Posts Tagged ‘square foot gardening’

Spring has arrived

March 30, 2010

Spring has arrived. There are birds and other animals that return or that you start seeing again. There are the sound of frogs. There are lots of baby animals, like calves and piglets and kittens. The grass starts getting green and it’s warm out. Those are pretty obvious. I know it’s spring here when I see someone mowing, though. It seems early for mowing, but I saw someone in town mowing a small side yard (next to a business, I think). Soon the Farmer’s Market will start again.

A New Hampshire rooster and an Orpington hen free ranging

Free range birds

I don’t know if it is because it’s spring time, but we have a few hens who think that roosting outside on our big pile of branches is a good idea. I think these hens are the ones that the roosters gang up on, as evidenced by the lack of feathers on their backs and behind their combs. I can understand why they don’t really want to go into the coop. But the roosters are definitely better than whatever else might come around in the middle of the night. Tim is pretty good at getting them in because he will just pick them up. I’m not willing to do that, so I try to convince them. I touch them, pet them, shake the sticks they are stepping on, and basically annoy them until they decide to go in.

A flock of chickens in my backyard

Happy chickens

Moira is also growing. She seems to be going through a pretty good growth spurt. She is hungry, tired, moody, and clumsy. It’s not really a list that I can make and say for sure she is having a growth spurt. There are days that I feel that way or Aidan does and it doesn’t mean a thing. But I just have this intuition that she is going through something big, some big brain growth and physical growth, most likely. Either that or she’s been eating way too much Easter candy and sugar and that is making her moody. But that wouldn’t necessarily explain the clumsiness, would it?

Moira's bare feet

Moira is a barefoot country girl

I have worked on the garden, but just barely. But when I look at last year’s gardening journal, I see that I hadn’t done much by this time last year, so I guess I’m doing OK. I need to start some seeds soon, maybe order some heirloom seeds. I did weed a gardening bed that has carrots growing, but that’s really all I’ve done. I’ll do more soon and I’ll blog about it, of course.

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First egg

July 28, 2009

I found the first egg today. I am pretty sure it is the first one ever, but not 100% sure. I know that Lula Mae has been making noises for over a week now and that today she was sitting/squatting in the accidental garden, right next to the house. I went out to see what was up and possibly interrupted the egg laying process (is that possible to interrupt it in the same way that a woman’s labor can be interrupted by stress or danger?). All three chickens, including Chicken Joe the rooster, were making lots of noise. That was why I went out to see what was going on. I guess it was as big a deal to them as it was to me.

We also worked in the garden a bit today and picked a couple of tomatoes. One was eaten by the kiddos and one by the chickens when we left it unguarded. Silly chickens! Anyway, more tomatoes are turning red so that is great news. The sugar snap peas seem to be dying off int he heat, which I think is normal. The carrots are finally doing well, but Moira wants to pick one every time we go to the garden, so we don’t really have any to use in meals. I need to plant more carrots for fall and then remember to plant more next spring. The winter squash are taking over the area between the tilled area and the raised beds. I guess they didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to spread into the tilled area? Silly squash!

I will post some pictures tomorrow, as soon as I get them off of my camera. I also have a picture of a dead, half-eaten copperhead snake that Tim ran over with the mower. We left it out and something ate some of it last night. It’s a lovely picture and I know everyone will surely tune in to see it once it is posted. Right?

Tilling sucks

June 10, 2009

OK, I suppose tilling has its uses, but I must say that my tilled area looks really bad. I worked on it some yesterday, using a garden rake and a ho to get some of the grass up. There are some weeds in the tilled area, but mostly it’s just the grass growing back. Now to be fair, I haven’t done much of anything in the tilled area. Combine my laziness with lots of rain and that explains why the grass is growing back. However, compared to my raised beds, the tilled area is much worse. It is more work and the grass is growing faster. Even the Pie Bed, (the no-dig bed in which I turned some sod upside down and then filled with some potting soil), which is the raised bed with the most weeds, does not compare to the tilled area. 
 

Pizza Bed in the foreground, tilled area in the background

Pizza Bed in the foreground, tilled area in the background

The only complaint I have with the raised beds is that there is not enough room to get the riding mower between them. We don’t have a push mower and I really don’t want to buy one since we have a gas-powered weed whacker (that I can’t start!). Ideally I wouldn’t have grass in between the raised beds. I would like a garden with no grass at all, but how to get rid of that grass? Or, more precisely, how can I get rid of that grass without chemicals and without spending a lot of money? I know that if I put down mulch that will help get rid of the grass, but right now I’m short on mulch since our bagger for the riding mower was back ordered. We can pick that up today, so as soon as I can mow again, I will have mulch and lots of it. I also know mulch would help in the tilled area.

While I like the idea of grass clippings as mulch in the raised beds and the tilled area, I would like something else to put in between the raised beds. This site, Organic Weed Control Methods ~ Mulching, has some great ideas. It has some good information about why mulching is so helpful and has a list of natural mulches, with suggestions on where to get them. None of these mulches jump out at me as easy and cheap and quick (quick as in tomorrow), unless I want to walk around collecting the grass clippings from the last time we mowed. I guess I will just wait until we have the bagger and then let the grass clippings dry and apply them to the tilled area. Then I guess I will use the weed whacker to trim around the raised beds. I think it would be a good idea to put down cardboard and/or newspaper before putting down the mulch, too.

The best idea I’ve had for in between the raised beds is to use broken up concrete. I remember reading somewhere that broken up concrete is a flagstone alternative. It can be laid out so that it looks like flagstone, but has the benefit of being more environmentally friendly. One of our neighbors just up the road has a big pile that’s just sitting there. I’ve thought about asking him if he is going to use it, but I haven’t done it yet. Maybe I should stop by and ask him next time I am driving to town. I think I could always do the paper/cardboard with dried grass clippings piled on top and then add the concrete afterwards. The concrete part might be a good autumn project, though. You know, after we build a henhouse for our 24 pullets (though I suspect one of the Buff Orpingtons is a boy) and a greenhouse and a workshop for Tim.

Garden covers

June 3, 2009

If you’ve looked at the pictures of my garden, you probably noticed the covers on the garden frames. These covers are necessary to keep out critters of all sorts, including rabbits and deer, raccoons and opossums, and cats and chickens. The cats and chickens seem to get in the beds the most: the cats to poop and the chickens to take dust baths or to peck at bugs and sometimes growing plants. This is not good, thus we have the frames. So far they seem to be working well to keep everyone out. A couple of weeks ago, Karen at ChickenSense commented on the garden covers. I figured it was worth a post to show how they are made. I can’t claim much credit as the idea is from All New Square Foot Gardening and the work was done by Tim, with a little bit of help from the kids and me.

Tim started with 2″ X 2″ pieces of lumber and cut them into 4′ sections. Then he used a screw to connect the corners. This part made a square and is the bottom of the cover. It is the part that rests on the the 2″ X 6″ pieces of wood that we used for the frames. Next, he took the chicken wire and stapled it onto the wood. This is the hard part since the chicken wire is in a roll and he had to hold the frame down while unrolling and stapling the chicken wire to it. Tim did this by himself more than once, but said it was easier when I helped him. 

Corner of garden cover

Corner of garden cover

Chicken wire stapled and zip tied together

Chicken wire stapled and zip tied together

After the sides of the cover are stapled on, it’s time to cut two or more pieces for the top, depending on what size chicken wire you are using. We used zip ties to connect the top pieces with the side pieces. The little white things are what is left of the zip ties after Tim clipped off the part hanging out. 

Zip ties to keep top and sides together

Zip ties to keep top and sides together

Side and top of garden cover

Side and top of garden cover

Zip ties holding top and sides of chicken wire together

Zip ties holding top and sides of chicken wire together

The great thing about these covers is that they are fairly quick and easy to make, while also being inexpensive. You need wood, zip ties, a staple gun with lots of staples, a few screws, and some chicken wire. The covers are lightweight and the kids can lift them so they can get a little snack of lettuce while we are in the garden. I’m not sure the covers would keep out a determined raccoon, though. I say this because we did see Swirly try to climb one and it kind of caved in. The garden is pretty safe from deer, rabbits, cats, and chickens, though. 

Eventually we plan to fence in the garden, but these covers work well. The frames can also be used to provide shade for garden plants or, if covered with the sort of plastic used in greenhouses, could be used to extend the growing season. So even after our garden is fenced in, we will still use these frames.

I’d rather be gardening

May 30, 2009

I never have enough time to work in the garden, it seems. I think we only stayed home one day this past week. Unfortunately I was not feeling particularly energetic that day. It didn’t much matter because I couldn’t mow because of the rain and couldn’t work in the garden because we hadn’t been to the nursery to get plants, compost, and vermiculite. Now it is Saturday and I didn’t get as much done as I had hoped. I think that is probably how spring is. It’s been so long since we had a real spring (spring in Phoenix is subtle and doesn’t last long) that I have forgotten.

I weeded a bit and am grateful that I haven’t had to do more. I think the square foot/raised bed gardening works well at keeping weeds away. I have had some problems with grass growing, but mostly along the edges and the corners. The Pie Bed (rhubarb, strawberries, and blueberries) has had the most grass growing in it. I did not dig in that bed, and then I added turned over sod on top of the partially dying grass. However, even that bed did not have a lot of grass. Soon I will probably be pulling out saplings since the cottonwoods are doing their cottonwood thing. It’s really cool and looks like it is snowing. The muddy areas on either side of the driveway looked like they were covered in snow. 

The Herb Bed is beautiful and mostly full. It has three squares of dill, four squares each of oregano and parsley, one square of chives, and three squares of cilantro. The final square was a dill transplant that I started from seed, but it didn’t survive. I have more basil to transplant, as well as some lavender, mint, and rosemary. I will grow the mint and rosemary in containers so that I can contain the mint and bring the rosemary in during the winter. 

The tilled area of the garden is doing OK. The bad news about the tilled area is that the grass is starting to grow back in places. The good news is that the soil is still nice and loose, so it’s quite easy to pull or rake the grass out of the soil. I spent some time making more mounds for the corn, beans, and squash (Three Sisters) so that I can plant some more. Some of the corn is about 4 inches tall, which means it is time to plant the beans and squash, according to Renee’s Garden, which is the plan I am using. You can do the Three Sisters in a square foot garden, too. Since we have plenty of room I figured I would used the tilled area instead of using more wood to make the boxes. 

I posted a few pictures of the garden on the May 2009 page, where you can also read my incredibly detailed garden notes if you are so inclined. I’m not sure it makes very interesting reading, but it will prove useful next spring, I’m sure!

Local food (and a few recipes)

May 24, 2009

I am buying more and more food locally. I have been buying Grama Sue’s eggs for several months. On Saturday, I met her in person since she was at the grocery store selling her eggs. I was pretty excited to meet her and she seemed pleased that I already had her eggs in my cart. I told her that I always buy her eggs if the store has them, but that unfortunately she would be losing a customer since I now have my own chickens. Lately, I’ve been able to buy more local food because my garden is producing food and the Farmer’s Markets have started. The Farmer’s Market in the small town near us, Colchester, started 3 weeks ago and the one in Macomb started on Thursday. I’ve been buying asparagus from Eli, who is Amish and has been at the Colchester Farmer’s Market every Saturday. I like buying vegetables from the Amish because I am quite sure they do not use any pesticides or herbicides. This is an assumption on my part, so I should probably ask to make sure.

Anyway, Friday night’s dinner was a quiche and a salad. I used Grama Sue’s eggs and some green onions from our garden for the quiche; The salad included leaf lettuce and radishes from our garden. The quiche recipe I use is a crustless broccoli and cheese quiche from Vegetarian Times. One of the cool things about quiche: you can substitute for the vegetables or the cheese. Last night I did not use the nutmeg or the mustard and I used some colby jack and cheddar cheeses instead of low-fat swiss. I often use mozzarella, but any cheese would do. It just depends on what you have on hand and what kind of cheese you like. I also didn’t have enough broccoli, so I added some asparagus I bought at the Farmer’s Market. Dinner was good because a) I actually cooked something for a change, b) it had fresh ingredients from our garden or that were bought locally, and c) the recipe is a good recipe.

Dessert was also good. I used this recipe for the rhubarb I bought on Thursday at the Farmer’s Market in Macomb. The recipe was a big hit; it didn’t last past the cleaning up from dinner. The recipe calls for 4 cups of rhubarb. I only had about 3 and a half cups, so I substituted with some strawberries (also from the Farmer’s Market). I am sure you could do 2 cups of strawberries and 2 cups of rhubarb if you wanted. It was tart, but also sweet. I think that if you add strawberries, you might want to reduce the sugar a bit. It just depends on how sweet you want it. I was using organic cane sugar, which seems to be a bit sweeter than regular sugar.

Saturday we hit two Farmer’s Markets so we picked up some asparagus, radishes, onions, tomatoes, ground beef, and some herbs to transplant in the garden. Dinner included local grass-fed, organic beef (though they are not certified because that costs money!), onion and tomato bought at the Farmer’s Market, and lettuce from my garden.

One thing I have learned about the Farmer’s Markets is that earlier is better. For example, let’s pretend you want to buy rhubarb. Well, you’d better get to the Farmer’s Market early because everyone else in town wants to buy rhubarb, too. Also, some people only bring a little bit of stuff and then they pack up and leave if they sell it all. So if you arrive towards the end of the market, you might miss out on some things. However, we did score a free hot dog because the beef people were leaving and didn’t want to take it home.

P. S. While searching for rhubarb recipes, I found this blog entry, which has recipes for dandelions, including a video on how to make dandelion fritters. I still have not tried dandelions (and I think it’s too late in the season at this point, also), but it seemed to go well with last week’s post.

Aidan finds a snake

May 18, 2009

OK, I finally finished a post I have been working on for a week. I have it scheduled to post tomorrow morning. Now, just because I spent a week on it does not meant it is some fantastic post. I hope it is, of course, but mostly it took me that long because I just don’t have a lot of uninterrupted time to sit down and write. So I write while the kids are watching TV or playing video games. I still get interrupted to get them stuff or to feed the cats, or sometimes I just have too many kids and cats on me to do any typing. Anyway, I hope you will like the post tomorrow. I wanted to post something that took a bit more time and that was more than a post about what we are doing here on the farm. I mean, I hope the day to day stuff is also interesting to anyone who reads, but as interesting as it can be, it can still get boring to read yet another post about kittens and chicks.

Having said that, here is another post about animals. The difference is that this one includes a snake. Yes, a snake. We lived in Phoenix for 8+ years and I didn’t see a single snake, even when playing in the washes at the park. We also rarely heard coyotes. Now we are in rural Illinois, which is not a place people associate with snakes and coyotes, and we have seen two snakes and hear coyotes almost nightly. Last week when Scott the Farmer and Farmer Clayton found a snake under a stump that had been lying in one of the crop areas since last fall. Clayton went to move it and there was a snake under it. He said it was a cottonmouth. Then on Wednesday Aidan saw a snake close to the front door (but up the hill, so not anywhere we would normally walk). Tim snapped some pictures so he could look it up. The guys say it is a Northern Copperhead. I don’t really care what it is called. I don’t really want any snakes in my yard where the kids walk barefoot! EDITED on 9/3/09: This is NOT a copperhead snake, but is probably a rat/corn snake.

Snake

Snake

Here is a picture one of the kids took of the Buff Orpington chicks we got last Wednesday. I’m almost embarrassed to say that I have not taken any more pictures of them. I suppose I’m trying not to get too attached to them since they are destined to be eaten. They are still cute, though. We put in a roost that we had used for the New Hampshire chickens when they were little. I’ve seen some of these tiny chicks on the higher roost and it is so cute!

Buff Orpington chicks

Buff Orpington chicks

The pink bucket had a bit of cow feed in it. It looks and is very similar to the chicken feed, so it’s not wonder they were confused.

Chicken in bucket of cow feed

Chicken in bucket of cow feed

Here are the big chickens (the New Hampshires) enjoying some cage-free time. This garden bed was unplanted at the time, so don’t worry! For some reason the kids had dug little holes and the chickens loved it.

Chickens in an unplanted raised bed

Chickens in an unplanted raised bed

The chickens eventually discovered that they could fit into the holes. I think this was the first dust baths we’ve seen them take. They really liked the holes!

Chicken in a hole

Chicken in a hole

This is one happy little chicken! She was even making some happy little sound and was really relaxed when the kids came near.

One happy hen!

One happy hen!

Picture Friday

May 15, 2009

I have some serious updates to add, but for now this will have to do. I am working on posts, I promise. For now, here are some pictures and a little bit of an update on the cats. I did post some more pictures of the garden on the May 2009 page and have been updating that almost daily. These pictures were taken on or before Tuesday, so the chickens are not exactly 9 weeks old, but are close. I have a few more pictures, but I need to charge my camera battery. 

Here is a picture of the chickens in the garden area. They mostly leave the raised beds alone, but will climb in occasionally. You can see the covers Tim has made. They help to keep out the chickens and cats, who like to poop in the beds. They also should keep out deer, bunnies, and racoons. 

Chickens in the Garden

Chickens in the Garden

This is just another picture of the chickens in the garden. There is a small hole that Mo filled with potting soil and they are digging around in it. You can see the movable coop, also.

Chickens in the Hole!

Chickens in the Hole!

This is a good overview of the raised bed part of the garden. The two beds with covers are Salad Beds1 and 3. The one between those is also a salad bed (Salad Bed 2, even though it is the third to be planted). The only thing I have in it so far is cauliflower that I transplanted yesterday. The bed in the foreground of Salad Bed 1 is the Pie Bed. It has rhubarb and strawberries in it, and blueberries as of yesterday. It also has a cover over it now. The big bed is the Pizza Bed, which now has tomatoes and peppers in it and will have basil soon. The unplanted bed next to the Pie Bed and Pizza Bed is an Herb Bed. In this picture it is empty, but it now has dill in it and a couple of chives. I have no idea if they will survive the rain today, though!

Raised Beds

Raised Beds

Here is a picture of Little Gray’s kittens. They were born around May 1. She had them in a box that was stacked on some other stuff, then moved them to a shelf under the workbench in the garage. They were behind a bunch of stuff and seemed safe to me, though I couldn’t manage to get a good look. Then on Tuesday she decided to move them again for some reason. I think she may have needed more space. Tim and I interrupted her while she was moving them and she was hissing and growling at us. I only saw three and was a bit worried, but later there were four. That is how I know we interrupted her. So they are all four there in a litter box filled with pine litter. It hadn’t been used, so it was clean and actually makes a decent bed. The only problem was that the kids could easily have found her. Tim ended up moving around the various bags of feed so that Little Gray can get in and out, but the kids won’t see her unless they are really poking around in there. So, here is a picture I took on Tuesday.

 

Little Gray nursing her four kittens

Little Gray nursing her four kittens

Gardening with chickens

May 6, 2009

Yesterday I planted peas. Yes, I realize I could have planted them weeks ago, but I was waiting for the tilling and needed to make a box, etc. So yesterday I finally made the 1′ X 4′ box for them, dug up the sod, added rotting leaves, compost, and potting soil, and newspaper, in that order. That’s not exactly lasagna gardening (or read this if your attention span or time is short), but I think it’s pretty close. It’s not exactly the mix Mel recommends in his square foot gardening books, either. He says to mix compost, peat moss, and coarse vermiculite in equal parts, but I don’t want to use peat moss because it is usually shipped from far away. However, I did read in Mother Earth News that you can substitute leaf mold for peat moss, so that’s part of why I used the decaying leaves from behind the garage (I was pretty excited to find that stash of leaves when we were mowing!). I suppose if I can find coarse vermiculite anywhere, I will try Mel’s mix. I must admit I’m having fun experimenting. Every bed is different, some dug and some not, some with the sod turned over, some with potting soil and compost, and now one with leaves, compost, and potting soil in layers. It will be interesting to see how things will work out. I think I will try the lasagna type method again, but without digging up sod.

As far as the peas go, I will need to make a trellis, of course, but that requires another trip to the hardware or lumber store, which we might do today since Tim has a day off. I’m not sure if we want to use metal in the form of electrical conduit, as Mel recommends in the All New Square Foot Gardening book or just wood. Wood would be cheaper, but I’m not sure it would last as long or be quite as sturdy. So I will have to think on that for a bit to decide what to do for all the vertical plants.

Oh, and I didn’t mow yesterday as I intended. Instead, I had to go to town to buy more cat food, pick up a prescription, and have lunch with Tim. The lunch was optional, of course, but it got the kids out of the house more than cat food or a prescription would have. So I spent the rest of the day working on the garden. Oh, and trying to keep the kids away from the kittens. Mama Cat has brought the kittens to the back porch, or maybe they came on their own. They have a place to sleep there and are getting used to us. I find it amazing they are used to us because Moira and Aidan want to carry them around, put them in the basket of my bike, take them down to the creek for adventures, and put them in hamster cages. I can understand their excitement about the kittens because they are, well, kittens! They are cute and fuzzy and playful (I can see my grandpa rolling his eyes about now and telling me I should just drown a few of them in the creek!), which makes it hard for the kids to contain their excitement. I am having a hard time getting the kids to understand that they are babies and that they do not want to go for a bike ride and they don’t want to be in a cage, nor do they want to tap dance or be stilt walkers, which involves the kids holding up their front paws to make them dance or walk around. I also reminded them that the kittens do not want to be far from their mama and that we are pretty much cage free around here. Even the chickens get to run around now and then as long as they are supervised to protect them from the outdoor cats.

Anyway, it is time to go out to the garden and do some work of some kind. I know the chickens will be happy to be out in the garden area. They are keeping the weeds down, and yesterday when I was digging up the sod for the peas, I found a bunch of red ants. I am happy to report that the chickens loved the red ants. The chickens did make it hard to do much digging, since every time I went to a spot to dig they would come running over to see what delicacy they could eat next. Digging while the chickens were out took longer, but it was a lot more fun.

Friday Cuteness

May 1, 2009

I have updated the Who’s Who page to include pictures of the new kittens. Here’s another one of Vicious, which you can see is aptly named.

Vicious the Kitten

Vicious the Kitten

Mama Cat nursing her kittens

Mama Cat nursing her kittens

Little Gray had her kittens either yesterday or this morning. She wasn’t around for dinner last night and didn’t come this morning until Tim went to disturb her in the garage. When she came to eat, it was clear that she had given birth. She was not as round and she had some matted fur near her bottom. So we found the kittens in the garage in a box up on top of a dryer. Here’s a picture, though not necessarily a good one. It looks like there are four kittens in there, two orange tabbies just like Scotchy and Swirly and two grayish ones.

Four newborn kittens

Four newborn kittens

And last, but not least, our 7 week old chickens:

Two roosters or a rooster and a pullet?

Two roosters or a rooster and a pullet?

Enjoying some free time

Enjoying some free time

Chickens in the garden

Chickens in the garden