The Peaceable Kingdom

After a weeks separation, and one failed attempt at reunification, a truce has been called among the chickens of our urban homestead, and they are all back together in their opulant hen yard. This experience has underscored for me how intelligent these critters are, how complex their social structure is, and how indefensible standard poultry industry practices are.

Because we live within the city limits, the chickens are not, technically, allowed to be 'free ranging', and my past experience with urban predators has illustrated the value of a fully enclosed yard around the hen house. The aviary provides our chickens with access to soil, sun shade and allows them enough room to fly. But I also know the value, to both the chickens and the harvest, of allowing them to patrol the garden, so every afternoon we let them out, under supervision, to chase bugs and drop the freshest organic fertilizer available on the garden beds while we plant, or weed, or just sit back and enjoy watching the natural cycles at work.

The garden, which is over 300 square feet now, is recovering from a series of late season frosts. Our last frost date in spring is supposed to be mid April, but there have been a couple of frosty mornings (the first arriving without warning) since then, and the tomatoes did not take it well. The first frost came without warning, after I had already transplanted the tomatoes starts out into the garden. About half succumbed to the cold that night. The subsequent frost was forcasted, so I was able to take measures to protect the tomatoes, as well as the newly transplanted sweet peppers. The peppers stayed snug and have faired well, but some of the sheets covering the tomatoes were dislodged by wind, and again some were lost to the cold. I have noted with interest that the heirloom tomatoes that I selected because they originated either in this area, or in similar climates, have held their ground far better than the Romas. Still, I waited till we had past the last date on record for freezing temps before replacing the lost starts.

I have been combining organic, permaculture, and biodynamic principles in the garden, which has been interesting. The organic part is easy enough, but the others require me to stretch my rather underdeveloped organizational and planning skills. For example, biodynamic principles follow the lunar cycles and seeks to coordinate planting, cultivation and harvest with natures rhythms. There is much I like about this system, not the least of which being the way it enhanses my sense of connection to natural cycles, but there are down sides. For example, if one looses half of ones tomatoes crop due to a late frost, one might find that, according to the lunar planting chart, tomatoes and other “fruits with seeds” arnt meant to be planted again for another 3 weeks; or one may find themselves with fingerling potatoe tubers that need to go in now, before they spoil.

I'm no expert, but my own answer to this has been that these are the times when wise women fall back on their own good sense. Waiting 3 weeks to plant more tomatoes could be a fatal mistake, and just the thought of what my great grandmother's expression at the very idea of waisting tubers, just because the moon isnt full yet (oh, it gives me chills!!). So, I follow the charts religiously, except when I don't; and avoid waist, except when I cant. So far, it's working


Rebecca said...

Wow, one can find some interesting blogs if one pokes around. I knew someone in high school who had chickens, and their antics were pretty entertaining, as were their names: Cinammon, Penguin, Hot Mustard, and Picasso. (Obviously they were for eggs, not for eating, because could bring themselves to eat a chicken with an endearing name like Penguin?)

Anyway, as a college student majoring in zoology and environmental studies, I'm quite interested in sustainable living... if unable to do much about it myself while living in a dorm. Good for you for giving it a go!

griffin said...

I LOVE those names, for your friend's chickens, our first two are named Ruby and Ester, now that they have stopped trying to kill the 3rd we need to figure out the perfect name for her. And, yes, all of them are definitely here for their eggs, their bug eating, and their natural fertilizer distribution.

Sustainability is an interesting and challenging dance, in any setting. Chickens in the dorm room might be a bit much ;) Thankfully there are things we all can do to move that direction. More on that to come. Thanks fer readin my blog

zilla said...

I'm relieved that the chickens are finally getting along!

griffin said...

those wacky chickens! I am relieved too, it did lead to some interesting conversations with my son about the nature of stewardship, animal husbandry etc --can you force peace, is it ok to insist that other spieces behave or get along as we see fit. So there was an educational element. We have a couple of quail chicks as well, that my son brought home from the feed store a few months ago (see where giving them an allowance leads!)
At first I was bummed to learn that we would not be able to put them in with the chickens once they were bigger, now I'm relieved about that as well!