Thursday, January 27, 2011

Seeding Spring

I just had the best day all week.  I walked out of the house, ignoring the mess within, and puttered in the garden all day long.  I took a break only to feed the little dust balls, find the skin beneath and put the smaller 2 down for naps.  Then farmer girl and I continued to prep beds, rejuvenate them with compost, transplant and plant seeds.

-a new bed of lettuce (slow-bolt and little gem)
-peas (little marvel)
-mustard greens (curled southern)
-chinese cabbage (michihili)
-bok choy (ching chang)

Herb Seeds:
-water cress
-white horehound
-oregano (wild zaatar)
-summer savory

Fruit Seeds:
-huckleberry (chichiquelite)
-melocoton cassabanana
-asian melon (golden sweet)
-canteloup (edisto 47)
-jelly melon kiwano
-watermelon (blacktail mountain)

Vegetable Seeds:
-zucchini (dark green)
-summer squash (cocozelle Italian)
-yellow squash (early prolific straight)
-tomato (southern night, uncle mark bagby)
-cayenne peppers (long thin, African)
-eggplant (rosita)
-bell peppers (roumanian rainbow, emerald giant)
-Cucumber (Edmonson, poinsett 76)
-bok choy (ching chang)
-celery (tendercrisp)
-hot peppers (tam jalapeno)
-lettuce (sweet valentine)
-swiss chard (rainbow chard)

-dwarf coffee plant (a pretty houseplant that supposedly produces a good berry for a coffee substitute... I'm a sucker for a seed catalog.)

So... this is the absolute most seeds I have ever planted at one time.  And given that most from my last round aren't quite ready for transplanting yet, I have a LOT of seedlings around!  I didn't have enough window boxes but I put a good number of puts to use too.  Particularly for zucchini and melons where the starts will be huge, the pots will prove better, I'm sure.  If frost threatens, I'll have my work cut out for me, but oh well.  Spring planting is here!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Greenhouse Blues

January 19th, almost a month before our average last frost date, and I've taken down the greenhouse.  Oh how I loathe it, let me count the ways:

1) There were virtually no instructions on assembly.
2) Upon its arrival 1of 2 zippers were broken meaning it wouldn't close properly.
3) 3 joints would not stay connected.
4) It blew over in just a minor amount of wind the very first day.
5) When it blew over, the stakes that came with it ripped right through the cover.
6) It took some major creativity to get it secured enough to handle the lightest wind.
7) The 2nd zipper broke the 2nd day.
8) We had a very moderate rain, light in comparisons to some that come through FL, yet it collected an enormous amount of water.  I went out twice, in the rain, to dump water off the top... yet the frame still broke.
9) The weight of the water tore some holes in the seams on the top... nice gaps in just the right place to let any heat out and completely defeat its purpose (yet not in places that would allow the water to drain).
10) It was rendered useless just as we discovered 2 major roofing problems, the washing machine broke, I learned about tax issues regarding my deceased father's business, some more rather pertenant tax information conveniently hid from me and facing a very major family decision.  The last thing I needed right now is for my stress relief (gardening) to be saddled with bitterness.

But, I'm not sending it back.  It will cost $20+ to ship back and only cost me $70.  Instead, I will put the pieces to good use and still wind up with a very good greenhouse.  Here's what I've come up with:

1) I'm going to use the dog kennel as my greenhouse frame.  We use it in the summer to house the sheep at night, but the sheep are in the pasture with the goats during the winter.  It's 6'x10'x6'... a perfect size.  It costs about $200 new, but some neighbors gave it to us when their dog repeatedly climbed out of it.  It has served us VERY well!  I've seen them on Craig's List for about $100.

2) I'll lay 2x4s across the top along with a piece of welded wire fencing with small openings (2" or less) to create a stable top (that won't sag with rain) but one that will still allow light in.

3) I'll rip out the seams of the greenhouse cover and use them to create a new cover to fit over the kennel.  A 4mil drop cloth worked great as my new closure and is very inexpensive so I can use that on the larger sides to make a good fit.

4) The shelving that came with the greenhouse is still good so I'll keep that inside.

5) The big archs of the frame will make great trellises for vining plants.  It costs about $8 to make a large trellis out of electrical conduit and then when they're not in use, they are difficult to store.  These will work perfectly and I can take them apart to store.

6) The other aluminum framing pieces I can piece together to make smaller trellises for tomato plants and such. 

So all in all, I should have listened to my wise friend who said the portable greenhouses were too flimsy.  Oh well, lesson learned.  I'm still licking my wounds (as the rain drips through the roof and the laundry piles up), but my plants should make it through the rest of winter just fine.

And for others looking for a greenhouse, I'd suggest obtaining a used dog kennel and some drop clothes... I think it would be constructable for about $125 or so.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Write the Vision

And the LORD answered me and said: "Write the vision and make it plain upon tablets, that he may run that readeth it.  Habakkuk 2:2

And so I write out our plans for our little homestead.

For 2011 (with approximate completion time):  will strike through when completed.

1) Fence in the pasture common area (February)
2) Install inhabited beehives (March)
3) Plant several blackberry bushes and one more grape vine (April)
4)  Install new shaded herb bed (April)
5) Build fly/maggot traps for chicken feed (May) Husbandman drew the line at farming flies.
6) The Bachelor Pad- a separate fenced area to house our goat buck (May)
7) Build pens and fill them with meat rabbits for breeding (June)
8)Add removable plywood walls on the barn (as opposed to the present billboard tarp walls)- (December)
9) Install hay storage area over pump house (whenever) Decided that wasn't such a good idea... they'd maul us at each feeding.
For years beyond:

1) Add another partition to the pasture, one each year of 2012 and 2013, including separating and burning felled branches in each paddock.
2) Develop a grain patch to grow some of our own goat or chicken grain. (2014?)
3) Install a geothermal AC/heater (2012?) Removed from to-do list.  Not cost effective.
4) Clear to southern property line (2012)
5) Install a southern "fence" and plant blackberries and grapes along it. (2013) May be rethought with plans for a tree house.
6) Add muscovy ducks and/or turkeys (2012)
7) Clear area for garden expansion, expanding about 10-15' each year beginning in 2013.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Starting seeds

I have a greenhouse!  Hooray!  It just arrived moments ago, purchased new off ebay on New Year's Eve.  In anticipation of its arrival (and some very good weather forecasted for the next week), I planted a whole host of spring seeds.  But before I get into my own personal record keeping, let me tell you about my greenhouse.  We'd been planning to get one since May and just didn't.  I started to dither about the size of the original one we planned to get: 18"x30" foot print with 4 shelves.  Yes, I could do seeds, but little else.  So, in hunting some more I found several options that were much bigger for the same price or slightly more.  What I eventually settled on was a 10'x6.6' footprint, 6' tall in the center with movable shelves included.  I can plop this baby over a garden bed of something cold sensitive and put my shelves of pots or seedlings in the walkway or around the planted items.  I'm a bit dubious how well it will hold up to wind, but we decided to give this a try and if it needs replacing in a couple years, we'll know that much better what we need before buying a super good quality one.  Merry Christmas to me!!!

I had a BLAST this morning outside pretending its spring.  With the current weather, the imagination doesn't have to work very hard.  The older 2 kids helped me clear some room in the seed boxes by planting the remaining stuff in the pretty patch.  Then they "helped" me plant the seeds.  I use window boxes for seeds, splitting each into 2-4 sections for each type of seed.  When we're working on one particular seed, for example bok choy, I'll show them the section in the box those seeds will go in to.  I'll put a few seeds into farmer girl's hand (4.5 yrs) and have her lay them, one at a time, on top of the dirt.  I'll put a 1 or 2 seeds onto farmer boy's flat palm (almost 3yrs) and he just dumps them onto the dirt.  Then, depending on the size of the seed, I'll allow them to push it down and cover or I'll push it down and let them sprinkle dirt on top.  Between anticipating all these new foods I'm planting so early and doing it all with 2 of my very favorite people, I was in heaven all morning! 

Now on to boring record keeping:
1. Chinese Cabbage: Michihli (fall plantings didn't head likely due to heat late in fall.  leaves still good to cook and eat)
2. Bok Choy: Ching Chang
3. Asian Greens: Large Leaf Tong Ho (fall plantings slightly bitter)
4. Hot peppers: Tam Jalapeno*
5. Bell Peppers: Sweet Chocolate, Emerald Giant
6. Chichiquelite Huckleberry*
7. Jelly Melon Kiwano*
8. Melocoton Cassabanana*
9. Wonderberry*
10. Eggplant: Pandora Striped Rose*, and Ping Tung*
11. Parsley: Giant of Italy
12: Mustard Greens: Southern Giant Curled
13: Celery: Tendercrisp (fall planting grew very pretty flowers similar to zinnias- either my mistake or Baker Creeks?)
14: Tomatoes: Beefsteak, Cherokee Purple, Cherokee Chocolate, and Green Zebra

*Denotes first time planting

Without a greenhouse, most of these I'd have to wait another 6 weeks to plant.  This way I can get a jump on the bugs and heat.  I'll get 6 weeks more fruit out of my tomatoes before the bugs, fungus, heat and disease wipe them out.  I'll start my squash, melons and cucumbers in about 3 weeks so I can get that much more out of them before the pickleworm eats them all.  I'd love to start them now, but I can't imagine containing a 6 week old squash vine to a pot inside a greenhouse!