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Showing posts from April, 2016

The Fragrant Shade Garden

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Remember the little shade garden outside of our screened-in porch?

Last summer I planted some sweet woodruff, valerian, and lily of the valley in the shadiest part, and it all came up nicely this spring:

This week I filled in the gaps between hosta plants in the partial shade sections with some sweet-smelling annuals: 

The littlest ones in the front are white sweet alyssum. I have these stretching all along the front of this border. The taller plants behind them are stock, which look sort of like ruffled snapdragons and smell really nice: sweet, but also spicy like cloves. Here’s a close-up of one that’s starting to bloom:

There are also some heliotrope in the mix (they’re the ones with the purple buds):

The heliotrope is in the sunniest end of this border, and hopefully it will still be bright enough here once the maple tree leafs out. I also started some seeds in the gaps: evening-scented stock and sweet mignonette, both of which are old Victorian favorites that people used to grow …

Chicken Problems

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Behold what we have been reduced to:

These are boughten eggs. 
We've only had one egg since putting the blinders on the chickens, and that was from Martha, who managed to get hers off within the first 24 hours. Since then, we haven't gotten one, and I'm assuming that having a piece of plastic wedged in your nostrils is so uncomfortable that it's kind of stressing them out.
Or they might be doing a springtime mini-molt:

Abigail always does this, but the others haven't ever stopped laying the spring for a mini-molt — they usually molt in the fall, as the daylight wanes. We may have triggered it by dialing their light back in an effort to ease their supposed stress as well, but who knows at this point.
To recap this week in chickens: Lizzy is still inexplicably hateful towards only me, throwing herself against the walls of the run whenever I pass by. Kirk gets no such treatment, probably because he feeds them. Rachel's butt is still pecked; Sally's is a littl…

Potato Trenches

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Like last year, we’ve decided to continue with the expanded planting of potatoes. That extra bed allows us to have enough to enjoy almost throughout the whole winter — until we have to stop eating them to have enough left to plant in the spring. Last year our purple potatoes didn’t do very well, so we had to order seed potatoes for those. The red and white potatoes, though, lasted really well in storage, and we got them in the ground nice and early (in fact, the leaves just popped up this weekend). The reds and whites are planted in the big box hilling system we used successfully last year.

When the blue potatoes arrived in the mail, Kirk dug up the last spindly, pathetic cranberries and prepped the bed for potatoes instead. This was no easy task, as the bed was filled with tree roots from the nearby evergreen:


Kirk was not happy about the prep work, but I’m optimistic that potatoes should do okay despite some leftover root issues. They were often a first crop planted by pioneers to …

The Bees Are Back in Town

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This weekend we opened up the hive for the first time since the bees left last fall to get ready for our new package of bees:
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As you can see, there’s still a bunch of chewed up wax (though Kirk vacuumed that up off the floor of the hive to give the bees a head start on housekeeping duties). You can also see some of the chewed spots on the comb we pulled out. 
We put the comb with crystalized honey at the front of the hive (as recommended in Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health) and left a blank bar between already drawn comb near the back to help the bees build their new honeycomb nice and straight. We’re hoping that the honey and pollen left in the comb is enough food for the bees until they can settle in and start making new. 
We picked up our bees from Crystal Bee Supply in Peabody on Saturday. They came in a fancy plastic cage this time around:

After we found the queen cage and put her in the hive, Kirk shook the rest of the package out into the hive:

You ca…

Garlic Problems

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Though at the beginning of March the warm winter weather had left the garlic bed in really good shape — green tops popping out everywhere from under the mulch — our recent cold snaps have left it a shambles:

You can see that there are some green tops left on either end. The few that look good are quite strong and healthy:

And the ones that are not? They’re really aren't doing well at all:

Most of the bed is like this, with formerly vigorous shoots all crumpled and dead. 
The other day I poked around to see what the problem is. The (former) leaves pulled right off the clove, rotted:

This could be an issue caused by keeping the mulch on too late into the spring, since it warmed up so much in February and early March — there was a lot of new growth early on. But then as soon as we did finally pull up the mulch, it dropped to very cold temperatures for weeks. This was a lose-lose situation, for sure. 
I dug up one of the apparently dead ones to get a look at what was going on with th…

Our New Winesap Apple Tree

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I’ve been doing a lot of freelance writing lately, and one of the places I write for is Fast Growing Trees, an online nursery based in South Carolina. One perk is that they sent me a free tree, our new Winesap apple: 


It’s huge — bigger than me, and much bigger than Jonas, as you can see. In the past, we’ve always gotten bare root sticks, so this tree is definitely the biggest we’ve ever gotten in the mail. It’s also packaged with its rootball intact (and in dirt), so it saved me the trouble of heeling it in
We’re definitely planting these trees this coming weekend. Now that the weather is supposed to be a little warmer, and we have a supply of compost from the city yard, and we have all the trees, it’s time to break out the shovels and get these in the ground to complete the orchard renovation
I’ll definitely be interested in seeing if the bigger tree fruits faster, or if it just means that there’s more of it to acclimate and it will take just as long to recover from transplant …

Falling Behind Schedule

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The very cold temperatures we’ve had lately (not to mention late-season snows!) have set us back by at least two weeks in our planting schedule. Because nighttime temperatures have been in the 20s, we’re not able to keep seedlings outside to harden off, which means they aren’t ready to plant. 
You can also see that the weather has frozen our daffodils and tulips in their tracks, and nothing is blooming:

But if you look closely in the photo, you’ll also be able to tell how we’ve been spending our time instead. Did you notice that the house is yellow?
We finally got started on this enormous project this weekend, even though we’ve known for years that A) the house needs paint, and B) that it’s destined to be yellow.
So before the perennial border plants get too big to work around — and while we don’t have anything to plant — we got out there and started scraping off the old paint:

If you look closely. you can tell that we have crushed some of our young plants — it couldn’t be helped. Ho…

An Anti-Bullying Program for the Henhouse

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It’s been several weeks since we rotated first Lizzy and then Martha out of the henhouse in hopes of figuring out which hen is the mean girl who’s been bullying the rest by pulling feathers and leaving red, raw spots on their butts. Vent pecking is not a good thing, because it leaves the chickens who are being picked on open to infection and additional pecking, as they themselves (in addition to all the other hens) might even be attracted to pecking at their red skin. They also have to put a lot of effort into growing new feathers, so they don’t lay well when the protein reserves are going to feather-making instead of egg-laying. 
So we’ve decided to pull out all the stops on the bullying and get these girls to like each other again — or at least give them time to heal so their stupid butts aren’t so tempting to their adversaries. We decided on a three-part program. 
Step One: More Blu-Kote to cover up red spots and featherless skin. Stupid Rachel kicked the bottle nearly out of my h…