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.

Spring tour

Well, how about I give a little tour of the things that are growing in our yard right now, eh? Right this way…

First up we have the peas. These are first in line because they are the most vigorous growers in the ground so far this year. Here we have Super Sugar Snap in the foreground, and Golden Sweet Snow behind. They are still a little close together, but I will wait and see this week and then decide which ones can be culled. The Super Sugar Snap we bought last year when we were planning our garden at the other house, and they were cheap because they were the previous year’s seed. I over sowed them, hoping to counteract any viability problems. It seems to me that they all germinated just fine, so I have already thinned them once, and may do it once more. You can just barely make out the radishes that are growing “inside” the pea tent. I put them in there hoping that they would reach maturity before the peas obscured the sun. I think it will work!

Now we will move on to the turnips (Milan Purple Top) which went in at the same time as the radishes, having a similar growth habit. We don’t really know what we think of turnips quite yet as we have never eaten them. This crop will determine whether we grow them again for fall, or ever.

And then we have the onions that were started indoors in February. They are thickening up nicely and seem to be thriving. We have onion sections on each end of this first bed, and will have another section or two in the other beds for the sets. There are also a few other things in this bed, but I will wait until they are a little further along before I introduce them.

That is it for the veggies for now. I have a lot more still under the grow lights, and as tiny sprouts in parts of the garden, so they will make their debut soon.

There is more than vegetables growing in our yard… We have fruit trees and bushes too! The apples are showing buds, although it looks like out yield this year will be very light. It is to be expected for newly planted young trees, I am sure. I am not sure which tree this is, but it could be one of either Jonathan, Golden Delicious, or Matsu. We have a map that gives the varieties of the fruit trees and bushes, but Bea has it filed away somewhere (we will dig it up later in the summer). They all have reddish orange flowers, but very different bark.

A little farther along in the bloom are the cherries! Three of the four have blossoms, but only two have more than a couple. Two of the cherries are Regina and the others are Montmorency and Stella. Again, I am not sure which is which at the moment…

One look at these and I am very excited for the future promises of this tree in spring! I also note that cherries have a peculiar growth habit. They look very much like alien growths early on with tentacles and red glands.

Of the four blueberry bushes, only one is flowering this year. While I am happy for the advanced sexual maturity of this one plant, I am sad that I will have to remove any flowers that bloom in order to admonish it towards enhanced root growth. Next year will be the same, and by the third year, I hope my patience will pay off. This too is a specific variety of blueberry that will have to await future identification.

In addition to our “edibles” we have some more functional plants. There are the Cascade hops. Although it is a well known variety used for brewing beer, the primary objective was lots of large leaves. Bea ordered 6 rhizomes and has buried them in strategic places to enhance or obscure aesthetic features of the yard. The plan is to erect a trellis over the cement pad that used to be covered by the pump house and well. The trellis is not there yet, but the hops are going in anyway and we may end up with a large green spread where the cement used to be. We will keep them cut back, and put in the trellis in the fall for next spring. Some of the others are along the boundary fence to create a wall of green. If we end up with hops to harvest, I know a few people who brew that would probably welcome them into their wart. I do have a picture, but they just emerged from the ground and are hard to see. As they are one of the fastest growing plants you can get, it will not be long before I can take a good picture.

And that brings us to our last stop for today. We also have some beautiful volunteers. I say volunteers because I do not remember seeing these lady’s leaves last summer. I won’t say they were not there, but we were definitely pleasantly surprised when they arrived. There are another few mixed in with the yucca, and they really do not look too comfortable there.

Thank you for joining me, and I hope yo have enjoyed your tour. Make sure to stop by the gift shop on your way out and buy worthless pieces of junk that you will either throw away, or store indefinitely, but never use. Ba-bye!

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.