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.