Posts Tagged ‘spinach’

Garden Experiments

April 28, 2009

I’ve been doing daily updates on the Garden in Progress page, but it’s time for a longer post about the goings on in my garden. Our original plan was to get the garden area tilled, then fence it in to protect it from deer, rabbits, raccoons, and all the other critters that live in the woods right by our house. The tilling has not been possible due to rain and mud, so perhaps this year we will skip the tilling after all. I am really waffling on the issue of tilling, but the weather might be the deciding factor. If we end up not tilling, then we will still spend money on compost and soil. However, if the raised beds do well, then we will be set for next year. We’ll just have to add compost, which we are in the process of making, and mulch and rotate crops next spring, I think.

While waiting for the tilling, I’ve been experimenting with killing grass. I have three 4′ X 4′ garden frames built and they are all out in the garden. For Experiment 1, I put newspaper on the bottom to try to kill the grass. I was too impatient and went ahead and put some potting soil and compost in the frame. I finished marking off the grids with nails and yarn, just like I did with the bed where I dug up the sod. In the middle of the last week I planted two squares, one with spinach and one with cosmic purple carrots. Then on April 25, I planted two more squares of carrots and yesterday (April 27) I planted another square of spinach and two squares of romaine lettuce with radishes in the corners. So I have 7 squares planted in that one, and will probably transplant the broccoli to the top/north most facing row.

For Experiment 2, I put down cardboard instead of newspaper, mostly because I had cardboard and didn’t have any more newspaper. The grass is dying, but not as quickly as I would like (did I mention I get impatient?). I don’t really want to put soil and compost over the cardboard. I know it will decompose eventually, but not nearly as quickly as the newspaper will. I think I will take the dug out sod from Experiment 3 (see below) and put it on the bottom, then add compost and potting soil to finish it off. That bed is too close to the others to do any vertical crops, so I think I will plant my herbs in that bed.

Experiment 3 isn’t really an experiment anymore. I dug out the sod and poured soil and compost in the frame and already planted. This is the first bed I planted and happens to be the north most one, though eventually I will have other beds north of this one. So, I will be calling it Bed 1. Here are some pictures of the progression of this bed:

Partly dug up sod

Partly dug up sod

Garden helper

Garden helper

Partly filled raised garden bed

Partly filled raised garden bed

Filled with potting soil and compost

Filled with potting soil and compost

Grids marked with yarn

Grids marked with yarn

Bed 1 (Experiment 3) fully planted

Bed 1 (Experiment 3) fully planted

This last picture was taken on April 22. Since then, bibb lettuce, radishes, spinach, parsnips, and leaf lettuce, and onions have started sprouting. It’s quite exciting. To the left of the picture (which is the north side and what I think of as the top) are the broccoli transplants that Scott the Farmer gave us and helped us transplant. We planted onion sets in each corner of the broccoli squares. The column to the right of the broccoli is where we transplanted some leaf lettuce and bibb lettuce, with some onion sets in the middle. The next column is kind of a mixture, with two squares of bibb lettuce seeds, with radishes in the corners. Then there is a square of spinach and a square with two celery transplants and some onion sets (not sure how many since the kids were helping!). The column all the way to the left (or what I think of as the bottom row) is leeks, carrots, parsnips, and onion sets. Those squares are not quite a full square foot, so instead of planting 16 of each vegetable, I only planted 12.

So far, no bunnies or deer have bothered this one, but I need to make a cover for it. There’s a quick and easy plan in All New Square Foot Gardening, so I just need to sit down with the book in front of me and try to build. Eventually I will have to use the saw myself, despite my fear of cutting off my fingers. So the next step is to build a cover (UPDATED to say this is done and there is a picture here) for the beds planted, build more frames and trellises for the vertical plants, and get an area ready for the corn, beans, and squash. I’m not going to make frames for those because that seems like a waste of wood. I will, however, try to make a raised area for it.

In a related note, I was doing some research on herbs in the square foot garden and I came upon this site, which I’ve added to my links. In particular, the page about plant spacing and herbs in the square foot garden were very useful. There’s a lot of other really good information, but I leave it to you to explore that page on your own.


Cows, chickens, and kittens

April 25, 2009

Sorry I haven’t written much in the past couple of days. We’ve all had a pretty mild cold. It’s mild in the sense that we don’t have boogers and snot all over us and the sore throat wasn’t that bad, but I felt like crap and I know the kids did, too. The cold seems short lived and I’m grateful for that since the weather has been so nice!

The cow drama seems to be over. They seem much calmer, but we also haven’t let the kids near them and won’t until the cows are used to us other adults. Tim has been giving them a “treat” in the morning and I’ve been doing it in the afternoon. They seem comfortable with Tim already; this morning they were waiting for him to give them their “treat.” By the time I got home with the kids around 5:30 today, it seemed like they were waiting for me. So it seems they are getting used to Tim and me. The kids haven’t gotten close to the cows but have been in the garden area, which is not that far away. I think by the end of next week, the kids might even get to go near them. We’ll see.

The garden is going nicely. I’m still waiting for tilling, but the ground isn’t quite dry enough and it’s supposed to rain for a few days. Maybe that’s a good reason to go with no tilling? The pepper plants finally sprouted and now are going crazy. I put some of the broccoli outside to get sunshine and it is thriving. Some of the little seedlings died, naturally, but the others are filling out nicely. The zucchini and watermelon I started are doing really well and some of the herbs are doing, too. I put the spinach starts outside for some sun, but I think I waited too long. I think they all finally died. I just thought I should add in some of the plants that didn’t work out so well, for the purposes of full disclosure. 🙂

The chickens are awesome. They are in the movable coop out in the garden and spent last night and tonight out there. Apparently Chicken Joe is crowing, or attempting to crow. Tim and Tom have heard it and I think I heard him doing something tonight at sunset. Honestly, the kids and I just don’t get up early enough to hear him in the morning. Eventually, he will be loud enough and the windows will be open and we will wake up early. Right? Tonight Tim was looking at the chickens and thinking that one of the other chickens is a cockerel and not a pullet because “she” is developing a comb and wattles more quickly than the other pullets. I told him I didn’t think she was a he, but we’ll see.

Oh, and it seems that Mama Cat had her kittens. I thought maybe she was pregnant because her belly felt round and I could feel her teats, but now I think she started coming around for food once they were born. Mo found the kittens in our shed tonight, but I think that Mama Cat had them elsewhere and brought them here very recently, possibly today while it was quiet outside since the kids and I were in town almost all day. We only saw 3 kittens, but then Aidan said he saw another kitten under the one we have named Vicious. She (or he) has hissed and growled at us anytime we came near. Mama Cat is totally fine with us being near her kittens, but apparently this one kitten is very scared or very protective of the others. I’m not sure as I don’t really have a lot of experience with kittens that are with the mama and litter mates. I’ve had tons of cats, just not in this particular situation. I can’t tell how old the kittens are, but their eyes are open and they are not newborns. I think Mama Cat started coming around for food around 2 weeks ago, so I would guess the kittens are about 2 weeks old. If I can get some pictures I will do that and post them and maybe someone else will have a better idea how old the kittens are.

Anyway, that’s as much as I can write for now. I know I need to post pictures and stories about the chickens, so I’ll try to write about that tomorrow. The kids are so super cute with the chickens, who are now 6 weeks old. I’ll write more later. I need to get to bed!

Too long without blogging

April 15, 2009

I have so many things to blog about. It’s funny that’s it’s just been a few days and I am dying to blog! I just have not had the time to do it lately. So, here’s what is up.

The chickens are in movable coop all the time now. They spend nights in the garage, warm days in the garden area. Usually we take a blanket out there and lay around watching them for a while. It’s quite relaxing, almost meditative. We have a good time digging up worms for them, but I think they are spoiled and need to figure out how to dig up their own worms. Am I silly for being worried that they won’t figure it out if we keep doing it for them? They are getting bigger and bigger every day, but now they almost look like miniature chickens. They don’t quite have all their feathers, but they have most of them. The wattles and combs are growing, and a few of them have reddened as well. They are making noises that sound more like clucking than cheeping, which is really cool to hear. I do owe you all pictures of the coop and the 4 week old chickens. I suppose I will wait until tomorrow or Friday and post the 4 and 5 week updates at the same time.

We still haven’t heard from the people who are supposed to till the garden. I have put a 4′ by 4′ box out in the garden area, with newspapers spread on the bottom to try to kill the grass. It’s an experiment. I think it will work, but probably not in time to do a garden this year, so we might go with the tilling after all. I just can’t decide. It seems like a lot of people used raised beds and make their own potting soil because their soil is crappy – too sandy or too much clay or something like that. In this part of Illinois, we are lucky to have really good soil. So, I’m not sure what to do. I was partly thinking of no tilling because I am just tired of waiting. I suppose I could give them a call or stop by and say, “Hey, come till my garden already! I’m dying to get started!” 🙂 Whatever we end up doing, it will still be some form of square foot gardening for sure. It’s just a matter of whether to till or not, and if we don’t, then I think high raised beds (12″ or more, I think) with lots of mulch would work well. If we till, I will still be using the boxes/frames to do the square foot gardening, it just won’t be as deep.

One thing I am trying to figure out is how much lettuce and carrots to plant for a 5 person family. The square foot gardening book I have says you can plant something like 9 spinach plants per square foot. So if I have one 4′ X 4′ square for lettuce and radishes, and I decide to plant 5 squares of spinach, that’s 45 spinach plants. Obviously I will not plant them all at the same time, but even so, isn’t that a lot for a family of 5? I suppose spinach can be cooked and then canned or frozen, so that might not be so bad, but what about the bibb and romaine lettuce. I think it was (Edited to finish the thought!) 7 lettuce per square foot, so if I plant 5 squares, then that’s a lot of lettuce, don’t you think? Anyway, I’m just not sure how much of some things to plant. I guess extra is better than not enough, since we can give extra vegetables away to friends and family.

The seedlings are doing OK. Things that sprouted: broccoli, spinach, honeydew, watermelon, zucchini, gold rush zucchini, and butternut squash. The broccoli and spinach seem really skinny and leggy to me. I transplanted the broccoli today and we’ll see if it does better. If I have to, I will buy transplants. The peppers I planted have not sprouted at all. I am thinking perhaps the soil just was not warm enough when I planted them? My house is not warm, especially downstairs, so maybe it wasn’t warm enough for them to sprout. The only other thing I can think of is that the seeds were just not good. Any other ideas? It has been two weeks and it seems that they should have sprouted by now. None of the herbs have sprouted, but I have read that it is hard to start oregano and rosemary from seed, so I might have to buy them as transplants as well.

Scott the Farmer was here today and he and Tim are working on the fence for the cattle. They are only fencing in a few acres and we are only getting two heifers for now. That’s enough to get into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP for short. We’ll be sowing oats on the rest of the acres. He says that will improve the soil fertility, as well as providing some forage for the two heifers. The rest will be harvested and we’ll sell it, hopefully at a small profit. As for the heifers, I think we will be keeping one for ourselves for meat, and selling the other. I’m not sure of all the details at the moment. We have to sit down and talk to Scott about it soon. He says if we get too attached to the cows, we can always sell them as dairy cows. I would love a dairy cow, but I am not quite ready for that responsibility and would have to figure out how to make cheese and yogurt and butter before committing to our own dairy cow.  Scott doesn’t want to keep the heifers here over the winter, so we will have to decide before fall, which seems like a long time away at the moment. Scott went to some effort to find heifers that are already gentle and trained on a one wire fence. I did not even know cattle would stay behind one wire, but apparently they can be trained to do so. The one wire is, of course, electrified.

Mama Cat has been around lately. She is most definitely pregnant and is hungry and mean to her first litter (or at least her first litter we know about). I think Little Gray is also pregnant. Now, I love cats but am not all that happy about this. I wanted to get them all fixed, and still do, but it is very expensive as we wouldn’t qualify to do it through the Humane Society. However, one day I had a Great Idea. I finally figured out that we can pretend the cats are Tim’s so that we can do it through the Humane Society. So, after these two litters, we we will definitely be getting them fixed, even the males. I know the males aren’t a problem for us because they don’t have the kittens, but it just seems like a good idea to get them all fixed. Then at least when the neighbor’s cats get pregnant, I will know it isn’t my fault or my problem in any way. I think we will have to give some of the kittens away once they are weaned. It depends on how big the litters are, I guess. I was not planning on feeding 10 or more outdoor cats! Three outdoor cats is a good number, I thought. I admit I am quite attached to those three little kittens. We still call them baby cats even though they are obviously not babies anymore. They are so cute and it took several months for them to get used to us and let us pet them, so they are staying, for sure.

Super quick update

April 6, 2009
  • Movable coop is done, but it’s too cold to put the chicks in it even in the heated garage
  • Broccoli is sprouting really well
  • Spinach not sprouting so well, but that’s ok as it might be best just to plant directly into the garden
  • Chickens are making different noises, not just the peeping of chicks
  • It’s cold and I want Spring to come back!

That’s all I have for now, folks. In the meantime, if you want something good to read, try this article: The Amazing Benefits of Grass-fed Meat

Things I’ve learned that I wish I knew sooner

March 30, 2009

I don’t have a lot of time to post at the moment, but I still make time to read. So here are some things I’ve learned in the reading I did this weekend.

  1. I should have started planning the garden in the middle of winter.
  2. Spinach apparently doesn’t transfer well (already planted some seeds in little pots).
  3. Broccoli doesn’t grow well in midsummer and takes a long time to grow (should have planted seeds in little pots weeks ago, now will have to buy transplants from the nursery or wait for a fall crop).
  4. Vinyl blind slats work well for marking out a square foot garden (OK, this is good because we have an old vinyl blind right out on the front porch that hasn’t made it to the trash yet).

I’m sure there is a ton more I will be learning. If you have any advice, let me know now. 🙂