Thursday, February 26, 2015

Go, Germination Station!

Check it out--only four days, and my watercress seeds have germinated.  I love my old dead freezer-turned-germination cabinet.  It's a miracle, I tell you.

Also, I apparently am having great success thus far with the 'cress germination rate.  Oh my...there's a lot of them in there, isn't there?  Whee.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Skånsk Blommehöna

I've gotten a few inquiries asking for more details about Swedish Flower Hens, and why I got interested in them, so I thought I'd take some time to share the details of my latest adventure in chickening.  First, some information about the breed.

From Southern Virginia Poultry: "Domestic chickens were introduced to Sweden about 2000 years ago, brought to the country by traders, settlers and even Viking marauders. Today it is unknown what or how many varieties of chickens were brought to Sweden’s shores in those early days, but that unknown mix of birds propagated over the next two-thousand years, developing into what are now considered the country’s native breeds. The Swedish Flower Hen is a landrace breed. This means that the breed developed naturally over hundreds of years. As a Darwinist creation, human intervention and selective breeding never played a role in the development of the breed. Chicks hatched from random pairings of the strongest, hardiest birds in each flock to create a genuinely robust breed of chicken. The Swedish Flower Hen or Skånsk blommehöna, developed in the southern part of Sweden over the last 500 years. As the weather is generally mild in these areas providing favorable conditions for the development of the breed, the Swedish Flower Hen became the largest of Sweden’s native breeds. Farmers considered it a dual purpose chicken, favored for both its ability as an egg layer and for its meat....Named for its colorful, spotted plumage, Skånsk blommehöna literally translates to “bloom hen.” The white-tipped feathers make the birds look like a field of blooming flowers. The base color of the birds can be black, blue-gray, reddish-brown, off-white, red or yellow...the breed began to fade out in the late 1800’s with the introduction of imported chicken breeds bred specifically for high egg production or greater meat yield. By the mid 1900’s, the Swedish Flower Hen was a rarity in the country of its creation"

Fascinating story, isn't it?  They haven't been in the US for too long (Greenfire Farms imported them in 2010) but have gained in popularity steadily.  It's not hard to see why, as they are both beautiful and hardy.  I love the diversity of colors that come naturally to the breed.  The idea of keeping a naturally prone to taking care of themselves chicken is very appealing to me.  With luck, and a sturdy NoCrow collar, I'll have a self-sustaining flock which rears its young, lays plenty of eggs for me with some to share, and provides meat for the table.  It may take a couple of years to get to that level, but it will happen.  I can feel it.

Now, as to how I discovered them.  I believe it was a blog post by Jenna Woginrich where she mentioned getting some really rare, interesting chickens from one of her sponsors, the aforementioned Greenfire Farms.  And being a fan of chickens, I was immediately inspired to follow her links and read more about them, and one thing led to another and I decided that someday, oh yes someday, those Swedish Flower Hens would be mine.  Shortly after that, I randomly met a woman from Springbrook who was starting a flock, and we made a handshake deal on the spot that when she decided to sell hatching eggs I would buy some from her.  Then, there was a divorce (hers), the flock was sold (wah) and sold again, and again, and again, and I continued to try to track them down for the past five years.  I've already mentioned that I found them, only to have them evaporate again a month ago.  

Never let it be said that I lack patience, or persistence.  Those birds will be MINE, dammit.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Great Virtual Marketplace

When it comes to online shopping, it often boils down to a bit of luck and research to find what you want.  When it comes to online shopping for hatching eggs, it can be a scary place.  The interwebs are rife with people dealing in eggs, who aren't exactly selling what they claim to be (consistently, eBay seems to be the worst place for egg buying validity) and tales of woe from people who invested in rather expensive, rare eggs and wound up with traditional barnyard mixtures.  Please don't take this as a diatribe about how awful the egg selling industry is, but man, a few bad apples really does spoil the bushel for the rest of us, don't they?

Luckily, I discovered BackyardChickens, the online joint for chicken information and chicken seller-buyer meet-ups.  After my relatively local handshake deal for my coveted Swedish Flower Hen eggs evaporated, I was lucky enough to find Saskia of Blue House Farm who, thus far, seems absolutely wonderful.  Every email I've sent has been promptly answered, she emailed straight away with the shipping information (the eggsies are coming! the eggsies are coming!), and her reviews are excellent.  A quick browse of the website reveals that those who sell on the site are highly scrutinized by purchasers AND the website gurus, and consumer confidence is quite high.

While shipping eggs in the mail is fraught with concerns (xrays and shipping drops and cold temps, oh my!), it really helps when you can't find a local connection to at least find a reputable online source.  If you're in the market for hatching eggs, I highly recommend visiting BackYardChickens and doing a quick search.  There's so many great breeds of chickens out there, and this seems to be THE spot to get connected with a seller.

(Incidentally, I get no kick-backs from this site, the seller I purchased from, or any affiliates.  I'm just one happy consumer right now.  With luck, my eggs will arrive in good order and then incubation can begin--huzzah!)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Getting Ready for Littles

With my hatching eggs coming later this week, I've got the incubator prewarming.  I learned last year that it does take a little while to reach temperature, and stabilize at the recommended 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  The manufacturer directions say 6-8 hours, but I found that it took about 24-ish to really get consistent.  So, it's plugged in and waiting for those eggies to arrive in plenty of time.

One thing that does impair my set-up is that the only place for it is in my "spare room", which is really a glorified hallway.  The bathroom is off it, and runs rather cool, and then the other three entrances all face the doors to the house: one in the kitchen, and one to the back door.  After muttering and dealing with a room that has temperature fluctuations, I've come up with a relatively ingenious plan.
Simple double-folded sheets, hung from tension rods and spring clip rings across the doorways.  Inside the room, I'll be turning on the electric baseboard heater (which I never use except for this purpose) to keep the temperature in the contained area around 65-70 degrees.  While I can't do much about the stairwell rising air to the loft area, I think by covering up the doors and placing a little heater in the room should help a bit.  Ideally, if the room is around 70, the incubator should have an easier time maintaining and keeping the desired temperature...and I should, in turn, get a better hatch rate with healthy little chicks.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Great Cress Experiment

My watercress seeds arrived on time from Fedco Seeds, and I decided it was time to start the Great Experiment.  Once the little plants are established, with healthy roots, I plan to transfer them to an aerated bucket system and grow them in water (which is their preferred medium), but until then, they'll live in rather boggy seed starter mix.  I made use of an old salad mix container (they make perfect little greenhouses) and a dollar store tub, which makes a great little "pond" for my cress starter to live in.

After soaking the seed starter mixture for several hours, making sure it was very saturated, I sowed the very fine seeds.
They are very fine, much like carrot seeds, and I have lots...which is good, because I may just kill some of these off before I have success!  It looked like they had about 80% germination rating on the packet, so I guess its good to have extras in case they don't do so great in that regard, either.
A light layer of vermiculite to hold the seeds in place, and off they went into the Germination Station.
With any luck, in a week or so, I should have little green seedlings started.  God speed, little watercresses!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

They're Up!

After a short nine days in the Germination Station, the onion and leeks have sprouted and are well on their way.  I am so pleased.
The Giant Musselburgh leeks are doing well--I sowed them much more thinly than I did the onions, but then again, I use far more onions than I do leeks.
The onions are so very very happy.  I don't usually grow hybrid seeds, but I do love Copra onions.  I purchase the seed from Fedco Seeds every couple of years, and I get an excellent germination rate even in the second and third years from the batch.  They make a lovely long storing yellow onion, and grow so sturdy.  I'll give them a haircut in another day or two, which really thickens up their stems and encourages them to make layers of growth.  It also helps to prevent damping off, which can kill off a whole tray of onion seedlings quickly.

There's nothing quite so lovely in the depths of a February winter than having small growing green things in the house, is there?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Long Weekends are for Sowing

Not that I can strut around in a freshly tilled field like this swank dude of yore, but I can at least sow a few long-day seeds and get them started in my Deluxe Germination Station (aka the dead freezer).  After a week, my leeks and onions have popped up and are ready to move into the light.  Now, it's time to start a few others:

  • Watercress!  Yes, my 'cress seeds are in and I'm ready to try germinating them.  It sounds like if I sow them in saturated soil in the warmth of the Germination Station, I should be able to get little seedlings fairy quickly.
  • Dahlias: I think I'm going to give these an early start, in the hopes of getting a handful of seedlings to pot on into larger and larger pots, and hopefully have a good sized plant to put out after the last frost leaves us.  These are the Mignon mix I picked out from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and I am really excited to give them a try.
  • Lavender: My sad little plants got completely burnt up in the November yard fire (sob) and I need to restart them.  They are quite slow to germinate, and to grow, so I'm starting them early in hopes that I'll have fair sized plants to put out come spring.  Once they go outside, they grow on fairly quickly and happily.  It's just getting them to the right size for transplanting that is the trick.
I'm also spending part of the weekend organizing my plant light shelves, and preheating the incubator to get it up to temperature.  That's right--hatching eggs will be on the way next Monday!  Whee!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Winter Crud

My annual visitation with the winter lung crud has arrived.  Every February, the germs make a quick end-run around my defenses (lots of veg, extra vitamins, and decontamination showers after work) and attach themselves to my poor beleaguered lungs.  All of this leaves me hacking and coughing and spending sleeplessly twitching nights as I deal with large doses of prednisone and albuterol.

It's all good though.  I'll take two hours of sleep if I can breathe more easily, trust me.  Breathing is goooooood.

So while I'm on the mend, there isn't too much happening on the Farmlette.  The Ladies are still on strike--I can't say that I really blame them as we hit another February cold snap--and the Buns are happy in the Bunny Barn, eating some on-sale deliciously local small apples for their dinners.  I've got plans this evening to toss some straw into the Coop, which the ladies will like to play with.

Tomorrow, a giant semi will pull up in front of the house and a huge pallet piled high with mulch will arrive.  Yes, I know.  Mulch in February.  Insanity.  The thing is, Menards is having their Menard Day deals, and one of them was fairly incredible.  Recycled wood mulch (all shredded and lovely) on sale for only $1.99 per bag.  Plus, there's a $1 per bag mail in rebate for a merchandise credit check (because who can't find more stuff to buy at Menards, right?)  So then, each bag only costs 99 cents.  99 cents.  Seriously.  So then, even though I had to pay for delivery, I get a stack of 80 bags of 99 cent per bag mulch to hang out wrapped on a pallet in the side yard until it's time to spread it around in March or April or May...or whenever the spring arrives.

I know some people get deals on bulk mulch, but I find it so much easier to stack, store and move mulch in bagged form.  Besides, I get a free pallet this time around--and I can ALWAYS use an extra pallet.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

New Life for a Dead Freezer

Here we have my dead upright freezer.  It saw many years of service, both here on the Farmlette and in it's previous home in Rice Lake (where I scored on a Craigslist deal).  I've been pondering its removal during the annual village clean-up, when you can toss everything from old paint to old appliances for free-or-small-fees.  Really, the whole thought of hauling it out and hauling it away was making me tired.

Then, there was a posting on a page I follow, where a gentleman gardener repurposed some old tall kitchen cabinets with wire shelving inserts and a low wattage lightbulb to create a homemade germination cabinet.

And I thought: Huh.  You know, I could really use one of those...

So, new life in the old freezer yet!
I dug out an old shoplight and a 60 watt bulb, hung it off the bottom shelf and parked a freezer thermometer in there to give it a go.  Within three hours, it had reached 72 degrees Fahrenheit and stayed there overnight.  Now that is perfect for seed germination for a whole lot of different plants!

So now, instead of a white elephant crouching malevolently on the porch, I have a perfect, insulated and wire-shelved seed germination unit of perfect proportions.  Once the weeks roll past and it's time to start sowing, I'll be ready to start my seeds in style.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Allotment Challenge

I'm not a big fan of reality TV shows.  Survivor and the Great Race and all that crap...ugh.  Just...ugh.

But a reality TV competition show based on gardening?  Now THAT I can get behind.

I just finished watching the second season of The Big Allotment Challenge (see episode 1 above).  It was really good--everyone was likeable, and boy it was nice to see those glorious gardens in bloom throughout January.  All six episodes are available to watch on YouTube, so go ahead.  Watch some people garden and cheer them on.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Garden Dabbling via Tablet

I've continued to explore the garden-themed app options that are out there (there are surprisingly quite a few) and came across this one called GardenMinder, which is from Gardener's Supply Company and available as a free download through iTunes.  It's designed to help you plant a raised bed garden, using square foot gardening techniques, and works on the iSeries technology and there's a Droid version as well from the Android app store. 

There's lots of crops to choose from (nothing too unusual, but that's par for the course), and you can design your bed based on your own dimensions.  It does max out though, so if you have a GIANT bed, you may need to break it into smaller zones and go from there.

One thing I like about this (aside from being free) is that it has reminders built into it, based on what you've planted and your growing zone.  So, starting in the spring, it will ping at your periodically to remind you to get out there and do something, whatever something is needed, at the right time.  Not bad, particularly if you get busy and start to feel overwhelmed by garden tending.

Friday, February 6, 2015


Another week has come and gone--what joy!  It's been a rather bumpy week, not bad but just sort of grim in a February kind of way.  I think I'm catching a touch of the crud, with a head full of lumpy goo and three hearty asthma attacks on Thursday.  So, this weekend, I think I'll be hanging at home coaxing the damp fire to burn and cooking up some goodies.

I have plans to bake a rather decadent Chocolate Stout Cake, which will follow a big pot of Lima Bean Stew with Olives.  Add a wodge of crusty loaf and you've got the makings of the road to recovery from whatever plagues you.

I'm also hoping that the weather actually cooperates so I can spend a little time on the porch, poking along at a couple of garden projects.  I do need to wash down the indoor shelves of my light stand and maybe I'll even start some onions and leeks from seed.

To be honest, I plan to be very lazy.  I've planned a trip to the grocery store this afternoon after work, and then I'm holing up, germs and all, to eat cake and nap.  Which, all in all, sounds like a great plan for a weekend in early February.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ooh, Technology!

I've been playing around with a garden planner software program offered through Seed Savers Exchange.  It seems to be the same planner offered everywhere--nearly ever seed company seems to have it, as do many green-living magazines--but aside from being slightly ubiquitous, it's fairly helpful.  It's rather fun to play with all the shapes (mainly rectangle, circle and triangle forms, with the option to have them open or filled), and there is something nifty about clicking on different veggies and fruits.  Whammo!  There they are, in your garden bed, with correct spacing and everything.  Actually, that bit is helpful in the extreme.  I'm forever planting too many plants per row, and then having to thin or deal with pruning later...yes, I know I could actually follow the directions on a packet and figure it out for myself, but there is something nice about a program that says "put 10 here, idiot".  Very straightforward, right?  In any case, it's something fun to fiddle around with from time to time.  I'm not sure if I'll purchase it beyond the free month trial, though.  I'd rather find an app, that I can stick on my phone or iPad and cart out to the garden with me.

Hmm...I wonder if there's an app for that?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Using up the Pantry

Remember all these little jars of homemade Bruschetta topping?  I made three dozen little half-pints...I'm down to my last four!  Yes, I will be making many, many more next summer, I think.  I love this simple topping so much.  I use it instead of pasta sauce on pizza, noodles and in one of my favorite comfort food suppers.

Skillet Meatballs with Winter Greens

You'll need however many frozen meatballs you want (I usually make 10 at a time, eating half for dinner and half the next day as multiply based on however many your kitchen must feed), a little olive oil, Bruschetta in a Jar (from the big Ball Canning book), winter greens such as spinach, mustard, or arugula, and some fresh mozarella cheese.

Start by preheating your oven to 425 degrees.  Take a nice cast iron frying pan, grease with a touch of olive oil, and toss in your frozen meatballs.  Place this into your nice hot oven and bake for 15 minutes or so, until the meatballs are hot, browned and nicely sizzly.

Next, break out your greens.  I like to use organic arugula or baby spinach, but it's also great with mizuna or similar mild mustard greens, sliced thinly.  After making sure the greens are washed and spun dry, I take the hot meatballs out of the oven and toss the fresh greens on top.  Give a good shake of the pan to work the greens down around the meatballs.  Top with the jar of bruschetta topping, and add blobs of fresh mozarella cheese.

Return the pan to the oven for another 5-7 minutes, until the cheese has melted and is slightly browned and bubbly.  Serve up these delicious meatballs with a slice of crusty bread to sop up the juices, and prepare for a glorious evening meal of comfort food.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Happy Groundhog's Day!

Remember, don't drive angry.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Dang it, Blogger.

For all of you who posted comments over the past year or so, I apologize for them not appearing on the blog.  Apparently, Blogger chose to email me only select messages telling me there were comments awaiting moderation...I found 72 comments waiting for me! So, I promise I was not ignoring you all, really.

Thanks for the nice comments, by the way.  It's rather nice to read little happy notes of commiseration, or congratulation, or just sweet hellos.  I really do appreciate them (once I find them hidden away in Blogger-land, that is!)