Sunny Fuel and Chickens

This morning Mia and I were searching for some alternative starch sources for an acquaintance with an allergy to potatoes, and I jumped to Wikipedia to verify that Sunchokes were Asteraceae (yes) and there have been some updates to the entry. One of them was espousing the virtues of Sunchokes as an ethanol crop. The entry claimed that one acre of Sunchokes can be converted to 1200 gallons of 99.5% Ethanol. That claim seemed ridiculous so I let it go and went on to other things.

Right so I can’t just let this go, but you all knew that already. Ethanol from my favorite perennial food crop? So I went back to track it and it turns out the reference on Wikipedia came from one of my all time favorite sites: Journey to Forever, again confirming my growing suspicion that it does, in fact, contain the answers to literally everything.

The JTF reference has about 30+ pages of text on ethanol production of which I read about 2, but it is basically just making strong beer-ok that is an over simplification but it ain’t hard. So if I can seriously make 1000 gallons of fuel on an acre (v. 200 for corn) the 20 acre farmstead just became alot cooler. That is enough fuel to drive about 23,000 miles if we could convert our Subaru to E-100 (28 mpg * 85% efficiency) or just buy an E-85 car and cut our own ethanol with regular gas. The process looks easier than making bio-deisel, but that is only at first blush.

Regardless this sounds alot better than corn (6x the production/acre) while not having the no till advantages of switchgrass. I hope that it gets some real time in the debate at least.

Surround the whole thing with another of the coolest things I have read about this week: the chicken moat or even a hog moat, to keep the acre of sunchokes from taking over the entire site. As much as I love pushing the limits of the HOA…I need land for all these ideas!

I came across the Chicken Moat idea in David Jacke’s Edible Forest Gardens. For those of you getting frustrated by my continual references to it, bear with me- there are still 625 pages to go…

So I had heard of Chicken Tractors, and like their utility and simplicity. I also really enjoyed the chicken coops in Mollison’s Intro to Permaculture where the coop is adjacent to several gardens that are each separated by a fence-and each section also has a door to the coop. The chickens can then be released to “till” in a section of garden, remove most insect pests, and fertilize the heck out of the garden. The Chicken Moat combines the two ideas to some extent while adding alot of utility to the traditional garden fence. The picture above is very ambitious. The runs would house dozens and dozens of chickens.

A smaller version, say 30′ on a side, would effectively run the perimeter of my 7 beds. The gardens that Jacke demonstrates with are absolutely dripping with function stacking. On the outside the chicken fence is buried 18″ to stop burrowing varmints, and the planted thick with Comfrey and other mulch crops. These are planted fairly tight to the fence allowing them to be grazed, but not killed, by the chickens while also giving them some protection from sun and wind. The run is about 6′ tall and fenced the entire height with chicken wire, and then there is a larger opening arbor on top with serves as protection from hawks and climbing predators, but also holds grapes, hardy kiwis, and a variety of other edible vines. The model shown had openings on the garden side for the gardener to chuck weeds in through. If you put down a sawdust/chip mulch in the runs you would have all the compost you could ever need. Loves it.

I can see something like this, but much stronger and with hogs, running the perimeter of the Sunchoke Acreage. Any errant tuber would be gladly eaten by the hogs rooting through the soil. Maybe I need hogs to stop my quack grass problems!


6 Responses

  1. That looks awesome. Good luck getting the HOA to sign off on some hogs!

  2. Riiiight. The hogs might have to wait until we get the Farmette. Maybe a potbelly as a “pet”!

  3. This is a great idea. As my urban chickens will soon be moving out of my garage, i may need to rethink where i will place their coop.

  4. Thank Chris! I am jealous of your urban chickens-I have two layers of beauracracy to cut through to get permission-the village and the HOA. Happy Gardening!

  5. I just found your site and I’m loving it. I hope to post a link to it from my blog, when I get back to my blog again.

    I have ducks and I’m currently moving from my city lot to acreage. Mainly because my duck population has grown. For all the research I’ve been doing on duck/chicken runs, I hadn’t found anything like the plans you discuss here. These are great ideas that I hope to make use of. Thanks for sharing it.

    Recently I heard a local news story (Seattle area) about a woman who has been raising chickens even though her city didn’t allow it, and how the city council has agreed to overturn the law against keeping poultry. I’m hoping this is the beginning of more lax legislation regarding backyard poultry. Poultry-keeping and successful gardening go hand-in-hand. I’m thoroughly convinced.

  6. Thanks Jade!

    I am all about pushing the chicken envelope-I figure ordinances are for when people complain, and I ply my neighbors with enough produce to bribe them off.

    However I am also currently president of our HOA and am don’t have the bandwidth to fight that battle just yet. Within a year the forest gardens will be overgrown enough that it will be a mute point-no one will be able to see in the backyard!


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