This week

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Black Rasperries

These came from some wild canes I have been nurturing in my back lawn. A bit under two years ago my sister asked me if I wanted to dig up some awful thorny berry canes from her back yard where they were growing in deep shade and forest-like conditions. She said she just cut them back every year and hated having to do it and was going to dig them up herself and throw them out if I didn’t. She didn’t want those nasty thorns in her back yard. So I came and dug them up, and planted them along my fence in the perpetual shade line. Last year the canes were pretty useless as well. Birds ate almost every berry before I could get to them, but this year I hung up some netting as the berries started to ripen. Remember how I have been struggling to fill that shade line, since, well, forever ago? Well now I have successfully turned at least part of it into something productive and delicious!

I collected two bowls of these berries this week. And right after I finished picking them I carried one out to my sister to share since she was outside with her kid. She tried some and proceeded to proclaim how great tasting they were. She said they were just like candy and it didn’t take long for us to finish off the whole bowl. The irony of these amazing berries coming from a plant she hated was probably lost on her but I had a good chuckle over it, and I had a whole second bowl of berries waiting for me at home.

I’ve been slowly filling in the shade line with these awesome canes, and I don’t regret it! A small patch appears to be capable of providing me with a fair amount of fruit, which is something our little homestead lacks dramatically. I am expanding the patch with other kinds of berries as well and I’m looking forward to seeing what they look like next year. All around, these berry canes have been a very good experience.

 

We also have some new chicks this morning! Three weeks ago we were nervous – our oldest hen stopped laying suddenly and refused to move from the nest box. I was worried – was she egg bound? Turns out she was just broody. It’s been so long since I’ve had a broody bird that I almost didn’t recognize it!

So we marked some of our eggs, a full dozen, and tucked them under her. There have been some mishaps. An egg getting knocked out of the nest for hours here or there for example, or some of the eggs that were set were a bit older, or unlikely to be fertile on the part of the particular hen that laid them. But so far at least 5 healthy chicks have hatched! Three yellow, one brown and one black.

The garden is starting to fill in as well. We have one wee little evil groundhog left, marauding for kale leaves. Soon it might start targeting other plants and that’s something I will be striving to prevent. Soon we will be harvesting more zucchini than we can eat!

 

Conveniently for my goal of writing less I don’t have many words for my own farming today. My heart is heavy for the families of the hundreds of agricultural workers in my state that have been ripped from their homes and shipped to concentration camps, their children taken with no plan for reunification. The most recent update to this policy is to hold these people in concentration camps indefinitely.
Not only will these people suffer for it, but so will agriculture in the USA as a whole. Our entire food system that feeds america, especially for poor people, relies on imported labor. Half of all seasonal farm jobs, such as picking vegetables, are done by human without a legal status and many aren’t certain if the USA’s agricultural system will hold up to these policies. They even pay taxes without receiving benefits, helping to fund welfare services that help serve senior citizens, our farm bills and even veterans. Without these folks, our nation will not only be literally factually poorer, but have trouble even feeding it’s people.

I think people often forget that the people who supported Japanese internment camps 75 years ago considered themselves to be patriots simply protecting their country from foreigners who threatened it. The children of those families, who grew up seeing the holding of thousands of humans in concentration camps as celebrated patriotism, are very much alive today. They were people with families, who loved each other, who felt proud of their actions, who felt safer for it. But it was terrible and cruel. You don’t have to be a mean person to support horrible things.

We can do better. Much better. And tomorrow I will join thousands of people across the country to ask for the reversal of these inhuman policies that target people based on the color of their skin or the language they speak. There are no white faces in these concentration camps, no blonde haired blue eyed babies are being ripped from their mother’s arms. It’s clear that this has nothing to do with them being foreigners (note that “improper entry” to the USA is a misdemeanor – legally speaking, taking a candy bar from a grocery store is often a more serious offence), especially the raids in my state. We are on the northern border and most of the illegal entry into our state is done by white people from the Canadian border. Yet it’s only people with dark skin being arrested and confined, even in this state. It’s simply racial profiling, an othering tactic of fascism, and my heart aches for the victims of it.

I can only hope that people in the USA can recognize the correlations between these actions and the history of terrible atrocities in the history of the world stand together and unite for these human beings’ rights.

If you’re out there with me tomorrow, good luck and be safe.

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The spirit of Upcycling (And the best seed pots)

Today I have been exploring the various ways I can apply the spirit of upcycling to my life.

Upcycling (from dictonary.com)

verb (used with object)upcycled, upcycling.
1.

to process (used goods or waste material) so as to produce something that is often better than the original: “I upcycled a stained tablecloth into curtains.”

This week I am sick with a nasty cold. It may be more than that. I went to see a doctor and got some medication that is helping me recover. They actually prescribed me antibiotics for fear that I might be developing pneumonia again. Once you get pneumonia once, it makes the risk for getting future bacterial infections worse.

So lately I have been fairly inactive, relying on my partners to help with most of the critical outdoor chores. But now that I am on the mend I am able to start doing anything again and I am able to upcycle my time stuck semi couch-ridden while also upcycling a pile of newspapers. While I am an getting better I am still a little short of breath when I do simple tasks. So I’m spending my time doing important tasks with my hands instead, upcycling a bad situation into a better and useful one.

Today I am making these seed pots;

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A stack of 40 newspaper seed pots

These are some of the best upcycled seed pots I’ve ever used. They wick water up like a peat pot and are surprisingly sturdy for paper. Unlike a peat pot they actually break down in one season and so don’t restrict root growth as much if you plant the whole pot, plus break apart with some water and a few pokes to free the roots completely for planting. There are some newspaper seed pots that are round and rolled on a can but they come apart easily and the round pots make it harder to conserve space per square foot.

Some time ago I read about someone complaining how millennials don’t listen to people with experience but hypocritically also complained that they refused to do things without trying to research them online first. (The irony of this person demanding millennials learn from their online post was lost on them as well.)
Some places on the internet are garbage, but like all other upcycling, it can be something great instead depending on how you use it! Most millennials (and many others) find the internet to be an incredible resource, and for many of us it’s our only viable resource to learn things. Here’s an idea, upcycle your internet usage. It’s more than OK to learn things online, in fact, it’s awesome! Trade out garbage and depressing websites for productive learning! Not only is it a great resource to learn from people more experienced than you, but it’s also a great resource to learn about how to experiment in ways that more experienced people might not. It’s where I learned to make these, and they are great. You can find the instructions on how to make them here;

 

I get the newspapers from my father, who is in his mid 70’s and appreciates reading the newspaper as a daily lifeline to the world. He often saves them in large quantities for me and brings them to my house in batches of several weeks worth of newspaper at once. Our local newspaper uses soy based inks in their printing so the news pages are safe to use in the garden. (Always check with your newspaper supplier about this, some inks leach toxins into the soil like heavy metals. If you don’t know anyone who has newspapers, consider asking on places like the Craigslist free section or your local freecycle group.)

As I folded up the seed pots I couldn’t help but see the troubles of the world on those pages. Racist rants trying to rephrase a protest of police brutality as disrespect for our military. Sabre rattling between nuclear powers, their egos threatening the lives of millions of people they will never meet. Companies caught in security scandals putting their millions of clients whole financial futures at risk to save a few dollars per person. Painful calls of misogyny from beauty articles demanding women be young, thin and sexy or else they’re worthless. Cries to buy luxury fuel-guzzling vehicles for “low-low prices” of a whole years worth of income that the average person I know can’t possibly afford to give up. Sales of over-priced sick puppy-mill dogs from breeders just looking to make a buck in the classifieds. Countless pages upon pages of obituaries, mostly old but some too-young, each one with a little advertisement at the end that seemed to say: “This dead person’s family used *COMPANY*’s funeral service! If someone you love is dead, you should give them your money while you are grieving too!”.

It gave me plenty of time to notice all this as I folded and folded and folded. I watched TV and chatted with my partners, sometimes playing games or doing other small chores in between folding paper. It was also our weekly cartoon night where we all meet up with some other friends to watch Japanese animation and we all folded papers for a bit. And while I was folding I couldn’t help but reflect on the grander implications of what we were doing.

All that hatred and anger. The egos, the consumption, the greed, the negligence. All the terrible ills and death of the world were getting folded up and put aside. Over the next few months, all of those horrible things will be upcycled and used to grow something beautiful. Something that’s the exact opposite of what’s written on all of those pages. Something that feeds both peoples bodies and souls. Something that brings life and heals the planet.

Those pages will grow food. They will grow peppers and beans. They will grow tomatoes that go into jars and remind us of the rich summer in the middle of a gloomy winter. They will go into gifts for others that bring joy through the year. They will go into growing flowers and feeding bees and rabbits and even grasshoppers and deer. They will break down into the soil and feed the worms and nematodes and grubs in the dirt. They are bits of carbon that will have come out of the air and return to the soil.

No matter how much hatred and anger and pain is printed on them, they can be used to heal.

What a thought provoking day of upcycling.

Ultimately we made 100 seed pots in one day while heavily distracted. Which makes these pots not only great to grow in but fast to produce. If you have some days off that you’re probably just going to be watching TV or something for a good chunk of them anyhow, consider setting yourself down with a flat surface on your lap and folding some seed pots. A 100 pack of 2″ plastic seed cups is nearly $25 on Amazon. I need possibly as many as 400 pots this year, so I will be saving myself $100 by doing this while I’d otherwise just be sick in bed. And in exchange it will nourish my soil, increasing carbon and biomass, and turn something ugly into something wonderful.

Frugal. Ecological. Healing. Nourshing to land, body, soul, and the whole world. Everything gardening, and upcycling, should be. I hope you give these awesome pots a try and do a little upcycling yourself.

So much for quiet!

Winters are usually a very quiet time on the farm. Not this one, though! We have had much happen since our vacation after Yule. We got a new rabbit, a New Zealand Red, laying the foundation for a new breeding program we have in the works. She is a sweet girl with extra soft fur. We have planned the garden extensively (which will be in another post), and gotten much done in the way of general maintenance.

This week in particular saw a thaw after weeks of negative temperatures. We actually temperatures reach 63*F at one point, allowing everything to melt into thick mud and deep puddles. My eternally-wet back lawn had a few inches of water across most of it. I have mentioned this before, but we often do not realize what an influence we humans have on the earth. The land my suburb is on was once a swampy wetland. When we get deep thaws and heavy rains, the lay of the land still dictates that the water run here, where our houses and lawns are. We have terraformed the land to try to prevent this, to dry the land out and build our box-houses, but nature does not listen. This is where the water goes, and where it tries to stop, just short of actually making it to our sewer grates, sitting thick upon the clay pack in our back lawns. Though I have desperately tried to manage it, there’s not very much to be done. Fighting mother nature is an endless task, and one that as a species we can hardly avoid any more. I live in this box, this is the land I have available to work.

So during the thaw we took the time to clean the animal pens. All of them. The coop, the outside and inside rabbit cages, and the pen that our “chicks” live in. They are adults at this point in truth, and we moved the ladies out with the flock. The boys will stay in and feed a bit longer before becoming soups. One in particular is large and pushy. He will make a good roast I believe.

We also bred some rabbits. Our bucks have been inactive lately, and our does somewhat unwilling. It is a challenge getting rabbits to breed sometimes. The boys try, the ladies lift, but I am not seeing consistent enough falls. I am concerned and digging into why.

And our bees are alive! They did a lot of removing corpses during the brief thaw. There were a LOT of dead bees. I cracked them open long enough to try to give them some extra food in the form of a candy board but my spray bottle stopped functioning. We got the board in, but all three of us got stung for our efforts. Dan is currently with a friend in an urgent care facility getting his treated. He got stung between the thumb and forefinger and his whole hand swelled up. The other stings were just tiny, like a bug bite, and swelled up to the size of a quarter, or even a half-dollar, but nothing to be afraid of. I hope he isn’t developing a bad allergy to bees. That happens sometimes to bee keepers who are exposed to too much bee proteins, but no venom. This is only his third sting in his life, but his father kept bees for years. I worry.

Still, despite that setback our compost pile grew substantially and the rabbits now sit in clean cages. And the bees were cared for. They have a better shot of making it through the winter now.

We also processed several too-old kits we kept around because of how busy we were in December and how cold it was in the first half of January. We now have rabbit in the freezer for the first time in a couple months, an unusual scenario. We pieced them out this time, pulling off legs, loins, backstraps, etc, and wrapping them then freezing them. All that’s left after this is a spine and rib cage with scraps and bits on it.

We took those bits and popped them in a pot with lots of water and a single teaspoon of salt, boiling them for hours and hours. At the end of it all we had some of the most intensely flavored stock I have ever had, and a meat and bone meal for the chickens… A warm high-protein snack that’s good for the middle of winter. The chickens had a blast during the thaw, especially with their new snacks.

Now we’re deep in an ice storm, but everyone is cozy and warm in their freshly cleaned homes, bellies full of good, fresh food. It’s been good work on the livestock front this week.

Later I will update you about the garden plans for spring. Much work has been done there as well!

Stay safe in the storms this week!

Yuletide Greetings

Hello! With the advent of December (if you’ll excuse the pun) my mind starts planning out my annual winter celebrations. In our household we celebrate Yule, a pagan and Wiccan tradition and one of about a dozen major religious winter celebrations in the US.

Yule is a really fun holiday, that was subject to heavy Christianization into the celebration we know today as Christmas. Many of the traditions were lost in the process and are hard to understand.  A lot of the history of this celebration has been lost to the ages and is slowly being pieced back together.

Modern celebrations have a few big elements in common with historical accounts of the celebration. The first being the purpose of the Yule celebration. Yule celebrates the spiritual embodiment of the Sun. Yule takes place on the shortest night of the year, and is a celebration designed to be so festive, happy, joyous and bright that it reminds the Sun itself of how wonderful the earth is, and begins the cycle of days getting longer again. This deep connection to the sun is intrinsic to ancient pagan celebrations of Yule, regardless of the specific faith that was celebrating it. In those times, celebrations were shared across cultures and many sects celebrated the same holy days in similar ways, just worshiping different gods. Because of this, nearly every major religion has a winter festival of lights, and it was this celebration that layed the foundation for Christmas as we know it.
The other thing these modern celebrations have in common with ancient ones are many of the broader traditions and symbology for the celebration. Filling the home with lights (in those days, specifically it was candles), and bringing a tree indoors to decorate with candles was meant to make the world bright and inviting and also depict the sun. The exchange of gifts and a grand feast was meant to make the season joyous and festive. Decking halls with boughs of holly, mistletoe and pines were a reminder of the beautiful green growth of spring. Wassailing was singing door to door, which evolved into caroling, but also was an exchange of song and alcohol from the poor for gifts and food from the rich. Usually, the poor also offered blessings to the rich if they received their gifts, and curses if they didn’t. This history lives on in some Christmas carols, such as “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and it’s references to carolers demanding a figgy pudding.

We celebrate Yule with these traditions in mind, and conveniently that’s pretty easy since most Christmas traditions are based off of old Germanic Yule traditions. We put up an evergreen tree (a fake one from my sister) and decorate it with baubles, ornaments, and lights. We hang wreaths of evergreens (Ok… They’re plastic too) over our bay windows, and put lights on the walls.
We also throw a big party on the 21st. This is my equivalent of Christmas, both eve and day, all wrapped into one. We invite a multitude of friends and family over to celebrate, 20 or so of our closest companions. At dawn I wake up to bless the Yule log (another old tradition we have a variation of) which is a massive chunk of wood. After that I spend the day prepping for the party. We enjoy a huge feast, an exchange of gifts, drinks, and a ceremony where we burn wishes for the new year over the blessed log in our fireplace, asking the spirits of the world to grant them to us.

Because of the nature of the celebration, it requires a lot of advance planning and a lot of resources. Like much of America these days, cash is in shorter supply than time, so we DIY many of our gifts. In the past we have given out trays of home-baked goods, home-made candies (including these really great caramels I made), some mushroom jars I made once, apple butter, etc.

Once again we will be giving out apple butter this year (we ended up making 3 gallons of it this year, after-all), but we’re adding some other home-made gifts to the list as well. This year we managed to make 13 half pints of home-made salsa, much of which will become gifts. There are other gifts we plant on making to give away that I will hopefully be detailing throughout the month.

We are also planning our feast and exploring options for our Yule dinner. This year we have two small(er) chickens we were planning on roasting, a pair of rabbits, and chickpea stuffed portabellas with pecans and carrots (for our vegetarian friends), roast veggies, stuffing, and deserts. But specifics are undetermined yet (beyond the vegetarian meal. We don’t eat holiday-worthy vegetarian meals often, so we pick recipes for that dish from the internet). Over the summer we made a Jamaican jerk chicken that was a big hit… Should we make that again? Should we go for something classic, loaded with sage and onions? Should we do a nice citrus pair of birds? Should the carrots be sweet or savory? The mashed potatoes plain and smooth, or lumpy and garlic filled like 2 Chainz famous mash? (We had those potatoes for Thanksgiving by the way, and they were excellent!)

There’s a lot of options but one things for certain, as the ability to leave the house recedes into freezing temperatures we’ll have more time to make those choices.

Do you have a favorite holiday dish? Share it with me! Yule is primarily about community and joy in literally dark times. I’d love to add a bit of your community and joy into mine!

End of a season; Garden notes from 2017

The growing season is coming to an unseasonable close this year. The pepper plants, inherently loving of warm weather, hung on well into the start of November before our first true freeze wiped them out. The colder-hardy crops continue to grow and thrive. The lettuce which died back in the summer and never quite grew is flourishing. The remaining carrots which grew poorly, the parsley, the kale, the green onions and even the radishes are all quite content in their nearly winter gardens, green and perky. Some of them I may allow to over-winter, but the garden design for next year may not allow it.

Though things are technically still growing I am trying to finish up the growing season. It’s not going well. The days are warm and sunny frequently enough that even the bees are coming out of their hive and collecting pollen a few days a week. I would say that from my childhood it was a 50-50 chance of snow on Halloween and by the time Thanksgiving rolled around we’d have probably had multiple feet. Who knows what normal looks like now. I will likely consider a sturdy hoop cover for next fall to see if I can grow some plants clear through the winter.

Finishing up the growing season means more than just getting your garden beds in order for the winter, old plants removed, fed with compost that’s right on the cusp of being ready, mulched or cover-cropped, etc. It also means taking the observations jotted down and filed away in memory banks and text files from the year and compiling them into something useful for growing in the future. So this post is that compilation for my garden beds, edited and clarified deeply. I hope the lessons I learned this year can prove useful to other people who read this in the future.

2017 Weather and Garden Bed Changes

A general note about the environment my plants were raised in. We’re in USDA zone 6a, though that can vary by one zone if you go a dozen miles in any direction. This year had unusually high rainfall during the summer (nearly twice normal rainfall between may and September). It felt cold but temperatures were fairly normal (slightly above historical averages). The beds got built late and seedlings went into the ground late (mid may).

The garden beds themselves were shifted this year to allow for two large beds, one half bed, and a pair of potato boxes. The front-most bed was brand new this year and the soil was rough and unfinished. The potato boxes were also brand new. (See: This post from last winter showing my garden bed layout for this year and where things were planted, roughly.)

And now into

Plants and their 2017 Notes (in no particular order)

Potatoes

We grew two varieties of potatoes this year; Red Norland and Yukon Golds. Both did sub-par and did not meet expectations due to various factors. The beds they were planted in were brand new 4x4ft beds adjacent to one another and were designed to be vertical potato boxes. They had 1″ mesh plastic green deer fencing around them to hold the dirt in. They were grown by layering hay, compost and dirt vertically for about 2-3′. The Yukon golds had large, robust vines that held up well to the vertical planting style. The red Norland vines rotted away at the base more than the golds, though it was a problem in both varieties. The hypothesis is that the hay matted, molded and rotted more than straw would have with it’s more thorough exchange of air.
Both varieties also suffered from wireworms. The wireworms did significantly more damage to the Yukon Golds, devouring huge amounts of almost every potato. Only a few were uneaten, most were eaten beyond human consumption. The red Norlands had incidental wireworm holes inside but very few potatoes were damaged beyond human consumption. The red Norlands also suffered from minor scabbing from fungus but were generally healthy, robust and crisp potatoes. Though they produced fewer, smaller, potatoes overall, more potatoes were whole and edible. The red Norlands proved they could withstand a heavy wireworm infestation and were firm and delicious. The scabbing seemed to have little effect on the crop. The yellows were soft and mild, the reds were extremely crisp, firmer than a fresh apple and had a strong, almost sharp (for a potato) flavor. Over-all the potatoes produced far less than I expected, but I think the reds will be worth trying again, and replacing hay with straw will improve plant quality.

Onions (bulb)

I can’t recall the variety we grew but we got sets of medium yellow onions from Home Depot. The soil they were planted in was rough and they grew surprisingly well despite that. But they needed MUCH deeper mulching (by about 6″). The stalks fell over and died back very early, long before the roots were done growing. This is our third time growing onions and none have been highly successful. Given how inexpensive onions are to buy and difficult to grow, we will be taking a break from them in 2018 to focus on other plants.

Onions (Green)

I believe we grew Tokyo Long White green onions. They grew extremely well in large bunches and HUGE  plants. They only needed to be spaced further apart and harvested more often. We will be growing these again. They are still alive in our garden right now. A single leaf would frequently grow 1-2 feet tall and 2-3 inches wide.

Wild Garlic

This year we cut back the scapes and harvested bulbs which went very well! Next fall we plan on introducing other heirloom hardneck varieties to our garlic beds.

French Breakfast Radish

These grew extremely well. They were very prolific, and grew into huge radishes. Given the space they would grow to the size of carrots with a 1-2″ diameter and several inches long. They started to loose flavor during flowering, which happened as they aged in the heat. They grew insanely fast, and almost all the seeds sprouted. They were edible within a month and lasted in the ground even through light frosts, growing huge as long as it stayed cold. Wireworms and other insects consumed some of them but there were so many it didn’t matter. They did need more mulch and to be hilled/mulch more dramatically. They grow extremely well inbetween other plants and shade out weeds effectively. They were a huge success and will become a staple vegetable for us now.

Peppers

We grew three varieties of peppers this year; NuMex Joe Anaheims, Early Jalapenos and Black Beauty Bell peppers. They were planted close together in new, rough, soil and all three had similar problems and results. The pepper plants all suffered extreme damage from groundhogs early in the season, having all leaves eaten off repeatedly and stems chewed down until they were just sticks in the ground. Surprisingly, all the varieties recovered from this damage and grew back, but they were stunted and small as a result, only growing about 1′ tall. (The groundhogs suffered dearly for their transgressions at the paws of my husky.)  The Anaheims recovered first, putting out lots of big, long peppers. I should have let them ripen longer as they were quite mild and green. The bells recovered next. These peppers start out surprisingly small and dark, absolutely black. As they reach proper eating size they begin to become more like a purple or brown than an inky black. I didn’t realize this and I was picking most of them too early as well, but they were prolific as a result. The Jalapenos were the surprising under performers this year, recovering last and producing little. Normally they do much better. Because we were able to use most of the peppers in salsa and stir-frys (and they generally did well and produced lots) we will be growing all three again next year but letting them ripen more and protecting them more from marauders in the early season.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes were strange this year as we attempted to grow one variety and ended up with another. We tried to grow Bellstar tomatoes this year, but they were started too early and close together. The result was they got severe wilt, grew poorly and died off faster than I could clone them to stay alive. They were a disaster.
However we had very good luck with the San Marzanos that volunteered all across our garden bed from last year. We lost many tomatoes to the ground (and groundhogs) last year and got hundreds of plants sprouting from the ground in late spring this year as a result. We planted them and they grew prolifically producing enough tomatoes to can regularly. They grow EXTREMELY tall, however, and 4′-6′ stakes are NOT tall enough for them. 8′ stakes may be needed in the future. Staking them up and keeping them pruned back made them more manageable but they still got out of hand with growth. They need to be spaced slightly further apart (1.5ft instead of 1ft), staked up earlier than July and their suckers must be maintained more carefully. They did end up with a bad case of blight toward the end of the season and died back early as a result, but they continued to produce despite the fungus, which may have been worse than most years due to heavy rains. They were planted in an older, well-worked bed. Additional calcium in the soil (about 1/2 cup loosely crushed eggshells under each plant) nearly completely eliminated the blossom end rot we have experienced in previous years.
Because of how consistently prolific they are and how easily they grow in our soil we will be growing the San Marzanos again, but with more intense management to control blight and over-grown plants. These are well producing but high maintenance plants.

Zucchini

We grow Costata Romanesco zucchinis in our garden. This year they were planted in rough, newly dug beds. This year we experienced extremely high levels of blossom end rot and powdery mildew and (like the tomatoes) the plants died back early. This was in part due to high rainfall but I also suspect that the rough, less fertile soil had much to do with it. Despite that we grew several 4+lb zucchini which easily carried us through the whole summer and gave us some extra to freeze. We will be planting our zucchini with a lot of extra calcium next year to combat the issues we had.

Cucumbers

These were volunteers of an unknown variety that did OK after first being transplanted but quickly began to have problems after the first few fruits. Since these were not meant to be grown this year not much effort was made towards them. Being in full sun in the new, rough, soil dried some of them out to the point of no return. Later in the season the powdery mildew killed whole plants, but nothing was done to prevent these things from happening because we didn’t intend to grow cucumbers this year. Still, it’s good to know what went wrong so we can do better in the future.

Winter Squash (Acorn Squash)

We grew Table Queen Acorn Squash this year, interplanted near our corn stalks. Winter squashes have traditionally done well for us but this year they vined out excessively, did not cooperate with the corn well (frequently pushing the plants over instead of helping to hold them up) and only gave us 3 squashes this year despite the massive space they occupied. They also suffered from powdery mildew and blossom end rot. Because of this we have decided to try other varieties of winter squash next year and put the acorn squashes on the backburner for future attempts.

Carrots

We grew Touchon carrots this year and they did surprisingly well. We attempted to do the “four day” tri-planted carrot method with limited success. The seeds actually took nearly a week to germinate, and the mess of what grew where meant that the carrots were hardly tri-planted. Our soil across our whole lot is thick and clay heavy, and despite amending with a lot of sand, wood chips, straw and compost, we’ve never been able to make good carrot soil. Despite these mishaps, we ended up getting 5lbs of carrots (after removing the greens) out of our tiny 10 square feet (ish) of carrots. Most were small and straight but a few were large and some were crazy and lumpy. They were all quite short as our soil is so heavy. They were also delicious. Most fresh produce is good but the difference in flavor for the carrots was dramatic. Next year we will be growing carrots again, but a different variety designed for heavy soils.

Arugula

The arugula we grew this year did great. It grew well, bolted early and produced many seed pods after. It was resistant to animal consumption and vined out a lot. Strong flavor and very spicy. Will grow again in smaller quantities.

Lettuce
The lettuce mix we grew got consumed heavily by animals in the early spring and suffered in the heat of mid-summer as it tried to recover. It came back strong in the fall as the rest of the garden started to die back, but there weren’t many other vegetables to go with it any more. The lettuce varieties were all bitter and really needed a sweet lettuce to go with them.

Peas

We grew Cascadia dwarf snap peas this year. Early in the season they were dug up by squirrels and eaten down by groundhogs. They struggled to recover in time to avoid being shaded out by plants like the kale. The remaining and sad plants did produce peas that were the best peas I have ever tasted, however. They were extremely juicy and sweet. We will be trying them again next year with a little more TLC.

Kale

We grow Red Russian kale every year and it’s always a star in our environment. It got munched by caterpillars a bit in the hot summer months but bounced back. We did not eat enough of it, however, and really need to get more clever about eating our greens.

Broccoli

We grew De Cicco Broccoli this year. They germinated very well but were really leggy seedlings. They were delicious plants but hardly produced a head more than a couple inches across and they never did become less leggy. We ended up just letting them bloom over and over again to feed the bees during times when other blooms were few. They never produced enough heads to be worth eating substantially. Next year we will be trying cauliflower instead.

Beans

KY Wonder Pole Beans are staple on our farm. As usual, they out-performed most of our crops, producing more beans than we could actually harvest and eat reasonably. My friends and family members were fed with those beans. They also suffered a bit from the wet as they also got hit with various fungi and blights. The new trellises worked very well but really need plastic twine to stay in place. Sisal/hemp or other natural rope twines break too easily and the trellises fall over. The beans also could have been trained horizontally more effectively to allow them to take up more surface area on the trellises. We also need to clip the branches above the trellises back more as they tried to grow up into the trees! Saving seeds from these beans is also amazingly simple. This will continue to be a staple crop for years to come.

Corn

We grew Painted Mountain flint corn this year. Most years we have tried to grow Roy Calais flint corn to no avail. This year the corn actually grew and each stalk produced an ear or two despite our very small stand. The ears were not well filled out and frankly, we didn’t get much corn out of it… But that which we did get was beautiful! Coming in several colors, some ears being solid and some mixed, it’s gorgeous to look at. It did fall over easily. The stalks were thin and needed to be hilled more effectively. The radishes that were inter planted with the corn needed to be removed earlier and replaced with large amounts of mulch to support the corn stalks. Next year we will be trying this variety again as we’ve never gotten a corn to grow to fruit before and I think a larger stand may solve the problems we had.

Watermelon

Watermelons have traditionally been hard for us to grow. We planted Blue Ribbon watermelon. This year we got one small watermelon, but it was strong and ripe. They really need more shade during the height of summer and a longer season. Also, they were planted in rough soil and (like all the plants grown in the new bed) suffered from mildew and calcium problems. This is our second failed year in a row trying to grow these. We will be opting for a different fruit species next year.

Herbs; Mammoth Dill

The dill was transplanted from a pot and never bounced back the way I was hoping. It was plated in with our brassicas (kale and broccoli) to keep bugs away, which it did seem to at least a bit. Last year our kale was devoured by aphids. This year it wasn’t. But the dill itself never became a useful size. Direct sowing will probably serve us better next year.

Herbs; Parsley

We grew some sort of standard curly parsley, and it took off! It’s still alive and growing well in our back yard and seems to have done nicely for itself. The flavor is good and it’s extremely prolific. We will be growing it again next year. Germinated very slowly.

Herbs; Oregano

Did not germinate. Again. Maybe next year? Anyone have any tips on how to grow oregano from seed well?

Herbs; Genovese Basil

Germinated extremely slowly and needs to have a LOT of dirt space to grow properly. I have never seen a plant stunt itself so badly from lack of space before. We ended up growing this in both beds and pots and it did extremely well in both! Very prolific once it finally started to grow properly! Had to pinch the blossoms a lot to keep it from going to seed too early. Next year we will grow enough to dehydrate or turn into dairyless pesto for storage!

Herbs; Thyme

Our thyme grew wonderfully but was used minimally. Should be good as an inter planted pest repellent herb for the future, but not as heavy production for consumption. Forgot to dry the leftover herbs this year. Also took a long time to germinate.

Blackberries; This year we started a stand of blackberry canes. Unfortunately, there’s not enough to share with the birds as they ate nearly all of them. Next year we may try bird netting to maintain the stand better.

Strawberries; These had a great early season but as late summer rolled around they became so thick and over grown that the fruits weren’t turning red and were just rotting away on the vines. We will thin them heavily this year, possibly to hanging pots, and maintain them a bit more carefully to allow us to harvest more appropriately.

Management notes for next year;

This year was very wet and saw a lot of problems despite overall success. Management of soil quality in newly dug beds proved problematic. It was extremely difficult to get the beds in this past spring and many of the plants in those beds suffered as a result. Low mineral levels and low fertility in general seemed to effect some of the plants dramatically.
Animals consumed a lot of plants early in the season. Excluding wild animals from our lawn more effectively is going to be a requirement for the future.
Wireworms were a new problem that hit our potatoes particularly hard. They are common in freshly dug beds for up to 5 years because they live in grass roots. We can’t wait 5 years for them to decide to leave so we will be using other management techniques instead. The potato beds will be tilled repeatedly now that it’s fall, and again in the spring, to make the beds cold and drive the wireworms out. They will be treated with coffee grounds to make the soil more acidic than the wireworms prefer. We will also use small amounts of coffee grounds to fertilize our potatoes during growth. We will lastly be applying a small number of beneficial nematodes, which kill wireworms. It’s our hope that with these techniques we’ll be able to prevent them from living in the root vegetable beds and our potatoes will be safer for it.
Fungal blooms were a large problem as nearly all the plants experienced some sort of disease or another from fungus. Better, airier, plant spacing and more pruning will likely improve prevention of fungal diseases. Tilling soil, baking soda sprays, thick mulching and calcium supplements will also be used to help control fungal blooms on the plants including blight and powdery mildew.

The Summary

Despite some serious problems in our garden with fungal blooms, pests, and rough soil conditions, the garden went very well and produced a lot of food for us! It really felt like the garden was worth the work load this year. We learned a lot this year and I think next year is going to be extremely promising. We’re already adjusting our land and practices to compensate for and prevent the problems we had this year from effecting our spring plantings. I’m looking forward to the next growing season!

A quick update

Spring has been extremely busy for me, so I haven’t been able to update much. But I thought I’d stop and leave a quick update on how things are on the homestead.

We finally got our wood chips in. It only took nearly three months! The chickens will be glad. We will be moving the bulk of them this weekend. We have a group of friends and family coming in to help us move them. We will be feeding them with an excess of delicious food in exchange for their labor. It looks like most of the woodchips are fir, cherry and maple. They smell lovely!

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The woodchip pile!

The garden itself is doing well. We completed the beds in time for everything to have a very late planting. As such things are a little behind, but the direct-sown seeds are growing strong! We’ve begun to harvest our lettuces, rashes and kale. The peas should be starting to pod soon and the summer plants will be going into the ground as soon as they finish hardening off.

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A blurry shot of our first french breakfast radishes

The worst problem is the tomatoes. The lights I had on them were just too close to the crowded plants in their seed cups and something started to go wrong. The huge root systems they’d developed started to fail and break near the stem, the plants started to collapse and had no room to grow into the lights and leaves began to die rapidly. I just wasn’t doing enough for them.

The majority of them have no been repotted and a few of them have been cloned by planting trimmed branches, but a lot of them have died as well. Some of them are just about recovering… But they really should have gone into the ground ages ago. Now they need to time to recover from my mistakes. Next year I will start them two weeks later. Lesson learned.

I also purchased and tried to hatch out some new wheaten Ameraucana eggs but only ended up with one chick due to various mishaps including poor shipping and a thermometer I was not used to using. A lone chick doesn’t do so well, so we got some pheasant chicks to keep it company while we wait to see if it’s a boy or a girl. They’ve been getting along great in the brooder thus far. The plan is to raise them out for holiday dinners.

And that’s a summation of the homestead right now. We’re trying to get the plants in the ground for the summer now and get the potato towers up and running. Hopefully we’ll have great harvests this year!

Inspiration

Farming and homesteading is inspiring to me. I get so much joy at looking at things running smoothly and properly. I draw a lot of motivation from looking at other people’s goals, aspirations, and the extremely cool things that they do.

Sometimes down the line I loose track of that joy. I loose track of it amidst things like trying to manage animal pedigrees and planting row crops and producing enough to justify that I am a “real” farmer and balancing budgets. It can be easy to loose some of my inspiration in among all of the red tape.

So here’s a little compilation of some nifty things I plan to do this year that are inspiring for me!

Vertical Gardening and Plant Towers

I really like the idea of growing up instead of out. While some vertical gardening (such as hydroponics in a warehouse) strikes me as wildly impractical, a lot of vertical growing can be done in a back yard and drastically increase your growing space. Hanging pots, PVC planters, trellises and the like all make for an increase in growing space without an increase in growing ground. And this year, I intend to do more of that. As the strawberry plants recover, I will thin them and put the new plants in hanging pots. I will also be trying to get some herbs running in a hanging planter made out of re purposed two liters that will hang near my awning at the back of my garage. This year I will be growing UP!

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PVC strawberry planter Photo credit: goodhomedesign

Natural Beekeeping and Honey

This is happening and it’s great! I have my bees on order and my hive is in the basement, just waiting to be assembled! We are going to be keeping bees in a Warre hive. This is a smaller beehive that’s designed with topbars and minimal inspection. Unlike the Langstroth, whose design is based around what bees will tolerate, the Warre hive is based around what bees make when left to their own devices. The size of the boxes are smaller, the empty boxes load onto the bottom of the hive, they build their own comb for the frames, there’s a lot more airflow as well. It mimics a hollow tree more effectively than a Langstroth but gives much lower yields. My hope is that the bees thrive in it!

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Warre bee hive Photo Credit – Thebeespace

Pollinator and Bee Gardening

Pollinators are extremely important to our environment, growing crops, and plant life everywhere. If I’m going to have bees, I better be more aware about providing for these ever important critters. So I will be building bigger, better bee gardens this year with lots of flowers! The goal is going to be to trim up the Magnolia and put some flowers around it out front, as well as re-do some of the landscaping around the house and plant as may bee-friendly and pollinator friendly plants as possible in the next couple of years. It will even include safe water sources for local bees, one of the things they lack (and need) the most. The hope is to provide a pesticide-free buffet for all the local critters who will desperately need it in the coming months and years.

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A bee garden! Photo Credit – helpabee

Purebred Wheaten Ameraucanas

This year, we are going to begin moving out of Easter Eggers and into a purebred flock. Our rooster is a purebred Wheaten Ameraucana and I now have a dozen hatching eggs of the same kind on order. Later in the year (possibly early next year) we will be ordering a dozen more and hatching some of our own. At that point, by next spring we will be running a flock of purebred blue egg laying chickens (possibly with a couple Australorps or Marans for eating-eggs and fun mixes). It will be exciting to finally have purebred birds!

 

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Wheaten Ameraucana Hen (and rooster) Photo Credit – Paradisepoultryandwaterfowl

 

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Quarteracrehome’s “Will” Wheaten Ameraucana rooster

Fully Pedigreed Rex Rabbits

Early this year we invested in a new buck to replace Cassanova, as we have kept two of his daughters (Lady and Sage) and would like to start filling out our pedigrees. So we now have a new buck that came to us through happenstance that is actually Bean’s grandson! We have nicknamed him Porter (as in a Porterhouse steak) and he will be our new herdsire for our rex rabbits, lending his lineage and traceable pedigree to our operation.

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SkinnyAcres Rabitry’s Porter, our new Rex buck

Companion Planting and Interplanting

This year our garden has been planned, planned again, and then planned some more. We are going to have both companion planting and interplanting on the homestead this year. Companion planting is when you plant two plants next to each other (or in alternating rows) that compliment eachother’s growth or deter pests from one another. Interplanting is related and means to grow two plants in the same space that don’t interfere with one-another’s growth. An example of this is growing beans and corn in the same space. The beans fix nitrogen for the corn, and the corn stalk allows the beans to trellis up them. One example that will be in our garden this year is growing radishes pretty much anywhere a slow-growing plant is seeded. Since radishes grow so fast, they can be harvested before they start to compete with their too-close neighbors. We will be growing as many plants this way as possible this year. Gardening is still somewhat a struggle for us, but we’re always trying to get better at it!

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Crops interplanted Photo Credit thrivefarms

And lastly;

Growing Trees!

Quarteracrehome is going to be working with Western Reserve Eco Network (a local grassroots environmental group seeking to promote sustainability, which I happen to be a part of) to grow a whole bunch of trees in empty lots in the city. These will all be either native northeast Ohio trees to help restore native forestland or fruit/nut trees to help feed the low-income urban communities around Cleveland. Some of those trees fruit trees may come tagging along back to the quarter acre. Additionally, I have several branches from my father’s Queen Anne cherry tree attempting to root in my living room. Not to mention that two of the plants that have been on this property for ages are also fruit trees and I just had no idea. So I am excited to be “branch”ing out this year! Ahahah, tree puns.

And that’s about it. Things that are inspiring me to do new stuff this year, and things I’ll be trying out. Fingers crossed that it all works out!