Seed Starting

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The first step to Spring is to give the greenhouse a good cleaning and to get ready for Seed Starting. While it’s still to early to start seeding, it’s never to early to start preparing.

The first seeds to go in are about a third to half of the brassicas – cabbage and broccoli. I only need a couple of Brussel Sprouts and no cauliflower so they will be a purchase at planting time. The starts will go out at about six weeks under one of the cold frames. About three weeks before the last frost another batch will be directly seeded in the bed. Finally a week after the last frost is expected,my he lady of them are seeded. Along about July a smaller group will be started for the Fall garden.

The second batch of seedings will be a few peas along with the Pak Choi and Napa cabbage. As soon as the peas sprout, the main crop peas will be directly seeded under cover in their bed. About April 1st the starts are planted out in the bed. They give a slight head start to the pea harvest and help to eliminate rodents digging up the seeds directly planted.

The lady starts are a few lettuce and greens. Most of them are directly seeded when the starts go into the bed and the starts are just a jump start to the harvest season. With luck most years that means fresh greens for Mothers Day in early May.

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Spring Babies

The new year Spring is a time to look forward to the next generation of animals around the homestead. The real Spring comes when the snow is gone days grow longer and warm, seeds get started, and baby animals take over the homestead. Sometimes the young are part of a greater plan and sometimes they are a happy surprise from Mother Nature.

Chickens are very dependent upon day length when it comes to laying eggs. Eggs don’t always mean chicks as the egg flock usually doesn’t get to broodiness until mid Summer. The bantams can be quick to start but go for quality and not quantity. The bantams require a guiding hand from us in order to improve upon the different type and variety of bantam. Around here it’s hard to get started too early else the cabin becomes one giant brooder with boxes and cages of chicks everywhere. Ideally the chicks need to be at least six weeks old with lots of feathers before heading outside once the temperature gets above 55 degrees. Here that means into May at best.
Even so, this year there are a few bantam chicks growing up indoors wait for the warm days of Spring to get here. It’s hard to go to the feed store and resist the egg layer chicks that are available starting in early March. Hard as it is, they need to be put off at least until April or later. This year it’s time to replace the Buff Orpingtons, Wyandottes, and Rhode Island Reds. In addition a few Barred Rocks, Americanas, and hybrid Black Stars could likely find their way into the box of chicks.

For sure this Spring a few replacement rabbits are needed so a litter or two are planned for later. The oldest doe might have one more litter in her before retirement and one of her daughters will be bred as well. With luck that will give about a dozen to choose from in refreshing the herd. There are two different types of rabbits in the herd – soft furred Rex and Palamino. In terms of colors there are Greys, Coffee, Reds, and Goldens. A few of everything would be ideal, but time will tell.

It isn’t likely that any new types of livestock will get added although there are a number on the Wish List. Last year mini pigs popular at the feed story, but their usefulness is questionable. If some mini sheep were available they could be fun. A couple of dwarf goats might be an opportunity for fresh cheese. Regardless, any of these would be a new commitment that likely isn’t practical, at least this year.

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Soft and Tree Fruit Orchards

Every farm and homestead needs to have fruit orchards. Whether the orchard is for soft fruit or tree fruit, either provides an essential part of the farm diet. Additionally surplus fruit is a valuable product for market or barter.

Currently we have a small grove of Apple trees at the front of the cabin. While this keeps the deer at bay,miy really isn’t conducive for an orchard. For soft fruit there are raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and a few blueberries. Unfortunately, the plantings aren’t very organized and won’t allow for expansion. So one of the major projects for the year is to establish new a Soft a fruit and Tree Orchards.

One of the reasons that may be an all Summer project is because the best area for the Orchards is covered in pine trees which need to be removed before starting. The general plan is to clean a area about 75 feet x 200 feet of the existing trees and brush. Once that is completed, a perimeter fence needs to be erected to keep the pesky deer and rabbits away from the new plants. The large area will be divided into two sections, one 75 x 50 for the Soft Fruits and the remainder of the area for various Fruit Trees.

The Soft Fruit Orchard will consist of four varieties of Raspberries and Blackberries -around 25-35 plantings of each of these five in double rows. Most of these will be divided from current plants. Eventually three beds of Strawberries will be added – each being a yearly planting so that there will be two beds producing fruit and plants along with the third bed just getting started. Each bed will contain 50-75 plants. Old plants will be retired out as ground cover around the Tree Orchard. Because of the existing pine trees putting in Blueberry plantings makes good sense. There will be some intentional beds as well as some scattered plantings where space permits. The lady of the Soft Fruit will be Grapes. With the short season here, the Grapes will be planted in a protective house that will be covered in the early and late Seasons to allow for a harvestable crop.

The main function of the Fruit Trees will be whole fruits, ciders, jams, jellies, and sauces. The current Applr plantings will be maintained, but a few more Apples will get added in the Orchard proper. In addition, Apricots, Pears, and Cherries will be planted in the new Orchard. Overall the Fruit Tree Orchard should support about 25-30 dwarf and semi dwarf trees of various types. The layout of the trees will be important so that it supports both pollination and maintenance in the long term.

Planting Orchards is unlike a garden where most crops are annuals that require a relatively short growing season. Orchards require much greater thought, planning, and preparation if they are to remain productive for the several decades they may be growing. Hopefully, these Orchards will be productive well into my old age.

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Garden Plan – what to grow

Every good garden has a design plan and every good gardener has a growing plan. Every year the seed ordering regime begins with What to Grow. Because the weather can be unpredictable here, the success of the plan is often hit and miss, but still a plan is good thing.

My plan is built around the seasons as that is how the work flows. Generally late Winter and early Spring is dominated by getting a few plants started from seed. That begins indoors but shifts to the greenhouse as soon as possible. Because the tomato crops are pretty diverse, those get started indoors along with a few peppers and about half of the brassicas. Plants purchased are not cheap so it isn’t practical to buy all the seedlings, but some things make good sense depending on the results for starting my own. Some years there are also lettuce, Pak choi, and Napa cabbage to start just to get a jump on the first harvests.

For lettuce, it’s all about diversity. To get a good salad mix a variety of shapes, colors, and tastes is a good idea. Loose leaf, Bibb type, deer tongue, and a greens mix of reds, greens, and splashes makes for a colorful salad.
The Choi and Napa were a test crop in 2014 and were successful enough to continue this year. Both red and green Chois along with green Napa cabbage are both started early and direct seeded for a double early harvest. They’ll be also planted as a late crop as the don’t mind a little frost in the Fall.
Also going in Spring are the many potatoes, onions, peas, and shard which are all directly seed when appropriate.

Usually by late Spring the greenhouse is warm enough to get started on the warm season crop plants such as squashes, beans, cucumbers, melons, and the like. The tomatoes and peppers get mov d out at this point to start to harden off before planting inside the Hoop House, in pots, and a few into open beds. Even though the warm crops could be all planted directly outdoors later on, it’s nice to hedge a bit by having some started plants too.
The Winter Squash get a good couple weeks head start and usually need it for the early Fall frosts. These include all of the pumpkins. These are started in larger peat “pillows” that make for easier transplanting into the beds. The Summer squashes are less dependent on the early starts so most of these are directly seeded along with a few plants of each variety. The melons are hit or miss at best and so they are all started early and planted into the Hoop House for extra protection later on. Lastly the first harvest of beans is usually started in peat pots to quickly fill in the spent peas.

Once Summer rolls around there isn’t much new seeding and most of the work will be in maintenance and harvesting. Around July 4th it’s time to start plants for the Fall growing season. These will mainly be a reverse of the Spring crop along with garlic which is directly planted later in September.

Once the Summer crops are done, a few Fall plants are put in and it’s suddenly time again to ready the garden for a Winter’s rest. And then the planning begins again!

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Seed and Plant Catalogs

I remember not long ago the excitement of starting the new year meant the start of catalog season. They began to dribble in just as the Christmas decorations were being packed away for another year. But then something changed. The catalogs starting arrive around Christmas, then early December, Thanksgiving, and now, even Halloween! Of course this didn’t include the bulb catalogs that dropped in late in the Summer and well before planting time. It seems the battle for consumer dollars has shifted earlier and earlier.

Fortunately, for a gardener the onslaught of catalogs is a welcome sight – as long as they arrive in ones or twos! Now, all Fall and well into Winter the catalogs with their picture perfect crops helped soften the snow falling in the garden. The well worn catalogs with folded corners, paper slips marking nearly every page, and Xs and Os highlight the must have seeds.

Unfortunately, one of the realities has become comparison shopping – not of the seed price ( but that’s always a good idea), but of the shipping and handling costs. If one, like me, can’t resist the exclusive varieties every seller touts, those as/H charges add up fast. Even with discriminating shopping, it isn’t impossible for the fees to tower above the purchase prices.

So what’s the solution? Well there are a few ideas that can lesson the blow. First is to buy two years or more of most seeds. They’ll store for several years before the germination rate falls to “not worth it levels”. This fits along with saving no hybrid seeds from your own crops when practical – but it always isn’t practical. Carrots, for example don’t seed until the second growing season. Saving seeds also means careful growing and often a limited variety of related crops.
A second idea is to note which companies are just resellers and which are seed providers. There really are just a few big seed providers that make available their seed vaults to groups of smaller seed resellers. The clue here is often in the photographs. It’s not unusual for the same photo to be found in five or six different catalogs because the photo, as well as the seeds are all coming from the same source. Often the price of the seeds will vary a bit so comparing the price ( including those pesky S/H fees) can save a few dollars overall.
Lastly seed buying unlike good compost, should not be spread around. Find one or two companies that offer the best pricing for what’s needed and stick to them. While you might think that sharing your dollars is a good idea, it generally ends up in pockets of those big seed providers.
If you really need just a few seeds or are looking for something specific, try Seed Savers Exchange or a local nursery for packets. At least some of the dollars get back to the farmers who worked to provide the seeds in the first place.

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Goals for 2015

When January rolls around each year it’s time to think about goals for the coming year. This year is no different. While many of the goals continue year to year it’s a good idea to set a few new ones I order to keep moving forward.

Out in the garden, a few new varieites will be tried out to continually settle on a standard set of crops. Last year’s Pak Choi and Napa cabbage worked out well and they’ll get another try this year. There are still too many potato varieties being planted so this year will be the finally testing before settling on just a few to grow. Tomatoes are always hit and miss as the season really isn’t the best for them up here but the Hoop House planting help. The asparagus accidental seedlings will be ready to establish an additional bed this year once the location is determined.

The biggest food project will be the new orchards. The soft fruit orchard will get finalized and a few platings added there. Trees need to be cleared for the fruit trees and that will be quite the project. A major part of that will involve fencing the entire area to keep the wild critters out of the young trees. Once the whole area is ready, plans will be made in terms of what to plant and how to lay them out in the space available. Hopefully there will be room to run chickens and the like to keep the weeds and pests under control.

With any degree of luck and time, the “old” farm truck will get done to act as the sales stand as well as for the occasional drive. There’s enough work to do on it that it may not be finally ready until late in the year. Along those lines, the goal is to get the surpluses out in the community to begin building a base for the future. Between eggs and the crops a few sales will help the bottom line.

Both the egg hens and the bantams will be getting some needed attention. The egg flock still doesn’t have the right mix and that will mean raising some chicks for it. Local availability needs to match up with everything else going on around here. The bantams are in the final year of preparing for the breeding flocks in a couple of varieties and there are a few needed purchases if available.

All in all it looks like 2015 will be no different than most years with more ideas than time but hopefully success is in the making.

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Building Community

My friend Jerry bought the only restaurant in town that the bank had foreclosed on several years ago. Jerry bought it because he wanted a community place and the price was too good to pass up. He had it for a year or so before he reopened it as a breakfast and lunch diner – the only place to eat besides the local bar right across the street. These two along with the general store and combined hardware/bakery make up the only businesses in the entire area.

Jerry and I were talking about community one day when i got the bright idea we should have a community potluck once a month – the old kind where anyone and everyone brought something and we sat around and ate and talked. As luck would have it we started in October last year before the Winter of unending snow! Everyone who remained up here really needed a reason to get out that Winter and everyone needs to eat sooner or later. And so Dave and Jerry’s Community Potlucks were born.

Every month whoever wants or cans comes down to the restaurant on the third Monday after the Diner closes. You might wonder why the third Monday. Well, compliments of President Nixon, there’s a declared holiday almost every month on the third Monday! We have a different theme every time to help folks decide what to make – like October was a Harvest Potluck featuring root crops; January was hor dourves and desserts (less PC than MLK birthday); Irish foods for March, well you get the idea.

We really had no idea if it would work or if it was a good idea, but now in our second year we get around 50 each potluck give or take depending in the weather and folks really look forward to outdoing each other’s dish. What better way to build a community than over a great meal!

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Winter Knocking on the Door

It hasn’t snowed yet, but it probably won’t be too much longer. Last Winter the first sticking snow came in November and stayed right through the Winter. Very little melting and no thaws at all. Couple that with the extreme cold and it was the worst since moving here. Hopefully that won’t be the case this Winter!

Getting ready for Winter is just as much work as any other season. All the garden beds need to be cleaned an leveled before freezing. The cold frames need to be in place now as Spring it’s too muddy and unpredictable. Before closing the garden completely the chickens get to enjoy the bugs and weeds along with the left over plants before the beds are prepared. Once the snow starts falling, they’ll have to be content with memories of the dirt baths?

Their houses along with the rabbits need a good cleaning and lots of fresh straw to keep the Winter at bay. Tarps will be hung and drop to block the wind and the extra waterers cleaned and ready. The egg he bs will finish molting and lay around until Spring with the occasional egg that if lucky won’t freeze and crack.

The tractor and snow thrower will be greased and gassed to handle moving the snow when a shovel won’t do. The wood shed will get tapped with lots of cut, split, and stacked wood to keep the cabin warm and toasty all Winter.

It’s time to relax and recharge – at least until the seed catalogs start arriving.

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Summer is fading

Summer is over and there’s finally time to get back to posting on this blog. It seems like, even though the days are longer, there just isn’t enough time to work all day and come in at a decent hour to post a few things. Hopefully I’ll get better at this!

The nights are starting to cool off up north are here, but there’s still warm sun during the day. Our first frost came by in late September and it won’t be long before its time to get ready for winter.

This year some of the usually good crops were only so so and so,e of the so sos were pretty good. Asparagus and strqberri s were real productive this Spring, but the rhubarb was so so. Lettuce and shard was great but carrots and radish weren’t even ok. Pumpkins were great but summer squash was hardly worth the effort. Tomatoes were late but the potatoes did fine. It really is hard to plan for any one harvest so it’s better to just roll with what you’ve got.

Egg hens were ok but the bantams were better.

And then there’s Lucky. One day in mid Summer a lady showed up at the local restaurant with a little kitten she found in the road. Upon checking, he was a he so I decided I’d take him – the price was right and every respectable homestead farm needs at least one cat. image
So in the end little five week old (or so) Lucky came to live here with all the others. He can be persistent in demanding attention, but he’s learned his place with the chickens and really likes the moles, voles, and mice to keep in line. Now if he’d just take after the deer!

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Week of April 26

While Spring weather can be variable, other than one day, temperatures have been normal and skies sunny for most of the past week. Within a week or two the more of the garden will be seeded with Spring crops. The egg flock is beginning to produce steadily and chicks are growing. The Hoop House will soon be readied for a short crop of lettuce followed by the tomato and pepper transplants. Breeding pens of bantams are settled and all seems well.

Going into the garden beds directly are peas, carrots, radishes, a second crop of lettuce, chard, spinach, potatoes, and onions. The garlic is coming along and will be fully sprouted before the first of May. The new cold frames will be nice to protect things as unstable weather is still a real possibility. The first of the lettuce transplants should be ready for harvest in a week or so is the weather holds. The rhubarb patch is showing new growth and should move along quickly now. The asparagus patch needs a good weeding and feeding before they sprout, hopefully soon!

The Winter damage on fruits have been pruned and its a matter of time before they break buds. The newest strawberry patch looks good and the old one has a few more plants for the taking before being tilled under. Work on the grape house hasn’t started yet but needs to get underway soon.

The chickens are more than happy to get out and about forging. There’s not a lot of bugs around yet, but they enjoy a good scratch looking for what they can find. Some of the older eggs hens will need to be consolidated this year to make room for the replacement hens, but that’s a ways off yet. Added to the previous chicks are the Golden and Silver Laced Wyandottes along with a few Americaunas. In total there will be 36 new egg hens in the next flock along with the old flock enjoying their retirement. With the new chicks, there shouldn’t be any need to hatch large fowl eggs this year leaving more space for bantam chicks.

New at Fluffy Bottom will be the first farm truck. Planning the purchase for a while, it looks like now will be the best time to go ahead with the purchase. Trading up to a pick up makes very sense right now as the HHR has a lot of miles and is losing its usefulness. Hopefully the plan will come together as expected before May.

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