March 2016
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Property Update – March 15 2016

I’m going to try a new feature – a periodic progress update, typically weekly, on projects and activities around our property. My goal when I started this blog was to document what we’re doing here. The transition that our property is undergoing is part of a long-term conversion and rebuilding based on permaculture principles. If anyone out there is interested in what we’re doing – great! If not, I’ll still create a record that we, our kids, and other family members can look at to see what we’ve doing.

So What’s Been Happening?
The last week or so has been extremely busy. Since this is the first of these updates, it will cover a couple of weeks.

Rain!
We’ve had two good rain events that filled both the upper and lower swales completely. The middle spillway seems to be properly placed to overflow to the lower swale. The system is working as designed so far. The goal is to fill the swale as often as possible this time of year to charge the ground with water in preparation for the growing season and the dry summer season. All of this rain also has the pool full so I frequently pump water from the pool to the swale. This helps to keep charging the ground with water as well as making room in the pool for more catchment when we know rain is in the forecast. I’m excited to see how the first swale does this year because it is entering its second year.

This Bud’s For You
The fruit trees are starting to show buds. This is exciting for several reasons, besides the obvious approach of spring. First, there are 44 new bare root fruit trees that I planted a few weeks ago. Soon we’ll know if all of them lived. Last year I planted 28 fruit trees and only 1 didn’t make it. That’s a pretty good result. Second, I’m anxious to see how last year’s fruit trees do this year. The trees are supposed to spend much of the first year developing their root structure, so they don’t show a lot of visible growth. Still I was pleased with how well they did. This should be the year that they show more growth above ground. Finally, last September I tried the technique of training the limbs with wires that I learned about in the Permaculture Orchard video. That is supposed to induce the limbs to bear fruit so it will be interesting to see if it makes a difference.

Peach Tree Blooming

Peach Tree Blooming

Aquaponics
I started up the aquaponics system a couple weeks ago and added 30 goldfish this past weekend. The system was jumpstarted with chicken manure. A water test showed there was still a nitrate level of about 5 ppm so the lettuce plants are already showing some growth. Lifting up the rafts shows the roots are developing nicely. Hopefully after a little more root growth and the goldfish starting to produce waste, we should see significant leaf growth soon.

Aquaponics System

Aquaponics System

Aquaponic Raft Beds with Lettuce Plants

Aquaponic Raft Beds with Lettuce Plants

Time for Seeds
I sowed some clover seeds on swale berms. Some of what I sowed in the fall has taken hold but I wanted to get more going. As far as I’m concerned, I would like clover everywhere. If is a good nitrogen fixer, doesn’t take over anything, and it attracts bees. Enough said.

I sowed carrot seeds in 2 of the old garden beds, as well as the 2 new beds in the back yard. These should be harvested before the tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons get big in the new beds.

I started tomato, cucumber, and cantaloupe seeds in trays under an LED grow light. These will go in the new back yard beds and some will also go in the swale berms.

Starting Seeds

Starting Seeds

Honey Locust Seedlings:
I’ve been working on getting honey locust seeds started. I priced buying the trees and the best I found was about $8-9 per tree plus shipping. I could use anywhere from 40-80 of these. Since I already spent quite a bit on fruit trees, I decided to try growing these from seeds. They do not need to be grafted like fruit trees. I ordered 50 seeds online for $8 and the seller sent about 80 seeds. If I can get a 50% germination rate, I would be happy and would save a ton of money. The first step was to scarify the seeds and soak them. The recommend method was to shake them in a jar lined with coarse sandpaper – this did not work! Next I tried nicking them with a file. I must not have nicked them enough because only about 8 seeds germinated.

I got excited last weekend and put 4 of them in the ground. That was a mistake. That night was about 35 degrees and I killed all 4 of the seedlings. Lesson learned. I need to learn how to harden off seedlings. As the seedlings germinate, I’m transplanting them into larger pots and keeping them inside at night. I move them outside during the day as often as possible.

I decided to try scarifying the seeds again. I sifted through the dirt from the seed cups on a screen to remove the ungerminated seeds. Then I nicked them again with a file, this time making sure to get deeper. After a couple of days of soaking in water, most of the seeds had swollen. The swelling means the water is getting in and the scarification is working. The swollen seeds were then put back into seed cups. We’ll see in a few days if the germination rate is higher this time.

Other Activities:
Last weekend I started up the sunflower seed sprouting operation for the chickens. I rotate 5 buckets so the chickens get a bucket every morning. So far the seeds have been a little slow to sprout, but the chickens still seem excited about the new treat. The sprouts should start doing better as soon as the weather gets warmer.

Sunflower Seed Sprouts for Chickens

Sunflower Seed Sprouts for Chickens

Last weekend I started collecting grass clippings for the chicken composting area. There isn’t a lot of green growth so far, but enough to get some organic material. I will continue this throughout the season to keep building up the swale berms and sheet mulched areas. The chickens sure were excited to get some fresh clipping to scratch in.

Chicken Composting

Chicken Composting

I sheet mulched about 50 more feet of the uphill side of the upper swale berm. This is the area where the nitrogen-fixing honey locust trees will go. This is an ongoing process that will involve continuing to add organic material to build up the soil.

Sheet Mulching Above Upper Swale

Sheet Mulching Above Upper Swale

It has been in the 70s all week. I’m not excited about 90 degree weather, but that is a long way off. Right now I’m looking forward to the warm weather as everything starts to grow. I can’t wait to see what happens over the next week, and I’ll share it with you next week.

Please share your thoughts and opinions in the Comments.
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