Spring in swing

Things are getting busy here. I have “installed” one 4’x18′ bed, and am partway through a second one of similar size. We will put in at least one more in the next week or so, and possibly another 3-4 in May (at least that is the plan at the moment). The plants are all growing as they should, and the onions have been out-doors for about a week now, hardening off. We have started on the next round of seeds, and should start the direct seeding of the beds once the snow threat is gone tomorrow. Actually, most of the peas, and some radishes are in a small bed at the end of the clothes-line, and the peas should be popping up any time now. The radishes are planted behind/north of the peas and should grow and mature fast enough that the peas will not interfere. We may end up with a nice pea tent in June. We have 100+ onion seedlings and 30+ sets to put out, along with some leeks. The leeks are looking pretty weak, but I am not sure if it is because they take a long time to mature, or if they really should already be in the ground. I have kept both leeks and onions trimmed, but it is time for another. Bea started broccoli, basil and celery early this week, and has pots ready for flowers.

Bea has filed the remaining seeds based on when they should be planted, so we now have a schedule to keep. I was trying to keep track, but after 27 pots of tomatoes, 6 eggplant, 24 peppers, 38 onion, 18 leek, and 8 Chichiquelite Huckleberry, I grew weary and overwhelmed trying to determine what was next, and how much to start. It is the first year, so next year should be easier.

And… we have chicks! Bea stopped by the feed store to see what they had and came home with 4 Rhode Island Reds, 3 White Rock, and 3 Black Sex-link (Black Star). They are very cute and it is always amazing to see how early they act like chickens. They naturally scratch when they eat, pick on each other, preen, hop onto a roost, and compete for food. The kids get endless entertainment from digging worms to feed the chicks and watching them chase each other around, fighting for the tasty morsel. Also interesting is that the chicks are not really that interested in the boxelder bugs that we have wandering our house, are only slightly interested in the Japanese lady beetles, but go crazy at the sight of a worm or slug. And they are only 5 days old. Those are some strong instincts.

In preparation for the future chickens, I have made the first step towards a finished coop: I put in the posts. That was last week, and I am still gathering info on the amount of lumber/materials needed to move on to the next phase: the floor. We have 5 weeks or so before the chicks reach outdoor size and constitution, so I will be working on the coop and the run in parallel to the gardens.

There are a few items we would like to grow, but have either neglected to order them, or do not have a firm plan for them, even though they are sitting in the cheese drawer of the fridge:

  • Hops (in the fridge)
  • Raspberries
  • Gooseberries
  • Black currants
  • Peaches

We are still not sure these will all make it into our ground this year (even though I still have hope). The hops will definitely go in, but the arbor that we intended to build may not. It will be a lot easier to put in the aesthetic elements once the production is in place, I think. As the hops grow, we will be able to split/transplant them as needed in the following years to places where we want shade in summer.

Seminal arrival

Our Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds order arrived today. Instead of the 60 seed packets we we expected, there were 78! It looks like we will be flush with tomatoes, green, yellow, orange, pink, and purple ones. Bea is very excited and started going through and taking notes for each variety from the catalog. Now comes the hard part… deciding when and how we will plant them. We will not be able to plant them all, and we still do not have the exact plan for the beds yet. So the next step is to determine which ones need to be started now, and get them in the plugs. I know onions and leeks are on the list, and we will start figuring out which things will be late summer plantings, rather than early spring.

A few of the varieties I am personally excited about:

  • Purple Tomatillos
  • Charentais (European melon)
  • Chichiquelite Huckleberry
  • Tal Jalepeno
  • Cherokee Chocolate tomato
  • White Wonder watermelon
  • Hartman’s Giant amaranth

Spring thoughts

I did finally order seeds. But not from any of the listed companies. I forgot to mention that I also requested a catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and when that catalog arrived, I was no longer interested in any of the others. All the seeds listed are open-pollinated, non-hybrid, heirloom seeds, collected from seed-savers and gardeners from around the world. So, what did we order? Having a very limited experience with gardening and the qualities of any varieties listed, we opted for the Medium Homestead package for northern climates that includes 25 vegetables and 60 varieties (60 seed packets total). So we really have no idea yet what we will be growing, and in a way, that will make our first year of gardening just that much more exciting. There are few, if any, items in the catalog that I would not want (most likely candidates are the summer squash and the beets), so chances are, we will be happy to have whatever pops up. What I don’t care for, Bea will probably love.

I have also brought the grow lights* into the kitchen and we are now waiting to see if the 6 basil plants and 2 cilantro will come up for some early fresh seasoning. At some point we may have to find a window for them, but first things first. I want to know how this grow light thing works, so I am experimenting with the seeds we have. It has only been a week, and not a peep. Other bloggers are reporting sprouts at 10 days for some of their seeds, so maybe we will see some green next week.

Next up is the chicken order. We will be getting 25 chicks, and I have picked out the breeds. It looks like we will mix it up with Rhode Island Reds, Silver/Gold Laced Wyandottes, Black Australorps, and Buff Orpingtons. We are planning on ordering straight runs of the Australorps, Orpingtons, and Wyandottes, but only ordering sexed pullets of the Reds. The reason for this is that we want to have a cock, but don’t want to be stuck with only one to pick from if we order it sexed. So we will order straight runs, cull the cockerels that don’t make the cut, and end up with the favorite cock to watch over the hens. Why no Red rooster? Reds tend to have quite aggressive cocks, and I prefer to keep my spurs at boot level. The next week or so will be spent preparing for the chicks (heat lamp, feeder, waterer, quarters), and plans for the coop and the run will kick into high gear after they arrive (in late March?). Each of the breeds is a good dual-purpose breed, so we should end up with 10-15 good layers, and 10-15 meaty frozen chickens in the freezer. We are hoping to let them run amok (I mean free range), but if it seems like they are getting into things (like the house, or the road), or easy prey for hawks and coyotes, they will be confined to their run.

It sounds like a lot. It is. Still not sure how it will all work out, but it will. Sun is out this weekend, so optimism levels are high.

If you happen to live in a (sub)urban area, the book Keep Chickens! by Barbara Kilarski might be helpful. Many towns allow for small numbers of chickens, and they require so little space, and take care of many table scraps. Oh yeah, and the eggs!

* Bea’s dad did some work for a couple and they asked if he had use for the grow stand and lights. He said he knew some one who did! They are a great couple and have also loaned us an awesome stereoscopic microscope (2 eyepieces = magnification with depth). Frito’s are pretty nasty up close. Anyway, we are very thankful and excited about the grow lights, and will be even more so once we see some sprouts.

I guess I like dirt

I have never had a beet that I particularly liked. I just don’t eat dirt clods that look like they bleed.

But that was before this winter, and a recipe that came with some beets from a co-workers garden. I think it came from a Campbell’s cookbook (page 18), but I have copied it here in the way that we made it (more or less).

If I am cut, do I not bleed?

Creamy Beet Soup

A twist on traditional borscht. While usually served hot with yogurt, it is also tasty chilled (so I hear).

  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 Tbs. butter
  • 1 medium potato, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2-3 medium beets, sliced
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. snipped fresh dill, or 1 tsp. dried dill weed
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • Yogurt garnish

In a large sauce pan, over medium heat, cook onions in butter until tender. Add potato and garlic; cook 1 minute. Add beets and stock to saucepan; heat to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat 15 minutes or until potato is tender.

Place one-half beet mixture in blender or food processor. Cover and blend till smooth. Place blended soup aside and repeat with remaining beet mixture. Return soup to saucepan. Add dill, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with yogurt.

Out out damn spot!

This bodes well for Bea’s plans to grow some of these strange veggies in our garden(s) this year.

Planning for spring

As the temps have dropped, and outdoor activities have come to a halt, I am finding that I am thinking more and more about the spring activities. For the first time, I have requested seed catalogs. I poked around on the Internet, looking for companies that sell organic and/or heirloom, heritage, non-hybrid varieties. So, I have catalogs from Johnny’s, Seed Savers Exchange , and Park Seed on their way, and I downloaded the catalog from Fedco. I also started thinking about how we would lay out the garden(s) and how I should go about making a “master plan”. I started looking around for software for laying out a garden (freeware/open source, of course). For OS X I found GardenSketch, which I have used before. It is still in beta, but includes a extensive database of plants, and grabs updates an photos from the MSU (Michigan State University) plant database. I found it worked well, and had great features for planning and logging a garden, but for planning out a 1.6 acre lot, it was a little clunky. It would work very well for individual garden plots within the master plan, but not for the master plan itself. On the Windows side, there were not any good finds that were specific to gardening. I resorted to looking for CAD software, and downloaded several. I must say, some CAD software is infernally frustrating to try to use if you never have before. It is also difficult to find a simple 2D CAD program; most seem to be geared toward 3D drafting. So I did finally find free2Design and found that will a little time, I was able to do what I wanted.

So what exactly did I want to do? I want a accurate aerial view drawing of our property, including buildings and trees. So I went to our county GIS site, found our plat, took a screenshot, cropped it down to an approximate likeness to the actual property lines (209′ x 335′ 6″), imported it into free2Design, and began tracing out the features. When I was done, the image can be hidden, and I have myself a nice drawing to work with. Once I have all the “permanent features”, I can divide the lot into areas, and label them. For instance, we will have a garden area around our carport that will have herbs. That particular section of the yard is area 7 and can have more detailed plans. Same with the shed, the “orchard”, and so on. Now I can develop a master plan, and maybe use GardenSketch for individual areas. Exciting!

So here it is, the map of the piano lot, with trees and buildings, divided into areas:

The areas are really only intended to break up the space into manageable chunks, so there are a few places that the break-up seems illogical. I will still do some tweaking to get it to look more thought out… There are also overlapping areas and areas that consist entirely of other areas in order to provide a unified plan for a certain feature.

Anyway, I am on the road to a master plan, which will also include list and lists of specific plants, which ones don’t get along, and which ones attract bees, repel pests, or attract natural enemies of pests. It is a long term project (years and years), and it feels nice to be able to think that far ahead.

Alas poor yorkie

She is a good little dog, even if lame. One of my co-workers *drives for the Amish in the area, and heard that one family was getting rid of a female Yorkshire terrier. It turns out that they bought her for breeding, and thought that her limp and strange gait would go away as she grew. When they took her to the vet for her checkup, he told them they should not breed this dog. So they decided to get rid of it. My co-worker asked them to give her 2 weeks to find a new home, rather than just “putting her down”.

I had recently done some research on dogs, to find out which ones were good for livestock protection. I found a nice long list, and noticed that most were large. At the very bottom there was the Yorkshire Terrier, and I thought it was funny to find it there. So when we found that a Yorkie needed a home, we were ready to say yes.

She is a pretty little dog, but seems to have spine or hip trouble and does not use her back right leg most of the time. She does not complain, does not seem to be in pain, and is still very active.

Even so, I think we have decided on a name… Kalooy (ka-loo-oy), which is Bisaya for pitiful (or too be pitied). We find that we spend a lot of time saying or thinking “poor thing”, so I think it will be quite appropriate.

*Sometime the Amish need to get somewhere that it is impractical to use a horse and buggy, so they pay neighbors to drive them, and generally pay them pretty well.