Early 2018 Garden

At my last post, we had gotten a whole bunch more snow in mid-April. Within 2 weeks of that, the snow was pretty much all gone. Now we’re well into spring, and I’ve been busy digging, and planting, this year’s garden.  I started seeds inside for tomatoes, some herbs, and flowers at the end of April, and have started potatoes, onions and peas already in the garden.

I came across a book in our house (one of my mom’s, probably) called Backyard Bonanza, a little pamphlet book from the 70s; it’s about the French Intensive, double-dug raised bed method. It’s essentially doing double-dug raised beds, without using lumber to surround the bed – you have beds that are permanent, and double dug, where you don’t ever step on them again, surrounded by permanent pathways. The compaction on the pathways will eventually keep weeds down on them, and the double-dug method gives your plants enough room to put their roots really deep, so you can plant a lot more vegetables in less space. I’d read about double dug beds before and thought “that’s too much work,” but I decided to try it for my main garden this year after reading this book. It’s really not too bad, since I have time – I won’t be planting most things in there until June, so I’m doing a bed a day every couple days, to let my back recover between, and not work too hard.  Here are some pictures of the garden and the farm this spring:

yard meltage
Our snow about a week after that big storm (so roughly 4/21 or so).
snow melting chickens
The chickens playing in the bit of yard that was exposed that first week
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Here is the garden about 2-3 weeks after that last snow storm. I’ve sectioned it off here for the raised bed system.
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Another pic of the yard/meltage. It’s now getting more green now than shown in this photo.
sections
Here is a section all done. I have 1-foot paths between everything, and 1.5-2 ft. paths around the edges inside the garden fence. My garden is inside my dog fence, and my dogs like to pee on the fence. The large border (plus tall grass that grows at the fence) will keep their pee off our plants.
garden digging
Here is part of the garden. The bags are potatoes – I am trying that method again this year (using feed bags) but this year I cut those shorter instead of rolling the bags. I’ll only fill them over the potato plants once or twice. The farthest corner here with straw has my garlic that I planted in the fall. I have about 30 or so garlic plants coming up now.
digging
Here I am digging the pea bed. The onions are behind me here (toward the garage).
double dug
Here is one bed dug and one almost done. I dug a shovel-depth down (roughly a foot) and then the next shovel layer is all forked nice and loose, and I added some compost to this layer and tilled that in with the fork. I then added the dug-out dirt back in, and made sure it was all nice and crumbly. The paths get buried by dirt, which blocks the weeds for the time-being.
in progress
Here I am digging with the fork again. The paths will all be mulched with straw when I’m done so we know where to step before things are growing well.
pulling out rocks
Pulling rocks and weed roots out. We have lots of rocks, and many dandelion roots.
ready for filling
Here you can see how clay-orange my soil is. I try to add a lot of composted chicken and rabbit manure to amend it.
clay soil
The big green bin is the weed bin – I fill it and then toss it in the woods or give the weeds to the ducks and chickens.

This garden will have 11 of these raised beds this year (it would be 12 but the garlic was already in for the year – I’ll re-do that one in the fall after I harvest the garlic).  So far I’ve dug 3 beds, and planted two of them. I have 8 more to go, but most of those will be plants that will go into the garden in June.  I also will have the herb garden and tomatoes in the back in other plots. I’m stealing some area back from the chickens for my tomatoes and squash this year, since they usually have the whole yard to roam in, minus the dog run. I’m excited for this year’s garden.

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A Sad Bunny tale…

Our two female rabbits were due to have babies on Memorial day weekend (about May 27th).  We moved the rabbits to their outside cages around May 21st, for the summer.  Marigold, my usually skittish bunny, immediately started pulling fur once she was out there (we gave them both nest boxes when they were moved.).  Petunia didn’t pull any fur at all even when they were due.

Marigold became less skittish while outside, which is really strange – I figure maybe because they don’t see the dogs anymore – their cages inside were in our shed so the dogs would move through there sometimes.  Marigold had a litter of 11 babies on about the 27th of May – quite a lot, and it was her first litter. A couple days passed, and Petunia didn’t have any babies, so I thought maybe the pregnancy didn’t take – that had happened the month before when I attempted to breed them. I wasn’t sure what to do, but just figured I would wait.

On May 30th, Petunia had 6 or 7 babies – we found them and they were either killed by her or stillborn.  We thought maybe she had been spooked by something outside, or something. Later that day, we went out to feed the rabbits and she had died. I’m not sure what was wrong with her, but I read that sometimes they can get a baby stuck and then go septic really fast.  That is possibly what happened.

Marigold has been a decent mother, but we still lost many of her babies. We had a bit of a cold snap over the first few days of June, like in the 40s at night, and here and there we’d find a dead baby bunny – it looks like one would get separated from the group of them and get cold.  I have been making sure they are covered up with fur and all together in a group, but we still lost a lot of them.  We are now down to three babies.  She has been really good at feeding them though, since those three are all growing really well.  So at least we still have the dad, Buddy, and Marigold and her three babies.

Here are the three babies and their mama, Marigold:

It is a sad tale, but the remaining rabbits are all doing well so it has a somewhat happy ending.

 

Garden 2018 is planted.

Phew! We finally got the last three double-dug French-Intensive beds finished and planted tonight. We had a bit of a hiccup a few weeks back, when we hit the part of the garden that used to be a driveway.  The soil in that bed was extremely rocky and we had to sift the soil to get all the rocks out. Once that was done things moved a bit faster. I also got the other gardens planted in the meantime. Here are some photos:

garden
Here is a shot of the garden with all the separate beds.
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Here is another pic, the northern side of the main garden.
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A closer view. You can see the older “raised beds” are not so raised anymore, since we’ve had a bit of rain. Our clay soil doesn’t stay as fluffy as it could. It should still be better than if we were walking on it though – we won’t be since that is the whole point of this system.
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The greens bed. Kale, chard, and spinach. They are all growing well.
peas
Here are the peas. They are starting to try to find something to climb, so we put these strings and supports in for them yesterday.
tomatos squash
Here is the tomato bed (not part of the main garden) – I took this area back from the chickens. There are tomatoes and squash in here, and so far they are doing well.
herb garden
Here is the herb garden. It’s doing well also, but it’s hard to tell yet in this picture.
comfrey
Here is my comfrey. I fenced in the area next to the house that this is in, and now the chickens can’t get in there to eat it all.
moth 1
I found a visitor in the garden today, this Sphinx Moth. Possibly a Big Poplar Sphinx Moth or a Modest Sphinx Moth, according to a couple of websites I researched on.
moth 2
Here you can see the purple under its wings. It’s hard to tell scale on my arm here, but it had about a 3-4 inch wingspan while sitting here. They are really large.
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He was going a little crazy so I put him down on this chair, and after a few minutes he flew off. What a cool visitor.

 

Garden Progress late May

We are progressing on our garden plans for this year.  We’ve had some really warm days, and the nights are starting to warm up now, so planting for some things has started, and other things will be put in the ground soon. We are almost done with our raised bed garden that we’ve been working on, and we are getting the other beds ready as well. Here are some pictures of the goings-on for late May on our farm:

buddy outside
We moved the rabbits outside for the summer. Here is Buddy, our buck. Our does are due next week with babies.
chickens sneaking in
I am working on fencing the side of the house where the hollyhocks and comfrey are – here the chickens have snuck in since I haven’t finished the fence yet. Silly chickens.
herb garden
The herb garden (the back of the house garden) is almost ready, we just need to fence it and fix the pathways, since the chickens have messed those up. The fence will keep the chickens out. They think it’s their dust bath.
work in progress
The main garden is over halfway done with the raised bed system that we’re putting in – here you can see a hole in progress. We’ve come to the hardest part of this garden, the part that we most recently re-claimed from the yard, so it’s super rocky.
last year carrots
Here are some carrots from last year that were hiding in the garden. I found them as we were digging. You can see here why I needed to do a double-dug system. Our clay soil can be so dense that roots don’t go very deep. They should be able to get larger this year.
lemon balm
My lemon balm is doing fantastic. (next to potato bags).
garlic
Here is my garlic.
onions
The onions are coming up nicely.
peas
The peas are doing very well also. I am working on a trellis system to put over them so they have something to climb.
potatos
Here are some potatoes growing in the bags. So far this is working ok, but I think I will be trying buckets next year. The bags don’t stay as open as I’d like them to. 
seedlings 2
Here are some of my seedlings under my grow lights. I have tomatoes and squash, herbs and melons all started. I will be hardening them off here shortly.
tomato garden
Here is the tomato garden. I am taking back a section of chicken run that they really don’t use much, and I’ve dug individual holes for each tomato plant. I’m planning on putting pumpkins in this area too, so I can train them over the fence. I’m digging deep holes that will essentially be tiny raised beds for each plant. They’ll get compost next, and then filled in with loosened soil before I plant the tomatoes and things.
tree leaves
Our trees are really leafing out now. There are a few things that are just budding, but these maples are in full leaf.
the yard is green
Our yard is nicely green.

The garden is coming along nicely. I’m really glad that we’ve had such a nice spring so far.

New rooster, and more snow.

We got hit with a big snowstorm yesterday (as did most of the upper Midwest, and other parts of the country).  We probably got somewhere over 10 inches of snow, but it was very windy so it settled in drifts – some spots had no snow but in other spots there were swaths of snow that were over 3.5 feet tall.  Because of the way it settled I really am not sure exactly how much we got, but it was a lot.  And in mid April it is definitely unwelcome. I was looking back at old notes and realized that at this time a couple years ago I was putting my ducks in the pool outside to swim –  it was 70 degrees that day.  Last year I was putting in the onions. THIS year, I haven’t even seen my yard yet – there was a small bit of driveway exposed for awhile but that is all so far.  This coming weekend we’re supposed to be up in the upper 40s, so this snow is all going to melt and become a big mudpile. What fun!

We also added a new rooster the other day, since my old roosters both are gone.  The hens need someone to watch out for them, so I decided to look for a new one. I found him on Craigslist.  He’s a Russian Orloff, and I’ve named him Bertram. The name stuck in my head when I got him, so that’s his name. It fits pretty well, actually.  Here are some pics of the new rooster, and our yucky new snow:

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Here is Bertram, the Russian Orloff rooster. They are a very very cold hardy breed, and he doesn’t have much in the way of waddles or comb to get frostbit.
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As you can see here, he’s quite large. The hen next to him is a Copper Maran, so she’s a standard size hen. He’s probably about the size of a Brahma rooster, at least height wise. I have not weighed him so I don’t know how heavy he is. But he’s tall.
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He’s very nice to the hens, and they are getting along well with him. He’s ok with me too – he keeps an eye out to make sure of what I’m doing in there, but he has realized I’m the food-bringer, so I think that helps.
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Another picture of him in the coop.
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I got this cute pic of two of the ducks last week as well.
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Here are some deer out near the chicken fence. They cross through behind our property every evening, and they’ll come close to the fence sometimes looking for treats. They get the occasional apple or carrot thrown over and left for them to find.
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Here is the snow bank the other day. It was down a bit – this is the driveway-plow snowbank (created from plowing our driveway)- in winter, we can’t really get behind the chicken house. My son climbs this though and creates forts in it. Here it was on its way to sort-of melting…
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And here it is today. It is taller than my son with his arms outstretched. He’s just over 4 feet tall.
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Here is what the driveway looked like before we tried to plow/dig out cars this morning. I was worried the plow wouldn’t cut through that (where you can see to the right of the car, toward the road), but it did. The snow was really tall in spots but our plow handled it.
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Here was the swath of snow next to the truck – where I was standing there wasn’t any snow, because the wind had pushed it all up to the truck.
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Our back porch is now exactly level with the snow. The dogs walk right off the top step into the snow, as if we just have a patio out there.

Oh, so an update on my last post about syrup.  I was still cooking it down when I posted that day; right after posting, I decided to put the sap into a smaller pan to finish the cooking.  I chose too small of a pan, and ended up making maple sugar instead! The temperature got too high with the small pan. I thought I had made hard candy, but over a day or so it ended up crumbling. It’s quite nice in tea, but it was not what I was going for. After that day, we had some cold temps, so we didn’t get any sap for about a week.  This past week (before the storm) was really decent – we were getting 1/2 gallon per day from some trees, and one tree actually gave almost a gallon per day for a few days. Temperatures dipped Saturday when the storm was heading this way, so I just pulled the taps in for this year.  I ended up with about 9.5-10 gallons of sap through the week, and cooked them down yesterday:

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Here is the syrup!! Just about one quart (4 cups) total. 

I made sure to check the temperature this time and didn’t cook it to candy / sugar stage.

 

“It’s Spring! April Fools!” – Winter

We got more snow yesterday.  Which happens here in the U.P.   We got an end-of-March storm, which only gave us about 4-5 inches of snow, but it came with a little cold snap. Our maple sap collecting has gone awry because the temperatures dipped.  We went to get sap the other night before the snow started, and there were little icicles from the taps into our buckets.  Tomorrow is supposed to be warm enough for the sap to flow, but otherwise the next week is not supposed to get much above freezing during the day. Ideally you want temps in the 40s during the day and 20s at night for optimal sap production. When I looked at the weather, it said those temperatures should come back around April 10th.  I decided to cook up what I had today  – we had just over 2 gallons collected so far.  We’ll still leave the buckets up for now and see what happens.

Here are some new pictures from today:

boiling sap
Here is the sap pot. I had to boil down a bit before adding the rest of our sap – this pot didn’t hold all 2 gallons at once. We won’t end up with much syrup, but it should be delicious anyway.
more snow
Here is our driveway/side yard, which was grassy and chicken-y in my last post. The chickens were not happy that we got more snow.
more snow 2
Here is my car with snow on it – we really didn’t get a whole lot, but when you are waiting for it all to melt, getting any snow is a let-down.
buddy
My bunnies didn’t care about the snow, since they live inside. Here is my buck, Buddy.
marigold
Here is Marigold. I bred the two does last weekend, so hopefully we’ll have baby bunnies by the end of the month. Marigold was not happy about being bred. (She’s pretty skittish anyway).
Petunia
Here is Petunia. She seemed excited about mating, luckily.
wizard 1
I was taking pictures of the rabbits, and my cat Wizard started coming down stairs. He’s been hanging out more downstairs since we got him a cat tree. I’ve even found him sneaking around in the kitchen, which means he may start actually catching mice downstairs.
wizard 2
A close up of our Wizard. He is a great mouser upstairs, so we are hoping he’ll do his job downstairs too.
nova
Our Nova was curious why I was taking pictures, so I took one of her too.

 

Coming out of winter into spring

It’s officially spring, but here in the U.P. we are just starting to come out of winter.  We still have a lot of snow, although this week we’ve had decent temperatures during the day (above freezing) so the snow is melting and turning driveways into mud. They freeze at night, luckily, so I was able to go to work this morning – my car wasn’t stuck in my muddy driveway. We are supposed to get a little bit of snow this week (3 inches, I heard) which is typical. Spring is usually like this.

This winter has been really hard – we lost both roosters. Big Red died in January, and The General died just a couple days ago. They both got really bad frostbite this winter – Red had it so bad his waddles got really swollen.  General’s toes got it really bad. I’m not sure if they eventually both died because of frostbite complications, but it’s possible. They both seemed to recover (and be feeling better) before they died, so I’m not sure. With chickens it’s sometimes hard to tell.    The frostbite came when we had a really bad cold spell in January.  The ducks sometimes make it hard to keep the moisture out of the coop as well, which can contribute to frostbite in the chickens. Roosters with larger combs/waddles are really susceptible, and both of our boys had them. We are very sad about losing our roosters.  Now we have 19 chickens (all hens), and three ducks.

chickens_dorko and brown hen resized
Here is General on the right, with one of our hens a couple years ago.
copper-maran-roo
Big Red – our Black Copper Maran rooster, this picture was from last year.

Today we let the chickens out into the yard for the first time this year – there is actually a bit of grass/muddy driveway for them to hang out in, instead of just snow. The ducks found a big icy puddle to dabble in – they loved that. Here are a few pictures from today:

happy hens
Here are some of the hens out in the yard today.
chickens spring
There was really only a little bit of yard and the driveway for them to go in, but they enjoyed it.
chickens driveway 2
Another picture of hens in the driveway.
remaining pile
This is what remains of our snowbank in front of the coop.
ducks heading home
Here are the ducks heading back home.
sap buckets
We also tapped trees this week! Usually maple syrup time is earlier in March, but we didn’t have the necessary warm daytime temperatures till this week.
sap buckets 2
We’ve been getting just under a gallon a day of sap, with 8 buckets out.

Spring is on its way, luckily. I’m glad to see this winter mostly behind us.

 

December on the farm…

I haven’t posted in awhile – we’ve been really busy this fall.  Here are some updates:

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Here is our snowy yard today.  It took awhile to get this much – most of November we didn’t have any snow.  The chickens haven’t been coming out of the coop building much. I left the run open on days I was home until we got snow. Now the chickens don’t want to come outside anyway, and our white ducks might get lost if we let them out! They like the snow though.
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Here is Marigold, one of our female bunnies.
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Here is Petunia, Marigold’s sister. They were born this year in March.
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Here is Buddy, our male.
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The garden in winter. bleh. I’m already starting to plan next year’s garden!
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The back yard. The snow is pretty, but it gets to be tiresome after awhile. It’s nice through the Holidays and then I wish it would leave (it won’t for several months after, though).
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Our bird feeder is up, so the chickadees are happy. We kept it down in the summer, to prevent bears coming to our porch. The bears should be hibernating now.
specs resized
We lost our hen Specks a week or so ago. I thought she was egg bound or something (she was lethargic but still eating), so I treated her for that, but it didn’t seem to matter. We were very sad to lose her. She was a big personality in the flock. Very vocal about us coming in to get eggs. And very friendly -she liked being petted. We’ll miss her.
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This is a little older – here are a couple of pumpkins I ended up roasting. I made some pumpkin bread with the flesh, and froze some for later this winter.
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Here are all the tomatoes I canned this fall.

Early Fall Gardening

We’ve been harvesting tomatoes left and right. We’ve gotten a little bit of zucchini.  It’s funny how you plan for the year and things just grow how they want, with no regard for your planning. Last year I was overrun with zucchini and yellow squash, so this year I grew one plant of each.  They have not done well, so I’ve gotten 2 zucchini and it’s already October.  With the amounts of rain we had this year (and it’s not done) the garden has been a little hit or miss for some things.  Here are some newer pics of our garden:

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Some of our many tomatoes
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Some very tiny cherry tomatoes. These are very tasty, and super prolific. I even had some sprout from last year’s lost broken tomatoes (I call them rogue tomato plants).
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Some of our purple tomatoes. I thought these were Black Krim, but as I had others ripen I think these darker ones are actually blue beauty. I remembered Black Krim having a lot of green and these don’t.
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The largest pumpkin I’ve grown, shown between my feet. These were supposed to be pie pumpkins. This is more jack-o-lantern size.
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Another view of the pumpkin.
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A nice sunny sunflower. This grew in my yard (not in the actual garden bed) , in an area that didn’t get mowed this year. The chickens didn’t eat it before it had a chance to grow either, so that was lucky.  I think the deer have stayed clear of my yard with all the dog and chicken activity.
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The ducks enjoying a nice day in the back yard.
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Here is our garden at the end of September.
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Another view of the garden, from the porch.
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Another large pumpkin. This one was hanging from our fence but I picked it so it could finish ripening on the porch. I like how the leaves look still attached here.
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Downey checking out the porch. There are other pumpkins behind him.
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A bumblebee on a sunflower.
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A view from inside the garden in early October.
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We finally are getting some cauliflower heads! I had given up, but then a few days ago I saw a white head. I tied the leaves up on the plant, like you’re supposed to. A day later I found another of my plants has a head, so I did the same thing. This is my first year growing it.
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A pretty sunflower.
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Here are the rest of the tomatoes. We are supposed to get down into the 30s tonight, so I got spooked and figured I’d rather bring the large ones in. It was a little dark when I picked them, so there may be others out there. These will ripen on the table. There are still a ton of cherry tomatoes outside.
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Another Bee on a bright red sunflower.
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A butterfly on our zinnias. There has been a lot of bee and butterfly activity on all the flowers lately – I think some are getting ready to migrate somewhere, or store up food for winter.

The garden is starting to wind down a bit.  We still have a lot of stuff to harvest, but most of it will be ok if we get frost.  Carrots and beets are still getting larger, and I have some Kale to pick.  We also have peas and beans, but I’m letting those dry on the vines. I’m hoping I get enough peas to make a little bit of pea soup.  I usually don’t let them go that long (they are so yummy picked earlier) but I want to give it a try.

Late Summer around the farm

We’ve been up to a lot this last month – it still just keeps raining way too much, so everything tends to be sopping wet.  Some veggies are finally starting to produce/ripen. I’m hoping the rains don’t hurt the harvest – I’m worried about tomatoes splitting. Oh, and we’ve also already had frost warnings – some areas near me actually had frost a week or so ago, but we lucked out at the house and didn’t get any frost.  Here are some pics from the last few weeks:

late august
The garden mid-August. You can see the soaked muddy ground here.
sopping wet garden
Another pic from mid august.
toad
We found a visitor in the garden. He was huge! I wish the picture had turned out less fuzzy.
chickens
Here are the chickens coming to see if we brought them any treats.
bubble
A bubble – my son got a bubble wand from a birthday party, and we took some photos.
potatoes
Here is about half of the potato harvest. We harvested the last 4 (out of 8 or 9) bags. We really didn’t get a lot – I will try a different method next year (and keep the plants away from the chickens) – the food bags didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. I think we planted more seed potatoes, weight-wise, than we harvested.
fuzzy raspberries
A fuzzy picture of our raspberries. I put them in a couple years back, and finally got a decent crop, BUT they don’t taste like raspberries. One berry had a hint of raspberry flavor. I’ve tried letting them ripen more but those just rotted, so it’s not that they’re not ripe enough. I’ll have to research this variety more. They are good, just not what I want them to taste like.
cherry tomatos
Our first ripened tomatoes of the season, on one of the cherry tomato plants.
early girl
Early Girl tomatoes – these are the next to ripen – this pic is from a few days ago but I noticed one is a little pink today.
black krim
Black Krim tomatoes. These will get red on the bottom when ripe. They keep this nice dark color on top.
blue beauty
Blue beauty tomatoes. They are more of a purple tomato when ripe.
zinnias
Some beautiful Zinnias.
more zinnias
Another Zinnia.
uestion mark
A question mark made from potatoes – my husband set these up, using this silly shaped one we got.
large pumpkin
A large pumpkin waiting to ripen. It’s supposed to be an 8″ pie pumpkin variety, but this one is a bit larger than that.
small pumpkin
Here is a smaller pumpkin.
train depot
We sold some hens today – our 3 year olds and a two-year old. We’re trying to bring our food bill down for the coming winter. Here the ladies are waiting for their ride this morning. We now have 22 chickens (20 hens and 2 roosters). And 3 ducks.
early sept sunflowers
I took this really nice picture tonight – The sunflowers have some really nice flame colors.

Thanks for checking out our late summer pictures. Hopefully this rain will let up a bit and we’ll have a nice fall harvest.