Saturday, March 12, 2016

Step-by-Step Propagation

My rose-scented geraniums are doing very well, ticking over under lights for the winter.  In fact, they are doing a bit too well and have set a lot of leafy growth.  It's never a good idea to let a ticking-over plant get too vigorous when there's still weeks and weeks ahead before they can be put outdoors for the summer, so it's time to take a whole lot of cuttings.

The wonderful thing about taking cuttings is that you can propagate additional plants.  Too many for your porch?  Oh what a dreadful problem.  I guess you'll have to pass them along to friends...horrors.

Propagating is very easy (and scented geraniums love to grow, so they are really easy to get to "take" on new roots.  All you need are a few simple items:
The only challenging thing to find is a small tub of rooting hormone (that's the thing with the purple top).  You can make your own rooting hormone by either crushing an aspirin tablet in tap water and making a solution, or peeling the bark off willow trimmings and soaking those to make a solution.  I'm allergic to aspirin so have none in the house, and I don't have any willow growing in my yard (yet) so I rounded up a container of rooting hormone.  I've had this tub for a couple years, and while they say it expires, I've never noticed an issue with its effectiveness even if it is a year out of date.  In addition to a rooting hormone of your choosing, you'll need a pair of sanitized sharp scissors or a pocket knife, an old lettuce tub with lid, seed starting mixture, a chopstick or skewer, and of course cuttings from your scented geranium keeping in a mug of water.
Step 1: Trim the stem, make sure it is damp, and dip it into the rooting hormone.
Step 2: Shake off the excess rooting hormone powder by gently tapping the cutting.
Step 3: Using the chopstick, make a small planting hole in the dampened seed compost.
Step 4: Firm the compost around the cutting, making sure its placed firmly with no air gap around the stem.
Continue until you've used up all your cuttings, inserting first around the edge and then adding into the center of the container as needed.  As you can see, I had a lot of cuttings so hopefully at least half will take and I'll have plenty of baby scented geranium plants to keep and to share.  Some of my leaves were very large, so to encourage root growth and reduce moisture loss, I trimmed the larger leaves by about half (it doesn't hurt them at all) which also had the side benefit to making them easier to fit into the container.  Make sure the seed compost is nice and moist, and then...
Pop on the lid.  This will help keep the moisture in the container, which is important because drying out will slow root growth.
Then its just a matter of placing the container under lights or on a sunny windowsill, and waiting until you see the start of new growth.  This means that there's roots growing and your baby plants are ready for potting on.
I started a few cuttings a couple weeks ago, and they are doing well.  As you can see, I reused old yogurt/bulk food tubs and covered them with a simple plastic baggie.  This is a great technique for starting smaller batches of cuttings (it's particularly good for starting cuttings of rosemary or sage!)
No new top growth yet, but peeking through the clear tub, it looks like some little rootlets are making their way out into the soil!

Friday, March 11, 2016

A Little Ginger Update

The ginger is doing so well.  I am so excited!!  The first little green sprout has been joined by two others, all of which are growing happily (and reaching for the sky--check out sprout#1!)

I think it won't be too long before I get to pot these on.  Whee!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Seeds as Jewels

Sometimes you purchase seeds because, you know, they serve a specific purpose.  Food? Absolutely.  Animal fodder? Sure thing.  Pollinator attractant?  Now we're talking.

And sometimes, that purpose is for...decoration.  While these seeds are grown for their pepitas (pumpkin seed meats) I have visions of making gorgeous jewelry out of them.  The edges are sparkly silver, for goodness sake.  If that doesn't cry out to be made into earrings, I don't know what does.

*You can find your own packet of Silver Edged Squash seeds at Native Seed Search.*

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Cole Crops on the Porch

It never fails, every year I start running out of space to grow my seedlings under lights.  And for the brassicae family, they are sometimes not so happy to be in the house because its a bit too warm for them (as I need to have my lights nearby the wood stove due to space restrictions).  Oh, what is a gardener to do?

Well this year, I decided: they were moving onto the porch.  This past weekend, I set up a mini greenhouse (the kind you find for $20 at the local hardware store) and made a couple modifications.  I added grow lights ($13 each) and a spare radiator-type heater to keep the temperature above freezing (because it still is chilly on the porch this time of year).  I moved the alliums and the brassicae out there, gave them a little misting of water, and hopefully they'll keep ticking over and growing slowly until it's time to plant them out.  With any luck, I can get the alliums out in early May (they do just fine even if we get a late snow/heavy frost) and then the cole crops will follow a couple weeks later.
I've got a little temperature sensor remote inside the contraption, so I can keep an eye on the greenhouse temperature and turn off the heater as needed.  It is on very very low, as I only need it to stay above freezing at night, and it doesn't take too much heat to accomplish that.  Hopefully the cat won't decide it's a new spot to climb into and take a nap!

Monday, March 7, 2016

It Begins!

Step outside and you can feel it: the air is lighter, the breezes blow warmer, the ground is that curious mixture of partially frozen and sloppy mud.  Spring.  Is.  Coming.

It's a near weekly event now.  Every weekend, I break out my seed compost, my little trays and tiny cups.  I make a rummage through my seed drawer and consult my seed starting list.  What to start now?  Is it time for cabbage, or tomatoes?  How about those tricky dahlias?  And when to do the leeks, I wonder?  When in doubt, I consult my reference books and read back through my garden diary.  That diary is a lifesaver.  Even though the climate has shifted slowly over the past ten years, its a great reference for what's been started when, and which did well and which failed.  It's stopped me from making mistakes and growing things that I absolutely hated (or were pest magnets).

There's nothing like a good diary to help keep the gardening year on track.  My preferred version is a week at a glance calendar, spiral bound with plenty of space to write.  I must, of course, have one of my perfect gel pens (I buy them in bulk for fear that one day, they'll stop making them) firmly slipped into the spiral binding, ready to jot down notes and observations.  I think this year I will start making a note of the daily high and low temperatures.  I always forget to do that, and it would be good information to track.  Because, at the rate things are changing, who knows where we'll be in the next ten years?  Perhaps I'll be sowing hardy banana seeds instead of sea kale...

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Sprouting up the Tropics

In yet another gardening adventure, I bring you my attempt to grow that staple of luxury spices, ginger.  After tracking down a good specimen at a local co-op, I started with an organic root with nice bud development.  A sharp knife did the job of whacking it into six fair-sized bits, and then it was an overnight soak in coo water in my beloved Pyrex bowl.  Some good compost--heavily laced with homemade worm castings--and a pop into a tray on top of a seedling mat, and a good three weeks later here we are: a wee green shoot!

As far as experiments go, it's kind of underwhelming at this point.  I mean, one less than a centimeter tall green shoot.  Whoo.  Break out the fireworks.  Shazaam.

However, it is entirely possible that beneath the soil, there's major happenings.  Perhaps, in the next few days, the soil will heave and MORE shoots will work their way up to the light.  Imagine that.  The simple majesty of emerging life...

Of course, this may be the only one and the rest have dissolved to gooey rot.  Time shall tell.  Mean time, I'll be dosing with fresh water and hoping for the best.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Sea (Kale) Odyssey

Imagine: this tiny corky seed, designed to bob along on the waves crashing against a rocky coastline, will (with any luck and good germination) grow, one day, to become a two-to-three foot giant edible plant.  Ah, the humble sea kale.  Eat its leaves, the tender new shoots blanched under a bucket, the flower buds that taste of broccoli, the root that can be boiled and mashed.  It's the Superman of the brassicae family.  Right now, the seeds--which took me three years to acquire--have been refrigerated, soaked, and filed with an emery board.  After all those ministrations, they've been plunged into damp compost and closeted in the Germination Station to bask in the 70 degree heat and (with a little luck) germinate in the next few days.

Sea kale has notoriously sketchy germination, so fingers crossed at least half those seeds will pop and develop into hardy little plants.  Once the soil defrosts outside, I'll be digging over the spare bed in the Perennial Veg Corner, adding sand and grit, and a wee bit of compost, and settling in these prehistoric vegetables for a long seven-to-ten year lifespan.  I think I'll mulch with rock, too, to mimic their natural seaside habitat.  Well, mimic as much as one can mimic the Atlantic coastline in this particular corner of Wisconsin, that is.  It's all relative...and hardy plants don't much care.  Sun, rain and a bit of compost and all is well in their world.  Lucky ducks.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


At long last, my freeloading hens are laying.

What a long ride it has been...

Of course, after celebrating with a family portrait of what I *thought* was the first egg, I discovered a hidden cache where some intrepid hen had been stashing her ova...
And so, I found a whole bowlful of eggs.

Sneaky, sneaky chickens.  But still...finally!  The Farmlette is producing eggs once more.  Whoot!

Monday, February 29, 2016

New Beginnings

About a week ago, I started a new venture: Button quail.  These are the smallest creatures I've ever been responsible for.  If you stuck two bumblebees together, you'd just about have one of these!

So far, all six are doing very, very well.  They've been growing wing feathers (which makes their wee wings look ridiculously long compared to their bodies) and eating and pooping and peeping and doing all the things healthy young chicks should.  Their beaks are so tiny that I have to grind the chick starter kibbles in my mortar and pestle to make it fine enough for them to eat.  And eat they do--a surprisingly large amount for such tiny bodies!

As soon as they grow more feathers, I'll be moving them out to a modified hutch on the porch.  There, with any luck, they will grow, and lay eggs, and multiply...and in time, perhaps supply me with the means to become the Quail Egg Mogul of Prairie Farm.  These eggs are ridiculously expensive and in demand in posh restaurants, just imagine what cachet organic ones will have!  (I wish I could say they'd be free range, too, but at one pound and mildly stupid, these wee creatures would be predator fodder in no time!)

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Monday, February 8, 2016

Dreaming of Flowers

It's officially February, snow and cold winds everywhere you look, and here I am, dreaming of flowers.

I blame it on the seed catalogs.

But whatever the cause, it's got me thinking about what flowers I want to grow in this year's garden.  I know I will have my usual volunteers of cosmos, chamomile, campanula and morning glories, because by now, they pop up in random spots having spread themselves to various other places in the gardens.  I'm hopeful that poppies will come up, but if not, I have some seeds in reserve and will plant out more.  My usual plantings of sunflowers will go in, and I plan to sow lots of marigolds around and about.  For my new flowers, I'm envisioning drifts of dianthus, clouds of violas, batchelor buttons blooming, and with any luck, asters to linger into the fall.  One of my favorite things about my garden is mixing flowers with vegetables, like little pockets of jewels amongst practical garments. Everything grows so happily together, layers of layers of layers, all hidden under the buzzing of bees.

It was a happy thought to bring
To the dark season's frost and rime
This painted memory of spring,
This dream of summertime.

Our hearts are lighter for its sake,
Our fancy's age renews its youth,
And dim-remembered fictions take
The guise of present truth.

--Flowers in Winter, John Greenleaf Whittier 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Meet the Freeloaders

No eggs.  Only golf balls.

Yes, my chickens have yet to lay.  It's been forever since I had home-laid eggs.
Aren't they beautiful, though?

They aren't the most friendly chickens I've ever had, but I appreciate their independent spirits and cautious natures.  I just adore their coloring, too.
Mister, my gorgeous rooster, has really come into his own.  From his proud upright comb to the silver saddle on his back, to the iridescent green tinted tail feathers, he's a prime specimen.
As for the ladies, the penciling of their feathers is so intricate.  They are very sweet natured (even though they don't want to lay eggs.)
I just love my little flock.  Now, if only they'd repay me for the hundreds of pounds of organic feed that I've invested in them, with a few eggs in the nest every day...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Coop Repairs

Ah, the coop.  The time has come to build Chickenopolis 2.0, but for the duration of this winter, the current coop needs to make it through.  I always have issues with the door freezing in place, so I decided: enough is enough.

So I took the door off the hinges, and broke out my hand saw. Off came four inches of the lower doors, and tah dah...
A door that closes, and opens, and doesn't freeze in place.  (I can only suck in my gut so far, and it's been a squeeze the last couple of days...)  It wasn't even too hard to rehang.  The chickens thought I was weird, but then again, I think they think that most days.

One job done!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Temporary Melt

Lucky us!  We've had a weekend of near 40-degree temperatures, with melting snow and ice and drippy roof galore.  It's glorious!  I'm feeling particularly blessed as I officially burned the woodpile this past week, and stacking wood in terrifically cold temperatures is no fun at all. 
Just look at all that glorious firewood, stacked wearing a sweater.  A whole cord of luxurious warmth, plenty to last me through the end of this mild winter we are enjoying.  One of the nice things is that I get all sorts of bits and snivels to use as kindling, which saves me one task of chopping it up for a little while.
I have to admit, though, that I do really like chopping up kindling. I really don't mind it at all anymore, since a wonderful friend gifted me a Kindling Cracker for the holidays.  I don't have to worry about losing a finger anymore, because instead of my kind of rusty hatchet whizzing down toward my fingers, I get to bang the wood with a hammer onto a blade--no where near my essential digits, and it breaks up a log in no time.  It is such an ingenious device!  I wish there was a larger size, for splitting big chunks of that would be super cool to find.

There's rumors of snow in the forecast mid-week, and then it's going to be cold again, but gosh, this warm weekend has been so nice!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Still Here...and a Recipe Involving Bacon.

Hello after a long hiatus.

I had a bit of a bumpy fall:  work suckage, foot sprainage, too much going on but nothing I particularly wanted to write about.  You know.  The usual, when it comes to blog burn out.

But now it's January 2016 and here we are, in the midst of a short-term Arctic freeze.  I've got the truck running (it sat for the past 1 1/2 weeks, and I need to go fetch hay today...) and the fire is burbling away in the wood stove, so I thought I'd take a moment to bring us all up to date.

No eggs yet from the fancy heirloom chickens.  They all shed feathers and have finally grown them back in.  I'm hoping February and the increasing light might give me my first wee pullet eggs. (Freeloading organic-fed chickens are the worst.)

Indoor gardening is where it's at.  Lights are up, pots have come indoors ages ago and my herbs are doing well.  Soon, it'll be time to start some seeds but for now, I'm mostly growing indoor sprouts and microgreens...which reminds me, I need to sow some more of the latter this weekend.

I've just started my seed planning for the spring, no maps have been drawn yet but as it's only mid-January, I've got some time. 

Plans are a-foot for a small permanent greenhouse in the south garden and for a new Chickenopolis in the backyard (well fenced and electrified to keep the slavering dogs out), so come spring there will be some small construction projects happening.

And...that's about it.  More to come later, but for now, my latest favorite on the go breakfast:

Bacon and Cheese Breakfast Muffins

I use my Texas-muffin sized pan for these, and I get eight lovely large muffins, perfect for heating in the oven and driving down frozen roads with.  A hot portable breakfast?  Yes, please.

You'll need four cups of whole wheat all-purpose flour, two tablespoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking soda, three eggs beaten, 1 cup or so of milk (I used half-and-half).  Combine these ingredients and stir until combined, it's okay if it's lumpy!

Fold in one cup finely chopped green onions, four slices of bacon, crumbled, and 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese.  When mixed nicely, scoop into well greased muffin tin filling each cup about 3/4 full.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 17 minutes, give or take, and immediately turn out to cool on a rack.

Once cool, wrap each muffin in a square of tin foil and pop into a large bag or whatever to store in the fridge.  To reheat, place in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes, then open the foil slightly to pour in a couple tablespoons-ish of maple syrup.  Return to the oven for another 5-8 minutes, then carry off to enjoy while driving down the road merrily merrily in the cold wintry weather.

Eat hearty, my dearies. More to come soon!