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Counting Crows

December 27, 2012

Chores on crow time is how the winter goes around here.  During the summer we barely see the crows until late summer when the crickets are plentiful, a nesting pair stays near, but for the most part they head to more lucrative pastures in crow speak.  But wintertime is different, they hang out here, and stick close.  If I lose track of time and hear the crows heading home in the afternoon, I know I better get busy and get my chores done as the crows are going home to roost on the mountain.

Thanks Jane!

Thanks Jane!

I really like what they do with the sheet mulch in the garden.  Once the manure has aged to a certain stage, they set to work on it, looking for insects and any stray oats that made it through Jane.  Last year I sheet mulched too heavily (read didn’t spread, just dumped) and paid for it all summer long.  This year I vowed to spread the wheelbarrow piles daily or at least weekly.  My goal was to have certain areas covered by the first of the year, so I could meet the 120 day organic guideline for adding fresh manure to a vegetable growing area.  Well, I did pretty good at spreading, for a little bit… and then I just left it.  Little jobs have a way of turning into big jobs 😦  Yesterday I spread all the piles so I could get caught up with this project.

Stable cleanings

Stable cleanings

What I’m applying is mostly straw, cow manure and a little bit of urine soaked fir shavings.  I find it to be a perfect mix for long-term soil building here.  This is one of those trade-offs I mentioned in a comment in the previous post.  I can’t bring in ramial wood ( without great expense that is)  or make it easily because of the mid- elevation, western hemlock, Douglas fir forest zone I live in, so conifer shavings it is.  The main objective is that I am trying to make a good bed for Jane, not enhance the garden so much.  I think moderation is the key, obviously I’m not going crazy and ONLY adding conifer shavings to the garden, I know all about the white rot vs. brown rot, and when to back off on the addition of shavings to my garden.  Each gardener has to make the best decision about amendments that are native to their particular area.  Ramial wood is great in theory if that is the abundant available material, otherwise, it doesn’t make a lot of sense if you’re trying to be practical.

Crow enhanced sheet mulch

Crow enhanced sheet mulch

I seeded this portion of the garden with cover crop rye in October and then proceeded to sheet mulch.  I did get this spread on a timely basis and now the crows have worked it over even more, spreading the cow pies pretty evenly.  The rye is continuing to grow through the light mulch and this area looks the best.  You can see the piles that need spreading beyond the dogs and the mangel rows.

Vole hunting

Vole hunting

One downside of sheet mulch or even cover crop is that is does make a cozy vole habitat.  I saw two voles get chomped yesterday, I have no idea how many there really are.  But that’s another trade-off, I need to replace what the vegetables take from the soil, so I feel I need to cover crop and add amendments even if it helps the voles a bit.  It helps me a whole lot more.


I really do like how the crows remedy the manure spreading conundrum here in our winter pasture and gardens.  I don’t think that is what the Black Crowes had in mind though when they released this song 😉

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris permalink
    December 27, 2012 8:53 am

    What was the song Nita? Was there supposed to be a link? And by voles, who also call your farm home…are they the same as moles…probably not because my moles just tunnel up everywhere but don’t seem to eat my plants!

    • December 27, 2012 9:05 am

      Chris, voles are what we always call field mice, they look similar to a house mouse but have hair on their tails so the dogs eat them. Excellent food for the herons, hawks, ravens, and coyotes and on the domestic side, the cats and dogs love them 🙂 They inhabit pastures and then we come along and put gardens in the pasture and they discover such things as carrots and other delicacies and the war is on 😉

  2. Chris permalink
    December 27, 2012 8:54 am

    PS. just saw the video in the comments but not on the post…weird!!

  3. December 27, 2012 10:26 am

    To bad you couldn’t get the group Black Crowes to do a video in your field. That led singer as much as he dances around looks like he could sure spread some manure for ya lol. All kidding aside, like always, very informative post.

  4. December 27, 2012 6:52 pm

    I was expecting “Mr Jones and me” since you titled it “Counting Crows”. See if you can find the Black Crowes Live at the Greek with Jimmy Page. Pretty cool.

    No shortage of ramial wood here though we have considered coppicing willow trees just for it. Straw is in short supply though. Nice pictures of future fertility. Nice to let the birds do the work when you don’t care if the raccoons eat the birds or not.

  5. December 28, 2012 3:55 am

    Sometimes I feel so inadequate after reading all about the work you’re getting done. I didn’t get ANY cover crop seed down until two weeks ago and I just keep bedding the cow stall to make next years compost. I wish I could spend a year with you so maybe I would know little bit more about WTH I am doing. But thank you still for all your inspiration.

    • December 28, 2012 5:52 am

      EWF, it’s all good, you can’t know what to do without lots of practice. It sounds like you’re on the right track 🙂

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