Monday, April 30, 2012

A little update on my fake hugelkultur projects.  The flowerbed/perennial garden is coming slowly.  It seems every time something new pops up the snow comes back to try to kill it.  It's a long wait between new arrivals that I recognize.  I am killing two birds with one stone though.  I started bringing buckets of wood chips up from the basement (they need to be cleaned out every year), and I'm using them as mulch/fertilizer/topsoil over the firewood and around the plants.  The path is slow going, and I've had to move it once already, as more plants came up.

The currants are now completely surrounded by old firewood, just waiting for some compost.

And, my latest project...  Something I hadn't even considered doing before, a raised bed/hugelkultur combo.  I've been watching these videos from survival podcast.  My parents have been cleaning up the deadfall through the trees around their house.  They offered us some free firewood.  Some of it has been sitting so long that it's very waterlogged and punky.  Perfect for hugelkultur.  And some of it is newer, long, and straight.  Perfect for building.

I've never done raised beds before, because space has never been an issue, and the cost of building frames seemed a little silly, even if it would help my aching back.  Then the soil it would take to fill them...  It just seemed like a lot of work for a little pay off.  However, since building the hay feeder out of logs last fall, I have the methodology down.  The only cost will be some spikes.

I'm only planning for one raised bed this year, and I'm aiming for three feet high.  Filled with rotting logs, it shouldn't require too many loads of compost on top.  One bed, because by the time I get it built and filled, it should be time to start planting.  I need to leave access to it for the tractor as well.  There's also the added bonus of creating a wind break for the currants through the winter.  and, of course, the no tilling in the future.  It's just a win-win-win.  Why didn't I start this 5 years ago?  Live and learn.

#4 helping with construction

I already have plans to put those back breaking beans in it!  It almost makes me look forward to picking them this year.

And here's a super mini hugelkultur project.  As I transplanted the tomatoes again, I put about two inches of bark in the bottom of each pot.  I'm hoping that will help when I inevitably forget to water them.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ok, I Tried It

sorta, almost...  Ohiofarmgirl issued the challenge for Black Bean Chocolate Cake.  I was skeptical but intrigued as well.   I tried the white version.  Not that chocolate doesn't always make everything better, but I had a pot of chili in my dinner plans already, so I figured I'd throw in a few extra beans and give it a whirl.  Then looking over the recipe, I noticed they're not much different, so I'll do a chocolate version with white beans as well, just add in the cocoa.

The thing that intrigued me about the bean cake, is the TEOTWAWKI possibilities.  If TSHTF, growing beans is pretty simple.  Cooking beans is pretty simple.  Making bean cake is pretty simple.  Much easier than growing/harvesting/grinding wheat.  So, you know, I had to try it.

The vanilla was better than the chocolate, but that may have been my own fault.  I mixed a double batch in one bowl, then poured about half into a cake pan (the vanilla).  Then I added cocoa to the remainder, and poured it into the second cake pan.  It turned out to be more than half.  Almost two thirds.

The vanilla was well done, and felt like a regular white cake.  The chocolate was a little spongier, didn't feel quite cooked through.  When I try it again I will use three cake pans.

They were both really nice served with a drizzle of raspberry sauce over top.  Nobody questioned that they were anything but a regular cake.  I'm not sure whether to tell them or not.

Are you up for the challenge?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pregnant Ladies

Dorie and Mindy were out bathing each other in the pasture.   This is a side view of their bulging bellies.
And here is Dorie's very bulging rear view.  I no longer have any doubts.
Because just a month ago, didn't she look like this?  This is Mindy's rear view.
Nelly was enjoying the sunshine too much to bother getting up. 
Knightmare's bulge is decidedly lopsided.

I am getting excited!  We're getting closer every day.  Soon we will have green fields full of fresh new life, with calves and a foal to romp in them!

Snow is melting, again, with none in the forecast for this week.  6°F.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Do I Grow My Own Potatoes?

This post is in response to kymber's question on my last post.

"do you grow your own potatoes??? you could save a ton of money if you did and if you keep them in a cool basement, barn, root cellar made out of hay bales - they'll last right up until you can start harvesting baby potatoes."

Well.  The simple answer is, I plant potatoes, but no, I don't really grow them, lol.

I know there are nearly as many methods to grow potatoes as there are varieties of potatoes.  kymber does an impressive job with the old tire stack method.  Other people have built boxes.  Some use garbage cans.  They all keep adding dirt and raising the foundation to encourage tuber growth.  They harvest lots of potatoes. 

Some people plant potatoes directly in the ground, and keep hilling them up throughout the season.  Some people (like my dad) plant them in the ground, and hill them once.  Some people toss them on the ground, cover them with straw, and ignore them.  They harvest lots of potatoes.

When we lived down south, I grew potatoes.  Just a couple of rows, hilled once, and I harvested lots of potatoes.

Then we moved up north.  The first year, I planted potatoes in the ground, hilled them once, and they did rather poorly.  The second year, I planted them in large tree pots, forgot to water them, and they did poorly.  The third year, I went back to planting them in the ground after adding lots of composted manure to the garden, and they did better, but still poorly.

Now, my crappy soil did not help anything to grow the first couple of years.  It can take some of the blame, but not all of it.  The short growing season might be partly to blame, but there are varieties that do fine in shorter time periods.

Truth be told, it is my fault.  I plant potatoes.  Rows and rows of potatoes.  And then I ignore them.  The weeds get higher than the plants.  I hill them too late in the season.  I bury more of the plant than I should.  And then, when I don't get instant gratification from the first couple of hills...
Potatoes from 4 feet of hills
I ignore them some more, and don't even dig the rest up!

You see, a few years ago, I found The Potato Man.  His farm is less than an hour away.  All he grows is potatoes.  Rows and rows of potatoes.  More potatoes than the bottomless pits of my children could ever eat.

In the fall, when they're new, he sells a 50 pound bag for $20.  He has a number of restaurant customers, who only want the big potatoes.  He sorts them and sells the smaller potatoes for $15 for 50 pounds.  After a month or two, when he's running out of storage space, he sells those smaller potatoes for $10 for 50 pounds.  Once I even got them for $7.

He doesn't use a bunch of chemicals.  They are perfect for planting in the spring.  That's why I still grow potatoes.  The eyes get me every year.  Why throw them out, when I can grow free potatoes?  Except, I really don't.  I just plant them.  Then ignore them.  Because I know I can buy cheap, local, healthy potatoes just down the road, and I don't have to dig them up.

I paid roughly $100 for 450 pounds of potatoes this year.  How many potatoes could I grow for $100?  Boxes of seed potatoes are about $10 each, and I think they claim to grow 50 pounds each (it's been a while).  Maybe more?

But here's the kicker...  Firewood is $65 a chord.  How many chords of firewood can I cut in the time it would take me to deal with those potatoes every year?  Especially in the fall, when we're getting close to the wire.  Where is my time better spent?

I always end up leaving potatoes in the ground, and cutting up another tree.

Still snowing...  4 days in a row now.  Only about two inches on the ground, because it's not really frozen anymore.  -6°C.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Winter Food Storage Update

The shelves are a little sparser than they were back in the fall.  We survived the winter with only a few quick trips to the grocery and one real grocery shopping spree.  I was trying to make do, but it got to the point that it seemed I was out of everything and making me a little crazy, so a big shopping was in order a couple of weeks ago.

What we ran out of...  pasta sauce, pasta noodles, flour, rice, catsup, pickles, mushrooms, cooking oil, mayo, potatoes, potatoes, potatoes, carrots, apples, beans, corn starch, honey.  A lot of it repeatedly.  I cannot believe how many potatoes we went through.  9 50 pound bags and counting!

What's left:
18 quarts beets
17 quarts 2010 beets(I fed a lot of the older stuff to the poultry)
15 tomato juice (how is that possible?  I don't remember buying any, and I know we used some.  Must have counted wrong in the fall.)
7 pints salsa
8 quarts watermelon rinds
1 quart blueberries
1 quart applesauce (was hidden at the back, missed the fall count)
53 pints assorted jams
4 pints dandelion syrop
2 beet juice
1 pints rose hip syrop
6 pints stew
2 pints tallow (don't bake with it.  It makes beefy cookies.)
28 pints raspberry sauce
21 pints blueberry sauce

9 peanut butter
2 bbq sauce
1 catsup
2 mayo
8 pasta sauce
4 pickle
6 mushrooms
6 salmon
18 tomato soup
1 onion
1 potato
2 rice
1 flour

I had to toss one of my big pumpkins that started to rot, and we tossed a lot of carrots before winter set in, due to the cold room being too warm in the fall.  Everything else has held up well.  I only made one small batch of apple sauce.  The boys ate nearly all of them! 

Still a ways off from starvation, but pushing my comfort zone.  Here's hoping Husband has a busy summer with big pay cheques so I can restock!

Monday, April 23, 2012

A little of this, a little of that...

Yeah, I'm still here.  Blogger did the switch on me.  I'm finding the page layout very harsh on the eyes now.  I'll have to fiddle with the monitor settings I guess.  Otherwise, I it's not too bad.

The weather has been up and down.    Last snowfall was April 17th, though there's still some in the forecast.  Some days have been very sunny and warm, while others have been cold and wet.  Almost spring like weather I guess.  Still, very odd for these parts.  Heavy frost every night, and still no sap running in the birch trees.  But also, no bugs!

I've been moving a little bit of wood from the crap firewood pile to the flowerbed, as things I recognize start to make their appearance.
Daffodils on the way!

The greenhouses are running around 75°F on the sunnier days.  The wind is whipping through like crazy.  Daily repairs to the plastic, it seems.  I hung some old snow fence in greenhouse #2, for the cucumbers to climb.
The woodshed has been tidied up somewhat.  We split all of the big logs and tossed them in the basement.  It's pretty empty right now.  :(

Between the big logs and the "stick ups", we have two full rows in the basement already.   (10.5' X 8' X 20")  A little over two bush chords.

"Stick ups" are what we call the trees that lose their tops through the winter.  The poplars get really tall, and then snap in half in the wind, leaving a tall pole stuck up.

Proof of Life:

At least one of our apple trees survived the winter!  Two of the others look promising as well.  The fourth looks dead.

 And I have come to the conclusion that the little red hen just might be crazy.
 She didn't sit on the plastic eggs at all.  No fooling her, I guess.  But she did build herself a little nest in the corner of the brooder and sat there for about a week without ever seeming to move.  I snuck in, in the dark, lifted her up, and tucked eight eggs underneath her.  She sat on them off and on for about three days.  Then she went on a rampage, digging through all the bedding and burying those eggs.  Now she has one egg that she sits BESIDE all the time.

I'm not sure what to do with her at this point.  She's not laying any eggs of her own.  The rampage was right after a couple of very cold nights, so maybe that has something to do with it?  For now I'm going to leave her be, and maybe try another batch of real eggs in a couple of weeks.

We lost our last tom.  We now have one lonely turkey hen.  No hatching turkeys this year.  We're really not sure what happened to him.  Just laying in the shed dead one morning.  No signs of wildlife, no mess of feathers, plenty of food and water.  My best guess is that he was fighting with the drakes.

In other news...    #2 has a girlfriend!  Boomer's girl!  Lol.  It's very cute!  They ride their horses back and forth to each other's houses (about 5 miles), so they can go riding together.  Our horses have never worked so hard in their lives!  lol.  And my farrier bills will probably be next to nothing for the summer.  They're wearing their hooves down rather nicely!

Busy doing firewood, yard clean up, painting the bathroom, cleaning the basement, starting seedlings...  Spring!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fresh Spring Snow

So much for our lovely spring weather! Although the weatherman predicts rain by tonight, and sunshine most of the week. Currently 1°C, and tiny flakes!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Duck, Duck, Goose, Turkey, Turkey

Another beautiful, sunshiney weekend!  We tidied up the turkey pen, patched the fence back together (where I cut it open into the garden last fall), and the boys went to get the ducks, geese and turkeys.

The birds all settled back into their pen like they knew where they were going and happy to be there.  There's very little green growth here, but more than in the chicken pen, which also made them happy.

Lots of room to stretch their wings, and no chickens to annoy them!


 #2 dug a hole for them, which I lined
with plastic. A small pond for the ducks and geese to bathe in.  It was filling with water.

It didn't take them long to figure out where the water was, although nobody dove in. It might be a bit chilly for a swim (well water).

I need to cover the edge of the plastic with some dirt and rocks still.

Interesting Developments

We bought Knightmare last year, on June 13th.  She was sleek and slender.

Last September, she had filled out some.  She still looked good, just a bit of a belly.  That's good, going into winter.
Mid winter, her belly seemed to be getting a little bigger.  Not huge, but she definitely wasn't suffering from lack of nourishment.
With the beautiful weekend weather, the Bigs did some riding.  Up close and personal, that horse needs to go on a diet.
She's looking rather rotund now.  And eating like crazy.
Her belly is hanging low and wide.
And I do believe she is bagging up.

So, I was thinking, at first, about a comment left on an earlier post, about her getting knocked up on one of the winter escapes.

I really think that's unlikely.  She wouldn't be this big yet, and the neighbour keeps her stallions stalled at all times.

However, horses are pregnant for 11 months.

If she was pregnant when we bought her, she would be due some time before May 18th.  In other words, soon!

My experience with horses foaling is limited to the other mare we bought pregnant, Blondie, assumed was fat, and found a foal in the barn one morning.

Boomer's people came to pick him up on Friday.  They are horse people too.  They agree, she looks pregnant.  (We witnessed three rounds of 'activity' between Boomer and Wonder, so fingers crossed, we have puppies on the way!)

Spring is very exciting on a farm!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Little Red Hen

I have one little red banty hen. She's been sitting in the nest box for the past couple of weeks. She pecks at us when we try to take the eggs. I thought it was a little early for her to be broody, but since she doesn't want to leave, why I should I argue?
I did decide to move her though.  Moving hens and eggs after the first chick hatched last year didn't work out very well, and letting them hatch eggs in the nesting boxes doesn't work either.
I converted the chick brooder to a cage, with some wire and feed bags on top.  Gave her a cardboard box to nest in, with some hay, and fake plastic eggs.

If she settles on the fake eggs over the next couple of days, I'll switch them for some fresh eggs and let her try to hatch them.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Hugelkultur Plans

I just learned about Hugelkultur from Sue at The Little Acre That Could.

Hugelkutur is basically a raised garden bed filled with rotting wood and topped with topsoil.

The idea pleases me, as it makes a great deal of sense, and it's possibly one of the easiest things I could do.  The added bonus is that the heat in the decomposition is supposed to help heat seaking plants, and some years, that's each and every plant here!

So I've done a fair bit of reading online, and as eager as I am to get started, I'm going to do a couple of cheats before I do the real thing.  The real thing apparently draws a lot of nitrogen away from plants the first year, so unless you have a lot of yard/kitchen waste to add into the pile, it may damage your plants.  Yard and kitchen waste are also known as animal feed at my house, so I think it's best to set the real thing up, and let it sit for the first year.

The cheats that I am going to try for this year are much easier, and may show quicker results.  They won't have the long lasting effects of the real thing, but hopefully will give a much needed boost to some already established plants.

First, there are a row of black currant bushes on the edge of the garden.  The previous owner told me that he'd planted them years before, and they never fruited.  Our first summer I vigorously pulled the weeds and crab grass around them, laying them around the stems as mulch.  They grew a fair bit taller, and seemed healthy and vibrant, but no fruit.  That winter, we parked our trailer to the side of them, which created an accidental wind break, and also led to the snow melting faster in that area in the spring.  We also dumped a lot of ash from the wood stove over top of the plants all winter long.  That summer a few of the bushes flowered, and we ended up with 6 currant berries.  I haven't done anything with them since, figuring the effort wasn't worth the pay off.
However, this hugelkultur thing...  Not far from the garden I have a pile of crappy firewood.  It was from a scrap pile of wood that the loggers had left behind, and not very good when I cut it, 3 years ago.  We use a bit of it for outdoor fires, and I suppose if I ran out of firewood and was desperate, I could still pick out a few of the better pieces for the house.  Mostly it is sitting there rotting and being an eyesore.  Perfect for garden use!
The black currants are technically on the lawn, about a foot or so higher than the garden.  They're planted in dry, sandy soil.  Well, mostly sand, very little soil.  My first cheat will be to lay a row or two of the crappy firewood around the currants, then cover it with compost.
My second cheat, also in the garden, will be to add some crappy firewood around the asparagus plants, who also battle weeds and dry sandy soil.

 I just grabbed a couple of armfuls of crappy firewood to play with while I was taking pictures.  There's a long ways to go yet.

Third, I had plans to add pathways to the raspberry patch.  I was thinking of buying planks to put in where I wanted the pathways, but why not use the firewood?  It'll still give me clear pathways, but cost me nothing, and as a bonus, they'll fertilize the raspberries as they rot!
 The raspberries don't look like much at this time of year, but through the summer the patch is a huge mass of green with no place to move.  We're constantly walking on plants and making new paths through them to get to the raspberries.

Fourth, my rhubarb patches get a similar treatment.
 It must be spring, because if you look closely, there's the first new rhubarb spike just breaking through the ground.  (the little red spot).

Then there's the flower bed/herb/perennial garden (aka, the front yard).  The front yard has about 10 feet of grass from the road to the row of lilac bushes.  There's a driveway on either side.  Between the lilacs and the house there is a 15 pace square area (less than 30 feet, 'cause I have short legs) of what used to be lawn.  There's another lilac bush to the right of the front door, a forsythia kind of in the middle on the right side, and a rose bush about two feet away from the lilacs, front and centre.  The well head in to the right. 
There was an overgrown flowerbed to either side of the front step when we moved in.  Well, I looked at that front lawn that first year and decided that needs to go. 
We don't even own a push mower, and there's no way the lawn tractor was going to maneuver around in there.  I consider it my mission in life to fence the areas the beasts can 'cut', and remove the grass from everywhere else.

So, I expanded the flower beds, laid out cardboard, landscape cloth, and carpet, attempting to kill that grass.  I transplanted rhubarb, perennials from my mom, asparagus seedlings, grew tobacco one year...  There are still big patches of grass poking through.  The biggest problem, is that I putter around in there in the spring, wanting to play in the dirt, but knowing that it's too early to do the real gardening.  Then once the gardening season begins, I all but completely ignore it.  The grass grows three feet high, the weeds are out of control, anything that isn't pretty right now is considered a weed, and I really just don't care.  I get too tired working with the things I can eat, I don't have the energy to deal with the things I can't.

This year, however, I bought a bunch of perennial herbs and medicinal plants, and I was making plans to turn that front yard into something worth having.  I always make plans, but with money invested, it's more important to me to make it work.  I had figured on bringing over a few loads of composted manure to enrich the soil, but how much more effort would it take to add a layer of rotting firewood in first?  My plan for now, is to add a row of firewood around the things I can identify in there, and a pathway of rotting firewood across the yard in front of the step.  Then add a layer of firewood in the areas that I'm pretty sure I haven't planted with anything.  Some spots will need to wait for more spring like weather, so I can start to see what's in there.  Then the big idea, a proper hugelkulture mound along the driveway on the right side.

I'm debating putting mounds in to the forest garden area, and/or adding wood around the apple trees, but I don't think I'll have time to do either this year.

Flurries off and on today, 5°C, but a sure sign of spring...

Monday, April 2, 2012

April foolie

Mother Nature played a foolie on us.  We woke up to quarter size snow flakes.
Of course, there was no mention of snow in the forecast.  I figured we were in for a couple of feet.  But it stopped after a couple of hours.

#4 built a snowman.  Just because he could.