Categories
Chickens Growing Food

Respctful Chicken Harvesting

Despite the overall vegetarian lifestyle we live, Andreea’s occassional consumption of (and love of good) meat and the fact that we raise animals (and intend to raise more) seems to have recently brought meat to these pages. On the heels of the beautiful people and work of Farmstead Meatsmith we came across Alexia Allen, another beautiful woman who does beautiful work … this time a wonderful demonstration of chicken slaughter and butchery. We picked up quite a few tips from this video and put them to use when, a few days ago, we slaughtered and butchered 5 roosters.


Ironically, to view the second video you need to prove to Google that you are over 18:

 

Categories
Bee Keeping Growing Food

A few Euros from the EU

Yesterdays post on bees and the EU has turned into a much appreciated debate with Sam. He has responded generously. My reply/comment was long … almost a post, so I am reposting it here for the sake of archival continuity. My main point is that the EU subsidies are not really supporting Romanian farmers but enslaving them financially and mentally (the latter being the more potent price).  I believe that is true for farming subsidies in general. However subsidies within a community/country shift energies within it … the EU subsidies are, I believe by design, stealing energy away from Romania.

So great to have a quality debate 🙂

As for the “science of bees” I believe it would come with more authority if I cited my source rather then regurgitated what I’ve learned from it: http://biobees.com/articles.php.

I would specifically refer you to two articles:

The future of natural beekeeping: http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Future-of-Natural-Beekeeping&id=7287954

Sustaining the honeybee: http://ezinearticles.com/?Sustaining-the-Honeybee&id=1450967

The people you are buying honey from in the market are most probably small local producers – they are the typical industrial producer. These are too busy running their operations to sell in the market. They sell their produce in bulk to large aggregators.

As for what Romanian industrial beekeepers actually do in regard to the bees – they only do what lines their pockets with most honey/money (not what any association defines as proper … you of all people should know what a wild-west this country is when it comes to regulations). With the risk of generalizing … traditional beekeeping (like traditional agriculture) is ignorant and destructive. It is easy to confuse love of honey-money with love of bees. Given what I know about bees I have witnessed very little love … though I have heard it spoken. I don’t buy it. I’ve witnessed honey-frames with brood (just born bees) emerging (literally) being inserted into those honey extraction spinners (you can also see brood being disturbed/injured in the beautifully produced movie – as a frame is cut open in preparation for extraction) … is that what they mean by love of the bees?

An issue unique to Romania I would like to address further is those “few Euros from the EU”. I will use milk to make my point. Most Romanian small-medium producers sell most of their milk to a milk truck that makes rounds every morning – they get ~80 bani per liter + if they meet agreed quotas they are supposed to get bonuses (though from what we’ve heard the bonuses are being delayed big time). We buy our milk directly from them – fresh and warm – for 2 lei per liter. The milk truck container is preloaded with chlorine as a preservative … so already the milk is compromised … the first step in a long process of deterioration until the poor substitute for milk arrives in the supermarkets for 4 or 5 lei.

This system has become standard. Producers don’t need to worry about sales and marketing (especially tricky with milk that can spoil) and everything they produce gets “purchased”. As a result they no longer produce any other higher-value products. We have not yet been able to find (in our and in neighboring villages) a local producer that makes butter or cream (smantana). They don’t bother anymore. Their world has been marginalized by those few EU Euros … which provides them a bare minimum. They cannot better their lives with it … they can at best be sustained where they are. Ironically their only chance at progress is by quantitative growth = more cows. The results is over-crowded and dying pastures (over grazed, over compacted…) and terribly diminished soil fertility.

Those few Euros are how a fantastic and diverse ecosystem of small producers have been reigned in. If they were a few large producers organized as corporations then they could have been taken over by standard market dynamics. However in this marvelous Romanian ecology that was not the situation. So they came up with a creative solution which appears in the form of “a few Euros from the EU” – a majestic system of control.

With Cutia Taranului we are trying to show milk-producers that they can produce and sell (reliably and consistently) added value products like cheese, cream and butter and make much more money and have much more control over their lives. I cannot begin to describe to you the huge mental barriers that are locked in place thanks to those “few Euros from the EU”.

And I am convinced that similar patterns, destructive to both nature and people, are in play with the bees and the honey. Money is being used to put in place misdirected motivations.

With natural bee-keeping we (=Andreea and I) don’t need a honey-extractor of any kind, we use inexpensive home-made top-bar hives (instead of the expensive, complicated system of standard beekeeping), we don’t injure any bees (after we’ve made the difficult transition from standard hives to top-bar hives), we only take honey that is left after the bees have made it through winter, our bees have an opportunity to fight-off potential varroa infestations on their own without us getting in the way and we will expand our apiary as we continue to develop our land providing us and the bees with more sustenance.

But, I may be crazy and wrong about this 🙂

Categories
Growing Food Permaculture

Permaculture Reality Check

I am undecided about Paul Wheaton’s podcasts. Many (most?) times I feel like I need to patiently wait through annoying chitter-chatter … however I do occasionally come across ones that are interesting and valuable. I just finished listening to one of my all time favorites The Realities of Practical Permaculture – Dell Artemis Farm.

Very few things in real life are as they seem to be in the books (this is true for Permaculture and almost anything else I can think of). Theoretical knowledge is one thing and practical application a whole other thing. I think a warning about this gap should be placed in large bold type-face on every permaculture publication … kind of like the warnings they have on cigarette boxes. But this isn’t the case and as a result learning about permaculture and sustainability creates illusions … and those illusions come crashing down when you hit the ground … and that pain can be avoided or the fall softened. This podcast does just that. If you are thinking of embarking on a permactulrue-esque life … listen to this podcast.

Nothing is ever as easy as it seems to be in the books or articles or even classes. Circumstances (soil, climate, culture, finances, skills, resources …) trump theories every time. If you are not prepared to experiment and fail and experiment and fail … again and again … a lot … then don’t head out on this road.

I completely agree with the notion that self-sustainability is a bullshit notion which is more likely to lead to misdirection and frustration than to inspiration. There is practically no such thing as self-sustainability. You can move towards a more self-sustainable life but true sustainability can only be achieved within circles of community. Community is one of the most complex and mysterious concepts I have come across … don’t take it for granted.

For example: we built our hugelkultur beds in the spring. It was too late for them to absorb water and get us through the summer drought. Yet we did a few experiments and lost most of our produce … we learned a lot but produced very little food. We were able to do this by purchasing the food we needed from neighbors. Those neighbors are growing food in traditional farming with a lot of work and risks and depletion of natural resources. They are supporting our research efforts. Those research efforts will hopefully come up with alternatives methods of growing food which they will be able to learn from and adapt to their needs. That is community.

Infrastructures first. Every time. Andreea is dying to bring a couple of goats on the farm and I am constantly the bad guy (and also the one who shoulders most of the regular tasks that need to be done around here) by refusing to even consider it before we have the necessary infrastructures in place (pasture and paddocks, yearly food cycle and supply, water, winter sheltering …). Those infrastructures will take years to build (once we have the money to get some of them started). Infrastructures make the difference between a life of pleasant work and a life of slavery. I did not come here to become a slave.

 

Categories
Animals Growing Food

Animal Report – Summer 2012

There’s been an accumulation of animal-related anecdotes that we’ve experienced … though some may seem unimportant or funny I do feel there is a lot to learn from them … so I’ll just put down those I can recollect for us to remember and you to do with as you please 🙂

Chicks and Chickens

We had an egg fertility problem with the chickens. Very few of our eggs hatched. We believe it was because there were 2 cocks for 6 hens.  The cocks were constantly running interference preventing each other from mounting the hens … which may have resulted in poor fertilization. We eventually (too late to matter for this season) culled one of the cocks. We had 4 brooders – one of our own hens and 3 lent to us by our neighbors. The first two hatched 3 and 4 chicks which have been living together as a group of 7. The third sat on eggs from our neighbors and had a much better clutch of ~12 chicks. The fourth hatched 4 chicks.

We were actually “fortunate” that not many of our hens became broody because when hens are broody they don’t lay eggs. If you only have 5 or 6 hens and some of them are broody then egg production can drop pretty fast. For us even 2 or 3 eggs a day is way more then we need … but this can be an issue.

During all of this we moved chickens into the electric-netting and mobile shelter setup. Quite a few of the chickens jumped over the net. We clipped most of their flying wings … and most have taken to staying put inside the net. However one stubborn hen is the third broody (our) broody hen that sat on eggs from our neighbors. We have clipped both her wings and still she jumps over the net. Naturally, her chicks followed her as they are still very small and can simply walk through the netting (even though it is netting made especially for chickens).

We moved mother and chicks back into the fence perimeter a couple of times but then gave up on it … it seemed pointless. A few days ago we heard a sudden disturbance – we lost 2 of the roaming chicks to a fox in the orchard behind the house. One chick disappeared and another I found lying dead in the grass.

In addition, in recent days the hen has decided that her mothering role is over – she is no longer calling out to the chicks, she is allowing the cock to mount her and we think she is laying eggs. We have put her back into the fence perimeter and she is staying put. We have also put the chicks into the fence perimeter and they are not staying put – they are all over the place. We can (and have many times) herded them back into the fence … but they quickly go roaming again. We are not fighting it. We send them back whenever we can, we are hoping they will soon grow to be too large to leave … and hope that until then most survive predator attacks.

Ducklings and Ducks

We had 18 muscovite ducklings. We have kept them in a small mobile shelter together with their mother. We move the shelter around to keep them on as much green as possible. We let them graze freely a bit at the beginning of the day (on their way into the shelter) and at the end of the day  (on their way back home to the barn) – they stay together and make the journey either way pretty much on their own. During two “end-of-the-day” journeys we lost 5 ducklings (2 the first time and 4 the second). We’ve been keeping a closer watch.

Side story: My grandmother on my father’s  side used to make a typical Romanian dish … a kind of gelatinous pie made from boiled chicken feet. It has some chicken meat in it and is much loved in our family. My grandmother on mother’s side was Polish … she didn’t really like cooking but did enjoy having the family over. She was also in a kind of popularity competition with my other grandmother. At some point she too started making the same Romanian dish. However since she didn’t really care for cooking this dish came out a bit more “dangerous” when she made it because it had some pieces of bone in it … you had to eat it carefully. My younger sister was very small and I recall feeling discomfort whenever she ate the “dangerous” version of the dish. She was used to eating it in a care free way because my Romanian grandmother was very pedantic in her cooking … there were no bones. But I would cringe every time she ate the “dangerous” version in the same care-free way.

Ducks, being water fowl, are fairly clumsy walkers (compared to chickens). They are relatively heavy and strong animals and have impressive/massive webbed feet. Mother duck trampled two of her ducklings. One we found stiff-dead with a broken neck,  the other we found lying on its side and managed to recuperate. I used to think it was cute the way the little ducklings follow their mother around in a single line. Now I cringe, much like I did for my younger sister, for the ducklings directly behind their mother afraid she will crush them without even blinking. Oh well.

Dogs and Bites

Andreea has mostly healed from her encounter with Rex the latest member in our pack of dogs. During the first days he was tied but now he is free most of the time. He is a great dog. He is very responsive, very energetic and very soft (even when he is bursting with energy). There is still friction between him and Loui … both will soon be castrated and that should help them get along better. For now we have to be attentive to them and let them know that neither one of them is in charge … that we are. Loui is usually the instigator … so he usually gets most of the attention.

When they share a common enemy the dogs are a very cohesive pack. They run out into the field together, attack together and bark together during the night. Rickyhas “grown” but is still a ridiculous excuse for a dog. A few days ago I found a dead fox lying in the grass between the house and the raised beds. I felt (a) sorry for the fox; (b) proud of our dogs; (c) relieved for our flock. The fox has been tossed into the compost pile (as was the dead chick).

Bees and Honey

The first of our hives is very well established. We have added and the bees have populated many frames. When I inspected it a couple of weeks ago there were quite a few frames filled with honey – even though we have had a rough season bee-wise (too much rain in the spring, disappoint acacia tree blooms, too hot in the summer).

A few days ago when I went out to harvest a couple of frames I was surprised to find that the bees had consumed quite a bit of honey. I decided not to take any for now. We’ll check again in a month or so and see what is available. Our priority is to leave the bees all the honey they need for winter so we don’t know if we’ll get any for ourselves this year.

The second hive is also coming along quite well. It is lagging behind the first hive because we made its transition a few after the first hive. There isn’t too much honey production but there is quite a lot of brood and they are making very nice progress building foundation. If necessary we will transfer some of the honey bars from the first hive to the second one to make sure they get through winter OK.

The third hive did not catch on. There are still some bees in it but there isn’t a queen and not much brood left. There was some brood and signs that the bees were trying to raise a queen but it doesn’t look like that worked out well.

Just Plain Funny

A couple of days ago I am standing on the gravel road that leads to Bhudeva and all four dogs are all around me. Suddenly, out of the weeds/grass appears a small creature that looked like a cross between a ferret and a mouse. In it’s mouth was a beautiful green lizard it had probably just caught. It shot into the middle of the road,  found itself amongst 4 dogs and a giant (me) and there was a looooong moment of silence. The creature dropped the lizard … still silence. Then everyone snapped … some of the dogs went after the creature, some stayed to examine the lizard. I called out to Andreea to come and see the lizard in the middle of the road … and most of us lived happily ever after 🙂

Categories
Growing Food

Farmageddon

Farmageddon is one example of what THEM can do … AND THEY COME WITH GUNS … this is what “naturally” comes together with “comfortable” supermarket chains and their agro-businesses cousins:

Again I am thankful that Romania is “far behind” enough to still try reaching away from and beyond such grotesque aberrations.

As I write these words the entire movie is available for viewing:

Categories
Blog Cutia Taranului Growing Food Permaculture Raised Beds

Cutia Taranului & Rain

We had a very wet spring this year. We had plenty of rain but less early warmth. Corn grew early and fast however vegetables were slower to grow.

IMPACT1: Field grown vegetables have been growing slower then last year.

But then the rain stopped and people got religious … some more then others. Some people have no irrigation solutions so they get really religious really fast as they watch their crops dry. Others have small water-holes created not by gathering rain but by excavating until they penetrates an aquifer so that springs create a small reservoire of water. They use gas-driven pumps to move water into the fields and have been watching the water level go way down … so their religion is a bit more laid back … but still … they too are praying for rains.

IMPACT2: Peasants income is late to appear and to a degree in doubt this year.
IMPACT3: Peasants live in fear.
IMPACT4: Cutia Taranului members need to be patient … investing more energy then they thought they would in this mutual relationship with their fellow peasants.

By now the corn too is starting to show signs of dryness. It had a great start but it too needs water to continue growing.

IMPACT5: There may be less yield of corn, less to feed the animals, more expenses in buying feed … coupled with less income from selling food = difficult.

The pastures have given good yield so far but may not continue to yield enough hay for another cutting. Hay needs to be cut in dry conditions so that it can dry in the sun before it is collected … so summer is pretty much the only time

IMPACT6: Gradually less and less small peasant families with 2 or 3 cows … much work, not enough value … and way too much trouble.

This morning we awoke to a hopeful drizzle. It paused and later turned into a promising summer rain … that lasted 20 minutes … then the sun came out and the hope went away. Within a couple of hours most of the earth was again dry. Rain … it is so immediate, so powerful, so far reaching. Of course the worries may be eased at least temporaily somewhat with a few rains … but the instablity and fears remain.

We hope Cutia Taranului will create stability for both consumers in the city and peasant producers. Yet we ar convinced that selling food is just one (though a critical) step on on the way. The way food is grown will have to change too … water supply is diminishing (water tables are dropping), the earth (yes, even AND especially the earth that will supply the wonderful vegetables that will begin delivery next week) is dying, work is getting harder and weather is becoming less predictable and more extreme (it isn’t global warming that worries peasants, it’s singular local events that threatens their livelihood).

For me, that’s the heart and motivation of Cutia Taranului. We live and grow our food in the same weather conditions, we face similar challenges. We have already begun to explore alternative approaches that create better and more resilient conditions and we hope, through Cutia Taranului, to both continue our exploration and then share our experiences in the hope that stability can be achieved in the face of coming uncertainties.

 

Categories
Blog Growing Food Mulch On The Way

Hay Delay

For the past week or so we’ve been wanting to hire someone to cut, turn and bale hay from ~3 hectares of our pasture (you need good weather conditions – a few days with no  rain so that the hay can be cut, dried and collected without getting wet). Initially we put it off because we weren’t convinced if and how much hay we needed (we were using it mostly as mulch … and we prefer not to anymore … so looking for better, accessible mulch materials). Recently we were putting it off because we don’t have enough cash money on hand to pay for it (a visit to the city is planned).

We’ve been approached numerous times by two sheep-herd owners (and a neighbor with cows) to let them pasture their herds on our land. We’ve refused because (a) we wanted to let the pasture rest; (b) we were planning to cut hay from it; and (c) we had plans to begin improving and converting parts of it.

Today we went to the village to pick up a few things from the market and to have a coffee. We met with one of the herd-owners and he asked us again for permission to pasture his herd on our land. We thought about it and decided to let him. The pasture has been rested and if not cut will become overgrown. Our efforts at improving and converting parts of it are on the way but moving slowly … so we won’t be getting to much of it at first. So, at first we said to him that we will cut hay from a part of it and then let his herd in.

But then I stopped Andreea as she as speaking and asked her to try and make a different trade. We asked him if he can bring us baled straw which, for our uses, is much better then hay in which case we won’t cut hay and he can bring his herd in right away. The look on his face was priceless … he was shocked and confused … he couldn’t figure out if we were joking or serious. However, once he got past the initial shock he easily agreed. He has 0.8 hectares of straw he can bale and deliver to us and everyone is happy (in addition, starting in August, we will be getting sheep cheese products).

Hay here is considered precious as animal feed that is both grazed and cut and stored numerous times a year for the winter months … straw isn’t (animals don’t eat straw). Therefor there aren’t many local uses for straw and it isn’t considered valuable. Once again our values seem to point in a different direction 🙂

So everyone got a great deal. We don’t need to spend any money on cutting the hay and we don’t need to spend any money on getting straw as mulching materials. He gets more pasture for his herd. It feels soooooo good to come across such win-win exchanges where money is simply taken out of the equation.

This is also a great example of a hidden purpose behind delays. We come across this a lot … sometimes over much longer periods of time. Delays are there for a purpose … you have to have patience and to let things be because only time can reveal their purpose 🙂

Categories
Cutia Taranului Food Growing Food

Food is not cheap

One of the challenges that good & sustainable farming deals with is market prices. General wisdom amongst both producers and consumers seems to be that food is or should be cheap. General wisdom is wrong.

Satisfying Hunger

When we were still living in Israel we couldn’t afford organic products but we did make it a point to eat good nutritious whole wheat bread. It cost 3 or 4 times more then the standard white bread. This went on for many years until one day we forgot to purchase our good bread and had to settle for the regular white bread that was available in the small village shop. The bread felt empty, I had to eat twice as many slices of bread as I was used to just to satisfy my hunger. So the real price of this “cheap” bread was actually twice its label price.

Nutritional Value

That same bread had very poor nutritional value. I could at best get more calories (energy) from eating more of it but no matter how much of it I ate … I couldn’t consume what wasn’t there. There are many nutritional elements that our bodies need and expect to find in food. If those elements are not in the food we eat then we don’t supply our bodies with what they need. From there one of three things can happen:

  1. We live with deficient nutrition … and that leads to health problems which come with a heavy price (monetary and then some).
  2. We rely on food supplements that are very expensive for regular consumption.
  3. We eat too much … our bodies continuing to look for what they need … and we become overweight … fat … and obese … and that leads to other health problems which come with a heavy price.

So how cheap is that cheap food?

But even that is not the whole story.

Subsidies

In most western/industrialized countries many (if not most) food products are “protected” and regulated by subsidies. There can be diverse motivations for subsidies but the end result is that government controlled funds are passed on to producers. If, for example, egg production in your country is subsidized, that means that in addition to profits from selling eggs, a producer receives additional payment from the government. “From the government” really means “from taxpayer money” and that really means “you”.

So when you, for example, purchase an egg, in addition to what you pay in the store, you have already paid an additional sum of money through subsidies. How much? I don’t know … but it can be a substantial amount of money. Many farmers have become reliant on subsidies (rather then profits) for their sustenance.

Now consider that subsidies are just one form of market manipulation. They are a simple manipulation because they directly allocate resources for a specific purpose. What about indirect interventions? What effects do trade agreements between countries have on food prices? What effects do trade agreements between international corporations have on food prices? What effect do trade agreements between countries and corporations have on food prices? And for Romanians … what effect does corruption have on food prices?

Food is not cheap. Period.

The bottom line is that whatever you pay for food in a store does not reflect the true price (let alone value) of food. Food is more expensive to produce and deliver then we want to believe it is. It’s easy to blame large corporations and corrupt governments but we have all worked together to create this situation. We were convinced that industrialization and commercialization would be a good thing – we liked the idea of being able to have anything we want to eat available to us for low prices whenever we want it. Governments merely represent us and our desires. Large companies merely look for potential markets and try to make a profit from them. We all worked together to create the food reality we live in … and for a while it seemed nice.

Yet is hasn’t worked out has it? Food prices went up. So, being true to our dreams, we continued to push … food became even more indutrialized, efficiently processed … and …  less tasty and less nutritious … and sometimes unhealthy (in some ways even poisonous). And still food prices continued to rise … and still do … everywhere. We ended up paying more and getting less. This is a direct result of all of us, together, pursuing our dream of cheap food. Maybe its time to dream up something better?

Dreaming up something new isn’t easy to do. It demand personal sacrifice and change. We all have to re-examine our values:

  • Do we prefer to eat cheap food or healthy food?
  • Do we prefer poor food all year long or healthy food when it is naturally available?
  • Do we prefer that others prepare and pre-process our food for us or to take the time to lovingly prepare and cook our own food?
  • Do we prefer a global menu of food that comes from all over the world or a menu that is based on what grows locally?
  • Do we prefer to support industrial food production (large corporations) or small-scale local producers (our neighbors)?
  • Do we prefer “organic” food that is transported long distances or local, traditional food that is grown nearby?
  • Do we want to be dependent on international corporations for our food supply or do we want to be a self-sufficient community?
  • What is more important to us: fast cars, fancy furniture and electronic gadgets or food?

We dreamt up and created our current food-reality. We can dream up and create a better one.

Categories
Agriculture Links Animals Chickens

Tereza & Xena

We have two hens who are mothers to chicks (two more are still brooding, as are two muscovite ducks). For the first few days they moved around freely until we moved them together with their nestboxes into the electric-fence perimeter. We have inspired, educated and entertained watching them and their chicks. Our hens did not go broody so both hens are on loan from our neighbors. Both are mothers to a small number of chicks due to an egg fertility problem we had.

Xena is a relatively thin, dark colored and featherless-necked hen. She is fiercely protective of her 3 chicks.

Tereza is a puffier, tan & white colored, full feathered hen. She is a more soft, rounded mother. In the first few days we chicks sitting on her and later she was the one we saw with just the head of a chick sticking out between her feathers.

Xena was the first to leave the barn with her chicks. She would find a quiet spot and just sit outside with her chicks rather then sitting inside the barn. One time she chose a location that is on a “path” that leads away from the house. The dogs were alerted to something and darted on that path. We saw trouble coming but couldn’t respond fast enough. Indy jumped over them, Loui tried to do the same but he is a smaller dog. It was amazing to see the relatively small bodied Xena attack him and push him away from her chicks and back towards the house. Loui was very confused and we were very proud … both of Xena and her protective instincs and of Loui who submitted to her (we had to train him to not attack or attempt to eat members of our flock).

Xena and Tereza stay fairly close together though Xena gives Tereze trouble. If Tereza ventures too close to Xena, Xena will lash out at her, give her a good bite and then chase her for quite a while … even after Tereza has backed off and tried to open distance between them.

Xena keeps her chicks busy throughout most of the day. Tereza can be found sitting peacefully with her chicks around or under her.

Once, when we closed them for the night, chicks got mixed up … 5 ended up with Tereza and 2 with Xena … all chicks were warmly embraced … yet in the morning one of the chicks with Tereza lept out and joined Xena. Apparently the chicks do know and prefer to be with their mothers 🙂

Both mothers are exceptional at feeding. They constantly scratch and point out food to their chicks who follow and eat diligently. Sometimes we wonder if and what the mothers eat? When we gave them corn they didn’t touch it … they don’t approach anything that is not suitable feed for the chicks (the corn is way too large for the chicks).

The chicks gradually expand their circle of security … that is how far and how long they can be from their mother on their own. Their confidence grows every day.

Both mothers and chicks have already explored the mobile shelter. When it rains they find shelter in it, when it stops they resume their travels. The chicks look healthy and vital, they’ve discovered their wings and we can see them jumping longer distanced in growing arches 🙂

The chicks eat very little feed (we usually make available to them in the morning and in the evening). They get most of what they need directly from the (currently poor) pasture. We have already witnessed both mothers and chicks ignore feed, preferring to explore what the pasture has to offer.

We have some predatorial birds who take an interest in the chicks. Both mothers are extremely protective. They get very loud when a bird is anywhere near them … even if sitting on a high power line). They get very aggressive when a bird makes an attempt at the chicks. However the most impressive behavior we have witnessed has been a collaborative effort. Tereza, the puffy hen, took all the chicks in under her while Xena went on the offense. Each mother went to her forte and the predators didn’t stand a chance.

This morning we left the mothers and chicks closed in their nestboxes because it is a fairly damp and cool morning and we don’t want to risk the chicks catching cold (they are very vulnerable when they are young). We heard Xena and Tereza shuffling around wanting to get out but decided to wait and see how the day evolves. Well, they didn’t want to wait and in what we can only assume was a collaborative effort mananged to topple the front cover that blocks the entry to their adjoining nest-boxes. They are now freely ranging in the moist day. We are confident the chicks will find all the warmth they need with their mothers 🙂

Here in Romania, most chicks (and chickens) are kept in some form of captivity. Even if they have some free ranging space it is usually not very green (usually over grazed for years) and there are too many of them on it. Most require (expensive and labor intensive) feeding all year long. Chicks particulalry, are kept for many weeks in confined and sheltered spaces with their mothers and live entirely off supplied feed. Yet our chickens and chicks, who require very little feed from spring to fall, are healthy and, as others have pointed out, larger then typical chickens. We have been asked numerous times for eggs for other broody hens because “our chickens are larger”. Our explanations that the chickens are larger because off lifestyle rather then genetic have fallen on mostly deaf ears … and … ironically our eggs were not very fertile (due to too many males residing over too few hens).

 

Categories
Growing Food Permaculture Raised Beds

Rainy Days and Hugelkultur Beds

Last year we prayed for continuous sunshine and warmth as we were racing to make our house livable and to complete preparations for winter. It was a droughty year … demanding for all the locals. This year we prayed for rains to saturate our newly built raised beds … and so we’ve been having a streak of rainy days. Its wonderful mild rain gently covering the landscape and watering all new newly planted plants. It has been going on for I think at least 3 weeks and more is expected throughout this week and the next with only occassional appearances by the sun (no doubt this would have been a challenging period for living off the electrical grid).

Last year everyone complained about lack of water. This year many people are showing signs of worry due to too much water. Some peasants have already lost some crops (some of which have already been replanted) to flooded areas.

We are now realizing another wonderful feature of raised beds. Our plants are all planted on raised beds and are in absolutely no danger of flooding (unless it comes in the form of a hollywood-end-of-the-world kind of disaster) since excess water that is not absorbed into the bed itself will run off. It will have another opportunity to get absorbed in the earth in the mulched space between the raised beds … and if there is still any runoff it will most likely find its way to the small lake we dug.

We have not yet harvested a single crop from our raised beds yet I cannot imagine raising plants in any other way (except of course where the terrain calles for Sepp Holzer style terraces). Planting in a field seems out of the question.