My latest entry in the Chautauqua

A few weeks ago I shared my concern over the ladies that our rooster was hanging out with. The crowd he tends to run with during the day aren't the hens we wanted his attention focused on. I wondered if I should get involved and pen them up together or if I should just trust that what I might not be seeing was still taking place. Yesterday I got my answer.

All winter long we'd been watching one of our hens bolt from the coop under crates, pallets and anywhere else we couldn't reach her. She's a regal-looking gal with black lacy feathers, sharp orange eyes, and an intelligence to match her fast feet. We named her Queen Victoria. She's the main reason we decided to get a rooster and when a neighbour offered us her spare, we offered him a home. So when they seemed to always be on opposite ends of the yard – I began to get worried. However my anxiety (and purchase of an incubator!) all seems pointless now.

Yesterday Queen Victoria showed up in the yard with 7 peeping chicks behind her. She's settled them into the coop and is the exemplary mother we hoped she would be.

We've recently christened our farm operations as “Earth Works Farm.” It's a reminder to us that the earth works: ecosystems and organisms know how to grow, produce and renew – without us trying to control or manipulate them. We participate in those systems but also try to stay out of the way, to trust and to learn from nature.

Queen Victoria has been one of our teachers in this realm and I am proud to say I am one of her students. She definitely is the queen of our coop and my hope now is that she will be as long-reigning as her namesake.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Honey - I have worms...

My latest Chautauqua article:

My husband has worms. It's gotten so bad that family members are bringing over food scraps because our table can't feed them all. It's hard to figure out exactly how many there are but we estimate around 11 kilograms of them.

Oh wait – not THOSE worms. I am talking about red wigglers, the kind of earthworm that is excellent at taking your table scraps and animal droppings and turning them into beautiful compost to use as a fertilizer in your garden and on your land.

A year ago he purchased a yogurt container of worms and by wintertime we had three mineral tubs full and needed to find them a warm place to reside. Red wigglers are not hardy over our Canadian winter as they stay shallow in the earth and a small amount will not produce enough heat to keep warm over winter. So into our basement they came and soon we had a pyramid of about 13 mineral tubs stacked up.

Many people have composts in their backyards so why use worms? For us it comes down to the fact that worms breakdown material faster without needing to get your compost up to a high heat. Regular compost can be incredibly fast too – but take a lot more attention. So far we've learned that keeping worms are pretty simple: feed them anything organic although keep the amount of citrus to a low part of that ratio and forget about laminated or glossy paper; keep them moist but not too wet and don't pee on them (urine has been found to speed up composting and add value to the end product however it's not a favorite of the worms). Your nose is the best gaugue of how things are doing: the main smell around the bins is one of potting soil. If it starts to smell a bit 'off' then you have overfed them. The size of your worm operation is dependent on how much you feed them and how much space you give them – many people in urban cities find worm composting the easiest as they can keep them inside without a smell and they break down waste faster, taking up less space.

So why do we want so many? For one – we have a large garden that we plan to expand and our soil is quite sandy. We plan to use the worm castings (the compost end-product also known as 'worm poo') to build our soil. Secondly – hubby is taking a course this May on the soil food web so we can experiment with using worm castings and compost tea (made from the castings) as natural amendments to our pasture.

This time of year the gardening stores are busy selling fertilizers and soil amendments – ours are coming out of our basement and onto the garden. The cost: our table waste, some cow manure and a bit of my husband's time. Although I am not sure if I should even consider his time. Before we married he warned me that he's still a 12 year-old boy at heart and I am sure digging in the dirt and playing with worms keeps that part of him happy.