Sunday, August 14, 2011

Creating Raised Beds From Leaves

Permaculture Raised Bed Cross Section

Here is sandy Jacksonville raised beds are essential for a number of reasons.

First of all we are in hurricane territory.  When Tropical Storm Fay came through several years back we had over twenty inches of rainfall within twenty four hours, almost a continual inch per hour.  Water backed up and flooded our garage, rising to about an inch below the door threshold but covering the garden by several inches.

The only plants to really survive were those in the raised beds not covered by the flood waters.

But flooding is not the only reason to build raised beds, there are many more.  Raised beds are typically made with compost and leaves, or organic matter.  The organic material is important for several reasons.

First of all the leaves provide a source of micro nutrients such as boron (B) , iron (Fe), copper (Cu), manganese (Mn), zinc (Zn) and molybdenum (Mo).  Composted leaves and kitchen scraps can add the required macro nutrients, the three main being nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P) and potassium (K).

Additional horse, cow, rabbit, chicken or other manure can be added for additional macro nutrients.

Chicken and turkey droppings should be allowed several months to cool because it is considered an 'hot' manure.  Some recommend allowing hen droppings to compost for a year before using.  If the chicken manure is mixed with leaves from the coop floor less composting time would be required.

Cow, horse, rabbit, duck and geese manure are considered more 'cool' manures and can be used without the long wait.  In fact, vegetables have long been planted directly in horse manure collected from the streets in nineteenth century France, giving rise to the practice known as French Intensive Gardening.

Yet beyond adding micro nutrients, macro nutrients, organic matter and flood protection, raised permaculture beds offer even more benefits.

Leaf compost allows for mositure retention.  Keeping the root area moist during hot dry periods is important.  Leaf compost prevents vegetable bed soil from drying out as quick as those beds without compost.  I've seen raised beds made of pure sand and manure turn into dried, cracked planting beds during long, hot summers.  Adding leaves cools the beds, provides shade and keeps the soil moisture intact longer.

And then there is nematode protection.  Nematodes devastate vegetables planted directly into our sandy soils by infecting the root area with their presence and damaging the plant's ability to transport water and nutrients up through the vascular system to the leaves.  A nematode infested vegetable plant will appear stunted and produce little if any vegetables.  Fortunately, nematodes do not like highly organic and composted soil.  Building raised beds with organic matter, compost and leaves will help in preventing nematode infestation.

There are many more reasons for building raised permaculture beds when operating an urban core farm.

Rest assured though that your raised beds will out produce non-raised beds every season.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Living Architecture, Critter Proof Coop for Pennies on the Dollar

One of the first tasks at hand we were faced with when starting an Urban Farm was the design and construction of a chicken coop.

With twelve newly hatched chicks growing rapidly each day we knew it would only be a matter of time before the puffy peeps would no longer comfortably fit in the large, blue tupperware storage bin.

I'd never built a coop before and honestly had no idea where to start.  The images we found on the internet were complicated looking, possibly requiring days of intricate cutting, nailing and screwing.

I'd just rather bang-bang get it done quickly.

But the coop had to look good and had to be functional.  Most of all the chicken pen had to be cheap.

Here is how we made our really cool, pimped out fowl parlor.

First we figured four square feet per bird, pretty much the standard for chickens as stated across the omniscient web.  Ten birds would be forty square feet - not a overly large area - but sufficient enough to let the chickens roam around in, chase bugs and roost at night.

Then we decided on the spur of the moment to quadruple the size to one hundred sixty square feet with no good reason except we wanted our hens to be happy hens.  Whether or not larger coops make happier hens remains to be seen.  But I am glad we have a large coop and the hens seem to enjoy chasing each other around the coop aggressively determined to rob whatever morsel of food one or another hen may be carrying in her beak.

Coop frames are the foundation on which the final coop appearance and function develops.  I like arches but don't want to have to bend pipe or purchase pre-bent pipe.  The coop walls also need to be critter proof.  below is a photo of a basic coop frame upon which living walls will be established.

Urban Farm Coop Frame
The frame is inexpensively constructed with grey electrical conduit (Outdoor plastic type) that easily bends to create the arches.  The ends of the conduit are zip-tied to either farm fence posts or chain link posts hammered into the ground.  Finally chicken wire or fencing is added to the frame to keep critters out and fowl in.

The frame can be covered with a variety of native materials, such as bamboo or saw palmetto fronds.  We also grow native flowering vines and food plants around the coop for shade, visual effect and feed for the hens.

One year later our coop begins to blend into the urban farm fruit vines.

Grapes covering the Coop walls
Cost-wise we have less than one hundred dollars into a very large, hen happy chicken coop with all the reuse of scrap materials we incorporated.

Coop Door View Living Architecture