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?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Monday, April 9, 2012

Drunk mothers

I'm not much of a drinker.  I'll have a glass every now and again, but for the most part, alcohol is just not a part of my life.  As a result, we often end up with extra wine after a get together.  It used to sit in my basement until I tossed it.  Throwing things away drives me nuts.  After lamenting the price of white wine vinegar, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  It all started with the mother at the bottom of a bottle of apple cider vinegar.  You need the natural kind that has floaty bits in the bottom.

This is from Whole Foods, but I've also seen it from Spectrum, Eden and Braggs.

I poured about a half cup of the ACV with the little bits into a mason jar and then poured an equal amount of white wine into the jar.  Then I sat it on a shelf and let it sit.  After a week or so, a film formed over the top.

This is a new mother forming.  There was a distinct vinegar smell at this point.  I let it for a few more days until the mother got thicker and more powerful.  Meanwhile the kids and I danced around the kitchen screaming "We made a mother!"

Once I had a good strong mother, I filled the jar with another cup of wine and repeated the process.  I didn't want to overwhelm the mother.  Each time it formed another mother and became stronger.

This is the end of the process.  You can see the mothers at the bottom of the jar.  The remaining vinegar was poured into another jar to be used in dressings and the like.  I'll keep the mothers in a jar with some vinegar for the next batch.  Next up will be some red wine vinegar and this fall I'm hoping to make a big batch of ACV.  The chickens get vinegar in their water every day, so the cheaper I can get it, the better.  We also use a lot of vinegar in our food.  Since this was naturally fermented, it will be even better for us.

This post is part of the Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways blog carnival.  I will also be linking to Little Farm in the Big City Homestead Helps Wednesday.
Also Simple Lives Thursday at a Little Bit of Spain in Iowa.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Progress is being made.

Do you remember that huge list I made?  The one with all the things that needed to be done around the yard and garden?  I'm happy to say that I've made it about 2/3 of the way through the list. 

The front flower/herb bed has been cleaned up and edged.   I divided up my daylillies and added them to the beds.  The daylillies are like weeds and will fill in nicely over the next few years.  The lovely couple that just bought the other side of our duplex, is very anxious to pretty up the place.  We'll be fixing the sad state of the yard in the next few weeks.  Loam will be delivered and grass seed spread.  Since the septic is in the front yard, we're very limited in what we can do.  The loam will be put on the far end of the yard, so we don't harm the leaching field.

The strawberry bed has been weeded and manured.  The strawberries don't take up the whole bed, so the rest of the bed will be planted with onions.  I have terrible luck starting onions, so I'm ordering from Dixondale Farms this year.  They should be here next week for planting.

 The Northwest corner of the yard was becoming overrun with wild blackberry canes and other weeds.  Despite long sleeves and leather gloves, I still ended up with a number of scratches.  However, it looks great now and is ready for my newest plans.  I'll let you in on those later.

The chicken coop got cleaned out of all the winter's mess.  One of the Rhode Island Reds sat in the coop and squawked at me the entire time.  It was pretty funny.  They now have fresh bedding and the electric that is run out to the coop has been cleaned up and put away.  We are still having cold nights, but they don't need the water heater anymore.  The lights were turned off about a month ago after I decided not to artificially light them anymore.  We'll be getting new chicks in the next few days, so we should be fine with the excess through next winter.  

Toby and our new dog Molly, had to rest after supervising all of the action.  Molly is another dog from a client.  She is a 7 1/2 year old lab mix and is sweet as can be.  She is really loving being a 'farm' dog.  

Today we planted a small garden just outside the coop.  The kids and a few friends helped.  It will contain greens and sunflowers.  The sunflowers to add some shade and the greens for yummy chicken treats.  They get a lot from the garden, but I thought it would be nice for them to have their own supply of yummy food.  

Lots more is happening and I'll update it all in time.  Enjoy your Easter or Passover celebrations!

I'll be linking to the Homestead Barn Hop.  Check out what others are doing around the homestead.