I just love visiting with Karen at the Grange Co-op. Especially this time of year when the chicks are in. What is it about discussing various chicken breeds and their traits that is so satisfying? Why is it that I feel so connected after these conversations? I think it’s relating on the essential and creative act of farming. I experience my urban homestead as an act of soul expression, creativity and connection with the divine. In The Artisan Soul, Erwin Raphael McManus writes about the human wounds of conformity and standardization which rob us of our life force as a result of industrialization. He writes, “Farmers, after all, understood the relationship between hard work and creation. They worked the soil; they planted the seeds; they watered the crops; and they watched life happen. They understood they were integral to the creative act…”. When we simply chat about when certain breeds are coming in, the value of raising meat chickens and the laughable characteristics of broody bantams, we are unified around the principle of fostering life. And somehow because her mother was a long term grange member and my mother was too, we feel a history together that incorporates chick season with something greater than us, with the seasonal cycles of life itself. This time of year I think about the tremendous pressure it often takes to bring forth new life; the contractions of a labor ing sheep, the great effort it takes a chick to break through its eggshell, the powerful determination a tiny sprout conveys to break the seed hull. So determined is life! So unstoppable! And yet, the lamb is so vulnerable, the chick is so delicate and the new sprout so susceptible. Though I doubt Karen is getting all teary-eyed about the life-death nature of the season, I can’t help but to be confronted with that determined yet vulnerable aspect the season reveals about my own experience. And I feel the pressure and the tenderness of new life. I hope that my artisan hands and artisan soul have the dexterity to hold it with the reverence it is due. And I hope that you all will too.
Today I built a super easy cold frame (instructions to follow) and I moved my portable rabbit hutches atop two of the straight rows in my garden. Now that the rabbit hutches are moved, I can put my chickens out on the cover cropped area of the garden. The round beds as well as others have been mulched with rabbit manure and hay over the winter. These beds and the straight rows with cold frames will accommodate my early spring crops. I will be starting brassicas, peas and kales in the house and moving them outside to this garden area over the next couple of weeks.
I planted this area with a high Omega chicken feed cover crop blend from Peaceful Valley farm supply. I will close off the area with T posts and deer fencing tied down with bamboo poles and ground staples. The chickens are able to go out through a small gate in the bottom of the fence enclosing their full-time run during the daytime. At night they wander right back in to go in their coop. When they’ve eaten all of the cover crop and scratched the soil around, I can enclose them back in the full-time run and move the rabbit hutches atop the straight rows in that area to fertilize through mid spring. The rows will be ready for early summer planting, while the other side of the garden is being utilized for late winter and early spring crops.
I tilled this fence line with lots of rich rabbit manure to prepare for planting peas. I will probably plant two varieties from Siskiyou Seeds. I will plant them by soaking the seeds for 8 hours in the house and rinsing them daily until I see them sprouting. Then I will plant them sprouted and guard them carefully from birds.
How To Make a Simple and Inexpensive Cold Frame
This design is particularly useful for urban farming because unlike many cold frame kits you can buy in stores, this cold frame can be completely taken apart and fit into a very small space. In addition, all of the materials used in its construction have multiple uses providing you more value as well as saving you valuable space on your urban homestead.
All you need for this cold frame is:
- a roll of plastic 5 ft wide or more
- Six 3 foot lengths of rebar
- two pieces of long wood for each side
- some rocks or other wood to hold the ends closed
- a staple gun
- 15-20 feet of 3/4 or 1 inch poly pipe
Start by cutting hoop pieces from ¾” or 1” black poly pipe at the length you want them according to how tall you want your cold frame to be and how wide your bed is. Consider the width of your plastic when you decide the length of the poly pipe hoops. This cold frame has 3 hoops and the bed its covering is about 12 ft long and 3 feet wide. You may want more hoops if you have longer beds. I don’t recommend making your bed and hoops any wider than 4 ft.
Next lay out your two pieces of long wood where you want the left and right sides of your bed to be. You’ll need rebar cut into about 3 ft lengths. Pound the rebar into the ground halfway (1 ½ ft) making your four corners and your center support.
Next slide your pieces of poly pipe over the rebar spanning across the width of the bed. Then spread your plastic lengthwise over the poly pipe hoops and trim to size. Leave enough extra plastic to roll and staple to the long wood as well as fully enclose the two ends snug to the ground (about 6 inches extra on the ground).
Next lay your long wood over the plastic on the long sides of the bed and staple just a few staples to secure the edge of the plastic to the wood.
Then, roll the long wood toward the hoops wrapping the excess plastic around it. Staple every 2 inches or so to secure. Do this on both sides.
Then fold the ends of the cold frame plastic on itself and secure with rocks or scrap lumber. The ends should be secured with something movable and not stapled so that the the cold frame can be easily opened from either side.
Open the cold frame by removing the objects securing the ends and rolling up the plastic around the long wood. You can rest the rolled up plastic on the top of the frame while you work to plant, weed or water. I will start my brassicas in a cool room indoors in flats and plant them out into the cold frame early on a warm day to give them time to adjust before nightfall. You can also directly seed brassicas and cold hardy lettuces for an early salad crop. I start them indoors this time of year for quick and reliable germination.