Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Gardening with Chickens

Despite the rains that keep coming creating a quagmire of mud and unmentionable substances in all the pastures, yards, and pens and the temperatures that refuse to remain where they should, we are taking a leap of faith and have started seedlings to prepare for planting time. It does not feel like it when the wet cold is still seeping into these bones and the wood stove is still in use at least a few days of the week, but, we are going to be ready for spring when it decides to come to Maine. At least, that is what I am telling myself.

This year with three times the amount of shows scheduled for us, we are learning to delegate and outsource locally when and where we can. Time is at a premium (as it is for all of us) especially since Sean is still working 40 hours each week at his "real" job and then, working another 40 hours+ each week here on the farm. Hard work is nothing we are afraid of, but it takes its toll physically and mentally. We knew what we were in for, signed up willingly, and don't regret it most days.

* CSA~ Community Supported Agriculture. For more information,
read our article about CSAs on page 102 of From Scratch Magazine.

Besides tripling our show commitments, Sean and I have 6 egg-share CSA*s filled of the 14 we can supply. With 5 people participating in our Goat Rental program, we are at max capacity for this year on that front. And, we have 3 families signed up for our Veggie CSA program. And, that is where Cameron comes in. Cameron DePaola of DePaola Succulents has been heaven-sent. We supplied him with our non-GMO, heritage seeds and he started them in the greenhouse for us. And, look how they are doing!

For those of you who have signed up for our CSA, we are off to a great start at the greenhouse! 5 varieties of tomatoes, 6 varieties of hot and sweet peppers, cucumbers for slicing and pickling, broccoli, and more are all beginning to grow for your families' tables.
To prepare the raised beds for transplanting, the turkeys are already digging up the soil and turning it over for us. It will be time for the Chickens will join them in their work soon. Every creature on the farm has a "job" to do. Sure, we could do all the jobs ourselves, but it all goes back to working together. You see, to breed true, we need to separate out the hens and roosters of the same breed from the rest of the flock to hatch out pure breed chicks. Rather than move them to pens on the lawn which quickly becomes de-grassed leaving a very short or bald patch of lawn, we place the chicken tractors over our 4 x10 raised-bed garden plots. Our helpful gardening chickens do what comes naturally to them; eat anything green out of the bed (delicious, nutritious, edible weeds) and scratch and dig to their hearts content in the garden soil. Plus, they fertilize a bit for us as they go. When the bed is ready for planting, the chickens are moved to another garden spot to continue their "work". This system saves so much time for Sean and I to turn over soil and pull any weeds that have grown through the spring. The chickens get a healthy diet of greens, fresh soil to dirt-bathe in, and all the bugs they can find. In addition, since we also supplement their diets from the produce of the gardens, they are not working for nothing.

So, Cameron is tending our seedlings, the chickens and turkeys will help to prepare the garden beds, what are Sean and I doing? Much, I assure you. We are doubling the size of the garden from last year; 7 new beds will be built and filled. Some of the beds from last year settled and will need more compost and garden soil to refill them. We'll also make repairs to any beds that might have loosened over the winter. Crushed rock needs to fill in the garden walkways to keep the weeds down. And, it will soon be time to direct plant corn, green beans, pumpkin, peas, lettuce, spinach, kale, onions and all the other yummy vegetables our garden will grow for us.

Our herb garden beds are coming to life. The chives are up and growing well. I have been using them to flavor our fresh garlic herb chevre and it is just divine. I have not seen either of the mints sprout nor yet the lavender from last year, but we'll keep an eye out for them.

With twice the beds growing veggies, we are hoping for a fantastic season this year: MORE veggies available for all our CSA share friends and enough left over to preserve to feed our family over the winter months. Hard work? Yes. But, many hands (and feathered friends) make for a lighter load.

Have you ever joined a CSA in your community? What was your experience with it?

Thanks for stopping in for a visit, friends. We're real glad you came.
Sonja ♥

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