Posts Tagged ‘vegetable 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.

Three questions

August 27, 2009
Moira with her new bike

Moira with her new bike

Whenever I’m eating something, especially something with vegetables in it, Moira will ask me three questions.

First, she asks, “Is that from our garden?” Sometimes the answer is yes and that’s the end of the questioning. Sometimes the answer is that one thing is from our garden and something else is not.

Question number two is, “Is that from the Farmer’s Market?”

At first she just asked those two questions and if I had to say no twice, I would then tell her that the ingredients were from the grocery store. I felt guilty if I had to say that.

Today I was eating a salad with baby romaine, walnuts, apricots, shredded Parmesan cheese, and honey mustard dressing. It was a pretty healthy snack and I was enjoying it until she started her questions. Today was the first time she asked question three, which is, “Is that from the grocery store?” The answer was yes. All the ingredients were from the grocery store. None of them were local, either, which is a subtlety she hasn’t yet figured out. Soon she will be wondering where the food at the grocery store comes from.

When I told her that all the ingredients were from the grocery store, she was clearly upset. However, the next part of the conversation went like this:

Me: Are your goldfish crackers from our garden?

Mo: No.

Me: Are they from the Farmer’s Market?

Mo: No! (laughing at this point).

Me: Are they from the store?

Mo: YES!

Me: Well, tonight’s dinner has venison from Scott that he probably hunted himself, onions from our garden, celery from the store, and potatoes from the Farmer’s Market.

She seemed satisfied with that. I am satisified with that for now. I hope to cook more and more food that comes from our garden or our land or that of our friends and neighbors. Next summer I hope to have an even bigger garden and to figure out this canning business. I’m sure it’s not hard, but it takes time. In fact, it takes uninterrupted time, which is something of which I have a shortage. Next summer, though, the kids will be a year older and that will make things a bit easier. Plus, Mo will keep me honest.

Summer update

July 22, 2009

OK, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. Really I haven’t. We’ve just had such had such a busy summer that I almost wish I would fall off the face of the earth just so I could get some rest. Things are still busy, but in a couple of weeks we should be back to normal; that is, no one travelling and no one visiting. That is part of why I haven’t posted much. The other reason is that we have lost some animals and that is upsetting and not fun to post about.

We lost two of the New Hampshire hens one evening at dusk. The kids and I were out of town, so things were quieter, I’m sure. Perhaps that is what gave the predator the nerve to get them so close to the house. We also lost two of Mama Cat’s kittens and one of Little Gray’s. We found a dead kitten on our lane and buried it and we assume it was Muck. The other, Muggy, just disappeared. Her other two kittens, Stinky and Vicious, are still around and Vicious has even gotten to be pretty friendly with the other cats and with us. Of course, it could just be that she is in heat! I am quite sure Mama Cat is pregnant again, too.

Little Gray’s kittens are cute and playful and friendly. In fact, I have Swirly Junior on my lap right now. He sleeps inside with us at night and we all love him. We did lost Scotchy Junior, about a month ago. He was under the couch and got stuck in the mechanism for the recliner. We didn’t realize this until the next morning as we were getting ready to go away for the weekend and I was making sure all the kittens were outside. It was horribly, horribly sad and I feel guilty that a kitten died because of our own carelessness.

Anyway, the garden is going OK. Things are growing despite my almost total neglect. I’ve used some lemon basil from the garden twice and made a yummy chicken dish. We have green tomatoes, lots of herbs, cauliflower and carrots. I need to plant more for fall, so maybe next week I will find some time to do some more planting. I did lose all the corn, probably to some deer that ate it while the kids and I were out of town. I think that the kids are a great deterrent to animals that think of coming too close to the house.

The chickens are doing well. The Buff Orpington chicks are growing and are now in the coop/dog kennel thing. It is working well enough for now, though it won’t work well for winter. We are still planning on building a coop, but it it turning into a fall project rather than a summer project. We have at least two Buff Orpington roosters, possibly a couple of more. I think that Lula Mae is getting ready to lay very soon. She has been making lots of noise and clucking when she goes into the coop at night. Her comb and wattles have grown and gotten quite red, which is also another sign. The other hen, who we have named Holly, doesn’t seem quite as ready, but I think she is getting there, too. Chicken Joe wasn’t crowing much when we still had the other rooster around, but now he is crowing very nicely.

That’s all I have for now! I will post more pictures someday soon. I have to take some first! I think next week things will be calmer, despite the fact that Tom will be out of town. I will be home with the kids and Tim and will try to play catch up with the garden, the mowing, and the blog.

Busy

July 8, 2009

I know it’s been a while since I posted and even longer since I posted anything of real substance. ūüôā It’s just been a busy summer and we have had visitors for the past two and a half weeks. So there just hasn’t been a lot of time and there isn’t that much to report, either. The chickens just do their chicken thing. I honestly don’t have a lot of time to watch them even though I would like to. The chicks are growing and are overcrowded and we are debating what to do until we find the time to build a coop.

The garden is growing and I did update the gardening page. So that’s all there is for now. I will try to take more pictures and do some updates next week, or maybe this weekend.

Accidental garden

June 30, 2009

An accidental garden is what happens when you put a pile of compost near your house, including decomposing Halloween pumpkins. Also, when the former owner lets the tomato plants go, some of the seeds will indeed germinate. So all I know is that we have tomatoes and some kind of squash growing. I’m guessing pumpkin based on what we put on the compost and what Scott the Farmer said. The tall thing in the middle with the somewhat visible root? I’m totally not sure what it is, but I suspect it is a tree or a weed.

Tomato and squash plants

Tomato and squash plants

Accidental garden

Accidental garden

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.

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.

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. ūüôā

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!