Friday, January 28, 2011

Chick mail order catalog

I just wanted to share some very exciting (to me at least!) news - this morning the wonderful lady who watches Little M on Mondays & Fridays while I work passed along a chick catalog that she was finished with. I am so looking forward to pouring through that catalog that I can hardly wait for the weekend to be here! I can almost hear those little cheep cheep cheeps coming from a little cardboard box :)
Well, that's all for now, its time to get down to work!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Our old chicken coop

When we bought our house & property back in 2009, it came complete with several outbuildings, including a dilapidated chicken coop. This coop had obviously been used in the past as a bird coop, but had also obviously been used as a kids fort. We decided that although it was old and rough looking, it would be just great for raising birds in. I wished for a mix of laying hens for eggs year round and meat chickens for delicious winter suppers, and spent time talking to co-workers who had chickens, planning for the day that I would have time to order and raise some hardy heirloom breeds.

pheasant chicks & our mystery bird
My husband apparently had other plans. That first summer, my husband bought 10 or so ring-necked pheasant chicks from the local feed store, which was alright with me, as being pregnant, I really had no interest in doing anything with the dusty coop that year. The chicks did quite well, apart from their propensity for escaping... The last remaining 2 nearly full grown pheasants escaped when we had an early and very wet and heavy snowfall in October that fall. The snow that knocked down the mesh deer fencing that was enclosing their outdoor enclosure. We never saw any of those birds again.

This past summer we were very busy with the baby, and decided that we would focus our outdoor energies on the garden and fixing up the place - a seemingly never ending list of mowing the grass (weeds really), removing some trees, cleaning up downed brush, and general tidying up the property. However in the fall, my husband used some birthday money to purchase a group of adult pheasants which he slowly released on the property (at least one of which is still hanging around and can be seen eating at my bird feeders under the fruit trees quite regularly). These pheasants were housed temporarily in the coop, which made me realize that several modifications would be need before I attempted to keep chickens in there.

At the moment, the coop has 3 methods of entry/exit. There is a poorly hung door, a difficult-to-securely-close glass window, and a low side opening that can be closed from the inside only. Each of these openings needs to be dealt before we can securely keep birds in there. The door will likely be an easy fix, however as that will be the main way that we get in to feed and water the birds, we need a secondary area inside the door, an inside foyer if you will, that will let us get in without the birds getting out. I envision having a small area immediately inside the door that is caged off from the rest of the coop.

I hope to be able to make 2 areas beyond that foyer, one to keep the chickens in, and one to house pheasants (or other random birds) for my husband. Over the next several months I'm hoping to use reclaimed wood from the renovations we are currently doing on our sunporch to beef up the interior of the coop and create the frame of these 2 new areas. Then I'll be able to cage these areas off with chicken wire. After that, I'll plan out where the outside chicken scratch area will be and start figuring out where I will get the fence posts and fencing for that area from. This area will be adjacent to the new closer-to-the-house garden area I am hoping to till and fence in the spring - their closeness will be great for giving the chickens garden extras, and including chicken compost into the garden in the fall.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Herbs for my kitchen windowsill

my kitchen window - winter 2011
While I am fortunate enough to have a sunporch where I can grow (some) plants year round, I also still like to grow some herbs indoors above my kitchen sink. I love having plants around the house, and especially in the kitchen; they bring a bit of nature inside, and just add a great vibe to the space. Many herbs do just fine inside, and can provide fresh herbs year round right where you need them - in your kitchen!

There are several herbs that do best if planted a couple times a year (basil and cilantro for example), but some (rosemary and oregano for example) are longer lived and once you have a small pot established, it will produce for years if properly cared for. I have a small pot of rosemary that I have been growing on my kitchen windowsill for over 2 years, since I moved down to the States. Over the past 5 years I have also had various pots with sage, basil, oregano, and thyme. These don't all do as well over multiple winters but that is mostly when I don't ever bother to repot them!
a little pine tree from Californian seeds

I really need to develop a better system for always having plants that are producing lots of good herbs for cooking, which may involve having several pots and rotating them through the kitchen windowsill. I think part of my problem is I am always sticking cool 'found' seeds in these kitchen windowsill pots and thus when a little pine tree starts growing alongside my herbs, well, the focus of the pot becomes the tree and the herbs get ignored!
one little bit of green
This weekend Little M and I sat down and redid one of my herb pots (well, she sat at her toys on one  side of the patio door and played while I puttered around on the sunporch and avoided her putting all the dirt and tools in her mouth!). I had a pot of very sad looking oregano plants that had been neglected at some point over the summer. I think only one was still alive, so I dumped everything into the compost bin and washed out the pot to start fresh.

catching some January sun
First I mixed some of the garden soil I saved earlier this winter with some sand to allow for better drainage in the pot. I made sure the soil was moist enough by mixing in some water. Then I filled up the pot with soil to about an inch from the top. Next, I sprinkled basil seeds evenly over the soil surface to get many seedlings, and then I covered the seeds with more soil. I put a clear grocery-type bag over the pot to allow some light in while keeping the moisture levels high. Then I set the pot in a somewhat warm & sunny location (the sunporch) and now I just have to wait and keep it moist!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

ANOTHER garden plot???

I was making some soup for dinner tonight (Little M and I had a bad cold last week and I'm still trying to kick it), and the soup made me think about making some leek and potato soup next fall from garden produce. Then I realized that I would need to add leeks to my seed list in order to be able to make leek and potato soup.


Couple that with some comments that my husband made earlier this week requesting I grow some other herbs for his cooking endeavors, and the vague plans that have been floating through my brain about creating an additional & small(er) garden space closer to the house (adjacent to where the chicken coop and pen will be - more on that in the months to come), and I think I know what else I need to do before spring - design a small garden space near the orchard!
The existing coop is visible in the background

I guess I need to start saving money for deer fencing, fence posts, and of course, more seed packets! The picture I've included here shows where the new garden space might go. You can see the fruit trees further left before the house corner blocks them. The chicken coop is visible in the background - the garden would go between the fruit trees and the coop.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

2011 Seed List

Hurray! I've finished planning my 2011 list of plants to grow!

Its been raining off and on all weekend (so strange for January here!) and on top of the several feet of snow we have on the ground, its not very pleasant outside, although its unseasonably warm! The weather and the remnants of a cold made staying warm and cozy inside on the top of my priority list - which is why I'm planning garden plants so far in advance this year!

I've included the list of plant varieties below, and I even remembered to include plants to grow so I can meet my gardening-related goals! In brackets I've included bits from the catalog write-up that made me want to grow each plant this year. There is an additional section at the bottom of plants I want to try but that may end up being saved for some year in the future, as the first list already looks rather daunting! I'll be ordering my seeds soon from Seed Savers International - I received a book of theirs last year (Seed to Seed) and its absolutely wonderful!

Beans - kenearly yellow eye (look pretty, for dry beans)
Beans - kentucky wonder bush (snap bush bean for freezing and eating fresh)
Peas - sugar snap (seeds from last year)
Peas - sutton's harbinger (not too tall)
Tomatoes - amish paste (for sauces)
Tomatoes - italian heirloom (for eating fresh)
Tomatoes - cherry roma (for salads)
Carrots - st valery (tasty & good for storage)
Corn - smoke signals (colorful popcorn kernels, I've never tried growing popping corn before!)
Corn - golden bantam improved (good for fresh eating and freezing)
Watermelon (from seeds saved from a local farmers watermelons)
Cucumber - bushy (for eating & pickling if I have time)
Zucchini - black beauty (we love zucchini bread!)
Squash - hubbard (from seeds saved from one given to us by family)
Squash - butternut (from seeds given to us by a friend)
Pumpkin - hercules (from seeds saved from last years pumpkin)
Peppers - chocolate beauty (trying something different)
Peppers - golden treasure (sweet banana-type)
Potatoes - yukon gold (1 - yukon/canadian reference, 2 - so tasty!)
Onions (from seeds given by a friend)
Basil (seeds from last year)
Oregano (seeds from last year)
Sage (seeds from last year)
Thyme (seeds from last year)
Hops (from cuttings from old house, for brewing!)
Sunflowers (seeds saved from last years crop)
Garlic - already planted (from starts given by family)

Plants I might try this year or in the future:
Eggplant, Black Raspberries, Rhubarb, Honeydew Melon, Sunset Runner Beans, Hot Peppers, Turnips, Beets, Hyssop

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In the Kitchen

So this isn't really strictly gardening related, but I wanted to share something funny with you that happened at home today.

A bit of background... I'm mostly in charge of dishwashing at our house, and although we do have a dishwasher, I don't tend to put pots and pans in it at all. Thus I end up washing lots of pots and some pans by hand, and stacking them, often rather precariously, to the left of the sink on a tea towel to let them air dry. We likely should just invest in a dish rack, but why spend our extra money on that when the tea towel does just fine? And after all, I am an expert stacker...

So today, my husband was getting a pan from the pile of now dry dishes to the left of the sink. (because I also am expert at putting off putting away dishes) I hear a bit of a commotion in there, and there he is, picking up the slow cooker pot from the floor! It overbalanced (he must have removed a critical part of my otherwise perfectly balanced dish stack) and fell to the floor, and even (thankfully!) emerged crack free! WHEW! :) Guess I'll still have that slow cooker when I need it next fall for prepping applesauce to can! (See, I even managed to tie it all in to the garden!) :)

Current dish stack status - mostly single level pots - I think I'll be playing it safe for the next couple of days!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Our fruit trees

When we purchased our current home in the summer of 2009, there was an existing home orchard near the house containing 8 older fruit trees and 2 regrowth areas where there had obviously been a fruit tree that had died back. These fruit trees had been neglected for at least several years, and due to the timing of when we got possession, although all or nearly all had flowers and then fruit when we first visited the property, only the apple trees and the pear tree still had small hard fruit by harvest time. We had other priorities that first summer (making the house interior livable and starting a small vegetable garden) thus we didn't take time to water the trees, although it is likely that by the time (mid July) that we got possession, the fruit for that summer was already doomed. We were able to tell what most of the trees were that first summer though, and 2010 allowed us to get a more complete tally of what we had:

 2 apple trees, one greenish, one reddish.
1 pear (likely a bosc type)
1 pie cherry
1 apricot
1 plum
2 unknown at this time
2 unknown regrowth at this time

The reason there are still two full grown trees that we aren't completely positive what they are is that in spring 2010 we had a late hard frost that killed some of the blossoms, and the cold temperatures around that hard frost likely kept pollinators away from what we later realized was a very important pollination time for our trees. This late frost meant we had fruit on only 4 of our 8 trees - the plum and pie cherry had plenty of fruit, and both apples had some fruit.

However, after being neglected for so long, the pie cherries had a cherry fruit fly infestation so I had to remove and freeze all of the fruit in an attempt to stop their reproductive cycle (I will do the same next year although as there was no fruit in 2009 we may be ok - they can survive up to 2 years in the ground). Apart from becoming a bit over-ripe before I got the plums picked (with Little M gardening was often a challenge in 2010!), they were quite tasty, and a lady I work with made plum jam with what we picked. Although we watered every other day, I don't think the apples got quite enough water, as they never really got good, even after some light frosts. I'll have to do a better job of watering next summer!

In our small orchard there are now 2 rows of old trees, and also one row of new young trees. We planted these in 2010, some in the spring, and some in the fall. There is a Bing Cherry, a Polly Peach,  an Early 8-ball Peach, a D'Anjou Pear, and a Rubymac Apple. You may also have noticed that there is a grassy section (new this fall) at the end of my garden that is now incorporated within the garden fence, that has 2 more fruit trees - both apples - a Cortland and a Jonagold.
some of our 'unusual birds'!

This coming spring we plan to trim the trees, as we didn't get a chance with all that was going on this spring. In the meantime, though, all the overgrown branches are serving another purpose this winter. I have 2 bird seed feeders and one suet feeder hanging on one of the apples which is closest to the house. We keep an eye out for unusual birds, and have been very happy with the enhanced cover the overgrown trees provide!

Monday, January 10, 2011

5 tips to improve next years garden

1 - Create a garden map of your last garden and draw in your crops at planting, updating as things fail/are replanted/replaced/changed/etc

2 - Make a list of what seeds/plants you grew in your last garden, including things like exact type, source, etc, in as much detail as you can remember

Next year my tomatoes need supports!
3 - After the season, if you made your garden map in the spring make sure your map is accurate, and make notes about what plants worked, which didn't, whether your bean spacing was too tight (as I have now done 2 years in a row because I didn't record the spacing!), whether growing 2 crops side by side didn't work very well, and just generally any suggestions you have for next year.

4 - Before ordering or buying any seeds, sit down and think about what you want to get out of your garden this coming year. Do you want to grow an assortment of fresh herbs for cooking, or lots of basil for pesto, or tomatoes for pasta sauce, or a variety of vegetables to freeze to feed your family over the winter? By thinking in advance about what your priorities are, you can ensure that you pick seeds (and thus grow plants), that will give you the produce you want!

5 - After deciding on your garden priorities, look back at the plants you grew last year and decide on which plants you want to continue growing, which don't fit into your current priorities, which plants need to be replaced with different varieties depending on how they grew last year (keeping in mind whether your weather was normal or not), and which plants you want to add to your selection this year. This will let you pick a good assortment of plants based on your past experience in your garden, for your particular goals!

Keeping these tips in mind helps me focus my energies while planning and avoid overspending while flipping through seed catalogs. I hope they help you get more out of your gardening this summer!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Little M turns one!

Well, one year ago this morning, Little M came into the world and we became parents to a wonderful little girl. Today she turns one, and I'm sitting here writing this not sure where the time has gone!

I won't spend too much time here today, today is about family time after all! But I will mention that in the next few weeks I will be spending a lot of my time looking through seed catalogs - how fun! So I hope to plan my 2011 garden in the next few weeks, and share these plans in the next weeks & months. I anticipate writing about the seeds I will order, plans for garden improvements, and hopefully (if I am ambitious enough) plans for a herb garden closer to the house!

Off to plan the birthday girl's cake!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Welcome 2011!

I'd like to start off 2011 with a post about goals. As a family, we have a couple large and many small goals for 2011; we have several financial goals, several renovation goals, several homesteading goals, a couple of exercise-related goals, and I have several fun goals. Two of those fun goals relate to my gardening, at least in a peripheral manner!

1. I have been meaning for several years to try my hand at homebrewing, and picked up 2 books on the topic after Christmas. Next step, acquiring the supplies. That will likely be a fall project, but its on the list for this year. One of the books is about growing your own hops & herbs, so those aspects of making beer may get incorporated into my garden planning in a couple months, so look for brewing herbs in garden posts to come.

2. This is the year for me to start canning our garden produce - heading up the list of things to can this year will be strawberry jam, tomatoes, and applesauce!

These goals obviously mean I will need to make sure I include plants like tomatoes & herbs in my garden planning, and maybe some hops! Hope you all have been having a great 2011 thus far!
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