My Second Batch of Chicks has Arrived!

8/16/16 – 8/22/16 | Headlines of the week:

  • Getting chicks in the mail!!!
  • Jandy’s Garlic Festival
  • Carrots and buckwheat

On Wednesday of last week I got chicks in the mail! The post office must have called around 8:30am, but I was already gone for the day so the chicks didn’t get picked up until 4:30pm. Definitely not the best situation… so I had more chicks die in the first three days (of dehydration and/or stress) than I did with my first batch, which I was able to pick up early in the morning. But I learned my lesson, and next time I’ll plan better so I can pick up the chicks ASAP.

That said, I now have a brooder full of yellow puffballs!

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This year I was experimenting with growing carrots. We have clay soil, so carrots have never done well. But this year we turned our old sand box into a cold frame and raised bed, so I planted half of it with carrots to see if the looser soil would be kind to them.

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I think it worked! I definitely could have let these guys get bigger, but I was too excited. The cat was also excited… she looks awful proud for not having grown the produce, no? Cats will be cats, I suppose.

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On Sunday Jan and Andy had their Garlic Festival! It was super fun – bluegrass, good food, gorgeous weather, and great people.

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I spent the afternoon cutting up garlic for the garlic taste test (although I admit that I didn’t taste all 7 kinds. Raw garlic is something else!), dishing out samples of tabouli, and giving farm tours.

Also, back at home I have buckwheat in my new garden spot! I planted it about two weeks ago, but wasn’t sure it would do so great because it was super dry the following week. It’s pretty cool to see the sequence of events (using livestock and cover crops) that I’m using to prepare that area for planting next year!

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April 2 | Put fence posts (previously known as dead ash trees) around the new garden spot
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June 16 | Ready to spread fertilizer (otherwise known as chicken manure, applied by moving their shelter to a new spot of ground daily)
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August 5 | Fertilizer was applied and chickens are in people’s freezers
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August 5 | Buckwheat is planted
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August 22 | Buckwheat is growing!

How to Use a Mason Jar to Test Your Soil

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Today my mission was to see what kind of soil makeup we have in different “environments” on our land. I also wanted to see what factors – natural and man-introduced – produced each type of soil. I decided to test soil from:

  • Immature woods with lots of Japanese Honeysuckle
  • A garden that’s been mulched and tilled and had copious amounts of manure added to it for nearly 15 years
  • Fields that have grown mostly soybeans under conventional farming methods for about 15 years

Since I don’t have fancy soil testing equipment or a lab, I did a simple mason jar soil test that shows the amounts of clay, silt, and sand in the soil. Loam is considered ideal soil for gardening, and it’s made up of approximately 20% clay, 40% silt, and 40% sand. Darker soils have more organic matter than lighter soils.

How to Do a Mason Jar Soil Test

  1. Fill a mason jar (or multiple jars from multiple locations) about half full of soil. 20160504_083542
  2. Cover with water to an inch or two above the soil.
  3. Shake it up well then let sit for 1 – 12 hours, until it’s settled into layers. I let these sit for about two hours. 20160504_170945_001
  4. Assess your soil situation! The top layer is the smallest particles – clay. Next is silt, and the bottom layer is sand. Determine the approximate percentages of each and compare them to loam, which is 20% clay, 40% silt, and 40% sand. Also, check out the darkness of your soil. The darker it is, the more organic matter it contains.

 

As you can see, none of these soils comes even close to the “optimal” 20%, 40%, 40%. And yet the woods grows fabulous Japanese Honeysuckle, my garden produces tons of tomatoes, butternut squash, and green beans, and the field grows plenty of soybeans. So while a test like this is a good way to see that I could stand to loosen up my garden soil, in the end… perfect soil is far from necessary to grow a wonderful crop! Instead of worrying about getting my garden soil to the perfect ratio, I’m just going to add as much organic matter as I can, till as little as possible, and grow food in it!

Now, let’s look at each sample individually. 

The soil from the woods had a loose, fine texture and it’s dark from lots of organic matter. This area of our woods has a constant covering of decaying leaves on the ground, which is stirred occasionally by animals passing through. There was about three inches of amazing soil on the top, which was what I collected, but right underneath was a layer of rocky soil.

My garden also has a nice layer of decaying organic matter on top, but below about three inches it’s still heavy from all the clay. However, I was thrilled to find about five earthworms in the small shovelful of soil I stuck in the jar! That’s great news, because those earthworms are loosening and aerating the soil.

This field hasn’t had a cover crop or laid fallow for at least 15 years, and each summer it goes through tillage and plenty of chemical fertilizer and weed killer. It’s grown soybeans almost every year, so I’m sure the nutrients are all out of whack. There was no sign of earthworms and very little decaying organic matter in this soil.

To sum it up:

A mason jar + soil and water + 2 hours = a better understanding of your soil! (This also makes a fabulous science experiment.) The “perfect” soil has 20% clay, 40% silt, and 40% sand… but perfect is far from necessary! Take care of your soil by keeping it covered and refusing to use chemicals on it, and it will serve you well.