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Showing posts from May, 2012

Of Potatoes and Peonies

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I did a number on my lower back Monday afternoon out in the garden. I think it was from lifting five-gallon buckets of damp, dense compost to hill up the potatoes. Hilling up potatoes, by the way, means adding piles of compost and soil around the stems as they grow. Like a tomato (which is a close relative), potatoes will send out roots as far up the stem as is covered with dirt. That's why you transplant tomatoes deeper into the ground than they were in the pot, and it's also why you hill up potatoes. The more dirt you can get around potatoes, the more potatoes you will have, as their roots fill out into delicious potatoes under ground.

We have both a formal and an informal system of hilling. The formal system involves boxes built out of scrap from the edging of all the raised beds:


These boxes were made to fit right inside the raised bed, and they neatly hold lots of extra compost to feed all those extra potatoes that we get by building the soil upwards. These potatoes are …

Orchard Update

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Our fruit trees are looking good! Check out all these peaches:

They are still green right now, and they have so much fuzz that they look mostly silvery in the sunlight. They are covering almost every branch right now. We won't get all of those to ripen — it wouldn't be possible for the tree to bear them all, so many will fall off in the coming weeks. Still, it feels bounteous right now--especially when you stand close to the tree and inhale. Smells like peaches already!

These are our nectarines. This tree is much smaller than the peach, but it's doing quite well. Right now they are about as big as grapes, so we have a ways to go. 

Here are two of our apricots. We managed to save most of them from the late frost, and they are doing well. Some have dropped, but nothing looks out of the ordinary. These should be the first fruits to ripen this summer, and we are definitely looking forward to it! We haven't had our own garden (or orchard) fruit since the autumn right befor…

Memorial Day Flowers

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Happy Memorial Day!
The perennial border is in full swing now, and the white and red color combination is working with the climbing roses in bloom:

Some day those roses will be taller and clambering up the corner of the house and along the fence. 

In the meantime, the red roses look sharp with the white geraniums in front of them.

White peonies are also in full bloom nearby. I have these in a hoop, but they are still falling all over themselves with the weight of the flowers.

Around the corner are Siberian irises. Behind them are more red roses, which will hopefully climb higher in the future.

Our white roses are also blooming. There are literally hundreds on the two bushes, and they just keep coming.

Here's a detail of one of the white roses. I haven't tried cutting any of these yet, but there are plenty to spare, so I think we'll bring some indoors as the summer goes on.

Something's Been Eating Our Veggies

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At first I wanted to blame the kids for this:


After all, this young broccoli plant is at the end of the row, and in a spot where balls from the yard have been known to fly. But a closer look shows some teeth marks, I think.

And the there's this cabbage from yesterday:


And this denuded baby bean stalk too:


I haven't seen anything around except chipmunks. They are living in the perennial border and don't seem to have bothered with anything there at all. They do use a drainage pipe under the screened-in porch as an expressway to the back yard, though, so maybe they've been sneaking grocery trips in the garden without us noticing much.

Looks like it's time to break out the bird netting and row cover fabric for the season. The netting worked last year on the beans, and once they were bigger, no animals bothered with them any more. Now I know what I'm doing in the garden today, I guess.

Moving Out

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Our chicks are getting big. They love to run around outside, and they have started rolling around in their bedding, trying to get a dirt bath. They are also scratching and looking for food in their bedding of wood chips in the brooder.

In short, they are making a big mess.

On the plus side, they are practicing all the adult chicken skills that they need when they are outside ranging in the yard: rolling in dirt, scratching up bugs, pecking around at things to give them a taste, etc. Inside the house, though, all this stirs up a lot of dust and fluff (and lately even a few feathers). They also have started knocking over their baby chick water dish and spilling it in their bedding, which makes a mess.

And, sad truth be told, none of that smells very good.

So they are out:


Now that it is consistently pretty warm and the birds have feathered out, we moved their brooder to the screened-in porch. We have the heat lamp for the nighttime when it's cooler, but during the day they should b…

The Cutting Garden: Design Evolution

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When I started this blog, we already had our vegetable garden design well in hand and made only a few relatively minor changes to the berry beds. That design didn't just emerge fully formed, though, and I thought you might perhaps be interested to see how our garden designs evolve over time as we think about our needs for the space and the resources we have.
Because we have so much extra loam, I am getting those cutting beds for flowers. You can check out a photo of the space here if it's hard to get a feel for it in the drawings below. This is located on the northwest side of the screened in porch, adjacent to the berry beds. In the drawing, the berry beds are visible in the lower part — you can see the edges of those raised beds in the center and to the right. In the lower left-hand corner is the edge of brick path that runs across the back of the house. The border to the left is the porch foundation, across the top is a fence and gate opening, and to the right is more fenc…

Mid-May Progress Report

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The further we get into May, the more our garden really looks like a garden. Lots of seedlings are filling out, and it feels like we are on the verge of having more menu choices than just lettuce by the time June gets here. A look at where things stand right now:

Our cabbages are doing quite well. The largest ones are starting to form small heads — well, their inner leaves are curling up to start that process, anyway. Not quite all of them survived, but most are looking sturdy enough. I hate to jinx it, but cabbage loopers don't look to be a major issue for us so far this spring.

Most of the broccoli is also doing well, and the biggest seem almost ready to send up their central stalks for the heads of broccoli. A few are still tiny because they were started from seed to replace lost seedlings, but if they make it without bolting in the heat, we'll have a bit of an (unintentionally) staggered harvest.

Here is our allium bed. To the right, our garlic is going strong. We only lo…

Weekend Planting: Tomatoes and Roses

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Remember those little tomato plants we started from seed? Well, after taking almost two weeks to harden off (cool and rainy weather slowed that process down a bit), they were finally ready to go into their permanent locations this weekend:

Here are 32 Roma tomatoes. They are bush varieties that will later will get cages to support them. The ones in the foreground are Monica; the ones in the background are Bellstar. To the right you can see a cookie sheet with several pots of extra plants. I misread our plan and started enough seeds for 32 of each variety, rather than realizing the total of 32 would mean only 16 of each variety. We have plenty to give away — if you are nearby and want some, let me know! These varieties should work in a (big) container with a cage, I think, if you are pressed for space.

The long, narrow row in front of this bed has 32 more tomatoes. These are planted closer together because they are our vining types. We will add a frame from which we hang twine that we…

Chicken Coop Progress

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The chickens are getting big, even for their new, enlarged brooder, so Kirk has been working on getting their real coop ready to go:

That may seem gigantic for just four birds, but most of what you see is the framework for their outdoor run. The coop itself is on the right — the mini-house raised two feet off the ground. The rest of it (to the left) that reaches the ground will be their screened-in yard. 

Kirk is standing where the nesting boxes will be. We have them open onto the brick path so we can easily get our eggs without getting our feet muddy. Tiegan is climbing up where the (human) access door will be. That's where we'll reach in to sweep the bedding out into a wheelbarrow when it needs changing.

Kirk picked up some cheap peel-and-stick vinyl tiles for the floor. They are nice and smooth, which should make it easy to keep the floor clean (or even to hose off, if it should ever come to that). Kinda fancy for a henhouse, but the plain ones actually cost more.
Kirk fin…

Frost Free and Done With Dirt

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We are finally finished dumping dirt into our raised beds!

This is the last quadrant, and we wasted no time getting seeds into those beds once we were done filling them. This weekend marks our frost-free date, so it was time to get cracking on our planting and sowing. In the center "C" you can see our bamboo tepees (made by pulling apart an extra section of bamboo fencing we used for privacy at the Red House — glad to put them to good use!). Around each tepee are planted Cherokee Trail of Tears, an heirloom black bean that will climb those poles. In the squared off ends of the "C" are zucchini and nasturtium seeds as well. In the foreground of this bed are also mustard seedlings (too tiny to see, but they are in the rectangular section that is dark from having been watered). Our tomatillos are just off frame.
Other seeds that went into the ground this weekend, now that we're pretty sure nothing will freeze: sunflowers, chamomile, and borage, plus a succession …

Free Rangin' It

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What a gorgeous weekend! Since it was nice and warm out, we were able to bring our chicks outside to play:

They spent several hours Saturday and Sunday roaming the back yard. They like to stick together for the most part, but they got more adventurous their second day out. Favorite spots are underneath the kids' slide and along the workshop — especially under the peonies:

They sampled lots of weeds and insects, and Martha also learned to take a dust bath (something chickens do to help keep their feathers free of mites). She scratched out a little wallow right up against the workshop and rolled around in it, getting all nice and dirty before she shook it all off later. 
It was such a treat to watch them waddle and hop and prance around the yard, getting to be regular old chickens. They don't have a coop or a run just yet, so we could only have them out while we were there to supervise (on the weekends this can be for several hours at a time). We'll try to give them a littl…

Birthday Drink: May Wine

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Today is my birthday, and this weekend I celebrated with a new drink. This is a traditional German drink, and in German it is known as Maiwein (May Wine in English). It is easy to make and uses the best-smelling herb in our garden: sweet woodruff.

Here are a dozen sprigs of sweet woodruff after being dried in the oven. Drying it brings out all the flavor and aroma, so it's an important step. To do this, rinse off the herb and put it on a cookie sheet and into the oven on the lowest heat setting you can manage. The way you time it is by smell — when your kitchen starts to fill up with a fresh hay or vanilla scent, take it out.

Step two: Add the dried woodruff to a bottle of Reisling. I recommend using one that's actually from Germany — the California ones I've had lately are way too syrupy-sweet. Reisling is sweet, but it doesn't have to taste like Kool-Aid. I used Clean Slate — inexpensive and quite good. Pour off some of the wine and add the sprigs of woodruff to the…

Bigger Digs For Bigger Chicks

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Our chicks are over twice as big as they used to be. That's great and all, but it means that they dump twice as much food all over the place and poop twice as much (at least). They are way too big to be comfortable in our old brooder set-up, so we got a bigger container for them:


This is easily twice as big as the old one, and probably more. It's much taller (although Abigail managed to get up on the side pretty quickly), and there's a lot more room inside for them to stretch and roost on the wooden bars Kirk made them:

We have big chicken wire over the top now, but it's not sturdy enough to use a base for them to walk on. In the old set-up, we had the wood chips beneath a screen, so that their droppings would fall through the screen and they couldn't eat them. They are older and hopefully wiser now, so we have them just in the wood chips this from now on. This has the added benefit of giving them something to scratch in, and they seem to be enjoying that quite a …