Monday, June 15, 2009

The harvest calendar

Its all pretty useless and demoralizing if all I talk about is time and money. You want to see results. So in the spirit of automation, integration and all things wonderful, I've embedded my harvest record calendar into the side panel yonder. This way I won't have to bother with specific posts about the reaping, and you can enjoy them at your own leisure. June is rather depressing. I'd much rather you looked through May.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Disaster in the coop

Well, on the time & money scale, things were going along quite nicely, weren't they. The sun was shining, everybody was smiling, and the cherubs were singing in the trees. This week, our feathered cherubs when and got themselves mites, didn't they. Birds these days. You never know where they pick these things up.

What really alerted me to the problem was that one of the chooks was starting to develop something of a limp. A closer inspection showed me that her foot wasn't exactly looking as chickens feet should (and certainly didn't look tasty) - it was a bit scaly, ulcerated and generally nasty-looking. The other bird on closer inspection had dropped some feathers. It was all starting to look a bit suspicious - so I decided to go make friends with the local vet.

Some $140 later I have a few answers, some anti-biotic tablets, and a withholding period (oh the pain! They're laying a consistent two-a-day). I spent two hours this morning cleaning every inch of the coop, spraying for mites and re-bedding the whole thing. As much as I want to keep everything organic around here, these chickens weren't happy - and I wasn't about to withhold a quick remedy for them just because I was inexperienced but had principals - I was in abundance of the former, so must forgo the latter. Better luck next time.

What I now know is that most likely I had a case of scaly-leg-mites (oh, its so obvious now!), and a quick search of their feathers would have shown me the other varieties of evil lurking just below the surface. Its now all about make sure this quiche-ending disaster doesn't happen again - so I'm on the hunt of organic preventions and cures for such things.

I've read that one-part kero, two-part linseed mix brushed on the chooks legs and perches monthly is a good way of controlling the scaly-leg invaders. I'm not sure about the whole monthly part (it took nine months for these guys to find us in the first place) - but given more research, its something I might take on during the quarterly clean-out.

Keeping the grass short around the coop will supposedly help too - and I've been real bad in this department. Add it to the maintenance list.

And having already been thinking about prevention for a while, over the last few months I've carefully nurtured along an absinthe wormwood bush to plant in the run. No, this is not all a part of a plot to create the next Van-Gogh style facial surgery chef-d'oeuvre. They're really meant to discourage mites in the area (not encourage giant penguins). Its just a little small right now and would no doubt be trashed in a moment of furious pecking.

More to come on this front. I need some organic mite-spray, dammit!

I guess what this does illustrate is a certain initial cost for inexperience. But then again, I've never claimed to be trying to save money on this little adventure of mine. My aim here is to break even having spent the most minimal amount of time - for the reward having fresh, healthy food without the chemical garnish. Yes, well. I better try hard now, shouldn't I?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Armies of Caterpillars

The last two weeks have been rather time intensive in the plot. I arrived home from a business trip to discover the skeletal remains of my Broccoli, and Kale crying out for liberation. It was a sorry sight. Following the trail of moist poo-balls, sure enough, I found an invading army of camouflaged green caterpillars. I don't know how I escaped last year. But this year the white butterflies found me.

Up until now I'd been rather clueless on how to organically defend my kingdom from the terrors of caterpillars - so I went about picking them off by hand for most of the last two weeks. This wasn't so bad, because caterpillars are nutritious for the chooks (after the spoilt girls initially circled said caterpillars like a child avoiding a plate of veggies. Just look at her. And all the while the caterpillars are getting away!). The first day I must have taken 50-60 off the plants, with a regular 10-20 every day after. This accounts for a huge investment of time each day (ya know, like, a full 10 minutes).

By co-incidence (or rather, not by co-incidence - everyone is having this problem at this time of year), the clouds parted, the sun shone through, and the Gods at Gardening Australia bestowed upon me a holy solution. Its called Dipel. A naturally occurring bacteria you spray onto the leaves, and that doesn't act too kindly in the stomachs of munching little caterpillars. Better yet, it doesn't kill all the good insects I want in the garden.

But lo and behold, on arrival at the gardening store I was confronted with not one but two choices of "naturally-occurring-bacteria-based" insecticides. The second is the Spinosad-based product, which has many of the same claims. But what immediately turns me off is that the Spinosad-based product has a withholding period. Having found this kind first, I stood confused and lost, struggling with the possible realisation that this was it... this was all the world had to offer me in the war on caterpillars. However, I soon found the Dipel (with no withholding period), and there was much rejoicing.

So I guess now the caterpillar apocalypse has come and passed, its back to the boring old 10-minute-a-day routine.