Showing posts from February, 2013

Cold Frame Sowing and Reaping

Heartened by our success in keeping this spring's salad bed (relatively) unfrozen, Kirk took a look in the mache and spinach cold frame that we planted last fall. It has been a few weeks since we checked it out, with all the snow:

And it looks great! Kirk scratched up the soil, and it is fluffy and light, and not even a little bit frozen. The plants you see are a few left-over spinach plants (and one endive), and they are doing fine. If we just had a little more sun, they'd probably start growing again.

And that got us to thinking that we could probably get new spinach started in that cold frame right now. After all, the soil is great, there's plenty of space, and spinach is quick — 41 days to harvest, according to the seed packet (which is almost certainly very optimistic, but with some luck we may have spinach by Patriots' Day).

So I sowed some spinach seeds in the gaps, gave them a drink, and put the glass back on the cold frame. If you look closely, you can see th…

Turning the Soil

Back in the fall we sowed some winter rye as a cover crop in many of our raised beds. When we finally got around to making our planting plans for 2013, we realized that we had some winter rye in a bed that we were hoping to get a very early start on — sowing salad greens the weekend of March 2. That's next weekend!
It all seemed very doable back in January when it was kind of warm, and when our memories of winter were informed by dayslikethis from the warmest winter on record. But then it got really, really cold, and the ground froze solid. 
That was a problem, because part of dealing with a cover crop is turning it back into the soil, preferably 3-4 weeks before you plan to plant anything in that soil. That leaves time for the cover crop to decompose and for the roots to dry out, as they are exposed to the air when you turn the soil. We had already gotten a jump on killing the green part of the rye grass by letting the chickens eat it all, but there was no way in the world to tu…

Abigail Update

Last time I wrote about Abigail, she was quarantined in the workshop with a taped up foot:

Not a bad place to be during the blizzard, since the workshop is (minimally) heated, and she had a ton of space to herself. We just used the portable chicken run we built for turning rye grass, and made sure she had food and water. She slept in a clean corner and even was laying eggs (although that slowed down, since she's subjected to the limited natural daylight of February, whereas the henhouse has a light on a timer to simulate more spring-like conditions).
Anyway, for a week or so Abigail got daily attention with her bandage (which we stopped using after a couple days) and daily applications of Silvadene cream to keep her foot from getting infected while it healed over. That stuff is a fairly expensive prescription item, but it worked really well.
I also made sure she had lots of protein and calcium to help her heal: 

This is a scrambled eggs with crushed eggshells and dried comfrey. T…

Orchard Addition

Today we finally got outside to prune the fruit trees in the orchard. We had a few chances back in January, but we frittered away those warm weekend afternoons, assuming the winter was following the same snowless pattern as last winter.


So this weekend we decided to get out there before our next snowfall, which is expected to start tonight. We had a pretty decent amount of melting with temps in the 40s this week, so it wasn't all that bad. The snow in most places didn't reach over the tops of my boots, and the snow on the ground actually made pruning easier, because we could really see the outline of the branches against the white background. Our trees are still pretty young, so pruning isn't a huge task, and we were done in a half hour or so.

Since we finally took down the dying evergreen trees in the front yard this past fall, we now have a little more sunny space in west end of the orchard. After we put the tools away, we spent some time tromping around that space …


Yesterday was Faschnaut Day.

What's that you say? You've never heard of this, and aren't sure how to even pronounce such a thing?

Not from Eastern Pennsylvania, are you?

You can hit up Wikipedia for a basic definition if you want, but basically faschnauts are the way the Pennsylvania Dutch do Shrove Tuesday. Faschnaut Day is always the day before Ash Wednesday, and was a traditional way to get rid of all the good stuff you're not allowed to eat during Lent: lard, fat, yeast, sugar, eggs, etc. I'm pretty sure the ones I had as a kid were made with potatoes and deep fried in lard, probably from a church basement somewhere.

The bullshit free doughnut from Krispy Kreme isn't even close. And don't get me wrong, I love my Hot Now too — all the more since we don't have a Krispy Kreme up here in Massachusetts. But it's not a faschnaut.

So we made our own.

Now with the No Buying Veggies Challenge, we had to forego making them with potatoes, because we are a…

Digging out the Veg

Here's hoping that this is the last of the snow posts. The blizzard has been fun and all, but now we need some slow-but-steady melting to stay on track with our spring planting plan. Yesterday was a gorgeous, sunny, and warm (for February) day, so it was the perfect opportunity for the kids to play in the snow and help Kirk tunnel into some of the greenhouse tunnels to get at our carrots and leeks:

The carrot section closest to the house had the worst of the drifting, and was completely covered. Four-foot-tall Jonas gives a sense of what we were up against in getting them uncovered.

Carrot access complete! Of course the ground is frozen solid and we have no real leverage for digging, but at least it's a start.

Kirk also managed to get to the leeks. This greenhouse tunnel wasn't completely covered, but it took some work to dig back the snow and roll away the partially buried plastic. Kirk dug up all but the last half dozen leeks and brought them inside (you can see the big…

Aerial View: Blizzard of 2013

A full day after the snow stopped falling, and we are all dug out. Here's the aerial view of the garden under 2-3 feet of snow. Click here to compare to what it looked like a week ago, before the snow fell.

The swingset quadrant.

The patio quadrant.

The driveway quadrant.

The workshop quadrant.

The Blizzard of 2013

It's hard to tell how much snow we got here in Newburyport. I heard 19 inches on the news, but in most spots on our property it was between 24-30 inches. There was a lot of drifting — up to 5 feet in some parts of the garden. We live on a snow emergency route, and our road was plowed early this afternoon. We were able to get out and do the bulk of our snow blowing and shoveling today, though we'll have to tackle raking a few roofs tomorrow.

Here are some photographic highlights:

The garden at 11 a.m. on Friday, February 8. 

The garden at 8 a.m. on Saturday, February 9. It's still snowing and blowing in this photo, and if you look carefully, you can see Fletch in front of the chicken coop. As soon as he heard Kirk heading out to shovel a path to the workshop, he came bounding through two feet of snow for his breakfast. By the time I snapped this photo, he had given up and was skirting the chicken coop, where the snow wasn't up to his ears. Kirk grabbed him and let him …

Meet Hydie!

Hydie is our new betta fish:

Hydie is short for Hydrangea, since she is part blue and part pink. You know, like a hydrangea bush:

Hydie is the latest in a noble line of betta fish that includes Iris (I and II), Lily, Fern, Chrysanthemum, and Poppy (I and II). Turns out that those fish are pretty useful farm animals in their own right, since they provide some excellent fertilizer for seedlings early in the season and the roses in mid-late summer.


You're welcome for avoiding a terrible chicken pun in the title.

This morning Kirk checked on Abigail and found her bandage almost all the way off, so he removed it and put her into the portable run. Since her foot is still a red, exposed, slightly bloody mess, it's really important for us to keep her away from the other chickens (you know, so they don't get a taste for blood and peck her to death — chickens are dicks). Kirk snapped this photo of our flamingo impersonator before he left for work:

As you can see, she's trying not to put weight on that injured foot. Still, it looks like she had a nice day, since she picked the last of the rye grass clean, and had no trouble with drinking water since it was around 40 degrees today.
When I got home from work to check on her, she was walking gingerly around the run, eating grain and drinking water. It was clear that she had laid an egg — and pooped, too — so we're able to check off several major signs of chicken health…

Our Injured Chicken

This afternoon didn't exactly go as I had envisioned. When I got home from a long day (and a longer, boring meeting), Tiegan let me know that the chickens needed water. But when I went out to get the fount, I saw Abigail lying in one of the laying boxes. She was oddly splayed on her side, with one wing stretched out back toward the hen house. Her eyes were closed.
So I thought she was sick. Or dead.
I ran around to the outside to open the nesting box door. I gently scooped her up. And then I saw the blood.
So then I thought the other chickens had turned on her and pecked at her — especially with her one eye closed.
After a closer look over Abigail, I realized the blood was coming from her foot, which had been pinched in the door of the nesting box. She had probably been stuck in there for 20-30 minutes, from when Tiegan shut the nesting box door until I got home and out to check the water. I carried Abigail into the house, where I had to work on stopping the bleeding:

She was rem…

Winter-Fresh Asian Noodles

Bad news: We're almost out of sweet potatoes. We had a great, big harvest and ate a whole lot of them over the past several months. We have one big one left for a curry this week, but the rest got mushy in storage. The ones we lost were all ones that were small and more like sweet potato strings than actual potatoes, so it wasn't that terrible of a loss.
Still, it gave us pause. We are out of all types of potatoes and onions now, and the last of the cabbage is dwindling in the fridge. We were starting to worry about our No Buying Veggies Challenge as we head through the lean months of February and March. 
Then this happened:

Homemade noodles (thanks, pasta maker!) with peas (from the freezer), carrots, leeks, and cabbage (from the winter garden) sauteed in sesame oil and some soy sauce. It was so, so good.
And fresh and green! And orange. 
This made us feel much better about our No Buying Veggies Challenge, at least for now. We still have some eats left, and hopefully we'…

Off and Running: Seed Starting and Inventory

Yesterday Punxsutawny Phil did not see his shadow. While I have no love for groundhogs, I'm certainly a fan of the early spring forecast. Whether warmer weather is six weeks out or not, this weekend — the halfway point between solstice and equinox — is the time to start our first seeds indoors:

And here they are, all lined up on the new shelves in the window. We have one full flat of leeks (144), one full flat of red onions, and one full flat of yellow onions (also 144 each). There's also a half flat of 24 additional leeks and 48 additional red onions. That's a lot, but we are just about out of onions from last season, so we need a good deal more to get through a winter until onions are available again in early summer. We have enough leeks to get us through until early spring, but we planned for more next season because they do so well in the extreme cold. Also, it's important to remember that not every seed planted will develop into a mature plant — there are always …

Aerial View: February 1, 2013

February is not the prettiest time of year in the garden. The snow hides a lot of ugliness, but since we had a couple 60-degree days this past week, it's all gone, laying bare our empty beds. It's also obvious that the winds of this past week were too much for several of our greenhouse tunnels. Despite some valiant efforts, the plastic blew off several times, even uprooting some of the poles. There's not much left in most of these tunnels anyway, so we are letting some of them go. We'll have to pack up the loose plastic this weekend and hope for the best with the remaining root vegetables.  
On the bright side, the cover crop of winter rye is still hanging on like a champ and supplying the chickens with some free-range feasts on the warm(er) days.

The swingset quadrant.

The patio quadrant.

The driveway quadrant.

The workshop quadrant.