Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Raising Chickens in a Wisconsin Winter

I’m not sure how winter snuck up on us so fast. Winter is inevitable. But preparing the chickens for winter wasn’t something that I thought much about during these past few months.

Most chickens can endure cold weather as long as they have shelter, food, and water. A chicken’s feathers trap in body heat and a chicken will cover its head with its wings to keep its bare skin warm. As a child I watched by neighbor’s chickens scratch through the snow under our birdfeeder or shrubs. Chickens don’t mind the snow as long as they have a warmer spot to go to when temperature dip below freezing. Some people recommend a heating lamp inside the coop, but other people feel that it can be a fire hazard. We skipped the lamp because we want our chickens to adapt to the decreasing temperatures. Instead of a heat source, we added more bedding and cleaned the bedding more regularly.

Even chickens like to jump in autumn leaf piles.

The sneaky problem we were faced with was the freezing drinking water.  On one surprising cold day, I was going to the coop to chip away ice every couple hours.  That method won’t last long for a working family.  Some companies sell heated dog water bowls, but our chickens are too messy for that idea.  I think they like to poop in anything we don’t want them to.  We have a large galvanized tub and mypetchicken.com sells a heater that goes under the water tub.  That would work ideally, but it is more than we can afford right now. Eric bought heated electrical wire that wraps around the water container.  So far everything is working fine.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Urban Root Cellar

A root cellar is a way to store food without refridgeration.  After reading Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Buble, Eric and I decided that we really wanted to have a root cellar of our own.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in building a root cellar.  The authors discuss which varieties of fruits and vegetables store well and the right storing conditions.  (Some vegetables like dry places while other vegetables like humid, cold places.)

Root cellars can be built in many different ways.  At first we wanted to built a root cellar in our basement, but we were aftraid that it would be too expensive and our basement would be too warm.  After a few hours of research, we decided on digging a hole in the backyard.  This option allows us to easily remove the root cellar if it needs changes later on.  We also had in mind that someday we will sell our house and didn't want anything permanent.

Eric dug two holes about five feet deep.  He prepared two galvanized trash cans by drilling a drainage hole and putting in a few pepples for more drainage if needed.  Galvanized cans aren't the best option because they will rust over time, but we didn't have access to anything else at the time.  I piled potatoes in one container and apples in the other container.  I also layered the produce with straw for extra protection.  I left about 6 inches at the top of each container for more straw as a insulation.  We don't want the produce to freeze because it will change their chemistry to something aweful tasting.  After putting the covers on the containers, we place two staw bales. 

We also made another spot to store carrots.  Most carrots can be left where they are growing and insulated with over twelves inches of leaves or straw.  But our carrots were spread over three different raised beds.  I dug a trench about eighteen inches deep in one of our garden beds.  I placed the carrots in one row and covered them with leaves.  Then I placed chicken wire over the trench to prevent any rodents from tasting our wonderful purple carrots.  I covered the trench with another several inches of straw for more insulation.  This trench is great time saver because we will plant our potatoes in it next year.

Last night Eric was outside gathering carrots and apples from our root cellars.  The neighbor stepped outside while Eric was reaching into the carrot trench.  I can only imagine what was going through our neighbor's mind when he saw Eric in the garden at nine o'clock at night.

Curious chicken in the carrot trench.

Only time will tell if these root cellars work.  We look forward to pulling produce out in the middle of winter.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ending our First Growing Season

I can't believe that it is already November. This year went by so fast. During these last few warm days, we have been adding last minute touches to our garden.

This past spring we tore through a lot of grass sod. Digging took up a lot of our time, so we decided to try something different. We read a magazine article about making raised garden beds without tearing up the sod. Eric built four more garden bed frames. Then he added a layer of cardboard, followed by rich topsoil. We also planted a cover crop to add more nutrients to the soil. Hopefully by next year the grass underneath the cardboard will have died, and our new vegetable plants can spread their roots.

Eric also built a small cold frame in the front yard. The southern sun heats up the inside of the cold frame. This will extended the growing season. Unfortunately we are a little behind schedule, so nothing is planted in the cold frame yet.

I love watching people walk by our house and seeing their reactions to our changing yard.