Showing posts from January, 2013

Seed Starting Shelves

Last weekend we made an upgrade to our seed starting system. Last year, we had all of our seed flats on top of our window seat benches, but this wasn't exactly ideal when the kids wanted to get to their toys inside. So we decided to build some shelves in the windows of our four-season porch. The challenge was that we wanted them to be removable, since we only need them for three to four months of the year. Here's what we came up with: 

We got regular shelf brackets to screw into the (wide and sturdy) window frames. Instead of using the hardware that came with the brackets, we got some brass threaded inserts and new machine screws of the same size. The idea is that with the threaded inserts permanently in the window frames, we'll be able to screw and unscrew the brackets as often as we like without stripping out the wood.

The shelf brackets also happened to come with plastic covers, which you can see above. They hide the hardware, and also are a bit softer in case some kid…

2013 Master Plan: The Driveway Quadrant

Our last quadrant of the master plan is the driveway quadrant:

This sunny section is perfect for summer crops like corn, which will take up the center C. This year we will plant all the corn at once to try to ensure more thorough pollination so our sad "failure to pollinate" problem (read: not much corn) doesn't happen again.
Other sun-lovers in this bed include lots of tomatoes — they take up the whole right and bottom sides. Although we're planning on the same number of Romas for preserving, we decided to space our heirloom vining varieties out more, which will result in fewer plants but an easier harvest. We lost a bunch of tomatoes last year to broken trellising twine, so this is the right move. We also plan to go back to our old system of using giant wooden stakes instead of a frame with twine, which just wasn't sturdy enough for our giant tomato plants. 
On the left hand side is the completion of the nightshade for the season: eggplant, bell peppers, and t…

2013 Master Plan: The Workshop Quadrant

Here’s yet another section of the garden all planned out for spring planting:

The workshop quadrant was pretty easy as well (I think it all went down more smoothly this year). All along the top are more perennial herbs and our grapes, which have been locked in place since last year, and down the right side is a shady section that we had long been planning to use for early salad greens (known on the plan as our "cool season rows"). Last year we had Brussels sprouts fail here because a nearby maple tree creates too much shade once it leafs out. Our cunning plan for this year is to get cool season stuff like beets, carrots, radishes, lettuces, and other greens started in a cold frame in that section long before the tree leafs out in May. If those plants are mature by then, the shade of the tree can actually help keep them from bolting in the summer heat, making good use of a difficult little planting spot. We'll see if it works — we have several succession plantings of the…

2013 Master Plan: The Swingset Quadrant

This is another fairly easy quadrant to plan, because (like the patio quadrant) it has a big section of perennial plantings that don't change from year to year. In this section, the left side is our asparagus bed, and across the top we have a line of grapes and our perennial herbs (more detail about that can be found on last year's master plan): 

Many of our sun-loving, warm weather veggies went into this section (for good reason — it's never in the shade!). Along the right hand side are tomatillos (just three this year instead of four) and cantaloupe (just one hill instead of three), with a path border of nasturtiums at the entryway. This is a section that is smaller than last year, as we found that we couldn't keep up with all the tomatillos, and that we just don't love cantaloupe enough to plant more than one hill of them. Sure, they're delicious right off the vine, but we are hoping that our berries come in this summer as well, so we cut back on the melons…

2013 Master Plan: The Patio Quadrant

Over the weekend we put the finishing touches on this planting season's master plan. To do this, we had to spread out the old drawings so we could keep an eye on our crop rotation, since we don't want to grow plants of the same family in the same areas again. Although it takes some effort to take into account sunlight, rotation, succession planting, and seasonal plantings, I found this to be an easier task this year than it was last year. The garden feels "real" to us now, after spending a full season living and working in it. It's a physical memory rather than just a dream on paper, and that made it much easier to find a home for everything. We also were able to tweak the amounts of food we're going to plant based on last year's yields, so that's another example of how all that research is paying off to make life easier this time around.
In fact, it was so much easier to visualize that we cut the scale of our drawing in half — this year a square is …

Small Miracles

We've had this dinner before, this quiche and salad combo: 

But what is special about this one is that I have a plate of fresh food in front of me on a frigid January 21st. As I write this, it is snowing and down to just 24 degrees. 
And yet. 
The chickens are laying (thanks to our adjustment of their light), the greens are growing (or at least remain in edible dormancy, thanks to our tending of the tunnels and cold frames). 
With gardens and life, this could all change with the weather. We won't see temperatures above freezing for the next week, and that could send our chickens into a dry spell. Single-digit nights could kill our mache and kale, regardless of the protection we've built. It's a harsh week ahead.
But this bit of a miracle on a plate reminds me that our ant-like diligence in summer pays off in the dark stretches of winter. There's a lot that comes our way on the wind that is out of our control, but we can still build a shelter against it to house th…

First Planting of 2013

Yesterday was another 50 degree January afternoon — we've had several sprinkled among days of snow and days of bitter cold. It was very windy, but we had some melting, and it made me get out to sow the first seeds of 2013:

These are the angelica seeds that I got last fall at Strawbery Banke. While planning out the 2013 garden (more on that later), I did some reading on growing angelica, and I found out that the seeds are short-lived and have poor germination rates, so it's best to plant them immediately in the fall.
The good news is that the alternative is to keep seeds in the fridge or freezer before sowing in the spring. Since we keep all of our seeds in a box in the fridge — they last much, much longer that way! — I inadvertently did this correctly. Still, having read about their tricky germination needs (much like parsnips, which they are related to and look just like), I decided to get them in the ground yesterday, while the getting was good. 

That is, while the g…

Dill Seed Saving

Now that the holidays are over, there's more time to devote to some indoor garden tasks that have been put off. Soon that will include seedstarting, but for now, there are still seeds to be separated from the dried plants that they are still stuck to. Back in December I finished that process with the black beans, and this week I moved on to dill:

Over the course of the summer as the dill seed heads matured, I would pinch them off of their stems and throw them into a paper bag on the porch to dry. After sitting there for three or four months, they are definitely fully cured now:

Many of the seeds already had fallen off their stems, but plenty more seedheads were still intact. I found the most efficient way to deal with shaking dill seeds loose is to pick up just a single head:

Then squeeze the little branches together farther up the stem, so the seeds form a tight cluster:

With your other hand, you can roll those seeds between your thumb and fingers until they fall off. I did mine…

Chicken Day Spa

This weekend was a classic January Thaw, and that gave us an opportunity to build a portable run for the chickens. Lots of people build all kinds of fancy-schmancy ones like chicken tractors with wheels and nice paint jobs and stuff, but we already have a pretty chic (and ridiculously well-built) primary residence for our birds, so all we needed was a summer camp.
So Kirk took a Christmas gift card to the hardware store and got us some Christmas 2x4s that he ripped in half and used to knock together this frame:

As you can see, it is designed to fit right inside our raised beds (that is, just shy of four feet wide). It's two feet high, which is tall enough for chickens, but short enough to use two-foot wide chicken wire around the sides. It's eight feet long, which is the length of lumber that fits inside a Ford Focus. 

After building the frame yesterday, we realized we needed a door to get the chickens in and out, so Kirk added a little bit of framing for that before we rolle…

Homemade Pasta

I haven't posted much this month, and that's because there just isn't much to say about January, in the garden or in life. We're settling in for the long winter, back into routines at work and school, and waiting for our daily allotment of sunlight to improve.
But tonight we had something new and fun – it was the first time we used the pasta maker we got for Christmas! The kids were excited to give it a try after seeing Jamie Oliver make it look so easy, and it is a great way to use up eggs now that chickens are back in their own laying routine as well. 
So they mixed 400 grams of flour (I don't know how much that is in American – sorry) and 4 eggs into dough. Since we don't have a full-size food processor, Kirk did this by making a well of flour and mixing the eggs into it. On the counter. (And that's why I declined to help in the clean up, by the way.) Anyway, despite not being quite as fast at this as Jamie Oliver, the dough was a total success after be…

Celery Soup

While sorting through my photos from the past fall to decide which to keep, which to delete, and which to develop (yeah, I still do that), I realized that I never posted about our celery soup:

As you can see, the only photo I have is from a lunch at work, when I had leftover celery soup and some rolls at my desk. I don't have any pictures of the celery, either, because we were just kind of stupid with the celery this year. We let it grow all season and kind of forgot about it – meaning we didn't cook with it much at all until Thanksgiving and various winter dinner stuffings. Then as freezing temps threatened to kill it (and by threatened, I mean froze it solid, but somehow not to the point of total death), we finally brought in all the stalks we had left.
So yeah, we didn't really utilize our celery through the growing season to the best of our ability, but we made up for our carelessness with a delicious celery soup. To make it, Kirk cut up and sauteed leeks and celery i…

Checking on the Cold Frames

Although we woke up to another dusting of snow this morning, the weather was actually quite nice: sunny and somewhere in the 40s. This was a welcome change after the bitter cold we had last week, and it was a great day to check on how the veggies in our cold frame and greenhouse tunnels fared during our extreme low temperatures.
First stop on the tour were the carrots near the house:

You can see a few exposed near the top. The pitchfork in the foreground was necessary for this harvest because the ground was frozen through the first few inches, even under the plastic. That's not too surprising – it was so cold last week, and this tunnel is in a corner that doesn't get that much afternoon sun in the dead of winter (it's shaded by the house now, but it's fine when the sun is on a higher path at other times of the year). Anyway, the carrots are fine, but digging them up requires some muscle to get through the soil with the fork, and then to use a trowel to whack all the f…

Aerial View: January 1, 2013

Happy New Year! We had some snow over the vacation. It mixed with rain and ended up being just enough to make things pretty. It has been quite cold this week as well: The pond is frozen enough to skate on, and the low tonight is supposed to be down in single digits. Not sure what this will mean for our kale – will the snow blanket be enough to protect it? Will the tunnels keep the carrots dig-up-able? Will the spinach and mache stay crisp in their cold frames? Last year was so ridiculously warm that we aren't sure just how much protection we can really expect from our season-extenders. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, this is the view of the garden in winter:

The swingset quadrant.

The patio quadrant.

The driveway quadrant.

The workshop quadrant.