Over the last couple of weeks I have been watching the season unfold and with the Equinox just days away it is clear that the tide has turned and the hints of summer coming can be felt in the warm afternoons and clear, long evenings. Spring here is a tumultuous time as the temperatures switch and the winds blow out the cold of winter, but before the hot weather settles in and we bunker down for the height of the year I have been enjoying the beauty of this fleeting season in the desert and I thought I would share some of it with you:
It’s important to say right at the outset that our family is omnivorous. The topic of food philosophy is a complex and often controversial one and the point of this post is not to go into detail on this (although I am happy to do so at a later stage), but I think it is important to understand that our path to self-sufficiency includes the raising of animals for consumption.
The first animals to be added to our eco-system were of course chickens. Chickens are a very practical and multi-purpose providing eggs, meat, feathers, scrap disposal, weed maintenance, fertiliser and pest insect control. With a free-range working flock of 7 hens and 1 rooster we have pretty much hit self-sufficiency with eggs but of course adding meat into the equation means that we need some additional birds for that purpose and while we have had one successfully broody chook in 2 years waiting for a not particularly baby-oriented batch of hens to decide to sit would not get us very far so an incubator was required. Last year I bought a cheap ‘first go’ incubator from ebay. It worked successfully the first time, with eggs purchased at great cost from a breeder. The second time with purchased eggs, not so much. A batch of guinea fowl eggs was particularly unsuccessful although it finished off the ones the chicken got sick of sitting on (they take longer than chicken eggs) with perfect results. It was obvious that if this was going to be a regular activity a more reliable ‘Fake Chicken’ would need to be obtained.
Luckily Noven and his parents banded together to get me a new one for a Solstice/Birthday gift. I promptly set it up with eggs from our working flock: This is an ‘industrial’ incubator (although the smallest one available) which has temperature and humidity control as well as automatic turning for up to 24 chicken eggs (I fit in 22 but that was probably 2 too many of our big eggs). Then there is the waiting…. and the waiting….
Three weeks later though we were rewarded with this:
The successful eggs hatched over the three possible days with two a day early and two a day late and a total successful count of 12. Not perfect, but I suspect that at least one of the hens is laying eggs that are not well suited to producing babies as they seem to have a very thick membrane under the shell and only one of them was successful (with a little help).
Now of course all the little babies are ensconced in their warm brooder box, eating, sleeping and making a mess as they should 🙂
During the first year we did a lot of basic planning and I started learning how to build things and grow things. I had had some successful vegetable gardens in the past but that’s a bit different from attempting to set up 2 acres of arid land permaculture gardens with view to self-sufficiency…
My brother came up for a couple of month or so and started some of the stone masonary for the outdoor kitchen/dining area but we couldn’t keep paying him at that point and of course he couldn’t stay for free so I moved on to other tasks
I started to build the shadehouse for the vegetable garden – this is vital out here with our hot summers so it was important to get it up as soon as I could. Using the bamboo on the walls has proven to be a fantastic solution for our high winds – they let the wind though without bending the structure too much. We also removed the old mostly broken clothesline soon after the photo to the right was taken
The summer vegetable garden was the most productive I’d ever had at that point confirming my thoughts about the necessity of shade. We didn’t have much water, or a pump down the well, so the garden had to be very small but it was still lovely to have so much vibrant green just outside the back door.
We also got our first chickens – day old barred plymouth rock chicks. It was another set of skills again, learning to care for the tiny things. They grew very quickly though so it wasn’t long before they were living in a makeshift yard built off an old goat pen.
Later in the year, after losing those first chickens to a fox 😦 I started to build a more permanent yard for them out of recycled materials that were found on the block. I learned during that process that while it is all well and good to use recycled materials, sometimes it is not worth it for the frustration and structural instability of less than fantastic quality. The yard was a definite improvement though! We also added an English Staffy to our family to help with fox deterrence. Happily, so far we have had no further problems.
That year I also started to build a play area for our son in hopes that in time he would be able to play somewhat unsupervised while I was working nearby – hoping to increase my productivity, but also because, who doesn’t want a sandpit made out of old tyres, in the shape of a stegosaurus?
All in all, I didn’t get as much done in that year as I had sort of expected when I started, but partly that was due to the small one, partly due to my learning process and partly due to unrealistic expectations. Still much to be done!