November 5, 2020, was a perfect day for burning our prairie. We’d enjoyed several days of dry weather, and had our fire permit. We just needed a bit of breeze.
On that gorgeous day we burned the labyrinth, the backyard prairie, and our savanna…….and then we struck a match into our newest prairie. With the help of Linn County Roads and Air Pollution Departments, Pheasants Forever, the Monarch Research Project, UNI, and Sustainable Landscape Solutions we had prepared the soil and killed the weeds last May. Then we broadcast a native seed mix containing 82 species.
Prairie’s slow to start. We didn’t expect much this first year and ended up with lots of crabgrass. It grew to about 8” and dried out nicely. A slow fire removed most of it, allowing sunshine to warm prairie plants beneath. We expect a resurgence of delightful plants next spring and summer.
We burned the new prairie to encourage the native plants.
Several organizations and businesses are collaborating to create and manage the prairie.
Recently Rich donned a heavy jacket, gloves, and hat then ventured through swirling snow to the mailbox. He returned with seed catalogs. Seems early but there are two good reasons why we like to receive them in the depth of winter.
Seed catalogs make great winter reading.
First, they make fun reading as we sit in the cheery glow of the woodstove. It’s pleasant to see photos of colorful vegetables. Makes us long for spring.
Second, they remind us it’s time to buy our seeds. Gardening was amazingly popular last year as Coronavirus confined millions of people to their homes and potential food shortages were a concern. So many people bought seeds that they were hard to find. The lesson: Buy early.
We manage our small garden intensively and mix composted chicken manure into the soil. It makes vegetables seemingly explode in growth.
Here’s how we buy seeds:
Mail Order: Our favorite mail-order seed source is Seed Savers Exchange (seedsavers.org) in Decorah, Iowa. They specialize in organic, non-hybrid, non-GMO seeds. In other words, they sell classic vegetable varieties. We eat many winter squash, and Seed Savers sells a wide diversity of varieties. Our favorite is Silver Bell. It’s full of flavor, keeps all winter, and is just the right size for two people. We have ordered seeds from large format catalogs that come to our mailbox unrequested. They’ve been good seeds, but they tend to have fewer varieties of winter squash and some other vegetables. Most also sell flower seeds and fruit trees.
Over the Counter: Right after January 1st, home and garden stores put out their garden seeds. We often buy a dozen or so of the small envelopes of seeds.
Generally, they sell seeds packed by two types of companies. One is name brand seeds. The other is packets sold by companies with names we don’t always recognize. They are much less expensive than name brands. We usually buy some of each type and have had good success with the less expensive ones.
A Planting Tip
Lettuce, carrots, parsnips, radish, and many other seeds are tiny. It’s easy to plant them too close together. That results in tedious thinning in a month or two. We take the time to plant the seeds further apart to reduce the thinning chore. This also stretches the seeds in the envelope to produce more food. Often, we replant early vegetables and get a second, late-season crop.
Use chicken manure to enrich the soil.
Save space and cool the cabin.
Intensive gardening maximizes space
Baby Chicks May Also Be in Short Supply
Last year hatcheries had trouble meeting the demand for baby chicks. Some customers were disappointed that they weren’t able to buy the breeds they wanted. We place our order at Hoover’s Hatcher (hoovershatchery.com) in the winter so we get the chicks we want at the best time for us.
Chicks need to be warm until their insulating feather grow.
Seeds or baby chicks……order early.
Adria and Tom Fuller, Guest bloggers
In spite of the difficulties associated with 2020, including state mandates limiting travel and gatherings, it’s brought us both joy and wonder. Who would have guessed:
- that our family-centric wedding planned for May on the Maine coast would become an even simpler ceremony in Adria’s living room a month later, the State of Illinois allowing our minister in New Jersey to officiate over the phone. Thank you, Alexis, for a ceremony that spoke deeply to us.
- that this Mississippi River bluffs neighborhood (where both our houses are but not within sight of the River) could become as interesting and friendly as we found it to be this summer and fall.
- that watching the corn grow in a farmer’s field just down our street really was entertaining.
Nature and Community
- that for a couple of weeks, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo accompanied us for miles on neighborhood walks, out of sight, but not earshot.
- that we’d be delighted with nighttime sounds of owls, coyotes, and frogs, and daytime glimpses of a fox, spotted fawns, wild turkeys, and groundhogs right in our yards.
- that we would see the International Space Station traversing the night sky and five planets within 24 hours: Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter.
- that although our church buildings are not currently open, ZOOM services have become part of the fabric of our lives.
- that we could play Pickleball on a circular driveway.
- that Chinese checkers could be so entertaining, especially when a sleepy opponent starts moving pieces backward.
- that although he may deny it, he likes chocolate and ice cream just as much as she does.
- that she CAN SHARE chocolate and ice cream. (Note anything chocolate and/or ice cream/frozen yogurt is almost sacred to her! So sharing is quite the accomplishment!)
- that she learned from him that Skippy peanut butter is its own daily food group.
- And that after six months of marriage, he still makes her laugh every day.
We hope you too discover treasures of hidden delights in these challenging days—enough to abundantly water the new year with promise, advancement, and fruition.
A song to accompany our walks.
Bringing Light to the day.
The cheery call of Cardinals adds joy.
Daily walks yielded unexpected pleasures.
A booming business in rural Iowa.
Our relationship with Hoover’s Hatchery started years ago and launched a long and mutually beneficial relationship that keeps growing.
Thanks to quality products and innovative management, the Hatchery, located in tiny, Rudd, Iowa, is thriving today and offers increasing services to its primary market – small flock owners. Raising tiny chicken flocks has become a popular backyard activity that combines fresh eggs with a fun learning experience.
Questions? Turn to Hoover’s Hatchery
Hoover’s chicks are fed the best ingredients.
Many newcomers have limited or no experience keeping chickens. Hoover’s is there to help. Want a mixed flock of docile hens that lay brown, blue, green, or white eggs? Hoover’s sells the chicks. Need help learning how to care for them? Hoover’s website is filled with tips and the staff is just a phone call away. Want to learn more? Hoover’s will guide you. Hoover’s is accurate because as Tony Halsted, Director of Business Development, stated, “We rely on people who have kept chickens for years and know what they are doing.” They are successful because they innovate. Flock Journey is their latest innovation and expansion of partnering with businesses and small flock Ambassadors across the country. From backyard poultry experts in the northern climes to those in the South East to Homesteaders, Hoover’s works with experienced and creative people.
This winter Hoover’s is launching a new website called FlockJourney.com. It’s filled with chicken keeping tips. Marketing Manager, Kelsey Spotts, explains that Flockjourney is a “…one-stop-shop for backyard poultry.” Visitors can come to one site to get all the information they need.
Innovation has helped the business grow.
Hoover’s Hatchery partners with several proactive businesses to support healthy poultry. Strong Animals out of Marshall, MN, advocates natural solutions to poultry care. Nature Serve in DeMotte, IN, formulates poultry feed for optimal nutrition.
So, how does Winding Pathways fit? We write blogs for Hoover’s Websites and help with a monthly Facebook Live program. Take a peek at Hoover’s Hatchery website. And be sure to order your chicks early as the business is booming. And, Flockjourney is a one-stop site for information on Lifestyle, Breeds, and Poultry Care. The images are engaging, the blogs and videos both informative and entertaining, and topics range from warm treats to decorating the coop for holidays to chickens off the grid. There is always something brightening up the website, thus, encouraging your creativity as a poultry owner.
One of Several Hoover’s Hatchery Ambassadors
Why Winding Pathways? Well, we have plenty of experience. Rich has been keeping chickens since he was a child in New Jersey in the 1950s and Marion grew up in a family that gardened and raised chickens and pigs in New England. The Pattersons have kept chickens for most of their married life, tested many breeds in small flocks, and experimented to find easy and effective ways to keep chickens.
We blog occasionally about chickens on Winding Pathways and are proud to be part of the team with Hoover’s Hatchery to help encourage people everywhere to keep small flocks in ways that are fun, productive, and safe.
Late December is special. There are lots to be thankful for and a good reason to celebrate. The solstice just passed, promising a daily addition of sunlight and signaling that spring is on the way. Then there’s a multitude of seasonal, cultural holidays and Holy Days. St. Lucia’s Day, Las Posadas, Yule Winter Solstice, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.
People everywhere enjoy special year-end treats. For us, it’s stollen and pickled herring plus delicious cookies and, in some years, a tender roast beef dinner.
We remember our chickens and give them special year-end treats. They need it. Few things are as delicious to a hen as a juicy grasshopper or fresh grass shoot. By now those are just memories, and the poor birds have to make do with a diet of nutritious, but boring, commercial mash.
Jazz Up the Diet and Relieve Boredom
So, while keeping plenty of quality mash in the feeder, we jazz up their diet with these things:
We vary the treats.
Mealworms: Our chickens might not like them as much as a June caterpillar but dried mealworms are a great winter substitute, so we sprinkle a couple of handfuls in the coop every day. These treats can be bought online or in farm and pet stores.
Sunflower seeds: Many people put sunflower seeds out for cardinals, chickadees, and other birds to enjoy on frosty days. Chickens also love them. We toss a handful of black oil sunflower seeds with the hulls on into the coop. They quickly disappear.
Squash seeds: We enjoy eating butternut and other winter squash during the cold days. Our chickens devour the seeds.
Scratch: Chickens love eating commercial scratch grain, a blend of corn, milo, wheat, and oats. A handful or two a day is plenty. It’s chicken candy but low in protein. Be careful when buying scratch. Some brands include a high percentage of milo, a grain that chickens don’t favor. It’s a round reddish colored seed. Try buying scratch with a low milo content.
Flock block: Each winter we buy a flock block. They’re made by several companies and are compressed scratch grain fortified with molasses and other treats. We simply put the heavy block on the coop floor. It takes the birds several weeks to eat it all and keeps them busy picking out tidbits. Farm and pet stores sell them. Some folks make their own!
We toss a few treats outside the pophole door to entire the hens outside in winter.
On winter days, before enjoying our morning coffee and breakfast we open our coop’s pop hole door and scatter some chicken treats. We’re sure to say good morning and thanks to our hard-working hens.
Rich shows three treats while a hen in the coop checks out what is happening.
Hens check out new foods carefully.
Chickens gather ’round the Flock Block.
Satisfied that the Flock Block is something good, the hens and rooster begin to peck at it.
We won’t forget August 10, 2020. On that summer day, Cedar Rapids was hit with 140 miles an hour winds that tore off roofs, felled signs, and toppled at least 65% of the City’s trees. The damage was awesome.
We lost 47 of our 53 big trees at Winding Pathways and spent the next two months cutting up a twisted jumble of trunks and branches. We bucked up what we could for firewood and made huge brush piles on the north end of our property for wildlife habitat. We used chain saws for cutting but muscle power to haul brush and wood.
Nearly all woodland owners suffered similar damage, and most of them immediately began clearing away broken and downed trees. Some used heavy equipment to haul off debris, leaving bare soil in the woods, a perfect seedbed for weeds.
Resetting the Forest
The derecho reset Iowa’s woods. Prior to settlement most of the state was prairie with woodlands typically lining streams and rivers. Frequent wildfires raced through grasslands and never hesitated when they encountered woods. This created a savanna ecotype characterized by scattered fire-resistant big trees, mostly oaks, walnuts, and hickories, with a stunningly diverse array of wildflowers carpeting the ground.
Savanna was an “open” forest. It lacked a shrub understory, and because trees didn’t create a closed leafy canopy sunlight dappled the ground. Perhaps no forest is as beautiful or endangered as savanna.
Iowa’s settlers quickly suppressed fire. Gradually trees closed the canopy, keeping the ground in shade most of the day. Many savanna flowers need some sunlight and declined as a shrub layer, often of exotic invasive woody plants, thrived. Many woods that owners considered healthy were actually degraded by years of fire protection.
The derecho changed it within under an hour. Many trees fell to the ground, but others survived. Woodlands will now have sunlight reach the ground, stimulating both invasive species and long-suppressed native wildflowers.
Planning and Planting
The woods on the east side of our house created nearly a complete canopy, but suddenly they fell. After we cleared away the debris, we did these things:
- Planted a few white and bur oaks in the fall. We’ll plant a few more next spring. All are protected from deer browsing with a stout ring of wire mesh.
- Purchased a diverse mix of savanna wildflowers and a few kinds of grass from Pheasants Forever. Mid-November brought two inches of new snow, and we hustled out to broadcast the seeds on it. It’s called frost planting and works well.
- Discovered some tiny oaks, hackberries, and walnuts amid fallen trees. We marked them and know they’ll grow rapidly next year.
Recovery will be slow. Newly planted trees grow slowly their first few years and savanna and prairie seeds take a few years to establish. We don’t expect to see much change in 2021 but our “new” savanna will eventually be gorgeous and look much like it would have in the early 1800s.
We bought our prairie seed from www.pheasantsforever.org. Our fall-planted trees were ordered from the National Arbor Day Foundation www.arborday.org. Spring planting will be of trees we bought from Chief River Nursery www.chief rivernursery.com.
Trimming damaged trees.
Arbor Day in November
Discovering volunteer seedlings
Rich planting acorns gleaned from an undamaged timber patch
We’ll follow up our planting with occasional prescribed burns to retard invasive plants and invigorate natives.