Tuesday, June 30, 2015


I think of this small window as my "sprouting window".  I put my jars and glasses of various cuttings into it, to root in water.  Most recently, I've added some extra big suckers from the Gardeners' Delight and Orange Banana tomatoes.  I read somewhere that you can root these cuttings, and then plant them to grow additional (and later cropping) tomatoes.  I have a little bit of room, and a few extra five gallon buckets, and I'm thinking that if this works, I can grow some more tomatoes in either the hoop house or pop-up greenhouse.  I don't know how much of a crop I will get before the cold weather arrives in the fall, but as I would only have composted these, it's kind of a fun project to try.  Hopefully, they root quickly because its rather a jungle over there in the window!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Pea Blossom Time

My purple-podded peas and Champion of England peas are setting lots of blooms (and lots of pods), finally.  It always seems to take such a long time for them to get to this point...but shortly, I'll be slathered with fresh peas for dinner.  And lunch...and assorted snacks.  I think I'm going to have lots of peas.  That's a good thing, as I love a fresh pea, straight out of the pod.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Hen Run Re-do

The run is ready for the chicks, whenever they decide to venture out and explore.  On the south side of the Big Coop, I've used deer netting which is a very fine plastic mesh.  But under the canopy of the remaining box elder tree, I've strung twine across in a zig-zag pattern.  Onto those strings, I've tied colorful tie-dye jersey cloth strips (which lend it a very festive gyspy-sideshow kind of air) which dangle and sway in the breeze.  It's enough movement to keep creatures from above, out, and creatures down below, in.  It gives the sensation that there is a "roof" above, so why bother trying to fly up and out, or down and in?

The run gets much more sunlight in the afternoons than it used to, so I'm going to add a couple solid "table" type structures, to add shade bits and provide areas that will stay fairly dry and perhaps can become sand beds for dust bathing.  I also need to roll a stump or two in there, to add elements of fun--plus, they can get rolled over from time to time and behold, there shall be bugs!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Who's Who

Now that the Silver Penciled Rock chicks are six weeks old, it's getting easy to tell them apart.  Not only to the cockerels have much fiestier temperments than the young pullets, but their coloring is distinctive.
This is a pullet.  You can see the classic black-and-grey pencil feathers, typical of the breed.  It's similar to the Barred Rock pattern, but more distinctive (which is hard to see in this photo--they are always moving around!)
And this, while blurry, is the cockerel coloration.  You can see it's much more black overall, with the start of a silver "saddle" in the center of the back.  Really, it's very pale silver, not white.  I can't wait to see it grow in, it's going to be so impressive!

I've done a count, and I have five pullets (yay!) and seven cockerels (oh geez...)  I think I've decided which cockerel gets to stay with the ladies; out of the seven, six have varying degrees of aggressive behaviors, including two which seem to delight in biting me when I go in.  The seventh one is absolutely sweet, very gentle, stands off to the side and observes before going in for a nosh.  I don't think he's ever bitten me, so that's a serious point in his favor.  I have time yet to decide, but right now the odds are in his favor.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Trying Out from Pinterest

Ah, Pinterest.  Such a source of inspiration, but do those pinned recipes really work?

I decided to give this peasant bread recipe a try.  It's billed as "the best no-knead bread you'll ever try", so how could I not give it a go?  It's certainly easy to mix together, involving water, sugar, yeast, flour, and salt.  Basically, you proof the yeast, add it to the flour mixture, and leave it to rise for about an hour.  Then, you poke it down, split it in half, and turn it out into heavily buttered pyrex dishes.  Leave it to rise for 20-30 minutes, and then bake.  It's got a nice golden crust, and smells like butter.

I just love things that smell like butter.
Even the bottom crust is golden and crisp (and buttery).

I don't know as its the "best" bread I've ever had, but it certainly is easy to make.  And, unlike some ideas you can find on Pinterest, this particular recipe works very very well.  If you love fresh baked bread, this is definitely a recipe to try as it gives you that glorious fresh tasting loaf in a flash (under three hours start to finish!) and it is so simple to pull together.

I used my favorite Great River Organic Milling all-purpose whole wheat flour, but I think you could experiment with a variety of flours and have a loaf turn out pleasingly.  The author of the linked page has a few suggestions, including a gluten free option if that is a concern, and they all sound pretty good.  I will definitely be giving this bread recipe another try in the future.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Happy Summer!

I'll be getting up early (staying up late?) to share in the live feed of the dawn chorus at the allotments in South London...because I'm a geek like that, I suppose.  There's something appealing about celebrating the coming of summer six hours before the dawn chorus starts here to announce that summer has come, yippee hurrah!

For those of you who stayed nestled in bed like sleepy birds hiding from the dawn choral group, here's a little treat.  Just so you can't say you missed it entirely, you know.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Big Color on the Big Coop

The Big Coop was due for a facelift, and the weather this past week was great for painting: no rain forecast for 48 hours, warm temps in the mid-70s, and light breezes to keep the worst of the bugs away.  So I broke out the paints and got to work.  For the main color, it was Hot Hibiscus all the way, to be trimmed in Lemon Lou and Teal Lake.  Above, you see the before shot in it's purple phlox-y glory...
And here you see it after the colors are applied.  I decided to keep the Hens & Chicks quilt square, because it seemed most appropriate for a chicken coop, but got rid of the little shelf as I don't have plans to replace the melted flower box that was destroyed in last fall's fire.
And here it is with two walls done.  Not bad, right?  I think it channels some 1950's retro charm, with a modern amped up color volume.  The door (not seen here) got a coat of teal paint, which looks really good in place of the rustic peeling white it had suffered through.  I have plans to paint some of the wood around the coop run panels, to give them some new life, and then reconfigure the run a little to make it more secure.  By the end of the weekend, the chicks should be able to check out the freedom of their outside run, safe from predators and visits from wild birds.

Incidentally, I figured out who is who in the chick mix.  I have five pullets, and seven cockerels.  Now I just need to label which cockerels keep biting me, and narrow down my choice for which cockerel will remain to become King of the Coop.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Potato Planting

It's mid-June, and I'm feeling like I'm a bit behind schedule with planting out my potatoes.  They seem happy enough though--they've been chitting away on the porch for six weeks now, and have very healthy, sturdy shoots started.  But, it is time to put them in to their growing containers because, eventually, they will stop looking so cheerful, wither up, and die.  That would be a very sad waste of a good seed potato.

So, it was out to the backyard to set up their growing location for this season.  They did very well last summer placed along the back fence, so I thought that location would work well for them again this year.  A couple of modifications were in order, though.  First, leaving a "gap" between the compost area and the potato bins.  This was needed because I have plans to add a second compost compartment (made from pallets) this summer.  Second, a layer of weed suppressant cloth.  Last summer, it was incredibly tedious trying to weed whip around each bin...ugh.  Eventually, I just ignored the weeds and it got to be quite a jungle.  So this year, an attempt to keep the weeds from growing quite so exuberantly around the bins.  It likely won't work entirely, but it should help a lot!
Don't they look nice, all in a row?  Well...perhaps you don't share my love of old, battered trash bins repurposed as potato containers, but I think they look pretty smart.

Then, it was simply a matter of layering in the materials:
Delightful "muck", courtesy of the Bunny Barn residents.

Next, a layer of compost with a handful of organic root crop fertilizer.
Add seed potatoes, "eyes upwards".
Add label--before I forgot which variety it was! Potatoes look very similar...
Add another layer of compost and "muck", and continue to the next bin.
After an hour's work, all five varieties are planted and ready to take off, growing into a fine and lovely crop.  I've got one bin each of Augusta, Magic Molly, Peter Wilcox, French Fingerling and Red Pontiac.  I haven't tried any of them before, so I'm excited to see how they do with our Wisconsin summer weather.  As it was forecast to rain, I didn't worry about watering them in but if you opt to try growing potatoes in containers, giving them a good drink to settle them into place isn't a bad idea.  They'll need periodic watering throughout the growing season, too, particularly in times of hot dry weather.  Keep an eye out for Colorado potato beetles, squish pests as needed, and with any luck, you'll be rewarded with a good crop come fall.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Episode 3 is Up!

It's up!  Just a few highlights of the garden progress, and planting some rather thorny roses.  Give it a watch and let me know what you think...as always, thanks for watching!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Working on the Big Coop

With the loss of the box elder tree, the Big Coop gets very hot in the afternoons--all that southern exposure with the sun beating down on it makes for a toasty space.  So I've started leaving the door open during the day, but with the chicks getting larger and more adventurous, I needed something more than the old window screen I had stuck across the opening.  They've been exercising their wings and checking out higher perches, all very exciting stuff, and it was only a matter of time until they figured out how to leap up and over the screen.  Yikes.

So I broke out some furring strips and my trust hand saw, and my little Black & Decker cordless drill, and managed to put together a screen door.  So far, it swings open and shut and latches securely with a hook & eye closure.  The chicks are intrigued, but can't hop outside.  I doubt that it would be dog proof or anything like that, but I'm not too worried by that at the present moment.  I'm more worried about providing enough cross-ventilation, and it certainly does that.
A few more feathers, a few more days, and the chicks will be ready to make their first foray into the great wide world of the Coop Run.  I supposed I'd better get hopping and paint the coop and reconfigure the henyard.  I wouldn't want to disappoint them!

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Grand List

It's that time of year!  Finally, the requirements of work are (mostly) behind me and I can get on with living my real life: becoming a garden goddess.

Well, sort of.

But it is time to post my annual summer project list.  So without further ado, here it is in all its ambitious glory:

  • ·         Dig wildflower garden area and re-seed
  • ·         Clean Bunny Barn and finish summer bean planting
  • ·         Rework Big Coop run, add stumps and wild bird netting.
  • ·         Paint Big Coop.
  • ·         Get Little Coop ready for meat chicks.
  • ·         Replace south fence panel on Little Coop run.
  • ·         Plant ground cover roses on Berry Hill banks.
  • ·         Finish hugelkulture beds and plant blueberries (before they die)
  • ·         Re-cover the Tent Shed.
  • ·         Make new planting bed on west wall side of house.
  • ·         Research fermentation & improve technique.
  • ·         Knit hats for the gang at Sean’s Allotment.
  • ·         Work on another 3D knit project.
There's no particular order of importance, as usual, but with luck and a bit of hard work, everything will get completed before autumn rolls around again.   We'll all be impressed in September when we revisit this list again, right?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Homemade Rolls

On a recent rainy day, I logged some time in the kitchen making bread.  I love the take-and-bake loaves you can buy at ALDI's but I don't love all the preservatives that are in them.  So, once in a while, I take the time to make some dough, bake it 90% of the way, and then cool and freeze it in bread bags.  Tucked into the freezer, they are perfect to take out, pop into a 375 degree oven and finish baking to perfection (it takes them about 20 minutes to thaw out and bake completely).

One other thing I made was a batch of roll & freeze cinnamon caramel rolls.  Again, these are wonderful treats to freeze away for the morning you want (need?) a sweet breakfast treat.  Basically, you make dough, allow it to complete the first rise, then roll it and cut it as you would for sweet rolls.  But, rather than allowing it to do the second rise before baking, you put them on wax paper lined cookie sheets and freeze like individual little "hockey pucks".  Once frozen, I pop them into a freezer bag.  When I want to bake them, I simply take out however many I need, left them defrost and rise, and then bake them as usual.  They are a rich, sweet doughy treat...and I always make them with gooey caramel sauce!  You could add toasted pecans or walnuts if you want, at the end (or during the final baking part), or you can leave these nut-free and entirely sinful.

 Rich Cinnamon-Caramel Rolls

You'll need: 1 1/2 cups warm water; 2 Tablespoons dry yeast; 2 Tablespoons honey; up to 5 or 6 cups of flour (I use organic all-purpose whole wheat flour); 1 Tablespoon kosher salt; 1 1/2 cups sugar; 1 stick butter (cut into cubes);   FOR THE CINNAMON FILLING, you'll need another stick of butter, softened; 1/2 cup brown sugar; 2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon; 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg & allspice, if desired.

In the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, dry yeast and honey.  Stir to combine, allow to proof for ten minutes.

Once yeast has "proved", add two cups flour, salt, cubed butter and sugar.  Place bowl onto stand mixer, attach dough hook, and start on low speed.  Slowly add flour in 1/3 cup increments until dough comes together and is only slightly sticky.  Increase speed to medium and allow to work for ten minutes.  Dough should be shiny and elastic when kneading cycle is done.

Turn dough out into a large buttered bowl, cover with a warm damp cloth and set in a warm place to rise until doubled.  Once dough is doubled, punch down and remove from bowl onto a lightly floured work surface.  Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough out into a rough 9 inch by 13 inch rectangle, approximately 1/2 inch thick.

Combine softened butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and additional allspice & nutmeg as desired.  Combine until soft and spreadable, then spread onto the rolled dough.  Roll dough into a jellyroll/tube, long edge-wise.  You should now have a 13 inch long tube of dough.

Slice dough into individual rolls, and then place them onto a wax paper lined cookie sheet.  Place cookie sheet into freezer, positioned to stay level.  Allow to freeze until completely frozen, at least two hours.  Then remove individual rolls and place them into a freezer bag or similar freezer-safe, air tight container.  Label with contents and date and place into freezer.  Use within three months.

To bake rolls, combine 1/2 stick of butter and 1/2 cup of brown sugar in baking pan (I usually bake 4 rolls at a time, so I use an 8x8 baking dish) and place in 350 degree oven until melted.  Stir to combine well, then place frozen rolls into pan.  Allow to defrost and rise, this takes several hours so I usually do this overnight.  Then, after rolls have risen, pop pan into 350 degree oven and bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.  Allow to cool for five minutes, then flip pan over onto a plate.  The caramel covered "bottom" of rolls will now be the perfectly gooey top.  Serve as is, warm from the oven, or serve with additional butter and/or jam if desired.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Solstice Sowings

The longest day of the year is nearly upon us here in the Northern Hemisphere, which doesn't seem possible.  Wasn't it just chilly March the other day?  In any case, the summer season is well and truly away, with the garden growing daily and the weeds keeping pace as well.

If you are planning to do succession planting, now is the time to sow a late crop of kale, kohlrabi, cabbage and the like.  I've started a small batch of fennel, purple kohlrabi, napa cabbage, and mizuna, which should be ready to plant out in late July.  Then they'll be perfect for harvest in September/October, just before the frost hits and we're done with outdoor growing for another season.  You can also sow seeds directly into the ground, which is what I'll be doing for crops like radishes, arugula, carrots and beets.  Those I tuck in to any available space, as I lift something out for dinner.  They don't mind if they are planted in rows, or circles, or odd oblong shapes--they just want to grow!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Garbage Can Potatoes

This helpful tutorial above shows you one way to grow potatoes in an easily-findable container, such as a garbage can.  This is how I grow my potatoes, in large galvanized trash cans heaped with compost and rotted hay/rabbit manure.  I add a little all-purpose compost to my layers as well, which seems to help things from getting too soggy.  Overall the potatoes seem to grow very well in this manner, and I get far fewer pests (such as those horrible Colorado potato beetles) when I grow in containers.  My seed potatoes have been chitting on the porch for a few weeks, and are just about ready to be planted out in their containers.  I just need to get some more multipurpose compost first...but then, it's potato planting time!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Bit of a Tidy Up

The porch, once again, had become the repository of all things, with an added layer of dirt and cat hair.  It made for a quite attractive space...not.

So I spent Sunday morning giving it a bit of a clean.  I had purchased three sets of plastic shelving back in March, when they went on sale, and after a friend came to pick up the vintage-needing-work kitchen cabinet I had the space to set them up.  I find that shelves are so much more useful to keeping me organized that cupboards and cabinets.  Those, I stuff full and never find anything in their depths again.  They are like little wooden black holes.

So now I have shelves, which rapidly filled up with all sorts of gardening, painting, and other project gear. I'll likely tweak where everything is housed, and I really do need to go through it all and purge some odds and ends that I will not be using (ever).
I can once again see the top of my potting table, and there aren't any things on the floor to step on and poke myself (worse than Legos!) or to trip over because they stick out of odd corners.  It seems like the porch is always a work in progress, but for now, it's a tidier one.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Squash Strip

Finally, I got around to planting my very soaked and ready straw bales.  I added a layer of potting mix topped with compost, because I really wanted to beef up the nutritional profile of the growing medium.  I am planting squash here this summer, so its important to have plenty of feed (squash are rather hungry plants!)  And then it was simply a matter of planting:  Immediately at the foreground, there is a Jack-Be-Little pumpkins, followed by two Saffron summer squash, and at the distant end, one Costata Romanesco zucchini.  In a few weeks, I should be slathered with summer squash deliciousness.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Pot-Stair Update

My pot-stairs are pretty crowded with all sorts of lovely potted herbs and flowers.  It's like an instant dose of summer cheer, looking at this display.  Everything seems to be getting enough light as well, so hopefully, in addition to looking cute, they will grow like the dickens and be very happy this summer.  I just have to remember to check their watering needs at least once a day, and all should go well.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Self-Watering Tubs

Finally, the melons and cucumbers and last of the paste tomatoes are all happily planted into their cheerful self-watering containers.  I made these myself, according to plans found in the Fresh Food from Small Spaces book and at the Alaska Grow Buckets website.  They are really easy to put together, and work great for plants that love consistent, root-level watering.
The big tub (made last year) is home to Manny cucumbers and some marigolds, to hopefully repel any cucumber beetles.
The smaller tubs are home to Noir de Carmes melon, a variety that I am very excited to try growing this year.  I'm hoping they like the heat and light in the pop-up greenhouse, and I get lots!
And finally, the buckets of Orange Banana paste tomatoes.  I have to rig up the water bucket-self regulating system, but for now, I think they'll be okay watered from the top carefully.  I just love this variety of tomato.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


Oh yes, all those little seeds I sowed in the depths of late winter which have grown into lovely little plants and fit into my garden...


As always, I've started far too many plants.  Why do I forget this key point every year?  Well, I suppose I forget because (a) hope springs eternal and maybe one of these years they will actually fit into the garden and (b) I wanted to share with my friends and neighbors at the annual plant swap.

That's right!  Today is THE DAY of the 6th Annual Plant Swap.  You can find me at Pioneer Park starting at 10 AM, with plants galore.  Come and share your extras, or just come and be greedy.  There's always lots to choose from, and did I mention it is free?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Protecting 'Nip from the Cats

As you can see in the video clip above, I have a strategy for growing copious amounts of catnip and managing to keep the marauding cats from rolling it to death.

Planting into a large container serves two purposes: it keeps the spread of the catnip under control, and it also allows for better containment measures to keep the kitties out.  I found these old beat up wash tubs at garage sales, the bottoms pretty much rotted out: perfect for planting into!  I love it when I don't need to create drainage holes.

I filled them with good compost last year, and planted two catnip plants into each.  As you can see, they've spread to take over the whole tub.  I found a couple of discounted hanging basket frames (the kind that has coir liners usually) and turned them upside down into each pot.  Instant cat barriers!  The cats can squeeze in next to the wire basket frame, but they can't roll and crush the plant.  They can nibble at the tempting herby fronds, but they can't eat the whole plant to nubbins.

So, in short: the cats get their daily LSD trip, and I get to enjoy rustic decorative planters filled with an easy-to-care-for herb.  All I need to do is periodically unpot the plant, give it a good root prune, and replant with fresh compost.  Easy-peasy, and happy kitties to boot.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

And They're Out.

When I got home from my run to the store for nest boxes and shavings, I came in the house to discover that the chicks had spent at least part of their day ramming themselves against the screen covering their tub...and had knocked it askew and were imminently going to escape into the house.  Eeek!  The dogs were very delighted with this event...and the cat was suspiciously crouched on the stairs, just biding her time.

Obviously, it was time to move them out.  Good thing I had the coop cleaned and fresh shavings to spread around.

After a somewhat traumatic move out of the house to the Coop via a large basket (note to self: put newspaper in first before transporting chicks), they were delighted to explore their new habitat.  Lots of flapping runs and pouncing on random curious things, replete with squeaks and shrieks and peeping...and a bit of pooing in excitement.

Of course, around midnight the first night I woke up, head filled with dire thoughts of chilled and dead chicks.  My brain wouldn't shut off the horror show, so up I got, found a flashlight, and wandered outside in slippers and nightie to check on the flock.  There they were, snuggled up snoring under their heater...and there I was, laying awake trying to ignore the full moon and go back to sleep.

Somehow, I think they got the better end of the transition.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Upgrading the Nest Box

(The schnazzy nest box by Farm Innovators)

I've decided to upgrade to plastic nest boxes for the Coop.  My wooden fruit crate-turned-nest box was cute, but impossible to clean and everyone liked to perch on top and poop into the box at night.  I'm hoping that these plastic jobbies, hung on the wall with their sloping roof and slanted interior will deter roosting and provide a better nesting area than the last version--less poo, anyway.  And besides, it involves a stop at my favorite farm store where I can also pick up shavings for the Coop flooring.  Win win!

Monday, June 1, 2015

Another Episode!

Another episode is up for your viewing pleasure.  Something wonky happened to the sound, but I can't seem to fix it exactly...I'll figure it out.  But in any case, there I am in all my wool hatted glory (it was very chilly this past weekend).