Friday, May 18, 2012

Babies' day out

The new girls are a month old.  Today they went out for the first time in the old chicken tractor.  They will still spend their nights in the house until it warms up a bit more.  It won't be long until they're outside full time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

After the rain

I spent the morning in the house while it poured out.  Soap was made, bread was made and a knit bag was close to completion.  When the rain stopped I went out to the mailbox and was amazed at the rapid growth in the garden.

The Cascadia sugar snaps are getting tall and flowering.  They are a favorite of ours and one that we never seem to have enough of.

The tomato plants have been in the ground for about a week and have almost doubled in size.  This is an Amish Paste.

Jarrahdale squash are up.  Last year they got over run by the Hubbards.  I'm hoping to get a good crop of them this year. 

It looks like we're going to have our biggest harvest of strawberries yet.  I must get some netting over them to keep the critters away.

I found this little guy on the strawberry blossoms.  I've never seen one before.  Any ideas what it is?

Quick update

One full side of the garden is completed.  The other side is a bit more difficult.  There are some fence posts that I'm having a very difficult time getting out.  It's raining today, but will hopefully get some help and get the whole mess finished this weekend.  Now I'm off to make some soap and bake some bread.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Correcting past mistakes

Once upon a time there was a nice little side lawn.  It had gorgeous green grass and a big bush right smack in the middle.  Along came a crazy gardener who ripped up the pretty grass and made an ever expanding vegetable garden.  The garden got bigger and bigger every year.  One year she decided that it was big enough.  She put in a fence and brick pavers around the edge.  Then the crazy gardener got crazier and added even more garden.  The fence became a problem and the pavers got covered in dirt and weeds.  The pretty side yard had gotten messy and ugly.  So, the crazy gardener decided that she would fix it.

Here in the ugly fairy tale I show you the mess.  On the right is the older part of the garden.  You can just see the pavers that formed the edge and in the back the remaining fence that I'm having a hard time removing.  The cinder blocks on the left are part of the newer garden that I added 3 years ago.  Since then the weeds have gotten crazy and because the fence was in the way, I couldn't get to them properly.  Soil spilled out of the beds and made the problem worse on top of the pavers. 

This is the opposite side of the garden.  You now have the older part of the garden on your left.  Here I've removed the pavers and ripped out the grass and mess.  There is still so very much to do, but it is a start.  The end goal is to have all the pathways leveled so that I can get the lawnmower in.  I've considered putting hardware cloth down and piling several inches of wood chips in the paths, but have a feeling it would end up being a bigger headache in the end.  I welcome any feedback on that.  My worry is that the weeds will come up through the cloth and chips and create a problem. 

Some of the pavers are being moved to the back of the garden.  On the left are bushes that separate my garden from my neighbor's yard.  This is in the older part of the garden.  The new raised beds are making it much easier for me to keep up with things.  I'm hoping the pavers will keep the weeds at bay a bit.  They don't get any traffic and spillage from the beds is at a minimum here.  We'll see how it goes.  I have other plans for the remaining pavers that I'll show you another time.  I'm hoping to have a much prettier garden in the near future.  It's always been a joy for me, but it would be nice to have it look as nice as possible since it is so very visible. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Easy pickings

Adding perennials to your garden is one of the easiest ways to amp up production, while reducing your work.  The garden version of 'set it and forget it'.   The added bonus is that they are generally quite pretty as well.  Perennials can be the perfect addition to that floral border.  Since they will come back every year, make sure that you like where they will be and that they won't interfere with anything else.  Some of mine are in the main veggie garden, while some are in flower borders.

Some of the easiest perennials to add are herbs.  Things like mint, oregano, chives, sage and thyme will do well just about anywhere.  The only warning is that mint can get quite large.  Many plant mint in planters, or you can plant it into a container that then gets mostly buried in the ground.  By leaving an inch of the pot above the ground, it will discourage the mint from spreading so rapidly.  If you love mint and use it a lot, just plant it in the ground and enjoy its rapid spreading.

My neighbors have some gorgeous herbs that they never use.  Every year they allow me to take whatever I want to dry and use throughout the year.

Rhubarb is a classic perennial.  It's beautiful large leaves and red stalks will be with you for years.  It can be divided easily and passed along to other gardening friends as well.  Mine will be made into some rhubarb crisp bars this afternoon.

To go along with that rhubarb, you could plant some strawberries.  Whether in a strawberry pot, or in a bed, strawberries will be one of the most cherished perennials in many gardens.  Every year we wait anxiously for them to ripen.  Most don't make it into the house, but are eaten right in the garden, still warm from the sun.

One of our newer additions is Jerusalem Artichokes.  These beauties can be used raw or cooked.  They grow into 6-8 foot tall mini sunflowers and are absolutely gorgeous by the end of summer.  They can be dug in fall, or you can wait until spring.  When very fresh they have a low glycemic index and are wonderful for those who are sensitive to blood sugar swings.  These also love to spread, so put them in a place that their presence won't be a problem.  Mine are right next to the mailbox in a flower garden along the street.

Garlic and onions can also be a form of perennial.  Garlic can be replanted in the fall and grown for the following year.  I've been planting the same batch of garlic back for 4 years now.  With the addition of potato onions which are a perennial, we will have plenty of our favorite seasonings for years to come.

There are so many other wonderful perennial foods you can add.  This year we'll be adding more blueberries and 2 apple trees.  Fruit trees can be a great addition to any yard.  They are gorgeous in spring when they flower and provide a luscious addition to anyone's home.  You could plant asparagus as well.  We are planning to add it next year along with some grapes.  The best thing about perennials is that you buy and plant them once and then harvest for years.  They're great time and money savers for the busy gardener.

This post will be part of the Homestead Revival Barn hop.
It will also be part of the Morristribe's Homesteader Blog Carnival.
And the How are you trying to beat a tough economy at Retro Momma, Vintage Wife.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Perpetual Onions

Ok, so they're really called Potato Onions or Multiplier Onions, but my name gets to the heart of the matter.  These babies can supply your onion needs for ages.  All this without seeds.  My track record with onion seeds is rather deplorable, so any successful onion without seeds is great in my book.

I got these 18 months ago at a Harvest Fair at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.   There were tents set up from several places and Southern Seed Savers Exchange had potato onions.  I was a little worried that they wouldn't do well in my New England garden, but figured it was worth a try.  The first year they did well, but not spectacularly.  This year, they seem to have gotten more used to my climate.

The potato onions come as small onion bulbs.  They look much like an onion set from a seed seller.  The difference is that they are planted in the fall like garlic.  They actually work much like garlic.  The bulb is planted in the fall and mulched well.  Over the fall and winter, the bulbs divide and set roots.  By spring, you have multiple bulbs growing from the same place.

In this picture, you can see that it has divided into at least 5 plants.  I'll leave them like this until they start to die back.  They're harvested much like an ordinary onion.  You wait for the leaves to die back and then pull and cure.  The difference being that you save back some of the bulbs for replanting.  Years ago, these onions were the main crop for most families.  They were easy to grow and store.  SSE states that they've had the onions store for over a year, with great flavor.

The onions will send up a flower head.  They need to be pinched off to keep the onion focused on the bulb.  Mine started sending up flower heads in early April, so keep an eye on them.  If allowed to grow, they will form a huge and very pretty seed head.  I didn't realize that I needed to do this last year and many got away from me.

Right now in my garden, I'm trying to grow out enough bulbs to do a large planting this fall.  We probably won't eat many of the ones I'm growing right now.  Next year, if all goes according to plan, we'll have tons of our own onions that have been accustomed to our particular climate.  Since my garlic has been grown here for 4 years now, we should have a great stand of our own garlic and onions for years to come.

I am linking to the Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways and  Homestead Helps.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Ready for planting

Here in Southern New England, we just had what will most likely be our last significant frost.  In my little yard, that was a temp of 27.8 last night.  There were frost and freeze warnings up everywhere.  As a result of our warm spring, there was plenty out there to be affected.  Only time will tell if it affects the fruit trees for the year.

The warmth affected me in smaller ways.  I got anxious to plant and ended up getting my pepper and tomato seedlings started a few weeks earlier than I normally would.  It should all end well as I tend to plant a bit earlier than many in my area.  Our average last frost is May 9th here.  By my records, it has been late April for the past 6 years that I have kept track.  We tend to have a frost warning sometime in the second week of May, but a quick blanket over the tomatoes protects them and the frost has never actually materialized.

My mother has been gardening for as long as I can remember.  Most of that gardening has taken place here.  She plants out around May 15th and so do I.  That gives me a good 2 weeks head start over many, who tend to wait until Memorial Day weekend.

This year, I really need that early start.  My plants are getting tall and leggy.  They were hitting the grow lights, so I had to move them upstairs into the front window.  I'll be ready to start hardening off later this week, when the temps hit the 70s.

We all probably have methods for planting tomatoes.  I like to use crushed egg shells.  Egg shells get saved all year in a bag by my kitchen sink.  As they dry, I crush them up with my hands.  Depending on the time of the year, those shells either go into the compost, or are used for tomato planting.

Tomatoes need calcium for good growth.  Lack of calcium can cause Blossom End Rot.  This is when the tomato looks healthy, except for an area of rot on the bottom.  Uneven watering can cause this as well, but in general it is an inability to get the proper nutrients into the plant.  The egg shells add a slow infusion of calcium into the soil as the season wears on and they break down.

When I plant tomatoes, I dig a good sized hole.  A small handful of crushed egg shells goes into the bottom of the whole, along with a small amount of a balanced fertilizer.  The tomato stem is then stripped of the bottom leaves and it is planted with as much of the stem buried as possible.  The tomato stem will send out roots and give the plant a strong and deep root system.  That deep root system will give your tomatoes a better chance of retrieving nutrients and moisture from deep in the soil.  They will be more resistant to problems due to lack of water.

When the plants have been buried up to their necks, I place a cage, or pole with them to allow for supporting the growing plant.  Lastly, I water them in well.  Watering in a seedling is so important.  Not only does it provide water to the plant, it allows the soil to come in better contact with the roots.  Air pockets in the soil can cause the transplant to fail, so always water thoroughly.   It won't be long until we're celebrating the queen of the garden!

This post will be linking to the Homestead Revival Barn Hop and the Morris Tribe Homestead blog carnival.  Hop on over and check it out.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


It's Sunday morning and I'm noticing purple everywhere in the yard.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Food freedoms

It seems I never stop thinking about food.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  My quite round rear end speaks volumes to my love of food.  Food is everywhere.  You can't live without it, but without good food, you can't live well.  That is just the problem.

Good food.  What is it?  Where do you get it?  How do you cook it.  These are all questions that seem to be on the minds of many people.  These are all questions that would be ridiculous to anyone living more than 100 years ago.  Back then, you grew it yourself or bought it from the farmer.  You could get simple ingredients at the mercantile, but otherwise, the farmer was your man.  You cooked from simple ingredients.  There was no packaging. 

Now we go to the grocery store.  The problem is that most of what is in the grocery store isn't food.  It's a conglomeration of multiple ingredients to form something that resembles food and can be ingested.  Companies have sold us on the idea that the easier and cheaper it is, the better.  We're told not to think about a thing.  Just buy a box of this and your problems will be solved.  Just add water!  Microwave ready!  Heat and eat!

So, here we sit with a nation of people who don't know how to cook.  They don't know how to do the most basic tasks in the kitchen.  If asked, they'll tell you that they have no time.  It's too expensive.  They don't know how.  If they're honest, they'll say that they just don't care.

Now we have genetically modified foods.  Corn, soy, canola, sugar beets that have genes from other SPECIES spliced into them.  Genes that become so virulent, that we can't keep them from spreading to the other unmodified versions.  All this so that we can spray enormous amounts of pesticides on our crops.  Some of the seeds have pesticides as a part of their genetic material.  This means we are then eating all those pesticides.  Then we wonder why everyone is sick?

So now we're told that we have no right to know what's in our food.  We have no inherent right to choose foods that we deem healthy.  The government has been invited into our kitchens.  The government gets to decide who we buy from and what we buy.  Huge corporations, with no conscience, are telling the government that small farmers are impinging on their profits and those people are punished.  These same huge corporations are making us sick over and over.  Killing people as a result of our broken system without punishment.  While small farmers with excellent practices, just trying to grow good food, are punished without any recourse. 

I find myself appalled daily at what is happening in our 'free' country.  I wonder who can save us.  The democrats aren't doing it.  They want more laws.  Laws just restrict our freedom more.  We don't need laws, we need common sense and common decency.

The republicans aren't doing it.  They want more big business.  Those big corporations that are killing us.  They want the right to continue to destroy our earth without any thought to the future.  We don't need big business, we need more small businesses.  Small businesses that care about the people and the earth around them.

The only people that can change how things are run, are us.  We have to be the change.  We have to be the ones that say, I don't want what you're giving me.  I'm going to grow my own, make my own and find any way I can to get the healthy foods that my family needs.  Sadly, these days, that sometimes means breaking those laws.  The ones that were put in place to 'protect us'.  The ones that are in reality only there to keep us buying from the same big companies.  There is too much money to be made in keeping us dependent on the big companies.  There is too much money to be made selling us medications to fix our health issues caused by this food.  There is too much money to be made providing health care when those medications just make it worse.

You may feel insignificant.  You may feel like what you do doesn't matter.  It does matter and it is significant.  That is why the big companies are fighting so hard to pass laws to put the little guy out of business.  If what we did wasn't making a difference, they wouldn't care.

We all need to do our part.  Instead of leaving a few minutes early to get your coffee and breakfast, make it at home.  Learn to cook.  It might take a little bit longer, but once you get the hang of it, you'll be surprised at how much more time you have.   You will waste far more time going to a restaurant, or picking up take out, than making a healthy, from scratch meal.  The money you save can go towards buying the good stuff.  The grass fed meats, pasteured, local eggs will be within your reach when you aren't throwing away $50 on a meal of pizza and salads.

Grow your own.  You all know that this is my passion.  Start small.  Even if you only grow herbs in a pot, it's still something.  Add a little bit every year.  Get the rest of your veggies from local farmers.  Learn to eat with the seasons.  Buying strawberries in the middle of winter is not helping anyone.  When you only get asparagus in spring, it becomes a celebration.  Eat it until you're sick of it.  Then spend the rest of the year celebrating the things that are in season as they happen.

Food should be a celebration.  It should nourish every part of us.  We should all care as much about the food we eat as we do the shows on television, or the latest pocketbook.  If you're thinking that this is too overwhelming, I get that.  Start small.  Maybe stop buying breakfast and coffee and make your own at home.  Try buying your fruits and veggies at the farmer's market.  Make a new recipe that doesn't require opening a can of cream mushroom soup.  Better yet, learn how to make your own cream of mushroom soup.  When you do things in little steps, it isn't as overwhelming.  Don't expect perfection of anyone, much less yourself.  Just keep trying.  We can make a difference.  We just need to start.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Late April around the homestead

It's been a busy month.  I know you all can relate.  The garden is busy, our computer business is busy, the kids' sports and dance have gotten crazy...   You know how it goes.  After our very dry winter, we finally got rain this weekend.  Quite a bit of rain, actually.  As a result, the garden is thriving.

An overview of the garden shows that things are greening up, but nothing big is showing yet.

The back deck nursery has more brassicas, flowers and herbs to be planted soon.

The rhubarb is getting big.  Almost time to harvest some.

The peas are getting bigger and starting to grasp the netting.

Something has decided that they needed my spinach more than I did.  They were also kind enough to eat the broccoli and cabbage starts to the ground.  I could cry.  Right now I have tomato cages over the beds to try and deter the beasts.  It seems to be doing a fairly good job right now.  The rest of the brassicas will be put out under something to keep the animals at bay.

The garlic is getting huge.

Tons of strawberry flowers.  These will have to be covered in some way as well.  I'd like to get a good crop this year.

The onion starts look fantastic and are starting to size up a bit even after a week.

The hens are laying well.  Even the 3 year old Buff Orpingtons are laying for me. 

The babies are just over a week old now.  They're getting bigger daily.  Hopefully next week it will be warm enough for a field trip outside for a bit.  I love listening to them cheep to each other. 

What's keeping you busy?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Too much cuteness

The new chicks have arrived!  This year we have Aracaunas.  Every year I add a new breed to our flock.  This lets me keep up the egg laying for our family and also lets me know by their breed, how old they are.  We now have 3 breed, Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds and Aracaunas.

This is Noah holding one of the babies.  We got the call that they were in last night at closing.  When he was told that we couldn't get them until morning, he was devastated.  Needless to say, we were there when they opened this morning.  He even got to pick out the ones he wanted.

Morgan was upset that she didn't get to go to the feed store with us.  She woke up when we left.  They'll both get plenty of time with the babies now.

Now comes trying to get the light positioned properly so that they are comfortably warm.

This is part of Friday's photo blog hop.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Vinegar and chicken health

When I posted about making your own wine vinegar the other day, I mentioned that I use vinegar in my hen's water.  Several people asked why I would do such a thing.  It's a small thing that I've been doing since the beginning for their health. 

Most of us have heard of the health benefits of apple cider vinegar (ACV).  It appears to be one of those all around miracle cures.  Useful in treating a wide range of symptoms.  The same is true in your animals.  Just as we need to add beneficials to our gut, so do they. 

First, it's imperative that you use a plastic waterer.  If you can get glass, even better, but I've never found one.  The metal waterers will react with the vinegar and cause problems with the water.  I have a 1 gallon sized water jug.  To this I add about 1 tablespoon of ACV, or other active vinegar.  It must be a live cultured vinegar.  The dead stuff without a mother will not have the same effects. 

The first nice thing that you will notice, is that the vinegar will keep down the algae in your water.  If you have to give animals water, you will be quite familiar with the algae that grows in your water.  It looks yucky and takes quite a bit to clean out. 

The vinegar also acts as a dewormer for your birds.  It can help to perk up sickly looking birds.  One of the best things I've found is that it helps to boost the calcium absorption from their food.  This will give you harder shells with less supplementation of either oyster shell, or whatever else you use to give your birds calcium. 

I'm always looking for old time, natural ways to keep my animals healthy, so this was right up my alley.  With my new found ability to make my own vinegar, it made it even better.  The extra mothers can be fed to the birds as well, adding even more benefits to their diet. A healthy gut is good for everyone.  Even chickens.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Planting Blitz

This past weekend was perfect.  Warm without being too hot.  I'm trying something new this year.  Planting with the moon.  It's something I've heard about for years.  A good friend swears by this method.  I looked up some information on The Farmer's Almanac page.  It said that Friday and Saturday were good days to plant root crops.  There was quite a bit to plant, so off I went.

Friday was all about weeding beds and planting the seed tapes.  That afternoon the potatoes arrived from Fedco's Moose Tubers.  I had ordered conservatively.  Two years ago I over ordered potatoes and was giving them away to gardening friends everywhere.  Not wanting to repeat that folly, I under ordered.  With 2.5 pounds each of organic Yukon Golds and Rio Grande Russet, I thought I may be slightly under. 

I cut them into seed pieces to chit and then realized that if I was to plant with the moon, they needed to go in the next day.  By the next morning, they had healed over for the most part.  Most had eyes that were at least starting to sprout.  This is an experiment, so off I went to plant.  It turned out that I needed another 2.5 pounds to finish out the 25 foot bed that was being planted with potatoes.  Those were easily obtained at my local Farm Supply.  Red Norlands were planted and the bed was finished off. 

While I was out getting potatoes, the onions arrived.  Thankfully the bed was already prepared.  They were going into the other half of the strawberry bed that I had weeded out and fertilized last week.

They look like a bunch of soldiers all lined up.  The varieties are a yellow called Big Daddy which is a hybrid and Redwing, which is a red open pollinated variety.  Onions and I don't get along very well, but I'm hoping the seedlings from Dixondale farms and my new experimental moon planting will change the outcome.  We eat a lot of onions, so success would be a wonderful thing.  

I'm curious to see if I'll notice any difference in how well anything does.  Since I'm not doing any controls, it's not a very thorough experiment, but just one of curiosity.  Do you plant by the moon, or whenever you have the time?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Learning curve

The arch of the hoop house is a bit of a metaphor for the learning curve that goes along with learning to use them.  I've wanted one for quite a few years.  Reading blogs, articles and season extension books to get a sense for how to best put a hoop house to good use.  Then the excitement of actually having one throws all sense out the window.  Of course, a very warm March doesn't help. 
The hoop house that is planted.

The hoops were installed in early March.  We had a warm winter, followed by a warm March.  The warmth had caused me to plant things indoors earlier than I should.  As a result, there were plenty of things to go into the hoops when they were installed.  I reasoned that the warmth should continue and the hoops would protect the seedlings from harm.  As we were putting the plastic on, I noticed 2 holes about 1 inch in diameter.  Thinking to myself that they had to be patched, I promptly forgot all about them.  A week later we had night temps dip into the low 20's.

I covered the seedlings under the hoops and all was well.  It warmed up again, so the covers came off.  After a surprise 2 nights of 22 degrees, I expected total devastation.  The hoops did their job though.  The exception being in the area near the 2 holes. 
Kale seedling rebounding from near death

A few of the seedlings shriveled and died.  They are showing signs of life again, so they'll be left in the beds. 

The carrots I seeded with my seed tapes are finally coming up.  It doesn't seem there is too much time to be saved with planting them earlier.  They really do like the soil a bit warmer.  Maybe I'll do beets or radishes early next year. 

carrot seedlings

The tatsoi has been thriving under the hoops, as have the spinach and lettuce that were seeded.

Spinach, cabbage, tatsoi and lettuce.

So far, lessons learned.  1.  Make sure all holes have been sealed up.  2.  Have more patience when putting seedlings out in the hoops.  3.  Seeding carrots early is not a huge time saver, and the space could be better utilized.  4.  I love having the hoops and can't wait for the fall and winter to use them more thoroughly.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Of pitchforks and toilet paper

Tis the season to prep the garden.  If your garden is like mine, it's also the season to weed.  I have a terrible case of crab grass.  Sounds a little nasty, doesn't it?  I don't like to work my beds to heavily all year.  They tend to do better with just a little aeration. 

Now, I've seed broad forks all over the web for the past few years.  I blame Eliot Coleman and his fantastic books for this trend.  The problem is that they're expensive and usually need to be special ordered.  I'm cheap and I don't have a lot of space in my shed.  When a blogging friend wrote about her broad fork a few weeks ago, I realized that I was doing the same thing with my pitchfork.  I love a good multi-tasker.  Good tools that you feel comfortable with are indispensable. 

Using the pitchfork to loosen the soil

All you do is shove your fork into the soil, then rock it back to loosen up the soil.  Go across the width of the bed.  Then take a step backward and do another row.  My pitchfork is about half the width of the broadfork, but that doesn't bother me.  I'm short, so small is many times better.

Before prepping the bed.

After loosening all the soil, I went to work weeding.  If you don't have crabgrass, you are very lucky.  It's the devil.  It spreads under ground through long roots called stolons.  You can't smother it.  It just simply takes work.  When the weeds are gone, I smooth it over and the bed is ready for planting.

After prepping.  Weed free, loose soil.

When the beds were prepped, I planted my beets, carrots and parsnips.  I make my own seed tapes with toilet paper.  You can read about it here.  In all, I got 800 parsnips, 1600 beets and 1600 carrots planted.  Sounds like a lot, but in reality I'll be planting more this summer.  We love our root veggies. 

New England is experiencing a bit of a drought right now, so I'll have to keep them well watered.  Hopefully we'll get some good soaking rains soon.  If not, it will be a challenging gardening year.  What have you gotten into your beds lately?