Rouens Run

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Acquired two free, young Rouen drakes (ducks), whose advances were roundly rejected by the immature laying ducks. The lady who dropped them off had hatched them, but apparently she had a roughly 1:1 ratio of drakes to females, and the latter group were feeling roundly harassed. We thought she was bringing two drakes and a duck (female) but she was only getting rid of her drakes. This is fine, as our 10 straight-run Rouens are due to make their way to the freezer any day now, so a free drake past the ideal slaughter age means one more at prime in the freezer. We will probably find another home for the second free drake. At the moment they are a little shy of people, so I had to try to capture them while running past, hence the blurry images. My second son did manage to catch one and bond with it, sort of.

Mrs. D. and I spent the morning removing a circle of railroad ties from the front lawn and putting them in a neat stack next to the shed. They were part of a landscaping plan that pre-dated our presence here, but they looked a mess and required a whole lot of unnecessary weed-whacking. With a little smoothing of the bumps, it will now be possible to cut it all with the mower. Found a huge colony of large red ants under some of the ties, which reminds me that I need to order or formulate some orange oil/molasses hormicide for when the biting critters are close enough to the house to create a hazard.

Took the kids to the movies in the afternoon.

 

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Our Summer is Cut Out for Us

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Time and project management are the biggest perennial challenges of both self-employment and homesteading. There are always half a dozen things that should be done today, or as soon as possible, or yesterday, and the day inevitably only has room for one or two – and that is if you can even get to the end of one without realizing it’s going to require a trip into town or a part that you have to order via the mail. Or else you get interrupted by an appointment you nearly forgot because you were so immersed in a project.

Apart from some impending modifications to our house and office (a ventilation hood over the kitchen range, a bathroom for the office, etc.), the big projects this summer are:

  1. Permaculture Zone 1. Finish setting up vegetable and herb beds near the house and cabin, and get a fall crop into them if possible.
  2. Soil Maintenance. Begin to maintain/rehabilitate the rest of the property by planting cover crops and adding manure and/or biochar. We have ever-growing piles of pine cones and tree branches, and had plans to rent an industrial-strength chipper/shredder to make mulch, but are now looking into setting up a kiln to make biochar instead.
  3. Irrigation. Our well and pressure tank supply the house adequately, but will barely put out enough pressure for two sprinklers. The only way we know to get a food forest off the ground in an arid climate like this is with extensive irrigation. This will probably entail upgrading or supplementing the well pump and pressure tank, and laying a lot of pipe in the ground. Some automation will be a plus if we can afford it. The duck pond (actually a small pond liner propped up with rocks) is going in near the top of the hill. Some microswales are planned to direct the pond drainage to where it will be most useful.
  4. Deer fencing. The deer decimated our newly planted raspberry canes last fall. They will do worse when we plant a lot of trees this fall. The plan is to extend the existing fence posts with poles or tomato stakes, and run flagged netting between them, raising the fence to 8′ in height.
  5. Planning and purchasing for fall tree planting. Fruit trees galore, especially apples and cherries. Some ume (Prunus mume) (a Japanese apricot/plum) for the unique blossoms, not to mention the fruit. Support species galore, and perhaps some fedge species as well. An aggressive, multi-layered hedge/fedge along the road for privacy. Maybe some black locust. Some piñon pines to eventually replace the ubiquitous ponderosas and produce pine nuts instead of just an endless rain of pine cones.

As you can see, we have our work cut out for us! But I’m sure I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew…

Author’s Soundtrack: Hunting High and Low by a-ha. On vinyl, of course.

Broo-Disaster

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After a failed attempt to entice one of our White Chantecler hens to sit on some eggs in April, we purchased an Incuview incubator, and successfully hatched five White Chantecler chicks from our own eggs, along with ten Icelandic chicken eggs. In the meantime, we acquired a Phoenix hen, but our White Chantecler rooster met an untimely death.

When, last week, our beautiful Phoenix went really and truly broody, I seized the day. I started hunting for local sources of hatching eggs of some interesting breeds. We got fourteen Bantam Cochin eggs, with a Frizzle gene in the mix, from a lady down the road, and I wasted no time in putting them under the setting Phoenix.

The titular disaster ensued. One particular nesting box is favored by all the hens, and they periodically crowd into it in twos and threes. So I set the Phoenix on her new clutch in the second-most-favored nesting box, in hopes that she wouldn’t have to fight off the other hens. Our Rhode Island Red immediately crowded in, taking up a calculated position to lessen the possibility of being pecked. My unsuccessful attempts to remove her resulted in a broken egg.

I then moved the broody Phoenix and the eggs over to the Most Favored Nesting Box. The next time I went out to check, there was a White Chantecler in the box with her, more broken eggs, and two or three other hens right outside the nesting box looking in greedily like hungry, unblinking zombies. (Note: these were probably some of the very birds who stubbornly refused to set back in April.)

I knew I had to come up with a Plan B. I modified a cardboard box to make a nest, lined it with shavings, put the eggs in, and placed it and the Phoenix in a large cat carrier on a shady part of the back deck. I apparently oriented the rectangular box in a way that was not to the hen’s liking. After another broken egg, she was perched defiantly atop the waterer inside the cat carrier.

Plan C involved the unused, “upstairs” section of our coop and further modifications to my makeshift nesting box to utilize the longer dimension. I placed the now rather disgruntled hen on the nest, cooing encouragingly to her all the while, and left her to perform her instinctual duties in peace and quiet. This resulted in an upended nesting box and more broken eggs. Out of the original fourteen eggs, nine remained. It was time to implement Plan D: the incubator.

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The Incuview is an excellent product, by the way, and I plan to review it in more detail at a later date.

First Post

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My family is picking the neighbors’ raspberries. The neighbors couldn’t get to them and didn’t want them to go to waste. It’s a gorgeous, comfortable summer afternoon in the Rockies, and June’s heatwave has given way to more temperate weather. It’s raining a bit most days now, and we are learning to differentiate between the degrees within the narrow range of humidity that the arid mountain climate serves up. A day we never would’ve called humid back in the old country seems positively sticky compared to the dry weather we’ve gotten used to over the last two years, since we made our break for wide open spaces.

So my family is picking raspberries on this fine day, while I am ensconced at my desk in my cabin office, writing. How could I sacrifice quality time amongst the brambles with my family in exchange for this? I have spent every spare moment over the last few days trying to build the infrastructure for this blog. Gone are the days when I could hack together a minimalist website with my minimal knowledge of HTML code. I finally seem to have beaten WordPress, the Genesis framework, a theme, and Facebook into submission enough that I have a working machine and can get to what I really want to do, namely, writing.

Since before I had a driver’s licence, I’ve had a dream of making my living as a writer, homesteader, and stay-at-home dad in the mountains. We’re getting there. We have an acre in the mountains, with the start of a garden and a lovely array of domestic fowl, and I am raring to write. Due to the current absence of freelance work, the stay-at-home part isn’t hard, either.

We hope to use permaculture techniques to slowly transform this dry, dusty, messy acre into a food forest, a biological machine that will produce a good portion of our diet with decreasing need for maintenance as the years go by. This blog will be our story, as our arid acre becomes a food forest.

Author’s Soundtrack: The Tom Jones Fever Zone on vinyl, in memory of my grandmother.