Spring Cleaning, 2011

Yep, it’s that time of year again. As in years past, we try to find a day when it’s not too wet to muck out the coop.

Amazing how much poo can accumulate in the course of a year.

This past year we actually layered the litter in the coop between wood shavings and straw. Between getting the coop mucked out too late (I was so sick when we ought to have done it – John was too busy going between the hospital, getting kids places, and handling work, etc.), the excessive rains of last year, and the wacky pH of the soil – we felt strongly we had to mix things up a bit. We just can’t handle another dismal garden year on the equivalent of Garden 2010!

It was interesting to note how much more it seemed that the litter had already started to compost down some!

We also decided to switch which garden plot the contents would be added to. This year, it’s to the new garden plot. (Well – it’s not so new any more, but that’s what we call it!)

Always exciting – yeah, not! – to find a surprise egg. Only two this year, thankfully!

The girls always love it when the nest boxes get spiffed up. They have to come right away and give them a spin to see how they feel.

Empty! At last!

The broody mama part of the coop all ready for new chicks.

Nice!

Funny how the girls are thrilled to have the contents of the coop to dig through out in the garden plot.

It’s always nice to get this chore done, and look forward to chicks, Spring, and the garden to come!

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Green Bean Eater!

Wanna know why we got almost NONE of the THREE huge plantings of green beans we planted this year?

She’s a triplet.

I get it.

Hungry kids.

Honestly – our boys are probably rejoicing that there were virtually no green beans this year.

Certainly not enough to can.

I have a sneaking suspicion they’ve given the fawns the insider scoop on how to get to the green beans!

This little one has a particular fondness for the pears that have fallen.

She stuck around long enough and was loving the pears and the clover enough to let me get quite close.

I hope when she’s a Mommy she doesn’t bring her kids here to eat!

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Garden?!

[Weed infested excuse for a garden!]

What garden?

Ohhhh… yeah. We did plant a garden this year, didn’t we?

A garden we had high hopes for, in fact.

[One of our most prolific items in the garden this year – thistles! They abound!]

Yeah… sad, sad story.

We’re still kinda pondering the turn of events – the outcomes, as they are at present. Trying to figure out, “What went wrong?!”

There have been factors to consider…

…weather – truly horrible garden weather.

…deer – we’ve fenced in a fairly complex manner – I’m amazed they can still get in!

…soil quality – we’ve begun to feel that this may be our biggest issue at hand.

[Can you believe this is all the corn that’s survived?! So much for knee high by the 4th of July!]

In years past we’ve begun dealing with the soil as soon as the summer’s harvest has been completed. We layer fallen leaves, grass clippings, compost, and organic matter all on the garden plot(s). The past several years the girls have done an amazing job of tilling in all of those things – leaving us with a beautiful soil consistency and composition.

The past two years – at the conclusion of a full year of deep litter coop management – we’ve transferred the deep litter to the garden plots. Last year we did so in January. This year, in April. (It was a crazy year – what can we say?!) Both years the girls did a lovely job of tilling the litter into the soil.

[We will likely refer to this as the year of the green bean – those, we can grow! This is green bean plot number 3.]

We usually till the soil anywhere between 3 and 6 times before we get our garden planted each year. After we’ve got either seedlings in the ground, or items that have been direct seeded have sprouted and grown sufficiently, we go to the next step.

That step involves putting down a layer of DE (Diatomaceous Earth); a layer of newspaper or brown craft paper (i.e., brown grocery bags) – making sure to tear the paper so that the base of the plant is not too smothered; then we put down soaker hoses; and finally, we typically purchase a load of organic compost from the local lumber company, and spread several inches worth over the garden plots. These steps do a number of things: help with pest control, build up the soil quality, reduce the amount we need to water, and help with weed control.

[Two types of green beans here – the ones on the left are Blue Lake Pole beans. On the right, the asparagus beans I was SO excited to try. Yeah… not so impressive, are they?]

[Asparagus green beans.]

[Blue Lake Pole green beans. Planted the same day. Draw your own conclusions!]

It’s a great system – and has worked beautifully.

This year we had some twists in the plot, though. With my illness and prolonged recovery, and the resultant financial strains that accompanied it – we couldn’t afford to bring in the compost; the time I’ve been able to devote actually in the garden has been curtailed due to greatly compromised stamina (not to mention having to work away from the home, as well); and our soaker hoses are pretty much toasted, and we just can’t afford to replace them at this point in time.

[Apparently, I am still able to grow a decent plot of basil, at least! Phew! I was starting to feel a little paranoid!]

The weather has also played a part – and not just in regard to the fact that things got in the ground a solid month later than is typical for us. One of the things that we’ve heard from some old timers is that the very heavy rains we experienced in the Spring could well have washed vital nutrients from the soil.

[Pretty much NONE of the 20 cucumber plants made it. This is a store bought that we broke down and put in the ground when it became apparent that the others weren’t gonna make it. And yes, that’s a straggler at the bottom of the picture…. 6 weeks later!]

Compound that with the fact that our deep litter method in the coop uses wood shavings (but no cedar – which has a known growth inhibitor in it) – well, we’ve begun to suspect that our soil may well just be really, really wacked out.

Cases in point:

  1. We couldn’t even get marigolds to grow!
  2. Zucchini wouldn’t sprout.
  3. Cucumbers wouldn’t move past seedling stage.
  4. Tomatoes – which normally go crazy wild here – have struggled merely to survive. The majority of them have died off. By now, most of them are as tall as I am. They most vigorous ones are merely knee high.
  5. Virtually all of the flower seed that I planted simply did NOTHING. We’ve always had wild success with flower seed!

Needless to say, it’s been pretty discouraging.

[Okay, we may amend it to be called the year of the green bean AND the potato condo! The potatoes are doing nicely.]

For a number of reasons, of course. First – the financial loss. About the last thing we need right now with all of the medical bills and the fact that I’m still in the recovery mode! Second – so much hard work – down the drain. Ugh! Third – we’re scrapping our plans for a fall garden now – if the soil is bad, why even go there?

[Volunteer lobelia… Which is pretty wild, ’cause I haven’t put any in this garden plot, and the one I did put it in, it’s been 3 years since there was any there!]

The plan right now is to see if we can’t get the soil tested. There used to be an extension office in our little community, we’re going to investigate and see if they’re still there and ask how much it will cost.

[Stinking deer grazed right through my lettuce patch!]

We’ve been working hard at getting the battle with the horrible, invasive weed problem won. We’re about 65% of the way there. Once it’s all weeded, we’ll fertilize with fish emulsion, water well, put down the paper, and then mulch with straw. We gave up the newspaper in our cost-cutting measures, so I’ll put a “want” out on Freecycle to see if we can’t get our hands on some. We have the straw on hand, and it’s what we can afford right now.

[Yes, an actual tomato blossom. There may still be some hope for a few tomatoes from this garden. Certainly won’t be the bounty of years past!]

And a dear friend and neighbor has a connection to a farm that will not only will give away manure (as in FREE), but they will also load it for you. Said dear friend and neighbor has also volunteered the use of his truck for said venture – a huge blessing! We will plan to take advantage of this wonderful offer in the fall – giving the manure plenty of time to age and compost down.

[Only one out of 30 of my hard-fought for Romanesco Zucchini seeds germinated and made it past seedling stage. I could weep!]

And – depending on the results of a soil test (I’m really hoping this is an affordable thing!), we’ll plan on growing an appropriate winter cover crop(s) in answer to whatever our soil might need.

Accordingly – the plans we’d made for the yields from our planned for garden have been amended.

The few tomatoes we are lucky enough to harvest will likely go for immediate consumption. If we’re fortunate enough to have some excess, I will can tomato sauce or diced tomatoes.

[The dill has actually done fairly well – at least in comparison to lots of other stuff!]

The dreams I had of pickling all sorts of bread and butter pickles, dill pickles, and dill pickle relish – not going to happen unless we find a good deal at a u-pick somewhere nearby. At least there will be a few slicing cucumbers available for munching on!

[A few struggling squash plants…]

But that’s life, right?

When things don’t necessarily go as well as you’d experienced in the past, or hoped for for the future – you analyze, you prayerfully consider, you seek wise counsel, and you go forward with a new plan.

I will say – one thing that we have oodles of is…. (drum roll please…)

…luscious blackberries!

I ate the first truly ripe and perfect one today.

I’m thinking I may get to harvest the first batch tomorrow, and I’ll probably make syrup with it. Or… if there are enough, maybe a batch of jam!

Such is life.

We’ll move forward.

And count the blessings for exactly what they are – gifts from the hand of our Mighty and Faithful God!

A Rare Day Off…

I had to go back to work at the end of May – after 4 months off for medical leave.

I’ve had few days off – although I have been fortunate enough to be able to work first half-time, and most recently, about 3/4ths of a typical work day.

On an average day I’m at work by 7 am, get home by 1:15 pm – and pretty much crash. Getting over this lengthy illness will take a concerted effort and quite a bit of patience! It’s been pretty frustrating not being able to accomplish the many things that I feel I ought to accomplish.

Over the course of the last week – after a substantial delay due to the very cool, very wet Spring we’ve had – our garden has begun to take some shape.

HOORAY!

Here – let me show you what we’ve got put together so far…

This is the “old” garden. I.e., the original garden plot that’s been here since we moved her 5 years ago.

In the foreground are three rows of squash… they are yellow crookneck (my very favorite in the whole entire world), and Mexican squash – sometimes also seen as grey zucchini. The Mexican squash is a new variety for us – I buy it sometimes at the store, but it’s expensive, and not reliably available. So I decided we oughta grow some!

Next, is a row of dill. I’m relying on it to be wildly successful – I have big pickling plans this year!

There’s a reserved space next (i.e., empty) – right before that trellis. It’s for the trellis that is currently being used for peas. When the peas are done, the trellis will move here, and we’ll get another planting of green beans in. And the trellis that you see here:

On the left side are the old standard – Blue Lake pole beans.

On the right – another fun new option:

In the right growing conditions, these beans can grow up to 36″ long! WOW! The rumor is that they’re fabulous, too. I hope to find out. That would mean, of course, that we NOT the deer get to eat the green beans this year!

To that end, I’ve planted lots of flowers that are supposed to be deer deterrents. Like:

My goal is to edge each plot with plantings that the deer are said to be particularly repulsed by. They include: astilbe, coreopsis, gallardia, chives, lavender, sage (quite a number of varieites), purple coneflower, candy tuft, and bee balm. Here’s hoping it works!

After the green bean trellis are five hills of another new to us planting – Romanesco Zucchini. I think this is the variety of squash that I enjoy so much when I’m in Spain – or at least something very similar to it. I heard so many raves about it – and it was SO difficult to obtain the seed. I’m really hoping for success with this one!

And lastly in the old garden – four or five rows of corn – I can’t remember how many now. We’ll see when it comes up! 🙂

In the “new” garden plot we’ve got…

A potato condo with both Red Pontiacs and White Kennebecs. Here’s to a more successful potato year than last year!

Cucumbers! The trellis on the left has pickling cucumbers. The trellis on the right has slicing cucumbers.

In the foreground you may be able to discern a hill – there are actually 3 (I forgot to get a shot of them!) – one of a variety similar to cantaloupe that we’ve enjoyed in Spain, another an heirloom cantaloupe, and then an heirloom watermelon.

We’ve got forty tomato plants in the ground. A few aren’t looking so great. Gosh – they could sure use a few solid days of genuinely summer weather! They are all – of course – heirloom varieties: Paul Robeson, Copia, TC Jones, Grammy Cantrell German Red, Moon Glow, Dr. Wyches, Grace Lahman’s Pink, Roman Candle, Weeping Charlie Roma, Amish Paste, Isis Candy Cherry, Dr. Carolyn Cherry, and Tess Land Race Currant Cherry.

Separating the two banks of tomato trellises is a row of basil plants. I have some serious pesto plans for those basil plants!

Also in the new garden is my weed-infested patch of cabbages…

As well as my weed-infested patch of peas – which have pea pods on them now!!! Woo Hoo!!!

Aren’t they beautiful?

You may recall this entire plot was completely weed infested – as recently as just a week ago! We decided to just till it all under and start over again – sadly, saying goodbye to the spinach and green onions that had limped along thus far. I need to get out there and weed this little corner – and soon! – but only as energy allows.

Also in this plot are…

Parsley…

Cilantro…

Beets…

…and marigolds.

So far.

We will fill up nearly every spare inch we can.

I still need to get lettuce planted, a new planting of spinach, and a new planting of green onions in, as well. I put those under the trellises – it works out nicely.

John also got two more beds tilled tonight.

The front bed – along the street – will have pumpkins and lots and lots of perennial seeds that I’ve saved up and need to get in the ground!

And a bed where we’ve had great success with green beans in the past, will play host to green beans once again! John will get the trellising up in the next day or two, and then it will get planted. And then immediately thereafter – fenced! One MUST protect the garden from the chickens!

And speaking of chickens…

Buffy and three of the babies… the fourth (the Dominique) is always trailing behind somewhere!

One of the little black sex link chicks. Isn’t she pretty?

And – one of the EIGHT mostly naked chickens I have on my hands right now:

I don’t know if it’s the weather being so cool and yucky that’s caused so many of them to decide to molt all at the same time – or what! But there are feathers EVERYWHERE! Poor things – they look kinda pathetic! At least it’s not as cold as when Crayon molted last year! But has sure put a damper on egg production!

So – while I didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped to on this lovely day off, I’m thankful for every moment I got to spend here at home with the kids and in the garden, and out with the girls. I even threw together a new fun salad, that I’ll post about later this week. I think it’s going to be a keeper!

Oooh! And – Shelly‘s broody again! I think I’m picking up fertile eggs for her to set in the next day or two. More on that as details are available!