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New Compost Bins & Trees

Posted By on April 11, 2016

Spring certainly has been taking it’s sweet time getting here. Temperatures have been very chilly with highs barely getting into the 50’s at times but mostly staying colder. Winds have also been high the past couple of weeks and we’ve had plenty of wet to go with it. Pretty miserable overall.

This past weekend we finally had some decent weather (sun!) and so tackled part of a project we’ve had on our list – building new, large compost bins. We cut all the 4X4’s we needed to make 3 large bays and cemented them into the ground. I got to try out my geometry skills.

Compost Bin Posts

 

These compost bays are sized at 5 feet across and about 6 feet deep, so we can make a lot of compost in the coming years. We currently have 3-4 foot square bins that are made from old pallets. We routinely fill them beyond capacity and have been having a hard time with room to flip the piles. The pallets are also falling apart and have began rotting. Our new bays will be made with corrugated metal sides and so will last for a long time.

These bays also are at the back of our property which will make it more inconvenient to walk back and dump our compost. We might have to put everything into a 5 gallon bucket and make bulk trips. We are building them along the back side of the area we are going to be putting fence around, just at the back of our orchard.

We are thinking that we’ll add a 4th bay as well for chicken manure since that needs to rot down for about 6 months to a year before you use it.

 

We also added two new apple trees to our homestead last week. We received our order from Trees of Antiquity and we were both very impressed! The trees look great and were very large. You get what you pay for. We purchased two trees – Crimson Gold and Kandil Sinap which is the one I am most excited for. We will definitely be purchasing more trees from them in the future.

We planted these trees in front of our chicken coop and plan on espaliering them across the south side of the chicken run. This will provide for a lot of shade for the chickens in the coming years and a great architectural feature for us…along with great food.

New Apple Trees

Last but certainly not least we are making some more structural changes to our homestead. We have a large area that we want to fence in and we are beginning the process of taking down the individually fenced areas. We are thinking the plan is to use 10 foot 4X4’s cemented into the ground 2-3 feet and then use two layers of 4 foot wire fence around the perimeter of our homestead. This will allow us to keep deer and other pest animals out and to keep our chickens (which we want to free range) in. This will be a huge undertaking, however, so we’ll see how much we can do this year. The area to fence is probably over 100 feet long and 50-75 feet wide and so will take a lot of time and material.

This is a picture of our fruit garden, which is need of a great cleanup. With each area fenced off from the rest it really limits the time you want to spend in each area. Having the entire area fenced into one large whole will make the entire area feel like it belongs together.

 

Eggshells & Some Seed Updates

Posted By on March 12, 2016

One of the most valuable things that our chickens provide us with are eggshells. We use a coffee grinder to crush our eggshells into a very fine powder and use it as a calcium supplement for the chickens. So the eggshells are essentially just going in one large circle from egg to powder to egg again with a bit skimmed off for use by the actual chicken. So far we haven’t had to buy any oyster shells which are typically bought by chicken farmers so as to supplement their chickens with calcium. It is said that chickens will sacrifice calcium from their own bodies (bones and such) before they lay calcium deficient eggs so they need all the help they can get on that front. Usually there is some leftover powder in the dish I provide for them in the coop when I go to fill it up again which means they are getting all they need and there is extra.

Egg Shells

Egg Shells

That extra calcium powder is great for the garden. We use it as a supplement for any plant but tomatoes benefit very directly from it in the form of reduced pressure from blossom end rot. We sprinkle some around the tomato every month or so and they will be much less likely to develop this disease.

In the coffee grinder

We feed brassica plants and chard plants to our chickens during the early summer months right through to fall. They absolutely love them and get the added benefit of ingesting a lot of calcium since brassicas have lots of it. In fact, brassicas have something like 4 times as much calcium as milk on a per ounce basis.

Powdered Egg Shells

Powdered Egg Shells

 

In other news we have been busy on the seed starting front. Tonight we planted up all our brassicas and tomatoes, over planting each variety in its own pot.

Brassicas & Related

  • Ole Timey Blue Collard
  • De Cicco Broccoli
  • Cour di Bue Cabbage
  • Lacinato Kale
  • Scarlet Kale
  • Witerbi Mangold Chard
  • Purple Vienna Kohlrabi
  • Early White Vienna Kohlrabi
  • True Siberian Kale

Tomatoes

  • Rosso Sicilian
  • San Marzano
  • Red Fig
  • Wisconsin 55
  • Sweet Baby
  • Amish Paste
  • Yellow Perfection
  • Gypsy
  • Black Russian
  • Little Hagans Yellow
  • Marvel Striped

 

Brassicas & Tomatoes

 

Last Saturday we also planted a bunch of herb seeds.

 

  • Bronze Fennel
  • Zefo Fino Fennel
  • Flat Leaf Parsley
  • Curly Leaf Parsley
  • True Lavender
  • Lemon Mint
  • Rosemary
  • Oregano
  • Anise
  • Cilantro

So far only the Anise, Bronze Fennel and Lemon Mint are up but its only been 7 days so things should come up soon.

One thing we can say for certain is that the cinnamon is making a huge difference! We got a little white mold on our fennel pot but everything has been fine. Fungus gnats are very minimal compared with last year. They are mostly coming from some houseplants and our amaryllis which we never treated until now.

Speaking of things coming up, the DW has been keeping a written journal this year and has logged everything. Just for duplication sake I think I’ll do the same on here even if I’m delayed a few days in posting. However, here is what seedlings appeared on which day so far along with how many days it took to emerge.

March 4

  • Tokyo Long White Green Onion – 6 days
  • Zebrune Shallots – 6 days

March 5

  • Rossa di Milano Onion – 7 days
  • Yellow of Parma Onion – 7 days
  • Red Weathersfield – 7 days

March 6

  • Giallo di Milano Onion – 8 days
  • Walla Walla Onion – 8 days
  • Purple Plume Celery – 8 days
  • Strawflowers – 7 days
  • Blue Bedder Salvia – 7 days

March 7

  • Long Red Florence Onion – 9 days
  • Utah Tall Celery – 9 days
  • Burgundy Supercrest Celosia – 8 days

March 8

  • Statice – 3 days
  • Zebrina – 3 days
  • Phacelia – 3 days
  • Thumbelina Zinnia – 3 days
  • Pink Cosmos – 3 days

March 10

  • Gypsophilia – 11 days
  • Candy Cane Zinnia – 5 days
  • Sea Shells Cosmos – 5 days

March 11

  • Anise – 6 days
  • Lemon Mint – 6 days

March 12

  • Bronze Fennel – 7 days
  • Orange Cosmos – 7 days
  • Shishito Pepper – 7 days

 

Here are some photos of what is coming up.

Strawflowers

Strawflowers

Sea Shells Cosmos

Bronze Fennel

Bronze Fennel

Lemon Mint

Lemon Mint

Anise

Anise

Onions & Shallots

Onions & Shallots

Utah Tall Celery

Utah Tall Celery

Pink Plume Celery

Pink Plume Celery

Gypsophilia

Gypsophilia

Celosia

Celosia

Snapdragons

Snapdragons

Blue Bedder Salvia

Blue Bedder Salvia

Phacelia

Phacelia

Candy Cane Zinnia

Candy Cane Zinnia

Giant Flowered Zinnia

Giant Flowered Zinnia

Apricot Beauty Statice

Apricot Beauty Statice

Zebrina

Zebrina

Tall Pink Cosmos

Tall Pink Cosmos

Thumbelina Zinnia

Thumbelina Zinnia

Orange Cosmos

Orange Cosmos

Spring is Popping

Posted By on March 9, 2016

We have had some fantastic weather here this week with highs nearing 80F yesterday. We also got some nice warm rain last night and highs are in the 60s and 70s going forward. If that doesn’t make stuff start popping out the ground I don’t know what will!

http://i.imgur.com/r0OUnLA.jpg

White Crocus

 

Hyacinth

Hyacinth

 

Aquilegia

Aquilegia

 

Sedum

Sedum

 

Lots of crocus

 

Tulips

Tulips

 

Orchard Crocus

Orchard Crocus

Our spring display is starting to come into its own but admittedly it will never be complete. Things can always be tweaked and changed and bulbs will never stop expanding and giving us more. There is always more to plant as well, you can never plant too many. 🙂 The crocus by our back door have spread quite a bit since we planted them 3 years ago. The orchard crocus are still in their infancy with just a few poking through.

More Seeds and Some Seedlings

Posted By on March 5, 2016

The first seeds of the year have sprouted. 🙂 We noticed the first few on Thursday and even more yesterday and today. The strawflowers were up on Thursday so they only took 3 days and several onion pots are poking through after 6 days. The shallots have started and our Tokyo spring onions are by far doing the best. They sprouted after 5 days.

The cinnamon is definitely keeping the soil looking cleaner and we haven’t had any mold start yet.

Spring Onions

Spring Onions

 

Shallot Seedling

Shallot Seedling

 

Strawflower Seedlings

Strawflower Seedlings

 

We also took some time today and started a bunch more flowers and all of our pepper seeds for the year. The flowers were planted in the same way as before, each variety to a pot and the seedlings will be pricked out and potted on when they are bigger. The peppers were planted in cells, one variety to a cell. Perhaps 10-12 seeds per cell. Some of our pepper seed has not germinated the best so we over planted to make sure we get something from each this year. We will only keep the strongest 2-3 from each.

 

Peppers

  • Sunrise Orange Sweet
  • Nardello Sweet
  • Martins Carrot Hot
  • Datil Sweet
  • Trinidad Congo Hot
  • De Arbol Hot
  • Bulgarian Carrot Hot
  • Fatalii Hot (very!)
  • Corno di Toro Hot
  • Aconcagua Hot
  • Shishito Mild
  • Chilhuacle Rojo Mild
  • California Wonder Sweet

Flowers

  • Zebrina
  • Statice – Apricot Beauty
  • Zinnia – Candy Cane Mix
  • Zinnia – Giant Flowered Mix
  • Zinnia – Thumbelina Mix
  • Cosmos – Sea Shells Mix
  • Cosmos – Pink (tall)
  • Cosmos – Orange (short)
  • Gypsaphila (Baby’s Breath)
  • Nicotiana – Louisiana Piroque
  • Phacelia

 

Flower Seeds

Flower Seeds

 

Pepper Starts

Pepper Starts

 

Filling Up Our Grow Stands

Fuchsia Cuttings

Posted By on March 4, 2016

Over Christmas Holiday we took some cuttings from my mother in law’s fuchsia plant. It is a cute little light pink variety and was looking a little scrawny from what appeared to be neglect. We cut it back to a more compact shape and decided to keep 3 of the cuttings to see if we can root them. Everything worked out and they took!

Fuchsia Cuttings

Fuchsia Cuttings

I found out yesterday that the DW did put cinnamon on these cuttings and I can definitely tell that it made a huge difference. There is absolutely no algae or mold growth and we never had any issues with damping off despite our kitchen being quite chilly. We now have the plants sitting under our grow lights and they are putting on new growth. With any luck we will have beautiful little light pink fuchsia blooms later in the year. 🙂

 

 

Automated Chicken Coop

Posted By on March 2, 2016

I mentioned yesterday that we have made our chicken raising a bit easier by automating some things. I built an automatic door opener using a motorized car antennae last November and it has worked flawlessly since then. When it gets to 15 F or below, it does have some problems going up but the chickens are still able to get in and out.

 

The door is controlled by a timer and has two electrical connections going to it. One is always on and the other gets powered when the door is shut (so at night). The wiring consists of two DC adapters (the kind you use for small electronics such as laptops) that are connected to the wires coming from the antennae. They get plugged into an AC power source, which is the timer. It is very simple once you figure it out!

The door itself is made out of a plastic tote lid. It was the only thing I could find which was light enough for the motor to lift, yet wouldn’t warp from sun and rain like cardboard would.

Automatic Chicken Door Open

 

Here’s a photo of it closed.

 

Automatic Chicken Door Closed

 

Here is a closeup of how I connected the lifter to the door. I put a piece of metal strapping across the antennae and bolted it on with bolts and nuts.

 

To make feeding and watering a lot easier we invested in some large containers. The feed bin lasts about 2 weeks between filling and the watering container would last for a couple of months but I clean it out every few weeks. It is a 10 gallon fermenting tank normally used for brewing beer. You can find them on brewery sites. We also put in a bird bath heater so that it stays unfrozen, even in sub-zero temps. Its a great investment for winter chicken keeping!

 

Food and Water

 

I built their roost out of an old rickety wooden ladder we had sitting around doing nothing. They love it.

 

Wood Ladder Roost

 

I also built a smaller roost in front of the windows so they can sun themselves on cold frosty days. They have made good use of it. 🙂 We also built new windows for them. We had 4 nice sized windows laying around and so we built some runners and installed some hooks so we can slide the windows up and down.

 

Sunning Roost

 

Finally, here are the nesting boxes. Nothing special about these, they were built using scrap plywood last fall. They serve the job well and are very cheap! Look at all those eggs! We got 9 today. The other 3 are golf balls. 🙂

 

Nesting Box

 

 

 

 

Chickens!

Posted By on March 1, 2016

We were so busy last year taking care of our new chicken flock…that we never even put out a blog about them! Well here is our announcement. We’ve had chickens since last spring! By now they are fully grown and doing great. We have 10 hens and 2 roosters and they all get along very well most of the time. Egg production is picking up after the last few dark and cold months. In January we got 70 eggs and in February we got 116 eggs. March will probably bring over 150 eggs! Lots of hard boiled eggs are consumed for lunch these days. 🙂

For anyone who is interested we got some uncommon varieties.

5 Blue Andalusians – https://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/blue_andalusians.html

These are the black, gray and white chicks.

5 Cuckoo Marans – https://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/cuckoo_maran.html

These are the black with yellow spot on the head. They lay super dark brown eggs.

5 Easter Egg Chickens – https://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/arauca … canas.html

These are the tan/brown with stripes. They will lay pastel blue and green eggs (hence the name).

1 Dark Brahmas – https://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/dark_brahmas.html

Murray McMurray always sends on free exotic chick with each order and this is the one we got!

 

Here’s a photo from last spring when they arrived.

Baby Chicks!

Baby Chicks!

Cute!

They grew up very quickly.

 

Stanley - Blue Andalusian

Stanley – Blue Andalusian

 

Humphrey & Bee

Gem

Gem

 

Eventually they reached full size!

 

Blue Andalusian Rooster - Stanley

Blue Andalusian Rooster – Stanley

 

Bee - Dark Brahmas Rooster

Bee – Dark Brahmas Rooster

Then we started getting eggs….and eggs….and more eggs…. I think we have collected over 500 eggs now since they started laying back in August.

 

 

 

We also named all of our chickens. The two roosters are named Stanley (Blue Andalusian) and Bee (Dark Brahmas). The hens are named Penelope, Gertrude, Delilah (Cuckoo Marans), Gem, Opal, Lucy (Blue Andalusian), Rosie, Myrtle, Mable and Hazel (Easter Eggers).

Every one of them is great and has their own special personality. Last year I spent a lot of time sitting with them and feeding them all sorts of treats from the garden. Winter time has brought this to a minimal time but I still go out every day to see them and make sure they have food and water. We set up a large heated container for water and a large bin for food so we don’t need to fill either for a long time. We also have the door on a timer. I’ll post about that later on.

 

Sadly we also learned how to butcher live chickens. We had 4 other roosters that didn’t make list of chickens to keep. 5 roosters is way too many for 10 hens! Even 2 is pushing it but they get along alright. They were named Tweedledee, Tweedledum, Cristo and Humphrey. Of all of them we miss Humphrey the most and will never forget him. He was a gorgeous bird. They just got too aggressive toward our hens so they ended up in the pot. It was an invaluable skill to learn as a homesteader and we have plans to raise meat birds later on so will be putting it to use again someday. We won’t be naming those birds though. It makes it much more difficult. 🙁

Flower Seeds & Some Mold/Gnat Control

Posted By on February 29, 2016

Yesterday morning we started a whole bunch of flower seed. The past few years I haven’t been as into the flowers as I am the veggies but this year is completely different. I have fallen in love with growing flowers. 🙂 In fact, whenever I see a flat of little green flower seedling being carried around on any garden program I am watching it sends waves of happiness coursing through me and I instantly want to start planting.

For our first round we planted 11 pots each with a different variety of flower seeds. Each was over-seeded and the seedling will be plucked out and potted on when they get bigger.

  • Pansy – Historic Mix
  • Pansy – Swiss Giant Mix
  • Pansy – Trimadeau Mix
  • Drumstick Flowers
  • Celosia – Burgundy Supercrest
  • Red Fountain Grass
  • Globe Amaranth
  • Snapdragon – Ruffled Supreme Mix
  • Strawflower – Tall Double Mix
  • Salvia – Blue Bedder

 

Flower Seeds

 

We also took a little time to sprinkle cinnamon on the flower pots and also the pots from yesterday. We have never tried it but cinnamon is supposed to be pretty good at suppressing mold and algae growth and helping to stop damping off. One other thing we are doing to control mold but also to take control of the problem we always have with fungus gnats is to freeze and then boil our seed starting mix. We put each of our seed mix bags in the freezer for a few days and then we boiled some water and used that to moisten the soil. A second thing I am doing is to spray our seed trays with neem oil diluted in water with a little dish soap. Neem oil is a proven insecticide that is safe to use. The neem helps to interrupt the fungus gnat’s breeding cycle. Coupled with controlling the mold (which is what they feed on, thus they are called fungus gnats) we hope to have minimal problems. I am spraying on a 10 day cycle and have the dates written on my calendar.

Cinnamon to help with fungus.

Cinnamon to help with fungus.

 

We’ll update in a week or two with our results.

Starting Our First Seeds of 2016

Posted By on February 27, 2016

We have started our first seeds for the year. Tonight we set up our grow stands in the kitchen and planted our celery, onions and shallots. Starting next week we’ll be doing a lot more.

Zebrune Shallots

Onions – Yellow of Parma, Long Red Florence, Yellow Borettana, Red Weathersfield, Giallo di Milano, Rosa di Milano, Walla Walla

Celery – Pink Plume, Utah Tall

Initially we started fiddling about putting exact amounts of seed in little holes and covering them up. This took forever so we finished up my simply broadcasting the seed in each pot, one variety to a pot and covering them over. When they start growing I will pot them on into bigger pots and will keep only what we need as we planted much more in case we don’t have good germination.

 

Grow Stands

Grow Stands

We also have two of our amaryllis blooming right now. The red lion has been blooming for about a week and the double pink one just opened up today. Each one has two blooms stalks and so they’ll be blooming late into March. They are stunning!

Amaryllis Red Lion and Double Pink

Amaryllis Red Lion and Double Pink

New Seed Starting Apparatus

Posted By on February 26, 2016

At our last garden club meeting one of the members brought some valentines treats in for everyone. They were store bought cupcakes and were very good! We decided to take the container that they came in and had the idea of using it for a propagating/seed starting house. We took some rosemary cuttings*, some pineapple sage cuttings and some pelargonium cuttings and have them in there now. We are also testing some seed for germination. The plastic covering works great to keep moisture in, but the one thing we needed to do differently was to keep it heated. Our house is pretty chilly in winter and our kitchen is even colder, usually in the upper 50’s. So now I have a heat mat under the cuttings and hopefully they will do a little better. One of the rosemary cuttings already rotted. Cold and moist are the absolute worst combination for any seed/plant/cutting! Moist isn’t bad if things are warm and cold isn’t necessarily bad if things are dry. Combine them and things rot very quickly.

 

Cupcake Propogator

Cupcake Propogator

 

We also bought some new seed starting flats, cells and greenhouse covers from greenhouse megastore. Our seed starting equipment has been getting battered over the past few years so its time for some replacements. We had never ordered from this place but we will be back to order more. The quality is much better than what we had before. The deep celled tray in particular is very study and might come in handy for tomatoes which love a deep root run. We can also use it to start any taprooted plants such as beets which do transplant ok if done right.

We also bought some daisy trays. They are a little flimsier than I thought they would be so we’ll have to see how they hold up to carrying around small potted plants.

Deep Celled Tray

Deep Celled Tray

 

* rosemary cuttings are better taken in the autumn.