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!

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Garden Layout (Round 1)

This year I did some serious work planning my garden. Usually I just kinda stick things wherever I feel like they’ll do well, but this year I actually made a full-blown honest to goodness map.

I measured my garden bed yesterday and found out it’s much smaller than I thought. I was spot-on with how deep it is (8′) but I thought it spanned nearly 40′ long. In truth it only hit 28′ when including the emergency addition I put in last year, so I called it 26′. That addition worked out sub-par, producing no eggplants and a handful of robust squashes that it took me several months to discover were buttercup squash… Though through no fault of the garden plot, honestly. They just got crowded out.
(Incidentally, those squashes became my go-to vegetarian holiday dish for Yule this year. I stuff them with a stuffing made out of “wild” mushrooms (usually just a mix of shiitake, button, oyster and portabellas), chopped walnuts, onions and basmati rice, all cooked in vegetable stock, butter and wine, seasoned and topped with parmesan. Conveniently, I could sub out the butter and skip the cheese and make it vegan if I wanted… But I’ve never had a need or reason. Still, it’s nice to know that I could prepare something delicious that meets that criteria if I needed to. I like to be accommodating.)

While Yule tides me through the darkest part of the year, I am always thrilled when my seeds come in. And come in they have! They arrived just this morning, right after I finished making my growing chart!

I had some problems last year with my plants. The biggest problem (besides spacing and varieties grown) was the addition of some pests to my garden. I figured they’d crop up eventually but it still sucks. So now crop rotation, companion planting and integrated pest management come into play.

I referenced these pages on companion planting;

http://www.vegetablegardeninglife.com/companion-planting-charts.html
http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/companion-planting-guide-zmaz81mjzraw
http://www.almanac.com/content/companion-planting-chart-plant-list-10-top-vegetables
http://www.ufseeds.com/Vegetable-Companion-Planting-Chart.html

I try not to use one source only when I do research so I referenced all four.

And then I used these pages for pest prevention;
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pest-repelling_plants
http://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/12-plants-that-repel-unwanted-insects
The wiki list is very good and I generally consider Wiki to be well managed.

And with the additional few feet we want to expand, ultimately, I came up with a yard layout that looks like this;

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I made this in a free open-source art program, similar to photoshop, called GIMP. This shows all the features of the left wall of my lawn, including our trenches for run-off, and the mixed flower bed surrounded by rocks that we’re planning on putting the bees in.

The key is;
Green BB = Beans
pppp = Peas
Pale Green B = broccoli
green LL = lettuce
green SS = spinach
grey H = herbs (various)
yellow D = dill
red RRRR = radish
Yellow C = Corn
Purple P = Purple Beauty bell pepper
Red A = Anahiem
green J = Jalapeno
gold S = acorn squash
pink W = watermelon
red T = tomato (our new tomato variety has smaller plants than last years)
peach O = onion (we’ll be buying onion sets)
dk green/black Z = zucchini
The grid is square feet, and some plants are supposed to grow in the same spots as the corn. Radish is harvested before the corn grows and the squash uses the corn plants as a trellis. Herbs are spread out to help deter bugs on susceptible plants. Dill is separate from herbs because it’s mammoth dill and grows several feet. Clustered letters indicate how many plants we’ll be planting in a specific spot, whereas the big letters show the amount of space those plants are projected to take up. The letters that take up a single space on their own are just that, one plant per square foot.
I would also like to set up 2-4 potato bins for seed potatoes against the fence, between the garden bed and the chicken pen and grow radishes there as well a little later in the year.
Also marked is our shady spot (left) which is shaded by trees in the spring/summer, and unshaded in the winter/early spring, and our ultra-wet spot (bottom) that floods next to the garden bed with 1-3 inches of standing water. East is 1/4 of the way down on the right wall of the bed image.
There’s a few glaringly huge problems with this layout…
1. Crop rotation. It’s hard to do when you only have a few hundred square feet and the same areas of the lawn have the same conditions from year to year. For example, the leftmost garden squares that are shaded. The summer sun scorches us with 90*F+ for a week or two every summer, and that shade is critical to protecting leafy greens, peas and other plants that are easily scorched. Even in spring it can be overwhelming and the ground cracks. On the left, currently it’s marked with “herbs” but last year that’s where we grew kale. Similarly, the leftmost beans are where peas were last year (legumes on legumes). We can’t plant things like peppers or tomatoes in that space because they won’t get enough sun. So plants that have specific requirements for growth like the watermelons, kale, other leafy greens, beans and peas are all in unfortunately similar areas to where they were planted just last year. (And the year before that.) And there’s not much I can do about it.
2. The bottom of the bed is 7′ deep. Now, in theory I can reach in the 3.5′ from each side to weed and harvest… I have long arms and tools. But in reality I suspect that’s too wide for me to manage without stepping on the beds (which as we all know is bad juju). This could be a serious problem, or I could us boards to step on.
3. That’s my working location for the bees… Sunny in the winter, shaded in the summer, protected from rain and wind by trees and a fence line, easy to access but not somewhere I use… But it’s uncomfortably close to the garden beds, and I want to keep the dogs out of it… So I theorized putting a small stick fence around it. It could still be a big problem because bees don’t like things in their flight path. I’m working on that one.
4. Soil erosion at the bottom part of the bed where the standing water is. This has been a consistent problem, yearly, since we moved in. That land needs to be built up with organic materials that can absorb to water and a way for it to drain into the irrigation ditch needs to be considered. Something has to be drastically different soil-wise.
In reality, I might spend much of today retooling this layout. We also may be expanding beyond this point by bringing in manure from local horse farms for free and adding more onto it. But as it stands, this is how I’m growing plants. In addition to this, I have a 4’X4′ bed of everbearing strawberries that overwintered from last year and about a 3’x3′ bed of flowers out front I’ll be trying to plant up a little better this year.
One way or another, in total I will be gardening at least 300 square feet this year, some of which will be vertical (beans and peas on trellises, potatoes in boxes).Not too shabby, but a long way to go still. Hopefully, with a little luck, we’ll be able to expand further than that this year and do a much better job.

Stickin’ it Where The Sun Don’t Shine! Homestead shade gardening

Well there it is. My 24/7 shade line, as illustrated by 3 inches of snow on a 60* day. Are more words really needed to illustrate how shady it is? Straight as a ruler down my fence line, that is where I would stick the proverbial it, if told to stick it where the sun don’t shine. In this case I have decided that “it” is a shade garden. I have a compost pile in this shade line that I am about to move (if it ever thaws!?) and it will be a nutrient-rich locale. Vegetables don’t grow well there, you see. Too much shade. So of course a shade garden is all there is to be done. And on a homestead, all deliberate plantings should be at least a little bit useful, right?

So in this case, I have decided that my shade garden will also be a BEE garden. Because I don’t have enough bees in my lawn, clinging to dead flowering shrubs at the end of fall and stinging me as I try to pull dead stalks… But I digress. Bees are important. Not just honey bees, but all bees. Native non-honey bees need food and are Important too. And they’re dying. http://www.beesfree.biz/CCD
Don’t think bees are important? Consider this handy list;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_crop_plants_pollinated_by_bees
Wave goodbye to all those plants if bees disappear. Further more, looking at this list we see many major sources of FEED for LIVESTOCK on the list, including almost all clovers, vetch, alfalfa, safflower, sunflower, cow peas, turnips and beets. Not only are you waving goodbye to your favorite things like almost every fruit and nut, your chocolate supply (cocoa and oil palms), canola oil (rapeseed) and coconut oil, and your morning coffee… But you are also saying goodbye to the cotton and flax that produces the very clothing you wear. So not only do bees effect our “vegetable” supply, they also effect our meat, our clothing, our couches, our curtains, our cooking oils, our luxuries, our very way of getting up every day. Did you have an ordinary morning today? You have a bee to thank for it.

So a bee garden it is. Since it’s not feeding me it has to be low maintenance (perennials please!) and the plants need to stick it out through cold and shade. But, of course, flowers don’t really “thrive” in the shade very much so one has to be choosy. I’ve made a few choices of my own!

Astilbe

These shrub-like flowers are partial to full shade and very bee-friendly! They produce lots and lots of beautiful cones of flowers, over winter in cold as low zone 4 and are nice and fluffy! Getting up to 2′, this is a really robust plant that SHOULD do well in my area. I found some started plants at Costco of all places and bought them. They’re now sitting sadly in their bags for their first day of fresh air, sunshine and a bit of water. I have high hopes for these plants as one of the higher rated plants for bees and butterflies!

Sad looking, huh? I sure hope they’ll perk up!

Hardy Geranium

These pretty flowers are hardy geraniums. The come in several different colors but a very nice lady said she’d send me some of THESE ones as a gift! These are lower shrubby flowers that bloom profusely. They make a nice ground cover and are known for choking out weeds. They produce a LOT of flowers and can bloom from early spring right through the fall. If these particular ones fail, I will find some more suited to my climate. The huge number of dispersed blooms should make the bees pretty happy!

Hostas

Hostas are a cold-hardy shade tolerant plant that produces flower high up, above all the rest. These can only be grown behind my fence as deer and rabbits LOVE them! These are human-edible and rabbit edible plants and as such as very useful in a shade garden, besides providing some great pollen and flowers especially suited to attracting native bees! My mother grows tons of these… And if I can’t get some of hers they are very inexpensive at the local garden centers!

Bluebells

The common bluebell is a cold (zone 5-7) and shade hardy bulb plant that is a nectar and pollen powerhouse. Since they don’t grow well in heavy soils, a bit of sandy garden soil and wood chips will be worked into the bed as I plant it, further down in the clay. This worked surprisingly will in my double dug beds and the clay in those is still loose and easy to move. Bluebells have some minor medicinal properties, but are mostly there for the bees! Their beautiful flowers attract especially Bumblebees, a native species of bee.

And lastly I’ll be trying to throw in some Dandelions! These plants DO grow in the shade, although rarely blooming. They are one of my favorite plants and the huge leaves the shade dandelions produce makes them worth considering for a shade garden. If some of them bloom, even better as dandelions are well renowned for their huge amount of pollen that can dye your nose orange with one little sniff! They have deep taproots that can help break up the soil in the area. If I can get them to grow we’ll also see about putting in some wild carrots! I will also be trying to grow some henbit deadnettle there, a low to the ground min-family weed I have found a few times on my property. Being edible, chicken edible, rabbit edible and one of the first flowers of spring… It seems like the right call to grow!

There are many other good shade flowers even for bees, such as Foxglove, or my favorite, Lilly of the Valley. However, these plants are extremely toxic, and I have two dogs and the occasional roaming chickens or rabbit, having those plants actively on my property is a liability to the homestead. I may try to plant some and see them grow OUTSIDE of my fence line.

So there’s the dirt on my bee garden I will be implementing as soon as I get that darn compost moved! I hope you find some plants to benefit bees and your homestead that you, too, can shove where the sun don’t shine!

Happy gardening!