Monthly Archives: October 2011

Snow and moose and ducks

Finally finished the coop, and cleaned up the yard a bit. Just in time, because it snowed last night. We woke up to a pretty white blanket on the yard, and a couple of young bull moose skirting the edges of the property. They wanted in, you could see it, but James and Caesar and the improved moose fencing (psychological barriers of rags tied on twine across the drives and above the fence) kept them walking on. Mostly it was James making noise when they tried to come over the one weak place.

Here is a view inside the coop toward the south facing window, the vent is up high:

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And here is a view to the chicken door to the north, we meant to paint it all white inside, but that was tedious! The OSB sheathing soaks up a lot!:

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We did get the floor and lower couple feet polyurethaned for easier cleaning. Here is a view to the back of the shed and the open door to the coop:

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Still some work to be done to sheath the outside of that wall over the insulation. The coop is made of hoarded scraps and bound-for-the-trash lumber, plywood, OSB, rigid foam, fiberglass batts, desk drawers (for laying boxes), and the old door I replaced on apartment 2.
Then this morning we went to purchase/ pick up the ducks – a drake and 3 female muscovies. Here they all are in the coop yard – ducks and chickens were introduced at the same time to try to eliminate territoriality. So far things seem ok – the boys protect their girls from any incursions from the other side, just some clucks from the chooks and some whistles from the ducks:

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This is where we weren’t going to go!

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This is Featherfoot.

If you remember, we got straight run (unsexed) chicks in June. We knew the boys were going in the pot, so we didn’t name any of then. At one point a dog got 4 of them. We consoled ourselves that those were probably all roosters (pretty sure that at least 2 were). The 3 bodies we found are still frozen in the fridge awaiting cooking. We successfully avoided attachment – except to Featherfoot.

He was a cute little runty fuzzy black chick – the only one with feathers on his feet. Since he became an early favorite, we reminded ourselves frequently that he was probably a boy. Not because he seemed to be, but as emotional protection. We would slip and call him Featherfoot, and then remind ourselves not to. We were very relieved when he showed back up after the dog rampage. He definitely started to get a bigger comb and wattle then the rest, but his body still looked very hen-like and we sorta hoped against hope that he was just a big combed breed of hen.

No such luck. There is no crowing yet, but it is painfully obvious that we have 5 hens and one rooster. He is shiny black with some iridescent green and has recently developed some pretty cream colored hackle and saddle feathers. His tail is getting long. He is beloved by his hens and quite the gentleman. He is also the tamest and the easiest to hold. It seems so right to see him out with the girls.

But this is the city. I have half a mind to get him de-crowed, and I’m not too concerned with the cruelty of that (I think he’d rather strut amongst his girls, indulging in his roosterly duties quietly than simmer with the dumplings) but even if anyone in town does that it is a risky, presumably expensive procedure that may not make him quiet enough to pass city standards. So he’s probably dinner. But it does seem a shame. It seems the flock should have a rooster, and he seems like such a good man to have around. It’d be neat to hatch out chicks someday too. Sigh.

In other chicken news, the winter coop is almost ready for them (I know I said that last time, but now really!). Just need to gate the outside run, finish the automatic chicken feeder, and seal the floor with polyurethane – they should be in by Friday. Probably going to acquire some Muscovy ducks by then too…at least the drakes will be no problem, noise wise!

What’s the ginkgo guild?

Well, it’s mid-october. The chicken water was still frozen on top after work at 6pm yesterday, despite the bright blue sky and warm-feeling sun. I really need to bring in the rest of the turnips and the beets before the ground freezes them in!

I’m almost done with the winter chicken coop (about 8’x4′, ~8′ tall, R-11 walls and floor, R-20ish ceiling, a small window and high vent on the south, a small closable door on the north into the yard; there will be 2 nest boxes and a perch or two – all built into the back of an existing shed). The garden is almost cleaned up and mulched for winter. The 3 bee hives all starved to death, at various times throughout September – there just weren’t enough sunny, dry, warm days in August to collect stores. I’m saving the Warre hives (they lasted longer than the bees in standard Langstroth boxes), but probably just trying sugar beets next year. Honey bees do not seem to be a low maintenance permaculture animal up here in Alaska. I’m happy some people are doing well with them here – gathering lots of honey and having overwintering success, but I think I’m good with the plethora of native bees that wend through my garden all summer. It was very instructive to watch the honeys work and build comb and swarm and kill drones and such, and I have a ton of pretty bees wax now, but it’s just not sustainable to keep shipping them up from California every spring.

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So now, with garden projects winding down, I become, characteristically, super motivated to plan and dream and peruse online nurseries. I really probably shouldn’t plant any more trees, but I think, on paper anyway, I could squeeze in 10 more plus some espaliers along the house? With the Summercrisp pear having born such delicious fruit this year, and the plentiful cherries and berries, and the apricot and hazelnut and such all still alive and looking well (despite a quick and circumspect moose pruning last Saturday that inspired my dad and I to get the fence repaired and upgraded), I’m dreaming of some more exotic additions – ginkgo biloba, american persimmon, quince, guomi, autumn olive, medlar, mulberry, asian pear, heartnut, chestnut, oh my! Many of these would be very questionable in this zone, and would have too short a season to fruit, but the only thing I’ve lost so far is a couple of grape plants and a plum I grew from seed, so I’m emboldened to try and stretch the boundaries. Not sure I can still afford to gamble on $500 worth of bare root trees and assorted vines and bushes and other perennials though (that’s what my wish list shopping cart is up to at One Green World right now).

I’ve also been re-devouring Toby Hemingway’s Gaia’s Garden, and thinking of guilds. I’ve got some half completed apple guilds (apples with currants and strawberries and red clover under, and a ring of tulips – need some comfrey and umbrel herbs and such), and Toby lays out a walnut guild that I could try with the heartnut if I purchase that. I also looked up some ecology of red elderberry online. Even though there is plenty of it around to wild forage and make my winter cold season syrups from, it’d be nice to have some in the yard. These are plants I have found they form communities with: choke cherry (maybe use another prunus sp.?), service berry, rose, red alder, conifers such as spruce, mountain ash, various ribes (currants & gooseberries), phlox, snowberry species (in the honeysuckle family, so try honeyberries?), oregon grape, oak, bedstraw, maple, birch. I already have spruce, rose, black currant, mountian ash and birch in my front yard, so this seems like a perfect place to add in some elderberry (maybe I’ll try a black or blue elderberry since I can find red in the woods here), and a few of the other members of a guild. Alder would handle some nitrogen fixing, the low growers would provide living mulch and all the trees would provide fall leaf mulch. Plenty of flowering plants to attract pollinators. Maybe need some yarrow or cow parsnip or other umbrel flowers to attract beneficial predatory insects? There are also tall trees, smaller trees, bushes, and midsized herbs in the list above, but maybe something really low for ground cover and something rooty for that zone, and some vines? And I’m definitely tucking fava beans everywhere next year!

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