I'm developing a new farm, a small, integrated, efficient and exciting facet of the larger farm. One that will no doubt take up a lot of time and create a lot of interest - at least for me. At last, I'm getting poultry. They can't be free-ranged - agreement with the farmer, and with the dogs - so it has to be a more complicated, creative system. They'll be near the house, on a slope which we don't use but which has several fruit trees (columbian sapote, araza, lime, pitanga), which will be incorporated into their larger run, and which should provide seasonal food, shade and shelter.
Construction won't start until beginning of May and the birds won't come until mid June, which gives plenty of time to establish the basics.
Firstly the coop and primary run must be absolutely secure - dogs, raccoons, pizotes, possums, olingas, snakes and hawks being my main concerns. The primary run will be completely wrapped in hardware cloth, ¼ inch - including a subterranean floor about a foot down. I'd love to use recycled plastic bottles or bamboo as the main building material, but I think I'll end up going for zinc panels for the extra security and longevity. The slope is about an 8 inch drop over 15 feet, and about 35 feet from the top of the ridge, so it shouldn't get too muddy. I'll cover it partially with a tarp, and the coop will have a zinc roof: it's been a really wet year.
Secondly food is a major concern: even though Talamanca has declared itself GMO free, pet and livestock food is basically GMO soybean and corn. I'd like a closed loop system as much as possible, with as little resorting to commercial feed as I can.
This means that I'll also be farming black soldier flies, duckweed and several forage species. I've started my bsf colony, or barracks, and a week into the project all is going well. The black soldier fly is native here, and for years the flies have been visiting me working in our workshop kitchen, maybe just one every other day or so. The farmer and Ana have always shoo-ed them out, saying that they bite. But they never bothered me, they look placid and I have always figured myself a bit of an Ancel Doolittle capable of living in harmony with them. Well it turns out that they don't have a functioning mouth or a digestive system, so they don't really bite. They do look a bit like chias, a sometimes aggressive wasp, and I think that's what troubled the farmer and Ana. I'm not so much a Doolittle as a I thought.
The pupae is an excellent source of protein (42%) and their nutritional breakdown looks an awful lot like the nutritional label on better quality chicken feed. There's a lot of information online about raising black soldier flies, (the photo comes from the excellent black soldier fly blog: http://blacksoldierflyblog.com/black-soldier-fly-white-magic/ ) and I'm sure I'll be throwing in my experiences too. So far I have questions about humidity levels and I have an egg cluster that just hasn't hatched and I don't know why. But my bin is up and running and I'm about a week away, maybe, from harvesting the first batch. Very excited, like can't sleep excited. These first batches I'll be just growing out the flies to ensure I have a good supply and a few generations which know where the bin is. I'll have two bins: one down by the workshop, where we process all the fruit, and one up by the poultry house for composting the manure. The manure bin won't be harvested - at least not for the poultry.
The manure bin is an important aspect of my micro farm: I don't want the smell to attract any more predators or rodents, and it's quite near the house. The bsf deter houseflies and an active barracks should be able to deal with all the manure produced each day, plus it will get eaten so quickly that there will be little time for smells to develop. The waste produced by the bsf is, I understand, excellent food for worm bins, so hopefully I'll be able to incorporate those in the future.
For green feed we already have katuk and chaya up here. I've planted out some spinach and I'll be adding gandul, pumpkin and moringa. According to what I can find online, madera negra can be used for up to 4% of the diet. Yucca / cassava leaves have mixed reviews, as do taro leaves, Canna edulis is another option. Needs further research.
Duckweed we already deal with in the nursery and pond, so I'll be bringing some up here to 'farm'. Dry weight, it's between 25 and 45% protein depending on the nitrogen source and sunlight. Not sure yet whether it'll be fresh and free choice
or whether I'll have a separate system.
So, the name. The act of naming bestows a sense of reality and lends a permanence to things. My little micro farm needs a name. Hill, home and upper are all such common names but for that I like them as they seem rooted in tradition, and again, have a sense of permanency. Upper is too broad, as that's what we call everything that's not the lower farm. I like home farm - sounds cosy and may endear others to the project. I have other plans on closing various other loops, but all in good time :)