In the By Design Part 2 I shared my observations of my homestead. My goal in this post is to look at ways I can close the loops between coop, compost bins, gardens and house.
Why would I want to do this? It seems like it could be a lot of work. One of the promises of permaculture is that the initial investment of sweat equity helps to create self-sustaining systems. This is appealing to me now that I am endeavoring this venture on my own. I don't want to be rid of the work of the homestead ( thoughts I will share in a future post). Instead, my goal is to allow the system I have already invested in with labor, perennials, soil building to work better. Some of this would include better management of current connections to reduce waste and make more efficient use with what already exists her. In all honesty this past year took more psychic energy from the homestead. Now that the spirit is returning to center I feel a renewed energy.
So first I would like to build a better yard for the chickens. This would take some fence post resetting and some chicken wire. The only cash outlay for this will be a couple of rounds of chicken wire which will cost about 30.00 and maybe another box of staples for the staple gun. My hope is to get some more laying hens this year to round out the ladies I already have. I also want to grow some meat birds this spring as well. A better yard will allow them to venture out doors during sunny winter days which equates to more sun and day light which, ultimately, means more eggs.
What goes into the chicken coop is bedding, feed, food scraps and water. I will be getting more mulch hay from my alpaca farmer friends again so bedding is all set. This is free and would otherwise be thrown in the woods to break down. Feed is still an outside input but I can supplement the summer feed with mowed clover from the orchard. I tried growing mangel wurtzle beets ( feed beets) a couple of years ago and may grow a row or two this year to see if they would work to supplement winter feed. Water is hauled from the rain barrel connected to the house but I I have collected a couple of food grade barrels over the last few years. I have some old gutter lying around and it would be an easy fix to put a small rain barrel on the back of their coop for easier watering in the summer.
What leaves the coop? Eggs, old bedding and poop. Instead of hauling the old bedding and poop to the compost bin I will use this as part of a plan I have for the garden where I will sheet mulch a back portion of the garden that has been underutilized for the last few years. Even if I am unable to get much planted in this spot due to the warm days slipping away it will still remain easy to tend. I will not have to mow or weed this bit of ground and I can always throw more mulch on top of the sheet mulch to suppress the weeds.
What goes into the compost bin? Food scraps, leaves and garden waste. No outside inputs: by which I mean inputs from off the homestead. To make a good compost pile however requires a certain amount of attention. It should be turned every 3 weeks, it should be sifted in order to let unbroken down bits continue in that process and it should be watered if we are in a dry spell. There is the slow-motion compost pile. You know the pile; stuff just gets thrown on it and at the end of the summer you take off the top, unfinished layers off to find some finished stuff to use. Toby Hemenway in his book Gaia's Garden gives a great description of how to build a compost pile and how to achieve finished compost in relatively short order with regular and consistent turnings. However he also suggests that while a " less turned pile won't rot dow as quickly as a more ambitiously forked one …each turing amps up microbial metabolism enormously. This drives the piles contents further down the two forked road of fully digested humus and totally mineralized nutrients. Mineralized nutrients can leach out of soil very quickly." Hemenway observed that a slower decomposition process provided nutrients longer. If it means there is one less chore to do on a hot summer day it means I can get to the lake sooner for a swim:) What leaves the compost pile then is slightly finished compost that I use to side dress perennials with which turns out to be just what I am already doing.
The gardens need a little more attention this year. I would like to take some of the early spring energy and devote it to the collection of leaves for mulching this year. In years past when I have done this I have found that the work of weeding and maintaining paths is greatly reduced. I also think that the soil and worms love the leaves as they break down. It is a free resource and feeds the soil with those nice deep minerals the trees tap into to feed themselves.
Eliot Coleman believes that by increasing the fertility of the soil the incidence of pest infestations is lowered. Pests only go after poorly plants. I learned some interesting facts about some companion plants and their benefits in my last class; organic vegetable production. For example I had heard that borage grown among tomato plants can serve as a tomato horn worm mitigator. Last year I noticed that where I had it planted I had fewer hornworm as opposed to other plants without any borage near it. I had wondered how this worked I had assumed that perhaps the texture of the borage leaves were too prickly for the soft bodies of the worms. Actually the borage attracts a beneficial wasp that thinks the horn worms are a tasty treat. So by exploiting connections that already exist I can lower the labor of pulling those gruesome beasties off my tomatoes. Borage now volunteers in my garden and is easy to transplant it to where I need it.
My goal this year is to build a tool shed in the back corner of the garden for keeping buckets, and tools. I plan to use wooden pallets with maybe some 2'x6's for the framing. I'd like a slight tilt to the roof so I can put another rainbarrel in the garden thereby decreasing the amount of labor that goes into watering my garden. Currently I haul water from the rainbarrel connected to the house.
From the garden to the house I would like to make better use of what gets planted. Part of this requires a realignment in what I grow and how I preserve it. In terms of putting food by I want to concentrate on a majority of crops that will not take too much labor to put up. So lots of pumpkin and winter squash. Brassicas grow well here and are easy to put in the freezer. I make a gallon of sauerkraut last year and I have found that to be a simple way of getting some really good healthy food into us for very little effort. So this year I would like to get a larger crock for making larger batches. Dilly beans and crock picks will also be on the list this year. I'd like to get better at keeping root crops because with the right combination of cool and moisture they can last a long time in the cold room. My electric dehydrator died last year and while I would love a solar dehydrator some day that may have to be for another year. But maybe another alternative will present itself.
I'm sure that with a little more observation I will be able to see other connections. This is not a project that gets accomplished in one year but over many years as the homestead evolves into a collective of interconnected systems that nourish each other and us in the process.