Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Daily Habits and Fall Chores

One of the advantages of both me and Matt being unemployed right now is that we are getting to put a lot of time in on various projects around the house, yard and garden, albeit usually in the morning or evening, when it's not ridiculously hot outside. Matt has been officially chicken-proofing the garden, fastening chicken wire to the bottom of the fence between the backyard and garden, to prevent any chicken escapades into our precious berries and vegetables.

Since Cluck's death and because the weather is so hot (the coop gets full sun exposure for about two hours every afternoon, and the poor chickens get really warm and are not super smart about staying in their shady areas or dust bathing), we are now letting the chickens out to free range for a few hours in the heat of the day, so they can get into the shade under the lilacs and fruit trees. They dust bathe under the trees, but not in the coop, I think because the soil in the coop is so compacted. We've got the fences all around the yard secured so the chickens can't get out (they're not flying more than two feet high right now anyway) and so neighborhood dogs can't get in. It's a nice new routine for all of us, to have the chickens out and about, taking care of all the weeds and bugs in the backyard and occasionally freaking out for no apparent reason and racing back into the coop.

Another new habit we've adopted this week is keeping a dishpan in our kitchen sink all the time, to collect non-soapy water from rinsing hands and vegetables and dishes. Our sink is big enough that one dishpan takes up less than half the sink, so we still have room for other uses. This way, we are able to get twice the use from any non-soapy water -- when the water in the dishpan builds up, it is used to water the fruit trees, roses, houseplants, or garden, whichever needs it most.

Speaking of fruit trees, while my dad (guru of all things orchard) was here this past weekend, he pruned our fruit trees (one Asian pear and two apples) for us and gave us some pointers on maintaining them to get maximum yield. We moved in too late this year to do much, but now we'll have a good start for next season. The trees clearly hadn't been maintained for several years, and Dad thinks they're five or six years old. They look much happier and healthier now, and we're going to get a decent harvest of apples, although we can only find about six Asian pears on the other tree. We're now getting into a routine of watering the trees every other day, and will set up a drip-watering hose next spring, and one on the raspberries as well. For now, Matt has drilled three holes in the bottom of a 5 gallon bucket, and we fill it with water and set it just uphill from the base of the tree, and let the water come out slowly. A lot of it still runs off, because the soil under the trees is so compacted, but we raked all the dead leaves around the trunks to mulch and shade the watering area, so hopefully that will help the soil absorb more water.

With only three weeks left till I start school and with both of us home most of the time, we've been working our way through a list of chores for this fall (how, exactly, did it get to be September already?!). Still on the list:
  • Prune back the neighbor's cedar trees that are overhanging the back fence by about six feet and encroaching on the fruit trees.
  • Build a portable chicken pen/tractor the size of the garden beds, so we can contain the chickens and let them till up our beds later in the fall, once the veggies are done. 
  • Plan our fall/winter garden, amend the soil, plant cover crops and garlic later in October.
  • Cut out all raspberry canes that won't bear next year, and top-dress the raspberries with some fertilizer and mulch. 
  • Cut back/pull out all the English Ivy and blackberries (both invasive weeds) that are infiltrating our yard from two sides. 
  • Start tilling and amending the strips of soil out front where we will plant potatoes next year. 
  • Organize the garage/shed and get the rabbitry set up. 
Rabbits? Yes, rabbits! Matt and Eliot (Matt's sis's boyfriend...our boyfriend-in-law?) hatched the plan to raise meat rabbits a few months ago. We really want to raise our own meat as much as we can, and while we live in the city, rabbits and chickens (all our hens now are for eggs, but they will become stewing hens when they've had their two years' of laying) are pretty much our only options. It took me awhile to come around to the idea of rabbits, but it is in line with our goals of self sufficiency and we will be able to ensure that our animals live a happy and healthy life and are killed in a humane way. We're trying to be pragmatic about our animals and not keep them just as a hobby. The fact is that rabbit is incredibly tasty, and is one of the most cost-efficient types of meat out there. So we will raise rabbits, starting next month. In Portland, you have to have a permit from the city to keep more than 3 small livestock (hens, rabbits, miniature pigs, pygmy goats), and, with our landlord's blessing, we have taken our required steps toward officialdom. Today we notified all neighbors within 150 feet that we intend to keep rabbits and more than 3 hens, and then submitted our application to the county, along with a check for the seemingly random amount of $31. Wish us luck!


FlowerLady said...

Wow, you guys are busy and accomplishing quite a lot and have a list of more to do. Hope you get cooler weather soon.

Enjoy each day. It's always a treat to read about what you are up to.


Sam said...

Hi Liz, I am sorry to hear of the death :-( Hope the rest of your flock weren't too traumatized.

Interesting what you are planning with your rabbits. What meathods can you use to ensure they don't get diseases and are safe to eat? (sorry if this is a silly question - I don't know a lot about farming rabbits).

Your chicken coop is awesome by the way. I showed the pictures of it to my husband in the hope that he too might be able to build me one. Alas he did not seem confident. I think we will have to get our off eBay. I am planning on buying one next Friday and then hopefully by the end of this month we will have three chickens of our own! Loving your blog, Sam xox

Liz said...

Hi Sam!
Matt is the one who has been doing most of the studying up about keeping rabbits, I am not particularly the know at the moment! Primarily, though, in terms of keeping them disease-free, it's making sure their hutches are cleaned regularly and that they have good ventilation and a good diet. As for being safe to eat, we will be raising breeds that are meant to be meat rabbits, and keeping them on an appropriate diet for that purpose. As with all things, Storey's Guide has been our primary source, so much good information there! And also as with all things, we'll be learning as we go!

han_ysic said...

Hi, I just got my first two rabbits, for the same reasons, we have had to adapt what was a chook pen by putting wire underneath to prevent burrowing, and next step is to cover in 90% shadecloth which will reportedly keep hot summer sun off and mosquitos (carriers of most bunny diseases) out. friends who have grown meat rabbits for years say this kept theirs healthy without any nasty injections. look forward to hearing more.