A Garden Coop


If you want chickens and vegetables, and have predators and opportunists trying to eat what you grow, and perhaps have limited space, this design may be for you. I did not come up with it; I don’t know who did and I give lots of credit to that person because this makes so much sense. I’ll be converting our Fowl Fortress into one as I can.

It is the Garden Coop. You build one structure of strong wire with small gauge holes to keep rats, mice and snakes out, keep your hens on one side and garden in the other, then switch. 

Start with cemented posts. Your coop can be of any dimension depending upon how many chickens and how much gardening space you will need. Take that number and multiply it by two. Instead of wood you can use metal posts with metal spacers across the top if that is more cost effective for you. Make it 7 or 8 feet tall, for comfort to walk in and also to give you more vertical growing space.

Wrap the entire structure with wire, all sides and across the top, and at least six inches into the ground all the way around. This helps prevent digging animals from getting into the coop. As we have coyotes, I also pounded 6″ pieces of rebar into the perimeter every 6 inches. If you have gopher problems, then bury wire 2.5′ into the ground around the perimeter. Hardware cloth would be best although the small chicken wire is more flexible to work with. When you overlap the wire cloth be sure to sew it closed or wrap and tuck the edges, otherwise rats and mice will slip through. 

Put your hen house in the center of the coop; the house should have doors on two sides.

Divide your coop in half with wire down the  middle. The wire should go around the hen house, and the hen house doors should open into each half of the garden.

Now you can keep your hens in one half and garden in the other half. When a season ends, switch them.

You’ll have all of your fruit and vegetables safe from squirrels, rats, mice and birds. You’ll have vertical space on which to grow your vines. When you switch, you’ll be gardening in insect-free, well manured soil and your hens will have excellent food sources. They will be working without being let loose, and will have an active and healthy life without becoming prey. They will take apart your old garden and fix it for the next switch.

All of your water needs are in one place. All of your composting is in one place. All of your vegetable and egg gathering is in one place. You get to harvest all of your vegetables and eggs without feeding rodents. What you don’t want, you toss to the hens. All with one structure, one initial cost. Its a chicken tractor that doesn’t move!

Because you are keeping animals out physically and controlling insects with hens, you won’t be enticed to use traps, bait, sprays, etc. 

You can also grow around the outside perimeter of the coop. Just be aware of shade issues from vines (maybe a good thing?) grown over the top. Summer shade with a deciduous vine may be just right for keeping your hens and garden cooler.

Its a great idea, and maybe the one that will help you succeed in your garden.

Podcasts with Diane Kennedy

Two podcasts with me talking about permaculture, Finch Frolic Garden, and how you can save money and the world through gardening! ūüôā Please let me know what you think:

This is a podcast with Sheri Menelli of earthfriendlyhomeowner.com, where I talk pretty much without a pause for breath for about the first ten minutes.  Recorded in May, 2015.

Ep7: Interview with Diane Kennedy of Finch Frolic Gardens and Vegetariat.com

This is a podcast with Greg Peterson of Urban Farm Podcasts, released Jan. 7, 2016, and you can listen to it several ways:

Urban Farm U:  




You can sign up for free to hear all their great podcasts here.

How To Evaluate Your Property: The July Lecture In The Garden at Finch Frolic

Finch Frolic Garden’s Program in the Garden Series for July:

Analyzing Property for Maximum Use:

 Site Evaluation Step-by-Step

Sunday, July 26, 2 ‚Äď 4 pm

Looking for property?  Creating a landscape?  Planting a garden?  Building a house? Diane Kennedy of Finch Frolic Garden will take you through the steps of evaluating your site for maximum effectiveness with the least labor and cost.

This class is for the average homeowner, with little or no permaculture background.  All terms will be defined and explored.  Guaranteed, you will leave the class excited about your property, and able to find new potential in it.

In permaculture, 99% of the work should be in design, and only 1% in labor, so find out how to look at property with new eyes and start designing!  Participants are encouraged to bring a Google Maps image of their property to work on.

We will, of course, offer homemade vegetarian refreshments.  Cost is $25 per person, mailed ahead of time.  Finch Frolic Garden is located at 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook.  Please RSVP to dianeckennedy@prodigy.net . More information can be found at www.vegetariat.com.  You’ll love what you learn!

Artificial Turf? Big Mistake.

Want a green lawn that needs no irrigation or mowing?  That sounds ideal.  As with most products that sound too good to be true, so it is with artificial turf. Modern artificial turf is not much like the Astroturf of old.  Artificial grass blades are usually made of polyethylene, polypropylene or nylon, which create soft, harder or stiff blades respectively.  These are anchored in an infill material that is usually a mixture of sand and ground up recycled automobile tires among other things.  Utilizing recycled tires should give this product big bonus points; however, this material will leach heavy metals into the ground, contaminating the dirt for decades.  When heated, the plastic and rubber will release toxins into the air as well.

Heat is the biggest problem with artificial turf.  The infill made of plastic and rubber is a thermal mass: as it sits in the sun it absorbs and radiates heat.  For example, at 6 pm, an hour before the Women’s World Cup in Canada began at the end of a nice 75 degree day, the artificial turf on which they were to play measured 120F.  Where daytime temperatures rise to 100F, the turf could measure up to 180F.  Having turf where children or animals play can cause burns.

Radiating heat from thermal mass such as hardscape (usually cements and asphalt), expanses of gravel, and especially artificial turf will heat up homes and is a contributor to more energy usage for air conditioners and fans.  In arid areas there might not be much rainfall but there can be fog and ambient moisture that normally collects on leaves and drips as a form of irrigation.  Good pollenization partially depends upon moist, still air because pollen dries rapidly. Radiating heat and reflected light (the albeido effect) from these surfaces help to dry out moist air and cause air movement as the heat rises.  The more rising heat, the windier and drier the atmosphere becomes and the less fruit and vegetable set there is.  As artificial turf heats up to a third again of the atmospheric temperature and continues to radiate into the evening it is even more damaging to atmospheric moisture than bright cement.

The claim that artificial turf greatly reduces the amount of toxins in the air that would be released from lawnmowers, and save thousands of gallons of water otherwise used to irrigate lawns is using select ideas while ignoring others.  Artificial turf may not need mowing, but it needs leaf-vacuuming and hosing off, especially if there are animals using it.  On soil bird, reptile and pet feces are part of the fertilization process and are quickly decomposed by microbes.  On artificial turf the feces adhere to the plastic blades and are difficult to remove with even a power wash.  Urine seeps into the rubber matting and cannot be completely removed, smelling strongly of urine for the life of the turf.

Native plants and grasses improve the soil, hold rainwater, moderate heat and wind, and offer habitat for hundreds of birds, mammals and insects.  Areas that are covered in artificial turf are sterile, harmful to animals, people and the environment, and offer no educational value.  Planted areas are magnets for wildlife that are starved Рliterally Рfor decent food, water and shelter.

The life of some artificial turf products is estimated to be 10 ‚Äď 15 years, with a warranty usually for 8.¬† If the grass is being heavily used the life is reduced. ¬†The turf doesn‚Äôt look new up until the warranty expires; the blades break off and the plastic and rubber slowly break down further been compressed, dried out and imbued with heavy metals.

The cost of installing artificial turf is heavy.  It must be laid on scraped, level, rockless dirt, so there are earthworks involved.  There are many types of artificial turf and they have a broad price range.  A 12’ x 75’ strip of low-grade turf from a chain hardware store is currently over $1500.

What are the alternatives in this time of water scarcity?  For areas that must have grass, tough native grass mixtures are a great alternative. See the selection that S&S Seeds has of native Californian grasses; they even offer sod.  Lawns should be mowed higher and more frequently for best root growth, and the cuttings left to mulch in. For least evaporation and for pathogen control watering should be done between 3 AM and 9 AM. See this site for more lawn tips.

Stop using commercial fertilizers, which cause plants to need more water. Use actively aerated compost tea, which is easy and inexpensive to make, completely non-toxic and causes deeper root growth and therefore healthier, longer-lived and more resilient grass.  Please explore the work of Dr. Elaine Ingham, soil microbiologist, who has perfected the use of AACT on properties worldwide.  Instructions for making AACT can be found here.

For those who don’t need a lawn at all, native landscapes can be lush and beautiful and after being established dislike summer water.  You can see what native and non-native plants are safe to plant near your house if you live in a fire zone with the County of San Diego’s Defensible Space Plant List.  Please see the books The California Native Landscape by Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren, and California Native Plants for The Garden by Bornstein, Fross and O’Brien.

The secret to water storage in the soil for both lawns and plants is to dig in as much organic matter into the soil that you can. ¬†Artificial turf is also not permeable, so it channels rainwater rather than harvesting it.¬† ¬†Old wood is best, but cuttings, organic fabric and paper can all be used to hold rainwater.¬† One inch of rain on one acre in one hour is 27,154 gallons of water.¬† The best place to hold that water for your plants ‚Äďor to hold precious irrigation water ‚Äď is in the soil.¬† Wood in the soil along with top mulch will water and feed plants for months, as well as cleanse and build soil.¬† This practice is called hugelkultur.¬† Please research hugelkultur on the Internet for more information.

If you are considering purchasing artificial turf or gravel for your yard or common area, please think again.  It is adding to the problem of global warming, it is an elimination of even more habitat Рeven the scarce habitat that a lawn can offer Р and will become an expensive problem in a short time.

Seitan: An Easy Mock Meat

A juicy seitan sandwich is really, really good.

A juicy seitan sandwich is really, really good.

For the past year I’ve been making my own vegan meat out of organic vital wheat gluten. ¬†This meat is called seitan (pronounced, humorously enough, say-tan, just like the fork-tongued guy in red). ¬†If you’ve eaten mock meats, especially in restaurants, you’ve most likely have eaten seitan.

I am not gluten intolerant, and I know that the current ‘epidemic’ of celiac disease is not what it seems. ¬†People eat far too much wheat in their diets, and that wheat is not only genetically modified, but sprayed with herbicides and pesticides, then processed until it¬†has to have nutrients added back onto it to qualify as food,¬†and then it is shipped and stored. ¬†The consumer has no idea when that poor tortured grain actually came forth into this world. ¬†As my good friend Bill says, “You can’t see the farm in it.” I believe that when people eliminate wheat from their diets they feel so much better because they aren’t eating all those hamburger buns, batters, snacks and other empty-calorie foods. ¬†They are also reducing the amount of pesticides and herbicides they consume.

I know about developing an intolerance to food. ¬†I’ve developed an intolerance to soy milk¬†(organic, mind you), which made me realize how much of it I have been¬†consuming. Now I drink rice milk or water mostly, and manage my soy intake while keeping an eye out for other products I may be indulging in too much. ¬†My grandfather Walter Brower in the 30’s had developed a bad dermatitis. He was in the hospital with it, being treated for all kinds of things with no relief. ¬†He was missing work, and he was the sole supporter of his family. ¬†Finally someone recommended that he visit a chiropractor… a chiropractor? ¬†For a skin condition? ¬†In the 1930’s? This was radical thinking. Thankfully he was desperate enough to go. ¬†He visited the chiropractor’s office, sitting across from him at his desk, and told the doctor about his affliction. ¬†The chiropractor¬†asked what he did for a living. ¬†My grandfather was a delivery man for Bordon’s milk. ¬†The chiropractor said that my grandfather had developed a milk allergy due to all the dairy products he consumed. ¬†My grandfather went off dairy, and the skin problem disappeared within days. ¬†(This was at a time before¬†cows were fed pellets of corn and chicken feces laced with antibiotics¬†as they are today, too.)

All that said, I make my own meat with organic products, as well as my own vegan butter , and am now experimenting with vegan cheese (more on that later).  Do I have a lot of time on my hands?  No.  I spend a couple hours once a month making the seitan and the butter, enough for a month, and freeze both.

Seitan isn’t pretty before it is cooked. ¬†It is grey and spongy. ¬†However compare it to the flesh of a butchered animal and it is beautiful. ¬†You can buy vital wheat gluten just about anywhere now, but different brands have different quality. ¬†I use Bob’s Red Mill which has outstanding flavor and never gets rubbery. ¬†I also use Bragg’s Liquid Aminos instead of soy sauce, tamari and often other salt. ¬†It is organic and nutritious, and a little bit brings out the flavor of soups, main dishes, salad dressings, scrambled eggs, and anything its added to. ¬†Compare prices online for both; Amazon.com has good deals if you want to buy a lot.

When seitan is frozen, the patties are quickly thawed in a lightly oiled pan. ¬†The ‘meat’ is juicy, flavorful and delicious, and can be used in place of chicken strips, ground up instead of meat for stuffing or sausage, used as is in a sandwich or hamburger, or cubed for stew, curry… whatever. ¬†The problem I have is wanting to eat it too often!

Basic Seitan
Recipe type: Main Dish
Cuisine: Vegan
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 12
Organic vital wheat gluten makes a yummy, all-purpose meat substitute for very low cost.
  • 2 cups organic vital wheat gluten
  • 1 teaspoon organic crushed dry rosemary (or minced fresh)
  • 1 teaspoon organic dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon organic dried rubbed sage
  • ¼ teaspoon organic cumin seed, lightly crushed
  • ¼ teaspoon organic garlic powder
  • 2 cups water
  • ⅓ cup Bragg's Liquid Amino Acid (or tamari sauce, but it is saltier)
  • 8 cups water
  • ¼ cup tamari sauce
  • ¼ cup Bragg's Liquid Amino Acid
  • ½ teaspoon organic onion powder
  • 1 4-inch piece dried kelp (kombu) (you may omit)
  1. In a large non-reactive bowl, mix together the vital wheat gluten, rosemary, thyme, sage, cumin seed and garlic powder. In a measuring cup mix the 2 cups water with the Bragg's. Quickly add the liquid to the dry and working fast mix thoroughly. The gluten will develop quickly; use your hands to work it to make sure there are no patches of dry gluten. There should be extra liquid. The gluten will be rubbery. Shape the gluten into a long loaf, about 3 inches in diameter. Allow to rest while you make the broth.
  2. In a tall stock pot combine 8 cups of water with the Bragg's, tamari, onion powder and kombu and bring to a boil.
  3. Cut gluten log into slices no wider than ¼ inch, or in strips (you can always cut the finished patties into strips later). Individually drop pieces into boiling stock (they'll stick together otherwise). Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Drain and either store seitan in refrigerator in some broth for no more than 5 days, or layer seitan patties flat in a plastic freezer bag laid on a cutting board or plate and freeze. When frozen gently break apart patties in the bag and keep frozen, taking out what you need. Patties can be heated quickly in a pan, sliced and stir-fried, thawed and breaded and baked or fried, or used any way you'd like.

I tried several seitan recipes, most of which were either too bland or too strong and muddy flavored.  This recipe I really like for all-purpose, chickeny seitan.  I freeze the finished slices flat in a plastic bag so I can pull out however many I need whenever I want them.

Snow at Finch Frolic

Pickerel and snowy azola on the little pond.

Pickerel and snowy azola on the little pond.

Finch Frolic Garden is located in Fallbrook,CA, in sunny San Diego’s North County. ¬†Dry and hot conditions are the norm, with temperatures rising above 100 in the summer,and an occasional frost in the winter.

This is a prime Southern California winter scene: palm trees and red tile roofs - and traffic - with snow on the mountains.  The peaks are usually only dusted in snow in Jan. or Feb.

This is a prime Southern California winter scene: palm trees and red tile roofs – and traffic – with snow on the mountains. The peaks are usually only dusted in snow in Jan. or Feb.

A rain around Thanksgiving means lawnmowers are humming around New Years.  This past year, 2014, has experienced strange weather as has the rest of the world.  We had back-to back Santa Anas (hot, dry, high winds from off the desert) in May, which caused many trees and plants to drop flowers.  The lack of food and water induced many animals to not reproduce, which affected the rest of the food chain.  Then we had fire season in May as well.  Unfortunately arson was the cause of some of the fires, but many homes were lost as well as hundreds of acres of our precious endangered chaparral and the baby animals that lived there.

These mountains are northwest of us - they never get snow!

These mountains are northwest of us – they never get snow!

Our heat wave came in June, and our ‘June gloom’ – a marine cloud cover – came in July. ¬†We had several significant rain events in late Fall, and then on New Year’s eve, it snowed.

The pathway down to the Mock Pavilion.

The pathway down to the Mock Pavilion.

So many of you who live in snowy areas are saying, “Who cares?” ¬†The last snowfall in our inland valley area was in the late 60’s when I was probably 8 or 9 years old. I lived with my sister and parents in Carlsbad, a town west of here. All I remember about it is that my dad made a snowball and froze it, and in the summer threw it at the neighbor.IMG_6033

On the 30th we received an inch and a quarter of cold, Canadian rain overnight. The rain came in heavy showers and swales we’d created had filled and prevented flooding. In the morning I looked out on a white garden.

Kitchen garden in snow.

Kitchen garden in snow.

Not everyone in the area received snow this week, but streets were icy, nearby Temecula was covered as were all the mountains even those west of here.

Good-bye 'till next year, apple mint!

Good-bye ’till next year, apple mint!

The landscape looked like a large powdered sugar shaker had been at work overnight.

Perhaps this year we can have bees again.  Last year they all died - someone spraying in the neighborhood is my guess.

Perhaps this year we can have bees again. Last year they all died – someone spraying in the neighborhood is my guess.

Again about 10:30 in the morning snowflakes fell and strangers grinned at each other in delight.

Creeping red fescue, which is an excellent soil holder and groundcover here,  just laughed at the cold.

Creeping red fescue, which is an excellent soil holder and groundcover here, just laughed at the cold.

Not so the growers of frost-intolerant plants such as avocados, citrus, succulents and tropicals.  After the snow we have had clear, frosty nights which have done more damage than the snow had.

These are now ripening in the house.

These are now ripening in the house.

I don’t expect overwintering tomatoes this year, and we’ve been harvesting the last of our zucchino rampicante, eggplant, jalapenos and tomatoes, and marking where the sweet potatoes lie underground.

Poor little frosty zucchinos.

Poor little frosty zucchinos.

Our hens aren’t happy about the weather change. We hung towels and tacked up cardboard in their coop for insulation, although now it looks like a cheap harem. ¬†Today I bought a heat lamp to keep them warmer.

Buddha's Finger citron and snow.  I candied the citron this year and used it in holiday bread.  Wonderful!

Buddha’s Finger citron and snow. I candied the citron this year and used it in holiday bread. Wonderful!

Most of them are done molting except, of course, the Turken or naked-neck. ¬†Besides having a naturally bare neck, poor Malika has dropped over half of her feathers and has no insulation at all. ¬†Its a good thing that days aren’t frozen, too.

Poor Malika!  An unfortunate molt.

Poor Malika! An unfortunate molt.

By Monday daytime temperatures will be in the low 70’s again, and I’ll be worrying about planting spring crops already; despite the snow, there really isn’t a winter here.IMG_5962 ¬†However, I thought I’d share some New Year’s eve photos of Finch Frolic Garden in the snow – not something I’d ever thought I’d see.

Lovely.   Liquidambers, trellis and wildflowers.

Lovely. Liquidambers, trellis and wildflowers.

Finch Frolic Marketplace, Revisited

Wonderful, tasty winter squash of all kinds!

Wonderful, tasty winter squash of all kinds!

Due to popular demand, we’re having one more short Marketplace this Saturday, 9 – 1.

Join us on Saturday, November 29nd  from 9-1  for the annual Finch Frolic Marketplace, the Extended Version!  We’ll have for sale fresh and prepared foods straight from our permaculture gardens.  All are excellent gifts, or will grace your holiday table. We’ll have the much-desired Pomegranate Gelato again, and new this year, Passionfruit Gelato!   Squash, fruit, veg, preserves, passionfruit curd, baked goods, and much more.

Herbs, veggies, frozen juice, gelatos, curds, jams, preserves... and much more!

Herbs, veggies, frozen juice, gelatos, curds, jams, preserves… and much more!

Finch Frolic Garden is located at 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook, CA.


Finch Frolic Garden is open by appointment only for tours, lectures and other activities.  The address is 390 Vista del Indio, Fallbrook, CA  92028-2548.  Please call only if you are lost or delayed; we use our house phone only and are often not inside.  Please use the email above for any other communication.

From the North (Temecula and above): take 1-15 South to Exit 51 and turn right.  Make the next right onto E. Mission Rd/County Hwy-S13.  In .8 of a mile turn left onto E. Live Oak Park Rd.  In 1.6 miles turn right onto Alvarado St.  In .7 miles at the top of the hill turn left onto Vista Del Indio, at Roja’s Succulents.  Make the very first right; 390 is at the end to the left.

From the South (Escondido and below): take I-15 North to Exit 51 and turn left over the freeway.  Make the next right onto E. Mission Rd/County Hwy-S13.  In .8 of a mile turn left onto E. Live Oak Park Rd.  In 1.6 miles turn right onto Alvarado St.  In .7 miles at the top of the hill turn left onto Vista Del Indio, at Roja’s Succulents.  Make the very first right; 390 is at the end to the left.

From the West (I-5): take CA-76 East, Exit 54A and drive for 12.6 miles.  Turn left onto S. Mission Road/County Hwy S13 for 4.1 miles.  Turn right onto S. Stagecoach Lane (at the high school).  In 2.8 miles turn right onto Alvarado St.  At the top of the hill turn right onto Vista del Indio, at the Roja’s Succulents sign.  Make the very first right; 390 is at the end on the left.


Using Smuck, or Using Food Waste


One afternoon's haul of smuck.

One afternoon’s haul of smuck.

Just when I was mourning the fact that¬†our household¬†didn’t create enough food waste to generate lots of compost, I received an email from a former visitor to Finch Frolic Garden.¬† She volunteers at the Fallbrook Food Pantry, where they distribute balanced food supplements to over 800 families a week who earn less than the US poverty limit.¬† They receive raw, outdated fruit and vegetables from grocery stores and other sources, sort through it and have to discard what isn’t safe to hand out.¬† The volunteer knew that I composted and wondered if I’d like to pick up the residue so that they wouldn’t have to throw it out.¬† She and the director had been taking it home, but it was too much for them.¬† Four times a week I’ve been picking up buckets of smuck, or what I call the¬†rotting fruit and vegetables, and often its too much for me as well.

Boxes of mixed smuck were difficult to pick up and very, very juicy.  Buckets are better.

Boxes of mixed smuck were difficult to pick up and very, very juicy. Buckets are better.

There has been a grace period where my daughter and I nearly broke our backs picking up cardboard boxes sodden with fruit juice that stained our clothes and our car, and spent lots of time cutting produce out of plastic bags and containers, but the Food Pantry staff  have been wonderful about usually opening the packages  and using only old pool buckets.

One drawback is that very little of the smuck is organic.  We are constantly amazed at how fruit and vegetables remain hard on the outside while rot on the inside.  These peppers were hybridized to be solid enough to ship without bruising, at the expense of flavor and nutrition.

One drawback is that very little of the smuck is organic. We are constantly amazed at how fruit and vegetables remain hard on the outside while rot on the inside. These peppers were hybridized to be solid enough to ship without bruising, at the expense of flavor and nutrition.

My back, my clothes and my car thank them.¬† Fortunately others have been picking some smuck¬†up.¬† The man in my life happily¬†takes lots of it to feed to his compost worms.¬† We’re a great match.

My daughter and I empty the buckets into the chicken coop.

Bodicea and Esther/Myrtle with a new batch of smuck, heavy on the bananas.

Charlotte, Bodicea and Esther/Myrtle with a new batch of smuck, heavy on the bananas.

The girls love it. I make¬† sure they eat lay crumble and calcium as well to keep laying, but with the smuck they’ve reduced their intake of crumble and hence have lowered my expense.

The girls going after the smuck.

The girls going after the smuck.

I pitchfork straw and weeds over the top and within a few days most of it except some citrus and a coconut or two is pretty much gone.  There is a fly problem, but with the flies there have come more flycatchers and lizards, and  the hens eat the insect larvae that emerges in the compost.

This is Agatha, named after a favorite mystery writer.  She's here just because she's so lovely.

This is Agatha, named after a favorite mystery writer. She’s here just because she’s so lovely.

The picking up of smuck, hauling it down the hill and into the coop, de-packaging, cleaning buckets and fighting flies and ants, three Рto -four times a week has been a time-consuming and very, very icky job, but the thought of all that free waste going into the dumpster keeps me at it.  This is bacteria-heavy compost material, which is excellent for growing non-woody herbaceous plants such as our own vegetables and herbs.

I’ve also layered the¬†smuck with cardboard, paper waste from the house (tissues, paper towels, cotton balls, Q-tips, junk mail, shredded paper, etc.) under the bananas.

A pile of fruit, veggies and cardboard, partially covered with clippings, at the food of our big banana.  A citrus to the side likes it, too.

A pile of fruit, veggies and cardboard, partially covered with clippings, at the food of our big banana. A citrus to the side likes it, too.

Bananas love lots of food¬†in the¬† form of moist¬† compost around their roots; in fact, they are commonly planted in banana circles with understory plants and the center¬†of the circle is a place for waste products to¬† deteriorate.¬† In our dry San Diego climate we don’t have that kind of tropical moisture to help it rot, but the¬† compost does become a¬† sheet mulch¬† and really helps create soil.

Miranda adds a melon to the banana circle smuck.

Miranda adds a melon to the banana circle smuck.

One inch of compost¬†reduces watering needs by ten percent, so a pile of wet¬†smuck layered with carbon items such as dry cuttings and cardboard is excellent. ¬†I throw cuttings and pine needles over the top¬†to keep down the rotty fruit smell,¬† which doesn’t last long anyway.

Sugar cane and passionfruit enjoy the smuck layers under the banana - kind of a banana semi-circle.

Sugar cane and passionfruit enjoy the smuck layers under the banana – kind of a banana semi-circle.

When creating new impromptu trellises for melons and squash in unimproved soil, Miranda and I dug trenches, threw  in wet wood and dumped buckets of smuck right on top then covered the trench with dirt.  We  planted seeds in handfuls of good compost and away they went.  We also used some of the mostly composted soil from the Fowl Fortress directly into the kitchen garden .

We augmented the kitchen garden soil with nearly-composted smuck dirt.

We augmented the kitchen garden soil with nearly-composted smuck dirt.

Due to the wide variety of fruit and vegetables in the smuck buckets we’ve had some interesting volunteer plants.¬† Tiny tear-shaped tomatoes that had been sold in plastic containers for natural snacks, a sweet potato, other tomatoes, and melons. At least we¬† thought they were melons.

Melon vines taking over the kitchen garden... but not the melons we expected!

Melon vines taking over the kitchen garden… but not the melons we expected!

Miranda was wondering about pulling them out of the kitchen garden because they were taking over without apparently producing a flower.  A couple of days ago she investigated further and  found a real surprise. We have about thirty kiwanos growing under the foliage!

Kiwanos with lots of blooms lurking beneath the foliage.

Kiwanos with lots of blooms lurking beneath the foliage.

I’ve never eaten a¬† kiwano.¬† Wikipedia says: Cucumis metuliferus, horned melon or kiwano, also African horned cucumber or melon, jelly melon, hedged gourd, melano, in the southeastern United States, blowfish fruit, is an annual vine in the cucumber and melon family, Cucurbitaceae.¬† I’ve seen them in the smuck buckets, and it just figures that of all the green melons and orange melons¬† that we’ve thrown in there, something like these would grow!¬† None have ripened to the light orange color as yet, which is good because it gives us¬† time to figure out what to do with them.

When they turn orange they'll really look like blowfish fruit!

When they turn orange they’ll really look like blowfish fruit!

Special Tours for Aug. and Sept., 2014

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Come take a tour of a food forest!

Normally tours of Finch Frolic Garden are held by appointment for groups of 5 – 15 people, Thursdays – Mondays.¬† Cost is $10 per person and the tour lasts about two hours.¬† By popular demand,¬†for those who don’t have a group of five or more, we will be hosting Open Tour days for the first 15 people to sign up in August and September.¬†¬† They will be Sunday, August¬†10 and 24, Sept. 7 and 21, and Thursdays August 7 and 28, and Sept. 11 and 25.¬† Tours begin promptly¬†at 10 am.¬† The tours last about two hours and are classes on basic permaculture while we tour the food forest.¬† I ask $10 per person.¬†Please reserve and receive directions through dianeckennedy@prodigy.net.¬† Children under 10 are free; please, no pets.¬† Photos but no video are allowed. Thank you for coming to visit!¬† Diane and Miranda

Striving for Healthier Hens

Nora and Branwyn enjoying the sun on our windowseat.

Nora and Branwyn enjoying the sun on our windowseat.

The last six months have been very difficult chicken-wise.¬† We lost Chickpea to a coyote, who snatched her a few yards from us, we lost Miss Amelia and Madge from unknown ailments, and we’ve nursed chickens back to health as well. Mulan had a prolapsed uterus, which we cleaned, stuffed back in coated with honey from our own bees and bandaged.¬† She recovered and is laying happily, thank goodness.¬† Viola and a couple of others had impacted crop, which means that they swallowed something like long pieces of grass which have blocked up the exit from their crop to their stomach.¬† There have been many mornings I’ve spent making a chicken throw up, without breaking her neck or suffocating her.¬† We’ve been frazzled with the health of our hens, all purchased through feed stores.¬† Our past chicken experiences had no egg binding, no septic peritonitis, no crossbill (which should have been bred out of the hens) and no¬†infected eyes.

I’ve purchased mostly organic feed for them, and given them greens in their large Fowl Fortress or brought them into the fenced yard for grazing.¬† Organic feed is amazingly expensive.¬† Since we don’t eat the hens and we use their eggs as one of our main protein sources, they need to be in good productive health.¬† Chickens can live ten years or more, and lay that long, too.¬† Ours seem to top off at three.

I tried fermenting their food.¬† Fermented food is all the rage and I read many articles about the health benefits of fermenting chicken food.¬† In a 5-gallon bucket I’d mix water and their lay crumbles along with some cracked corn and wait a couple of days until it smelled yeasty.¬† Then I’d give them some and replenish the bucket.¬† It took awhile for the hens to come to like the food, but it didn’t seem to do anything for their health.¬† In our warm San Diego weather it was tricky to not have the fermented food spoil.¬† Eventually I gave that up.

One of the hen’s purposes¬† in the garden¬† is to create compost.¬† They excel at pooing.¬† When the opportunity arose to be able to pick up discarded fruit and vegetables from the Fallbrook Food Pantry four times a week, I jumped at it.¬† Much of the produce is still edible for the hens; when mixed with pooey straw¬†and dirt the chickens could grub out, well, grubs and fly larvae and eat more naturally.¬† Although we’re still picking it up, we are devoting hours a week lugging stinky veggies around.¬† It is hard and heavy work, and the fly population has exploded.¬† However we have seen more flycatchers hanging around the yard recently and the phoebe is truly fat.¬† I shovel and rake the produce mixed with carbon sources (paper goods from the house mostly) and then the hens kick it all over.¬† It is good exercise for them, they eat far less lay crumble, and they are producing some very good quality compost for the veggie garden.¬† Their health has been better.

One of the reasons that the hens came down with just about every known illness was because they were purchased from hatcheries.¬† Hatchery birds live in hell from the second they are born.¬† Since few people want roosters, the male chicks are swept into trash bags and thrown away, live.¬† The female¬† chicks are inoculated¬† and packaged up for shipment through the mail.¬† There are always extra chicks packed in because the heat of the ones on the outside keep the ones on the inside warm enough to possibly survive the stressful, hungry, thirsty and brutal trip.¬† Therefore the ones on the outside of the bundle are sacrificial.¬† I didn’t want to support this animal cruelty any longer.

I decided to find a local breeder who cared for her hens.¬† I found someone who seemed reputable; her¬† mother owns a feed store and the woman breeds horses, dogs and hens.¬† On conversation with her I learned that she had imported chickens from good stock and bred them at her place.¬† The hens weren’t inoculated, but that wouldn’t matter to us since we have a small isolated flock.¬† With glee I ordered four pullets, from several weeks old to a couple of months.¬† They were different breeds and were to lay different egg colors.¬† We sectioned out the back of the Fowl Fortress and happily put the girls in.¬† Not long after we found out they were crawling with lice.¬† None of our other girls had lice, thank goodness.¬† Upon contacting the woman she said that she’d put Frontline on the hens per advice from her vet.¬† We smeared Vaseline around the eggs that encrusted their necks and powdered¬† diatomaceous earth on their bodies.¬† We’ve repeated the treatment, but we haven’t won the war yet.¬† I noticed when we picked the girls up that the blue maran, Nora, had a watery eye.¬† That eye became infected, and we learned that it was probably a small eyeball, and now she’s blind in that eye.¬† Just a few days ago her other eye was bothering her so we are treating it.¬† She is underweight, and Miranda noticed that her beak was overgrown so it was hard for her to peck food.¬† Miranda trimmed it, having had lots of experience with our poor late crossbill, Belle.¬† So Nora¬†lives for the time being in the house as we hope that she doesn’t go completely blind, and as we try to feed her up so that if the time comes when we can reintroduce her, the flock won’t attack her.

Branwyn balancing herself on her weak forelegs.

Branwyn balancing herself on her weak forelegs.

Then there is Branwyn.¬† She’s a feisty olive-egger.¬† A few weeks ago Miranda noticed that Branwyn’s legs were bowing out as she walked.¬† By the time she brought the bird up to the house she was paralyzed in both legs.¬† Our immediate fear was Merek’s disease, which is highly communicable and would have meant death for all our birds, sterilization of the coop and no hens for six months or more.¬† Within days Branwyn showed signs of moving her left leg.¬† Miranda configured a Rubbermaid container as a bouncy chair, tying a t-shirt across it and cutting leg holes through it so Branwyn could rest with legs down and feet touching the bottom.¬† Later, Miranda cut the legs from an old pair of tights and stuck Branwyn through to bounce her across the floor,¬† giving her physical therapy.¬† Sounds nutso, I know, but its working.¬† Branwyn’s left leg is much stronger and she’s beginning to force her right leg to work.¬† She can’t stand, but she can now get her feet under her.¬† We still don’t know what was wrong with her; some kind of neurological disorder or possibly vitamin deficiency.¬† We were giving her Vitamin E and B complex with selenium heavily for a week and saw her initial improvement.¬† Vitamin deficiency can be inherited; common chicken feed should have enough in it, especially when combined with vitamins in their water.

Miranda walking Branwyn in her sling made of old tights (to the tune of Surrey With The Fringe On Top).

Miranda walking Branwyn in her sling made of old tights (to the tune of Surrey With The Fringe On Top).

Lark, who was huge with sterile peritonitis, was drained by the vet and is several pounds lighter and much happier.¬† She’s with the rest of the flock.¬† Since we have no idea what caused the condition (she’s barren), it might happen again but for now she’s back kicking fruit around with the rest.

I still don’t want to participate in the hatchery butchery and torture.¬† Anything mass-produced, be it animals, food, plants or products, are rooted in cruelty: sweat shops in other countries, underpaid workers, poor root stock, diseased, malnourished and maltreated animals, unhealthy chemical-laden food.¬† I’m holding off on purchasing any new hens, even though I wanted a¬† lavender Americauna.¬† I still think that buying local, while more expensive, is better.¬† For whatever reasons this batch have all been ill.¬† In fact, the only hens we’re treating right now are all four of the new girls!

Chickens have wonderful personalities and make great pets, and they are pets; having a few hens for eggs and meat sounds easy but just like any living thing they require work.¬† Especially OUR hens, who must know we won’t cull them and have decided that we are an early retirement home with personal nursing care.¬† I wish I could look forward to such a deal!