Oh Hey, September is Here!

8/23/16 – 9/2/16 | Headlines from the past week and a half:

  • Canning tomatoes and banishing weeds from the garden
  • School…
  • Chicks are getting big! (and sorta ugly, depending on what kind of person you are…)

So I actually didn’t have many tomatoes this year. I didn’t plant enough plants for some reason… but thankfully Jan was willing to give me her seconds! Tomatoes with splits or bug bites are awesome for canning. I ended up with 14 quarts!

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The chicks are getting big! I graduated them from their little plastic chick feeders to this one that they’ll use for the rest of the time. They’re starting to walk and look like meat chickens already! Do you see their huge legs? Goodness.

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I’ve been working on school some too. For those of you who don’t know, I’ll be graduating with a BA in English in December! Since I enjoy both writing and farming, I’ve loved this blog where I can combine the two. Anyway. This is a neatened version of what it looks like to write a paper on social media farm marketing. I’ve actually been doing surveys at the market for this paper – trying to learn what people like to see in social media posts from farms and what kind of posts are effective in helping farmers sell more of their produce/goods.

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Also. My garden was a mess yesterday afternoon… for some reason I’d neglected the weeds for too long. The plus side is that when I finally got out to pull them, they were tall enough to get a good handle on! They also made nice mulching material. Here’s my garden right now. See the flags in the background? I’ve had problems with rabbits or coons or something nibbling off the tops of my tiny bean, beet, and spinach plants in the past. So when I planted my last row of beans I stuck flags among them, and the varmits seemed to respect the colors enough to stay at a distance. Now the flags are standing guard over my fall crop of spinach. (I’m not sure it’s the most respectful thing to do with flags, but I didn’t have any other similar scary objects. Maybe I should make something…)

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And finally, Jan and Andy gave me a huge pie pumpkin!! It’s got a bite on the side, so it can’t be sold at market. But it will get turned into pies (and maybe cheesecake? We shall see) instead! Here’s a post about how to prepare a pie pumpkin, and another with my pie recipe is in the works. Fall is coming, guys! And so are the pumpkin pies.

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Double Tragedy at the Chicken Shelter!

6/20/16 – 6/27/16 | Headlines of the week:

Lots happened this week! Monday morning, after the chickens had been in the shelter for 3 nights, I found one dead bird outside the shelter with its insides strewn around and a leg ripped off, and another dead bird in the shelter with a missing leg. I’ll spare you pictures… anyway, I’ve read that raccoons that will pull birds out under the shelter or through the chicken wire (which is why I took these precautions, but they still weren’t enough!), and they will typically just take what they will eat. Possums kill just out of spite, it seems, and rip the birds open, like mine. But possums don’t necessarily have the grip to be able to pull a bird under the shelter. So! I don’t know if I had a possum or a coon attack.

Fast forward four nights, and you’d be in the middle of a huge rainstorm that dumped 2.9 inches on us in a few hours. Chickens aren’t smart, especially when they’re sleepy… and my chickens have a habit of sleeping in their trough feeder. So after that rain I was greeted with two dead chickens in their feeder – they’d either drowned or gotten too cold and died as a result. Two other chickens were soaked and nearly dead, with super low body temperatures.

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I brought them into the garage, set them on a heating pad and under a heat lamp, and tried to give them some warm milk (which they didn’t swallow at first). Then I waited.

First they started breathing more regularly, and then they would sit up and swallow water when I dipped their beaks in. After they drank, they ate. And after four hours they were acting like normal chickens again!

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Now for some happier news! I’m experimenting with growing potatoes this year, and I dug around a few of my plants and pulled out some treasure!

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Also this week I’ve been harvesting and drying herbs to (Lord willing!) sell at the market next year.

And then I made a Youtube video about my morning chicken chores and/or moving the chicken shelter! It was super fun to make, but you’ll have to excuse the fact that I didn’t talk, except a word or two to the chickens. Enjoy the sounds of nature. 😉

Then I made hay! Or rather, my dad cut it and I raked, transported, and spread it on my garden as mulch. Mama helped too, which was awesome.

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Side note: I’ve gotta get my own pickup truck soon…

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I got almost the entire garden mulched with a thick layer of hay! By the end I was (just a bit…) worn out, filthy (sweat + dust + bits of hay), and happy.

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Make it a wonderful week, friends! Think about where your food came from. Did it come from a farmer who cares about its quality and about you? Or has it never touched a farmer’s hand?

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Strategic Timing and Spacing Plus a Comfrey Fertilizer Experiment

5/2/16 – 5/20/16 | Headlines of the past 2.5 weeks:

  • First Farmers Markets!
  • Lots of hand hoeing
  • Planting lettuce, basil, cilantro, butternut squash, green beans, sweet potatoes, cayenne peppers, tomatoes, and sunflowers
  • Preparing for chicks!!

The first Farmers Market was a resounding success! Jan and Andy sold out super quick of all their gorgeous veggies (and they had a lot, especially for the first weekend in May!).

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Since I didn’t have a medium-sized tiller and since I hadn’t mulched last fall, I ended up doing a lot of hoeing in order to get rid of the weeds and loosen up the soil so I could plant lettuce, basil, cilantro, butternut squash, green beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and sunflowers. In the past I’ve never bothered about multiple plantings to get a steady supply of one kind of produce (for example, if I wanted to have cilantro every week for the market I would basically have to plant it every week), but I’ve realized how important that is! So instead of planting my entire garden in a few days, I started sooner and will be stretching it out a lot more.

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Besides strategic timing, I’m also experimenting with my spacing. For example, I planted rows of lettuce seeds between some of my transplanted lettuce rows. The idea is that the bigger lettuce will be harvested before the next planting needs that extra space, and as a result I have less unused space.

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In the next picture you can see strategic spacing in action again and the start of my mulching. The white marker in the circle of bare soil is where I planted butternut squash. The lettuce is pretty close, but again, that lettuce will be out of the way by the time the butternut reaches it (in theory). And then the messy mulching job is the result of pulling up a bunch of tall grass and grass clippings. I will cover as much bare ground with mulch like this as I can in the coming weeks, and I figured I might as well start somewhere!

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A few weeks ago I started cayenne peppers inside – a bit late, but we’ll see what comes of it.

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When they seedlings were about an inch tall the leaves started to curl at the ends. Jan had mentioned something similar with her own pepper seedlings, and said it was probably a nutrient deficiency (or something along those lines). A bit of fertilizer made them shape right up, she said. I brainstormed about some kind of fertilizer I could use and remembered that comfrey, one of my favorite herbs, is jam-packed full of  nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium (to name a few). It can be used as fertilizer, either in the form of decomposing leaves or “tea.” Comfrey tea is typically made by letting the leaves decompose in water for a few weeks, but I needed fertilizer right then and was willing to try something new. I heated up some water, let fresh comfrey leaves steep all night, and strained them off in the morning. I used that on the plants for the next few days. The leaves uncurled and are growing at a nice rate! I’ll probably never know if it was the tea that did the trick… but I have my suspicions.

And finally: I’ve been brainstorming and stocking up on supplies for my chicks! I’ve got a shipment of 77 little fluff balls due to arrive May 31st, so I’ll be setting up their brooder soon. Here are a few of my supplies: wood shavings for bedding (I’ve got more than just this), feed scoops, chick feeders, one of my homemade chick waterers, heat lamp bulbs, and buckets.

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Congratulations, my friend! You have reached the end of this update! Feast your eyes on some lovely oregano blossoms (doesn’t it seem strange that if you rubbed the flowers in this picture it would smell like pizza? If the flowers themselves have a smell it’s overpowered by the fragrance of the leaves), and have a fantastic rest of your week!

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What is a Broadfork, and How Do you Use One?

I’ve had the opportunity to try out a broadfork recently, and here are a few things I learned:

  • They actually work in hard, clay soil
  • They do not get rid of weeds, but they loosen up the soil around the roots so they’re easier to pull
  • They’re pretty fun, and once you get a rhythm going you can cover ground at a good pace

Check out my video to see how a broadfork works and for a demonstration of using it in two different soil conditions.

It seems that a broadfork would work very well in conjunction with a layer of mulch (which would eliminate the weeds) and loosen the soil enough for planting. This is something I’d like to try in the future! That would mean planning ahead enough to get a thick layer of mulch laid down this fall and also getting a broadfork of my own. We shall see!

A Broadfork, Onions, and Taters

4/10/16 – 4/24/16 Headlines of the week:

  • Broadfork video fail
  • Planting onions
  • Potato planting experiment
  • Seed orders!!

Jan and Andy lent me their broadfork to try out in my garden and I was on a roll making a video about it but then my equipment got the best of me. Filming is hard when your camera is your phone and your stand consists of a step ladder, a rock, and your Otterbox holster. Anyway, for now a picture will have to suffice. This is a broadfork:

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The broadfork worked well. I was even able to try it in the new garden, which is clay, and hasn’t been mowed or tilled… and it worked rather well! Wasn’t expecting that!

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I planted a bunch (106, in case you care to know) of Wala Wala onions (known for their sweetness) and Jan and Andy gave me their extra Copra (known for their ability to keep for a long time) onion sets so I planted about 50 of those as well.

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And here… this is a small patch of my garden (with my compost contraption in the background) I managed to mulch heavily last fall. I wanted to do the entire garden like this, because as you can see there are no weeds where there is grass/hay/mulch. And the ground underneath is loose and moist. If I would have mulched the entire garden like this, in theory I would have been able to plant without tilling this spring, by pulling the mulch aside for the seeds. That is my ultimate goal. But for now I just have this little triangle of fabulous mulch, and I decided to stick some potatoes in there. I’ve never grown potatoes before, but some advocate using mulch so I decided I’d put them here and see what happens. Since I don’t have a ton of space, I’ll be growing new potatoes. This means I planted the seed potatoes close together (I honestly had no clue how close to plant them, though. Which is why I’m doing this! I’ll find out what I did right and what I did wrong!) and will harvest them before the potatoes are full-size. Another option is to “thin” them by harvesting some new potatoes in order to leave room for the rest to finish out their growth.

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My green onions are finally popping up in the cold frame! I planted them a week or two ago. Since it’s been so warm this past week (in the 70s most days) I’ve been keeping the top off the cold frame so the lettuce doesn’t get bitter from too much heat. If the nights get chilly I’ll cover it back up again, though. So essentially my cold frame is now serving as a raised bed. 2016-04-23 17.27.00

Isn’t the lettuce pretty? I’ll be doing some serious thinning soon, and will probably have enough thinning for a salad.

I’m rather late with this, but this week I also ordered seeds (from High Mowing Organic seeds and Pinetree Garden Seeds) and expect them any time now. Since I won’t be selling much (if any) of my produce this year, I didn’t want to spend a fortune on seeds. But I was pleasantly surprised at the free shipping High Mowing offers and the super low prices at Pinetree! The ones I picked out are also high quality (organic and non-GMO for the most part) and heirloom or open pollinated, since I’d like to try my hand at saving seeds this fall.  With that in mind, the price for seeds is actually more like an investment. I’ll be getting returns in food and profit from selling that food for years to come if I am diligent and do things correctly!