Friday, April 29, 2011

Am I a Gardening Poser?

Like many others out there attempting to either homestead or produce more home-grown food, I tend to wax poetic about gardening.  "Oh, I can't wait to order my seeds this year!" and "Just look at this lush tomato I grew!"  We've had a garden almost every year we've been married (going on 11), but thus far, my success level has varied greatly.  And truth be told, I don't exactly think I have a green thumb.

Does this make me a gardening poser?  Well, I do actually have a garden, so maybe I'm a gardening numskull.  Or maybe I'm like everyone else.

For the second time, I'm trying to start tomato and basil (and other) plants from seed.  I planted everything back in March, set them up in a sunny spot under a fluorescent light, and anxiously peered at those little stinkers every day to see any signs of green.  Though almost everything grew, not everything grew well.  Especially when I think about the HUGE tomato plants at nurseries right now.  My Rutgers and Bradywine are trying, poor things, but they don't measure up...literally.

Knowing that tomatoes like heat, the other day I devised a little greenhouse with clear plastic and wire hangers.  Totally jimmy-rigged, but I think it's working!

The Dora table was confiscated for plants.  Sorry, kids.

I took this photo two or three days ago, and these tomato plants have grown a lot since!  The parsley seeds, which I thought would never come around, have also since sprouted.  Yes, we've put a greenhouse/hoop house on our overcrowded To Do list.

I began sugar snap peas indoors from seed, too, and couldn't get them in the ground until two weeks ago.  Maybe they need to be sown directly, because these transplants are having serious stem issues, as you can see above.  More than half of them have died already.
Byron spent much of his spring break completing the fence around the garden, so I feel just a tiny bit anxious about producing something edible this year!  Photos of that, and my rain barrel project, to come!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Fencing the Garden and Painting to History: Green Acres Weekend Update

Byron got a head start on his week of spring break by busting a serious move on fencing in the garden last week.  This involves a hand-operated post hole digger, heavy locust posts he salvaged from an old barn, some cantankerous wire, and discoveries of underground springs.  As this is how we'll (he'll) be fencing in the entire property, he sees this as good practice.  Honestly, I'm not sure how he does it; all I accomplished when I attempted to install four poles for the peas last week were shallow holes and a nice yellow bruise on my left eyebrow.  Anyway, here is one of the clips from Untube University he's been using for tips; this company has a whole series you can watch.

Gate we scored on craigslist and an H-brace to the right of it.  The H-brace is kept plumb with that cantankerous wire, which refused to show itself in the photo.  Figures.  My wobbly pea poles are in the background.

Installing a post.  We had to move the garden in about 25' because Byron discovered an underground spring when digging a hole at the other end.  Future pond, perhaps?

Byron completed one of the longer rows last night, and by the gate we placed an old bench some friends gave us.  Akea immediately saw this as an ideal place for me to read to her about the Aztecs from Story of the World.


Byron feeds the chickens this morning.  They seriously love him.

Below is an old military box of some sort that Byron salvaged from that same barn.  I'm curious as to what this would have been used for, so if you have an inkling I'd love to know.  I washed it down and painted it blue and will use it as toy storage in Charlie's room.

You can see the original green on the bottom; this is probably lead-based paint so I wasn't too keen on Charlie using it without it being repainted.  I painted all those little boxes while Akea listened to her history CD.  So now I know all about Napoleon.  And the Aztecs.

The old latch.

All those little boxes weren't enough, right?  I spent hours of my life painting two sheds, as required by our insurance company.  Next time they require such labor, they'd better send out a babysitter, cook, and maid.

Shed #2 - the old corn crib.

We hired a friend of ours to paint the barn since I don't do heights above, say, 10'.  He did a great job...
...but I kind of miss that rustic look.  I'm planning on painting some white accents around the doors and windows eventually.
We also ordered 50 Cornish Cross meat birds, 20 Rhode Island Red hens, 1 Rhode Island Red rooster, and one Mystery Chick they're throwing in for free.  Can't wait to meet Mystery Chick.  All our little hatchlings should be arriving mid-June, which will give us some time to build housing for them and procure feed.

Inside, all three toilets are leaking but we've had to postpone replacing the plumbing because we don't have time to pick out new fixtures right now, and we're not sure what to do about the downstairs bathroom(s).  We've been thinking of getting rid of the half-bath, which means guests would have to use our bathroom or the one upstairs.  Honestly, I'm not sure how I feel about that, but it's an issue we need to resolve soon.  However, we did hang some of our photos in the parlor, so we're beginning to feel like normal people.  I think.

I'm again connecting with Homestead Revival's Barn Hop.  Click below to read more blogs!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Short List: Our Orchard

Last week when I blogged about Byron planting our orchard, I believe I promised to follow-up with a list of the trees we planted, and why.  Here it is, finally delivered!

We ordered most of our trees online from Stark Brothers, and they arrived bare root and healthy.  Some of them even started budding while we had them stored in the crawlspace, and a couple days ago Byron said that all the trees (which are now planted) have budded except one or two that looked like they were ready to do so any day. 

If you plant fruit trees, here are a few tips:
1. Order trees that do well in your planting zone.  Stark Brothers allows you to type in your zip code, then they mark trees that will work for you.
2. Stagger ripening times so you aren't overwhelmed; in other words, you don't want everything ripening the third week of August or whatever.
3. Consider buying hardy varieties, especially if you don't want to use conventional pesticides.
4. Make sure you plant trees that either self-pollinate or that are compatible pollinators.  Stark Brothers had a handy chart at the end of their growing guide, or their customer service is helpful in determining trees that do well together.
5. Most fruit trees come in dwarf (10'), semi-dwarf (15'), and standard (15'-20') varieties.  Though we ended up planting some standard height trees, we're planning of getting a pair of good pruners so that we can keep heights manageable. 

So without further ado...

Apple Trees
Granny Smith: These are pretty conventional and don't have top disease resistance, but we love them and decided to give them a try.
Pink Lady: Planted these for the same reason as the Granny Smith.
Enterprise Apple: Good disease resistance and keeps well.
Empire Apple: Good flavor and disease resistance.
Jonafree Apple: Productive, less acidic than Jonathan, better disease resistance.
Gold Rush Apple: This one was marketed as ideal for organic growers and is apparently great for pies.

Peach/Nectarine Trees
Intrepid Peach: Disease resistant, frost hardy, and free-stone (good to consider if you can peaches).
Redhaven Peach: Cold-hardy and disease resistant; also free-stone.
Early White Giant: Semi-freestone and easy to care for.  I chose this to stagger the harvest and because we may want to sell fruit at some point, and white peaches can sometimes be hard to find at the store.
Hardied Nectarine: Cold hardy, disease resistant, and it sounded like fun.

Stark Gold Sweet Cherry: Cold hardy and apparently birds don't bother gold cherries!
Blackgold Sweet Cherry: Frost and disease resistant; fruit is crack-resistant.

Already Planted...
Two very old Asian pear trees:  I'm not a big fan of these when they're canned, but they're pretty good fresh.
Orient and Keiffer Pear (found on sale and planted last summer)
Damson Plum (found on sale and planted last summer)
Elberta Peach (found on sale and planted last summer)

Most of these trees will take 3-5 years to produce, so we have to be patient.  In the meantime, I'm going to think about planting less conventional fruit, such as mulberry, paw-paw (apparently George Washington's favorite), persimmon, and maybe a nut tree that does well in our zone.  Do you have any plans to plant fruit, or are you already enjoying fruit from your property?  I'd love to know!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Lone Ranger Strikes Again: Green Acres Weekend Update

Good news! The dust has settled and I think I can blog again.  The house still has a long way to go until it feels like a home, but the kids are now in their own rooms and the master bedroom is the only room with a hole in the floor at the moment.  Ah, the big box hardware stores are going to love us when this is all over.

Lately we've had an escapee hen who insists on flying over the feathernet fencing and pecking at the tiger lilies, de-worming the garden, and scratching piles of compost out of the bin.  Our initial concern was predators, but now that I've planted some of the garden, we don't want her nipping at the young plants.  So after doing some research, we decided to clip her wings.

Our Lone Ranger, after a romp in the compost bin.

Byron chases down the culprit...

...and calms her down after we clipped her wing.
Initially, we just clipped one wing, and here is a Youtube video (by someone else) that shows exactly what we did.  Most websites will tell you to just clip one side, so as to throw off the bird's balance when she tries to fly.  Well, that didn't exactly get the job done.

Here is the wing I clipped (yes, I was still in my pajamas when she got out on Sunday morning).

She's pretty calm after we clipped the second wing.
Well, with the major flight feathers on both wings clipped, we thought our Lone Ranger would settle down a bit.  But guess who came waddling up to me as I weeded a row of berries last night?  Sigh.

Right now we're researching whether or not it's okay to clip more of the longer feathers.  We clipped only that initial "set" of feathers on each side, as was shown on the video.  This doesn't hurt the chicken at all, but it's not keeping her from flying.  If you have any input, I'd love to hear!

Other happenings...

Homemade seesaw.  I'm in the background, painting the roof of the shed.  Note to self: avoid painting corrugated metal, if at all possible, in the future.

My butterfly catcher!
I'm linking this to Homestead Revival's Barn Hop.  Click the button below to read more homesteading blogs!


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

All in the Timing: The Orchard is Planted!

Years ago I saw an off-Broadway play called All in the Timing, which was a series of brilliant short plays that spoke about how onstage and in life, timing is often everything.  Timing can make or break anything from a stunning comedic moment to an orchard.

So speaking of brilliant, about three weeks ago Byron and I decided to order 23 fruit trees for the orchard we were planning to plant in an otherwise useless piece of our property.  Byron had already planted three Granny Smith apple trees we'd bought locally, but I needed to order the others online to ensure that I got varieties that were hardy and appropriate for our area (we're zone 7).  So we decided, three weeks before we were scheduled to close on Other House, to place the order.  Like I said, brilliant timing.

When they arrived two weeks ago from Stark Brothers, I called in a panic, realizing that the bare root stock trees were not going to be planted anytime soon.  We had to pack and move the rest of our belongings from Other House.  We had to dodge April showers.  And we had to eat and sleep (maybe).  The lady at Stark Brothers assured me that the trees could be kept in a cool space, with the roots wrapped in damp newspaper for up to two weeks, in the original plastic packaging.  A relief, but I knew two weeks would be pushing it.

Enter My Hero (Byron) stage right.  He spent every spare moment for the past two weeks planting our little orchard, and since he's meticulous in all he does, it involved more than just digging a hole and plopping the tree inside.  He made sure the better soil and composted manure were mixed in near the roots, spread the roots, checked and re-checked to make sure the trees were straight, mulched, watered, and hauled away extra dirt and rocks.  And oh yeah, he metal detected for that CSA belt buckle we know is waiting to be found!  I'm guessing it took him anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half to plant each tree.  You can do the math...this was not for the faint of heart!

Tree # ????

Leaf mulch from last fall.

One side of the orchard.  See all the little sticks?  Those are the trees.  They look sad now but should bear fruit in 3-5 years.

Other side of the orchard.

My hero and the last tree!
Click here for more info on the varieties of apples, peaches, nectarines, and cherries we planted.  And I can't wait to be able to update you on how they fare in the years to come!

In other news, we closed on Other House yesterday!!!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Seedlings Survive Moving Mayhem

I use an agenda to remind myself of appointments, obligations, etc., but with the recent storm of activity that came with getting ready to close on Other House (the days of the double mortgage are numbered!), I was jotting down things like, "water seedlings," "do laundry," and "feed children."  You get the idea.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I was attempting to start plants from seed this year, and for the most part, they've done well.  After the seedlings sprouted, I put them in a south-facing window, and I also hung an inexpensive fluorescent light from the ceiling to give them some extra TLC.  Today I put some of the spring vegetables outside for a few hours to "harden them off."  I'll do the same tomorrow and Friday, and then on Saturday I may actually get a chance to plant!  My poor seed potatoes have been sitting in a box for a couple weeks now, so they're getting planted a bit late due to moving the rest of our stuff up from Other House last weekend.  My friend, Christy, told me last year that she heard potatoes should be planted around St. Patrick's Day.  Whoops.  Let's hope they have the luck of the Irish.

Tomatoes.  Their "true leaves" haven't sprouted yet.  Click here to learn how to make these great starter pots!

Lettuce and broccoli.

Sugar snap peas.  I had to transfer them into a smaller version of the newspaper starter pot mentioned above, and I have more sprouting above the fridge.  To make these starter pots, I simply used smaller newspaper strips and a small glass jar to form them.

Here's the only moving photo you'll get (call it pride, but I'm not going to post photos of what my house looks like right now online)!  When I was sorting through my clothes this morning, Charlie unearthed my old black beret from my art freak days.  Akea is doing a ballet move of some sort. 
We're now in the process of unpacking, organizing, and planting our 23 fruit trees.  And as always, making this farmhouse into a home.  Thanks again for sticking with me through this!  And for those family and friends who have helped us out during this time through meals, childcare, and moving...we can't thank you enough!