It’s off the beaten path, even for our rural area. The directions were vague—turn here and there, over a single lane bridge, up and around to the top of the hill. But. It was worth the trip.
and Andrew, the farmer/henkeeper is knowledgeable, enthusiastic and passionate.
I spent a morning (and part of an afternoon) talking with Andrew as he toured us (my friend Elaine was along, too) around –giving us an in-depth look at his project as well as a glimpse into his mind full of ideas for educating people on the importance of locally grown, non-GMO products while spreading the word about the dangers of industrial farming—especially the industrial egg industry.
The tour began with the “Mother Ship”. This is a 48’ x 30’ building oriented to true south with solar panels, as well as light diffusing and filtering Lexan panels, 16mm thick with an R value of 7, which will help insulate the top of the building while allowing appropriate rays from the UV spectrum into the building to assist with plant growth.
At the eastern end of the building, there are two large windows. Two exhaust fans are set to be installed in the opposite end of the building, and there is a large door in each end as well.
Inside, 7 raised garden beds have been built.
Each will be filled halfway with cobblestones, not unlike those in the paths between the beds. The top half of the beds are filled with a mixture of compost, Canadian peat moss and perlite/vermiculite. A subterranean heating/cooling system is in place, underneath the garden beds to first heat the rock and then the soil. Thermostats in the soil should automatically switch on and off at set temperatures. Connected piping and in-line fans will gently blow the air from 4’ below ground to help cool the building in the summer and warm it in the winter.
|Andrew explains the subterranean heating/cooling system (geothermal).|
To begin, Andrew will be growing lettuces, other leafy greens and a few herbs with plans for staggered 5 to 6 week harvests. A bed of lettuce has been allowed to go to seed, so eventually Andrew will be sowing his own saved seeds; for now, he is purchasing non-GMO seed from reputable companies. Already, a local restaurant has contacted him to ask about purchasing fresh salad greens. Andrew has hopes of one day having a small farm market and offering workshops as well as weekly subscriptions for lettuces, greens, herbs and eggs.
And eggs. The other component of this project is the Biodynamic Henhouse, which is attached to the northeast corner of the Mother Ship.
|Stella wonders who is disturbing her egg-laying|
A cozy coop will hold up to 40 hens and 2 watch goats, and the attached wire run will give the animals plenty of outside access to pasture, sun/dust bathing facilities, digging, scratching, and exercise. To deter predators, the wire fencing attached to the wood posts extends below ground and 20 lb. monofilament line will be stretched from post to post above the run to keep aerial intruders away.
Just now, about a dozen hens cluck happily in the run. A few of these are old hens from Andrew’s original flock, and the rest are those left unwanted from spring sales.
Within a week, however, the numbers will double. Andrew gathers in unwanted hens from dark basements, industrial farms and the threat of stew pots. He will be traveling upstate to bring in a few hens rescued and transported to NY from a defunct western egg farm. He introduces the new hens to the existing flock slowly over several days, in a large wire cage, and has had good luck with this system.
The chickens are part of the cycle within the bioshelter (Mother Ship plus Biodynamic Henhouse). The deep litter method will be used in the coop, and a handy compost door has been installed in one wall.
|compost door in wall of coop|
Floor litter, already partially composted, will be removed in batches, to a large compost chamber on the other side of the wall—and inside the Mother Ship. As the compost in the chamber is turned and “works”, seedlings will be started in beds above the compost. Eventually, the compost will end up in the garden beds as the seedlings are planted, and any waste from harvested plants will be fed to the hens in the coop.
Back inside the coop, a window high above the nest boxes will be open for ventilation during the day and closed at night; a fan in the opposite wall will blow out into the garden area. The plants will use the carbon dioxide produced by the sleeping chickens as part of the photosynthesis cycle.
|ventilation fan will go in wall above these nests|
Water for the project comes from a well already in existence on this circa 1860 farm site, although plans for a farm pond are in progress. Plants will be hand watered, and watering will be part of the daily routine of feeding animals, checking for pests, data collecting and log keeping.
We talked a bit more about the cycles represented at his site. The nitrogen cycle: plants need nitrogen to grow, but it must be broken down; chickens produce nitrogen in their waste, and composting the waste and adding it to the garden beds, then theoretically feeding the plants to chickens completes this cycle. There is a heat cycle, and growth cycle for the plants. Andrew, too, is an integral part of the sequence.
Andrew used to be a business owner. A couple of years ago, he sold the business and moved to his 50 acres here on the top of a hill, with plans to build a building to house his chickens, goats, back issues of Mother Earth News and other hoarded treasures…sort of the “ultimate Man Cave”. He shared his ideas with friends, and was introduced to Darrell Frey’s book, “Bioshelter Market Garden”, and realized he had the space and time and desire to build something similar. He visited Frey’s Three Sister’s Farm, conversed with Steve Schwenn from Earthen Path Farm, and read, read, read. Andrew had gardened, but he had never considered himself a farmer. He learned about permaculture, introduced himself to cooperative extension agents and regional organizations touting sustainability. A local bank invested in his dream. On October 5, the seedbeds will all be filled and planted, the chicken coop will house about 3 dozen hens, and Andrew will host an Open House.
|Practicing for Open House|
He knows making a success of the Biodynamic Henhouse won’t be easy, but noted that he is not the first to build a bioshelter garden, and that others’ mistakes are well documented. He understands, too, that keeping careful records will be most important. Andrew talked about pathogens, predators, fungus, and the unpredictable Western New York weather.
While he acknowledged potential problems, he also talked about his goal: year round production of fresh food. He envisions community involvement–offering veterans, perhaps, a chance to write a responsible business plan for renovating unused buildings or lots to increase local production of food, low cost loans, a food hub with a large kitchen and a food pantry. He hopes to change the way people grow, and the way they think about industrial egg farming. He is concerned, as many small farmers are, about pending legislation that may limit garden to market sales, and realistic enough to realize that not everyone will be willing or able to change their buying and eating habits.
As for me, when I headed back down the hill after our time together, I was filled with a desire to share what I had learned. Andrew’s hard work, thoughtful enthusiasm and true desire to change lives for the better –whether they be people, chickens, dogs—is impressive. It is my hope that many, many people find the trip to the Biodynamic Henhouse worth the trip – and that someday this spot that is off the beaten path, has a path beaten to the door.
You can follow the progress of the Biodynamic Henhouse on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WellsvilleNyBiodynamicHenhouse?ref=br_tf.