Sunday, July 10, 2016

How we spent our anniversary

Myself and Partner with Chickens;  photo by Franklin
It's our wedding anniversary today.  Erm...which one?  More than 10, less than 15--it's been so long it's hard to remember!  What did we do to celebrate? 
Pond filter
Well, Partner spent a few hours redoing the pond filter--we obtained a second one from his mother--and I assisted him for about an hour.  He emptied the old one, cleaned it out, and we moved and refilled it.  I divided and replanted a pond sedge.  Partner did the same with a pond iris.

Franklin and I moved the chickens to a new patch of lawn.  Partner dusted the hen house with DE (to kill chicken mites).

We all went to the garden center and looked around, and bought three big bags of potting compost;  I planted up an old slightly broken plastic laundry basket, and sowed some seeds in a few trays and planters. 
Laundry basket planter:  classy!
We had beef stew for dinner with a big handful of garden chard (yum).  I picked enough chard to freeze a third of it.  I put yesterday's batch of frozen cherries into a freezer bag. 

I hung out the laundry on the line, and Partner and I both dashed out to save it from the rain (it stopped a minute later).  Franklin and Partner played games on the Wii.  I picked lots of of berberis berries for the chickens;  I staked a tall snapdragon next to the patio.  We ate some of the strawberry rhubarb jam I made, spread on rye crackers.

It was a good day, especially since we spent it together as a family.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Making, remaking, mending

I enjoy making things, particularly out of textiles.  I do all sorts of textile crafts, including knitting, crochet, sewing, quilting, embroidery, and rug making.
T shirt rug
For a year or two I've collected Partner's old worn out t shirts, and this spring I finally took the plunge and made a rag rug from them.  I've made one other rag rug before, by braiding long strips of rags and sewing them together.  That took ages, and was really hard on my fingers.  This new rug was braided/woven in as I went along, with each new round braided into the previous round.  I'm not sure what the technique is called, but it went very quickly;  I think I finished the rug in about a week, from cutting strips to finishing.  This technique only needs short strips of rags, making it a great way to use up scraps.  My rug took 8 men's L and XL shirts, and measures about 4'x3'.  I would definitely make another one;  it was a quick, satisfying project.
Franklin's pullover
I actually knit the above pullover for Franklin last year.  It took me more than a month to complete, and I was so sick of it by the end!  Though I'm very pleased with how it turned out, it was a very tedious knit:  narrow yarn in dark colors.  I won't be making any more dark colored knits like this any time soon. 
Baby v-neck pullover
My mother in law gifted me some of her yarn stash and patterns, and I knit the above and below baby things using them.  I made these without a recipient in mind, but enjoyed making something small and quick.  I think they took me about a week apiece to finish.  I still have quite a bit of leftover yarn;  no doubt more baby things are in the future, if only to use it up.
Baby v-neck cardigan
I generally have a knitting project on the go--at the moment I'm using up more of my MIL's stash to make another pullover for Franklin.  He's getting bigger (six years old now) so it takes longer to finish.  I prefer to finish my current project before beginning something new, but I sometimes have two different crafts at once:  right now my second is a patchwork quilt.  I enjoyed making my last applique quilt so much that I'm even contemplating hand quilting this one too...but I might just tie it instead and be done with it.

Not only do I make textile crafts, I also mend them.  Today I mended two torn seams on my favorite skirt, and patched a hole in an old pair of pajama bottoms.  My pj top could do with some mending too, but maybe I'll save that for another day.  I've got a pair of woolly leggings I sewed last year which I keep darning:  they must have about 50 darns now!  But I love them so much, it's worth my time to keep them going;  and luckily I have matching wool so the darns don't really show.  My other pair of leggings are full of holes, but I'm not sure it's worth it to repair them;  they are storebought, made from nylon and to be honest, don't fit as well or feel as nice as the woollies.  Still, I'm so cheap I might just darn them anyway rather than buy another pair.  Maybe using wool thread so they feel nicer!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Chick update, mid spring in the garden, and rats

Our new chicks are getting bigger and three of them are nearly completely feathered.  We are down to five now (one of the bantam chicks died, and though we don't know for sure, we think it might have been a freak accident involving a boisterous large chick who is prone to step/jump on the small ones).  I'm beginning to suspect that four of them are boys.  I'm certain about two of them, and am tending towards it with two more.  Of the last I'm unsure at this point;  it's the smallest and weakest chick, however, and is only now (at seven weeks) growing some feathers.  I hope it's a girl;  we don't want to have to eat everybody! 

The three big chicks are all still very friendly and curious;  one of them really enjoys sitting on our hands and getting comfy.  Another--the boisterous chick--always comes barging over when we come by, and when we offer treats the strong tiny chick is the first to rush up and grab some;  it can run right underneath the big chicks.  The little weak chick runs away crying if we open their box, or even look at it.

And now on to gardening.  Last year I sowed sorrel seeds and we enjoyed a moderate harvest in the summer.  A perennial, they began shooting up again last month, and I'm amazed at the growth on them.  They are a bit too sour when cooked plainly, but chopped and added to a tomato sauce, make a great veg addition.  It's so nice to have a vegetable from the garden at this time of year!  We've had sorrel a couple times a week for a few weeks now.  Franklin likes to pick and eat them fresh. 

It's not the first vegetable of the year though.  I have harvested a couple leeks, which were sown last spring too;  I still have around a dozen left, but it's about time to get them out of the bed to make room for my beans.  I also have some leftover chard, cabbage (greens, not heads), and of course the rhubarb, all of which have been sampled this spring.
Patio gardening
In the midst of the spring gardening rush, I now have most of my seeds sown, and lots of seedlings planted out.  I have plenty of peas on the go--2/3 of them are planted out now, with the last 1/3 ready for planting;  the oldest batch is about 9 to 12 inches tall.  I'm using my wooden raised bed on my patio as a seed bed temporarily, with vegetables and herbs coming up like crazy.  It's just a mass of greenery at the moment.  I've been moving them out (and eating some of them straight, like the arugula).  In a week or two, I'll plant it with squash and cucumber, I think. 

My onion sets are coming along beautifully, and I have carrot seedlings popping up in my two big planters.  My beet seedlings in the ground seem to be still alive (they were badly mauled last year by slugs).  I bought extra seeds as a precaution. 
Onions growing nicely
I also have new strawberry and asparagus plants out, both from seed.  I still have a few older strawberry plants (two years old maybe?) but my original asparagus died a lingering death several years ago.  I probably got about 20 spears in total from ten plants--over about five years.  Hope these new seedlings are more successful...

And of course, I've got flowers coming up everywhere.  I've planted out about 10 different kinds of flowers grown from seed (marigolds, cosmos, nicotiania, clary, etc), and have plenty of familiar faces blooming now:  tulips, iris, bluebells, honesty.  My two cherry trees are covered in blossom, as is the berberis (an amazing orange), my new Asian pear, the two apples, and the red and black currants.  My plum tree flowered for the first time and is forming tiny fruits;  I'm very excited about it and about the little almond tree.  Last year we got our first almond harvest (25 nuts) and the tree looks much more full and leafy this year.  And there are two little figs forming on my tiny fig tree! 
Main veg garden with white cherry blossom and red tulips
One unwelcome addition to my garden, however, is a family of rats.  We had seen them helping themselves to chicken food, so have taken some measures to discourage them:  chickens no longer have free access to food, but get three supervised meals a day (and all the grass, weeds, and bugs they can find).  Kitchen scraps go into a covered compost bin and not an open pile.  We have raised the hen house slightly, so a curious cat can fit under it:  an eyewitness (that's me) saw a neighboring cat catch a rat next to the house.  This cat has been a regular visitor, and it has made at least one other suspected--though unverified--catch.  Hopefully without an easy source of food and with the help of that thoroughly excellent feline, the rats will move on.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

We're doing it again: chicks

It's that time of year:  we bought chicks from a local breeder just over two weeks ago.  We had a rocky start, with a couple fatalities, but now have six chicks in our kitchen.  Like last year, we will be keeping the hens and eating the cockerels, but unlike last year, we don't know which is which just yet. 

We have three big chicks and three little bantams, and the big ones are growing quickly and getting some good feathers now, at nearly 3 weeks old.  The bantams are much smaller, but all have grown a little since we got them.  Our biggest chick is about four times bigger than the smallest!  And has lovely feathers and markings, and I suspect may turn out to be a boy...But everyone is presumed female until proven otherwise, so we refer to them all as "she" and have given them girls' names.  I just hope at least two are hens!  Actually, Partner thinks he might know someone who wants a cockerel for breeding, so we shall see if one gets a reprieve after all.  We simply can't keep cockerels because of our neighbors. 
three day old chicks
Though we don't know the reason for our early fatalities, we believe the first one got chilled (it died the first night).  For the others, I suspect the chick feed--it may have been too big for such small beaks, as further observation showed the little ones having real trouble picking the pieces up and swallowing.  But it may have been something else entirely (Partner's not convinced it was the feed);  we changed to a different feed (smaller pieces), gave them grit, and have been monitering their brooder temperature closely.  We haven't had any more deaths since (knock on wood);  it was certainly very distressing to lose them so early, and not even know the reason.

By getting new chicks I want to ensure a regular supply of eggs--produced most reliably by young hens.  I hope to make a yearly addition to our flock with new chicks, to keep our egg supply constant.  Of course, there will come a time when we are at capacity;  when this happens we plan on eating the oldest hens, to make space for new layers.  This will also give us a source of healthy, naturally raised meat.  I anticipate this happening in another three or four years.  I also anticipate it will be difficult, even more difficult than killing our young cockerels.  But that's life:  everything dies someday, and everything becomes food for something else. 

I would like to note: all our adopted rescue hens will be allowed to live out their natural lifespan and will not be eaten.  Though not explicitly stated, this is implicit in our agreement to adopt them from the hen charity.  We currently have 7 rescue hens;  they typically live around 1-3 years.  

But back to our new chicks!  They're all very cute, very curious, and all different colors and markings;  it's easy to tell them apart.  We don't know what breeds any of them are, other than big and small.  They don't like being picked up, but all willingly jump onto our hands if we offer them food;  I was hand feeding them earlier today, and a small one jumped onto my hand and promptly fell asleep! 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Harvest totals

Main veg garden (Brussels and daffodils and mulch!)
I did it:  I tallied up my garden totals for 2015 and the grand total is 66 pounds* of garden fruit and vegetables.  This includes kale, chard, cabbage, potatoes, zuccini, pumpkin, runner beans, climbing beans, salad greens, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, and cherries.  It does not include peas, herbs, almonds, strawberries, blueberries, blackcurrants, or apples--or truthfully most of the tomatoes too.  I estimate there would be about 8-10 more pounds with the above included (mainly due to the apples and tomatoes). 

*Note:  this is prepared weight;  I weighed everything after trimming/peeling/chopping/etc. 

The most prolific producer was by far the runner beans, producing just under 16 pounds!  The second best producers only came up to about 8 pounds:  kale and zuccini.  I actually couldn't believe I got that much kale, but according to my records, just before the caterpillar blitz, I was picking up to 13 oz a day.  We didn't manage to eat a full 13 oz a day:  some got frozen.  Surplus runner beans were both frozen and salted. 
Ninja!  I made this costume out of bits and pieces, including the applique dragon badge
So far this year I have harvested one leek and some (forced) rhubarb, both weighing in at 5 oz.  I never tried forcing rhubarb before--I put a big upturned black bucket on top of the plant in January and weighed it with a couple bricks so it wouldn't blow away.  I left it for about six weeks and then picked the biggest stems--about a third of them.  I wasn't sure if I should keep forcing it, so I left off the bucket after that harvest.  We had the stems in a stir fry and they were beautifully tender and not too sour. 

Hot bed on my patio
I've started sowing seeds in earnest now, both vegetables and flowers, and some are popping up.  I have a new raised bed/giant planter made of wood next to my house.  It used to be our sofa!  Then it became Franklin's bed frame;  now it's loaded with chicken manure and compost and has seedlings emerging rapidly.  The idea is the chicken manure heats it up from underneath, and the glass shower door (remember it?  it's still here) holds the heat in, encouraging early growth.  I put lots of seeds in it, but typically did not label the rows...  No matter;  I'm pretty good at recognizing seedlings, and I'll transplant to the main garden when large enough, and hopefully grow pumpkins and/or cucumbers in the bed later in the year.  

Will this be the year I finally achieve my goal of producing all our vegetable needs for the whole year?  Watch this space!

(When I took my camera out to the garden I couldn't find much of interest.  But in the interests of Not Pretty I figured some realistic photos would do.)

Monday, February 29, 2016

2015 food garden review: discussion and conclusions

My 2015 garden review:  I'm completely unabashed about my lack of photos.  I know it's more fun with photos, but we're just going to go with it.

This winter has been pretty mild so far.  We've had a few more frosts than last winter (which had a few more than the winter before).  I like some good hard frosts to help kill off excess slugs.  Two summers ago we had a plague of them.  Last summer we had an infestation.  Hopfully this coming summer we'll be back to normal proportions.  I can handle slug bites in my vegetables;  it's repeated vegetable fatalities which are hard to accept.  Last summer they demolished all my attempts at root crops and cabbages.  It was dreadful, but at least it was better than 2014, when they killed everything I put in the ground.  I'm not even exaggerating.  Only a few things in my planters and two (small) raised beds managed to survive.

I decided it's no longer worthwhile to direct seed into the ground--because of slug pressure.  Mainly I have direct seeded root and salad crops in the past (up until several years ago this was fairly successful for me).  This year I will be transplanting lettuce, beets and celeriac, sown indoors in trays, and direct seeding carrots into planters.  I've grown carrots in planters before, mainly to avoid carrot fly.  Though not as big, any carrots are better than none.  My two other root crops are onions and garlic;  I planted garlic in November, and it's happily growing away, and I will soon be planting out onion sets.

My pumpkins really benefited from the heavy application of fresh and semi composted chicken manure, producing loads of growth.  However, having them in the ground saw them produce mainly vines at the expense of fruit.  I harvested one medium pumpkin, and plenty of immature ones (picked off to encourage older ones to grow big, and eaten as zuccini).  My one zuccini plant (the slugs killed the others) also had liberal amounts of chicken manure, but was more generous with fruit;  I estimate I picked about a dozen altogether.

Runner beans were planted near the pumpkins and zuccini, with a similarly generous harvest (while attempting to remove their supports yesterday, I discovered that their roots--little tubers--are still alive under the soil.  Maybe they'll grow again this spring?).  We had enough to eat fresh, and also freeze and salt.

Of my four or five volunteer potatoes, we had a great harvest!  I hadn't expected to get any potatoes, not having planted them in 2015, but we ate them fresh for about two months:  they were good sized ones, good flavor, and almost no potato scab (an issue in the past).

Kale and Brussels sprouts were hard hit by caterpillars in late summer, and did not recover well before it turned cold.  I got a few good harvests of kale, both fresh and for the freezer beforehand, but the sprouts weren't ready at that time, and we only got one meal off six plants this winter.  The chickens were allowed to self-harvest the remains after we'd had ours for Christmas dinner, though the plants themselves are still alive and trying to produce a few more sprouts.  I may let them go to seed.

Mostly unaffected by pests were chard, tomatoes, and peas.  Chard was big and beautiful, and some is still growing now;  we had it both fresh and frozen.  I picked my last ripe tomato on Christmas day;  it was growing in my uncovered raised bed next to my house.  There were still a few more orange ones after that, but the slugs found them before I did.  Tomatoes gave only a modest harvest:  enough for eating fresh, but not enough to preserve;  though a few seeds were saved, too.  I think the peas survived better than many others because they were planted quite early before pests were very active.  We mainly ate them fresh, but I also saved about 100 seeds (and the first 35 have already been sown). 

Leeks have been very slow growing, and still not very big!  I harvested the first one (sown from seed last spring) earlier this month.  At least they were not troubled by much.

The chickens have remained a reliable source of food all year;  of our chicks, raised last spring, we ate the six cockerels;  they were about two-three months old when they began crowing.  We killed them over a period of about a month:  the last three we did all on the same day, which was both easier and harder than doing them one at a time.  Two went into the freezer.  We used nearly every part of all them, including most of the innards (other than the gallbladder and digestive system).  The bits we didn't use went into our compost bin (head, feet, and the remains of the bones after making stock).  The pullets began laying regularly since late summer, and continued all through winter.  One was even laying double yolkers.  We currently have eleven chickens, seven of which are rescued hens.

Of fruit, my gallon of morello (sour) cherries in the freezer made a sumptuous cherry pie, following a recipe from the Joy of Cooking.  We had about two dozen gorgeous red Sparta apples, and a few gold/orange Laxton Fortune apples.  There were five Kordia (sweet) cherries, and 25 almonds which went into our Christmas stollen bread.  And two amazing figs, even if some other small creature had the first bite off them (the tree is just over knee height).  I told Partner it was probably a bird, but between you and me it was more likely a rodent...don't worry though, I washed them really well.  We had a few handfuls of both strawberries and blackcurrants, nearly all of which disappeared down Franklin's throat (he also got most of the peas!).

I recorded nearly all of my vegetable harvest last year by weight, though some things were missed off, including things like tomatoes and peas which we just picked and ate.  I didn't record fruit harvest either, other than the morello cherries.  Right now, that data is stuck to the side of my fridge on several sheets of notebook paper.  Time to organize and tally it up, I think.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

December garden (and my applique quilt!)

Tomatoes, in December!
In my December garden, there has been one frost, which killed off the pumpkin vines, the nasturtiums, and the one tomato growing in the ground. My remaining tomatoes, in planters next to the house, continue to ripe, one by one.  I even picked a red one today! 
Today's tomato harvest
I can't remember the variety, but they are some kind of salad tomato. Throughout the summer I watered them with diluted urine about 2-3 times a week, and then just normal watering the rest of the time (using collected rainwater when possible). I stopped all watering at the end of August. I also began gradually picking the leaves off at the same time, to encourage the fruit to ripen.  Finally I got my first tomatoes in September:  only enough to eat fresh, which we proceeded to do.  Since then, I have picked about 5-6 tomatoes per week on average, even up until now (December).  I try to pick when they are just turning orange, and then ripen in the fruit bowl (generally overnight), as the slugs will munch them if fully ripe on the vine.  Most of the fruit has been significantly bigger than the one shown above, thankfully!
Main veg patch:  the green bits are Brussels and kale
Compare this photo above with the one from my last post;  the runner beans on the fence are still gently ripening a few more seeds, once they have done so, I'll let the dead vines fall to the ground for in-place composting.  I've already mulched a bit for winter with some moldy straw, and you can see the Brussels sprouts have made a little bit of a comeback from the caterpillar devastation;  in the previous photo they were nothing but bare stems and stalks.  They actually have leaves--and sprouts! now, which we'll be eating at Christmas. 
My pride and joy
After all the amazing growth and vigor of my pumpkin vines, I only got one mature pumpkin.  Last year I had two spindly vines which managed to produce me one each.  Ah well.  This one is bigger than either of them, though admittedly not by much!  The vines actually produced lots of pumpkins, and I kept picking off the small new ones, to encourage the older ones to grow bigger (not a very successful tactic for me, as it turned out);  we ate the small ones as baby summer squash.  At one point I had about five biggish pumpkins growing, but one by one they turned moldy and fell off.  I don't know why.
Garden cabbage

Last year I grew my pumpkins in planters next to the house;  this year I planted them in the ground.  I think, comparatively speaking, growing in planters was better for me;  they took up less space, and I got more mature pumpkins.  I think being in the ground meant they had unlimited access to water and food (it rained a lot, and I'd enriched the soil with plenty of chicken manure), so the vines put out rampant growth at the expense of fruit.  When in the planters, water and food was limited, so the plants put all their effort into making fruit.  That's my theory, anyway.  I don't have a lot of garden space, and to have so much vine growth without any pumpkins was just a waste of growing space.
Love apple quilt:  finished!
Now it's December, there's not much light during the day.  We get a lot of rain and cloud cover, and the sun isn't up for long anyway:  I think we're getting about 8 hours of daylight.  It's not been particularly cold yet, though we've had a few cold days and nights, but winter crops are growing slowly, if at all, because of the lack of light.  Some of the kale has recovered from its caterpillar ordeal, as have the cabbage and spring broccoli, and have strong new growth--all of which I will probably harvest in spring.
Hand quilting stitches, shown from the back
So though still mild, this winter is mainly a time for reflecting on the past year, eating the preserved harvest, and making plans for the upcoming season.
My kitchen window