Tuesday, April 26, 2016

April 26 update

This year the warm weather is ahead of schedule.   Many days in April have been more like summer than spring, and the trees are leafing out about two weeks earlier than normal.   In my small plot I have been playing catch-up now that the main work of remodeling the kitchen is finished.  In fact I'm a little surprised that things are doing as well as they are.  It helps that I've been doing this for a few years now, and while methods are still evolving much of the work is like 'falling off a log.'

So here's a quick tour.  First there's the big bed, the bed that grows squash, sweet potatoes and potatoes.  The potatoes were planted a week ago, where the bare soil is, and the sprouts should appear any day now.  The remainder of the bed was seeded with a cover crop of oats and inoculated field peas, which have really taken off.  I've pulled up of a few of the pea plants and checked the roots.  They are covered with root nodules, which shelter nitrogen-fixing bacteria. 

The cover crop is growing like crazy.  Every morning and evening I take the snips to it and cut off enough to fill a container for the rabbits.  The doe had a litter of kits a week ago and a big appetite.  Both the buck and doe are completely crazy for this, especially the peas.  The doe jumps at the greens as they are tossed into her pen and nearly bites my hand.  So the cover crop has worked out well, adding nitrogen to the soil and providing a food source for the bunnies.  At the rate it grows I think it could support another doe and her litter.

The front bed in the next picture grew the overwintered spinach.  For some reason the spinach is not so good this year, but once the outer leaves are discarded there is still some good spinach to be had.   This bed will be planted with summer squash, eggplant and okra in few weeks.  There are some really nice dill plants that self-seeded and I'll have to be careful not to harm them when the summer crops are planted.

The second bed has been planted with onions, carrots, beets and parsnip.  There is still room for a few more rows of beets and carrots.  The third bed will get tomatoes and peppers.  Some field peas planted last year survived the winter and I'm happy to let them grow and add nitrogen to the soil.  The bed in the back is a perennial bed, with asparagus, strawberries and herbs.

There are two beds for cole crops.  Cutworms have been a problem, killing two broccoli plants in the same spot and damaging other plants.  I sprayed the stems and surrounding soil with Bt and that seems to have stopped them.

Anise fennel is growing in a homemade SWC. The first time I tried growing fennel in a SWC I tried to grow eight in a single container and the results were disappointing.  This time the container gets four plants.

The mobile cold frame has lettuce growing in an Earthbox.  I'm sold on container-grown lettuce.  It grows really well and stays clean.  Pepper seedlings and brassica seedlings are growing in the trays.  Most of the pepper seedlings were purchased at the local greenhouse and repotted to larger pots. It really looks like there will be no more frosts this spring, but if there is a mild frost the cold frame will hold temperature well enough to stay above freezing.  A hard freeze and the peppers go inside.

Tomato, okra, eggplant and cucumber seedlings are growing inside under the lights.  With one light unit and the cold frame there is just enough space to grow everything. 

Lastly there's the raspberry bed, flanked by the apple trees.  Both the Golden Delicious and the Fuji tree produced a lot more flowers than last year.  Most of the flowers have dropped now.   Looks like there may more than two apples this year.

That's the walkabout folks.  Hope whatever you are growing is doing well.

Monday, April 18, 2016

First asparagus

Today I harvested the first asparagus spears.  The roots were planted in 2014.  Last year the first spears appeared on April 8.  Nothing was picked last year, their first full year.  With the mild winter I expected the first spears to show up earlier than last year.  Maybe it was the cold spell in April, but the asparagus showed up later this year.  At any rate they are here, and I can't wait to try them this evening.

There's been a lot of work to do in the garden this week.  Two of the raised beds were tilled up for planting.  I was pleasantly surprised by the tilth of the soil.  All I had to do was break up the soil with a hoe, remove the weeds and rake it smooth.   In years past it was necessary to spade over the beds then break up the clay clods with a power cultivator.  It looks like the organic content of the soil is finally sufficient to prevent the clay from 'clotting' up.

I prepped the two beds in the center of the picture.  With temperatures near 80 F, the soil surface of one bed was already dried after the second bed was prepped.

In the cold frame were about sixty-five Ruby Ring onion seedlings and some brassica seedlings, ready for planting.  Right now there's just enough space in the cold frame and under the indoor lights to hold all the seedlings, as I move the larger seedlings into the cold frame to make room for planting more seeds.

The lettuce is producing a regular supply of greens now.  Soon I'll need to start another SWC.

After a hiatus last year parsnip is back in the planting schedule.  I seeded a 4x4 section in parsnip.

The first set of brassicas was lost to a triple whammy of storms, mole damage, and finally rabbits, which administered the coup de grace.  So I built a frame to go over the raised bed to protect the new cole crops.   Chicken wire is on the sides and Agribon row cover was stapled over the top.   Should keep the bunnies out.

Today the large bed got the treatment.  It's got a pretty good cover of oats and field peas growing on it.  Most of this bed will be planted in squash and sweet potatoes, but that's nearly a month away.

About a third of this bed was spaded over and cultivated for potatoes, two rows of Red Pontiacs and one row of Kennebecs.  

To see what other people are growing head on over to http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Functional. Not finished

This is a big week for me.  After over six months of work the kitchen remodel has birthed a fully functioning kitchen.  With a sink, running water, a dishwasher that cleans dishes all by itself, in other words it actually works.  No more washing dishes in the bathtub, and eating deli potato salad and grilled chicken.  This is the recently completed section.

The sink is what I like the best.  It's a granite composite sink that has different sized bowls.  The large basin is large enough hold a frying pan, something the old sink could not do.

The drain hookups were a pain since the drain line is directly behind the disposal.  You'd think that Swan would offer a mirror image of this sink but no.  Fortunately everything fitted.  I'm installing an undersink filter on the cold water line, just have to get some fittings and lines.  The house is supplied by well water which should be clean, but why not have something to remove any organic compounds that find their way into the aquifer?

Here's a look at most of the kitchen, showing the floor tiles.  It's an odd floor plan, with the traffic from the front entry going straight through the kitchen then into the rest of the house.  Nothing I can do about that, but the new layout is way more functional and efficient compared to the old one.  The hallway still needs work.

The new kitchen has space for dining, sort of a nook.  The old layout had no real place to put a table. The window isn't in yet.  Later this week I hope to install the window, now that the weather is getting better. 

The kitchen is functional but certainly not finished.  In addition to the window, there is baseboard and casing to install.  The doors in the hallway have to be cut down so they can clear the tile floor, the top of the wall cabinets will get a shelf and some sort of molding,  and I have to fabricate new thresholds for the doors in the hallway.  At least there is no urgency to do this, not the kind that one has when a kitchen has no running water. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

At least there's spinach

I picked a head of spinach this weekend, that's the harvest.  This is Gigante di Inverno spinach.  A nice 7 oz head, but most of this variety looks 'bolty,' so it remains to be seen if they will fill out.  I planted it last fall because it is supposed to be very cold tolerant. 

On Sunday the first set of cole crops were planted.  They were getting a bit large under the lights and I wanted to get them into the beds.  I knew that rain was expected that evening but could not get the weather channel on satellite all day to see what was in store.  Well it did not just rain, it was a violent storm that passed through.   There's a good chance that the seedlings will recover even thought they look pretty bad right now.   This is a Gonzalez cabbage seedling.

To see what other people are growing head on over to http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Around the yard in early spring

It's still too early for much to happen outdoors, but the vegetable garden is underway.   Indoors the kitchen remodel is making progress, with the floor nearly finished, awaiting an application of grout sealer.  Then it's time to start putting things together - sink, dishwasher, countertops. More on that later.

The largest bed is for squash, sweet potatoes and potatoes.  About 10 days ago most of the bed was lightly tilled than seeded with oats and field peas.   Compost, a bit unfinished, was spread over everything.  The cover crop germinated and seedlings are coming up.  Since it will be nearly two months until planting I'm hoping the field peas, which were inoculated, will 'fix' some nitrogen in the soil.   When it's time to plant the squash and sweet potatoes I'll plant them in small clearings I make in the cover crop.   

Nothing was done to the section of the bed in the right of the picture.  That's because potatoes will be planted there in less than a month, hardly enough time for a cover crop to establish.  Last year that section grew sweet potatoes.  Once they were out, in mid-October, the soil was tilled, treated with compost and seeded with oats, field peas and clover.

The bed that will be planted with tomatoes and peppers was treated the same way last fall.  I thought about planting the same cover crop that was seeded in the squash bed, but decided to leave well enough alone, since the peppers aren't as vigorous as squash.  Most of this bed is covered with a mat of dead oats.
I also noticed that some field peas had overwintered, so they can fix some nitrogen.  There also a few weeds.  I pull a few whenever I get the urge.  The soil tilth is very good, guess the cover crop helps.

Asparagus has not sent up any shoots yet.  Any day now. . .  Half the bed is in strawberries.

A parsley plant overwintered.  That's a first.

I've harvested about a pound of spinach so far this year, and expect more.  This is overwintered spinach, and there's a row of spring-seeded spinach that hasn't germinated.

In the mobile cold frame, a batch of lettuce is growing in the Earthbox and there's a flat of red onions that will get planted before the end of the month.

The apple trees have been pruned.  The buds are expanding a little bit so I'll need to spray with dormant oil soon.  Not as much was taken off as last year.  I'm hoping for more than the two apples that were produced last year.

Inside there are seedlings growing under lights.  The first set of cole crops will be ready for planting in the great outdoors very soon.  Another set of cole crops, Tropea onions, and more lettuce have germinated recently.

That's it for now.  Things will start busting loose very soon.

Sunday, March 6, 2016


The weather has finally turned for the better, with temperatures more typical of mid-April predicted for the next 10 days.  The window for any more winter-like weather is rapidly closing.  I moved up the timetable a week for seeding cole crops.  It's been a somewhat mild winter and the soil never froze to any depth and is rapidly warming. 

Today's temperatures are in the 50's and I realized that I should get outside and get to work.  The first task was spading up the sweet potato/squash bed.  The soil was just the right wetness for turning over, although part of the bed still does not have enough organic content, something I'm working on.  It took 3 goes to finish the spading.  It's hard work.   Tomorrow I hope to break up the clods a bit with the mini-tiller.  Then I'll seed it with field peas and oats for a cover crop, then cover the seeds with a layer of half-finished compost.

The cover crop will hold until the squash and sweet potatoes go in 10-12 weeks from now, and the peas should fix some nitrogen in the soil.  Guess what I found while spading where the potatoes grew last year?  That's right, I missed quite a few potatoes.  I thought I was thorough, but no.  These are Kennebecs.  They may even be fine for eating, even though some have been sliced by the shovel.  I'll find out.

The next task was wheeling the 'mobile cold frame' out to its spot, washing the double wall plastic glazing, and setting the paving stones inside.

Tomorrow I'll put the tray of onions in the cold frame, then fill an Earthbox with potting mix and set that inside too.  There's 12 cells of lettuce growing under the lights and they will be ready to go into the Earthbox very soon.  I like to get cold tolerant seedlings out to the cold frame quickly, as natural light is much better than artificial, and this also frees up space under the flourescent lamps so I never need additional light units.

The cement pavers in the cold frame soak up solar energy and retain the heat overnight.  The Reflectix insulation, which is like silvered bubble wrap, helps insulate the space and reflects light onto the plants.  It's also underneath the floor.  I have to be careful to keep the window propped open on sunny days, as the temperatures inside can exceed 100 F if the window is kept closed.

The next task was turning the most recent compost over into new modules.  About half of the compost was shoveled over into the stack of modules on the right.   The poop from two rabbits mixed with some pine shavings can make a lot of compost.  I'll use the not quite finished compost from the bin on the left to cover the field peas and oats, enough to protect them until they germinate.  I'm hoping the pile will get hot again with the warm weather, and some finished compost will be available in a month or two.

The final task - removing the plastic greenhouse that covered the overwintered spinach.  It's certainly warm enough to remove the protection, and the spinach will grow better in unfiltered sunlight.  The greenhouse not only protected the spinach, it sheltered lots of weeds too.  I believe that's ground ivy, and it's flowering. 

It's a good start.  Tomorrow I'll seed the cover crop, and pick up countertops for the kitchen.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Occasional post

Still haven't posted much this year.  It's not that I'm not starting a garden this year, but the kitchen remodel just sucks up my time.  About two weeks ago the seed rack was assembled in the sunroom and the storage onions - Ruby Ring - were seeded.  The seeds are 3 years old but still viable.  Keeping seeds in the refrigerator makes a difference. 

I also seeded 12 cells of lettuce.  I'm backing off the number of onions this year, seeding one tray of 72 cells.  There's still quite a few onions left from last year and many of them are sprouting.  A few days ago I seeded some cole crops - broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi.  The first set of cole crops is always hit or miss, it just depends on how late the winter is.

The sunroom has been made into the workshop for the kitchen remodel. 

And the kitchen is officially down, as in no sink or functioning dishwasher.  I'm getting used to washing dishes in the bathtub, and try to keep the use of dishes to a minimum.  At least the future dining area has a floor and a table. 

The overwintered spinach has been growing slowly through the winter.  I've thinned it several time and have harvested about a pound so far.  It's very good.   The weather is supposed to warm in a few days and I'll remove the plastic greenhouse cover when it does.  Looks like a good spinach harvest this spring.