Category Archives: Growing and gardening

chicken tight, guinea strong

It’s time for the tomato starts to go out into the greenhouse.  I didn’t actually build the greenhouse for the chickens to live in (that was just a convenient side effect). But because the chickens still  live in the greenhouse, the tomatoes must be protected from them, in an unquestionably secure way.  They are in a maximum security safe, complete with roof, because guaranteed there’ll be a guinea walking around up there.

I’ve learned the hard way to not underestimate the power of chickens to access what they want, especially green things. But in a reversal of the norm, the plants are caged, not the chickens.

A friend gave me this adjustable shelf unit that is performing spectacularly well.  120 tomato starts don’t even take up half of it, and it will be more than enough for all the starts we’ll need to transition to outdoor living.The chickery has been repurposed, again.  It will easily revert back from function as tomato safe before we hear the pitter patter of little chicken feet.

RIP

Had a big, beautiful apple tree come down:(  One of the biggest and best, a crazy producer.  #47.  I see my post from last year mentions a mean lean that I don’t remembIt wasn’t even wind.  Only wet ground and a random Tuesday.It’s a tragedy:(  I got a few more apple trees around, but still.

I don’t like when the regal old trees expire.One big root is cracked, and maybe more underground that can’t be seen, but there’s a possibility that the tree still survives in its new position. This neighboring tree looks like it had something similar happen to it and it’s growing well.

Also, the sitting chicken died in her sleep, with her head tucked in.  She held on for so long and seemed to be pretty well, I thought she was coming around.  She was a sweetie.

Sprout shelves

Today I built a window shelf apparatus to accommodate all the seedlings.  Well, not all the seedlings on this shelf.  This will allow the house to accommodate all my seedlings, because I know I’m going to outgrow the windowsills this spring.Hmm, I didn’t take a great picture of it.

Using only windowsills would max me out at 6 trays (it’s worked in the past, sort of), and with these shelves I can now have 10 trays.

It makes the room darker and ruins the picture window effect, but that will be fine for a month each year.  It’s going to smell like a hothouse in here, especially when the tomato sprouts get smelly, like they do, excited to be tomatoes.

I can just imagine all six windows kitted out with shelve units, in which case I could get 20, maybe 24 trays of starts in the windows.  Oooooh:)  That would be a true capacity maximum, and I don’t think I should get too excited about that.

Sprout slaughter

Oh, the chamomanity!  Seems like I lose something to heatstroke every year.  Last year it was the delicate little celeries.  This year, the chamomile.  :(Several of these will stand back up again, but alas, many are doomed.Apples had fun today enthusiastically bashing apart a piece of popcorn.And the afflicted hen who will not pass is markedly improved.  She’s still, literally, dragging her ass around, but she’s eating, moving a little, and today I found her on the way down the ramp at lunchtime!  I guess room service was late.  She hasn’t left the coop for days but I’ve been serving her meals and drinks where she is.  She’s regained an appetite, and she stood right up today.  She may be staging a comeback.

All the baby tomatoes

The tomatoes are sprouting, unfolding and lifting up their little seed husks.  I’m pleased to learn that tomatoes don’t usually cross, so there will never be a shortage of tomato seeds in the future.  I haven’t saved tomato seeds before because I always grew many varieties.  But that doesn’t matter!

In no time these little infant sprouts will be big old Tarzan vines all over the greenhouse.

Potential

It’s a windy sloppy day and I have income taxes to wrestle with (bleagh), but I have my miniature crops to tend!

Look at those little celeries!  So cute, avidly swiveling every day to hug the sunlight.

This is my favorite time of year, when the windowsills are all full of seed trays, and dreams abound – Oh, there will be abundant, lush crops of this and that – as the seeds start to shuck husks and uncurl themselves, stand up and turn green.  Potential!

This reminds me of the intent of words:  Potent – potential, abound- abundance…

Licorice

My licorice is poking up!  Three, maybe four have sprouted.  According to the very optimistic instructions on the seed packet (“germination is poor and difficult”), it’s lucky to have any sprouts  at all “hatch”.  I want to know if the tiny sprouts taste like licorice, but I’ll restrain myself.

Licorice is my experiment de année.

Then there’s the kale:Kale is so vigorous, and fast, and rugged.  I’ve never started kale indoors, nothing other than direct seeding, but, why not.  I like kale.

Now, to keep the celery alive.

The celery is up.  It’s been showing little greenish threads for a couple of days, but today they stood up and unfolded their first “leaves” (cotyledons).

Naturally, they did not come up evenly distributed in the cells.  They never do.  Onions are showing too.  I love the way onions grow, folded back on themselves, and the fold emerging first.  It’s like, if a person was trying to dig themselves out of the ground they’d reach a hand out first (at least, that’s the impression I get from graveyard movie scenes).  Most plants do that, with their paired cotyledons.

Not onions.  They would stick an elbow out first, as far as possible, and then, like an afterthought, unbend the arm.

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Box chicken is going strong and seeming to adapt happily to pet chicken status.  She eats more every day but is not restless.  She sticks her neck out long and cocks her head to watch us through her screen with one eye, and we do the same (but with two eyes) and baby talk inane crap to her.  Are you eating?  That’s so good!  Are you a hungry chicken?  It’s embarrassing.  And very funny when HW does it in falsetto.    Oh, you’re drinking?  Look at you drinking! You’re just a little chicken!  She’s going to have a lot to tell her friends when she goes back out to the flock.  Updates on the supposed intelligence of the unwinged ones.

Seedy Saturday bounty

The 12th annual, and my 2nd, local Seedy Saturday was this weekend.  It’s kind of the only time I feel a crazed shopping rush often aka “retail therapy”.  SEEDS!  Seedsseedsseedsseeeeds!  I get a little wild.

All the pretty packages pulsing with the energy of potential, and all the pretty names of cool new (or old) varieties.  Even though I know how far one seed pack can go, and I come armed with a short list of the varieties I actually need, I can’t resist impulse and just-to-make-sure purchases.

And then there’s the trade table.  No risk at all to try some free new seeds.

We stayed for all the talks, and I learned something from each one. Stay tuned for forays into vermiculture and mealworm cultivation.

The last talk on seed saving by Chris Sanford gave me an aha moment about crossing.  Embarrassingly simple, and something I already knew from general biology, but somehow never got when it came to seeds, because the word “species” is rarely heard when you’re talking about vegetables.  Of course, the same species of anything, plant or animal, can interbreed.  That’s a definition of species.  And the categories of fruit or vegetables we may talk about, like “squash”, or “melons”, or “beans”,  those names aren’t of species, so squash of the same species can cross, but there are multiple species OF squash.  I know, I figured this out awfully late.

Sow it begins

The first seed starts of the year: celery.  They’re even a little bit late.

Celery is so delicate.  The teeny starts can either wilt in seconds without water, or fry in the sun, fragile until they’re a rather ripe old age.  Two years running I’ve managed to roast the baby celeries when they were the size of threads, and restarting takes forever – such long germination – but I got a late celery crop nonetheless and it was decent.  Amazing that a big clump of celery grows from one pinhead seed.

Next up, onions.

Seed companies don’t want you to know this one fact!

I’m feeling smug about my seeds.

My collection of seeds is all organized.  That should last until, oh, about April, if I’m lucky.  They’ll be all muddy and confused when the time comes.  Only right now I can feel smug.

I’ve got all my seeds grouped into baggies, which handily hold seed packs new and partial, and all the other odd sizes of envelopes which accumulate with saved seeds and old seeds. Today is bean planting day?  Grab the bean bag, and then I can strew around my different types of bean packets and still have the fun of “ok, here I think I’ll put some yellow beans…maybe I’ll see if any of these from 2011 germinate over here…”  I can’t micro plan too much.


Aside: mind blowing new information of 2017! 

Seeds generally have a shelf life of two years in normal storage conditions, right?  Right?   NO!  Some seeds actually become more likely to germinate the longer you save them!!!   You can bet seed companies don’t want to hear that.

I have to say my experience bears this out.  I was tracking germination rates on my old seed packets- and I’m willing to admit that I have seeds that go back to 2003 – say in 2016 I got 1 out of 3 germination on whatever tomato from these old seeds, to compensate, I put in three seeds per cell the next year.  BOOM, all of them germinate.  For a number of seeds across species (and I’m often trying old seeds because of course I want to use them up), my germination rates increased! They were doing the opposite of what I expected, year after year.

More experimentation is in order, but when my friend told me this revolutionary notion (she was reading a French agriculture book), I went “That explains my tomatoes! I thought I was crazy”


Yeah, I know, it's a dark picture. Least it hides the Barry Manilow album in the background.I like the ziploc method, because it translates well to grabbing and going to the garden, and can even save the paper seed packs from melting in the dew if they get left out overnight.  It’s happened.

I’ve definitely outgrown my Lee Valley seed saving binder, which is a good idea with limitations, but taking the tri-zip “pages” out of the binder makes them useful again – they’re really handy for all the oddball seeds or small amounts (like, I don’t have enough melon seeds to warrant a “melon” baggie).

My brain is worn out from doing my garden plan today.  It mostly consists of plotting the seed start and transplant dates for all that I want to grow, estimating quantities and therefore square footage, and then mapping which areas will be roots/greens/etc, based on my crop rotation.  Then I sort over my seeds and a shopping list is generated (it’s a short list).

Then all those dates get stretched out onto a calendar, so every few days there are certain seeds to start, or put out, or direct sow (and the quantity of each is indicated).  Some days (tomato day) are big days, but the work is distributed quite widely, done right, and the best part is I never think again about what is the right time to plant this or that, because I did all that thinking today.  I just look at the schedule and keep marching.

It’s not like it all turns out according to plan, but planning day is the single most important thing I’ve done to improve my gardening.  Success is many times more likely with a reasonably detailed plan of when stuff needs to be done and where it has to go.  There’s plenty of latitude for adjustment but the basic schedule is invaluable.

Also because you can’t learn everything all at once and still get outside, planning day is a chance to fill in some corners of research, as I add things I want to try this year (When do I have to start those?  Perennial/annual?  Do they reseed themselves/save seeds?  What do they like to grow with?), and adjust according to the  record of “mistakes” I note every year (Put melons out later!  Lemon balm earlier.).

This year I intend to give flowers a better shot, and also make window boxes.

I know some people just squint at the sun and sniff the breeze and go “time to plant potatoes”, but that’s not me.  In time the scheduling will probably become much more “instinctive”, but “instincts” are often habits created by practice, passively or deliberately.  Don’t get me started on habits.

Garden Plan

The garden looks a little bit like a graveyard, one total blanket of white with all the beds smooth bumps.  There are perennials, and enduring kale, under that blanket, and a million organisms living and waiting for reemergence.

It’s time to plan!  Very soon comes seed starting.   Garden planning is a big day’s work, because I’m new at it, still working out the timing and quantities and integrating conclusions made from learning experiences.

This year I’ll have a much bigger area to plant too.  Moving the greenhouse one step to the side means that 720 sq ft of premium, weed free, amended soil must be covered deliberately, by me, or else Mother Nature will cover it with maybe not my first choice of plants, just as deliberately.

 

Greenhouse, moved.

It was miserable, it was hard.  We almost lost it.  It’s over.  It’s been a rough week.

The verdict is in: it takes just as long to move it as it does to put it up in the first place; the few places where time is saved, particularly that holes are already drilled and not everything needs to come apart, are cancelled out by the places where it takes more time to undo and redo, like wrestling ribs onto pins that have been twice-pounded.  A nightmare.

In theory, a simple series of steps:

Undo all the wiggle wire, drop the skin off to one side.

Detach end walls and lay them down inside.

There’s the pile of associated crap- gutters, gutter mounting lumber, baseboards, doors, screen doors, etc etcPull up one side of mounting pins, and drive them again one greenhouse width to the side.“Walk” the greenhouse over like a 26 legged spider, dragging the endwalls along with.  Remount on pins.Reskin.  Stand up the endwalls.Do all the wiggle wire, reattach baseboards, doors, etc.

A simple series of steps…

In my head.

Hahaha!  Each step beset by setbacks, unforeseen time-consumers, irritations, and risk of injury.  Miserable.

In the space vacated by the greenhouse, the chickens moved right in for a good dirt bath. Least they’re having fun.

Then came the wind….

 

 

 

Melons and hens

I got a few watermelons this year, that was exciting.  Yellow flesh and pink flesh melons. Watermelons before:

And after:And a little later:The chickens love their melons.

Speaking of melons – a bucket of cucamelons.  Weird little things, supposed gourmet items, exTREMEly productive. They are starting to fall off in the GH, raining like hail.  To the pigs, as usual.

A rubber egg, almost perfectly intact.That won’t last long

What?

The hens are enthusiastically emptying out the bucket of greens.  Chard and green cabbage yes, celery and red cabbage, no thanks. They have to reach down a bit farther. 

tiptoes

This little beast, the Deputy, lower right, thinks he’s the big king now.Look at all those ladies he’s managing.  This is the second in command Silkie rooster, who has recently decided to organize the house hens – the layer hens who hang around our house, mooching and sunning in the paths.  Now he thinks he’s a big boss.  Some of them even let him mate them, which is truly awkward.  He’s so small, sometimes he tips over and falls off of them.  If hens could roll their eyes.

The Colonel concerns himself with his own breed, and the young Ameracuana roos that are coming up haven’t come into their oats yet and are still meek.

 

Cold nights

Proper frost.  Not the first.  We got a squash-killing frost Sep 30.

Chicken water

The outdoor sunflowers are finished.  They didn’t tip over like the GH sunnies, growing strong stems from living outside.  I spread them out on top of the wood stove (hmm, it’s cold and I could stand to start a fire but now I can’t), because if I spread them out on the floor again, then…Dum dum dadum. Here come(s) the mice!(bride).I experimented with ripping the backs off the heads, since there’s kind of a hollow stem and air pocket.  My theory is that less organic matter to get soft and mouldy means faster drying seeds. My entire take of homegrown sunflower seeds this year will be approximately one day’s wild bird ration.  I feed the birds 7 bags of black oil seeds in the winter.  That’s a fair chunk of Saskatchewan sunflower field.  I want to get good at growing them – lots of them, but so far am bad at it.  I love the fractal quality of the seed heads.  Magical.

OMG, peanuts!  They look like real little peanuts.  I couldn’t wait to open them.  Inside they’re jammed in like peas, the pod is soft and wet, and they taste not much like a peanut.  They taste like a raw bean.  Fun preliminary success with the experiment of the year.  I think they’ll be much happier in the greenhouse next year.

I think this cold spell might have put paid to the fruit flies too (calloo, callay!).

Blissfall days

I had the best day today not building stairs.

I did all kinds of other things that needed doing, but not The Thing.  And those tend to be the best days.  A friend visit, sitting companionably with pet birds, and doing frost prep in the garden that’s going to sleep now under a thick blanket of mulch.

Two perfect fall days, crisp and bugless and sunny, and instead of the harvest pressure overwhelm, holding a sense of ease and “enough”-ness.

I may also be getting more sleep due to the shortening days – that may have something to do with the bliss.  It’s almost the “it’s either done or it’s not done, full stop” time, when you walk away regardless of “done”.

When I create any sawdust, the chickens are like “For me?! Don’t mind if I do!”

I could be all-seasoning my garden, but instead I’m putting it to bed.  Getting more out of the year will come later.  As I take in the late beans, etc, I’m thinking about all the things I’ll do different next year (More watermelons.  And orange and yellow tomatoes), the mistakes I’ll correct (plant melons later, they don’t like it cold) .  There’s always next year. It’s easy, and pleasant, to look forward to what will be bigger and better with the lately earned experience and knowledge, and it likely will.  But it’s nice to look back and recognize for a moment that it is better, now, than it was.

I’ve learned to garden some.  I grew cabbages.  I have a garden shed now.  My beds are really getting in order.  I’ve experienced the joy of sweeping a mulch blanket off a bed and finding it ready to plant.  No-till is awesome.  “No-work” is a crock of….  There’s a great deal of work, mostly upfront, and then the quality, weedless bed must be maintained – kept covered when not in use like a jar of milk, lest it grow unwanted things.

The Silkie chicks are at it too. Pepper perch!

Maybe it’s coming with age (or the decline of energy that, once boundless, must now be budgeted) .  I’m getting better at rationing my ambition.  It won’t all get done at once, or nearly as soon as I’d like to.  Given enough time, it will.  And it will be better along the way if I aim low.  Instead of how much can I fit in, I’m starting to think more like how little can I get away with planning to do?  (Oh, the tyranny of a plan!) I’d love to paint the house.  It needs it, blah blah, but hell, it can wait!  It will be great when it gets done, but not worth the weight of grimly determining to do it.  I’m not going to put that on a mental list yet, because it will be heavy there.  I’m choosing the lightness of unscheduled, and any time unscheduled is a win.  The time gets filled, with good and productive things, even things I might have planned, but it’s sweeter when it’s not on a list.  (I’ve known this forever.  It’s still elusive prey).

I’m thinking about my successes and gifts of the year, what I want to tweak: how I can spend more time with my friends?, hoping I can share out part of my greenhouse, how to ration out my time? (half a day seems to be the best maximum for focusing on any one project), will this be the year I finally get potatoes in the ground at fall?

How can I escape the September crush?  Because it’s bad.  Bad for me.  I want to never feel like that again, and it has been part of the annual routine since moving here.  And that, I think, is part of the adjustment that comes with diving into the farming life (along with, you’re going to suck at everything at first and make big mistakes).  I’ve got to find a new rhythm.  But I grew brussel sprouts, so I can learn to adjust my rhythm.  Give me time.

Nuts and more nuts

We’re real birds!  The Blondies in a rare moment of repose:It’s funny; all the birds that grew up here, and then some,  are into perching.  They love the tangled alder brush. There’s the baby guineas.  Nice to get a sighting.  All mixed up in the flock of young adults.Time to groom like everyone else! Surprise!  The second, smaller walnut tree is bearing.  They come later, and they are a different kind of walnut.  This kind is nice.  The husks are round and super easy to shuck off the shell (on the right), and the nut is round, exactly like ye old familiar walnut.On the left, the pear shaped walnuts (from the big tree) have flat, pointy shells, and stubborn husks.I’m starting to get a respectable haul, for the first walnut harvest ever.  Nice.

Hemlock Wooly Adelgid

I thought – super cool insect discovery!  Weird weird!  These little grey lumps – clearly insects, that shrink away from being poked, all grouped up on a branch, with abundant hairy frosting all over them with a kind of fungus texture.

Different!  Never seen anything like it.

That’s because it’s a dire invasive species recently arrived in Nova Scotia and destroying hemlock stands.

Just great.  Another invasive species.

This little clump was about 8′ from our door, and also, it was on a small alder.  If it’s happy on alder, then it will have no shortage of hosts.

Apple flow

The apples are superabundant this year.  Far more than last year.

“They say” that a good apple year means a hard winter.  We shall see.  It seemed true in 2014.Tree #5 has huge fruits on it that would rival any store bought Honeycrisp.  So would the taste.  Delicious.

Tree #23

These trees, while some have been released or had a little pruning, are for the most part still as wild as when we got here.  Overgrown, diseased, crowded.  Poor things.  There’s too many.  They don’t get plenty of attention.   This tree, #47, is glorious!  Huge, I can’t even get it all in a picture.  The trunk has a mean lean and it looks like it’s nearly dead, but every year, it’s a wonder.  Despite a 45˚ list it’s still tall, and crazy heavy with apples. It also has large fruit. I like this little tree.  Not so little, but it has little pink-yellow fruit and in the two summers since it got released it has been rejuvenating itself.  New low branches, and the fruit is coming in thicker and larger.  I also don’t know what any of these heritage apples are.  I get conflicting IDs.

The pigs are the chief beneficiaries of these riches.  They get a bucket of windfalls every day.  And the birds, and chickens,  and squirrels, and chipmunks, and wasps.  I have too much applesauce left over, so I’m not canning it this year, but hopefully, there will be cider:)

Tomato abundance

It’s probably time to can tomatoes.

Some are rotting on the vine in the greenhouse.  Many are hollowed out by the resident chicks, and still, the tomatoes are cascading down the vines.

My favorite way to can cherry and grape tomatoes is to jam them all in a jar whole, and pack them with water with a bit of vinegar and salt (proper canning procedures, blah blah).  They come out cool as refreshing as when they were picked, softened, with a hint of tang.  I can eat a pint of them straight. 

Walnuts

The walnuts are dripping off the big tree, indicating they’re ripe!  Hopefully none of the chickens get beaned by the windfalls.

I haven’t even picked any off the tree, but the number that I’ve picked off the ground already exceeds the amount the squirrels have ever allowed me to get before.

I’ll have to look up how to treat walnuts; how to get them out of the green wrapper.

Cosmic cloud

I have a cloud of cosmos.  It’s truly the best feature of my garden.  It almost distracts from the untamed  strawberries disrespectfully sprawling, and the weeds I haven’t got to yet, and the aisles that used to be woodchips now growing up in weeds.  Almost.

The bees love them!  They seem more pretty than substantial, but the bees are crowded on them, so they must offer some abundant nutrition.

Sunflowers

When the sunflowers all tipped over what seemed like the same day a few weeks ago –

Timber!

I thought it was annoying, and that maybe their heads finally got too big for their roots.  I intended to tie them back upright with string.  It didn’t occur to me that they were mature.

And since I’ve been sadly neglecting my greenhouse, and never did get around to re-erecting them, by the time I hacked my way in there, now on a salvage mission since the stalks were dead and yellowing, the heads were on their way to mold (!).

Totally mature, fat seeds and plump kernels inside.  So there I go.  The birds will enjoy this year (only a couple heads were lost).

Sunflowers mature extremely quickly in the greenhouse, it appears, and I suppose I planted these early (beg May).  The ones I have outside are far from finished.

I feel like I need to explain giving good GH space to sunflowers: for some reason I have very little luck growing them outside.  They are very attractive fodder for various munchers for far too long- until they’re some feet high, I think.  And then, the wild birds empty the heads before the kernels even ripen.  I have more room in the GH than I know what to do with, so why not stick some squash and sunnies in there?

Fabulous discovery

I was cutting down glossy leaf buckthorn (GLB is a terrible, horrible invasive species resembling an alder crossed with a T-rex, but that´s another story), slash moving the pigs today.  I have a combination campaign in progress against the GLB.

I have to clear buckthorn just to make a path to put the electric pig fence through “the woods”, so the pigs have ample shade.  The old growth buckthorn provides shade, and the piglets root up all the GLB sprouts.  Then when we move the pigs along, we can cut down the big stuff, and seed the lumpy, pig tilled ground.

It´s slow, but it´s better than nothing, and the pigs´needs force me to at least do a little bit, regularly.  There´s quite a difference already in the field the pigs have worked all year.

So I was toppling and wrestling buckthorn, and after the pigpen, I drifted a little away from the pigs with my snipping, and ran right into a high-bush blueberry laden with big blue berries.  WOW! 

Right next to it, another, 7´tall, entwined in the branches of an alder.  Surprise, surprise, Mom and the Oreos were lounging beneath said alder. 

Awesome!  I looked around for others in the vicinity, but no luck.  This must be twenty years old.  It´s nice to find survivors from the ambitious planting efforts of the previous owners; so much did not survive the nearly 15 years of vacancy between their occupancy here and ours.  I didn´t think there was anything left to find here!

The pigs have been especially talented at unearthing the glass bottles that they used to mark the fruit and nut trees they planted.  Most of the lids have rusted through so the paper has been wet, but a few survive intact, artifacts of hopeful ambition, although the trees they once marked haven´t.  Survivors to date: walnut trees (magnificently), one hazelnut, two blueberries!, mint, comfrey, oregano, garlic (!), a lilac, some apple grafts.

I got this big bowl of berries off of it, and there´s more to ripen.  Now I have to make jam.