Tag Archives: gardening

The buzz on From Scratch

If you are looking for a great source for homesteading information to help with your gardening, chicken keeping, crafting, repurposing projects- be sure to check out From Scratch Magazine.

The first issue featured my article on alpacas, and next week you can read all about another venture I am preparing to get started in, along with helpful information on CSA’s and the history of homesteading.

The magazine features a lot of interesting folks who really know their stuff. “Bee” sure to check it out!


The seeds of spring are here!

It’s the first weekend of March, and despite all the snow outside spring is on the way!!!

Seed Savers Exchange seed packets

Seed Savers Exchange seed packets

Our package of seeds from Seed Savers Exchange has arrived, and we’re very excited for spring planting in the new raised bed garden my husband is going to build.  The plan this year is to grow a garden using strictly heirloom seeds, and I’m really interested to see how they turn out.   While I have never used any chemical fertilizers or pest management on our vegetable plot, this year we wanted to get really serious about the seeds we plant and see if we can get good production using solely heirloom seeds and organic fertilizers.  Now, obviously, because we are not growing a large plot or doing any big-scale vegetable production, I think our chances for success are pretty good.  The theory behind using a raised bed is that it will help me to keep up with the weeding and harvesting much more easily.

We’ve decided on a 4 x 8 frame that will be 10″ deep.  Right now I am debating whether to rototill the soil before we install the bed frame (we are going to place it in the same spot as our original garden plots, or to start with some type of weed barrier at the base of the bed.  On the one hand, we’ve had a few good years using that area of the yard, and have tilled it consistently and have never used chemicals on it.  The thing is, we always lose the battle to invasive grass throughout the plot- which is why I want to switch to a raised bed.  I’ve read in a few articles online that people often start with a base layer of cardboard to act as a weed barrier and it will naturally decompose eventually.   Additionally, I don’t really want to spend a fortune on bags of potting soil… so I’m looking into more economical “make our own soil mix” methods that will use some of our own backyard soil, compost from the bin we started last year, and loads of manure.  We’re going to use alpaca beans as our manure source, because it had a good amount of nitrogen and potassium, and can be used directly on the garden.  It is not considered a “hot” manure and will not burn veggie plants when applied.  It breaks down quickly with rain and watering and quickly improves garden soil.  My dad has been using it for a number of years now and has had fantastic results with garden production.

The next thing I have to work on is plotting out how to plant this new garden for optimal production from the seeds we purchased.  The peas are are actually not going in the bed because their trellising will take up so much space.  For those, we’ll continue to use the pea fencing  we installed last year for them.  We’re also going to leave space to do multiple plantings of the lettuce to help spread out their season.

I know it’s still too early for us to get started with our garden here- snowing all week and the temps are still maxing out in the 30’s…but winter can’t last forever.  Sooner or later, we’ll be starting these seedlings!


That’s the key theme of this past week’s mini-vacation: lots of progress on yard projects. The chicken coop has walls! And a roof! And a door!!! Which is good because the little ladies are feathering up and growing quickly. They will need to move out of the brooder box pretty soon.

The veggie garden has really taken off- squash and pumpkin plants are looking good, and I added a second row of fencing for the peas. Sadly, I never did get around to planting the green beans and imagine its probably too late now.

And to top it off- we just got a compost bin built- FINALLY!!! We just used some leftover wood and plastic fencing i found out in the old shed outback- free always seems like a good way to do something! I have been after this for quite awhile…who knew I could get so happy over a “garbage bin” 🙂


Gotta love a productive weekend.

Spring has hatched

The chicks have arrived!! The lady that called from the post office early this morning sounded a bit surprised at my excitement upon hearing that my chicks had arrived and were ready to pick up. I promptly called my parents and left them hurried messages to PLEASE dash to the post and bring my new babies home, then rushed through the work day, eager to go get the kids and see the chicks.

Much to my surprise, and delight, all 12 of the little chicks arrived alive and peeping, and quickly took to the water dish. It wasn’t long before they found their way to the feed as well.

This was the first time I’ve ever held a chick- I still can’t believe how soft and tiny they are. It was so fun sharing this 1st with the girls, experiencing the same curiosity as they were feeling.
So, we now have 3 females each of Buff Orpington (since they are yellow we easily spot these), silver laced Wyandotte, Dominiques, and Barred Rocks. As these 3 breeds are all black and white, I have no idea how to determine which fuzzballs are which…. Guess we will have to wait and see. The kids wanted to start naming them already with the names we’ve chosen from our favorite Harry Potter characters, but I told them we need to wait a bit and see which chicks make it. Maybe that was mean, but I feel like they shouldn’t be surprised to find a few less chicks in the brooder over the next week or two…
In the meantime, we will keep hammering away at the “barn” my husband is building where their little coop began. He argues that he just knows me better than I realize and that there is no way I will be satisfied with a tiny coop and 3 hens…
It’s been a busy week or so around here- we got the garden planted finally, and helped out with shearing at my mom’s alpaca farm. That was a very interesting process, which I will try to post some pics of soon.
For now, keep your fingers crossed and wish us luck with these little chicks!

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And now we wait!

I’ve done it! I’ve placed my order for our first chickens! In about 8 weeks ( oooooh, the waiting!) we will HOPEFULLY have a chirpy box of Plymouth Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, Dominique’s, and Silver Laced Wyandot hens. Pullets. Whatever, the girl kind 😉

So now to hustle the hubby into readying their new home.

In the meantime, the vegetable seeds have arrived and are waiting for me to get them started: Hello seed, meet dirt….. Then there’s the garden plot to be tilled…. Which normally we never get to until around Memorial Day around here… but this year is just, as you’ve noticed… different.

I hope we are not going to suffer the brunt of some great cosmic joke in which we see the sudden return of ” the winter we never had” come April or May! We are just so ready to dive right into this spring.

Even the alpacas at my mom’s farm are eager for spring, as they eye us up and wonder just how quickly the fresh pastures of orchard grass will sprout up for them.

We even discussed getting out the lawn mower this week , and I guarantee that I have never seen grass being mowed in March in my 30+ years!

Plenty of stuff yet to be done in the meantime as we wait …. and wait… on seedlings and chicks.


The downside of spring

As much as I am glad to see spring arrive, I am just that unexcited to start the yard work. Frankly, when we bought this place 12 years ago the property was completely overgrown and full of broken fencing, dead trees, etc etc. While our focus has been on the remodeling of the entire house and construction of a new deck and garage, we spent the better part of the early summers clearing up the property. New veggie gardens have gone in ( although I have decided that raised beds are really the only way we will ever defeat the evil weeds), and I have tried (and mostly failed) to plant and maintain some nice flower beds. Then came 2 babies and an extended period of minimal funds ( unemployment can really wreak havoc on your Landscaping budget). We stuck with the gardens throughout, as it became very important to me to grow some of our food- but making the gardens pretty was pretty much out of the question.
Which brings me to this spring- and the view out the window.. It’s certainly not as bad as when we first started, but I see a long summer ahead of us to get the property back into shape. At least this year I can get the kids more involved in some of the projects, and my “insane” idea of borrowing some goats to start clearing the back areas is sounding slightly less crazy to my husband, i think. I found him checking out pricing on goat fencing last weekend.
As if this weren’t difficult enough to do, I really do want to stay AWAY from using chemicals on the gardens and yard, so I welcome any tried and true recommendations on how to naturally prevent insects, weeds , and moles!

Spring fever

Dad’s freshly boiled maple syrup is on the table, garden seeds are on order, and the lambs and goat kids are arriving daily for us to go visit! Welcome spring!!!!

Winter Garden

Winter has arrived, at last. I can’t really complain, it’s over a month late and we’ve had reason to celebrate the very  un-wintry weather for the past several weeks. Now we have several inches on the ground, and no end in sight on the forecast, so it seems we had better get used to it.  Time to break out the shovels and sleds, and my first new year’s project: learning to build a plant terrarium.

For Christmas, I received a P. Allen Smith book (http://bit.ly/x8PSuj) on gardening from a coworker, who after listening to my many stories of failed attempts at keeping houseplants alive and the poor, doomed, flower specimens that have met their grisly demise in my hands decided to try and stop the carnage by providing me with some solid, professional gardening advice.  A sweet gesture, but honestly it doesn’t inspire me with much hope…. except for the section on terrariums.

Small, hardy plants in enclosed containers that do not require much watering or care- now THAT I can do!  I started the year off with some internet research, another book on order (http://amzn.to/A71Yus), and a trip to the pet store, and I think I’m ready to give it a try. My sister, a master of antique-barn treasure hunting, found the perfect (meaning very cheap) glass jar with lid, and while at the pet store for gravel and aquarium charcoal I found a supply of terrarium plants.  Who would have thought to look at the pet store for those?? Okay, well I would not have thought it.  Upon scavenging the house I found a sad little baby on a (mostly dead) spider plant and a bud off of a rose cactus that despite my best efforts has somehow managed to survive (persistent, those cacti). Here’s the first attempt at planting:

I’m really excited to learn about terrariums and discover creative ways containers and plant combinations.  Seems like it will be a fun project for the kids as well, and will interesting watching them hunt for containers and “decor” to create their own miniature plant “landscapes”.  Who knows, maybe by the spring I will even learn a thing or two to make my outdoor gardening exploits a bit more successful.

Caution: Gardening can be hazardous to your health

Okay, perhaps just to mine. Earlier this summer I ended up planting 48 heirloom Brandywine tomato plants (due to a slight communication failure), which was about 40 plants more than I had intended but at the end of a long and exhausting afternoon they were all planted and ready to grow.  I lost one this summer due to some wind damage, but figured that was an extraordinary survival percentage on the others.  Despite the lack of water this summer and some pretty hot days for our area, the plants have grown and yielded a massive amount of tomatoes on the vine, and finally they are starting to ripen for picking.

That brings us to today, and my declaration that I will never plant tomatoes again. I’ve been really worried about them because they are growing to enormous size (seriously, these guys are getting UGLY big) but staying green and my Dad suggested that I needed to get in there and remove all the excess foliage on the plants and allow the sunlight to reach more of the tomatoes to ripen them (ah…. so that’s what they mean by “sun-ripened tomatoes”….).  I headed out with clippers in hand and got to work, clearing away all the extra green and weeds (weeding gardens is NOT my thing… I tend to let nature take over a bit  too much between the rows).  Within 15 minutes I was sneezing to beat the band.  30 minutes in I am making such good progress on the plants and filling up a bucket with all the ripe ones that I find in there, becoming rather oblivious to my constant sneezing – it’s nearly fall, sometimes I get a little sneezy, not a problem. After an hour it becomes very apparent to me that I am having a hard time breathing in between all the sneezing, and my ears and throat are burning and itching, and now that I look, my arms and hands are covered in a bright red rash that is itching like crazy, and my fingers look like they are swelling… hmmm…maybe I should go inside…

Then I try to get a drink and realize I can’t really swallow very well, and geez, actually talking is a bit hard too. I found some children’s Benadryl to take, and then started to worry a bit as I realize this is a fairly intense allergic reaction.  Not being able to breathe gets a bit scary and I have a new-found empathy for asthmatics. I don’t know what exactly I got into out there, but hours later I am sitting here with an insanely itchy rash on my hands, watery eyes, scratchy throat and still a little short on breath, and a couple hundred tomatoes still out there, waiting for me….  attack of the killer tomatoes, indeed.  I think I will REALLY enjoy scalding the heck out of them making salsa this week… assuming I live long enough to actually get them out of the garden.  The battle is on, this round goes to the tomatoes.

Apparently, I am REALLY going to like tomatoes.

Earlier this week, I sadly gave up on the heirloom Brandywine tomato seedlings that I had tried to start..they just didn’t make it (it’s possible that the 6 foot fall they took from the porch railing to the ground below in a massive wind and hail storm had something to do with their ultimate demise…).  My father called me this morning from the local Amish greenhouse to report that they had some nice looking Brandywine plants, so I told him to get me $10 worth.

“$10 worth, huh.  Are you sure??” he asked with a laugh.

“Yeah Dad, just get whatever you can get for $10.”

And then he arrives a bit later, with my $10 worth of Brandywine tomato plants… all 48 of them.  Forty-eight!

He tells me that when he asked the Amish owner to please give him $10 worth of the plants, the man smiled and asked him,  Why?

Dad explained that his daughter had asked for $10 worth, so that’s what he was getting.

“Well, she must REALLY like tomatoes” the man said, laughing, as he handed over a flat full of 48 plants.

So 2 hours later, here they are all planted.  The whole while, my father stands nearby giggling away as I plant 48 tomato plants.  I admit that I actually was expecting  3-5 plants…really… and this is fairly ridiculous… but I plant every single one, and assure him that he will stop laughing later this summer when he gets to taste these beauties – they are the BEST tasting tomatoes on earth (in my humble opinion-  and I really was never much of a tomato fan until I grew these last year).   My rationale was this- for $10, I can buy 3 jars of salsa at the store, so I may as well spend it on the plants and get a FEW more jars of homemade salsa instead.  Simple and logical, right?

Looks like I had better start stocking up on canning jars for salsa 🙂

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