This hugelcultur is the first one I made in my life. So for sure I did many mistakes. I didn’t straighten the hills, I didn’t put enough compost, didn’t plant enough clover, used wrong mulch – fall leaves. Nature took its turn and planted all with available plants – strong and sturdy pioneers. They formed soil and fixed some nutrients. Now I am taking my turn to use it. Plus we are in the big city of Montreal. Wood chips from tree trimmings, cardboard from stores, soil from excavations (sometimes of excellent quality) are ready available as “garbage”.
leveling the bed with manure and decomposed wood chips
First I slightly chop the current vegetation and level the bed with manure and decomposed wood chips.
Raised bed covered with moistened cardboard
Than I cover it with moistened cardboard.
Cardboard covered with soil from excavatoins
Than a layer of top soil. We have it from excavations. Than a layer of compost. I stop on this though they usually use more layers in no-till gardening.
Hugelcultur covered with straw
Than I cover it with the classic mulch – straw bedding from the chicken coop. So my plants have fertilizer with each rain.
Straw is my best mulch so far. It does not fly with a wind, it’s light, it lets sprouts grow through, it holds moisture well.
Then chickens come and de-mulch everything. Chickens are apparently notorious de-mulchers.
Late start of the previous 2015 year winter gave us a chance to finish all planned preparations.
Mobile chicken coop parked for winter. I added a tempo tent as a chicken run and compost cover.
We moved the mobile coop to the main farm, attached its water heater to electricity, added a tempo tent for chicken run, prepared the greenhouse and planted winter greens.
Attempting to store seed potatoes in woodchips
I even had time to set an experiment to store potatoes, recycled from the grocery store. I dug them into a pile of wood chips.
Though, wet and warm winter start was not good for chickens. I lost many of them to deceases. Most likely because of stale water under the coop and around it.
chickens dead from decease because of wet and warm winter
In spite of all problems chickens continued to lay eggs. The egg productions drastically dropped, but never stopped entirely. Even in the shortest day we had some eggs.
Eggs laid on shortest day of the year
The funniest of all was a hen called Farby. She decided to get broody, probably to cover the losses. I was routinely taking her eggs, but she sat on new eggs each day. Finally, on December 23rd I got 6 straw bales as a present. I took this as a sign to let the nature prevail. So Farby got her private quarters with straw the same day. By this time she was sitting on different eggs for at least 10 days.
dr. Squicky on eggs second time in the same year
A yearly load of autumn leaves
As usually I collect bagged leaves. For different reasons I need more of them each year. They are good bedding for chickens and worms, good “brown” material for compost and good mulch for garlic. I collect only plastic bags. They keep leaves dry and slow down decomposition. If left on the street they will be collected by garbage removal service. Municipality compost accepts paper bags only.
A new automatic door for the chicken coop
At last I installed an automatic door opener on the chicken coop. Now, at least theoretically, I can visit my coop only once a day at a convenient time.
I finished planting my garlic and started sunchocks. Also some worms will move into the greenhouse soon.
Tomatoes on compost heap
Here is a simple recipe how to grow tomatoes with zero effort.
1. Feed chickens with some (spoiled?) tomatoes.
2. Do all the procedures needed by a composting chicken tractor.
3. When there is a ready final heap just leave it alone. No watering, weeding, fertilizing, pruning.
The tomato seeds will survive composting. They will sprout when conditions are good for them. I left this heap in the end of May. Tomatoes sprouted in July and were ripe by the end of September.
Harvest of tomatoes from the heap.
They taste delicious, though their skins are tougher then of good varieties.
Most likely this was a way of natives to grow tomatoes.
Retrospectively, it would be a good idea to put a trellis around the heap and probably do some pruning.
A beautiful caterpillar on wild parsnip
If I didn’t get cabbage, at least a nice caterpillar.
Sweet corm sprouted in compost.
First time on my experience I see “fresh” sweet corn sprouting in compost.
A Tesla car on the way home from the farm
Bees on New England asters
Those bees come from nearby hive belonging to Ion. I recognize them by light coloring.
After long way in heavy traffic to the breeder, short travel back home and 3 hours waiting while it will get dark, I finally delivered chicks to their new home on June 19th. Mother hen happily exchanged them for unhatched eggs. Next morning they were looking like they always were together.
Adopted chick on the next morning, June 20, 2015
So I decided to move them to my new mother and chicks cage. It’s made by Geoff Lawton’s model, 2 by 3 meters, 50cm high.
Chicks and the hen moved to a larger cage
On the next day I noticed that the hen looks too wary and probably a bit overwhelmed by the chicks, so I decided to add a baby sitter to help her.
Mother and aunt take care of the chicks
I have chosen a calm low – rank hen from my silkies, and it worked! Now mother hen has some time for herself, while the aunt is entertaining the chicks.
Chicks behave differently when they have a mom. They have more energy. They are more independent and more inquisitive. They learn chicken habits really fast.
While observing the chicks I noticed one with crocked toes. So next time I’ll try to treat it.
A chick with crocked toes
— Как вы себе представляете домкрат? Опишите своими словами.
— Такой… Падает, одним словом.
Ильф и Петров, Двенадцать стульев, Глава 31.
It took me almost the whole month to design and make a reliable platform for the chicken coop. But the hardest part was to lift the heavy structure 3 feet up and pool the platform underneath on very ruff and wet terrain. We were lifting the coop with one scissor and one hydraulic jack, and replacing the jacks with wide logs. Theoretically this should work smoothly, but in practice jacks tend to fall.
Instead of planned 2 hours the lifting took more than a day. Coop fell 3 times nullifying all previous efforts. At last our chief engineer, Gennady, suggested to lift the coop on long boards and put them on logs outside of the coop perimeter. This permitted the trailer to move freely and avoid touching jacks while maneuvering..
Chicken coop is mobile now. Two persons can move it.
Mobile chicken coop on a platform
We can move the coop in 2 persons now. Chickens got access to fresh grass, at last…
Insects are the favorite food for chickens. Also they are plenty. The only problem is how to get them. Here is my first attempt to make a June bugs trap. It’s a regular plastic bucket. There is a small amount of vegetable oil in the bucket (3 – 4 mm, 1/8″). It should be good for chickens. Some also recommend to give essential oils to chickens – this is an efficient combination of both.
The lamp is luminescent. There is 1/8″ of vegetable oil in the bucket. 4 bugs were caught in the first night.
Summer is coming much faster this year. The water table is going down that dries down my temporary water pools. The upper pool, near the middle of the parcel is coming to its end. It remains only two square feet of water totally covered with tadpoles.
Many tadpoles are stuck in a small paddle
Tadpoles use any remaining water to survive
Tadpoles moved to another paddle near the entrance
We have unusually warm and wet April this year. So it’s good time to transplant some perennials. I made a dedicated perennial bed. I planted asparagus seeds on the top; day lilies transplants, Good King Henry seeds , sorrel seeds, strawberry – not planted yet, on the south side; stinging nettles transplant, horse radish roots, catnip and spearmint seeds on the north side.
Stinging nettles transplanted closer to the top
Day lilies planted on south side.