August 26, 2009

Our precocious chickens

Our six chickens are officially laying hens now, on their 17 week birthday! We were expecting to wait another month for eggs, but we found four eggs today. Two of them were broken, but two are absolutely perfect. Luckily, Madeleine had a hunch to look in the nest boxes today, because I wasn't thinking eggs yet at all. We saw Lisa, one of the white ones, in one box, and the other nest box was used as well. I have no idea how they know to lay in the nest boxes but I'm glad they do as I was worried they would leave eggs all over.

Back in May, Madeleine crocheted this little egg basket from twine. Cute, eh? She's precocious, too.

July 6, 2009

Garden Tour

In the foreground is the first proper compost pile of the season. It's currently hosting a hill of Atlantic Giant pumpkins. The pile in the background was assembled the day before this picture was taken and already you can see that it has shrunk significantly from the top of the chicken wire. At the depth of my soil thermometer it was 50 C.

This picture shows the wooden raised beds filled with soil as well as the strawbale beds. I've planted strawberries, winter squash, peppers, tomatoes, salad greens and herbs in strawbales for the first time this year. I did this because there are only a few inches of sandy topsoil on top of limestone bedrock throughout most of the garden area, and I blew my wood and topsoil budget last fall while building the 9 raised beds. So far, most things are doing well, but I'm reserving judgement until I successfully harvest everything.

A closer look at the wooden raised beds. They're simple 4 ft. by 8 ft. rectangles the height of two 2 x 6's. The standard size makes it easy to move my portable 4 x 8 ft. hoophouse onto any bed in the fall. The chicken coop is also designed to fit on top of a bed so I can enlist the chickens' help to clean and fertilize.

My Delicata squash plants appear to be doing well in their strawbale. There are lots of male and female blossoms, as well as a couple of small fruits already.

The cabbages are just about ready to eat. I had carefully covered them with row covers to keep out cabbage moths, but I wasn't diligent about making sure the edges were securely fixed as they grew, so moths did find their way underneath. I removed the row covers to allow birds to find the tiny caterpillars and I picked a few myself. So far, it appears that only the outside leaves have holes, but I will wash them carefully.

I planted two hills of summer squash from a seed packet promising a mix of varieties. So far it looks like patty pan, crookneck and plain old zucchini.

I have one bed devoted to garlic as well as a couple of smaller plantings. We've been eating garlic scapes for the first time this year and I have a new favourite vegetable. Perhaps this fall I'll plant more, as garlic is something I can never get enough of, and the Chinese garlic in the grocery store pales in comparison to the locally grown stuff.

My tomatoes got off to a bit of a slow start in the very cool basement and still aren't the great leafy jungle plants I'm used to growing. However, they are loaded with blossoms and small fruit as are the peppers. I expect that this may be because my home mixed organic fertilizer which I've been using with manure tea may be particularly slow release in the nitrogen department. I started fertilizing and watering the strawbales about a month before planting anything in them to start them breaking down.

I'm growing Penta potatoes in straw mulch right on the ground. I flattened last year's weeds, sprinkled some organic fertilizer and tossed the seed potatoes on top. I covered the whole thing with straw and have added straw as the plants have grown. This is another experiment inspired by a lack of topsoil and aversion to hard work. So far I can report no major bug problems, but no major potatoes yet either.

The portable chicken coop is currently in the garden, but the chickens spend their days wherever they want. I occasionally shoo them out of a bed or the garage, but they generally occupy themselves foraging in the grass, or resting amongst the trees.

The bare looking bed has recent sowings of beets, chard and carrots. I had Asian greens and spinach, planted in mid April, there throughout the spring.

I've started a few cabbage plants which are waiting for a spot to open up somewhere for planting out.

I started everbearing strawberries (Temptation) from seed and I'm pleased to see that I have a few blossoms. They seem to be doing fine in the strawbales and are not bothered at all by weeds there.

Apparently you can get good help these days.

Lisa the chicken keeps an eye on things. I think of her as the spokeschicken as she is certainly the boldest and most vocal of the gang. They're almost 10 weeks old, so we have a few weeks to go before we see any eggs. I'm a little concerned that they're getting so comfortable all over the property that they'll lay their eggs everywhere, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

February 9, 2009

First seeds

The first seeds for the year have arrived! I've made a schedule for myself for starting seeds indoors using this calculator. I still have a couple of weeks to wait before I can get going with onions and cabbage and broccoli, and even then, I'll start only a few of each every week for a few weeks to stretch out the season.

Some seeds I'm trying for the first time are asparagus, strawberries and ground cherries. I'm taking the advice in Gardening When It Counts for asparagus. I'll be planting directly outside and I've chosen an open-pollinated variety, Mary Washington, from which I'll select the males myself. Apparently, this should result in healthy, disease resistant plants.

The strawberries are Temptation which are ever bearing and should produce in the first year.

January 24, 2009

Fermented Bean Paste

I've been having more fun with fermentation lately and made this jar of fermented bean paste from a recipe I found in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Basically, it's like a bean dip with whey that you leave on the counter for a few days to ferment before refrigerating. So far, it looks kind of disgusting - I'll taste it in a few days.

January 21, 2009


It may come as a shock that I am not a hand bread kneader. I rely on my 10 year old stand mixer, which also drives my grain grinder and flaker. A month ago, the mixer started making crunchy noises and shortly after quit altogether. I brought it to the appliance repair shop where it was diagnosed with bad gears. I happily had the repair done given the alternative of chucking it in the garbage. Yesterday was the big day when I somewhat less happily paid the hundred and fifty bucks to retrieve the mixer. Last night I cracked some oats for porridge and I was thrilled to have the mixer back. This morning, while trying to grind some wheat for bread, I got 10 seconds of joy until the mixer made a horrible noise and stopped grinding....gears obviously gone bad.

Sigh. The good news is that there's a 90 day parts and labour warranty on the repair. And hand kneading isn't so bad.

January 4, 2009

Winter in the garden

These dark days of suspended animation in the garden are a real challenge for me. I feel like I'm holding my breath until spring. Soon the seed orders will be placed and seeds will start arriving in the mail. I'll try to resist the temptation to start too many seeds too early as seedlings get lanky and pale when they spend too much time indoors and spring is too unreliable here to chance planting out early. My little hoop houses didn't get built in the fall, but I'll try to have a couple ready for first thing in the spring to act as cold frames.

January 3, 2009


We've been invited to a neighbourhood post-holiday potluck, so I baked some of M's ginger cookie dough and made a pasta salad. I have only actually spoken with a couple of our neighbours since we moved here 6 months ago, so it feels a little weird preparing food for strangers. I'm glad to have the opportunity to meet the neighbours because I am essentially a shy person and can always find something else to do besides reaching out to people I don't know. I love the idea of a potluck as sharing food with people is a great way to make a connection.