Irene Kightley

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since Apr 13, 2009
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chicken food preservation forest garden fungi hunting solar
South West France
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Recent posts by Irene Kightley

Kermit, I'll also mention compromise.

When I designed our kitchen garden on the south facing slope behind our house, the angles were varied between almost flat and very sloped at around 22°. We made the raised beds (About 18 years ago) on contour and initially I wanted to make them all quite narrow so that I'd never have to walk on them but that was totally impractical for the amount of work it was to put in all the retaining poles.

I rethought the shapes and considered the types of plants that would need a much larger space - Jerusalem artichokes, artichokes, shrubs, irises, rhubarb, pumpkin etc. and designed the size of the beds around the big plants that wouldn't need tending to often.

In the end we had hugelkultur beds of different sizes, which were much larger that "recommended" but the shape and layout of the beds has evolved over time and I can garden easily without walking too much on good earth.

I also think it make the garden more interesting if you don't have rows of beds all the same size/shape - but that's just me.
1 month ago
Whenever we move our goats and sheep to a new pasture, we lead the chickens into the old one. Not all of our pastures are suitable for the chickens and we’ve noticed that where the chickens have been, they have done a great job of reducing the number of ticks our animals (and us) pick up.

The Natural Fibre Company, where I send our raw Angora wool to be spun, will not accept fleeces with any traces of pesticides. Obviously we like our animals to be parasite free and comfortable and to begin with, at shearing time, we removed ticks by hand and threw them over the shed wall to the chickens. Gradually, when the chickens heard the shearing machine, a few of the older hens rushed up to the shed for their treats.

Little by little, we encouraged them to come into the shed and peck the ticks off the goats themselves. (They are much better than I am at that job !) Once the ticks are gone, they then begin to peck off lice with as many as five or six chickens working on a goat at any one time.

This part of the process took some time but thankfully, Angora goats are very calm animals and they now stand patiently after they have been sheared to allow a group of chickens to groom them. We keep the goats in for a few days after shearing and each morning the chickens start work on the goats as soon as we open the shed door.
We're handy but also lazy devils, so we let the hens do all the work of incubation, keeping the chicks (hens, ducks, geese) warm and safe and teaching them about life outside the chicken shed ! :-)

2 months ago
Thanks William, I think your comment that "The forest seems to work things out just fine" is just perfect !

I'm a lazy gardener, I leave branches and leaves and organic stuff all over the place, knowing that they'll be just fine where they are and as long as I can walk around them they don't bother me. 

I don't know much about fungi and that's why it's great to have people like Bryant RedHawk in the forum who can give us an explanation of why things work - that gives me (and I'm sure other people) the motivation to learn more about connections and nature. Thanks Bryant.
2 months ago
Almost all of my gardens are planted in an area which was a forest.

I cut down the trees which were damaged or sick and replaced them with fruit and nut canopy trees then gradually with lowers layers of useful and beautiful trees, shrubs and other plants. I left all the roots and use the new whips which grow from them for the protection of vulnerable plants from our poultry and our six dogs.

This was shortly after some of the trees had been cut :

This was the same view six month later :

I now have a mature and thriving forest garden with a few clearings for growing annuals and some new trees.

I'm sure the old trees helped the young ones to become established quickly and the stumps add interest, definition, variety and beauty to the mix.

I tend not to listen to what people say unless I know they've tried things themselves.
2 months ago
From "Once upon a time" land ;-)

We've been off grid for about 27 years and run most of our home using 12v or 24v appliances and as we built our house ourselves, we installed heavy wiring to accommodate the amperage, with all the distribution circuits protected by fuses. I used heavy duty UK plugs and sockets throughout the house.

I don't know where you are and what the laws are but here in France there are (So far) no "norms" or controls applied to DC off grid homes. You just have to learn as much as you need to do the job securely yourself and hope nobody takes any notice of you. We have no mortgage.

We have about 1400 watts of assorted and some quite old solar panels. We run several solar battery systems and use/direct the energy depending on how we are using the (large) house.

Using DC, we run :

A mixture of LED and compact fluo lighting - about 36 light sources
24v chargers for 'phones and tablets
3, 4, (often more), laptop computers using 12v adaptors
24v 120 litre Gram low energy fridge
12V/24V compression fridge/freezer
12v Internet livebox
12v pump for solar water heating system

Using a Victron 24v 800 watt inverter, we can also regularly use : 

450 watt vacuum cleaner
450 watt twin tub washing machine (Hot and cold water fill)
Shearing equipment
2 music systems (Not big boomboom - but they do the job)
Chargers for all our hand tools, computers etc.

All our space heating, cooking, indoor drying and water heating is done using wood or solar with a bit of gas for cooking in the summer.

We run a PDC in late autumn here when it's chilly and there's not a lot of sun; we have around 30 people for about 15 days. The house runs like a "normal" house and people have to be reminded constantly that we're off grid and they need to charge their equipment during the day.

We watch what we're doing with heavy loads (No washing machine, no vacuum cleaning) around the winter solstice but that suits me just fine. :-)
2 months ago
I've just spotted some flower buds on the Chinese quinces I grew from seed which are now about seven feet tall. How exciting ! :-)

3 months ago
We've had some fluffy bare necks - we called one Michael Jackson because he moon-walked, inbreeding did him in before long.

The bareneck/Marans chick is cute but she was not very pretty when she grew up.

This is "the look" from a sitting hen - watch those eyes !!

6 months ago
I've been using chickens in the garden (and for many other things) for about twenty years. I manage a hectare plot of ornamental gardens, a food forest and about 3000m² of vegetable gardens and I couldn't do that without the chickens and other poultry. We have about 50 chickens, a dozen or so ducks and some turkeys.

I'm sure I've posted in Permies before about this but I'll repeat it here. Observation is the key, watch what the chickens do and think how you can use that to your advantage (and theirs!). Go slowly and try new methods using all the the permaculture principles.

Jeanine has made some very valuable points but bear in mind that each garden is different, different breeds of chickens and even individual chickens are different.The main thing to consider is that you can't do this in a small garden, the chickens will destroy it and break your heart.

Our chickens are completely free-range and I use a lot of different strategies to protect my plants. Covering them with cages, using moveable cages, using very dense planting and the judicious use of sticks around plants. 

There are over a hundred photos in one of my sets in this link, which show the techniques I use, the vegetables and so on that I produce and the overall results of my designs.

This is one example of a "before and after" shot. The chickens clean the paths and the beds to allow the spring sun to heat the dark earth and they also eat overwintering insects. I plant, with a few sticks around each plant to protect them, then heavily mulch the bed. The chicken manure helps to compensate for the straw's nitrogen robbery and keeps the earth warm to help the plants become established.

Once they've finished working, they go elsewhere - wherever I've disturbed the soil, turned over a bed of manure or cleaned out a goatshed. This photo is taken a few weeks later.

The crop here was exceptional.

Here's the link :
8 months ago
When we moved to our new house we put up two little Rutland wind generators at the top of the hill on the north side of our house on land which was really heavy clay. They turned almost all the time !

We planted windbreaks to protect the road and the front and east side of the house from the wind and now the trees and shrubs really doing a great job and have improved the comfort around the house and they've greatly improved the views too.

Those same little Rutlands now (A higher mast is in preparation)

hardworking hedges

Ducks all over the place because there are lots of ponds in this area in the heavy clay

Corn dryer at the end of a wind tunnel

View to the ruined pigeonnier (Note the neighbour's Lombardy poplars on the horizon in the photo below, are leaning from their exposure to the west wind and the trees and shrubs on our land are still.)

Note too that my signature had changed - I've been busy this year writing up my diploma and finally....
10 months ago