Category Archives: Chickens

Potato Bug Prevention the Organic Way

There is nothing more disappointing than doing all the work of planting and tending potatoes for them to be a large healthy meal for the Colorado Potato Beetle rather than you. Before we began gardening organically we fought these hungry pests with a barrage of noxious chemicals. Every old gardener I know told me “Dust those potatoes with Seven.” Well we did…and it didn’t work. This was around the time we were discussing going organic. The more I read about the pesticides and commercial fertilizers we were using the more scary my vegetables seemed. So we just quit using them.

 

I will never forget the last time we used commercial pesticides; it was a desperate attempt to save the potatoes. Those potato beetles ate the Seven dust and my beautiful plants. There were so many of them; we had been over run. The garden seemed a large mess to me when the idea to clean it flashed through my mind. I dug out the shop vac and towed it to the garden. My husband gave me the look he gives when questioning my sanity; but, he said nothing and fetched the extension cord. Within thirty minutes the hungry horde of beetles were snug in the vacuum and we were able to eat potatoes at the end of the season. As much fun as vacuuming your garden can be; there are things that can be done to prevent such excessive methods.

 

Crop Rotation

The Colorado Potato Beetle is a very adaptive insect. Despite Colorado getting all the blame, this insect likely came from Central America and it has been all over North America for a long time. They prefer the warm weather so they go underground for the cold months. In warmer areas they may have as many as 3 breeding cycles. Wherever you plant your potatoes they will show up; however, you can cut down on the infestation by practicing crop rotation. The potato beetle prefer plants of the nightshade family so it is best to rotate your tomatoes and potatoes together if you have limited rotation space. The suggestions on space of rotation vary depending on what you read; .3 miles or .5 kilometers is a safe distance. However if you have more limited space just rotate the best you can. The goal is to hinder these pests because really there is no stopping them completely. The other benefit of crop rotation is that you will be able to keep your soil nutrients more balanced. Each type of plant takes particular nutrients to grow; so if you keep the same type of plant in the same location the ground will get robbed of that nutrient over time.  

Mulching

As with crop rotation, mulching is just good practice. Mulching slows the weeds down and heavy mulching will keep you from having to till the rows. Every time you till the soil, nutrients are lost so less tilling means healthier soil. Mulching also keeps the ground from getting hard and holds moisture. If you are not sold on mulching at this point there is more. Mulching also attracts the insects that eat your plants; it is a natural pesticide. Beneficial bugs like Ladybugs love hay and they also love to eat the Colorado Potato Beetle’s eggs.

Hand Picking

When it comes down to it hand removal of the Colorado Potato Beetle is the best method to protect your plants. The potato beetle is a slow mover so getting a hold of them is not an issue. If you have bug phobia wear gloves. These critters also cannot swim so as you pluck them from your plants put them in a can with an inch or two of water in the bottom. The adult beetles move a little faster than the young ones so you may have to tap the side of the can ever so often until you are finished and can dispose of them. The adult beetles and younger ones are easy to spot because they are bright colors that stand out against the leaves; however, you will have to look under the leaves for the yellow eggs and the newly hatched. The adults are striped and the younger ones are red. Be aware that if you dump the freshly picked beetles anywhere near your garden or your neighbor’s garden they will seek and destroy any potato and tomato plants they can get to. We have chickens. So I usually take the can of beetles far from the garden, in the barn where the chickens are fed and I place it next to their feed for a little extra treat.

Bug Police

Chickens are some of the most neurotic and hungry animals on the planet. Our chickens are true pasture range which means they do not have any fences and have the run of the place. There are issues with free running chickens such as sometimes they dig up your lovely mulch, eat your tomatoes and cucumbers, or follow you all over asking for more food; but, the benefits clearly outweigh all of that. Chickens eat bugs from sunrise to sunset. And while they are eating bugs out of the garden they scratch around and act as miniature rototillers. All that labor and then they pay you in eggs. Eggs from pasture raised chickens are much more nutritious than free range eggs.

BT and Neem Oil

Bt or Bacillus thuringiensis is a bacteria that attack the larva of the potato beetle and can be used in the early stages of breeding. And Neem Oil can be used on the adults to prevent their breeding cycle. Be cautious however with the usage of Neem Oil because you can harm pollinators such as bees that are necessary for your plants. The last thing we need is for bees not to reproduce. If you do use Neem Oil choose a time of day when the bees are not around and giving ample time for the oil to dry before they show up.

 

Resources

An excellent article on the entomology of the Colorado Potato Beetle from the University of Florida:

http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/veg/leaf/potato_beetles.htm

Herb Garden Tips

We built some raised beds out of reclaimed lumber and parts out of an old washing machine. I thought they would be a perfect place for my herb garden. The one hitch was that the chickens were as fond of the beds as I was. I began to look at garden borders and small fences and was disappointed at how expensive they all were. I only needed a temporary diversion for my herbs until they get established. So I pulled from my historical experience and decided to construct a stick fence. We have a large pile of brush for cooking with the grill so I sourced that for my fence. Larger branches were used for the vertical posts and I used smaller branches to weave in and out of the vertical posts. The stick fence worked great. My chickens were extremely confused and moved on to easier pastures. It cost me nothing and  I can efficiently recycle the fence when my plants are big enough to expose to my bug patrol.

Caring for Baby Chicks

There are few farm animals in their baby stage that are more adorable than baby chickens. And unlike some animals they are completely worth the effort as they provide not only meat and eggs; but, pest control and entertainment. Good care of your chicks from the start will ensure you get the most value out of your flock. As with any agricultural venture, there are multiple ways to successfully raise chickens and you must find what methods best suit your situation.

Habitat

Before you purchase or hatch your chicks you must have a habitat prepared for them. One of the most harmful dangers to new chicks is temperature and moisture. Chicks need to be kept in around 80 to 90 degree heat and they need to be dry. We put heat lamps over ours. You will know if they are too cold when they huddle up under the lamp. And you will know when they are too hot if they are all bunched up away from the lamp or if they are panting. If they are panting and lethargic they are in real danger of overheating. When your temperature is right the chicks will be running in all directions. When your chicks start to develop feathers you can begin to reduce the heat. Chicks need a good bedding under them to keep them dry. A layer of wood shavings or hay will soak up their droppings and mess, keeping them dry. You will need to change their bedding frequently depending on the size of the habitat versus the number of chicks.

Water

Chicks need a lot of water to drink; but, not water on them. You will need a watering system that does not allow the chicks to accidentally submerge themselves or each other. It helps to think of these little guys as being exactly what they are…babies. If there is a puddle of water just about any baby will be drawn to it and in it if not stopped. To prevent pasty butt, a clogging of the waste vent, you can add a few tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar to a gallon of water.

Food

Babies need baby food. Before you get your chicks you will want to purchase a feeder and chick starter. In a pinch you can feed your chicks out of a small bowl; however, a feeder will make the starter last longer. Chicks like all babies make messes and they will make messes in a bowl of food making you have to replenish it more often than you would with a chick feeder. If you are creative there are all kinds of ideas out there to make your own feeding and watering system; but, if you purchase it the price is fairly low. I like to sprinkle a little bit of grass and weeds around the habitat so my chicks begin to learn how to forage. We have pasture raised chickens which means that our chickens have the run of the entire farm so they forage all day for bugs and greens.  

Handeling

Holding babies and the desire to touch things that are soft make handling your chicks almost impossible to resist. In the first few weeks you should try not to handle the chicks too much and use great care not to drop them. Do talk to them though, especially when you feed them so they are trained to come when you feed them. Chicks will imprint on whoever raises them. Enjoy your babies, they will grow fast.

Some helpful websites:

http://www.backyardchickens.com/ : This site is full of information for all things chicken related.

https://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/chickens.html : This is the hatchery that I order from.

Building a Nesting Box Out of Upcycled Materials

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According to wisegeek.org, “the average American produces about 4.4 pounds (2 kg) of garbage a day.” While we can’t do anything about most of America’s trashy habits, each of us can do something in our own little corner of the world to keep things clean. An excellent way to eliminate waste is to upcycle it. Here at Hollow Springs we are all about reinventing and repurposing old “useless” stuff. Yesterday morning we got up early to build our hens a nesting box that would accommodate them all. My very sweet mother in law gifted us some chickens that are very good layers so I wanted to make sure they were all comfortable. The day before yesterday I dug through the shed in our barn where we keep all garbage that has potential for new life. After a few minutes of sifting through bits of wood, metal, and pieces of other old projects, I found just what I needed. After getting all of my treasure past the nosey bull we had put up in the barn, he needed to put on some weight so he can accommodate our lively heifers, I started to put together some ideas.

We used the frame from an old chick cage that we build 8 years ago, that got refurbished for a rabbit hutch 4 years ago. The rest of the hutch was taken apart and used for a variety of other projects. The 2×4 for the middle supports was a piece taken off of the old house we tore down as was the metal we used for the roof. The side pieces were scraps from other projects. We also used an old paint can to level up the frame. I laid a thick layer of hay in the bottom and placed some fake nesting eggs to encourage the girls to lay.

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A big pile of garbage turned into a lovely place for my hens to lay their hen fruits. Keeping a ready pile of useful garbage is a financially and environmentally savvy way to do projects. Just as soon as James and I walked away the girls investigated the new box and began to lay. I hope most of them will begin to lay in the new box because I am tired of climbing to the top of the hay in the crib to hunt for eggs. Below is a link to a video of some of the building process so you can maybe get some ideas for your own hen fruit haven.

How to Build an Upcycled Nesting Box for Chickens

Building a Nesting Box Out of Upcycled Materials

Building a Nesting Box Out of Upcycled Materials