The Year of Nitrogen

Soil Test Kit

Soil chemistry testing with LaMotte Soil Test Kit!

I have tested my soil nutrients and composition before. I made some lame attempt to address deficiencies, adding compostfor depleted nitrogen and fireplace ashes to raise the pH. Results were – meh. THIS year, I vowed, would be different. I would have the patience to get to the bottom of my soil conditions and scientifically address them!

Out comes the Lamotte Soil Test Kit. I love this thing. It reminds me of the chemistry kits I envied but never had as a kid.

Here is the deal:
1. Take soil sample from a few inches below the surface. Integrating from a few spots throughout the bed is a good idea (whatever).
2. Spread out the soil to dry (I used squares of tin foil so I could save the sample for later), removing rocks and plant debris. Crush clump to speed drying.
3. When soil is dry, crush it through a fine seive. I used my fine metal kitchen colander.
4. I also weighed my samples plus the debris that didn’t make it through the seive to calculate % coarseness. Cause I’m a geek.
5. Perform soil tests. Kit includes testing for pH, N, P, K.
6. Additionally geek out by performing a soil composition test.

Here are my results:
All of my untended beds (by this I mean completely ignored all winter with no cover crop or protection) had the same results: pH 7-7.5, Trace N, high P, high K. I expected low pH, so maybe this means last year’s fireplace ash application more than did its job. That might also explain the P and K.

The low N seemed extreme and made me wonder if the test was working right. Until I measured my asparagus bed which had – shocking – different results: pH 6.0, High N, moderate P, high K. I had recently top-dressed this bed with 1″ compost, so even though I dug down under that for my soil sample, it would seem compost makes a difference!

I will apply 1# of fireplace ashes/sqyd of asparagus bed to bump the pH closer to 7, but they like it a bit on the acid side, so I’m not too worried.

What do do about a soil that needs a ton of N, but little else? I have decided on feather meal. It contains about 15% N, works at cool temperatures, and releases N for up to 6 months. The LaMott guide suggests 10# N/2000 sqft for ‘Low’ N soil result. Other places I read twice that. So I’m going for 0.01#/sqft. For my 275 sqft of veggie beds, I will need 2.75# of N. At 15% N, that means 18# of feather meal. My local(ish) source sells feather meal in 20# bags – Done!

Soil Test pH High

Gorgeous, but can you see how there are two colours there? The purplish-blue one at the surface is the right colour (7.5). Below that, the suspended fines are clouding the solution. When I let this settle for several hours, the water column was all 7.5.

Soil Test P High

Again – beautiful! But a bit on the high side…

Soil Test N Trace

This was the result for most of my beds – making me question whether the test was working properly. Until I saw the asparagus result.

Soil Test pH

Again, see how the fines interfere with colour interpretation? The blue-green colour (6.60) at the top is correct.

Soil Test N High

Aha! There be nitrogen! This was the recently-compost-ammended asparagus bed.

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Raspberries the Right Way

I finally did it. I trellised my raspberries like I ought to. Although my corralling system has improved over the years, I finally tired of the canes falling over during high winds or leaning all together when heavy with fruit.

This method involves a sturdy system of 4×4 posts, double cross supports, 16 gauge galvanized wire, eye bolts and turnbuckle screws.

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The extra-special improvement for 2015 involves appropriate thinning and twine.  Very simply, each fruiting cane is attached to the upper wire on one side or the other of the trellis.  Canes are now no closer than 4″ apart and prevented from being blown or bent over. Ta-da!

Twine would around individual canes

Twine would around individual canes

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The other advantage is that there is now ample space for the new canes to come up between the fruiting canes.

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I am very very excited to test out this tidy system come spring and summer!

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Baby chickens in my shirt

Photo Oct 13, 11 28 18 AM
Baby chickens are so adorable.  I have some in my shirt right now.  Seriously.  I do.  The weather is cooling off with the arrival of fall and the new babies are chilly more often than was the summer batch.

Princesses Buttercup and Butterscotch

Princesses Buttercup and Butterscotch

The summer chicks we brooded in the (unused) fireplace, with lots of hanging outside time during the near-steady warm days.  This batch we are brooding in a large tupperware with an incandescent light, cause they are still tiny and we’d like to use the fireplace.

Photo Oct 13, 9 07 43 AM
The light produces plenty of heat, but when it’s time to ‘socialize’ them, they get chilly outside their brooding box.  So I put them in my shirt.  Mostly the collar of a vest or jacket.  I just traded them off with Scott who lay down on the couch to read the paper.  He has them up against his neck inside a tea towel blanket.

Photo Oct 13, 9 10 23 AM
It’s adorable and sweet.  But I may have created a monster.  It seems like the only time the babies are quiet now is when I put them in my shirt.  Being squished up against my neck inside the collar of my vest is probably a lot like being squished underneath momma hen’s wing.  Besides the heat, it’s probably innately comforting to move with the breathing and pulsing of a larger creature.

Chicken, on my shoulder, makes me haa-ppy...

Chicken, on my shoulder, makes me haa-ppy…

Have any of you created monster chickens or the sweetest pet chickens by socializing them one way or another?

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Is it so much to ask?

Dear humans,
Is it so much to ask that you protect us from the things that go bump in the night? From the beasts with teeth that bite and tear and kill? Is it so much to ask?
Your chickens

I am saddened to report the unnecessary death of several hens, chicks, and pullets over the year. This summer Little Sister was broody (again). I set her up in the broody box with 3 wee chicks. The door of the broody box did not have a secure latch. Each night I rolled a bowling-ball sized rock in front of it and thought ‘Good enough’. It wasn’t. This summer I also re-vamped the chicken run.  I procrastinated getting the door to the run/coop back up. You see where I am going with this?

OlderHensPerchedAnnotated IMG_2908

Whilst we were away one weekend, our chicken sitter faced two consecutive nights of bloodbath – first in the broody box (Little Sister and her babies), and then in the coop (Baracka, the Best Chicken Ever). We had lost two hens earlier in the summer – one from an unexplained illness (Calamity Jane), the other a suspected overdose to some random poison buried in our compost bin* (Blanca). That left us with a single hen (‘Red’) – the only girl hatched to any of the three broods from 2013. At the bottom of the pecking order, she was the wildest of our chickens. Although she seemed relieved to no longer bear the brunt of all those beaks, she got a bit lonely and decided to go broody – right after we got our next batch of chicks.

Chickscrop2014-07-27 16.47.15

Baby chickens 2014 Take 2. Australorp, Ameraucana, Splash Blue Marans

The new babies were awesome! It had been years since we had raised our own chicks and we had tons of fun brooding in the fireplace, taking them outside when they were small, and then letting them run free range after we’d moved them out to the coop. They had taken to coming to visit me whenever I came out into the yard, eventually sitting with or on me for a bit to preen themselves (or me!). We were really worried that Frankie, the blue splash marans was a boy. These were all ‘sexed’ chicks, but she was big, had a honky voice, and we didn’t have any experience with her breed.

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Pen for supervised outdoor time

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The babies cuddling with Scott

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Jen cuddling with the kids

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Hanging with the pullets


Frankie preening my hair a week before her demise

Yesterday I gave Red away to a woman who didn’t have enough English to reassure me she wasn’t going to eat her. I decided to give her away because she had never stopped bring broody and was terrorizing the chicks with her bitchy attitude and we wanted to keep the flock small. I vowed not to care, but i regret it now. I was however excited that the babies would get the run of the roost.

Last night we went to a friend’s house before dark. The chickens weren’t in the coop yet so we left them be. When we got home, I nearly tripped over the little Australorp as I came down the walk. What was she doing out? I found our little Ameraucana perched on the chicken tractor. Scott eventually told me to stop looking. He had spotted the trails of white feathers that led to our androgenous Frankie – now a mangled mess left on top of the shed.

Take home lessons? It is unnecessarily cruel to not lock the chickens up at night. So many solutions – herd them in before dark, ask someone to come over at dusk and shut the door, use an automatic chicken door. Despite the 360 days of the year when raccoons do not attack our hens, it is not worth the risk.

*[We had once several years ago put rat poison in a burrow in our compost bin. I had recently emptied the compost bin and moved it to a new location in the chicken run, essentially bringing years of history to the surface].

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