Friday, May 18, 2012

Babies' day out

The new girls are a month old.  Today they went out for the first time in the old chicken tractor.  They will still spend their nights in the house until it warms up a bit more.  It won't be long until they're outside full time.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

After the rain

I spent the morning in the house while it poured out.  Soap was made, bread was made and a knit bag was close to completion.  When the rain stopped I went out to the mailbox and was amazed at the rapid growth in the garden.

The Cascadia sugar snaps are getting tall and flowering.  They are a favorite of ours and one that we never seem to have enough of.

The tomato plants have been in the ground for about a week and have almost doubled in size.  This is an Amish Paste.

Jarrahdale squash are up.  Last year they got over run by the Hubbards.  I'm hoping to get a good crop of them this year. 

It looks like we're going to have our biggest harvest of strawberries yet.  I must get some netting over them to keep the critters away.

I found this little guy on the strawberry blossoms.  I've never seen one before.  Any ideas what it is?

Quick update

One full side of the garden is completed.  The other side is a bit more difficult.  There are some fence posts that I'm having a very difficult time getting out.  It's raining today, but will hopefully get some help and get the whole mess finished this weekend.  Now I'm off to make some soap and bake some bread.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Correcting past mistakes

Once upon a time there was a nice little side lawn.  It had gorgeous green grass and a big bush right smack in the middle.  Along came a crazy gardener who ripped up the pretty grass and made an ever expanding vegetable garden.  The garden got bigger and bigger every year.  One year she decided that it was big enough.  She put in a fence and brick pavers around the edge.  Then the crazy gardener got crazier and added even more garden.  The fence became a problem and the pavers got covered in dirt and weeds.  The pretty side yard had gotten messy and ugly.  So, the crazy gardener decided that she would fix it.

Here in the ugly fairy tale I show you the mess.  On the right is the older part of the garden.  You can just see the pavers that formed the edge and in the back the remaining fence that I'm having a hard time removing.  The cinder blocks on the left are part of the newer garden that I added 3 years ago.  Since then the weeds have gotten crazy and because the fence was in the way, I couldn't get to them properly.  Soil spilled out of the beds and made the problem worse on top of the pavers. 

This is the opposite side of the garden.  You now have the older part of the garden on your left.  Here I've removed the pavers and ripped out the grass and mess.  There is still so very much to do, but it is a start.  The end goal is to have all the pathways leveled so that I can get the lawnmower in.  I've considered putting hardware cloth down and piling several inches of wood chips in the paths, but have a feeling it would end up being a bigger headache in the end.  I welcome any feedback on that.  My worry is that the weeds will come up through the cloth and chips and create a problem. 

Some of the pavers are being moved to the back of the garden.  On the left are bushes that separate my garden from my neighbor's yard.  This is in the older part of the garden.  The new raised beds are making it much easier for me to keep up with things.  I'm hoping the pavers will keep the weeds at bay a bit.  They don't get any traffic and spillage from the beds is at a minimum here.  We'll see how it goes.  I have other plans for the remaining pavers that I'll show you another time.  I'm hoping to have a much prettier garden in the near future.  It's always been a joy for me, but it would be nice to have it look as nice as possible since it is so very visible. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Easy pickings

Adding perennials to your garden is one of the easiest ways to amp up production, while reducing your work.  The garden version of 'set it and forget it'.   The added bonus is that they are generally quite pretty as well.  Perennials can be the perfect addition to that floral border.  Since they will come back every year, make sure that you like where they will be and that they won't interfere with anything else.  Some of mine are in the main veggie garden, while some are in flower borders.

Some of the easiest perennials to add are herbs.  Things like mint, oregano, chives, sage and thyme will do well just about anywhere.  The only warning is that mint can get quite large.  Many plant mint in planters, or you can plant it into a container that then gets mostly buried in the ground.  By leaving an inch of the pot above the ground, it will discourage the mint from spreading so rapidly.  If you love mint and use it a lot, just plant it in the ground and enjoy its rapid spreading.

My neighbors have some gorgeous herbs that they never use.  Every year they allow me to take whatever I want to dry and use throughout the year.

Rhubarb is a classic perennial.  It's beautiful large leaves and red stalks will be with you for years.  It can be divided easily and passed along to other gardening friends as well.  Mine will be made into some rhubarb crisp bars this afternoon.

To go along with that rhubarb, you could plant some strawberries.  Whether in a strawberry pot, or in a bed, strawberries will be one of the most cherished perennials in many gardens.  Every year we wait anxiously for them to ripen.  Most don't make it into the house, but are eaten right in the garden, still warm from the sun.

One of our newer additions is Jerusalem Artichokes.  These beauties can be used raw or cooked.  They grow into 6-8 foot tall mini sunflowers and are absolutely gorgeous by the end of summer.  They can be dug in fall, or you can wait until spring.  When very fresh they have a low glycemic index and are wonderful for those who are sensitive to blood sugar swings.  These also love to spread, so put them in a place that their presence won't be a problem.  Mine are right next to the mailbox in a flower garden along the street.

Garlic and onions can also be a form of perennial.  Garlic can be replanted in the fall and grown for the following year.  I've been planting the same batch of garlic back for 4 years now.  With the addition of potato onions which are a perennial, we will have plenty of our favorite seasonings for years to come.

There are so many other wonderful perennial foods you can add.  This year we'll be adding more blueberries and 2 apple trees.  Fruit trees can be a great addition to any yard.  They are gorgeous in spring when they flower and provide a luscious addition to anyone's home.  You could plant asparagus as well.  We are planning to add it next year along with some grapes.  The best thing about perennials is that you buy and plant them once and then harvest for years.  They're great time and money savers for the busy gardener.

This post will be part of the Homestead Revival Barn hop.
It will also be part of the Morristribe's Homesteader Blog Carnival.
And the How are you trying to beat a tough economy at Retro Momma, Vintage Wife.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Perpetual Onions

Ok, so they're really called Potato Onions or Multiplier Onions, but my name gets to the heart of the matter.  These babies can supply your onion needs for ages.  All this without seeds.  My track record with onion seeds is rather deplorable, so any successful onion without seeds is great in my book.

I got these 18 months ago at a Harvest Fair at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello.   There were tents set up from several places and Southern Seed Savers Exchange had potato onions.  I was a little worried that they wouldn't do well in my New England garden, but figured it was worth a try.  The first year they did well, but not spectacularly.  This year, they seem to have gotten more used to my climate.

The potato onions come as small onion bulbs.  They look much like an onion set from a seed seller.  The difference is that they are planted in the fall like garlic.  They actually work much like garlic.  The bulb is planted in the fall and mulched well.  Over the fall and winter, the bulbs divide and set roots.  By spring, you have multiple bulbs growing from the same place.

In this picture, you can see that it has divided into at least 5 plants.  I'll leave them like this until they start to die back.  They're harvested much like an ordinary onion.  You wait for the leaves to die back and then pull and cure.  The difference being that you save back some of the bulbs for replanting.  Years ago, these onions were the main crop for most families.  They were easy to grow and store.  SSE states that they've had the onions store for over a year, with great flavor.

The onions will send up a flower head.  They need to be pinched off to keep the onion focused on the bulb.  Mine started sending up flower heads in early April, so keep an eye on them.  If allowed to grow, they will form a huge and very pretty seed head.  I didn't realize that I needed to do this last year and many got away from me.

Right now in my garden, I'm trying to grow out enough bulbs to do a large planting this fall.  We probably won't eat many of the ones I'm growing right now.  Next year, if all goes according to plan, we'll have tons of our own onions that have been accustomed to our particular climate.  Since my garlic has been grown here for 4 years now, we should have a great stand of our own garlic and onions for years to come.

I am linking to the Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways and  Homestead Helps.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Ready for planting

Here in Southern New England, we just had what will most likely be our last significant frost.  In my little yard, that was a temp of 27.8 last night.  There were frost and freeze warnings up everywhere.  As a result of our warm spring, there was plenty out there to be affected.  Only time will tell if it affects the fruit trees for the year.

The warmth affected me in smaller ways.  I got anxious to plant and ended up getting my pepper and tomato seedlings started a few weeks earlier than I normally would.  It should all end well as I tend to plant a bit earlier than many in my area.  Our average last frost is May 9th here.  By my records, it has been late April for the past 6 years that I have kept track.  We tend to have a frost warning sometime in the second week of May, but a quick blanket over the tomatoes protects them and the frost has never actually materialized.

My mother has been gardening for as long as I can remember.  Most of that gardening has taken place here.  She plants out around May 15th and so do I.  That gives me a good 2 weeks head start over many, who tend to wait until Memorial Day weekend.

This year, I really need that early start.  My plants are getting tall and leggy.  They were hitting the grow lights, so I had to move them upstairs into the front window.  I'll be ready to start hardening off later this week, when the temps hit the 70s.

We all probably have methods for planting tomatoes.  I like to use crushed egg shells.  Egg shells get saved all year in a bag by my kitchen sink.  As they dry, I crush them up with my hands.  Depending on the time of the year, those shells either go into the compost, or are used for tomato planting.

Tomatoes need calcium for good growth.  Lack of calcium can cause Blossom End Rot.  This is when the tomato looks healthy, except for an area of rot on the bottom.  Uneven watering can cause this as well, but in general it is an inability to get the proper nutrients into the plant.  The egg shells add a slow infusion of calcium into the soil as the season wears on and they break down.

When I plant tomatoes, I dig a good sized hole.  A small handful of crushed egg shells goes into the bottom of the whole, along with a small amount of a balanced fertilizer.  The tomato stem is then stripped of the bottom leaves and it is planted with as much of the stem buried as possible.  The tomato stem will send out roots and give the plant a strong and deep root system.  That deep root system will give your tomatoes a better chance of retrieving nutrients and moisture from deep in the soil.  They will be more resistant to problems due to lack of water.

When the plants have been buried up to their necks, I place a cage, or pole with them to allow for supporting the growing plant.  Lastly, I water them in well.  Watering in a seedling is so important.  Not only does it provide water to the plant, it allows the soil to come in better contact with the roots.  Air pockets in the soil can cause the transplant to fail, so always water thoroughly.   It won't be long until we're celebrating the queen of the garden!

This post will be linking to the Homestead Revival Barn Hop and the Morris Tribe Homestead blog carnival.  Hop on over and check it out.