On a day in which my dad was here with his tractor, I had the impulse to have him dig a hole. Now the hole had a purpose, but it was going to save me a lot of work as I wanted to try my hand at "hugelkultur." Short version, dig a hole, fill with woody material, mound dirt back on top and plant. The wood base will work as a water sponge and hold water in place. We had the woody material from trimming the neighbor's apple trees and ripping out all the grapevine and autumn olive in the front berry garden area.
My dad used the forks on his tractor to "grab" the woody material and place in the hole. I was in the trench with the chainsaw cutting it down to fit better in the trench. My dad then used the bucket on the tractor to put a couple of scoops of mulch from tree trimmers in there, put on the old soil and then put some old garden soil from the previous owners of the home (sorry to the rabbits who had taken up residence in the pile). We had some leftover mulch and sprinkled that on top. Afterward, we soaked it with water to let the wood get wet. Wish we would have done that first. Our extra seedlings have been planted on this, as well as a giant bag of old seeds that may or may not germinate. Ideally, a hugelkultur bed would have logs and large pieces of wood, but we used what we had and this will be a good experiment. My guess is that next year it will be even better as it captures that spring snow melt and early rains for the remainder of the year.
The asparagus spears made an appearance last weekend.
Man was it nice to have the chicks in the house, plus it helped keep them warm. Well, that was until we introduced their dust bath. This led to a room in the house that was literally uninhabitable for two weeks. At four weeks we moved the chicks to the garage and were left with the following devastation. Notice the layer of dust on our exhaust fan. Now, imagine that on everything in the room. Gross! What did we learn, chicks in house = okay. Chicks in house with dust bath = NO GOOD!
Here is the brooder in the garage. The chicks were not happy with this transition, but they did adjust to the colder temperatures. However, the thing we think made them the most unhappy was the ever-increasing size of fifteen pullets and the static size of the brooder duplex.
Following Harvey Ussery's plans for his chicken tractor the above contraption was constructed and covered with old greenhouse plastic. It rolls well and moved rather easily to the back garden. Here, we started the chicks outside so that they can help to prepare the beds for planting by eating up bugs and weed seeds. We kept them in the tractor for two days to establish this as their home. Now, they roam free for most of the day in their "pasture."
The "pasture" for the chicks is established by 160 feet of electronet fencing from Premier 1. It is charged by a Patriot fence charger connected to an old lawn mower battery. While initially left outside, we decided to put it in a battery box to protect from the elements. We used some scrap wood to create a brace for the solar charger. This charger is a 1.5 Watt solar charger from Harbor Freight. The hope is that this will charge the battery in line with usage for the fence to create a continuous use system.
After a field trip to Battel's Sugar Bush farm, we were inspired to tap a few maple trees on family property for the first time ever. We used a total of 7 taps on 3 Silver Maples, and in just a few days got roughly 30 gallons of sap, boiling down to almost one gallon of syrup. We started with a rough attempt with old tubing and Hawaiian Punch bottles, then upgraded to multiple taps into buckets, which worked fairly well. However, next year we are planning on using more flexible tubing with appropriate fittings and doing more trees. Also, figuring out how to boil the sap down by open fire would help save on using propane and be more sustainable.
Most of the below damage was done on purpose and not some freak spring tornado. Our neighbor graciously agreed to allow us to "adopt" some apple trees from her retired apple orchard, so we heavily cut back several branches and are currently working on raking up all the leaves and apples to compost for our gardens.
We have been behind schedule with planting already, thanks to the cold and/or rainy weather and waiting on soil amendments, but we have begun planting peas, broccoli, carrots, onions, cauliflower, spinach, and several varieties of flowers. We prefer to direct sow whenever possible, and will be experimenting with direct sowing luffa gourd, tomatoes, peppers, and other plants traditionally grown from transplants. More on this later.
We also received our first plants in the mail this weekend--hardy kiwis, We put those in pots for the time being and placed them into the greenhouse until we determine their exact location on the property. This is a pretty cool plant as it is hardy in our planting zone and creates smaller, but more tasty fruit than its fuzzy cousins that are sold in the produce section. If it does well, one plant can yield over 10 pounds of kiwi fruits.
Pictured are catalpa, sugar maple, and locust seedlings in the greenhouse.
Our beehives have been done for some time and are awaiting the bees, which should be here around May 15 or 16. We have three hives for 2 nucs of bees. The hope is to catch a swarm this year for the third one. However, we should already have our two trap hives out and baited with lemongrass oil if we want a good chance of this. Just not enough time it seems. Nonetheless, these will be out soon and we will begin our adventure as amateur apiarists. We are putting them to use though as the above pic shows us using the hives as a makeshift potting table.
Overall, things are progressing. More apple tree shrapnel to pick up and move, more seeds to plant, more plants coming in the mail and the fact that bees are almost three weeks away. Not to mention baseball is starting for our boys and soccer will be right around the corner. It's been busy, but we all have noticed less time inside, less screen time and more productive time outside. In some ways, this was the plan all along.
- Diana + Trevor
Dandelion Hills is a family-owned farm in Caro, Michigan, established to provide beyond-organic food to its owners and the local community while improving the soil quality.
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