Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Now We're Getting Somewhere

Things are really moving now. Although a frost over last weekend (while I was in Las Vegas and Alex was in Ohio) did kill our early girl tomato, the rest of the place is looking quite alive. The chickens are so much happier now that they can venture outdoors more. They are also eating less food, which is nice.

This might be my fav - yes, that is our old Christmas tree, sitting behind the blooming azalea. The Azalea also hides our compost pile, so it isn't getting trimmed any time soon.

The peonies are poking out of the ground at the rate of about a foot a week. Buds are forming! I can't wait for the hot pinks and baby pinks to shower our yard.

In the raised beds, we are trying something different this year. Last year our greens were devoured by cabbage worms, and I hated spraying them. Now we're trying row cover to let them get established before we expose them to the little grubs. Water and light still comes through, and a lot of our kale overwintered, so we are only a week or so away from our first harvest!!

Hardy herbs are rocking, despite my refusal to weed them properly.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bunny - Chicken Playdate

While we weeded out the overgrown rose garden this morning, we thought we'd let Winston and the girls meet each other. We set up the pen in the yard, and then brought Winston out first. He was excited, but also a little nervous. Since he's always been a house bunny, I'm not sure he'd ever seen outside before when he wasn't in a carrier.

He ran around, didn't try eating anything, but did scratch a little in the dirt. Then we added the chickens to the mix. I stood guard, in case one of them tried to peck him. To my surprise, he seemed unconcerned about the chickens, but they tried to avoid him as much as possible.

I guess this makes sense -- Winston used to live in a pet store with a cat, dog, guinea pig, hen, and rooster to play with. He's used to other creatures. The chickens, however, freak out when a sparrow finds its way into their pen.

All went peacefully and the chickens, ahem, aerated our yard quick a bit, which they haven't had a chance to do in months.

The Yard is Waking Up!

Plum seedling, now with little buds!
We've already planted a few new seeds in the yard (vit and snap peas), though nothing has come up yet. Well, not nothing. I'm mostly convinced this tiny shoot (below) is vit and not a weed. Mostly.
A weed? Or the first sprout of the season. I vote the later.

But the plum tree has buds, the rhubarb (2 of 3) are emerging from the ground, and our experimental kale overwintered beautifully. Tomorrow I'll do another sprinkling of lettuce and other greens and the season is underway.  We need lots more dirt (maybe delivered?) and two more raised beds built if we want to double our space from last year to this.
Garlic, planted in fall, shooting up in the mulched raised bed.
PS: yes, all those little round bits are Winston's contribution to the garden this year. Bunny poop is the only animal poop you can add directly to the soil. It is nutritious, but not so filled with nitroge that is hurts the plants.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Thinking Ahead - A Year of Our Diet

So I want to preface this post by saying that I have NO PLANS to eat only the food we grow in our yard. But I do like puzzles, so I've compiled a list of what I think we could produce from our yard between April and April if we really pushed it into crazy mode.

The following list is made of things we tried to grow last year or are trying to grow this year. The starred ones worked well.

*Potatoes 2lbs a day x 52 weeks = 104lbs; this year we are trying blue, red, and white. Assuming one of these varieties fails, it's still possible to get 20-30 lbs of potatoes from a single stack.

Cabbage 1 head a week x 52 = 52 heads; this is great for kraut, it lasts a long time in cellar storage, has tons of vitamin C, and our bunny loves it. The big problem we couldn't grow it last year! The cabbage worms ate it, and it didn't get big enough to make a head before the weather turned hot. Plus, it takes up a TON of space.

Broccoli 1 crown a week x 52 = 52 crowns; broccoli freezes really well, which makes it a great option. However, we had the same problem we did with the cabbage. We only netted 2 crowns last year, and that wasn't until late fall. We need to get advice on how to make brassicas happen.

*Spinach AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, ideally 1 lb a week x 52 = 52 lbs; it freezes well, and we eat a lot of it. It grew really well last year, but we only planted like 6 plants. It's a cut and come again plant, but we still ate it all, so couldn't freeze any.

*Lettuce 1 lb a week for 12 weeks = 12lbs; tasty, exciting in spring, but doesn't last well. However, it comes up early, so it's great to interplant with garlic or onions, or can be pulled before the tomatoes are ready to go it.

Vit (Corn Salad) 1lb a week for 24 weeks = 24lbs; this one is new this year, but is endorsed by cold weather gardeners as the only green that truly prefers cold weather.

*Kale AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE; 1 lb a week x 52 weeks = 52 lbs of kale. Freezes well, filled with nutrients essential to vegheads, delicious, and grows in cold weather.

Collards .5lbs a week x 52 weeks = 26 lbs; a nice alternative to Kale, but not quite as healthy.

*Arugula .5lb a week x 12 weeks = 6 lbs; a short season crop, but adds a peppery interest to early salads.

*Carrots 4 a weeks x 52 wks = 208 carrots; Our bunny loves them, and they keep really well (you can even leave them in the ground.) In winter, this would be a staple. Plus there are lots of different varieties and they are really sweet, which would be good since there would be few sweets in this diet.

*Radishes 4 a week x 24 weeks = 96; makes the salads interesting in spring and fall; pickles well.

**Snap/Sugar Peas 1 lb a week x 52 weeks = 52 lbs; best snack food in the world, freezes well. I think this goal would be possible if we gave them enough real estate. The deer decimated our pole beans last year and we still got 10 or so lbs from 2 square feet.

*Edamame 1/4lb a week x 52 weeks = 13lbs; I'd love to have more than this, because they are high in protein, delicious, and there are so many ways to cook them. You can even let them dry on the vine so they keep. Unfortunately, more than about 13 lbs of bean is out of the scope of our yard. In an ideal world, we'd have 2 lbs a week of these or more.

**Green/Wax/Purple Beans 1 lb a week x 52 weeks = 52 lbs; delicious raw or cooked; freezes nicely; substantial enough to be the center of a meal.

*Drying Beans 1/4lb a week x 52 weeks = 13lbs; See edamame entry.

Rutabaga 30; would be handy in winter, but I'd be SO uninterested in summer. They are huge, so one is more than a lb.

Beets 1 lb a week x 52 weeks = 100 beets, roughly. Essential for winter. Also sweet.

*Turnips 1 lb a week x 52 weeks = 150 turnips, roughly. So tasty. Like a better-for-you potato. Lasts almost as well; can be grown quickly in spring and fall.

Corn AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE (which isn't a ton.) Ideally 100 ears to eat fresh or freeze, another 20 ears dried for popcorn (we try to grow a variety that can be used for both since we don't have the space for more than one because they have to be 100 feet apart.) = 60 stalks. Last year the stalks mysteriously died when the corn was still tiny, so this could be tough.

**Tomatoes 4 lbs a week x 52 wks = 208 lbs; They grow well, freeze, can be canned, are great for snacking, and are my favorite food. A necessity for chili, enough said. No problem getting this volume. I had 45 lbs of tomatoes from a single plant last year. Yes, it was an aberration, but 25 plants should do this no prob.

**Peppers 5 gallons hot, 10 gallons sweet; I think of peppers in gallons, since that was how I stored them last year. I think this is also viable. 10 sweet bell plants of different varieties, and three hot pepper plants should make this happen.

*Eggplant 10 total; I don't love eggplant and it doesn't store well, but it's a nice break from potatoes.

Garlic a clove a week x 52 weeks = 52 cloves. This would be no prob to grow (I currently have 25 cloves sprouting I think) but it might be a struggle to store in such a way that it lasted all winter. Then again, I could always freeze it minced. Or can in the pressure canner.

Onions 2 a week x 52 weeks = 104 onions. I struggled with onions last year. You have to find the varieties that can grow in the amount of sun you have, and start each little one under a grow light. This year, I'll go with sets.

Cucumbers 50 lbs; fresh eating, pickling, and sauces. We were drowning in cucumbers last year and we had 3 plants. Not a prob.

Sunflower (seeds) 20 lbs; This diet is very low in fat thus far, so seeds would really help with calories. The kind of flower we bought says you can get almost a pound of seeds from a flower, but finding space for 20 sunflowers might be tough. We were thinking at the row ends of the corn.

Squash: 104 lbs; stores well, calorically dense.

Melon: 10 lbs


Rhubarb 10 lbs; a pipe dream for our baby plants, but they are emerging from the ground, so eventually this would be viable.

Asparagus 6 lbs; I think our asparagus crowns are dead, but perhaps not. In any case, this would be essential if only from a psychological perspective if we were growing our own food.

Raspberries 12 pints for jam making, 12 pints for eating and freezing. Not viable from our one sad plant, but eventually if we got them to grow on the edge of the property, would be possible.

*Blueberries 12 pints for eating and freezing for pancakes

Goji berries 2 gallons dried, a few pints fresh. It's a super food, but we only have one plant, so this is already way out of reach.

Wintergreen berries 2 pints, for a nice autumn snack or crumble

Honey berries 12 pints to eat and put in pancakes or jam

Apples 52 lbs. Our 4-variety tree might one day produce this, but that's a long way off. If we get one apple this year, I'm ecstatic.

Plums 20 lbs. They freeze, they make good jam, they are a great snack, and the chickens love them a lot.

Strawberries 4 pints for jam and 12 pints for snacking



Animal Products:

**Eggs 2 a day = roughly 700. This is no prob. In an ideal scenario, we'd each get 2 a day, but that'd mean 2 more chickies.

I was feeling pretty good about this, because I was thinking how much of this stuff we usually eat a week, not considering that we supplement this with bread, cheese, and grains, not to mention processed soy and the like. But when I added it all up, what would our caloric intake look like for a week? Let's just say we'd be very thin.

500 calories from potatoes, 560 from eggs, 400 from other root veggies,  210 lbs from squash, 300 calories from greenbeans or snap beans, 200 from apples, 100 from other fruit and berries, 100 from spinach, 100 from raw greens, 350 from tomatoes, 700 calories dried beans or edamame, 200 other green veggies, 100 cabbage, 400 sunflower seeds, 300 corn = 4520 calories.

Yup, not going to cut it. And the above numbers really stretch the capacity of our yard if we want variety. Good thing the zombie apocalypse isn't here. I think Leningrad under siege was eating about this much, 500 calories a day, and that didn't go well, as we all know.

If we were ever in this situation, we'd use virtually all of the yard for potatoes and green or soy beans. It'd be boring, but we'd do better survival-wise. For us now, this would work well if we could supplement with sugar, flour, quinoa, rice, and dried beans. Which, of course, we can and do.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Of Broody Hens and Pink Mold

Last week we were worried Desi was sick or injured. She wouldn't leave the coop and insisted on sitting in the nesting box all day. Alex and I both had work all day, so we didn't really confirm that anything was really wrong until the following morning, when we found Desi guarding FOUR eggs under her chest. Oh no, a broody hen!

We put ice cubes under her and stole all the eggs. She looked miserable, but didn't budge. Then we isolated her in the run. She flapped around, and tried her best to get back into the coop or rejoin her fellow chickens. I felt like the meanest chicken owner in the world. But 10 hours later, when I tested to see if she was cured, she pried the door to the coop open with her beak (!!!) and went right back to sitting in the nesting box in less than 2 minutes. The poor girl had to sleep outside for 2 nights to cure her motherly inclination. Thankfully it was warm. Yesterday we let her go to bed with the rest of the chickens and, finally, she didn't try to hatch any eggs. Phew!

Broody hens are tricky because they are so single minded. She didn't eat or drink anything unless she was isolated and didn't have anything else to do. If she had access to the nesting box, she'd just have sat there until she died of dehydration, since those eggs will never hatch. Broody hens can also be mean to other chickens, and keep them from getting to the nesting box. Farm wisdom says to cool down their bodies (hence the ice cubes) and isolate them until they forget about egg hatching. The poor girl spent all afternoon out in the rain yesterday since she had to be separated in the pen, and the pen has no roof. She looked like a drowned cat.

We're also struggling with seed starting this spring. The potting mix I bought from Home Depot is the worst. It's like oil -- it doesn't so much mix with water as resist it. So the self watering container isn't doing a lot. The seedlings we started in a different mix have sprouted, but now there is the weird pink mold stuff on the outside of the containers. I need to try to transplant them into larger containers, but I worry that the root system isn't established enough to take that kind of trauma. Le sigh. Worst case scenario is we focus on the direct seed plants the most and buy seedlings for tomatos, peppers, and chard. Worse things have happened.