Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Chicken Coop Building and CHICKENS!!

frame with roost made from split 2x4s, overall dimensions: 96"l x40"w

I used bamboo in place of chicken wire, locally harvested, biological resource, more aesthetically pleasing-- but slightly heavier

roof rafters and diagonal braces made from thinner pieces of lumber, old wooden crate used for nest box

we had to nail the bamboo on with the inside facing out to avoid major splitting, roof overhang should protect from weathering

hanging well drinker with nest box mounted in rear

access to ground so that we can use this flock for tilling up and fertilizing our beds, we will pull coop/"tractor" one length every 2 days or so

old roofing tin for one side and access door, with mountain laurel handle

to simulate forest habitat, Dappled sunlight can come through the slatted bamboo, while other siding tightly spaced or closed off completely provides nice shade during hot weather and shelter during storms, you can see the black soaker hose section used as a grip on sturdy wire for pulling coop along the beds, hanging from a J hook mounted on cross beam for storage
chicken door lower left, and mountain laurel handles mounted to frame for 2 person moving, while the other pulls from wire pull on other side

plymouth barred rock,ancient dinosaur bird

already enjoying the view and decorative interior

I was worried about the roost being too wide for their claws, but they are happy with it

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A belated Spring update (from Paige), photos coming soon

Wow! We have been busy beavers, bees, hummingbirds and students! We started our class with Mountain BizWorks in March and quickly realized how desperately we needed the guidance of people with experience and business skills. As a result, we decided to become Yielding Branch, LLC (limited liability corporation) and get the ball rolling! We’ve been tracking our cash flow and researching our markets while simultaneously building potting benches, sowing seeds (more on that later) and prepping beds. What a whirlwind.
In addition, we ordered two hundred bare-root strawberry plants and twenty raspberries from the NC Extension service--a very affordable option for those of us who don’t have friends or neighbors able to divide that many of their plants. Those strawberries are happily settling into the beds we constructed using the lasagna method against the base of the fence surrounding the tennis courts. Cardoon seedlings and sunflowers will soon join them to create a living, vibrant “screen” softening the hard edges of the fence and clay courts. We also contacted Frank Salzano at the Appalachian Center for Agroforestry after reading several of his informative and exciting articles in Permaculture Activist. The Center offers bare root native trees and other plants at extremely affordable prices. Manchurian apricots(Prunus armeniaca var. mandshurica) , Nanking cherries(Prunus tomentosa), nitrogen-fixing guomi (Eleagnus multiflora)  and Chokeberries Aronia spp. now await their permanent homes in pots as we observe the cycles of sun, water, wind and wildlife over the next few months.
In the greenhouse, Christopher completed our potting bench design using untreated pallets and lumber to create compost bins underneath the tabletops. One pile is underway and heating up thanks to the contributions of semi-aged horse manure and daily gifts of scraps from the restaurant kitchen. We also removed the shadecloth covering the roof after observing our seedlings leaning precariously towards the windows. Now our plants happily reach towards the sky and the shade cloth will be easy to re-attach if needed.
We’ve planted lots of veggies and herbs and are still waiting for more herb seeds to arrive from Horizon Herbs. Yarrow, lemon balm, Hopi tobacco, catnip, valerian, chamomile, calendula, hibiscus, motherwort, shungiku (edible chrysanthemums), oregano, tulsi, Bolloso Napolitano basil, Italian parsley, cardoon and borage have emerged to join the tomatoes, peppers, melons and winter squash awaiting transplanting to the big world outside.
Our first day at market was a great success! Christopher’s first day as manager went smoothly thanks to a lot of prep work, and our booth looked great. Although we brought a small array of microgreens-pea shoots, broccoli and radish, people were excited to try them and enjoyed watching as their broccoli and radish greens were harvested to order from the growing flats.
In the season of rapid growth and startling discovery, we are called to give thanks for our growing community as well. We give thanks to our parents for the phone calls of encouragement, free labor here on the farm, and support by mail and email. Christopher’s sister Sam designed our beautiful logo, and we’ve been ‘adopted’ by local farmer Lee Mink of Leap Farm. His gifts of seeds, knowledge and even venison and pesto give us the courage to keep at it with passion! Lee also introduced us to the local chapter of Slow Foods, and a new friend, Katie Murray who has been helping us with physical labor despite her busy schedule as a volunteer garden educator at Vance Elementary in Asheville.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Busy busy... fueled by community!!

ShooEEY! Have we been busy settling in! Just in the past 4 days, a LOT has happened. We have moved most of our stuff into the trailer, decorated the interior, rebuilt the bed (it was previously 2 twins—quite the honeymoon suite), built shelves in the closet, battled the trailer “plumbing” system at least 6 different times at all hours of the day and night, 
The pump is not supposed to pump water OUT of the system, this is where you are supposed to connect the hose..but, eventually, when we hooked in to the well water via this input, we had running water.
pruned some very old (and allegedly very productive) highbush blueberries as well as 2 fig trees and a small herb garden, watched Batman Rises (my first Batman experience—awesome!), cut all of our veggies for meals with a pocket-knife, started working part-time in the restaurant (me as dishwasher and pizza-man, Paige as hostess), started and nearly finished cleaning out a greenhouse-turned storage area, cleaning out a workshop-turned storage area  then started and nearly finished reorganizing it into “my” workshop, weeded and forked half a 40’ bed and started planting a some Austrian Winter Pea (more on this process below), and of course with all that one could assume that there was the natural development of a few tussles and so, we also squeezed in several good lessons on partnership and communication.

 While all of that is very exciting, I would have to say that the highlight of the past few days was definitely this morning’s Friends of Agriculture Monthly (free) Breakfast, put on by the Mill Springs Agriculture Center, which is one of the most amazing ag-centric community networking organizations I have ever seen, and it is located only about 2 miles up the road from us in a converted old school building!! Yee haw!!  I tell you, these people in Polk County are the NICEST! The director of the Mill Springs Ag Center, Lynn Sprague, called us up last week, showed up on our trailer doorstep with a smile yesterday, and publicly introduced us to the 70 or so folks there this morning, pointing out many of the old-timers and local specialists that we should know here in the area. We couldn’t feel more connected and supported, and we’ve been here less than a week! 

Each month at the breakfast there is a different speaker or speakers, and this morning’s speakers were a farm owner (Dawn of Restoration Farms) and her resident “homesteader” (Jason) who spoke about the importance of forming those kind of relationships (sound familiar?) especially for beginning farmers as a crucial transitional step toward owning your own land. Given Lynn’s opening introduction and explanation of our new role, and given the fact that our current residence (“the trailer”….we still need a better nickname for it) is visible from the main road, both Dawn and Jason pointed out several times that Paige and I were perfect examples of this movement and commended us for it. We were a little humbled by all this attention, but also appreciated the folks who came up afterward introducing themselves, inviting us to potlucks, taking down our phone numbers.. WE MADE FRIENDS!!!

There was even a very sweet herbalist woman who made a special trip to our place to deliver a Mammoth Sunflower head (for seeds), some great resources that the Ag Center published, as well as some “Polk Fresh” bumper stickers! SO nice! 

Well, we are chomping at the bit to start some of the various seeds that we bought in bulk from Sow True Seeds in Asheville last week: Chiogga Beets, Arugula, Cress, Orach, Lacianato Kale, Kohlrabi, Cabbage, Fingerling potatoes, as well as experimenting with micro-greens production of radish, sunflower, mustard greens, and broccoli, but we HAVE to get the greenhouse cleaned up, replace the plastic on a couple sides, remove the existing raised beds, and replace them with potting benches…that’ll be next week (or maybe this weekend’s agenda). 

Today, when Paige had her fill of cleaning out spaces and relocating my tools for the 100th time, she jumped on my suggestion of hoeing up one of the beds, clearing the clover and Bermuda grass that moved in over the fall and winter. She had recently read that when dealing with an insidious plant such as Bermuda grass, it is best to replant a cover crop immediately after removing the weeds. 
The other day we had bought some Austrian Winter Pea at Fifth Season Gardening in Asheville along with some inoculant (used to increase the Nitrogen-fixing ability of legumes) and so she sowed a fairly dense seeding of those (pre-soaked in the inoculant for about 30 min) with the intentions of selling some of the shoots to the restaurant as a delicious, nutritious salad garnish.  

Prior to spreading the seed, we had used the famed broadfork to aerate the soil. This is an awesome tool, and luckily the one that was here on the farm was the Elliot Coleman approved design with the parabolic tines (as opposed to the straight tines which require a less-ergonomic prying action). We prefer this tool to the tiller, 1. because it uses no petroleum, 2. because it aerates without disturbing too much of the soil strata therefore theoretically still making the nutrients a little bit more available to the plants while giving increased access to the roots, 3. it seems to reduce the chances of bringing weed seeds to the surface (however, it does nothing to uproot or really suppress the rhizome-spreading Bermuda).  It’s all a learning opportunity though. We’ll see how it goes with the broadfork.

The act of sowing! (Trailer, greenhouse, restaurant in background)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

tools of the past, from generation to generation

This past weekend, Paige and I drove up to Pennsylvania to help my family move my Grandma Bubby out of her house and into a new apartment. And, as a bonus, I was permitted to cherry-pick for the taking, all of the marvelous tools left in my late Pap-Pap’s workshop.  It was a moving experience that brought to mind what my teachers Tao Orion and Abel Kloster explained to us as a strong underlying theme of the school of Permaculture, which is, in essence, “looking backward to move forward.”  

The only way we learn is by trying, observing, and adapting. Permaculture draws many of its founding principles from the life ways of indigenous cultures and groups of people who live(d) with the land in such a way that integrates the humans into the natural rhythms and cycles of the earth. In these ways of life, there was usually an unspoken dedication to the long-term preservation, or better yet proliferation, of resources for the sake of future generations. The people belonging to the tribes all over the world that match this description, (and those which existed in this country until the intrusions of Europeans in the 15th Century) did not learn how to follow nature’s patterns, maximize yields, and sustain the richness of life overnight, it was of course a process of looking backward, of trying, observing, and adapting over the course of many, many years. 

As one result of colonialism, imperialism, and many other Eurocentric-isms, we are here today with incredible accessibility to historical information regarding the life ways of these people. Had medieval Christianity prioritized Christ-like compassion over Manifest Destiny, we may have had actual populations of these folks still around today instead of museum exhibits of the black and white photos of their ancestors. Nonetheless, we as gardeners, caretakers, can seek out ethnographies, memoirs, and other documents which reveal the myriad lessons of ecological stewardship that were implicit in these life-ways, and we can do our best to learn passively from the remnants of history, and humbly attempt to see the world the way they saw it, without romanticizing or ignoring the context from which it came. 

 Similarly, we can find lessons in our own ancestry by asking our elders what life was like for them growing up, how they kept their soil fertile, how they made the most of what they had. This is what “appropriate technology” is all about. It was there long before Bill Mollison (the “initiator” of Permaculture) gave it a name, it was resourcefulness, and in many cases, survival tactics. 

The last photo taken of me with Pap-Pap, summer 2011.
This past weekend, the looking backward to move forward came for me in the form of removing the wrenches that have hung on Pap-Pap’s pegboard for as long as I can remember, and packing away the well-organized coffee cans and margarine tubs of precisely labels nails and screws of every size that he had been accumulating since the time my Dad was in middle school. Each item I packed away emanated his spirit and the decades of intentionality, of acquiring, giving, and finding purpose for these things.  Though he was not there in person to pass on his collection, I felt honored to be trusted by my family to continue his legacy, to take up this treasure that others may have put in the scrap metal pile. 

By the time we left Pittsburgh, my little 92 Toyota was packed to the absolute max with tarps, folding aluminum lawn chairs, shovels, picks, iron bars and several of his old wooden boxes filled with a few of your common files, wrenches, and hammers (the screw drivers had all been scavenged by my father’s generation) but the majority of what filled the 5 old and new tool boxes I found were things that you need every once and a while but you always wish you had, specialty tools, soldering irons, glue guns, and plenty of his homemade inventions. He had saved nutpickers, Tic-Tac containers, hunks of lead, popsicle sticks, toothbrushes, bits of garden hose attached to old saw-zall blades and created tools. He had had specific purposes for these items, and use them to fix things that I can’t even imagine. It was great to have my dad there to reminisce and explain how and when Pap-Pap had used many of these self-creations, but there were other things that surly, only he could have explained (e.g. a drawer full of peanut can peel-back tin lids). 

After seeing the sagging truck bed, Paige, I know, was a bit worried about starting my own trend of accumulating, but I defended the duality of utility and heirloom, but she says the former is subjective. But I also know that she is just as excited as me to have Pap Pap’s resourcefulness live on to inspire us as we begin our journey together.