Mid summer update

There has been a lot going on this summer, but not much motivation for writing about it. The garden is doing well, and producing a good amount of food for our table, but it is clearly too small. But then again, we have still not really hit the tomato season yet. We have had a few handfuls off the vines, but the cool June, and cool nights for the last month or so have slowed down production. This cooler weather trend has affected the curcubits as well, and so far we have had only two cukes off the vine. I can see that we may not end up with a very good harvest if the nights continue to be so mild. My dreams of pickles lining the walls of our basement are fading. On a positive note, the small chilies, Hungarian Hot Wax, and JalepeƱos have produced well so far, and are drying, pickled, or frozen (respectively). The kale is continuing to produce, and we have harvested 3 cabbages, one of which was enormous at 10 1/2 inches across and I am guessing around 7 pounds. Bea found that she is allergic to the bean vines by harvesting several pounds last week. She will need to wear sleeves and maybe gloves for the next round of picking. The leeks are still getting taller, and are around 3 feet at the moment. While the last minute potato experiment seems to be doing alright, the corn experiment right next to it does not look too promising. We have ears and tassels, but everything looks stunted and yellow. The variety has bantam in the name, but I don’t think it means the entire plant stays under 6 feet tall. A fun surprise was the hops! We planted it and let it go where it wished this year, not knowing how well it would do. It has produced quite a few cones, and the first harvest is drying now. I am not exactly sure what I will do with them, but I know people who brew, so I might send them directions west.

On the animal front, we picked up 9 more chickens from a retiree that had too many bantams. He just loves birds, but was getting to old to move all the cages indoors in the winter, so he switched to the smallest bantams he could find. The population got a little out of hand, so he he asked my friend Jason at Tractor Supply if he knew anyone who would take some, and Jason gave him our number. These little Dutch Bantams are only 7-9 inches tall, and the 4 roosters were full-grown and feisty. They are slowly integrating with “the ladies”, who now seem like amazonian giants. We don’t think we will keep them all, but at the moment, they are producing eggs and entertainment, so they are earning their keep. Ah, eggs. Our ladies just started laying last week, and their eggs are the same size as those from the mature bantams, only brown. They will start laying larger eggs in a few months, but right now we have the novelty of feeling like giants eating 3-5 eggs in the morning with our toast. We also have the 3 rabbits, but I am leaning towards shipping them off. They may be soft, but they sure are not doing anything to pay for all the feed they eat. We have contact with a girl that raises meat rabbits, so maybe we will give away some that we have in favor of some that can “make meat”.

Our freezer is slowly filling with harvested produce and berries. When apple season comes around we will look for windfall apples for making applesauce and cider, and stock up on vegetables that can be stored. We have been drying chilies, chamomile, hibiscus, hops, mustard seeds, coriander, and oregano. Our perennial bunching onions have grown in nicely, so they may be next. The bulb onions are all pulled out and hanging in braids in the carport, thanks to Ariana. She already knew how to braid them! We have noticed that we are missing garlic, so we will be putting that in this fall for next year, along with lots more onions.

I could keep rambling on and on about the garden, and plans for the homestead… but I won’t. We will be pretty busy the next several weeks with family arriving back, and visiting, as well as some serious camping. Things won’t settle down again until near October, which is feeling too soon at the moment.

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.