Sunday, December 16, 2012

Simple Greenhouse Innovations: Growing incredible corn, delicious eggs and improving your land

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Fifteen foot vibrant stalks of corn, delicious eggs all year round, compost, fertilizer, cheaper feed costs and improvement to the soil in the process?  Too good to be true?  Actually, too good not be done.  Eliot has impressed me with his variety of efficient and sustainable models and this one is definitely at the top of the list.  For agriculture to be sustainable, an ever-evolving relationship with the land must develop.  It has to progress over time through the study of past attempts and future predictions.  I've learned that agriculture is not a perfect science, rather, it is a great scientific experiment and as with all science, it is only as good as the evidence suggests.  A hypothesis waiting to be disproved.  This requires attention to detail, willingness to adjust and simply being there.  Today's cheap and innovative greenhouse solution involves taking one of the summer greenhouses and turning it into a winter resort for pasture raised winter layer hens.  One of the byproducts of this is to simultaneously create...

an actively composted and naturally fertilized plot for growing summer corn, which will be used the following winter to supplement winter chicken feed.   Using a sustainable cycle such as this one helps reduce costs, increase efficiency and fertility.




This converted greenhouse was home to our summer eggplants.  The winter version will offer layer hens protection from freezing temperatures, predators around 7 1/2 square feet per chicken of winter pasture.  This is well above the current requirement for "pasture raised" labeling which is about 2 1/2 square feet.  The idea is to help supplement the organic layer pellets needed to feed these egg laying birds while most of the farm is frozen for the winter.  For additional food supplementation, this summer, Eliot cultivated a pasture mix of wheat and clover where the greenhouse will be living this winter.   The greenhouse will be pulled down this pasture 10 feet each week, by tractor, offering a new fresh section of wheat and clover.


By building this roost in the back of the greenhouse, most of the bird droppings are here.  The house is pulled just enough to leave those droppings outside waiting to be blended into the top soil in the springtime.


Here we can see the wheat and clover mix on the left and last season's beautiful 15 foot corn stalks on the right.  Corn, a nitrogen loving plant, feasts on the nitrogen rich soil provided by the chicken manure.


Using removable wheel attachments and a few helping hands, the greenhouse is set for weekly rolling.




For the early fall months when the weather can still be quite warm during the day, vents are opened on both ends of the greenhouse with a screen to prevent the chickens from escaping.  Each screen has a polyethelene cover which is set in place for the winter.



A homemade layer box is fastened directly to the greenhouse for the chickens to lay eggs and it moves right along each week smoothly.


This year we needed to replace the polyethelene plast cover over the entire greenhouse.


Tying lose knots along one side of the plastic makes it easy to pull over such a large structure.



Another layer of screen was placed along the bottom two feet of the greenhouse (on both sides) to prevent any foxes or other animals from getting in and from the chickens busting holes through the plastic.

position 1 for winter layer hens




Using some plastic shading, the chickens have a little shade for when things get too hot.


Once it starts to get too cold for these birds to spend their time outside, it's time to move them into the big house.


As you can see here, each 10ft marker is set deeply with a fence post which helps hold down the greenhouse with chains to prevent any movement during heavy winds.




A few weeks in, we can see a beautiful mix of straw, chicken manure and greens all waiting to be tilled in and used for incredible corn stalks.


A look inside shows us that the coop is broken down into about 5 10 ft sections.  From back to front:
Section 1:  The roost, where most of the chicken manure gathers.

Section 2:  Extra greens and scratch feed and shade, all our extra fresh greens that might go to compost are instead fed to the chickens in section 2

Section 3:  Layer box and straw food and water, where all the eggs are collected and the chickens tend to gather and socialize.  The straw is almost like a welcome mat to wipe their feet before entering the layer box.  It's proven that if the area outside the box is dry, they are less likely to bring into the egg box, which helps reduce cleaning time and it's also great for the soil to have extra decomposing matter.

Section 4: Kohlrabi, squash, fodder beets and other fall leftovers, where leftover winter squash, beets and giant kohlrabi are given to the chickens each morning.  More great decomposing organic matter and food for the chickens making their eggs tasting truly outrageously good. 

Section 5: Entrance

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