Friday, May 31, 2013

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Foraging Ramblers

The other day, I got to spend the late morning-early afternoon hours with a couple wonderful friends.  We were off on a ramble--I love that British term for backwoods walkers--in search of the elusive morel mushroom.  Alas, we had no luck finding any morels, or mushrooms of any kind for that matter.  It was a lovely, lovely day for a walk through the fields and woods and such, giant bear ticks notwithstanding.

The lovely ladies--great company, and full of foraging knowledge!

It's a hilly climb, but the view in spring is amazing.

We have plans to revisit these secret apple orchards come fall.

So many beautiful apple blossoms,  but no bees--it was too chilly for them.

It seemed like all the spring ephemeral were out, like this trillium.

We found a couple Jack in the Pulpits, too.

So many blossoms!  I hope they yield oodles of fruit come fall.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

In Vivid Color

I think I've finally settled on what to paint the humble hay hut.  It's a tiny yet functional little hay barn, perfect for holding six bales of hay near the Bunny Barn.  Unfortunately, right now it is rather blah.

Sigh.  See what I mean?

I believe it deserves a makeover.  So I am thinking this for the base color:

And then, these two colors as giant, lovely polka dots:

I think the purple should be the larger polka dot, with the orange serving as a smaller pop of color.  What do you think?


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Jam & Jerusalem

I took a little trip down the YouHole and stumbled across this witty little gem, Jam & Jerusalem.  Village life, British accents, and general life drama are adding up to another great little show from the BBC.  There's lots of episodes, so lucky me, I'll have something to tune into for a while!

Monday, May 27, 2013

"This here's rototiller."

Guess what I'm doing today?

"Somethin' like that."


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bunny Barn, Raised.

After nearly two weeks of start and stop construction, and trips to various hardware stores for paraphernalia,  the new and improved Bunny Barn is complete. (Well, aside from a pair of hinges to hang the door.)  It's a thing of beauty, isn't it?

Even from the side, it is great!

I am loving the new PVCLite roofing--allows shade, but not too hot AND UV resistant!

The overall footprint is 12 feet by 12 feet square, with a maximum height of 8 feet (it slopes down to about 6 1/2 feet in the back to allow for water run-off from the corrugated roofing.  The walls are trellis, which will allow plenty of airflow through the building.  I have Virginia Creeper, a rather rambunctious native vining plant that will grow like mad and hopefully over the walls rapidly, offering more shade and a buffer of sorts to the elements.  I'm not too worried about the rabbits getting wet or cold--those dense fur coats make them impervious to most weather.  They've had a rougher time with the heat of the old barn, now not a worry at all.  In the winter, I'll "sew" custom covers to pop over the backside of the cages with tarp and duct tape to keep snow from blowing in.  They'll be simple, but should block the worst of the wind that we get from time to time here in the wilds of Wisconsin.

The interior is soooooo much more roomy, too!

The girls' side.

The boys' side.
There's enough space to add a couple more big cages, which I'll use for the young kits:  one for bucks, and one for does, to grow up in before being sold or harvested.  It is so spacious and lovely in there!  The rabbits seem so content to be back in safe and cool, airy digs.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Tale from the Garden

I just finished reading this lovely, very French book.  Comprised of a series of lectures rewritten as essays, it's a fun read.  Well, a very literary fun read, spiked with quotes from Pliny.  Tracing the long histories of many common vegetables that grace our tables and grow in the back gardens of the world, it is just fascinating to read.  For example, the cardoon was once more popular than the artichoke, but somewhere in the 13th century, that all changed.  (I have no idea what a cardoon is, but I can't wait to meet it.)  And the conquistadors were much more enamored of the squash than the tomato, which they viewed with grave suspicion.  Don't even get me started on the bean--oh, that wily bean!

So, perhaps you are a bit peckish for a very readable, "smart" book all about vegetables, then this is the book for you.  If nothing else, you might just feel a little filled with a certain je nes sais quoi upon completion.  Ooh la la!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Child Labor

courtesy of
Apparently, the children of the neighborhood have decided that I look like a good boss.

In the past week and a half, I've been approached by three of them (one boy, two girls), asking if maybe I had a job for them?  And would they get money, or not?  And what kind of work would they do, if they did work for me?

I'm not opposed to child labor.  I worked a lot when I was a kid: berry picking in season, odd jobs in the yard, babysitting, working as a farm hand.  Working is good for the soul.  It gives you purpose, and some pocket money.  It is much better than sitting inside, glued to some TV set or video monitor, twitching your thumbs on a control pad of some sort.

However, I do start to feel a bit like Fagin when the under twelve set start coming by in multiples, asking for a job.  Maybe there's a rash of playground gambling debts?

Anyway, I will likely employ one or two of them helping in the gardens this weekend.  The boy lost interest quickly when I mentioned the word "weeding".  "I don't do that," he said hastily, gunning his bicycle and heading for the hills.  It made me wonder what work he would consider doing.  Breaking rocks?  Digging holes?  Delivering mysterious packages to men in dark glasses?  But the two girls seemed delighted at the prospect of helping to pull weeds and plant some seeds.  Maybe I can talk them into raking mulch or turning some compost...or would that be too harsh?  Stinky, perhaps, but do-able?  And then there's the question of how much to pay them.  Two dollars an hour?  Three?  That would have made me happy as a ten year old, getting paid to play in the dirt.  I never know with kids these days, inflation and all.  It all depends on if they actually come and work or not.  No pay for loafing about, that's for sure.

I suppose I'll have to whip up something for break time.  Instead of Dickensian gruel, I think I'll go for oatmeal cookies (without raisins).

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The 2013 To-Do List

As Memorial Day weekend approaches, the summer is nearly upon us.  This means, cool summer evenings, bright sunny days, thunderstorms and fireflies.

Yay, fireflies.  So much nicer than their counterpart, the June bug, giant brown beetle of magnetic caught-in-hair properties.

Bleah.  June bugs.

With the summer, comes the To-Do List.  I know I'm not alone in making one, most people love a list.  I particularly like looking back and seeing what I accomplished.  Usually, I find I've done more than I thought.

This summer is particularly challenging, as I am having ankle repair surgery in mid-July.  This will leave me on crutches, in a cast, for six long weeks.  No walking, no gardening, no driving.  Ack.  The forced sedentariness is already making me twitchy!

So, I am attempting to make a slightly less ambitious to-do list for this particular summer.  Here it is, in all its glory:

Summer 2013 To-Do List

1. Till up all gardens--front and back
2. Plant perennial vegetables in back garden by fence (Good King Henry, horseradish, Jerusalem Artichoke, Walking Onions)
3. Finish planting out garden starts and seeds
4.  Mulch everything with rabbit poo and compost
5. Get the hose connection pipe fixed, again.  Change to PVC?
6.  Plant Virginia creeper along wall of new Bunny Barn--how to train up?
7. Trim the rosebushes in front.
8.  Dig out and replant flower beds in front.
9.  Schedule work on root cellar project--needs to be done before October!
10.  Move chickens out to fields in tractors.
11.  Figure out care coordination for chickens in the tractors.
12.  Hire lawnboy again for the summer--same one?  Different guy?
13.  If no lawnboy, look into hiring a sheep or two every week.
14.  Decide which rabbit to keep, and organize rest for sale at swap in June.
15.  Schedule chicken harvest date in August.
16.  Plant community garden plot.
17.  Go through spare plant starts & organize for Plant Swap in June.
18.  Water in the hoop house?
19.  Plant in hoop house.
20.  Rain barrels:  this year or next?
21.  Pigeons:  this year or next? 
22.  Figure out sprayer and mix up Pyola concentrate.
23.  Mole problem:  how to control?  Dang critters digging up everything!
24.  Clean out Little Coop & prep for new chickens.
25.  Buy new roosting bars for Little Coop & hang them.
26.  Need four more wren houses for top of back fence.  Local maker?

There's likely more to do, but this looks good for now.  With any luck, half of it will get done this weekend!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Thanks, Old Girls.

All good lives come to an end, and I like to think that all my animals have good lives here on the Farmlette.  The ladies in the Little Coop have had four glorious years, filled with grass, and bugs, and plenty of delicious left-overs from the kitchen.  Today, they move along to make space for some new girls to take over laying duties. 

That is code speak for: Today is Harvest Day.

I know, some of you are shuddering out there to read this.  How can she eat them?, you wonder.  Well, the fact is, for all its diminutive size, this is a working farm of sorts.  The chickens, while I love them and wouldn't consider not having them around, are livestock--not pets.  I knew when I started raising chickens and keeping layers that eventually, they'd have to be culled and replaced with new recruits.  Once a chicken reaches a certain age (about 3 or 4 years old), they stop laying.  And a hen that doesn't lay is a hen that isn't really helping much with the productivity of my very small (and therefore necessarily very intensively managed) operation.

My job is to make sure that the Ladies lead healthy, happy lives until the end, and that the end (when it comes) it done humanely and safely and with as little stress as possible.  If I had the space, I would process them here, but as it is, I have a wonderful facility run by good folks just a few miles up the road.  They do a good job, and I appreciate the respect that they show the chickens in the harvesting process.  It isn't an easy thing to do, raising animals from chicks through adulthood and eventually ushering in their death, but it is a good, complete cycle.  It isn't a way of life for everyone, but for me, it works with my philosophy on being intimately connected with my food and being as hands-on as possible in all aspects of life on the Farmlette.

I'll miss their quirky personalities, to be sure, but I will love the fantastic chicken and dumplings that will result from their demise.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Glorious Fennel!

Thus far, my foray into growing my newest favorite vegetable has been smooth sailing.  I was gifted free extra seeds from a friend, and every single one sprouted.  Over the past couple of weeks, they have grown and grown, becoming a veritable forest of fennel.

Have you ever seen a more beautiful sight?  Sigh.

Of course, now comes the tricky part.  I've never actually grown fennel.  I've never seen fennel growing in a garden, except on TV in my pal Hugh Fernsley-Wittingsall's River Cottage garden.  And everyone knows that is helped along by an army of minions.

This leads me to be concerned:  what if fennel requires an army of minions to be grown successfully?  Eeek.  I have no minions.

I need some minions.

Lucky for me, I have a slew of gardening books, hopefully filled with helpful advice on how to grow fennel, even if you don't have an army of minions at your disposal.

The first one I checked, Step-by-Step to Organic Vegetable Growing by Samuel Ogden (circa 1971), contains absolutely no information about fennel.  It's not even listed in the index.

This is not a promising start.

The second one I checked, Down-To-Earth Vegetable Gardening Know-How, featuring Dick Raymond (copyright 1975) claims to have information on growing fennel on page 123.  But, upon turning to that page, I discovered that it skips from "endive" to "garlic".  No "fennel" section to be found.

Apparently, the 70s were not big for fennel.

So I turned to my bible, The Encyclopedia of Country Living by Carla Emery.  Lo and behold, there is a small section on "Florence fennel" (as opposed to the herbal fennel variety, which has a whole page to itself).  Apparently, fennel is one vegetable that Carla can't stand.  There is next to no information on how to grow it, aside from the remark that it is "an easy-to-grow" perennial and advice to "cover the base of the plant with dirt to blanch; this makes the flavor milder".

Oh, Carla.  Really, did everyone in the 1970s have such a prejudice against fennel?

Finally, I pulled out my copy of Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, from 1998.  Twenty years after the 70s, and finally fennel has come into its own.  There's a three (three!) page section all about fennel, both wild and sweet--I'm growing the sweet variety.  There's planting instructions, companion planting recommendations (apparently, never near bush beans or tomatoes), and ideas for using all parts of the plant, beyond cooking and adding raw to salads. It even has information on harvesting the seeds, so you can grow more fennel the next year.

Take that, fennel hating people of the 70s!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Trade & Barter

One of the best things about having good friends who garden is being able to trade things back and forth.

For example, I have a surplus of rabbit poo.  I have an incredible amount of rabbit poo, actually.  It is a great thing to have around, the garden loves it, it composts down in no time flat, and it isn't too stinky.  And when you have extra rabbit poo, other people who garden wan some of it for their garden.  So they come, and take away a couple of loads, and in exchange you get some of this:

Free Red Latham raspberry plants.  Once they fill in a little, I think they'll make a nice screen to the side of the chicken yard under the box elders in front. It shouldn't take them long.

After all, they're planted in compost and mulched in rabbit poo.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Music & Motivation

Most of the time, when I am out in the garden, I listen to the birds and the sound of the neighborhood: kids playing in the distance, the wind in the trees, and behind it all the low rumble of the Hay River rushing over the dam at the end of town. 

Every once in a while, a particularly challenging gardening task calls for some serious tune-age.  Digging out quack grass, tunneling a drainage trench--not fun, necessary to do, and they need some music to garden to.

I may have found a new weeding anthem:

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Prickly Business

The black raspberries are delicious (and I can hardly wait for them to ripen this July!) but they are an unruly bunch.  In order to tame them, I've replanted them and trained them between parallel ropes.  But still, they require pruning and whacking back every year--something I try to do before they start growing new leaves.

This year, due to the heavy snow almost up until the spate of 90 degree weather we've been enjoying the past couple of days, I didn't quite make that cut off.  So yesterday, I pruned off all the over growth and endured the scratches and pricks caused by the errant canes.  It looks much tidier now, but desolate like a cut down forest.  Definitely not picture worthy (unless you like the look of half-chopped sticks with a few green leaves), so let us gaze instead at the berries from last year.  Hopefully, I haven't killed off this year's crop with late pruning!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Post-Apolocalyptic Fiction, Anyone?

I've been on an audiobook kick recently.  It all started with a Cold Antler Farm Read-Along, with some discussion about a book called World Made By Hand.  Set in what is referred to as the "not so distant future", it's the story of a small town in upstate New York, cut off from everything now that the government has collapsed, oil is gone and electricity is no more.  Everyone walks everywhere, not that you go much further than five miles or so from home, and bartering for food and other trade goods is the new norm.  No more cash money, it's all about "silver": dimes, nickels, quarters, half dollars, and the occasional real gold doubloon.  Horses are the new hot ticket to transportation, and if you do someone a truly big favor, they gift you a mule. 

I want someone to gift me a mule, dang it.

I don't particularly want to give up my creature comforts just yet, but I do find some degree of satisfaction in listening to these tales as I drive my giant, ridiculously gas guzzling truck hither and yon, and realizing that I can do a lot of the things that the characters in the story have struggled to learn in the years following the collapse of civilization.  Apparently, in those future times, a girl who can raise the chicken, kill it, dress it, and cook it on a wood fired stove is extremely desirable.  Throw in a knowledge of sewing, knitting, weaving baskets, and fishing, and you have yourself a veritable goddess.

(Who knew it would take the economic and social collapse of the world to make me a hot commodity? Ha ha!)

Anyway, I don't know that I quite agree with everything the author has to say about this grim yet satisfying future.  There are some interesting sci-fi elements in there, with hints of the paranormal, and a rather telling social commentary about large religious cult-like entities.  It is enough twists and turns in the weaving of multiple story lines that is keeping me interested in this second novel, The Witch of Hebron.  The first novel told the story of one character, but I am liking how there are at least six different storylines being played out in this second novel.  It really builds the richness of small town life to hear so many different voices in a story, know what I mean?

I bought myself the audiobook to download onto my iPod, but I'm sure you could find downloadable options through your library, or audiobook on CD or real book options as well.  (I tracked down the CDs, but they were all scratched and horrible, and my library didn't offer the book as an audio download yet.)  It's a fine sci-fi tale, and it does make you think about what it might be like if we do run out of gas, or something terrible and terroristic happens...but mostly, it's a good story!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Garden Girls

One of the best things about volunteering in the Community Garden is encouraging other folks to come out and play in the dirt.  A couple days ago, I got to do that with several young women from the local high school.  It was the rescheduled reschedule of the rescheduled Community Service Day (we had so many dang snow days it got rescheduled three different times!), and I was lucky enough to get some helpers in the garden.

They learned how to use a measuring tape, pound stakes, and tie off surveyor's ribbon to mark off the beds.

Some beds took four tries to get them relatively straight, but hey, we got it done.

And then they learned to work the turf.

I think they had a pretty good time, don't you?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Making the Bed

After my strawberry bed succumbed to the weeds, and my original blueberry bed died last summer and the weeds took over that bed as well, it was time to do some serious clearing up.

No more weeds!  Whee!
Starting with this revamped, blank slate, it was time to plant the new strawberry crowns I ordered.  I opted for Honeoye, which grew very well last time (before they were strangled by quack grass and Creeping Charlie) and came back year after year (well, until last year--Year #5--when they'd had enough of the marauding weeds).

The trick to planting crowns is to dig the hole deep enough that the roots can go straight in, not bending up around the sides, and you want to keep the roots as long as possible.  It feels a little silly, as the crowns are so small, but they need to spaced about 12 to 18 inches apart, as they will grow enormously and spread to fill the entire bed.  For my roughly four foot-by-four foot beds, I planted six crowns per bed--which may actually be a little too close.  Adding a nice layer of compost to the planting bed gives the new plants a head start, too.

Not very impressive yet, but it's the start to a new crop of strawberries!
Mulching is important at this stage, as it helps with both weed control and with protecting the delicate crowns from late frosts common in the early spring around these parts.

All tucked under a cozy layer of straw, with any luck my new little strawberry plants will start peeking out with fresh green leaves.  For this summer, I'll pick off any blossoms that appear, so that the plants put all their energy into growing a strong root system and establishing in their new digs.  But next year, watch out:  it will be strawberries all over the place!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Potatoes, Two Ways.

I've decided to try a couple methods of planting potatoes this year.  After last year's disastrous drowning (resulting in rotted potatoes and the loss of my entire crop), I kind of like having a "back up" supply of potatoes.

I'll likely wind up with far too many, but that isn't all bad.  Potatoes are always good for trade, or giving away, or gifting to friends.

Potatoes, the next hot Christmas gift...not.

Anyway, my first method is a bit on the traditional side: planted in a well-composted raised bed, mulched with three to four inches of rotten straw.

Eyes up and nestled in the rich earth, this seed potato is ready to grow.

This well-mulched bed has two pound of seed potatoes planted in it. 
My second method is a little less common:  galvanized garbage cans, riddled with drainage holes, and filled with a combination of rotted straw and compost.

These are the last of my winter store of potatoes, which are very happy to be planted!

Once situated in a deep well of compost, the seed potatoes are covered with straw.

A tidy line up, filled with about a pound and a half of seed potatoes.
I've planted two varieties this year.  One, my favorite, is an old variety called German Butterball.  They are yellow like Yukon Gold, but taste even more delicious with a wonderful texture and are good for frying, baking and mashing.  The second variety, well, I'm not sure what it is.  They are the last of the white potatoes I bought last fall from my little farming family at the Market--thin skinned, nice waxy texture, stored well.  It's probably a Nokato white or something, but I figured as they lasted until planting time, they'd make a good container experiment.

Everything will look much more impressive once the potato greens start poking up!  As the plants grow, I'll pile a bit more compost and straw around them, and fill the galvanized bins a little more.  Hopefully, come September, I'll have a bumper crop of potatoes to last me through the winter.

Monday, May 13, 2013

That Awkward Stage

Not quite fuzzy, not quite feathered...

growing into their feet and combs...

they aren't chicklets anymore!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Prep Prep and More Prep

The weather yesterday was anything but conducive to gardening.  It was fairly depressing, actually.  I had wanted to spend the whole day outside in the garden, but it was too chilly, snowing and hailing and cold blowing wind, so I stayed in and did a couple projects, instead.

Making the most of seed potatoes, important when you've only bought two pounds.

Starting winter squash, to see if I can't improve my yield in our cool summers.

Another birdhouse for the back fence, realizing another use for the Lucky Penny.
I also managed to clear out the broken windows from my cold frames and plant my early cabbages in them, topping them with ultra-inexpensive old storm windows I picked up for a couple dollars at the local ReStore shop, and unpacked my new fig trees from their giant shipping box.  I am so excited to try growing them!  I chose two different varieties:  Violette de Bordeaux (a lovely dark purple skin with crimson flesh) and Latarula (a pale green skinned variety with honey-gold flesh).  Both are recommended for cooler climates, and hopefully will produce many many figs (eventually).

There is so much to do, but unless the weather starts behaving like spring rather than winter, it can't get done.  It isn't easy being patient when all I want to do is get out in the garden!