Friday, May 31, 2013

Weekly Garden Musings: May 31, 2013

It was so good to finally see some sun for a few hours on Sunday. Then there was a frost warning overnight Sunday as well. Luckily, the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and other heat loving seedlings were safely inside since daytime temperatures dipped into the 40s over the weekend. Monday, Memorial Day morning I woke to the sun's rays peeking though the leaves on the trees. It was a beautiful and sunny day and we spent it working outside all day mostly mowing and trimming the overgrown lawn.

I have several clients on vacation this week so my workload has been a bit light. I have taken full advantage of the extra time to work outside getting the garden weeded and ready for the big transplant session this weekend. HOT temperatures reaching 80s and 90s began on Thursday are expected to continue through the weekend. Pretty drastic difference from the 40s we experienced last weekend.

A lot of weeds have been popping up in the garden beds as a result of all the rain we have experienced. As I weeded the spring greens bed, I discovered that some of the "weeds" were cilantro. I must have added spent cilantro stalks to the compost bin last year and the seeds sprouted. These self-sown plants are a welcomed addition. Cilantro doesn't transplant well and I have difficulty growing from direct sowed seeds.

Surprise Cilantro in the Lettuce Bed

The wet weather has also encouraged the carrot seeds to sprout and the overcast days have prevented the newly emerged seedling from perishing. I hope I can keep them going through our little heat wave.

Spinach, Kale, and Pak Choi have all be happy during our cool and damp weather. The were started late this year and have just begun to provide us with harvests. I fear they will bolt during the warm temps so I harvested all that I could on Thursday morning before the day warmed up.

The coop has been progressing slowly. We worked on the details on the outside such as adding hinges and installing the doors, which includes two main doors on either end, a chicken "pop" door that will allow the flock into the enclosed pen, and an egg retrieving door. We also assembled the windows out of a few boards and plexiglass. Then we measured and cut the trim around all the windows, doors, and corners. All the trim required painting and that is where we were held up because of the rainy weather. Now that drier and warmer weather is here progress can resume.

Painting Trim for the Coop

The chicks are doing really well. It has been a week since we brought them home. I can't believe how fast they grow.

Chicks at One Week

The seedlings are outside now all hardened off and ready to be placed into the garden. I have taken inventory and am reworking the garden plan in order to fit in the number of seedlings I have. No matter how well I plan, I always end up with some extra in one variety and some short in another.

It will be a busy weekend as I finally transplant the seedlings and sow some seeds.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Harvest Monday: May 27, 2013

Each Monday, Daphne’s Dandelions hosts “Harvest Monday” where everyone can share links to their harvest for the week. It’s fun to see what everyone is gathering from his or her gardens in different areas.

We haven't seen the sun in quite a while. In addition to rainy weather our temperatures haven't been very "seasonal." The heat loving transplants will need to wait until warmer weather to be placed in the garden. However, the spring greens love it and are growing well enough to finally have some significant harvests this week.



Pak Choi and Scallion

Be sure to visit Daphne’s Dandelions to see what others are harvesting this week.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Chicks Are Here!

It has been overcast and raining off and on for days. K and I have only been able to work on the coop for a few hours here and there between work and rain showers. On Thursday, we were able to attach the hinges and trim to the two main doors on each short side. When we were chased back in the house by a rain shower, I discovered I had a message from Long Horn that my chicks arrived a day early and I could pick them up at my convenience and that the next day would be ok. I glanced at the clock and knew that I could not make it to the store before they closed for the day. I planned on being there the next morning when they opened.

I made my final preparations to the brooder by adding some shallow containers of water, a small feeder, and scattered some feed on the paper towels layered over pine shavings. From my research, it can take a little while for the chicks to figure out the difference between the bedding and food. A layer of paper towels helps prevent them eating pine shavings in the beginning. I have also read about chicks drowning in waterers. It is suggested to add marbles to a regular chick waterer to prevent drowning or use shallow containers. I used shallow jar covers for the first day and have stones to add to the waterer.

When we arrived at Long Horn, we discovered that a few breeds were not delivered in their order. The Dominique and Silver Laced Wyandotte did not arrive. The store is about an hours drive, so instead of making another trip next week when the missing breeds showed up, I replaced them with another Easter Egger and Golden Laced Wyandotte from the extras the store ordered.

On the ride home, my mind went over all my preparations and planning to be sure I didn't forget anything. I have done a lot of research on raising chickens and read a lot of books, forums, and blogs. However, there is only so much learning and planning you can do from reading. Now it was time for real experience.

Once home with the chicks, I removed them carefully from the box and placed them in the brooder. I dipped their beak in the water to be sure they took a drink and knew where the water was. The chicks proceeded to explore their new surroundings and pecked at the feed I had sprinkled on the floor.

I closed the top of the brooder and moved the heat lamp into place. The chicks instantly fell silent and froze in position. Their eyes closed, some rocked back and fourth slightly, then they all fell asleep. A few on their feet and some fell over and splayed out seemingly exhausted. I double checked the temperature in the brooder and left them to their slumber.

I observed them throughout the day to make sure all were moving around, eating, and drinking. I was surprised at how quiet they were. I expected to hear more peeping from the brooder. I guess they are content for now. I have visited farm and feed stores during their "Chick Days" and usually the chicks are so loud. Of course there are hundreds of them and they are probably a bit stressed out in the store.

It is fun to watch their antics as they explore different things in their environment then suddenly flop and take a little nap.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Weekly Garden Musings: May 22, 2013

I wasn't sure what the week would bring. I had a rather large design project with a new client scheduled to begin on Monday. To prepare, I finished up other smaller projects over the weekend, organized my computer files, and backed up my hard drive to a second drive. Monday arrived and the project was delayed. Some unexpected tasks came in and filled the void and by mid-week, pieces of the larger project began trickling in. As I worked the fragrance of lilac drifted into my office from the open window. I took a break to take a walk around the yard and saw that the lilacs beneath my window were just beginning to bloom and the fruit trees were in full flower.

I took a deep breath and inhaled the fragrance of spring. Everything seemed so alive with the bees buzzing among the blooms, the birds singing and darting from tree to tree, and the light breezes that flowed gently through the newly emerged leaves. For once I looked around and saw the beauty of the yard instead of all the work that still needed to be completed.

The seedlings have been enjoying some outdoor time this week. The weather has worked right to my advantage. It has been a mixed bag of a little sun, a bit of wind, and periods of overcast and rainy weather. Temperatures have been up and down too. This will allow the transplants to acclimate to the real world fluctuations.

I've been watching the weather carefully and nights are still pretty chilly, so the seedlings were shuffled back inside in the evening.

The coops progress is ongoing. Between rainy weather, K and I began measuring and cutting the window frames and trim. We gave everything a coat of paint then began nailing and screwing the pieces into place.

The chicks will be here on Friday, May 24th. A brooder was set up using a large tote. An opening in the cover was cut out and replaced with hardware cloth. A heat lamp is attached securely on a light stand that can be raised up to adjust the temperature.

This should work for a little while until the chicks need more room to spread their wings. I plan on building a larger brooder in the next few weeks.

Memorial Day Weekend is the traditional time for gardeners in my area to "Get the Garden In." However according to, I may need to wait a week because temperatures are predicted to only be in the high 30s overnight.

Tomato roots will not grow or provide nutrients to the plant at soil temperatures of 50°F or below. Peppers will sulk and may even lose their leaves. Over the years, I have learned to be patient when transplanting peppers, eggplant, and tomato seedlings to the garden. The cold nights can stunt their growth if transplanted too soon. Mulching with black plastic solar mulch can help warm the soil and retain heat. Still, I will need to measure the soil temperature and wait until it is safe to transplant.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Weekly Garden Musings: May 15. 2013

Rain showers began last Thursday and continued on and off through the weekend. As the ground soaked up the much-needed moisture, the landscape changed rapidly from brown to green. Leaves began to unfurl from the trees, the apple blossoms swelled, grass thickened and grew tall, and various foliage emerged all around. Including weeds in the garden.

The potatoes also broke through the soil:

A layer of straw was added both to mulch and to help insulate the newly emerging plants from the 30˚F overnight temperatures that we experienced for several nights earlier this week.

We managed to put up the garden fence between rain showers. Once the garden beds were protected from the dogs, I dodged raindrops and transplanted the rest of the onions and sowed some carrots and lettuce. Over the following rain free days, the remaining garden beds were weeded, layered with compost, and prepared for planting.

Herbs, Yellow Summer Squash, Zucchini, Delicata, and Cucumbers were sowed in soil blocks in the basement seed starting area. These could have been directly seeded in the garden once all danger of frost was past, but I like to give them a head start.

Progress on the coop included framing the window openings, measuring trim, and purchasing hinges and roofing material. The predicted rainy weekend prompted us to raise the roof and apply roofing felt. We left a large overhang of the roofing felt for extra drip protection and covered it with a tarp. During the heaviest periods of rain, very little water ventured in the coop and that was from the open windows and doors. The floor is covered in linoleum, so the water was easily wiped up with a towel.

I also confirmed my chick order with the feed store and purchased chick-starting essentials including food, bedding, feeder, waterer, heat lamp, and bulb:

K built a movable chicken tractor so the chickens can free range safely around the yard and garden. He used 2x3s for the frame and PVC conduit for the arches. It is lightweight and will be easy to move to different places in the yard. It fits over most of the raised garden beds. The tractor will be covered with wire, which should provide safety from daytime predators.

This week begins the big hardening off process for the heat loving seedlings that will be transplanted to the garden around Memorial Day. Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant, and other seedlings will be brought outside a little at a time to get used to the sun, wind, less watering, and fluctuations in temperatures.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Found Treasure

The previous owners of my home were kind to leave behind reference samples of the material they used to renovate the house. There were samples of the different tiles with their labels, extra rolls of wallpaper, and one can of each paint color used to paint the interior. I recently came across the box of these samples forgotten long ago in the basement. While looking through one box, I found this book, Living on a Few Acres published by the US Department of Agriculture 1978:

It appears to be a "how to" book for city folks moving to the country. The foreword by Bob Bergland, Secretary of Agriculture is intriguing:
Americans keep going back to the land. It is a pilgrimage that makes more sense to a lot of people than living in cities, enticing us with the promise of escape from freeways, assembly lines, and crowds.

The land offers freedom, a chance to test your mettle against nature's challenges.

The pilgrimages began with our agriculturally-minded, freedom-loving forebears of the 17th and 18th centuries. In waves since then—from the founding of community utopias in the first half of the 19th century, to the homesteads of the later 1800's, to the flight of the unemployed from a collapsing economy of the 1930's—Americans have returned to the land.

Now the tide of Americans that swept to the cities after World War II has ebbed. The flow has reversed. People are populating the countryside faster than they are cities.

I know their motives. I am a farmer.

So I know that country life can push some people beyond their endurance, can shatter illusions with a heavy and indifferent hand, and can press poverty upon the backs of the unlucky and the unprepared.

This book, Living on a Few Acres, is intended as a practical guide for those who make the journey back to the countryside and for some of you who are already there. It is mainly for those who intend not to gain their principal income from the land, but rather to have a job in town or live on a pension or some other source of income.

U.S. Department of Agriculture programs offer valuable assistance at the local level. In addition, this Department has a major responsibility for all Federal efforts in rural areas.

Living on a Few Acres describes both the pitfalls and the satisfactions of country life. There are plenty of both. And there is nothing quite like country living.

While flipping through this book, I saw a lot of practical advice that it still relevant today to those who are attempting to be self-sufficient on their own few acres. It should be a fun read on a rainy afternoon. This publication is also public domain, and is published online at the Library for Farming website.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Weekly Garden Musings: May 9, 2013

Lately, my gardening happens between graphic design projects. My routine last week consisted of rising early in the morning and putting in several hours of design time until it warmed up a little outside and the morning dew dried. After sending off some proofs, I'd head outside to do some yard work and/or work on the coop. After lunch, I would catch up on email, return phone calls, and work for a few more hours until it was time to prepare dinner. A lot of my heavy design work happened in the evening after dinner. A full day's work doesn't seem like such a grind when broken up this way.

Spring is such a busy time in the yard and garden. The period between the winter snow dissolving and the soil drying out so that it can be worked seems like an eternity. When warmer weather follows, there seem to be so much that needs to be done. Balancing work and outside chores is challenging sometimes. Especially since I work from home and the sunshine calls. Both provide substance for living, but actual financial earnings takes priority. Sure we can eat well, but I can't pay the bills with cucumbers and tomatoes. Thankfully, gardening and seed starting schedules are adaptible and flexible.

Copra Onion

This week the potatoes were planted, peppers potted up, onions transplanted, and the grass had its first full mow. Last fall our walk behind mower died. We purchased a new mower this spring with a bagger, which makes it really easy to gather grass clippings and shredded leaves for the compost bin. The rest of the finished compost was sifted and added to the garden. The larger chunks were layered into the new bin with the newly cut grass and shredded leaves.

Chicken Coop Painted

Coop building accomplishments included several coats of paint, plotting out the run, building a movable tractor, and a lot of time trying to figure out how to build a window frame around a piece of plexiglass and weatherproof the window openings in the coop. The windows of the coop will be screened security with hardware cloth to protect from predators and left open for ventilation during the warm months. The plexiglass window will serve as a storm window and used to close up the widow during severe weather and cold winter. We are still trying to fine-tune the details.

Newly transplanted spinach, kale, and other greens are coming along:

Newly Transplanted Kale, Spinach, and Pack Choi

The garlic is growing:

Garlic Bed

We have had a long period of warm and sunny weather and made every attempt to make the most of it. We can use some rain, the garden beds are very dry. Beginning today and into the weekend it is supposed to be overcast and rainy. After the garden soaks up some water, I will lay out the soaking hoses and mulch the newly planted beds to try to conserve moisture. If this spring is any indication, we may be in for a dry summer.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Garden Companion

Several more garden beds were prepared for planting this past week. As you can see I had some help. Bradie seemed to think the soil was weeded, mixed with fresh compost, and leveled off so she could lie down and soak up the sun.


It IS a bed isn't it?

We removed the outer fence surrounding the garden last fall so we could trim the grass that entangled itself in the wire. We haven't replaced it yet because the garden fence will share a wall with the new chicken pen. We didn't want the fence to be in the way while working on the coop. I have taken to roughly circling planted beds with the fencing to keep the dogs out of newly planted areas. The beds will be filling up soon with transplants and we will need to put up the garden fence to protect them. But for now, Bradie is taking advantage of being in the garden.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Harvest Monday: May 6, 2013

Each Monday, Daphne’s Dandelions hosts “Harvest Monday” where everyone can share links to their harvest for the week. It’s fun to see what everyone is gathering from his or her gardens in different areas.

The garden harvests have officially begun with a little bit of Kale this week:

This is Dwarf Siberian Kale and it has encountered some harsh nighttime temperatures without missing a beat. This small harvest was sautéed with a little bit of olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. It was a perfect side dish for one. Since K doesn't like Kale so this was all mine :)

Be sure to visit Daphne’s Dandelions to see what others are harvesting this week.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Productive Weekend

I spent most of Saturday in my home office working on a graphic design project with a tight deadline. I've been buried in this project for a while and it was nearing conclusion. A last minute change required extra effort and it was necessary to step up my pace and work swiftly. I stared at my monitor; my fingers danced through the keys and swept the mouse back and forth. Instinct allowed me to be quick and efficient at manipulating images and text into an orderly and pleasant to read document.

I would glance up from time to time to gaze out the window. It was a beautiful day outside. Just the day I've been yearning for, warm and sunny. The window was open and allowed fresh air and the sounds of the birds to fill the room. My mind wandered to all the things that needed tending to such as sifting the rest of the compost, planting the potatoes, and preparing the garden beds. Then an alarm in my mind would ring, "deadline!" and wake me up from my daydream. With a refreshed view, I returned to the project again.

I finished the project in time to allow my client to review the document carefully on Sunday and approve. The final files were sent to the printer first thing on Monday morning meeting the deadline. I don't like to work at such a frantic pace and like to keep my weekends work-free, but sometimes it is necessary to do what is required in order to meet a deadline. I know my client appreciates it.

Luckily, there are two days to a weekend and I was caught up with other design projects. I took full advantage of a beautiful Sunday. Our nights are still in the 30s, so I began the morning doing inside chores until it warmed up. I potted up some tomatoes:

I sorted through the storage potatoes to see what could be planted. I ended up with 5 pounds of Dark Red Norland and 7 pounds of Kennebec plus set some aside that were still good for eating:

Once it warmed up a bit, K and I worked on the coop for a while. It is progressing quite well considering I have never constructed anything in my life. I am pretty proud of our progress so far:

Later in the afternoon, I sifted and added compost to the potato bed, worked it in, and began planting potatoes until I ran out of steam. The rest will be planted later this week then the bed will be layered with a soaking hose and mulched with hay or straw:

In just a short time the grass greened up and is in need of its first mow, the tree buds are beginning to unfold, and the black flies have made their appearance. The weather is supposed to be beautiful all week and I am looking forward to getting the garden into shape for the growing season.