Our Mission

To live a self-sufficient and organic lifestyle for the next half century. With the Grace of God and the power of prayer, we will succeed. Nothing is impossible with His help. It wouldn't be us without laughter and joy at the Cockeyed Homestead.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

We're Still at it- Putting the Orchard to Bed

We're down in the orchard this week again. We're a few weeks late with this project. The outside temperatures during the day are a brisk 40 ish degrees. The on and off again cold rains have put us behind. We're putting the orchard to bed for the winter. I bought two rounds of straw. They were cheap enough at $40 a round. That's a lot of straw and we're spreading it by hand! If we could just snap the twine and netting holding it all together and simply roll it out on the tiers it would be easier, but they are so blasted big and heavy, we can't.

We dumped one round on one side of the orchard and the other on the other side. About midway down on the five tier levels. We were thinking smarter than harder. We each grab a cart and wheel barrel full and spread it along each tier. Once we reach the other side, we do it again. This time with the other bale. It would go faster with many hands, but we've only got three so we keep plugging away at it. Between the two of us, we can cover a 4'x75' tier in a day laying the straw 12" deep. This is on top of the wheat, barley, oats, and wheat orchard grass we planted in the spring.

On top of the straw we are broadcasting bone meal, blood meal, and sifted manure and straw from the bunny barn and chicken coop to speed the composting process faster. The larger chunks have been broken down to where they are in usable 1/4" size. Mel built a compost/manure screen to do this. Then, we spread another 6" or so of straw on top.

Fresh chicken manure is nitrogen rich, but it will break down with the straw and rains so it will be plantable by spring.While most compost mixtures are 2:1 carbon to nitrogen our orchard leans more the 4:1 carbon to nitrogen using half aged to fresh chicken manure. Yes, chicken manure has that much nitrogen. The late fall/early winter rains will water it in.  Eventually, snowfall, will do their part in keeping the mixture moistened during winter.Thank you Mother Nature. Again, we are working smarter not harder.

How do I know this about fresh or half aged chicken manure? The straw bales that we seasoned and planted in last spring, we broke apart this fall. We seasoned them with hot chicken manure. They were cooking and fertilizing our Roma tomatoes all growing season. When we pulled the last of our tomatoes up, the bales fell apart. Other than a very thin outside layer of wheat straw, it was all compost inside. All I had to do was pull off the baling twine. Neat, huh! I figured to get two years use out of the bales, but that didn't happen.  Each of the bales were also full of earth worms, a double whammy of benefits. The same will be true with the orchard.

This should be the last time we have to do so much in the orchard to build up the heavy clay soil. They say, the third time is the charm, I'm hoping so. All will be tilled in to lighten the clay even more in the spring. The whole area will be sown with orchard grass and wheat to keep weed seeds from coming up in the orchard. We had fewer and fewer sprout the last two years. The whole area besides where the apple trees, fruiting bushes, and grapes are. We can now dig down a foot and not hit any hard, compacted clay or granite. That's been the whole point of doing this. It will only get better from here.

The year after, spring 2020, we'll be sowing dye source, wild flowers on the lower tier under the pecans and black walnut trees to hold unwanted weeds to get a foothold. They'll self sow themselves while the two-year old trees mature. I've read that there is concern that black walnut trees can poison and area for edible crops, but dye source flowers should do well. At least until the canopies of the trees block the sun. Then, we'll sow orchard grass back into that area and plant the wild flowers for dyes one tier up. But that's a job for four years from now.

Y'all have a blessed day!


  1. This is an absolutely excellent plan! Making soil building a priority is a must, with benefits for years to come.


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