Original Objective: Raise some chickens for food and to also help with insect, grass and weed control in our 2-acre organic community orchard…!!! New Objective: Keep our birds alive so that we will have some sort of chicken harvest. Ouch!
Over the last 5 weeks we have been stretched to learn more about the habits and characteristics of these inquisitive and entertaining birds. They have been doing a fine job of keeping the orchard grass under control (we have only mowed once this year) and as a result, the amount that we have paid for chicken feed is significantly less than if they were confined to a small area. This was working really well.
This is where we ended in the first blog post of 3 weeks ago. We had just moved the 4-week old chicks to the orchard to begin the process of weaning them from ‘chick’ feed and encouraging them to eat the grass, weeds, and bugs in the orchard for daily sustenance.
From the moment the chickens hit the grass, they were eating everything they could peck at and swallow. They seemed to visibly grow almost daily even though the amount of feed we were giving them did not increased since we brought them to the orchard. Each day they are getting more and more of their food and nutrition from the orchard floor. We’ve even seen them catch flying insects.
Objective: Raise some chickens for food and to also help with insect, grass and weed control in our 2-acre organic community orchard…!!!
As most of you know, in permaculture design we attempt to:
garner the greatest amount or number of yields
from the minimum amount of work
while creating no waste (at least minimal)
and restoring the environment.
Let’s see what additional benefits we can obtain from this project other than just the insect, grass and weed-removal help from 100 chickens. This will be our chicken saga as it reveals itself in real time. We’re always learning too and raising this many chickens at once, and in this way, is stretching us some.
We will take the experience we do have, plus apply permaculture design principles, while adding in good-ole common sense (with help from some great books, friends and the internet) to work creatively and see what we might come up with.
Pictured: Initial drawing of a keylined hillside with swales and linear food forest overlaid.
The field is east facing with a substantial slope (approximately 20%) that is presently planted with alfalfa and a host of other prairie and pasture plants. The land sustained many years of agricultural practices including tilling and chemical use which has caused two significant areas of erosion indicated on the map with tan, squiggly line in the sketch below.
The excess water running off the hill (during rain events and snow-melt) flows northward at the bottom of the hill where a substantial wet spot, located mostly on the neighbor’s property, has sprouted up many moisture loving trees and shrubs, most notably, black willow.
Some aged maple trees boarder the north/south highway, providing substantial shade on the lowest part of the property in the mornings.
Area 2 comes right up to the work and living area of the farm (Area 1) and picks up again just south of said area for 200 feet where the ridge meets the southeast corner of the property.
Permaculture Design Recommendations
Keylining and Swales
In order to deal effectively with the two distinct areas of erosion, (cream colored squiggles in aerial photo below) while simultaneously preparing the soils for an abundance of food production, we recommend keyline plowing in years 1 through 3. Keylining is done until dramatic improvement to soil quality is achieved.
Above: The Design Crew – Completion of a Cup Swale
So often in the world of permaculture we focus on the elements of a design, like gardens, herb spirals food forests, or chicken tractors. It is all too easy to get distracted from what the real goals of permaculture are, which is how we assemble the items in the landscape into a cohesive and synergistic whole; the permaculture design.
Creating a design is an important part of our Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) courses but is not the only way that a design can be made. At the invitation of John and Ann Hippensteel of Wind and Sun Farm, Midwest Permaculture hosted a permaculture design charrette at their farm in Door County, WI. The charrette was opened up to their family & friends and the greater public. In attendance were 4 family members, 6 other students, and 3 Midwest Permaculture instructors/designers — Bill Wilson, Milton Dixon and Bryce Ruddock.
We will share some of this design beginning with an overview of permaculture, the farm, the goals of the design, and our process.
Learning to Create a Permaculture Design With Others
Often times, the best way to learn something is by simply doing it. It’s one thing to read and study about the permaculture design process, but until one actaully sits down and goes through all of the considerations and steps involved for an actaul piece of property, do the intricacies of this work really hit home.
The purpose of a charrette (a group design process) is to go through the design journey with others, some with more or less experience. The idea is to tap the collective wisdom of the entire group to create a design that is likely better than any one person might create.
We will be hosting such a charrette in Door County, WI, over a 5-day period (June 29-July3) for a 40-acre farm. We will start by observing what is already there in the way of soil, sun, water, plants, local markets and other energy flows, move into what is possible with these combinations in comparison to what the land owners would like to create, and then dig into the research and design steps. By the time we are done, our hosts will have a permaculture design that they may implement over the next several years.
Time permitting, we may dig into some hands-on earth works such as digging some swales or rain-gardens. Food and camping are included with the training.
Build Your Own Self Irrigating Planter (SIP) Meet Frank Fekonia from Queensland, Australia. Living in a relatively dry climate on a south facing slope he needed to come up with a way of growing bountiful gardens on rocky soil, on steep terrain, and with little water. Similar to the SIP, why not build tall raised beds or planters that conserve water while minimizing the amount of bending over to work the beds. Certainly he could figure out a way to build them for under $200 each. He did better than that. He built over a dozen of them for almost ‘nothink’. I love the creativity of Franks idea.