Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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Gatlinburg Trip & Farm Updates

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It appears that spring has finally sprung in Southwest Michigan! There’s still a cool nip in the windy air, but the sun is shining and temperatures are reaching up into the sixties at midday. It’s a welcome sight!

I’m so glad that things have warmed up around here because after returning from a trip to sunny, spring-has-sprung Tennessee, I don’t think my heart could have handled super-cold and snow. We had a fabulous time on our family vacation to Gatlinburg and the highlight was our time spent enjoying nature at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We hiked a couple of relatively easy trails (with an eight-year-old and two-year-old in tow) to see some gorgeous waterfalls and scenic forests. I’ve been studying permaculture a lot lately so I couldn’t help but make observations about the climates and microclimates we encountered. (Did I just hear you snore? Hang in there, I’m not going to get too scientific on you!) It was a pleasure to be there just at the cusp of spring because we were able to watch buds and leaves and flowers unfold as the week went on.

I felt like I had a front-row seat to watching the mountains wake up from a winter nap. What a joy to watch the ground go from nothing but moss and leaves to a sea dotted with opening spring flowers. And to see trees transform from barren sticks to branches of blossoms and tiny green, budding leaves. The intermittent rain showers came at just the right time so as to avoid ruining our plans while simultaneously stocking up the mountain streams for fantastic, fast-flowing water shows. I loved it!

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Another thing I enjoyed was encountering familiar or edible plants in the wild. I guess it’s a nerdy gardener thing, but it was fun for me to find a plant and know just by looking at it that it must be related to a strawberry, or a carrot or a sweet violet. I wished I’d remembered to take pictures of all these sightings, but here are a couple I did manage to snap.

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What a bright, sunny dandelion growing amidst the rocks!
Did you know that all parts of the dandelion are edible?

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We saw lots of wild onions throughout the forest.

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These were some of the largest onions I saw. I hope my leeks can rival these!

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I don’t know if these are violets or if they are edible, but they were so beautiful and they reminded me of the sweet violets that should be popping up at our farm sometime soon!

We enjoyed several of the area attractions, including Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, the Guinness World Records Museum, Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze, the shops in downtown Gatlinburg, Wild Bear Falls Waterpark, Forbidden Caverns and the Arts & Crafts District near Gatlinburg. Even with all there was to do in the area, one of our favorite experiences was simply relaxing at our very private cabin.

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Staying here was an enlightening experience for us. It inspired us to live more simply. To be more specific, we realized that we could thoroughly enjoy ourselves with minimal “stuff.” Packing a Toyota Camry with everything four people need for a week (including a toddler’s stroller, pack-n-play and other bulky items) meant being nominal and creative about what we brought along. Our cabin had everything we needed, plus a few extras (like board games). We didn’t and don’t need the gobs of “stuff” we have at our home. Maybe this seems strange or like a common sense revelation I should have had years ago, but it was liberating to not have to pick up mountains of toys or wash billions of dishes or sort bundles of magazines and papers. On our first full day back from the trip, we started purging. I can’t wait to share that journey with you as it unfolds.

Meanwhile, Back at the Farm

Despite our absence, the farm chugged along. Fortunately our micro-farm means micro-sized-farm-sitter-duties. I’m so thankful that Papa (my father-in-law) was able and willing to feed our chickens, gather eggs, care for our bunny, gather our maple sap, take care of our dogs and miscellaneous other things while we were gone.

Maple Syrup Update

By the time we returned, our maple sap count had risen to just under 60 gallons. That’s about half of what I was hoping for… apparently my hopes were set a bit high. That makes sense since 20 gallons per tree in a season is pushing the upper end of the scale and we only have four trees. With all of the tiny-thaw/long-freeze weather we had this March, there were very few days where sap was actually running at our house. Oh well… I may not have a ton of maple syrup, but I’m still pleased to be producing my own!

The current plan is to utilize Papa’s evaporator early this next week to process our liquid gold pronto. The weather is warming up and since sap can spoil at warm temperatures, I need to get to it as soon as possible. Unfortunately I don’t have space to refrigerate 12 five-gallon buckets, so they’re hanging out in the shady, cool garage for now. Because I love a good experiment, and I want some insurance against spoiled sap, I am also considering an experiment: Freezing the sap. There’s a generally held principle that the water in sap freezes but the sugar content does not. When you freeze a container of sap, supposedly the ice can be discarded because it has no (or minimal) sugar content and would just have to be boiled off in the evaporation process anyway. If this is true, freezing sap, discarding the ice and then boiling what’s left should significantly reduce the amount of fuel and time needed to make syrup. I’m going to give it a whirl – but only with a portion of our supply. I love a good experiment, but I love maple syrup more!

Seedlings Update

While we were gone I also did a hands-off experiment. The moon-favorable time to plant many of our seeds (such as broccoli, kale, lettuce and chard) would have expired by the time we returned home from vacation. I didn’t want to wait a full month before starting these seeds so I started them the night before we left. Most seeds take 3-5 days to germinate any way so I knew my seedlings would be very small by the time I returned, if they existed at all. I planted my seeds in trays of garden soil and made sure they were very (very) moist. Then in each tray I created a make-shift olla using a small clay pot. I placed the pot down into the soil and filled it with water. Because the soil around it was already saturated, the pot did not leak water from the hole or the sides. Like with real ollas, the idea here is that as the moisture level in the surrounding soil is reduced, the moisture inside the terra cotta pot (or through the hole in the bottom in this case) will be wicked out by the soil and used by the plants. I used ollas both for my newly-planted seedlings and for existing green babies that needed to survive a week without me.

I’m pleased to report that everything survived! A couple of newly planted seeds had not yet germinated by the time we arrived home. Hopefully they will emerge soon and are just slow (perhaps not enough warmth?) and not drowned.

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This tiny clay pot worked perfectly as a mini olla to keep our seedlings watered while we were on vacation.

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The mini-olla also worked to water emerging seedlings that were germinating while we were away.

I was also pleased to see that our gingerroot also decided to start sprouting while we were away!

Chitting (Sprouting) Potatoes

The last little update I want to share with you has to do with our potato seeds. While we were away I laid the seed potatoes out in trays beneath a semi-sunny window. (I was fearful that if I left them in some of the sunniest locations the dogs would eat them. This window was in a closed bedroom.) The ideas behind chitting potatoes is that exposure to sunlight causes them to begin sprouting and that pre-planting sprouting results in a faster harvest. I had a good success with the process last year.

Here’s what he potatoes looked like when we left. (Pardon the poor lighting… it was very early in the morning).

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Here are our seed potatoes at the beginning of the chitting (sprouting) process.

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We left them near a sunny window while we were gone on vacation.

And here’s what they looked like when we returned.

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These are Desiree Red seed potatoes from Seed Savers Exchange.

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These red (new) potatoes didn’t sprout as much as I’d hoped, but they did better than the yellow potatoes.

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These German Butterball seed potatoes from Seed Savers Exchange hardly sprouted at all while we were gone!

They didn’t progress along as far as I was hoping, but this is still good. I gave them a couple more days of sunlight before planting them.

Now that we’re home and the weather is warm, I’m up to my eyeballs in chores and impending projects. There’s so much to share, but I’ve already blathered on enough for one post. Stay tuned – there’s more coming soon!

 
 

The Chickens Next Door

The moral of today’s post is that a major component of suburban/urban chicken keeping involves being a good neighbor… sweater or otherwise.


Let’s face it – not everyone thinks keeping chickens is a super idea, regardless of how many benefits there are to be had. Your neighbors might be some of those people. Whether your neighbors are obstinate, hesitant or exuberant about your flock, here are some considerate things you can do to keep their interests in mind without hampering your own.

Fencing

People like their privacy. In general, people also like control. When it comes to their own property, they have a right to control its use and appearance. While your neighbors don’t have a right to control the use and appearance of your property, good neighbors keep their neighbors interests in mind. Considering all of this, fencing is an important feature in a suburban homestead that includes chickens. Fences serve three purposes. First, they keep your chickens contained on your property or a portion thereof. Second, they help to keep predators away from your chickens. And third, they help to control views into and out of your property. Let’s talk briefly about each purpose.

Keeping Chickens In

Many ordinances require that suburban/urban chickens be contained by either completely enclosed arrangements (chicken run) or four foot high fencing. Besides being a matter of law, this is also a good idea. Keeping your chickens contained gives you more control over their access to portions of your property and keeps them from invading the neighbor’s yard.

Keeping Predators Out

You and I aren’t the only ones who like a plump, juicy chicken breast. Predators ranging from your neighbors dog to area raccoons and many things in between would like to make lunch out of your birds. While a fence won’t keep them all out, it will keep some of them out and possibly deter others. For ideas on good predator-proof fences, click here.

Controlling Views

View of trees lining a country road against blue skyIf your budget allows, a good way to ensure your neighbors won’t be offended by your homestead’s chickens is to install a beautiful (or maybe even standard) privacy fence around the whole of your property. This fence provides you with privacy but also keeps your avian-averse neighbors from seeing your chickens. This kind of fence (usually made of wood) can also serve to keep chickens in and predators out as we discussed above. However if your primary concern is controlling views, you can also plant a hedgerow (a living fence made of a line of shrubs or trees) that grows over time or grow vining flowers/fruits on fences. A hedgerow can provide benefits like nuts and berries (for you or the chickens!) depending on varieties you select. (even blueberry bushes can make a good hedge.) A hedgerow might also consist of tall ornamental grasses. Perennial vining plants may offer the benefit of beauty, attract pollinators like bees and/or provide other edibles like fruit and veggies. The benefit of using vining plants is that you can work with existing fences (especially chain link) for a nominal fee. In our garden, cucumbers, tomatoes, beans and nasturtiums climb the chain link fence to partially obscure views from the east. This year we’ll also plant perennial berries on the west fence specifically to provide a more pleasant view to our neighbors (the chicken coop is on that side of the yard). We’ll also be planting climbing nasturtium and beans on the south side of the chicken paddock and evergreen underbrush throughout (such as variegated japanese sedge). These plants serve multiple purposes: Food, shelter and aesthetics for both us and the neighbors.

Smells

Some people say chickens are smelly. While this may seem like an unnecessary observation for me to make, let me just say that chickens aren’t smelly: Their poop is. If you were stuck in one spot for a long time and your poop accumulated in one spot without being moved, people would think you were smelly too. (I’m just saying…)

All the same, chickens do make waste and depending on your management method, it can pile up. Here are some good-neighbor ways to address smells.

Avoiding Coop-and-Pen Chicken Raising

The first tactic I recommend is to stay away from a chicken keeping method that involves your birds being confined to one place forever. In the typical coop and run management method, chickens live and eat in the same place where they make waste… and it all piles up. That’s where the ammonia smells affiliated with chickens comes from. For ideas on other ways to raise your chickens, check out this post.

Frequent Cleaning

Unless your birds are truly free range (which seems unlikely and unwise in an urban setting) you’ll have a coop for them. You could opt to clean their coop frequently (once or twice a week) to reduce odors, especially if you can’t avoid the coop and run method. The problems here are 1) that’s a lot of work 2) it’s expensive to replace bedding that often 3) that’s a lot of work 4) the waste you clean out has to go somewhere 5) that’s a lot of work and 6) every time you clean the coop, all of that yuck is airborne. Also, it’s a lot of work.

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Lilac flowers

Deep-Liter Method

To avoid having to continually clean your coop, try the deep liter method. Click here for a great article on how and why to use this method, but in a nutshell, you use a large amount of bedding and as the chickens scratch in it, the bedding and feces naturally compost and reduce pathogens. This method dramatically reduces odors and amounts to cleaning the coop much less often (between one and four times a year).

Fragrant Planting

If your birds have access to roam the yard (or an area of the yard) and you’re using the deep liter method, you’ve likely eliminated the bulk of any odors normally associated with chickens. If you want to take your quest for good neighborliness a step further, you could also add fragrant plantings to your landscape. According to the book Free-Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom, the following plants are both durable and fragrant: Daphne, honeysuckle, lavender, lilac, roses, sweet box, viburnum and witch hazel. Fragrant plantings are best placed near the chicken coop, near property lines or both places.

Noises

Even the most docile of chickens will make some noise. If your neighborhood is anything like mine, it won’t even compare to all of the barking dogs and squealing children. All the same, here are some things you can do to reduce the impact of chicken-noise on your neighbors.

No Roosters

I love sleep. I wouldn’t want to awoken at dawn by my own rooster and I can’t imagine how annoyed I’d be if that rooster belonged to my neighbor! Most backyard flocks exist for egg production – skip the rooster. You don’t need him. (Also many ordinances forbid roosters in urban/suburban settings).

Wind Chimes

Be careful. Depending on the sound of the chime, this could be just as or more annoying as hearing your chickens clucking. If you have a good relationship with your neighbors, ask them in advance what they think about wind chimes.

Bring on the Birds

Not chickens – song birds. Here’s a list of ways to attract songbirds to your property. But keep in mind – some of these birdies start singing in the morning just as early as a rooster!

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A Water Feature

If you’ve always wanted a pond with a mini waterfall, here’s your excuse. A well-designed waster feature may muffle chicken noises.

Melodious Plantings

According to Free-Range Chicken Gardens, the following plants will create a rustling sound in the wind that may help to muffle chicken noises: Bamboo, love-in-a-mist, maiden grass, quaking aspen and quaking grass.

Other Considerations

We’re fortunate to have great neighbors whom we talk with frequently. If you also have great relationships with your neighbors, let them know that you’re getting/you have chickens. Talk with them about your plans to keep chickens in a way that is respectful of the views and smells and sounds coming from your property. If your plan will take time to implement (as portions of ours will) it’s also important to share that with your neighbors. At a minimum, they’ll appreciate knowing that you have their interests in mind.

Picking a chicken breed that is docile and quiet is also a good move for suburban chicken owners. Click here and here for resources to help you pick the right breed.

Also, the appearance of your coop is important to your neighbors’ perception of chicken keeping. You’ll need to get creative, get resourceful or cough up some cash, but it’s in your long-term best interest to make sure your coop isn’t an eyesore. Other Mr. Rogersish things to do would be sharing eggs and teaching neighbor kids about the chickens (with their parents’ permission).

Being a good neighbor is an important part of urban/suburban chicken keeping. If you put these tips into practice, you’ll be doing your part to minimize complaints and concerns so that your neighbors can see the true value of a backyard flock rather than focusing on stereotypes or issues that might make them miss the good stuff.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.  

 
 

Solar-Powered Garden Gadgets

This time of year I’m soaking up all the rays I can on rare sunny days. It won’t be long now before the days become more gray and so I’m eager to enjoy the sunshine while it’s here. (Sing it with me… Sun, Sun, Mr. Golden Sun, please shine down on… *ahem* I digress…) In honor of Mr. Sun before he goes into hibernation for the winter, I thought it would be fun for our first Wish List Wednesday to feature solar-powered gadgets. Here are a few useful, green gadgets I’d love to have around the farm.  [Read More]
 
 
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