Notes from Windward: #68


Update on Noel and Jan

our Christmas chicks explore Vermadise

     A key element of our sustainability research is inspired by Eliot Coleman's work on creating the Four Season Harvest. His concept, developed in Maine, centers around the recognition that while there are crops that are unlikely to grow in the dead of winter without significant energy inputs, there are others which are naturally adapted to colder conditions, and while even these plants may not grow much in the dead of winter, given a modest amount of shelter, they'll survive and be available for harvest year round to provide live food for the table--indeed, a touch of frost seems to make some plants sweeter.

over-wintered spinach

     Using Vermadise as a sheltered growing space, we're able to keep spinach, kale and other cold weather plants growing at least a month longer than they would outdoors. In a similar manner, as soon as the coldest weather is past, Vermadise is warm enough that we can bring transplants from PropHouse (the propagation greenhouse that last summer's 'terns worked so hard on) to take the place of greens that have gone to the table.

     But there was a problem. Last fall some predator (probably a skunk, or an owl, or both) was laying waste to our ducks and guineas. For too long a strech, each morning found either a duck or guinea dead and half-eaten, and nothing we did to fortify their night shelter seemed to impede the slaughter. And so we moved the remaining four ducks and four gineas into Vermadise. It was a bit crowed, but when you're a prey species, cramped has to beat eaten any day.

     One of the guineas escaped Vermadise during the winter and was never seen again, but the four ducks and the remaining three guineas made it through the winter. For the past two weeks ducks have been laying, and we're exploring the subtleties that distinguish the incubation of duck eggs from chicken eggs. Once we hatch a couple dozen ducklings, we'll look at moving our two breeding pairs back into the Duck Palace, but for now they're too precious to risk. We don't mind paying a nature tax as long as it's less than ten percent, but predation has brought them to the point where if we lost more, we have to start over at the loss of a year's growth, so for now at least a bit longer, they're welcome to remain in Vermadise.

     For the last month or so, the guineas where also enjoying the run of Vermadise, but they were demonstrating an annoying ability to fly up and graze on the plants in the grow tubes, and so antecedent to the transplanting of new greens from PropHouse, the guinea hens were rounded up and returned to their section of the chicken run.

our grumpy guinea hens

     A few weeks back, Noel and Jan were clearly outgrowing the brooder and needed to be moved to somewhere else, somewhere they could start the process of enlarging their world. Vermadise was a good candidate, but the dervish guineas and raucus ducks flat freaked out the two young chicks who promptly went and hid under the counter in Vermadise's work room. Gina fashioned a sort of walled enclosure for them there, one that they could come and go from--a safe retreat for when the company of the other birds became too stressful.

Noel and Jan explore their broadening horizons

      Ducks are odd birds, true, but guineas are just too wierd to hang out with, so Noel and Jan mostly hid out in their nest, but now that the guineas are out of the picture, Noel and Jan are starting to venture out and explore. They stick together as they go (this pic is the farthest "apart" I've seen them get so far), but they're gaining confidence daily. They're still too young for us to be able to guess their sex, but the odds are even that they're a breeding pair, so we're hopeful. In that they were laid and hatched in the dead of winter, they have genes that are especially suited to our goal of achieving year round production, and we'd like for them to play a key role in the expansion of our flock.

     As ever, time will tell.

Notes From Windward - Index - Vol. 68