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!

Flowering

Today I went out and got some lovely photos of the early spring blossoms. Warning, this post contains many high-res photos.

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Crocuses of some sort growing alongside our wild garlic

There’s not a whole lot blooming, but there’s some. We’re still a long while away from the violets, dandelions and asters that flood my lawn in late summer and fall.

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One of less than ten dandelions currently in bloom in our lawn

It’s really nice to see all the life starting to creep back into the world, though. And these early flowers can be a lifesaver for bees, especially wild ones.

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Daffodils are considered one of the best early flowers for pollinators.

I even took a few shots of the tree out front of my house. The same one you saw weighed down under snow in my last post. The lovely pink blossoms are just about on their way out. After much digging I have finally identified this mystery tree outside my house as am ornamental plum tree, either a cherry plum or purple leaf plum. Both have edible fruits in the late summer to early fall ideal for making jams. I had NO idea that this was the case, and perhaps I shall have the opportunity to taste them this year. I have my pectin and jelly jars all ready!

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Beautiful pink flowers, already shedding their petals

Also on the list of “things I didn’t know” are these gorgeous pink flowers that produced for me one whole apple last year. I was shocked. When I saw it, I thought it was some sort of bug’s nest hanging on a branch. I have NEVER seen this plant do anything before, but I knew it was in the rose family and given that it never produced a fruit, I assumed it was a rose bush, not a fruit tree. But apparently it’s an APPLE shrub!

apple2Who knew!? Maybe we will get more apples from it some day. I would like to try to graft some branches onto it from other very-early blooming apple trees and see if I can get a real apple crop! I shall be trimming it down aggressively this year, along with the plum tree. They both need a serious pruning.

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Even our Magnolia is in bloom, though it’s flowers aren’t quite so useful. They don’t even feed bees, and the tree is a mess. It’s my least favorite plant on my property.

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It can be hard to photograph in the wind.

Pretty much all of these plants were put in by the people who owned this house before the people who owned this house before us. Apparently they were a couple of old retired ladies who loved to garden. I find myself in need of upping my game. The plants they chose are generally lovely, but I want to grow flowers too! Specifically bee flowers. You may recall some of my previous posts about gardening, especially for bees, wherein I attempted to grow some bee-friendly flowering plants to ultimately end in epic failure as they were dug up by my chickens escaping the confines of their chicken pen.

Well this year, I thought I’d try again. I invested $20 in a mixed shade perennial package from Costco, same as last time. It came with five hostas, five astibles and five crimson star columbines. These are all big bee attractant plants that bloom from early to late summer. And so far, things are going OK.

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My initial investment on day 2

The plants came in plastic bags which I immediately opened, tried to sort them into generally upright positions, and then watered heavily. Recently I repotted them. Since then, the columbines have done squat nothing, they may indeed be dead completely on three of them.

But the astibles and hostas are doing MUCH better!

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The hostas in their new pot this morning

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Two of the astibles, separated and growing nicely.

In addition to these I also purchased a pair of lilac bushes that were similarly sad and pathetic upon arrival. Lilacs are good for butterflies, and sub-par for bees, but they are my favorite flowers, and all pollinators need food, including butterflies.

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Sad lilacs, the day after arrival

They have since perked up significantly and nearly doubled in size.

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Lilacs in their new kitchen-side window home!

And lastly, I also did some homesteading things while I was outside today. I started by pruning and separating some blackberry canes that were starting to overgrow.

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New leaf growth on a blackberry cane

Then I weeded the strawberry bed. The weeds were then tossed right back into the bed, root side up, to produce mulch for the strawberries. It may not look like much but the nine plants we put in last year have multiplied into a couple dozen. Depending on how well they do, some of them might be dug up, washed, and repotted for some vertical gardening I would like to do.

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And with the advent of freshly disturbed mulch, dirt and plant, the chickens attempted to lend a beak to the process.

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Chickens, invading the strawberry bed. The string to designate the area off limits to the dogs means nothing to the chickens.

So they were given a handful of wheat berries that we use to grow fodder on occasion, away from the strawberries, which kept them distracted until nightfall.

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Chickens love snacks

Making today a warm, beautiful, and otherwise rewarding day. I just still wish that the REST of my lawn wasn’t quite a swamp, so I could get right down to gardening. This weather would have been perfect for it!

Reeling and Seedling

Well, yesterday the hammer dropped and every single republican told 30 million people like me to go and die quietly please so they could save some money for rich folks, OK?

Not farming stuff incoming. Feel free to scroll down to the bottom if you don’t like the uncomfortable reality that at least some of you probably voted in the people that voted to try to kill me today. I’m looking at you rural farming America. Thanks for that. (Or, you know, if you’re too overwhelmed by the awfulness of it to hear about it again or you might go shoot someone. That’s an OK reason to scroll down too.)

It sounds like some sort of bad black humor, or some sort of dramatic hyperbole, but the vote to dismantle the ACA (including popular programs like protection from denying healthcare based on pre-existing conditions, coverage for pregnant women, and allowing young adults to stay on parents insurance for a few extra years) was clear. 51-48, not a single democrat voting to dismantle. In case you’re wondering, the senate is 52% republican and 48% democrat. I’d love to have the ability to vote republican sometimes, I do believe that the democratic party is corrupt, but the concept that republicans care about my human rights or my wellbeing or the wellbeing of anyone but themselves at this point is unfortunately a joke. They would genuinely rather I just die instead of spending money.

I have a family (and personal) history of female reproductive problems. Case in point; my mother who died of uterine cancer. Preventable uterine cancer that she did not have treated until it was about to kill her because she was one of the 30 million people that couldn’t get insurance without the ACA. Preventable uterine cancer that the only reason she was able to receive any treatment at all for (extending her life for 5 years which were happy and filled with life and joy, and having end of like palliative care, IE: letting her have pain killers and a hospital bed) was because of the ACA being passed soon after her diagnosis, protecting my dad’s ability to put her on his insurance after he finally found employment.

My family is what even republicans usually think of as a “good family”. We’re about as far from the ultra-racist “welfare queen/baby daddy” stereotype as you can get.  We’re white. My family came from a southern catholic farming background on my moms side. My dad’s father ran a cardboard box factory that made him significantly wealthy. Mom raised seven kids, cleaned, couponed, cooked, and made sure her kids were well educated and raised with integrity. My dad currently is nearly 80 years old and works for NASA. He designs lithium batteries that can handle outer space and are charged by solar panels. He holds a patent for some of the first neurological interfaces to allow people with paralyzed limbs to move their arms. All of us kids got jobs at 15 years old. We’re not uneducated, unmotivated,  have poor parenting or even just plain stupid. My family is gritty working types. And my mom died because there was no program like ACA when she got sick and my father was unemployed due to the Bush-induced recession. We live in the rust belt. The economy here has been awful for decades.

Now we’re looking at facing that all over again.

My partner owns his own retail store. It’s extremely successful for a retail store, going on their 3rd year anniversary with profits in the black. Over 95% of retail stores close their doors in the first 5 years and almost none make profits. He’s a small business owner. He built that.
He’s about to fall into the medicare gap. And without the ACA, he will not be able to afford health insurance.

I run this tiny urban farm. I work hard at it, I love it, it helps massively with my depression and I think few people this will reach would be able to tell me that farming isn’t a respectable job. But I will laugh in your face if you even consider the possibility that it makes enough money for me to afford insurance outside of the ACA. My healthcare is about to be gone. And best of all, the medication that keeps me able to function and could save my life is probably not going to be covered by most insurance any more. People still think birth control is only so people can have lots of sex that offends their religion. Little do they know that it’s probably slowly saving my life, not just from cripplingly painful cycles that prevent me from working normal jobs… But also from the genetically-inherited uterine fibroids that nearly killed my oldest sister and were probably inherited from my mother. Did you know that, if left untreated, uterine fibroids can develop into uterine cancer? Did you know that birth control prevents uterine fibroids for 1/10th the cost of a single surgery to treat them even before the become cancerous? Two and two fit so nicely together here if you care to look at facts.

So yes, when I say that republicans voted to literally end peoples lives today, I was not being hyperbolic. I was being frank. My mom would be alive today if healthcare reform went through in the 90’s. I or my partner, hardworking Americans, may not be alive someday because of the vote that just took place. Sorry if that’s too much of a burden on your taxes. I’m sure you needed that fat holiday bonus more than I needed my life. It’s cool.

And if you voted republican this past year? Fuck you. If I (or any of the 30 million other people insured the the ACA) die in the next four years, it is probably your fault.

 

Ok, you can pull your head out of the sand now. We’re back to farming.

FARMING AHOY.

So instead I’m trying to immerse myself in the potential spring hold for my homestead… Despite the fear and the potential for my untimely demise, I want to try to look forward to spring. This year we’re placing a new seed order. We grow heirloom organics, which allows us to save seeds from each plant each year. Still, not everything grows correctly and genetic diversity is important in plants AND animals, so we like to bring in new seeds.
We buy from high Mowing Seeds, and we’re not paid to say nice things about them. I just happen to like their seeds, prices, and polite customer service.

Here’s a list of what we’re getting and why.

Thyme
Every year we try to grow a new herb. I used a lot of thyme this year as it’s great on, well, everything? So we thought we’d give it a shot.

Bellstar tomato
This year the tomatoes did great, but they had some problems. We grew amish paste and san marzino. The amish paste did not produce well. The san marzino were nice, but they came in haphazardly, only allowing me to put away several jars of tomato sauce despite huge numbers of tomatoes growing. They just all ripened at different times, so we’d have 10 tomatoes here and 15 there, all year. They were also surprisingly watery for paste tomatoes and the plants were VERY thin and spindly, they needed trellises badly. Hopefully this variety will provide what we need a bit better.

NuMex Joe Anaheim and Early Jalapeno Hot Pepper
We grew an anaheim and a jalapeno from plants we bought at the garden center this year and they did very well. I use a lot of hot peppers and if we get these to grow and the tomatoes, it means jars of salsa!

Purple Beauty Bell Pepper
I have never gotten a bell pepper to live in my lawn. So I am kind of just grasping at straws here and hoping that because this pepper looks so different it might grow. Eh?

Kentucky Wonder (green beans)
These did great for us this year, huge plants, 8′ tall. We’re getting them because we liked them so much we want more of them! We have seeds saved from this year and last, but we’d like to establish a little more diversity in our genetics and we’d also like to grow LOTS of them this year!

Red Russian Kale
This is another favorite. It grows very well in our cold climate and has a nice flavor. But saving seeds is tough and often the plant grows as a biennial. So we haven’t saved seeds from this yet. I still had seeds, but they were a couple years old and I gave them away as part of a Yule gift to a fellow gardener.

Painted Mountain Corn
We’ve tried growing corn for three years now to no success. We’ve been trying to grow Roy Calais flint corn, but since it hasn’t done well, we decided to try a new kind. Fingers crossed this does better. We want a flint corn for cornmeal, grits and animal feed.

Cascadia Peas
We’ve had sub-par results with out peas as well. Often they get really spindly and sometimes they grow too tall for our pea trellises. Cascadia are a dwarf variety where the pods stay big but the plants are small. I hope they do better than our other ones.

Costata Romanesco zucchini
I used the last of these seeds this year, to great success! The biggest of these reached 7lbs 10oz this year and wasn’t fully grown. Wow! But because they never grew all the way, we couldn’t save seeds. Since they did so well… Again! Again!

Table Queen Acorn Squash
Winter squash has consistently done great up here. We’ve had acorn squash seeds volunteer out of our compost in past years and this year we had great success with a desperate last-second planting of Buttercup squash that had germinated in their seed packet mid-summer. This year we’re trying acorn squash deliberately and we’re hoping for equally good results.

De Cicco Broccoli
This is the vegetable that’s new to our garden this year. We’ve had some half-hearted attempts to grow brassicas but never tried very hard and never had them grow more than a few leaves before being mowed down by plants. Every year we try to add a new vegetable to our garden, and this year broccoli is it!

Flowers
We’re gonna try to grow some flowers this year. Echinacea, butterfly mixes, chamomile, sunflowers. Maybe we’ll get some pretty (and useful) flower this year for… Our…

 

BEEEEEEEEEEEEEES

I received a cedar warre bee hive for my birthday this year from my extra-generous MIL! Which means BEEEEEEEEES! I am extremely excited to have bees! We’re looking for our nuc right now and I am just floored and thrilled.

Despite the world being pretty dark for me (and most everyone I love) right now, I’m excited for the weather breaking and it being spring. Lots of exciting things will be happening and I am looking forward to it.

Wish me luck!

Eggstrodinary Sunshine

I’ve been seeing so many posts being so very excited for spring, and a rather common talking point is how much the sunshine gives you vitamin D and how healthy that is for you. And it makes me wonder how many people understand how vitamin D even works in the body.

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Sunshine does not, in fact, provide you any vitamin D whatsoever. It’s an interesting fact that sunshine actually converts the cholesterol in your skin into Vitamin D.

According to health.howstuffworks.com;
“When UVB rays hit your skin, a chemical reaction happens: Your body begins the process of converting a prohormone in the skin into vitamin D. In this process, a form of cholesterol called 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC), naturally found in your skin, absorbs the UVB radiation and gets converted into cholecalciferol. Cholecalciferol is the previtamin form of D3. Next, the previtamin travels through your bloodstream to your liver, where the body begins to metabolize it, turning it into hydroxyvitamin D, which is also known as 25-hydroxyvitamin D or 25(OH)D. The kidneys then convert the 25(OH)D into dihydroxyvitamin D, also called 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D or 25(OH)2D — this is the hormone form of vitamin D your body can use”

Which basically means that UVB rays (or, unfiltered sunlight) reacts with cholesterol in our bodies to make a substance that enters our blood, which our organs then process into vitamin D!

Additionally of interest, Vitamin D is really important in doing certain things in the body like absorbing calcium, fighting infections and generally keeping your blood flowing and your muscles healthier. Perhaps, though, the most exciting thing about vitamin D is it’s potential to prevent cancer when found in high levels. It tends to line up surprisingly well with what we’ve seen in increased cancer rates in a modern world (we spend much less time in the sunshine than we used to as a species), and while correlation is not causation (and many factors including genetic contribute to cancer), many cancer research institutes are taking it very seriously.

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Interestingly, we can see exactly how this effects our bodies in chickens and eggs that we eat. There’s a reputable and highly-cited study done by Mother Earth News that used an independent lab and tested dozens of egg samples from pastured poultry. Their findings made complete sense with what we know about how bodies process sunlight. Chickens exposed to more sunlight produced eggs with significantly lower cholesterol and 3 to 6 times as much vitamin D as CAFO style eggs.

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So it only makes sense that chickens raised in sunshine produce better eggs. It’s the same reason we try to get sunshine ourselves. And the same applies to other animals as well, like pigs or cows. Animals raised outdoors in full sun have higher levels of vitamin D in their bodies and lower levels of cholesterol, which they pass on to their byproducts (milk, cheese, eggs, even their offspring) and their meats (ham, bacon, steaks).
So if you ever wonder why your great-grandpappy lived to be 95, worked like a horse until the day he died, all the while eating eggs and bacon for breakfast every day and never getting cancer… You may only need to look up at the sky. The answer could have been right above you the whole time!

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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!

Garden Changes 2014

Homesteading can be such a slow process sometimes. Last year I was just getting my first litters of rabbits, just starting to really learn. This year, though the rabbits are producing well, winter feels like a waiting game and our recent burst of temps in the 40s hasn’t helped with that. By the end of the week we will be in to 20s with snow again, but all I can do is dream of spring!

This year I have once again placed an order for heirloom seeds and I will be ordering a truck load of dirt to expand the gardens. In these moments of quiet without much going on I have time to reflect on the changes I need to make.

Last year;
The Good!
Tomatoes grown from store bought seedlings and Red Russian Kale did extremely well. We got lots of tomatoes for a while and the Kale is STILL growing!
The random modern jalepeno plant I picked up produced quite well!
Strawberries did very well if somewhat infrequent. They also spread significantly and we expect they will come back very strong in the spring.
Our Basil and mint thrived, flowered, seeded, and then flowered and seeded again! Herbs do well here.
The grapes were delicious, but didn’t give as many as we would have liked. We will try cleaning up the area around them to reduce diseases.
Everything that came out of our garden was delicious!

The bad…
I got the cold weather crops into the ground too slowly. Most of them didn’t grow at all over the spring and by the time they really took hold it was broiling hot out and the seedlings died.
I started some of my plants indoors and they were tropical plants. The result was they didn’t get enough heat to take off as we keep our house at a cool 62 most of the time.
The soil, filled with sand to make it “loose” in my root bed compacted severely. After spending all year in the ground my carrots, beets and onions gave me plenty of tops and only a few inches of roots and were constantly trying to force their way up out of the garden beds!
The corn grew surprisingly well for months, but the pot it was in was too small for three budding corn plants. By the time they could be transplanted they were so crowded they never really took hold outside. Then they got dug up by my dog.
The arugula we got sucked. The flavor was far too strong and it bolted very easy. Not even the rabbits wanted it anymore!
I didn’t trim most of the plants back properly, giving them real time to grow before trying to fruit again and again.
I got some veggies in abundance and did not have a way to process and store them for later use and so they simply went to the animals.
Because I did not turn my compost pile, it needs extra time to sit post stirring before being used a lot.

The Ugly?
My zucchini, pumpkins and cucumbers all had strange issues I have yet to identify the cause of, but its not just me. My sisters cucumbers grew equally strangely.
-The cucumbers grew pale, with the top half growing thick and round and the bottom half staying small and tightly curled. Then the plant eventually just started dying from the roots up, leaves and stems drying up and turning pale.
-The zucchini grew quite well, giving us several large fruits before suddenly the fruits stopped growing properly. The plant itself seemed healthy but the fruits would grow to about 6 inches before the ends of the fruits would start rotting away. Late in the season the plant also developed powdery mildew.
-The pumpkin grew a single vine which turned pale, fast. That vine then produced one little blossom and died.
-My whole lawn is still a bog, even after the ammendments last year.

So this year there are some things I will be doing again to bring my lawn and garden around properly!

The gardens and lawn will be amended heavilly early in the year. Probably when our next big week long break in the weather is scheduled. This is our biggest change!
I will be bringing in a huge batch of wood chips again… And double digging them into my planned garden sites into the existing, clay heavy soil. They will offer some mass, absorbtion and drainage to the back yard. They will also be scattered to fill in low areas, wet areas, and in the chicken pen to add to their deep litter which was so effective over the past year. The number one thing people are shocked about with my chickens is that they Do Not Smell. That is because of their deep litter of wood chips!
On top of the double dug soil and wood chips I will spread my current garden soil out. The leaf humus was combined with the feces of many meat chickens over the months and has turned into a rich, thick, black soil that is high in nitrogen. Seeds from other plants, roots from weeds, spilt scratch grain and general garden litter is prevelant in this soil now and I no longer want it on top where such things can take hold and spread. Instead this will add to the general nutrient level of the soil and will help to raise the general height of the garden beds.
On top of that will go a thick layer of this past years compost, stirred and rotted all winter to make sure it has broken down properly!
On the topmost layer of the garden beds will go a mixture of leaf humus, topsoil and sand. The topsoil/sand mix I find to be too thick and compacts too easilly, while the opposite is true of leaf humus. A mixture of the two should be ideal for delicate seedlings, retaining moisture and draining properly. The mix will be mostly leaf humus still, but a bit of topsoil and sand will give it some real grip and support for seedlings!
Individual areas of the garden bed will be lightly amended for the individual plants. Egg shells will be ground down for the spinach crop, magnesium and other required trace minerals added to the squash area, etc. Since all the soil is being tilled together and altered heavilly, there will be no significant crop rotation this year.
We will be positioning our plants more appropriately for our environment. Last year we accidentally planted our tomatoes in the shade, our delicate greens in the sun, and everything else was a bit scattered. Now that we know where the shade falls we will make our placements in a more effective manner!

We will also be doing something very new to us. We will be using “cover crops” and nurse crops. We ordered a large amount of radishes and red clover to plant with other plants in order to give them support and extra nutrients as they grow. We will also be putting in at least one large flower bed in our front and side lawns and using a clover cover crop there as well. We will have medicinal, edible and bee attracting plants such as Echanacha and sunflowers. It is my hope to build a top bar hive (or two?) And place them on my garage roof in an attempt to attract and capture swarms of wild, local honey bees.

The last major change is how we grow our seedlings and handle our early season crops. They will still grow in toilet paper roll seed starters, but they will be placed in our terrarium with our snake. This is a glass box, surrounded on one side with aluminium, and always has a heat lamp shining into it! This should give our plants the heat and light to grow, grow, GROW into huge seedlings, strong enough to withstand the hardening off and transplant to outdoors. After that, when they finally move to their garden beds, they will have small hoop houses over them for the first month before the temperatures finally rise up enough to support the crops without them.

There will also be a few thing we did right that we will be doing again! We will be getting a few more strawberry plants and expanding the garden bed there. We would like strawberries to become a major cover crop for our lawn! We will be planting a LOT more kale this year. We will be putting down woodchips anywhere we can. We will continue to harvest local, wild plants… And next year we will make extra sure to have enough jars and freezer space to store the harvest!

What are your garden plans for the year? Now is the time to plan! I hope we all get bountiful harvests next year!