Saturday, May 30, 2015

Fairy Flags

The fairy garden got a new addition this past weekend: a decorated fairy house courtesy of my artist friend Karen (check out her work at The Eye Atelier in Taylors Fall, MN) that I spruced up with a coat of purple-and-teal-plus-some-glitter paint.  And of course, every fairy house/castle needs some festive flags, so I raided my fabric stash and broke out the glue gun to make some.

I ended up making a lot of fairy flags.  Turns out, you can never have too many fairy flags...more flags, fairies!

The garden is liberally festooned with them now, just in time for summer festivities.

Friday, May 29, 2015

New Face in the Garden

The back garden has a new resident. Meet Dorothy, named after St. Dorothy, patron saint of horticulture and gardeners. 

Actually, St. Dorothy is patron saint of brewers, too.  Which, all in all, is not a bad personage to invoke around the Farmlette...

But I digress.  Back to Dorothy, the scare-girl in the back garden.

Dorothy is a project two years in the making.  I found her outfit, a fantastic chinese-red-orange number straight from the polyester heights of the 1970s, last summer at a favorite thrift store.  Along with her palmetto hat and brown gingham apron, I found a pair of old pillowcases to make her long lovely arms and beautiful face.  I had a wig already, so all it took was a little sewing, a little fun with Sharpie markers, and some simple construction of a wooden frame.

Sadly, the actual making of Dorothy and construction of the frame took a whole year to accomplish.  You see, I tidied away the dress and hat and other bits and didn't find it again until this spring...whoops.  Well, in any case, she's fully formed and upright in the garden, happily watching over the peas and cabbages and garlic.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Planting Ollas

First off: what's an olla?  (pronounced oh-la)

According to wikipedia, An olla is a ceramic jar, often unglazed, used for cooking stews or soups, for the storage of water or dry foods, or for other purposes. Ollas have a short wide neck and a wider belly, resembling beanpots or handis.

There you go.  It's a pot, basically, which in this case is used to water the garden in an efficient and water-saving way.  My friend Ken Keppers, a local potter in Turtle Lake, made three of them for me which is so exciting.  I took advantage of the cloudy and rainy weather we are having to go out into the hoophouse (which can get up to 150 degrees Farenheit on a sunny day, whoof!) to plant my pots in preparation for tomato planting.

First off, digging the planting hole:
It needs to be just deep enough for the pot to sit in with the neck above ground, and wide enough for the round pot to settle into place.  As you can see, they're a gorgeous unglazed pot, the perfect size for providing water to my three foot-by-four foot beds.
Then, backfill and gently press the dirt into place around the pot, leaving the neck exposed.  Add a little fresh garden compost, and it's a great home for happy tomatoes who love being watered at the roots.

Just a word to the wise: put a cover of some sort over the opening.  Otherwise, it becomes an unattractive slurry of slugs and bugs that fall into a watery death trap.  I'm sure it's nutritious, but it gets stinky in a hot space.
There, that's better.  No slug slurry for me!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Bean Pole Construction

Next weekend, I'll be planting out my pole beans.  In the front garden, I've made a support structure which is formed from bamboo canes.  Each cane is about six feet long, perfect for supporting those scrambling runners that will eventually produce lovely green beans.  I start by putting the side canes in at a slight angle, and then tying them together at the top with jute twine (to make an A shape).  Then, I pop on the top leader cane, make sure my A-shaped sides are evenly spaced, and then lash the into place with more twine.  To add structural support, I add a final cane on one side, angling across all the A-sides which gets tied into place.  This final cane really helps to lock it all into position.  I also find that setting the structure so it is lengthwise running east-to-west helps it not get knocked flat when a big storm rolls out of the west.  Once the beans start growing up and filling in, it can get smashed over if we get a near-tornado-type wind gust...and we do get those a couple times in a summer!

I've planted swiss chard and lettuce to the outer edges of the bed, and underneath the structure.  By the time the beans take off, the lettuce will be ready to harvest so it's a great short-term use of the available space underneath.

These poles will be home to Lazy Housewife green beans, which are an heirloom bean billed as the first type to be string-less.  I'm hoping they're also tasty!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Cucumber Invasion

After some pondering, I finally figured out what configuration of pots would work best in my new little many-windowed greenhouse.

Top shelf: Three large and four small terracotta pots are now home to my healthy Mexican Sour Gherkins (for my UK friends, that's cucamelons to you).  Boy, those little vines were so happy to be potted on.  I think they are ready for a bit of heat, and then off they'll go making miles of vines.  Hopefully, I'll also get mounds of teeny little fruits.  I learned my lesson last year, where four plants wasn't nearly enough to satisfy my appetite for them.  This year, I've got 13 plants so hopefully, I'll have enough to munch on, some for salads, and maybe some for pickling.

Bottom shelf: A giant pot filled with oodles of good Pro-Mix compost will be the perfect home to three of my Manny cucumber plants.  I've encircled them with Jaguar marigolds, which will hopefully deter any cucumber beetles from moving in, and watered well.  It seems like a ridiculous amount of pot and soil right now, but in a few weeks, I think I'll be overwhelmed by cascading vines and climbing tendrils.  My prediction is that this little greenhouse will be bursting with greenery in a couple of weeks.  Stay tuned for pictorial updates!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day Revisited

Today is, amongst the layers of barbeques, car sales and fireworks displays, a well-intentioned day for remembering those who fought and died in various wars.  Remembering those veterans and current service people seems to get a little lost amongst the charcoal grill smoke and waterwings.  For today's post, I wanted to remember those who, during times of war, fought the good fight on the home front.  With war placing demands on the industrial food supply, it fell to people at home to dig up their lawns and plant the food that would keep them, their families, and their neighbors going until the battles were over and peacetime resumed.

The Imperial War Museum has a wonderful collection of public service announcement films such as the one above, which are interesting to watch.  If you're interested in fictional accounts, I highly recommend the Land Girls series (available on Netflix) or Foyle's War (also available on Netflix).  I haven't come across anything much regarding the Dig for Victory campaigns of World War I, although I know that there was such a campaign then as well.  For now, I'll content myself with watching the WWII accounts of what to plant to be patriotic.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Chick Update

The chicks are now two weeks old, and the Dozen are doing well.  I think  I have several cockerels to choose from, if the daily attacks on my hands as I clean their tub is any indication.  They are funny at the age--a combination of bravery, shyness and general silliness.  After I take out their feed dishes and brooder heater, they all run around, hopping and flapping like suddenly they've been turned out into the wild beyond.  FREEDOM!  And then they wait impatiently for me to fill it again, so they can settle into eating, peeping and pooping--their three favorite activities.

This coming week, I'm going to introduce them to wood shaving bedding.  I think they will love scratching in it, and they've figured out what is edible and what is not, so I'm not so worried that they will eat the shavings and plug themselves up.  I'll also be introducing them to more foods.  So far, they've had grass, lettuce and strawberry tops.  They loved the greens, and liked chasing each other around as they carted the strawberry tops from corner to corner in a mad scrambling race.  I plan to make them a grassy pinata to play with:  basically, it's a bundle of weeds from the yard, hung from a dowel placed across the rim of the tub, and they can spend all day leaping up to snatch bits and bites off of it.  It's great chick entertainment, particularly useful when they are getting bigger, more inquisitive, and feeling a tad crowded as they grow and their tub feels the same way.  In a couple more weeks, I'll be moving them out into the rehabbed coop but for now, they just have to settle for their tub home.  By keeping them occupied and out of mischief, they should pass their time without picking on each other.

Friday, May 22, 2015

In case you hadn't heard...

I am a YouTuber now.  Episode 1 is up for your viewing pleasure--don't mind all the weeds, eventually they get a bit under control as the season winds on.  And subscribe to my channel, The Chicken Lady's Farmlette, to stay tuned for further updates from the home front.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Small Fruit Alley

I've been steadily adding to my fruit options in the back garden.  Along the fence (or MFF as I like to refer to it), I've planted a gooseberry bush, and a Red Lake currant bush, and an espalidre pear tree underplanted with strawberries, with more strawberries in a raised bed. 

Last June, I planted a pair of Chester thornless blackberries, which were a bit of a gamble as I don't really live in the correct zone for them.  I had rather thought they had died...but when I dug them out in a de-weeding process, I discovered they were alive and kicking and sending up new shoots. (They are the tiny green bits in the sea of mulch in the above photo.)

In between rainstorms the other day, I dug up and moved some thornless raspberries that were outgrowing their original home by the chicken coop and becoming a bit of a hazard.  It's a good gig, digging raspberries after a rainstorm.  They pop right out of the ground and into your bucket!  So now they are happily living along the MFF, all five generous clumps of them.

I'll need to add a few more guide wires to support them upright as they grow, and I hope that the weed suppressant fabric-and-mulch combo actually does its job somewhat--raspberries can get notoriously weedy.  Of course, the back garden tends to run weedy anyway.  I hear that its a sign of good soil, but all it really is, is irritating.  I've got plans though...well, time will tell if they work or not I suppose.  Good thing I got that deal on mulch back in February.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Just Waiting for Summer

The little back deck is swept, the new chairs and table are ready.  All I need now is a jug of margaritas, a tall cool glass with an umbrella in it, and a handy lawn boy to wave a giant palm leaf in my general direction...

Ah, summer lounging at its finest.  All I need is summer to arrive...

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lilac in Bloom

My lilac bush that refuses to die is blooming gloriously this year.  Last year, I think it had three blooms--it was rather a sad affair, but to give due justice, I had tried to kill it again the previous fall.

For the record, I do like how lilacs look.  Sadly, I am very allergic to their scent and pollen.  Even touching the leaves makes me itchy.  So in general, it's not a shrub I want in my garden.  But as this one refuses to die, and seems determined to grow where its at, I've resigned myself to being somewhat itchy during the blooming season and limiting the emergence of suckers.  This one bush can stay, but the agreement is that no others may join it. 

Isn't it pretty though?  There's nothing quite so pretty as the clear purple of a lilac in the spring.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Pot-Stair Project

It still needs the paint job finished, but here it is: my homemade pot-stairs.  It's three discounted "warped" boards and two short stair risers that I scored on sale for $5 each.  A couple of corner brackets on either side of the risers holds it firmly onto the raised bed wall behind it, and once the boards are screwed into place, it's sturdy enough to hold a whole bunch of pots.  I can't wait until the last of the frost warnings are past us and I can fill it with a whole bunch of herbs and flowers.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Yet Another Greenhouse

I readily admit it:  I have a thing for season extension.  I love pushing the envelope when it comes to gardening, putting out warm season plants well before their garden-bed compatriots, and keeping cold crops alive for harvesting well into the late fall and early winter months.

This leads me to acquire various things, like my lovely hoophouse with its floral mural.  And then there's my new pop-up greenhouse that is getting ready for a season of growing hot peppers and melons. Let's not forget the indispensible cold frame either, filled to bursting with happy plants anxiously waiting to be planted out.

So of course with all these options, I so obviously needed another.  I ask you, how could anyone resist this find?  A lovely little greenhouse, made from old windows with funky old metal finials decorating the top.  I think it will be just the thing to house my Mexican Sour Gherkins this summer.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Melon Dreams

They may be tiny, but already they are mighty.

These little seedlings are my Noir de Carmes melons, the famous "Black Rock" melons from France, heirloom seeds preserved by Carmelite monks in the 1700s.  (I am a sucker for a romantic seed story...) In a few more days, I'll be planting them into their new self-watering tubs in the pop-up greenhouse.  With any luck, they'll grow long hardy vines and set lots of lovely softball sized, aromatic fruits.  Lore has it that their flavor is exquisite and not to be missed.  I can hardly wait to try them.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Beware the Infidel...

My Queen Sophia marigolds and Perfection Fennel seedlings have migrated to the top of the freezer on the porch.  So far, all is well...but the infidel bears watching.
Oh sure, he looks innocent.  He is very charming.  But Ernest Hemingway is not to be trusted.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hardening Off

It's that time of year:  the weather is warming up, the frosts seem to be mostly behind us, and my tender baby plants can start making their migration outdoors.  It's a slow process, usually involving a twice daily ritual of marching flats into and out of the porch, but it's worth it.  Giving the plants a couple weeks to get used to outdoor light and temperatures makes for a better transition into their "permanent" garden spaces...and that means less death, wilting and general malaise. 
The nightly trot--but not one will be frosted!

Nobody likes malaise.

I think the hardest thing here is to avoid sunscalding the leaves.  If the plants get too much sun at first, their leaves bleach, crisp up and fall off.  That results in a rather dead or sickly plant that never does recover.  So I create little habitations for them to perch under, out of old bamboo roller shades.
There's the jumbo version pictured above (which lays nicely over the barnboard-and-cow-stanchion bench) and then a teeny version pictured below, this time held up by two handy wooden stakes.
Both options are perfect for parking a few flats out in the sunny space, but allows them to not get fried.  After a few days being outdoors, I roll back the shade to gradually give them the full sun they crave.  It also helps to serve as a bit of a wind-block, in case we wind up with a breezy spring afternoon.  A little wind is a good thing, but too much can snap a growing stem like nobody's bizniz.

For the tender things that have been hardening off in the cold frame, on a chilly night I park a layer of horticultural fleece over them.  They've grown so tall that they touch the glass windows, and if that happens they'll frost.  So the fleece gives them the protection they need, without squishing their growth.  A handy rake helps keep it from blowing off.
Soon enough, frosts will be a thing of the past and not a threat until Fall rolls back around.  But for now, my little protective devices will do the trick and keep my plants from suffering an untimely death.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Little Chick Video

I can't get enough of watching my chicks.  You forget, in a year's time, how adorable and lively they are in the early days of their lives.  Running about, peeping, being curious...pooping prolifically.

I'm also having fun making half-assed videos on YouTube.  My iPhone isn't the greatest, but it's fun to capture little snippets of life here on the Farmlette, load them onto YouTube, and add some music for flair and vim.

I may just get around to starting a vlog about Life on the Farmlette...but perhaps I'll use my iPad instead.  Now that thing has a pretty good camera!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Pop Up Greenhouse

Along with other weekend projects, I successfully put up my new Flowerhouse greenhouse.  It comes in a large round bag, and then springs out TAH DAH and suddenly, you have a greenhouse where there once was none.

Actually, it involved quite a bit of swearing, sweating and nearly poking my eye out a couple of times with springy fiberglass rods which wanted to spring at the most inopportune moments.  The directions said "have two people" but having only one, I made do.  And look what I accomplished!  Only one major splinter and a side bruise to show for it.

Sunday morning was spent banging in pegs and installing tie-downs, and layering weed suppressant fabric and wood mulch to help deter both weeds and slugs.  With any luck, I'll be able to find a set or two of shorter shelves to put along the north wall, and by next weekend, maybe a few things can move into their new spots in the greenhouse.

The straw bales in front, liberally covered with aging chicken manure, are the beginnings of a straw bale garden.  Hopefully I will have good luck with growing some summer squash out of them this year!  The south garden is very sunny and very hot now that the big tree is no longer there, so I think all sorts of exciting growing opportunities will be appearing this summer.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Everything's Coming Up Babies!

Saturday evening my order of Silver Penciled Rocks arrived, fifteen healthy little chicks running about peeping and pooping and generally being healthy little bits of fluff.  I am so happy to have chickens back on the Farmlette.   It's felt rather odd not having any...

My litter of kits from Ophelia have gone off to new homes and destinies as quality breeding stock for other backyard rabbiters.  And then on Sunday, I discovered Alys Fowler the rabbit hopping about with hay in her mouth, intent on making the perfect nest for her little ones.  Whoops!  I think I miscounted by a week...but luckily I had her nest box all ready to go, and she was delighted to hop in and get to work:

Alys and I are still coming to terms with the nature of our relationship.  I whisper sweet nothings into her long beautiful ears, she tries to bite my hand off every time I reach in to give her more water.  It's a love-hate thing, but hopefully we can improve upon it.  I have a feeling that she is going to be a very good mother, although perhaps slightly on the insanely-protective end of the spectrum...

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Perennial Corner

The Perennial Veg corner has started to wake up.  It's so exciting to see things reappear, hardy little green bits of goodness.  Above, you can see one of the clumps of Good King Henry.  This is technically an herb, I suppose, but you can eat the leaves like spinach (raw when young, steamed/stir fried when older) and the stems like asparagus.  It's a wonderful spring pot-herb to add to salads or toss into soups.
The sunchokes are also emerging.  It's hard to believe now, but eventually they will grow to be about eight feet tall and sturdy.  I need to dig extras this fall, otherwise my little patch will take over the world.
The lovage is coming up nicely too, in two good sized clumps.  I'm hoping this year I'll have enough to harvest and dry--it has a lovely strong celery flavor, perfect to add to winter stews and casseroles.
The Egyptian Walking Onions are doing well--in fact, they've sown themselves in a couple of spots that won't really do at all.  So, I'll dig those up once they get slightly bigger and either give them away or use them as spring onions.  I think they'd be great roasted on the grill.
My horseradish has come up too.  Two lovely fat clumps of leaves, signaling a hearty root below.  Later in the season, I'll dig some up and make a mouthwatering sauce to top a locally raised grass fed steak, grilled to perfection...geez.  I'm making myself hungry!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Asparagus Lovelies


The asparagus crop is just starting to emerge from the ground, and boy is it delicious.  I really need to weed the bed terribly, and mulch it with some delicious rabbit poo/rotten hay, but I am so excited that the asparagus is starting to pop up.  Next to peas, it's one of my favorite spring vegetables.  Yum!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Of Garlic and Onions

The garlic is going gang-busters, daily getting taller and more luscious.  I think every bulb has grown green shoots, which is just wonderful.  If everything goes well, I should have a terrific crop of garlic to harvest in July.
I planted out the onions last weekend, and they are doing ok.  They always look a little sad at first, suffering from a touch of transplant shock, but they are hardy little things and rebound after a week or so.  Once they settle in, they start to grow happily.  I have great luck growing onions from seed--they never go to seed, like onion sets can, and they don't seem to be plagued by rot or mites or the other critters that have eaten my onions in the past.

They just look so terribly weenie when they are first planted out, don't they?  Oh well.  Soon enough, they'll be fat and happy and growing away into beautiful bulbs.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sweet, Delicious Peas...

I love fresh garden peas.  There is nothing better than heading out into the garden, and harvesting a fat pod, sliding the fresh sweet peas out and onto my tongue with a dirt-covered thumb.

It's going to be a little while until I get to enjoy that particular spring treat, of course.  Currently my Champion of England peas are only a couple inches high, and the Purple Podded Peas are just emerging.  I think if we get some nice rain followed by warm sunny days they should shoot up and become happy long-legged plants.  And after that, comes the blossoms and the pods and the fat saucy peas...I can hardly wait.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Naked Gardening Day

So, did you know today is an extra special gardening day?  Yep, it is.

Today, across the globe, gardeners are gathering in their respective plots and..ahem...getting down to the basics, so to speak.  That's right, today people are outside, in the garden, in the buff.

Whoo.  Mosquitoes everywhere, rejoice!

Me?  Umm.  No.  Well, no.  I'm actually going to be out in the yard, clothed and sunscreened and hatted against the bright spring sun.

Neighbors, rejoice.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Happy May Day!

Happy May Day!  Whether you dance about a pole (ooh, naughty naughty) or you deliver little poseys to your neighbors on the sly, enjoy the lovely spring weather and the delights of the season.

Me?  Well, I'll be at work part of the day...but then, it's garage sale season!  Yeehaw!