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Hello from a Barcelona balcony permie

 
Posts: 22
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: 90
Location: East of England
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Your balcony looks amazing, Eileen!
 
master steward
Posts: 4580
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 & gardener
Posts: 1262
Location: Southeastern U.S. - Zone 7b
572
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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: 22
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: 511
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 & gardener
Posts: 1262
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: 22
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: 1975
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: 22
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
gardener
Posts: 1975
Location: South of Capricorn
772
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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.....
 
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