News from the Hen House

Cock-a-doodle-doo is not a sound you will be hearing from our hen house any time soon, as our new flock is "ladies only"!
Silver lace WyandotteOur new flock of chickens is established and the hens are great winter egg-layers.  We chose special heritage breeds, that could manage our altitude and climate better, such as the "chocolate egg layer" from France the Cuckoo Maran, and the green egg layer called the Americauna, along with the New Hampshire Reds, Silver Laced Wyandottes, Barred Rocks, and Silver Leghorns.  The Silver Leghorns are a very rare breed that were bred for their white egg color, although they produce fewer and smaller eggs compared to the other breeds.
The chicks arrived last summer as babies in the mail and their first winter at 10,000 feet has been a great season for egg production.  Our beautiful ladies are laying between 8 and 12 eggs per day.  Their appreciative clucks let us know how very fortunate they feel to have such healthy and sustainably grown food.  Their yolks are deep yellow/orange and their flavor is superb.
The hens are fed fresh barley grass from our greenhouse to supplement their grain and pellet feed, which helps keep them healthy, and in turn, we are rewarded with fresh eggs galore! Locals you can call ahead to swing by and purchase a dozen eggs for $5 to help support Beaver Ponds' hen house.
Watch for a hen naming contest on
our Facebook page later this month.
Thank you for helping sustain our hens and the rest of our domestic animal crew!

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Are the trees in your backyard nearly 700 years old? Ours are. And some of our neighbor's are 2,000 years old...

tree ringsHave you ever wondered how old the trees are in your back yard? 
At Beaver Ponds, the cores recently taken from live lodge pole pine show that most of the trees started growing around 1880.  This date corresponds with the establishment of the Duquesne Smelter that was built in 1877 on what is now our property.  The smelter would have used wood as its main source of fuel and they probably cut most of the timber in close proximity. 
However! Cross-sections from several stumps at Beaver Ponds show much older dates when the trees started growing.  One bristlecone pine was cross-dated with samples previously collected on Windy Ridge north of Alma.  Using cross dating, the Missouri Tree Ring laboratory was able to determine this tree started growing in 1356! 
This particular tree probably died or was cut down in 1845. Can you believe that on Pennsylvania Mountain, located near Beaver Ponds, most of the trees cored were estimated to be between 500 and 2000 years old? 
Of the 23 bristlecone pines sampled over half showed increase growth in the past 100 years.  Why there is increased growth over this time period is not clearly understood.  It could be due to increased temperatures or increased concentrations of carbon dioxide due to climate change.
Thank you to South Park National Heritage Area for supporting this dendrochronology project.  Your generosity allowed Beaver Ponds staff and volunteers, along with faculty from the University of Missouri Tree Ring Laboratory to help us collect, process, study and analyze tree rings, and determine the age and growth rate of the treasure trove of trees we have at Beaver Ponds and on Pennsylvania Mountain.
Thanks again to SPNHA for your support in helping us analyze our local climate through this project. 

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Leave it to Beavers Fabulous PBS Documentary

Caption 1 PBS Premiere date: May 14, 2014. A growing number of scientists, conservationists and grass-roots environmentalists have come to regard beavers as overlooked tools when it comes to reversing the disastrous effects of global warming and world-wide water shortages. Once valued for their fur or hunted as pests, these industrious rodents are seen in a new light through the eyes of this novel assembly of beaver enthusiasts and “employers” who reveal the ways in which the presence of beavers can transform and revive landscapes. Using their skills as natural builders and brilliant hydro-engineers, beavers are being recruited to accomplish everything from finding water in a bone-dry desert to recharging water tables and coaxing life back into damaged lands.

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Do you know what hugelkulture, micro fodder, and vermiculture have in common?

hugelkulturMore than just a bunch of fun words to say, these are some of the ways that Beaver Ponds is engaging in sustainable high elevation agriculture. 
You can consider each of these initiatives as "demonstrations" that are meant to inspire folks like you to try some of these practices at home. Some may be more realistic for your lifestyle than others! 
Over the past few months, we have had fun learning together with our interns, students, and visitors about how we are efficiently utilizing our agricultural resources at Beaver Ponds.  This includes learning about high elevation gardening such as hugelkulture (a composting process employing raised planting beds constructed on top of decaying wood debris and other compost), micro fodder feed systems (a system for sprouting and growing barley for our livestock), vermiculture (process of using worms to decompose organic food waste), and mound composting.
As the the winter winds blew outside, we were able to grow Mesclun and Buttercrunch lettuce, Oriental giant and Tyee spinach, radishes, arugula, and barley grass for our animals in the passive solar/geothermal greenhouse.  It is nice getting fresh leafy vegetables year round. Watch your inbox for upcoming opportunities to learn more about how you can grow your own leafy vegetables during the winter months.
The fall potato, calendula (marigold), and cabbage harvest was both fun and rewarding.  Students from the Denver Downtown Expeditionary School and preschool-aged children from the neighboring town of Fairplay enjoyed pulling out potatoes from our new raised beds, while learning the source of some of their food.  
With the help of volunteers, we were able to harvest a large amount of calendula seed to use this year in spring planting.  Calendula Officinalis -- common name "marigold" -- is a medicinal plant that is widely used in balms, salves, and tinctures.   The medicinal effects include antiseptic, antispasmotic, and skin healing properties.  It is in the same family as Arnica and displays wound healing properties as does Arnica which is used topically for bruising and skin trauma.  Interestingly, in the culinary world it is used as a dye for cheese and butters.
You may recall that we have planted oyster mushrooms on logs in our greenhouse.  We are keeping our fingers crossed that they will begin fruiting soon and that you'll be reading about a bountiful harvest later this year.  We've been told that patience is a necessary virtue both in life and with growing mushrooms! 

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