Friday, May 12, 2006

What to do with an old coop? (Or 'How to think like an Earwig')

With 2 1/2 acres of land to manage, there are moments when I wish we could move to a condo with paid landscapers. But then I'd have to get out those silly exercise videos again. These moments pass fairly quickly. But the only way to move forward with improvements here without being overwhelmed is to divide it into manageable areas or projects. This year my main project is converting the old chicken coop into my garden space.

Until 4 months ago I had a small flock of 9 Rhode Island Reds. I really liked having chickens, but they were getting to be too much for just the two of us and we can't eat 9 eggs a day.

So I was left with a 14' x 16' ft. fenced yard that is double fenced with galvanized wire and chicken wire. I think it would be deer-proof but the only wild animals we have are a bunch of feral cats.

I decided to make a diary of this conversion and my garden this year because I always forget what things looked like before I began hacking away at the hard dirt, sorting out the rocks and noxious weeds.

And this nifty little digital camera lets me take shots and immediately load them on my computer. So here's a Before Shot of the chicken coop.

Pretty sad, huh?

But if nothing else I have, I do have visions of grandeur. My plans are for it to be full of life and beauty (and funky garden art all over the place).

I already have my veggies in their beds on the inside. It was the easiest garden I've put in yet. The soil was really loose once I broke through the crusty layer of chicken manure. Just a pitch fork to loosen it up, then broke it up a little more with the fork without really turning it. (I have plans for a blog on the Wonders of Germination when I get time.)

Had a bale of straw in the corner for a compost pile. Also had a bag of alfalfa meal which I like because it does all these wonderous things to the soil. Besides I like the way it smells, but then I like the way a horse barn smells too. Earthy.

I figured I'd just layer my veggie beds the way I was going to do the compost. Soil, a light dusting of alfalfa meal, coffee grounds, and lots of straw. Oh yeah, I watered it really well first.

When the soil had warmed up some (I used clear plastic for a couple of days) I just cleared a circle in the hay, dug a hole with a hand trowel, and filled it with water. Popped in the plants and added a little organic potting soil on top.

Next day I gave them a drink of fish emulsion. Something only a plant would love to drink, but we did have a dog (don't forget Rudy!) who practically devoured a container of fish emulsion that I'd left sitting on a rock. But dogs will eat pretty wierd stuff.

The plants look pretty good so far except the eggplant and lemon basil which appeared every morning with more holes in the leaves.

For some reason I diagnosed it as a flea beetle problem (holes are similar) and tried to come up with a creative, organic way to keep them at bay.

I wanted to find a way to protect the plants without trapping any pests inside. And I didn't like floating row covers 'cause when I tried them I couldn't see my plants or tell if they needed me.I take a very conservative approach to pest and weed control. This is my 'meeting with nature halfway' I guess.

Anyway to keep from making this too long, I found something at the Dollar Store that I could set over each plant on the theory that the pesky fly-ins would be so confused/repelled or maybe laughing so hard that they'd go elsewhere.

It's a plastic-covered wire waste basket. Looks like a lousy waste basket but I thought I'd found the perfection solution for flea beetles until it dawned on me that my problem was really EARWIGS! and this would never keep out an earwig.

Earwigs love brand new tender leaves and I've had them devour so many plants I must have a mental block against them. That's why I'm writing this all maybe next year I'll be forewarned.

Cut up hoses and rolled up newspaper don't work for me...there's just too many of them and they have much more interesting places to hide) So I put some DE in a little fairy ring around some plants; with others I'm trying another experiment. (I'm trying to think like an earwig here.)

I made a styrofoam plate 'collar' and put Tanglefoot Pest Barrier around the inner and outer edges. Don't see how they could get past this one. It's not aesthetically pleasing, but then neither in Holy Basil. (I promise I won't post a photo of dead earwigs stuck to the plate!)

Next project: outside permeter of the coop which includes a Mr. Lincoln rose bush (heavenly smelling!) and the old min-hen house.

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