Just about the time I think chickens are pretty smart, they try to convince me they are dumber than a rock. We’re trying to get things ready for fall/winter. One of those things is a cover crop on all bare soil and next years garden locations (and maybe some hay fields). We don’t use commercial fertilizer. God provides. We have a well fertilized yard (thanks to chickens, ducks, turkeys, and guinea). The same works for the garden. We collect from the barn and apply to the garden. What the poultry apply to the yard, stays there (for us to step in). The yard has grown wonderfully all summer long. It is really green! The poultry wanders all over this place. They are truly free range. They don’t get penned up, except at night. They eat bugs, grass, house scraps, garden waste, etc. Targets of opportunity abound. We are not finicky about the yard. The curious thing is: as well as the yard is growing, we hardly ever mow it. The poultry do. We will mow about every three or four weeks to get the high bits, but they keep it eat down quite well. And fertilized! Quite well!
The cover crop? We want to suppress weeds and slow any chance of erosion. We want to eliminate/reduce soil compaction from tilling and prior tractor use. We want to add organic matter. We want to add nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, boron, etc. to the soil. We want to do what we can to balance out the soil for next years use. The manure and a good cover crop works toward this goal.
We are going to use Austrian peas, sorghum-sudangrass, and Daikon radishes. This will all fall/winter kill. The Austrian peas add organic matter and nitrogen. The sorghum-sudangrass adds lots of organic matter (reports of 8,000 pounds per acre per year of dry organic matter, not live weigh), a massive root ball that holds the soil to prevent erosion, all that growth inhibits weed growth (especially winter weeds this fall), and with the first frost, it dies. After it dies, it will fall over and mulch the soil to lessen erosion and the splash of falling rain. And it insulates the soil and its microbes. And the daikon radishes! They are massive drills. They have a root. And that root goes south! It can be 3 inches plus in diameter and up to 2 feet long. And it has lateral roots off of that. All of this is terrible for soil compaction (great for us). Those roots mine minerals and bring it up toward the surface for next years crop to use. The radishes will winter kill and decompose. The root channels are channels for water to enter the soil pass the soil compaction and it is a channel for next years crop’s roots to go deep. I have read of people doing no till. They will plant a tomato, pepper, etc. into the decomposed radish and its roots go deep because the soil compaction is broken. The new crop loves all those minerals. Even if you till, you have lots of “new” minerals for your crops.
Sorghum Sudan Grass
Daikon Radish soil breaking cover crop.
So, that is the background. I have been out mowing the field where next years garden is to go. Most of next years gardens will be on new plots. This years garden goes back to hay/fallow/cover cropping. The gardens that have died back have already been mowed. That flail mower does wonders on corn stalks, weeds, brassicas that have gone to seed (next years volunteers), beets, spinaches, etc. Everything is just chopped up to about 2 inch lengths and ready to decompose. I will till a lot of it in as I prepare to seed the cover crop. I will be interplanting all three on all fields, while the supply lasts. I have a 50 pound bag of each, but the radish seeding rate is about 15 pounds per acre. I guess the hay field may get some. I don’t intend to carry any seed over to next year.
Using the Grillo and Flail Mower to cut uncontrolled weed growth.
The same area a few days later when the mulch is drying and beginning to rot.
This is what the Flail mower does to large plant growth.
You can see here how tall some of the weeds are and the Grillo with the Flail mower cut through it beautifully.
So, I am busy mowing hay stubble in preparation for a cover crop. And chickens being chickens, they feel that is a call to dinner and they come a-running. We had chicks hatching all summer long, here and there. They come out. The older chickens come out. We have ducks and turkeys checking things out. It is a menagerie. It is nice to see them coming from everywhere. They have learned that the Grillo equals dinner. When I am tilling the garden, they are getting grubs and roots. I love them getting the grubs for me. When I am mowing, it is cricket and grasshopper, etc. time. It is comical to see a chicken running after a grub or grasshopper or whatever when she has a large tennis ball or baseball attached to her breast. She is so stuffed and still trying to get more. And it is cheap chicken feed. With all of the rain we have had here and the heat, we have few mosquitoes and insects around the house. We don’t see many bugs, but the poultry sure do find lots to eat when I am running the Grillo.
We have had few insect problems in the garden. But we have had lots of chickens in the garden. And here is a contradiction to what I had been led to expect. Your experience may be different, but we have had good results with poultry in the garden. Ducks are suppose to destroy a garden. Our ducks spend a lot of time in the garden. But they seem to be getting grubs and slugs and… I don’t know what all. But they love it in the garden.
And the chickens? They are about the worst for roaming. Anywhere and everywhere. Near and far. Tall weeds along fence rows (I need to get that mowed). Open ground. And in the garden. The south garden is on the other side of the barn. The rows are 200 feet long. And the chickens are pass the end of the garden. The east side of the garden is a row of winter squash and pumpkins. Big vines! A couple of weeks ago, I was trying to mow along the edge of the row/vines. I glimpsed something out of the corner of my eye. I looked. There was nothing. In a moment, I got that glimpse again. This happened at least four or five times. I was starting to wonder about “me”. And then I saw it, the upright tail of a Buckeye hen. For just a quick moment. I stopped and went over to see if there was a problem. There wasn’t any problem. She was traveling the trails they had under those big vines. They had trails everywhere. And there wasn’t just one chicken in there, there was a bunch of them. And all the trails! And not one vine was dying from being stepped on. And I didn’t see any squash bugs. I can’t say that was because of them or not, but I didn’t see any. I guess it was cooler in there out of the direct sun. And bugs. I was surprised they weren’t out with the other chickens around the Grillo.
Anyway, back to dumb chickens. I think I read somewhere that the blades on the flail mower turn about 10,000 revolutions per minute (rpm). They will chop up a 1 inch thick weed stalk/corn stalk, etc. Those chickens feed right up against the mower. That is where all the bugs are being uncovered/thrown out. I have had them run into the mower. I have had them stop in front of the mower. I have had one on my right see a grasshopper or something about 30 feet away on my left. What eye sight! It will run right in front of the mower or run over top of it. One day, one is not going to make it. I am not looking forward to that day. I dread it. But they sure are happy! What really catches me off guard real badly is the one that sees a bug right in front of the mower. It runs over real fast and stops in front of the mower. Time to grab the clutch and brake, fast! They generally move out of the way of the oncoming mower, slowly (usually). And then you have a girl that has seen a bug and knows it is in the grass there somewhere? And she isn’t going to let it get away. Even if that big, noisy mower is coming. I am glad the blades are in the center and not up front of the mower. This afternoon, I had a Buckeye tail under the edge of the mower before I could get stopped. No where near “danger”, but still unnerving. One of these days… I dread having them around, but they are enjoying the feeding frenzy so much and I am enjoying them and their antics so much. It is a dilemma. And they must be a one sided DD with that tennis ball up front. Some day, one is just going to explode from eating so much.
Forgotten note: The poultry in the garden: They have given us a little damage, but not nearly as much as the bugs would have. For us, the poultry in the garden is a good thing.
On to a happier subject: Garden bounty. We had a nice coincidence. Fiona gathered some Craig’s Grande jalapeño type peppers from the garden. I watched a Wall Street Journal video on making Texas Twinkies. She married the two up. The result is fantastic. Try them. Highly recommended!
Bacon wrapped Jalapeño poppers
1 pound good quality thick cut bacon☆
Toothpicks (wooden) if needed
Parchment covered cookie sheet
Cut the Jalapeño peppers in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and ribs (this is where the heat comes from)
Spread cream cheese in the bottom of each half.
Cut the cheddar cheese into strips as long as the peppers and about pencil thick, lay one of these strips on top of the cream cheese filling.
Wrap the cheese filled pepper with a strip of bacon and hold it in place with a wooden toothpick.
Place the peppers on the parchment covered cookie sheet.
Bake at 375 until the bacon is crispy. The longer you cook the peppers the milder they should be.
Remove from the oven and let set for 5 minutes.
☆The bacon makes a huge difference. The first time I made these I used cheaper, regular cut bacon, it wrapped easily but it was too fatty, not enough meat left after baking. If your Jalapeño peppers are smaller you can use a half strip of bacon per pepper. The WSJ had shredded beef brisket inside the jalapeño, also. Pretty well child safe for eating. Not much heat in ours.
We try to not let much go to waste around here. We found a couple of squash in the east garden where I was mowing down everything for the cover crop. They were volunteers. They were immature. One had started to rot some from ground contact and one of those ground induced rots. The chickens got the rot. She cut up the good parts into small pieces. She had a recipe for Zucchini Cobbler Pie. She tried the zucchini on me. No advance warning. I wondered where she got the apples for the cobbler. Our apples were finished. She told me it was zucchini. I was pleasantly surprised. She figured if it worked for zucchini, it might work for immature winter squash (think down the road when frost is coming and you have loads of squash coming on and no time for them). She tried it. It was about as good as the zucchini (she liked it better, it was more dense). Here’s the recipe:
I use 1 cup of lemon juice concentrate...it may be because our zucchini is less moist than a lot of zucchini varieties.
I add 1 tsp of ground clove to the filling part. I also reduce the sugar to 1/2 cup.
I replaced 1 cup of flour with rolled oats for the crust mixture.
I followed the recipe exactly the first couple of times and it is very very good that way. However I wanted to make some changes for us.
The other thing I did was replace the zucchini with immature winter squash. We had two in the East garden that had their vines broken when we tore out the weeds. They were nice big squash and I hated to chuck them. When I looked up recipes for immature winter squash I found out you can use them instead of summer squash. They worked even better than zucchini!
Zucchini Cobbler Recipe
5 cups zucchini – peeled, seeded & chopped
½ cup fresh lemon juice
¾ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups white sugar
1 ½ cups butter, chilled
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9x13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
2. Place zucchini and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Cook, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until tender. Stir in ¾ cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and nutmeg. Simmer 1 minute longer, remove from heat, and set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour and 1 ½ cups sugar. Cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir ½ cup crumb mixture into zucchini mixture. Press half the remaining crumb mixture into the prepared pan. Spread zucchini evenly over crust. Crumble remaining crumb mixture over zucchini, and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon cinnamon.
4. Bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden and bubbly.
Fiona got this recipe from a friend of hers. We hope Becky doesn’t mind our sharing it. It is a wonderful, decadent product. Dangerously good!!!
We are more fortunate than a lot of people. For that, we are thankful. We have the room where our poultry can roam freely. And we let them. And they seem to be very happy with that situation. They are living as their ancestors did. It is good for them. And it is good for us. It seems no matter where we are, there will be poultry there (or will be shortly). They give us many curious moments and many laughs (and many frights). They will come up to us and just “talk” away. I haven’t learned the dialect yet, but they think I need to know what they are saying. Maybe its the location to a collection of juicy bugs that they are willing to share with me. If I am in the way, they will just walk over my foot, or under it. If I am walking across the yard, I will probably have an entourage following me. If I stop somewhere, and Loopy-Lou is around, she will come up and grab my leg MEAT, and twist. That is her trademark, the twist. She wants picked up. And NOW!!! It hurts, a little, but not bad. It is more cute than anything. (And it keeps pesky neighbors from making a second visit.) She just wants attention and to be petted. She has that cute factor worked out to the max. She does not like being ignored or put off! She is irresistible. She is one of our many joys, just a little more demanding. And my favorite!!! I will pick her up and we will go on my way. And we will just talk and talk to each other. She is one of life’s most pleasant joys. Everyone should have one. She is mine. Uh-oh, and Fiona is too!!! BIG trouble for me! Fiona has Peepers! That’s her story to tell sometime. Peepers is a blonde! So is Loopy, but she is a bleach blonde. Peepers is a natural! Loopy is loopy because she is loopy. Peepers makes peeps.
Anyway, it is time to pass this on to the editor for copy and proofing and publishing. May you have or find joy in your life. God can and will help with that!
Our hope for the best for you and yours and may God provide you with many blessings,
Ralph and Fiona