Friday, December 20, 2013

This May Be the Last Tomato This Summer

Yeah, I know it's a week before Christmas. I still hoped it would ripen all the way. Have to ripen on the windowsill, I guess.

But really. That's pretty cool: Fresh tomatoes in December.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Some Winter Spices

Just because the herb garden is down for the winter is no excuse to be done with making spices.

Rosemary is a perennial: it's yummy all year around. It looks like I'm dehydrating fir tree branches, but it makes the greenhouse smell fantastic! And soon it will make dinner smell (and taste) fantastic!

And I can dehydrate onions any time.

These are yellow onions, roasted first, and then dehydrated. I made half of them into onion powder and the other half into dried onion bits.

The flavor is a lot like a very good French onion soup, but dry, of course.

I expect to use them both on fish and chicken and especially Christmas presents.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Ladies Get In the Christmas Mood

So the weather here has been pretty darned cold: it hasn't gotten above 40º in a couple of weeks that I’ve noticed.

And it’s been cold – real cold – at night. Last night was 12º!

We’ve put an incandescent lamp in the chickens’ coop, and have taken to leaving it on all night, at least during this cold snap.

And milady has been feeding them warm stuff in the mornings (oatmeal, leftover rice and stuff) when she breaks the ice out of their water pot in the morning. I gotta admit that sounds somewhat excessive, but she sees them as people, not farm animals, so who am I to argue?

So as long as we’re treating the chickens like people, I figured we ought help them out with getting in the Christmas spirit! I'm not sure they need it; they're still giving us 4 or so eggs a day!

We have other lights on the back porch, and those are the only Christmas lights we've put up this year.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A year or two back, I calculated - like the nerd I am - what crops can I grow that will give me the best possible ROI: return on my investment. Which plants will have the greatest impact on our household budget. 

It wasn't even close: herbs. I can buy five pounds of potatoes in the store for a buck or two. When I buy Oregano, I spend $50 a pound or so.

I've become pretty excited about herbs.

Here's a start on a reference tool for herbs. I got this from an herb site; I don't even know all of these, but here's to learning something new!

Agrimony | Ajwain | Alfalfa | Allspice | Aloe Vera | Althaea Officinalis (Marsh Mallow) | Amla | Angelica | Angostura | Anise | Arabian Jasmine | Arnica | Arrach | Artemisia | Asafoetida | Bashful Mimosa | Basil | Bay Laurel | Bean | Bears Breech | Betony | Bitter Melon | Black Pepper | Blackberry Bush | Blumea Camphor | Borage | Brooklime | Bryony | Bugle | Burdock | Cacao | Calendula | Canella | Capers | Cardamom | Cascara Sagrada | Catnip | Cat's Whiskers | Cayenne | Celery | Centory | Chamomile | Chervil | Chinese Honeysuckle | Chives | Cilantro | Cinnamon | Clavo Huasca | Clove | Coltsfoot | Comfrey | Cordyceps | Cumin | Dandelion | Deadly Nightshade | Dill | Echinacea | Elder | Epazote | Female Peony | Fennel | Fenugreek | Feverfew | Five Leaved Chaste Tree | Frankincense | Galangal | Garlic | Gentian | Ginger | Gingko Biloba | Ginseng | Goat's Rue | Goji | Golden Seal | Gotu Kola | Green Tea | Guarana | Guava | Hearts Ease | Heavenly Elixir | Hedge Nettle | Henna | Hibiscus | Hollyhocks | Holy Basil | Honeysuckle | Hops | Horny Goat Weed | Horseradish | Horsetail | Hyacinth | Indian Laurel | Jew's Mallow | Juniper | Kava | Ladies Mantle | Lady's Thistle | Lavender | Lead Tree | Lemon Balm | Lemongrass | Licorice | Lily of the Valley | Male Satyrion | Marjoram | Milk Thistle | Moringa | Mountain Apple | Mugwort | Mullein | Neem | Nelumbo Nucifera | Nutmeg | Nymphaea Caerulea | Onion | Oregano | Orris Root | Paprika | Parsley | Passion Flower | Pepper Elder | Plantain | Primrose | Queen's Flower | Red Clover | Reishi | Rhubarb | Ringworm Bush | Rooibos | Rosemary | Rue | Saffron | Sage | Saw Palmetto | Senna | Slippery Elm | Snake Needle Grass | Snakeweed | Soapnuts | Solomon's Seal | Spearmint | Spiny Sapindus | St. John's Wort | St Thomas Bean | Star Anise | Starfruit | Stinging Nettle | Sweetsop | Tamarind | Tarragon | Tea | Thyme | Turmeric | Uva-Ursi | Vanilla | Vervain | Water Hyssop | Wild Oregano | Wild Tea | Witch Hazel | Yerba Mate |

Thursday, November 7, 2013

I wanted a record of the garden going into the off-season. With daylight savings time gone, my experience of daylight is also gone, so I took the photos at night.

This is the garlic bed. I was a little concerned about its greens' ability to withstand winter. Research says, "No problem. The greens may die off, but the garlic will grow fine."

Some came from the grocery store, some "elephant" varieties, some fancy seed garlic.

Honestly, the biggest surprise this year was the kale. Epic performance, yummy for us, for our kids, and even for the chickens.

And I hear it's winter-hardy! 
Lots of winter rye in most of the beds. Some Swiss chard in the back one as well. 

Note: The grass between the greenhouse and the garden is covered in cardboard. I'm killing it off. Going to do a project there later, either in the winter or in the spring. It will involve drainage, and eventually, it will end up covered in cedar chips. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Mulching in the Fall

It was a pretty dry fall, so the falling leaves were easy to gather. We spread them on all the flower beds around the house. It's certainly colorful.

Let's see what it does for the soil for next year's garden.

This is the new compost bin. All of its contents are new. Mostly leaves and shredded garden trimmings, layered with horse manure.

I hope it will be done in time for spring planting.

I try to turn it every week or two. But there's kind of a lot of it.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Compost Bin Upgrade: Next Summer's Brown Gold

A few weeks ago, I added a new compost bin: an attempt to gather the garden's trimmings and fall's leaves and make some use from them.

I was startled by how quickly it filled up. And stuff was falling out from the open front.

We needed to think this through better. This was not going to work. 

So I doubled its size, and added a gate: a few more (free) pallets, a handful of screws to hold it together (seriously: only eight or ten), and a makeshift hings (which I'll describe later). 

We've decided to process the goods coming into this bin: ideally we'd use a chipper, but we don't have a chipper.

So we use a lawnmower. We mow up the greens we've pulled out of the garden (and our neighbor contributes), and we use the mower to vacuum up leaves: ours and others off of sidewalks in the neighborhood.

I've developed this practice: every time I add a mower bag full of greens (high nitrogen) or browns (high carbon), I also add two or three shovels full of  horse manure, so that it composts together.

The gap has two purposes. The strategic purpose is so that we can walk in and carry an armful of leaves or garden trimmings without needing to stop and open the gate.

The real reason is that I made this out of pallets; this is the size of pallet I had.

I also added a board across the bottom: holding in some of the leaves.

This is how the gate is working: heavy duty eye screws with a piece of 3/8" rebar. The (scrap) rebar is pounded about 18" into the ground: it also stabilizes the wall that the hinge is on. It's working very well, and it was inexpensive and simple.

All together, this bin has cost maybe $3.50 and less than an hour's work to build. (It will take considerably more than an hour to fill and turn regularly!)

It's not beautiful, but beautiful would have cost $50 or more, and taken quite a lot longer. Maybe later.

Finally, every time

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fall in the Garden

Just documenting the garden in the fall.

There's not a lot of sense to this post. 

Second batch of peas. Didn't know you could do a second batch of peas.

Got a happy sun-choke in among them.

And a second batch of radishes down below.
Kale was everywhere. Here there's kale among the carrots.
I've never grown leeks before. I grew these by accident. Grew them from seed. Took a long time. I lost track of them, but I think they took more than a year.
Milady, gathering the last of the outdoor tomatoes.
This is your basic artsy-fartsy shot. This tomato plant started as a weed. Pretty cool weed.
Peppermint, growing in huge pots, back behind the garage. Made a lot of peppermint tea this summer.
This is the second batch of onions. I harvested the others in two groups; pretty well cleared out this bed. But I had some that were struggling indoors. So I planted them out here. They're doing pretty well. 

The biggest hero this year was the kale.

I enjoy kale in soups and casseroles, and even in scrambled eggs. The chickens love kale in the afternoon.
Garlic is planted here.

Covered this, and pretty much the whole garden, with aged horse manure.
Kale and chard are from storebought seeds. Onion and carrots from our seeds.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

I Have A Pineapple!

This is the single most exciting thing to happen in our greenhouse since its creation.

Every time we get a pineapple for the barbecue, I cut off the top and try to grow it. I've gotten one or two plants to grow a little bit, but they all died in the end.

This one seems to be doing better! I put it in a shallow bowl of water for a few days, but I kind of forgot about it until the top of the pineapple plant rotted away, leaving just the leaves, attached to gooey mess.

So I planted the leaves with the gooey mess. And most of the leaves died. But the last leaf wouldn't die. So I just kept watering the pot. It was in a saucer: I kept the saucer full of water.

I stopped paying attention to the plant; I just watered the plant regularly. I finally had a chance to look at it. And lo and behold: There's a pineapple growing!

I'm pretty excited.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

A New Compost Bin

So we've had these two tiny compost bins. They're tidy, and they're cute, but they're small! They've  been full since the middle of summer, and we're just getting into the heart of the compost season.

And now we have chickens!

Chickens generate a really substantial amount of compost. We use pine shavings in the coop and the nest boxes themselves, and we put straw on the ground of the run underneath.

And chickens poop all over the place, so we change the pine shavings out weekly, and the straw out pretty consistently.

Our tidy, tiny, cute little compost bins have been completely overwhelmed by the amount of compost from the garden and the lawn and the chickens and the landscape trimmings and whatever else we've thrown at them.

So we have started another compost bin. You can see that it's not the least "cute" and while it's tiny by the standards of some farmers I have known, it's big enough to handle what we're going to throw at it.

Yep, it's just three pallets screwed together. I've been adding (and will continue to add) some better siding where it's kind of thin, but we're excited about the increased capacity.

And it will be so much easier to turn the compost as it ripens. That will be really nice.

As it fills up, we'll add something across the front if it turns out we need it: cedar fence boards are cheap and probably sufficient. Or a piece of another pallet. 

And we're expecting a whole lot more compost to be ready for the gardens come spring!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Adventures in Dehydrating

Apples (I like Fuji best), basil, garlic (to be roasted first), red onions, & bananas.

Basil, roasted garlic & red onions will be ground into spice (oh my goodness!).

Apples and bananas will be snacks.
Strawberries work pretty well, too, but they're not an exceptional dried snack: very tasty, but they feel funny in the mouth. Next time, I might mix them with rhubarb and dry the sauce into fruit leather. 
Apples. These are Honeycrisp. Some people spritz them with lemon juice to keep them from browning; I don't notice a flavor difference. Superb snack: crunchy and sweet.
I've never dried pitted fruit successfully before. Nectarines are way easier than cling peaches!). These are pretty good!
Dried a bunch of Thai chilies. Threw in some other red chilies, too. They aren't as hot, but that's actually a good thing.
And then we grind 'em. I have a couple of coffee grinders that I use for herbs & spices. One has a bowl that comes out and is dishwasher safe.
This is what the powder looks like. Looks pretty innocent, doesn't it? don't you believe it!

Really yummy. Rip-your-face-off hot!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Chicken Tractor Comes of Age

Early this spring, I posted about a chicken tractor I built, and then I introduced the three ladies who will live there, who eventually grew to five.

That proved to be a non-winning idea:
  • The tractor was built for 3 hens, and we discovered we could have 5. 
  • The tractor needed to be moved weekly, or actually, on a lawn, twice weekly, and still it chewed up the lawn where they were parked. 
  • It proved more difficult to move than planned for. That may come from my poropensity to over-build things.
  • We needed to lock them in every night, and sometimes we forgot to do that. 
  • Feeding and watering them was rather a lot of work. It always involved dirty knees. 
So we built a real chicken coop.  The ladies like it better, it's better protection, we don't need to lock them up every night (the entire coop is secure), and best of all, my lady likes it. She thinks it's pretty.

But the original tractor was still available.

It had been designed to fit inside one of the garden's raised beds.

The plan was to turn the chickens loose to both fertilize and weed the space, and we only need to pay them (literally) chicken feed.

So today, we installed the tractor into the garden, and installed the two leghorns in it.

We fenced in the rest of the raised bed, and put a lid on it (leghorns actually fly fairly well. So do chicken hawks, which can find a couple of leghorns really inviting. 
And they immediately got busy digging out the muchies. And cleaning up the garden at the same time.

Happy chickens.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Beauty in the Back Yard

My daughter took the picture. That's the Red Door Green House in the background. This is an Abyssinian Sword  Lily. Gladiolius Calianthus, Abyssinian, for those who think in Latin. . .