Every since we lost most of our flock to a bobcat, we’ve been wanting to get ducks again. They are so much fun to watch and act very differently from chickens. Weather doesn’t really phase them and they mostly forage for food when there isn’t snow on the ground. Plus you get eggs, although our last group was fairly sporadic.
It’s difficult when you only have room for a small flock as most hatcheries like to ship at least six or seven and we don’t have room for that many. However, we found that Metzer Farms will ship fewer, but there are extra shipping costs for a heat bag and some other things. It’s pretty pricey, so we went back and forth for awhile. Ultimately decided it was worth it since we wanted to choose the breed and the expense over time really isn’t that bad if they all survive.
We now have the fenced-in pasture, so we think they will fare better against predation this time around. Unfortunately the little mini-pond we created is outside the fence boundaries, but maybe we’ll dig that out again and let them free-range a bit in the summer. The field that is fenced also gets pretty wet in the spring, so perhaps there is an opportunity to create a swale or small ditch as well.
Given the recent troubles with the post office, we were a bit concerned about delays. The ducks ship from California. However, they actually arrived sooner than expected, shipped on a Monday and arrived early Wednesday morning. They were in great shape and very active in the shipping container. They all look great so far and are growing like crazy. We’ve already had to take them out of the initial brooder (a stock tank) and put them in our old chicken tractor inside the garage. They still need a bit of heat, but I think even that won’t last much longer. It has been a bit cooler at night here going into fall, so they still need a bit of help to stay warm. They seem to find cuddling together works most of the time though.
This will mainly be a short post to point to the video I made for this, but a couple of notes. I was looking at some photos from the very first planting (2014) and it was a bit surreal to see how empty this space was at the time. We planted a lot of trees the first three years and then slowed down a bit. We’ve lost a few. Figured out the lower end of the slope is just too wet for apple trees to thrive, so going to discontinue using those spots. I’ve tried a few trees there, none of them are happy. This year I moved up to the top of the slope and out towards the swale a bit more. I think those will do better.
We’re also trying cold-hardy peach and apricot this year, as I probably mentioned elsewhere. These are not in the orchard, but on the northwest side of the house where there is a lot of shade in spring and the ground warms slowly.
Also, this year I bought some root stock and I’m going to try to graft a few trees myself. If that doesn’t end up too terribly, I’ll try to show some pictures of that at some point.
I’ve mentioned before we have been working on a dry stone wall to run along the back of our garden. This is a landscape element I’ve long been fascinated with, mostly due to its relative permanence, the history attached to it and the almost zen aspect of building them. I have a mason friend who has been helping us who has a lot more experience and training than me, but I have been able to put what I’ve learned so far to use. It’s one of those skills where learning the basic techniques is simple, but mastery can take a lifetime.
We made good progress last year and should be able to finish off this portion by mid-year or so. The hardest part is getting the right selection of rock without breaking the bank. We got a load of quarry rock delivered last year, but many of those rocks are too large to easily move without equipment. One more reason to finally buy that tractor. Still, there is a lot of good stone there and it was relatively cheap.
I was happy to see the wall barely moved all winter and so far it’s been good with all the rain this spring. So I think the foundation is working reasonably well.
Here is the second video showing the windbreak area we’ve been trying to establish on the northwest to north side of our house. It’s probably going to end up being a visual or noise break more than a windbreak. It won’t quite be tight enough to completely break up the wind, but hopefully will at least disrupt it a bit. The wind on this side of the house hits our bedroom directly and there are always some nights every year where it is so loud it is hard to sleep. In addition, we actually get a lot of road noise from the main road running not too far from our house. So trying to break that up a bit as well.
Initially, we planted a few evergreens and those are the oldest trees. A few years ago, we worked with a local agro-forestry expert to come up with more of a plan. The result of that is the two lines of trees you’ll see in the video.
We’re also hoping to start to fill in some of the space between the house and the windbreak with edible landscape plants. Hoping the shelter of the trees starts to create a bit more of a micro-climate, with some wind protection and temperature moderation. I’m also still on a quest to reduce the amount of lawn on the property and replace it with more diversity. Gradually moving towards a more permaculture way of approaching the landscape.
As we start to make progress on transforming our property, I thought it might be interesting to video the state of things here at the start of spring. I’m planning to do several of these videos focused on different parts of the property.
This first one is showing what is going on out in front of our house. The front garden has been problematic, although we’ve been able to do some good things with it. It generally ends up overtaken by weeds by the end of the summer. Because this used to be pasture, there are well established rhizomic grasses that like to run about 6-12 inches under the soil. The grass shoots then pop up everywhere and unless you get rid of the roots, it just comes back. I’ve tried doing major digging and weeding to pull out roots, but it’s a bit of a fool’s errand.
There is also some sort of low ground-cover weed that probably came in on wood chips originally. It also has a rhizome growth habit. Between these two weeds and the heavy clay soil, it’s been frustrating. I should’ve listened to my wife and cover-cropped it for a few seasons before trying to plant there. Although with all the grasses underground, it wouldn’t have completely solved the problem. I just purchased an EGO edger, mainly for our flower beds and other beds in the lawn. But it might help here as well if we can cut off the traveling roots.
As I mention in the video, we’re going to use this more for perennial food bushes, possibly growing tree starts and then try to use raised beds and hugel for anything seasonal we grow. I also think the hardscape around much of the boundary of the garden will help keep the lawn from encroaching quite so much.
For those of you waiting on bated breath to hear how we are progressing on our garden changes, I have an update for you. We are nearly done building the new raised beds and the hugelcultur mounds are now covered with dirt and ready to use.
Here is the latest mound partially covered in dirt. We really like how it turned out. It’s a U shape, so definitely looks very organic and naturalistic. Not a typical vegetable garden look.
We have already started planting a few things in them. As it is the first year, we aren’t sure what kinds of plants are actually going to do well so we are experimenting as always. We do have the mound we started last fall that is already breaking down nicely. We are going to try some melons and squash in that one. It’s back away from the garden in a corner, so if any of those plants decide to travel around we can just see what happens.
Here you can see more raised beds filling in the rest of the open spaces in the garden.
And one more view to give you more of a full picture.
There are still a few spots that are a bit wide for a walking space and we are putting a few more typical rows. These are trenches filled with rotted cow manure and covered with good garden soil. We are also doing a similar wide row at the end of one of the mounds except that one has a layer of wood chips underneath. So we’ll try and see what happens.
On a side note, we planted a bunch more bulbs last fall in front of our house and it has been absolutely beautiful the last few weeks. Here are some samples:
We just got back from a lovely family trip to San Diego. It was just finally starting to feel like spring and warming up when we left. I went for a walk around the property this morning and it’s just so fun to see everything responding. Here’s the short list:
Daffodils giving way to tulips and grape hyacinths
Peas poking up that we planted shortly before leaving
Lots of green growth and leaves on the raspberries. Little raspberry plants popping up in the grass all around as well.
Hops starting to put feelers out
All our fruit trees are budding, including the 5 we just planted. Good sign!
We are having a record high February warm-up here in Vermont, with highs in the 60s today. The ducks are having a blast and are so excited to have actual water to play in. It will still be a month or two before we start warming up for good, but at least for today the ducks are very happy to enjoy this while it lasts.
Well, we either picked a great year or a terrible year to convert to no-till.
Maybe great since the first few years it takes time to build true soil fertility and keep weed pressure down without relying on tilling. So often the first couple years are frustrating.
Maybe terrible since we are also fighting one of the most wet summer starts I’ve ever seen in my life. I don’t know the official totals, but I saw that someone in Vermont there was at least 7 inches of rain in June. I won’t post a picture because it is just depressing.
Last summer was so hot and dry I was irrigating a couple times a week. We did get an insanely great tomato crop though. Anyway, this is what climate change looks like folks. Lots of extremes and finding news ways to mitigate those effects.
Kristin was saying she at least expected some things to be doing well, but the fact is there are very few plants that actually like it wet underfoot. There are a lot of plants that thrive in damp, overcast, not too hot conditions. But not standing water around the roots. I can’t think of a single garden plant that like that type of environment, except one obvious one (rice). Some other plants do well in bog conditions (cranberries, willows, elderberries within reason, etc.). But nothing you want to grow in your garden.
I hate to admit this, but it took me a couple of weeks to realize that even if I’m not tilling, I still really need to hill up the rows and make sure the space between rows is lower. Obvious, right. Rookie error on my part. We’ve lost so many seeds to standing water and rot so far. I started hilling up the rows, re-planting and covering with 100% sand and those seedlings are actually doing okay, even after the deluges of last week.
I was commenting to Kristin that with gardening, you really have to reach a point where all these different techniques and practices just become intuitive and second nature. We aren’t quite there yet, but one of these years we’ll get all the pieces put together. And that will probably be the year we get a plague of locusts. Happy gardening.
Not much of a winter so far here in Vermont. A bit more snow than where we used to live in Chicago, who just had the first January and February with no measurable snow for the first time in a long time. But still a fairly mild winter. It’s been brutally cold the last few days though, so winter is not done yet.
Anyway, seed starting is well underway. Still trying to fine tune my basement seed starting setup, which in this case mainly means adding a few more lights. Otherwise I’m pretty happy with my current setup. Starting a few things a bit earlier than last year now that I have a better understanding of when and how the greenhouse plays into the mix. Basically thinking I can get even bigger and better starts than last year and potentially get stuff into the ground sooner.
This year we are going to experiment with going no-till for a bunch of reasons. After research and talking to some people who know more than me, I would just like to get away from using the tiller for anything except maybe establishing new plots. Tilling does a major destruction on soil structure and biology and basically stirs up a bunch of your nitrogen to the surface where you basically lose most of it. The other thing we’ve found is that we end up fighting weeds in the aisles by mid-summer, which is both a waste of time and takes energy away from the plants we want. Makes more sense to develop a deep mulch structure and use carbon (newspaper, cardboard) between the rows. Eventually you get a much richer, deeper soil structure with a lot of bio-diversity plus help from the mycorrhiza fungi network and the soil structure makes it much easier to pull the weeds that do germinate. That’s the theory anyway and we’re going to experiment with it. What we are doing now is too much work and we aren’t building soil fertility as fast as we want, so time to shake things up.
In other news, our lazy chickens (and one of the ducks) just FINALLY started laying again after taking a break since mid-December. And not all of them have started yet. That’s a lot of freeloading. Fine with them having a month or so break, but this has been too long. That being said, our youngest birds are about 2 years old, so not that surprising that egg production is slowing. We’re going to add some new hens to the mix this spring.
Before long it will be time to start putting cold hardy seeds in the ground, like lettuce, carrots, brassicas and peas. And maybe even some potatoes if we can get into the ground. The long range forecast isn’t showing a lot of frost after the end of March, so it will be interesting to see if we can get an earlier start this year. In Vermont every day helps.