Showing posts from April, 2012

Small Fruit Sunday

Yesterday we planned to plant our newly arrived blueberry bushes in the beds we had prepared for them last fall. To our surprise, when we opened the package it wasn't just blueberries, but all of the small fruits we had ordered from Miller Nurseries. This turned our relaxing, light day in the garden into a pretty busy one — and a windy one at that. The weather the past three nights has dipped to just above freezing (so we continue to water and cover plants each evening just in case — a total pain), and during the day it has been sunny but incredibly windy. Not that much fun to be out in, but we had a lot to get into the ground.

Before the planting even happened, though, Kirk replaced our broken fence sections. Those had been down for a year and a half, and we finally have managed to be good neighbors and get them fixed. They look all nice and new now (which looks a little strange in comparison to the old sections surrounding it), but it should weather into the same silvery gray o…

Cold Frame Hubris

Last weekend, in a fit of overconfidence, we took the cold frame off of our salad greens and put it away for the winter. Today's helpful graphic:


And back into place it goes. After the two inches of rain that got dumped on us at the beginning of the week, the lettuce and spinach really took off, and now we should be in salad for the duration (maybe forever, if we manage the cold frames and winter garden well). No way are we risking losing that, so everything is back where it was.
Also in need of covering are the new basil and cilantro plants I got last weekend:

They are still quite small, so we cut the bottoms off some of our emergency tree-saving milk jugs and used them as cheap cloches. The bricks are to hold them down because — surprise! — it's windy. AGAIN.
Also in the photo above are some peas. They aren't very big yet, but peas are cool-weather vegetables (like most of what is in the garden right now). All we did for things that should be fairly ha…

Off With Their Heads!

Now that we've finally had some rain, I don't have to spend all my after-school garden time watering seeds and plants. That means that today I had time to do some deadheading in the perennial border.
Deadheading is just a colorful term for cutting dead flowers off of a plant. There's a couple reasons that this is an important garden maintenance chore. First, removing the flower helps your plant save energy to maintain strong root (or bulb) growth. If you keep a fertilized flower in place, your plant will spend all its energy making seeds. For a vegetable garden we often want this, but for bulbs like daffodils and tulips, it's counterproductive. If you want strong plants again next year, you need to channel all the energy into the bulb, where it will be stored until next spring. So snip away!
Lots of times deadheading can be done just by pinching off sent flowers with your fingertips, but I like to use a scissors. This is easier on my fingers over a large area, and I f…

Guess What? Chicken Butt!

So as we've been enjoying our chicks for the last week, we have also, of necessity, come a little obsessed with their butts. While that doesn't necessarily sound healthy (in a Freudian sense) for us, it's important for the birds. We have to check their "vents" (that's chicken-speak for, um, sphincter) to make sure that they don't have poop stuck to them. If they do and it dries, it can glue their butts shut. That sounds kind of hilarious in the abstract, but it can kill your chick if you don't take care of it.
So we have found ourselves making a nightly inspection of everyone's rear end, and using a damp towel to soften and then pull crap off of their butts. Poor Sally seemed to have kind of an issue with this for a couple days, and Kirk felt bad when he pulled off a bunch of her fluff once, but it's better than death. I think they might be big enough to be past this issue now, though, as we've had a couple nights of clean-as-a-whistle bo…

The Herb Garden

Did I mention that we had absolutely gorgeous weather last week during April vacation? One thing I love to do is to stroll around nurseries looking at all the plants they have, and it was a lovely week to do it. We don't need many flowers (although I still like to look), but I was on the hunt for the perennial herbs we have planned for the back row with the grapes. Although I was sad to find that my heretofore favorite nursery is shutting down, I found a great new (to me) nursery in Haverhill that might be my new first stop on future plant hunts. Cottage Gardens is a great little family-run place on the Haverhill/Merrimac line, and you should definitely check it out if you live in the area. They had lots of flowers, a solid culinary herb selection, and their prices are great. I quickly filled up a flat of four-inch pots, including … 

The basil and cilantro I mentioned before. These will give us something to munch on while we wait for the seeds to pop up and become harvestable pla…

Dandelion Wine: Part 2

"Every year," said Grandfather. "They run amuck; I let them. Pride of lions in the yard. Stare, and they burn a hole in your retina. A common flower, a weed that no one sees, yes. But for us, a noble thing, the dandelion."
~from Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury
So after a couple of days of soaking, our dandelion heads were ready to drain:

We poured the now yellow water (really a dandelion tea at this point) into a large pot. We strained the liquid through cheesecloth and a sieve, and Kirk also squeezed all the juice out of the mushy flowers:

And since we're good, we set the cheesecloth aside to dry and save for later. Here's the base for our dandelion wine:

It still smells like spinach to me, but at least it's yellow. I'm not sure why there's a flashlight involved in this process — I have no memory of that.
Next up: zesting four lemons and four oranges:

As Kirk zested, I cut the fruits in half and juiced them over the pot of dandelion tea, which …

This Week's Planting

This week we planted three vegetables: asparagus, parsnips, and corn. Our asparagus crowns (Jersey Supreme) came in the mail from Johnny's in the middle of the week, and we were lucky that Kirk was able to get an afternoon off so we could get them in the ground before the rains came today.
Asparagus in an investment in the future. We won't be able to harvest any of it this year, and only a little bit next year, if the stalks that come up are big enough. But the third year, we should be in business with weeks of asparagus in the spring and early summer.

We planted 48 roots like the ones above. We planted ours about 14 inches part in holes 6 to 8 inches deep. Kirk would dig the holes and drop the root in; I'd follow behind with a big handful of compost for each and then lightly cover the holes with loose earth. After they were all in the ground, they got a watering. All that's left to do is add lots of compost each season and wait a year for some asparagus to eat.

Our First Spring Garden Dinner

Out in the garden, where the cold frame used to be (ours are heavy but portable, so we removed it the other day, after a few weeks of having the glass off full time), you can find pretty little radishes like this:

There is also a lot of young spinach, arugula, and mesclun to be had:

So, finally, we enjoyed our first springtime garden dinner last night:

The salad comes directly from the garden patch in the photos above. It's made of the last of our winter mache from the fridge, plus fresh spinach, arugula, and lettuce from the former cold frame bed. There are also radishes sliced thin for extra color and flavor (I find that a little bit of radish goes a long way). As usual, the only dressing is a splash of olive oil and lemon juice, plus some cracked pepper. Even Jonas the Lettuce Hater was on board with this salad.
The other dish is pesto chicken over pasta. Kirk used some pesto cubes we had in the freezer (remember when we made them last fall?) to coat the chicken before sautéin…

Dandelion Wine: Part 1

The boys bent, smiling. They picked the golden flowers. The flowers that flooded the world, dripped off lawns and brick streets, tapped softly at crystal cellar windows and agitated themselves so that on all sides lay the dazzle and glitter of molten sun.
~from Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury
This is what an organic lawn looks like in April in Massachusetts:

As you can see, the grass in our front-yard orchard has a good share of dandelions. The ones in the front are big and old, having never been disturbed by a Bobcat as the ones in the back yard have. There are many in the back yard as well, despite our best efforts at weeding last summer. It seems that dandelions have covered the fields around Low Street for at least a hundred years, before most houses were here. There is a columnist in our local paper who is in his nineties, and he writes about Newburyport as he remembers it as a child in the 1910s and 1920s. His column about foraging for dandelions on Low Street was of particular …

Transplanting Onions and Leeks

And, most dear actors, eat no onions nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath; and I do not doubt to hear them say, it is a sweet comedy.
~A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 4, scene 2

With any luck, our family of actors will not be following Bottom's advice this summer. This past weekend we transplanted our onions and leeks, adding them to a C-shaped bed where they join the garlic we planted last fall. In the photo above you can see the garlic in the distance and the onion seedlings in the foreground.
These are the Copra onions that we grew from seed we started indoors back in February. Having learned a lesson from the near-death experience of our broccoli and cabbages seedlings, I was much more careful with hardening off our onion flat. Here's how I did it:
Day 1: 1 hour outside in the shelter of our screened-in porch Day 2: 2 hours outside in shelter Day 3: 4 hours outside in shelter Day 4: 8 hours outside in shelter Day 5: 11 hours outside in shelter, 1 hour outside in…

Compost Sifter 2.0

With all the excitement about the chicks, I forgot to mention our new compost-sifting system. Take a look:

Kirk took the leg off of the compost sifter and instead hung the square frame from a branch of the maple tree that is in our compost yard. I think a fair amount of swearing was involved in looping that rope up and over the branch — the pole saw standing up against the tree was used to dislodge a failed attempt or two. Once it was secured, though, it worked great. Here's an action shot:

Now it's much easier for one person to operate the sifter alone, because it will hang in place (as opposed to having to set it down every time you need to shovel more compost in, as with the rocker-leg design from before). The tarp below is to catch extra compost, but most of it is sifted directly over the wheelbarrow, which is much easier than dragging the tarp around the garden paths. This new riff off of Kirk's old invention looks to be an improvement in every way, and it's maki…

The Brooder

When our chicks arrived in the mail yesterday, they were in a smallish box with a heat pack to help keep them warm. Babies need some special care, and warmth is a big part of it. Still, a brooder isn't something you have to sink a lot of money into, especially since it will only be used for a few weeks until the birds develop their adult feathers. Here is a look at our brooder set up for the chicks:

For the first week of their lives, chicks like the temperature around 95 degrees. We are providing that with a standard heat lamp. Kirk bashed together the guillotine-esque stand for the light out of scrap from the workshop. It's nice and tall, so we'll be able to raise the lamp a bit each week by adjusting the chain. That way as the chicks get bigger, we'll be lowering the temperature about five degrees per week until they are ready to hang out first at room temperature and then outside in their permanent coop.
Because if you take a look, you can see that this is most def…

The New Chicks on the Block

Our chicks arrived in the mail today!

The postal service made a special trip to our house with this box, which was loudly peeping during the hand-off at our back door. Tiegan brought the scissors and we cut the tape, took off the lid, and found our four little birdies all healthy and active. And ready to get out. And so to their new digs:

The weird color in these photos is because of the heat lamp. These two-day old chicks will need their brooder at about 95 degrees or so this week. But before getting into all the nuts and bolts of the care, some introductions are in order:

This is Martha, the sleepy one. Her first order of business was to take a nap. If there's a runt of the flock, she's it. It's hard to tell in the photo, but her actual fluff is classic chick yellow, with no markings. We're pretty sure she's one of our easter eggers (which means she'll eventually lay blue or green eggs for us).

The one looking at the camera here is Abigail (our other easter …