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Today is the shortest day of the year, and our chickens are celebrating by taking time off of their egg-laying and exploring the last vestiges of fall in the yard.
Our chickens are nearly a year old and are so far making the transition into cooler weather rather well – Wyandottes are a cold-hardy breed and haven’t minded the chilly mornings at all! What they have minded, however, are the decreasing daylight hours. When all nine girls were at their laying peak in late summer, we gathered 39-40 eggs in a typical week – ever since November, our production has plummeted to 30, 25, 20, 15, and, most recently, 5 eggs last week. With today being the solstice, we will hopefully see an increase in production again soon!
(Nothing makes you pay attention to the day length more than having chickens! One watches the sun carefully when you are in charge of letting out the shrieking and clamoring dinosaurs at dawn and ensuring they are tucked away safely from predators at dusk. In June, we were up at 6:15am and in bed at 9:30pm – in December, we are out at 8am and in bed by 5:15pm. How remarkable!)
With the decrease in rain and temperatures, the grass hasn’t bounced back nearly as well as in spring and summer. We’ve parked the coop in a new area of the garden that we need “tilled” and fertilized, so heavy and focused work from the ladies is welcome! The adult birds have quite the tilling power – we have found that two weeks in one location clears most of the growing material (9 birds in 80 sq. feet). To decrease boredom and keep them occupied, we’ve consistently added leaves and straw to scratch through and explore. The straw doubles as insulation in their roosting area upstairs for cold nights (so far nothing cooler than 18 degrees). No dangerous heat lamps here!
This fall, we are celebrating new successes with cool-weather crops – in the past, our seedlings have been mis-timed, struggled with germination, or simply got eaten by pests. This year, there were several successful interventions that we attribute to a steady supply of lettuce greens, kale, and carrots:
- Seed trays in part, but direct sun, on the back patio (as opposed to germinating lights in the basement)
- Seedlings transplanted in mid-September (by the moon)
- Extra seedlings kept in case of failure
- Mosquito netting added early on to protect from insects and larger pests (rabbits and squirrels)
The pest-netting is still on our crops even as our temperatures hit the twenties – the cabbage moths are gone, but the rabbits and squirrels still regularly patrol the gardens. A thick mulch of leaves have kept most of the greens going strong – the kale is still decently tasty, but the lettuces have turned rather bitter. One frustration is our brassica family – our broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower are big and strong, but did not yield fruit before the freeze and substantial daylight decrease. We shall keep them in the ground and see if they will start reproducing in the spring.
We are especially excited to continue season extension strategies with a new structure on our property! E has installed a new greenhouse structure! It is anchored into the ground for security with long, looped paracord strapping the greenhouse film in place. It keeps everything mildly warmer than outside (we are still exploring and monitoring this) and will hopefully be where we can start our seedling trays in late winter – they do immensely better with true sunlight rather than germinating lights, no matter how bright. Come spring, we will remove the greenhouse film and stretch cattle panel over the top for an epic trellis structure for squash, loofah, tomatoes, and more. Tunnel O’ Squash, here we come!
Happy Solstice to you and yours!