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Hello from a Barcelona balcony permie

 
Posts: 58
Location: Barcelona
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I'm an American from Vashon Island, WA (near Seattle) who moved to Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain eight years ago. I garden on a balcony that's the size of a single mattress. I started with a few pots, then built a vertical garden made from pallet wood, made a worm bin, then last summer built a quail aviary. I use a deep litter-ish system with playground sand and greens foraged from a vacant lot. (Wood shavings and chips are surprisingly expensive here.) Quails produce a lot of waste. I’m trying to figure out how to best store it and how long it must age before use. I don’t have room for a proper compost pile, but try to shift it between totes and pots so that it gets turned and sifted for black soldier fly larvae to feed the hens. I assume quail manure it isn’t suitable for red wigglers but only have a small colony and haven’t risked them. When the smell is tolerable I use the quail manure/sand at the bottom of my pots with potting soil on top. If too much nitrogen I might still get away with it for leafy growth rather than fruiting plants, I think. I’m in the guess and go phase because, well, I have to do something with it. I may stealthily supplement the street trees if I can’t make it work. I also bought an incubator and look forward to hatching more quail when quarantine has lifted enough to go pick up a roo or some fertile eggs. I have a food forest, Flow hive and goat on my wish list for the future but they can’t live on my balcony ;)

Our family leaves the city each summer, so much of what I grow dies untended. I might have a chance to improve my in-laws’ place near Cubelles this summer, but the space they’ve offered is below a firebreak, steep and shaded by pine trees my husband says by law we are not allowed to remove. His grandfather grew food there more than 30 years ago. Access isn’t great but I know it can be done. I’m really wishing for my own little piece of land to go wild with. I’m especially interested in Mediterranean climate edibles that would be ready to harvest in July and August when we are there. We can go the week before Easter to get things started, but aren’t usually there again until the twins are out of school. I would like to grow things they really enjoy. Last year’s balcony garden was raspberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, nasturtium and young avocado with hearty chlorophytum comosum (AKA indestructible "spider plants") tucked in everywhere from the days when I only grew what I couldn’t neglect to death. (I have the bad habit of overwatering natives because I’m from a rainy place and needed to recalibrate.) I wish I understood earthworks well enough to confidently set swales and a pond. I’ve looked the Cubelles plot from Google Earth, but I can’t see contours, only pine crowns. Meanwhile I'm looking for a place of my own and thinking about an orchard and quail-centric systems.

I think it's going to take me a while to master the lexicon of this forum, but thanks for the information and inspiration. I keep tiptoeing toward permaculture.
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pollinator
Posts: 849
Location: East of England/ Northeast Bulgaria
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Your balcony looks amazing, Eileen!
 
master steward
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Location: USDA Zone 8a
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Welcome to the forum!

This lady lives in an apartment and she does vermicomposting.

https://permies.com/t/108016/Newspaper-litter-vermicomposting

Have you thought about composting with worms or black soldier flies?
 
author & steward
Posts: 4555
Location: Southeastern U.S. - Zone 7b
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Eileen, welcome to Permies! Really enjoyed reading about your balcony project and loved seeing your pictures.

The possibility of developing something near Cubelles is especially exciting. I hope you'll keep us updated on how it's going. Have you found our earthworks forum yet? That would be a great place to ask questions and discuss possible ideas.
 
Posts: 11
Location: Norco, California
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Amazing stuff dude. Your backyard looking stunning
 
Eileen Kirkland
Posts: 58
Location: Barcelona
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Thanks for the warm welcome. I admit I feared a "that's not permaculture" reaction. I appreciate your suggestions and even the basic concept of PEX, the way I'm trying being part of my journey.

The universe provided an enormous bin that a neighbor was throwing out because a wheel is broken. Sorry to the anti-plastic folks, you're right, but I'm still overjoyed. I've propped it up on a few flower pots full of maturing quail manure and it's almost a raised bed. I've added a few volunteer wigglers from my crate garden (please admire blossoms and ripening fruit in Feb. My PNW self can't get over it.) Maybe if I sweeten the quail/compost deal with enough of our after-school-banana peels maybe they'll stick around. Yes, to the BSF larvae suggestion. (I look for and find them weekly, which makes me think the reds should maybe stay in the crate. I think my volunteers have escaped up into potted starts.) I never thought I'd be so delighted to find maggots. Quail will eat small slugs, too, FYI.

Is it appropriate to add my BB attempts to this post or should they go under description of the BB or somewhere else? I watched Paul's "Bricks" video so I'm not completely lost but am a little shy. It's like 4H for adults. I love it ;)
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New bin
New bin
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Worm crate garden
Worm crate garden
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Outdoor tomatoes in Feb
Outdoor tomatoes in Feb
 
gardener
Posts: 873
Location: Southern Germany
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Hi Eileen,

I love to see your balcony! Such a good use of space.
Although I don't have a balcony but a small garden, I always look at planted balconies online and think that many people get out much better fruits, vegetables or habitat for wildlife than folks with a huge garden.
People can get spoiled or overwhelmed with too much space whereas if you are forced to focus on a small scale you can really rock it!

Keep us updated!
Regarding your other possible space, look out what kinds of fruit and veggies are available at the summer time when you are there. That is a good hint for planning your own food forest.

My parents live in Andalucia but I myself have no idea when they can harvest their citruses (grapefruits!), figs, olives, persimmons or nísperos (medlars?). I only remember we had great figs (the last of them) in August when we went.
 
Leigh Tate
author & steward
Posts: 4555
Location: Southeastern U.S. - Zone 7b
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Eileen Kirkland wrote:Thanks for the warm welcome. I admit I feared a "that's not permaculture" reaction.


Eileen, rest assured that a restrictive definition of permaculture is not encouraged here. Permies is a global community, with members living in uniquely regional areas all over the world. So, we get it that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions to the various challenges we each face. We're here to encourage one another. Permies is a great place to ask questions, share ideas, and brainstorm possible solutions to problems.

That being said,  I love your photos! I second what Anita said, keep us updated!
 
Eileen Kirkland
Posts: 58
Location: Barcelona
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Quail by mail. Let the spring breeding program begin! Meet Valentina (My husband is winning Valentine's Day.) Her pal Casanova is busy trying to mate the whole covey in the first 15 minutes ;)
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gardener
Posts: 3510
Location: South of Capricorn
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Welcome!! I love the lush green of your balcony!!

I also really like your quail setup. How many birds do you have (so far, before impending population explosion...)? Do you get meat or eggs? I've got rabbits but have been considering quail-- we are also urban, very small space, and I need to choose carefully. Quail seem like a good prospect.
 
Eileen Kirkland
Posts: 58
Location: Barcelona
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Tereza Okava wrote:
How many birds do you have (so far, before impending population explosion...)? Do you get meat or eggs? I've got rabbits but have been considering quail-- we are also urban, very small space, and I need to choose carefully. Quail seem like a good prospect.



Hi Tereza,

I have had six since last summer and added a pair today - with my first roo. So far he's not noisy. I wonder if the noisy ones are being kept from the hens or if I'll hear him bright and early tomorrow morning. They're not nearly as loud as chicken roosters, but they do make a weird sound. The most poetic description I've heard is, "like someone has stepped on a cat." My main interest is eggs. They're nutritious and just slightly milder than chicken eggs. It's subtle, but if I had to describe it I guess it's a hint less sulfur taste. I always add a splash of milk to chicken eggs, but my quail eggs don't need it. We're a family of four and we still buy other eggs occasionally, but it's enough for a few omelets during the week and a batch of waffles on the weekend. It makes me feel better after those weeks of dwindling grocery store shelves last spring. The slicers that cut across the top are worth buying if you raise them. They don't crack cleanly like chicken eggs, but do peel easily when boiled.

I also have this maybe-crazy idea that I could get my city of balcony-owners keeping hens for eggs again. When the Catalans were hunkered down surviving life under Franco it was pretty common to have balcony poultry. Some people even had chickens indoors. Maybe it would bring back bad memories, but I'll bet the skills are not lost. When I have "extras" I'm planning to put trios up for sale with a notice near the community garden. It's set aside for retired age folks, maybe they'd like some at home or by the pea patch...if there aren't any takers in my neighborhood, there's a site called Milanuncios that's a bit like Craigslist and will probably work fine for my small batch hatches. We're not allowed to travel regionally right now, which complicates things, but my husband's side of the family has suburban property in Cubelles if all else fails. I hope we'll be allowed by summertime.

People are always cautioned that coturnix aren't smart enough to free-range then come home, but I do wonder if you kept the females in and the males out whether they'd stick around enough to be useful when needed. They're Iberian natives so a few escapees doesn't seem catestrophic, especially if it's extra roos. They are popular enough as meat here, but they're factory-raised by the thousands and it's not a market I'd like to satisfy regulations for or compete with.

Raising game birds is much more popular in the south of Spain. Hunting them is popular there and there's a flying variety, too. I've seen them single and in pairs in small cages in Malaga. I've seen them crowded like sardines in Granada on concrete pads. I think their behavior and coop smell tells you if you've overcrowded. They do create A LOT of manure. They can get aggressive when crammed in. Adding diluted apple cider vinegar to the maintenance routine can help a lot with the ammonia smell. I used salvaged offcuts of flooring instead of wire on the bottom of my aviary. This spares their feet and prevents bumblefoot. I clean with a dust pan and shower squeegy, only needing to scrape occasionally. I might build another on wire to drop manure into a composting system, but I think I'd only put grow-outs or roos there. Hens lay best when happy and they don't really want to be on wire. Lots of people do it of course. No judgement, just my preference. Feet problems can be mitigated by giving them a cat-litter-box sized sandbox to chill out in when they're not eating and drinking if you want to start them in rabbit hutches.

They'll likely lay their eggs in the sand for you although they have a reputation for just dropping them wherever. They do like hiding places, but received wisdom is that rarely get broody without a more natural, large ground aviary setting. I've seen one of mine scoot three eggs together with her beak to the corner that's farthest out of reach, but didn't encourage her because I knew they weren't fertile. They tend not to really sit until they have several so don't assume they can't self-hatch just because they don't stick with the first two or three.

These are ground birds, so you don't have the guilt about not letting them fly. They can hop pretty high and wild when startled, but my girls are very mellow and just move to one side of the aviary when I clean. I really can't say enough good things about them. They just need fresh sand and/or litter often, good attention to fresh water, high protein food in their first two months and enough calcium once they're laying. They're mature by 8 weeks which is way faster than chickens and I've heard from people who get the conditions just right who have them laying by 6 weeks!

I haven't had rabbits since I was a child, but I have seen videos on YT of people who keep them together. The only downside I can remember is perhaps some competition for each other's pellets?

I could, and do, go on and on!

Be sure to post if you get any new critters
 
Tereza Okava
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Posts: 3510
Location: South of Capricorn
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Eileen, thank you for the suuuuuuper detailed answer!! I was kind of iffy about quail and now my kid and I are pretty stoked. I hear you about scarcity, things here (Brazil) seem to be poised on the edge of more shortages and lockdowns and your description actually makes it sound doable!!

The rabbits are garden helpers (manure producers, they eat my kitchen and garden waste) but we've assumed that if things get crazy again we will start breeding for meat. I have two, in two separate hutches. One has access to a good-sized fenced run in the garden when the weather permits, the other one hates to leave her hutch so she's mostly busy destroying branches, boxes, etc.
Chickens are noisy, and I want to spend my limited space on growing food, so quail seem to be a good candidate. Lots of feral cats here, as well as owls, hawks, snakes, good-sized lizards and who even knows what else, so anything I can make a nice secure pen for will be great. Your setup makes me feel pretty hopeful.  
Another fun thing for my back-burner rumination list.....
 
Eileen Kirkland
Posts: 58
Location: Barcelona
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Six coturnix quail chicks from my first successful round in the incubator. Tiny and cute!
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Six coturnix quail chicks
Six coturnix quail chicks
 
gardener
Posts: 497
Location: Middle Georgia, Zone 8B
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How cute are they?! Congratulations, Eileen!
 
Eileen Kirkland
Posts: 58
Location: Barcelona
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Same permie - new balcony. It's not the setup of my dreams, but I'm giving this a try for my extended flock. My mature coturnix quail are in the original hutch, but my latest hatch of 13 (!) graduated outdoors today. Feedback welcome about catching waste into carbon/compost beneath in bins. They have five off-wire options and I'm hoping that water over wire reduces cleaning days. I feel ok about the mix of shelter/ventilation for autumn in Catalunya, but it would be terrific if the compost is a warming option as nights get colder. Anybody tried this already? Wonder how much ammonia is too much...
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Almost fully feathered
Almost fully feathered
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New quail hutch setup
New quail hutch setup
 
Eileen Kirkland
Posts: 58
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I can't resist sharing these gorgeous tomatoes growing on the balcony near our water heater - ripening at the end of December. My twins empty their water bottles here after school. I keep an eye on them on laundry days. I'm so excited to eat them.
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Tomatoes ripening in December
Tomatoes ripening in December
 
pollinator
Posts: 5126
Location: Bendigo , Australia
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What a great use of everything, well done.
I may look at quails also.
Thankyou.
 
Eileen Kirkland
Posts: 58
Location: Barcelona
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Spring is coming and I'm excited!

Six months worth of quail manure/kitchen waste/acorn stuff graduated to be the base for my new blueberry beds. I splashed out for some nursery stock and planters that satisfy my husband's aesthetic ;) The cultivars available locally were Bluecrop, Meader and Pink Lemonade. Not familiar with them but fingers crossed. This is the dedicated laundry/clothes line balcony so I've been discouraged from further encroachment!

My original quail coop is mostly a potting bench these days. I hope the black soldier flies choose to lay eggs inside these cardboard strips near this overripe mango or inside these bins where I have restarted things and left them a little margin to get in. There were a few dormant ones at my last turning, so I'm hopeful. There are some cool proprietary pods with ramps and collectors out there but I haven't seen them locally and assume they're not in my budget. Quail coop 2.0 works just fine but is still a bit messy. They like to take four little shuffle steps backwards and crap through the wire at the sides. Some adjustments are needed. Such is life.

My plant supply hasn't recovered since last summer's move. I have been foraging quail greens rather than sprouting for them. I still start bell pepper, tomato, cukes, butternut, apple and citrus seeds from the kitchen, but I'm looking to shake things up. I am proud of my jelly palm trees from seed (they take a long time to germanate and are now getting their second leaves) but I have no land for a dozen palm trees, so...not the most practical choice. Northwest exposure and rather windy on the third floor. We'll see what works this year.

I'd like to have a small manual aquaponics setup and am still thinking about best uses for what I have. I'm in COVID quarantine with my kids, so I'm mainly thinking about what could work without leaving home this week. Opaque flower pot 'pond', expandable multi-leveled biofiltration with miscellaneous food-safe containers, bamboo spouts to trickle water for oxygenation, a pitcher to move water, a duckweed bin on the side to tackle the hottest quail manure input...?

I love to see what others have going. Viva la PEX! Cheers, E
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Compost filler for blueberry planters
Compost filler for blueberry planters
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New blueberry plants
New blueberry plants
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Potting bench BSF egg trap
Potting bench BSF egg trap
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Black soldier fly larvae compost and quail
Black soldier fly larvae compost and quail
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Manual mini aquaponics plan
Manual mini aquaponics plan
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Jelly palms and aquaponics brainstorm
Jelly palms and aquaponics brainstorm
 
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What an amazing display! I have a very similar situation in Florida. I have been raising mealworms on my porch to feed the quail, and I've been testing to see if the mealworms can solely survive on the quail manure. I have red wigglers also, but haven't gotten that system down yet.
 
Eileen Kirkland
Posts: 58
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Thank you :) Your meal worm system sounds great!
 
gardener
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I'm loving how much you are able to do on a balcony! Your quail are so cute! I've talked about getting quail for years but haven't done it yet but my neighbor has them and says he'll set me up with a few whenever we are ready.

I wanted to comment on your blueberry bushes. Your Bluecrop and Meader bushes are highbush varieties might have issues producing fruit of you don't have enough chill hours- especially after seeing your ripe tomatoes in February. The pink lemonade is a rabbiteye variety and doesn't need very many chill hours so I think that one will be successful for you. I'm a PNW native and so I understand there is a desire to grow blueberries in our blood! 😂

If the highbush varieties don't work out for you, your set up might be nice for some dwarf citrus.
 
Eileen Kirkland
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You're right about the blueberries, Jenny, They're forming a few fruits but at this point are mostly an expensive branch trellis for tomato and nasturtium that are growing gangbusters. I got exactly one red currant from my two plants this year. Wind and wild temperature swings make it tricky. We were in the low 90s already this week!

The quail are doing well and love the days when I forage local greens for them. People always say chickens are better eaters, but I think they just want it to fit in their tiny beaks. They don't tear things up with their feet as well, but if you do the work with a kitchen knife or scissors they're on it - carrot peels diced down, red pepper, cucumber ends, zucchini, apple and pear cores minus the seeds, etc. I find it SO satisfying to feed these bits rather than waste or even compost them. Occasionally I bundle greens for them to tear at themselves but one swallowed and passed a rubber band, so I'm not doing it that way anymore. I guess she thought it was a worm!

Unless you're keen to hatch (incubating them IS fun) I'd say just get hens. They don't need the roo. He mounts and spoils their feathers relentlessly even at 'correct' ratios above 5:1. It's normal for him to grab head feathers for balance and dig into their backs with his feet, but they do look pretty rough sometimes. If I weren't a renter I would like to mount the cage to a solid wall instead of the balcony railing. Under the eave of a garage or shed would be perfect, but we do what we can. I hope you go for it and love it!

Yours in all things green,
Eileen :)
 
Dylan James
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Can you explain your quail compost operation for me? I figured it would require too much time/space/labor but you make it seem easy.
 
Eileen Kirkland
Posts: 58
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Re: compost

I really just catch the quail manure in the two big bins and store/turn it between the three smaller ones.

I provide greens often. I grow some, I weed the flower boxes between home and kids' school, forage the parks a bit, etc. I'm sure people here think I'm weird, but I keep a sack in my backpack and fill it when there's an opportunity. I chop them with kitchen scissors and the greens they drop dry out and start the mix. They spill sand on sand bath days too. *My best quail compost tip is to give them a tray of your most mature compost to bathe in and spill down the day before you empty the big bins to start over. This gives your next batch a huge headstart*

When there's a quantity I prop the cage up and empty it into a smaller bin. I add some extra "brown" carbon in the form of dead leaves or ripped up toilet paper rolls etc. depending on the season.

There's a mulberry tree between my apartment and the gym. It has huge leaves and I pick up a couple of bouquets worth ahead of the street sweeper a few times a week. I toss them into the cage and let the quail break it down. It makes caged life a little less boring and the composting really starts without me.

Every couple/few days I turn the compost between the small bins. This keeps my food waste at middle/bottom. When it's alive and cooking it breaks down and reduces a lot. When I want it hotter I pile it up and cover it with an empty bin leaving a little gap for airflow and possible black soldier flies. I use a spray bottle when it's too dry.

When it's buggy I let the quail pick through it. This sounds like a terrible idea (and might be?) but the manure isn't fresh by the time stuff has hatched in it. Add a little apple cider vinegar to the quails' water that day if it makes you feel better.

I do have a thermometer but I mostly go by smell and volume to decide when to set it aside to finish. I have a discarded plastic fruit crate that I use like a sifting screen to catch big stuff that needs more time. It's mostly banana peels. Maybe I've made it sound like a lot of work but with habit stacking I just kind of do it as part of my routine as I check water and feed or walk around town. I'm breaking all of the rules about volume of piles but it works well enough for me.

I have just ten quail now and that seems about right for my space and our family's egg needs. I live in a wealthy town that's essentially a bedroom community to Barcelona. I got four out of five of these bins curbside because people broke the lids or wheels. There's a lot to find if you're not embarrassed to use it. Give it a try if you're up for it!

Yours in all things green,
Eileen

 
Eileen Kirkland
Posts: 58
Location: Barcelona
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Pictures!
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One red currant!
One red currant!
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Happiness is a flower tower
Happiness is a flower tower
 
Jenny Wright
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Location: Zone 6 in the Pacific Northwest
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I love your nasturtium tower!!! 🤗
 
Eileen Kirkland
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Location: Barcelona
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Thank you! There's an upcycled bunk bed ladder under there ;)
 
Eileen Kirkland
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Pictures of compost sifting. Most-mature material gets wet down and will finish in this metal bucket. Chunkiest box gets new material added to it. Sifted box waits it's turn for the bucket. (Quail get to play in that one, too.) Time to water plants!
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Zero waste compost sifter
Zero waste compost sifter
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Good enough compost system
Good enough compost system
 
gardener
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Location: Poland
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Looks super cute, especially with the quail!
 
gardener
Posts: 925
Location: Málaga, Spain
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I wish my pots in the balcony looked as lush as yours!
I think I do the opposite, I kill my plants by underwatering.

You were afraid that what you are doing is not pure permaculture... Have you seen a recent video by Geoff Lawton showing some examples of urban permaculture? One of them was a simple patio with a few plats in pots. Not much that can be achieved from that small space, but the little it could do, it was following the principles.
You are even integrating systems, so it's even better.

 
Eileen Kirkland
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Thank you. I like Geoff Lawton's videos a lot. -especially greening the dessert and his glee in showing how his place handles storm water.

I'd like to see permaculture more away from the guru and gatekeeping mindset. Even here I shook my head when 'I disqualified' myself by cleaning grease from my cast iron with a conventional paper towel after showing a fried egg not sticking. Or eggs my birds laid that 'didn't count' because in the photo they were outside the cage. Badges are fun but I guess I'm just not that desperate for approval. (They even turned down my mason bee house - which worked by the way!)

If I could be an 'influencer' I would love to get everybody planting the seeds from their kitchen scraps. Even if they don't produce it's just such a happy little change.

I hope you're finding fulfilment where you can

 
John C Daley
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Do you eat any iof the quail?
 
Eileen Kirkland
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John asks if I eat any of the quail



No. I don't. They would make such a relatively small meal that it hasn't been worth upsetting my kids over it. My 8yo twins refer to the quail as their sisters.

Some would say that it toughens children up for the reality of meat eating...but that's how I became a vegetarian at age ten, when a cow that had been kept with our horse was slaughtered. That lasted seven years until I summered with a family in Costa Rica and realized just how disrespectful it would be to decline what my host family served. I have an uphill journey going already with one child who already eats in a very limited way due to sensory sensitivities, so I haven't rocked this particular boat.

My father's family had a chicken hatchery business and at one point as a child it was his job to snap the necks of the tiny roos (because you can feather-sex /sort chickens young for some breeds). It was pretty much a life-long bad memory for him. (With experience you might actually be able to sex sort quail by behavior, basically a noisy call even when very young, but they mature so relatively fast that feeding them a couple of extra weeks to be sure seems worth it to rule out mistakes.)

I have released a few roos to probably be eaten in a nearby wilderness area, but I gave them a fighting chance by choosing an oak tree in a grassy field near a shallow stream. They are endemic to my area, so although frowned upon that was what made sense at the time. I kept one and hatched one more. They are tolerably quiet since one is clearly senior and the backup is junior, but too many do make a racket.

There's a fellow named Chris who has a YT channel Slightly Rednecked who is pretty down to earth and talks about raising them to feed his family. I don't think many roos at his place pass eight weeks in age. Coturnix Corner or others can teach you how to dispatch them swiftly with sharp scissors. I've even seen someone who converted an Airstream to be her clean butchering area. Sorry I didn't bookmark that video. She had a cool set up somewhere in the American Northeeast, I think.

I don't think I'll reach any big scale. The fertility of eggs declines after about six months although they can lay for a few years. Hatching a couple of times a year for fun and to replenish breeding stock is the extent of my ambition unless we buy land here. My husband is more tolerant than enthusiastic.  I keep him sweetened up with a dish I call the quail patron's breakfast.

I do think they're wonderful and hope more people give them a try. Good luck in all your endeavors, Eileen
 
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