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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Winter. Earth work and... chickens.

It has being a while. I know.
It was time to focus on homestead, land and house.
We did see couple of wetters seasons in high mountain desert. No any close to 1000 years flood (that was interesting,.. now we have generator). But we did see several very high rains and we got certain emergency measures down.
I'll cover certain things as sump pump and water alarms and backup pump later in a separate post about finding water levels in a separate post.

So let us begin. Winter, what can one do to improve the property and the soils. It has to be low tech on the acres scale, and it has to be inexpensive because out land does not grow money trees. In fast it did not grow well any trees as we found out. And that's where it all started. And... grasshoppers came ans warmed the garden. So we did take measures to take care of that and... yeah, now we sort of have pet/egg/fun and food source.

The dry land that gets flooded during spring 1-2 inches so the below the house pasture becomes mud (and gets compacted), even the bit of a dirt road that is leading to x-barn gets all muddy so nothing can get out there to put wood or anything needed to fix up the house was an issue, also water trying to get into the garage was an issue, had to work from home several times watching the rain and the just deal with it. No one wants water in the house, right? So we did take care of that managing the land and leading the water from the house and capturing it at the same time lower at the property.

Water is a blessing in high mountain desert, Any of it. So we do not complain about the rain, Slow snow and slow soaker rain are a dream. We do get snow it melts we get snow then it melts again, not bad, right. But them spring comes and we get rains. And we can get too much of it.
We also can have snow melting under ice and snow closer to the earth, so it can build a body of water close to the house where wee do not want it and it can freeze sump pump pipes.
There fore we need to manage water in all the seasons. We did learn a lot about water observing and dealing with it.

With water we need to divert it (from the house), slow it down, spread it out on the property , sink it down into the earth and because we are desert retain it longer

Divert it. Spread it, Spread it. Sink it. Retain it.

In our desert the easiest way was to dig a lake/pond and store water there. We can not do that. There are laws to that (sigh). We need to find other measures not to get flooded and keep the water we get and use the most of it.

So around the house we have grading and we have a large driveway (concrete) that flows the water and just dumps that on pasture (and dirt road) and that's where a lot of our problems came. It would form the swampy-lake in there in the middle of that road, literally. We do not have much of pictures, at least one has really dig for it maybe when I find that I'll edit this post and put the picture to show.
Another thing we found all our irrigation manifolds get flooded and stay flooded. No good long term (I wondered what the prev landscape professional was thinking .. many a times in fact).

It also would form a lake right in front of the berm and make path to the x-barn/workshop all mud. And when one does fixer-uping stuff mud in the house is not that great of a thing.
So water would be retained in all the wrong places.

We needed to change that. Hiring landscaping company to do all that and redoing the earth would be tens of thousands of $, big $$$. And they were needed, to put it simple, somewhere else.

However there was a simple low tech permaculture solution to all that.
behold the terrace, irrigation ditches and dry creek.

Dry creek is about the diverting the water, also 2 ditches.
We will need 3rd dry creek completed but that's later a bit most likely this year.
And I already found me source of free rock our good neighbor does not want in their future bee garden, someone's trash is someone's treasure.

We did have a bit of a dry creek. What we found very fast that mulch (pine bark, light, and loves to fly) would get in it, block it at the horse fence area and make a mess and threaten water in the garage-storage  (not the house)
We found it hard way what there was water at the door. So lucky I was home and we had to do emergency measures right away and do lots of mud work for real, because plugged dry creek was mud, and before you know it one does not really see it because the water did raise it about an inch in the level and that was just enough. We did not get flooded, just had to clean a decent puddle in the middle of the garage. But we would get flooded in 10 min or so if I was not home when that rain came.

We did test the dry creek, it looked just fine. It turned out that lager rain would be able to carry the mulch towards the horse fence, the small amount was enough to get there over the smaller rocks the last landscaper put and that would be enough to form a wall of mulch bark and the middle of the dry creek to raise it enough to not pass water fast enough to the lower part of the landscape.
So we had to fix someone's landscape work and put much larger rocks and slate there we had.

But I did quite a bit of rocks moving (we found a pile at the back.. planting a new tree) so the mulch does not get in it.
And so it stays out mostly.
 Higher wind still able to take the bark and blow it there, so mulch forms about 1/2 foot by 3 feet area enough to make a trouble.
Landscaping bark has to be replaced with more wind resistant type of a mulch. Landscaper simply chose pretty dirt like look over what needed to be done at the property, or maybe they had that large bark on sale.

Then we found a source of wood chips, we needed a lot of wood chips. Doing the garden we used 40 yards easy and horse manure mixed with shavings.
Also there was a bindweed fight (on going).
Bottom line I found me the wood chips source and they bring it now regularly and free. And because it's a large truck I have to keep the road dry for the offload.

Dry creek takes care of the diverting the water from the house now rather well. We put lager rocks and logs to make it look like a natural ecoscape.

Here is where my... chickens come in. Because they dig.
We started small to take care of grass hoppers problem with 3 old hens (I was told they are not laying so neighbor gave them free. they lived in a large dog house covered with tarp and rocks and they liked it while I was searching for a cheap hen house on craigs list because several hundred of $ (600-900) was not something I wanted to spend on old 3 hens I did not know I would be keeping (neighbor was happy I was as feeding the old chicken  ladies, and man they did eat well)
They were hatchery "americana" in the middle of the picture (basically a mutt of ameraucana and something else), red sexlink on front (a mutt between rode island red and white barred rock that has sex link gene so male and female chick can be told apart on day one by color) and unknown barn yard mix at the back. See I got all the fancy breeds :), just joking. These are as cheap of a hen one can get, free. They did not lay, well one did lay 2 eggs in a month, surprise. 
But they loved ... loved the garden and more the vegetables than the hoppers. So they have gotten nice and fat very fast. I wonder if they were ever eating that well :), because when I booted them from the garden (boy they wanted back) I pulled 20 pounds of cucumbers from it in 2 days. Telling you no 3 chickens eat that well, I wondered how those vegetables were even able to fit,.. they must be fertilizing well. And I was wondering what was wrong with my chicken food :), nothing, my garden tasted way fresh and better :).
So when chickens were booted from the garden I already had a small used store bought hen house for 3. And Hens were allowed to roam on the pasture as you can see above they are quite at home. They also loved to sit under aspens by the dry creek, fertilize, dig up the drip system and dig the remaining bark mulch into the dry creek.
With 3 hens it was ok. Rake it, tell the hens (like they can understand English) aka went what you think about their landscaping skills. One kind of have to be funny to keep going when things are say less ideal.
Wait, what are those 2 odd balls. These are free roos. Local hawk found my hens, so they needed a male alert system. These 2 came as 2 in one thing. Adopted. Now one has large flock of his own the other one turned nasty and attacking humans and made itself into a soup pot with help of processing chicken service. It is as honest as it gets. They are no show birds, no breeders they are farm birds. And mean roosters not supposed to be bred. At least back home in my farm roots great grand parents did not tolerate mean birds. Especially a bird that can and did attack a smaller human. I will not tell which one did grow into what, these are about 5 month old cute hand held roos. They were from hatchery and at that time I simply did not know what from hatchery one can get pretty aggressive lines of males. That's how I want to remember these 2, being nice to humans (because they were not roosters yet) and protecting old hens from the hawks (they were hiding them).

And that's when I found that chickens manage compost pile their own way too :) and that's good. they turn it. They just need room.

I also started to think where to put a hen house close to the house and manage the water.
So at a time we did dig the ditch (in rain) and that ditch needed retaining from digging mulch chickens.
It took about a year to find mulch and logs. Now chickens have raised hugelculture bed and I have well managed dry creek
That was a year after.

Thing that we found were: that store bought hen houses are no good at all unless they are protected from wind and we just do not have that. that little thing at the end of the garden with gray and red roof over the run extension is the store bought hen house. They are flimsy and in our finds they can just fly away.

The ditch goes on left side of the garden and the 'faved' by hens aspen tree is in front left corner
We started building better heavier hen house reusing x-cedar pallet we had (very heavy, means will not fly ot tip), we put that on concrete and cinder block legs so hens can hide under.
Covered the structure in weather proof material (thank you hardware supply re-source and re-use stores we found someone's roof and house building job leftovers that were our hen house roof and I do not mind 2 color)

Hens were happy in their new house, 5x8 was sort of big so we needed more body heat and one roo had to go because when they realize they are roosters they ... need adequate amounts of hens to be happy and 3 old hens is not it. Hen-rooster ration is 1 to 7 hens or so. One rooster went to have his own flock of 15 hens. One stayed.

Let's put it this way, it was pretty evident hens would not make a good winter in that store bought hen house (do not believe those commercials, these hen houses are meant to be protected by tall fence with micro climate or stay in a barn like one of our neighbors has it for the hen hospital (when one gets injured or eats some poison or else).
So we build the house. Aka cedar lined decent shed with real (craigs list find) house window.
Capable for standing to 60+mph winds, blizzard and over all nasty weather.
It made through it all quite well.

Here are hens chilling under aspens before the huggel bed was put in.



One has to work around with nature and wild life (hawks, big horned owl)
And after
this is ditch by the side of the hen house and fully closed predator proof run
Also the garden got cattle panels fence as it turned out we can not do horse fence there, too short, chickens loved garden too much and I want them there only when I want them.
With the mulch we got some logs ("do you want it", ok sure)



 And we finally were able to mulch at the back in the orchard and  future wind block













 The area next to shed had water issue as well, that where water was sitting and going on the road
so that entire area got mulch, another dry creek-water management ditch and new compost future xeric bed for chickens to dig in , fertilize and do their chickeny things.



















They are quiet happy there and not doing this


One has to manage free landscaping task forces :)


No to the other side of the water management and the road. Part of property above that has a slope, not super steep but a good one, enough to require retaining walls and such.

Another retaining wall is expensive, and large. These hugel beds gave me an idea of so called lasagna bed and terrace and retaining wall low tech cheap alternative
It just requires more than much

Here is a great link to an inexpensive way of doing terrace just happened to have tree service with the machine that eats all small logs and leave stumps. Ok, stumps they are then.
Use what available.
With what is available mulch and animal manure lasagna bed is a way to go low tech and cheap. Here comes name  Esther Dean who developed that far far away in Australia.
Here is a very good article about that

And here is my bit of earth works towards that


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