Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Dec 19

Parsnips are one of the first vegetables planted in the spring and probably the last one out.  I expect to pull up the last of the parsnips in February next year.  Well I was wondering what kind of yield they would give me.  They looked good all year.  Sure there was some kind of rust/blight on them from August on, but they quickly produced new leaves to replace the old ones. 

The ground had frozen a little, but then we got a warmup – it has been a warm December so far – and it seemed a good time to get some up.  At first I tried the pitchfork but they are not like potatoes, the taproot is too deep to loosen that way.  I found the best method to pull them up was to jam my fingers straight down into the dirt on either side of the parsnip, then grab the root and pull it straight up.  That dirt is cold!

They are real nice parsnips.  I pulled up about two feet of bed – about 1/3 of them – and got a nice mess of parsnips, if there is such a thing.  It’s still warm and the ground not frozen.  Should I pull some more up?  Once the ground freezes I’ll have to wait for a thaw before I can get any more out.  That could be early next spring. 

It wasn’t long before a few of them were cut in ¼” slices, drenched with oil and herbs and roasted.  Oh yeah.   My brother and his wife sent me a smoked tenderloin.  I sliced up more parsnips and roasted them until soft, then put the tenderloin in the pot  covered with honey mustard and some apple slices and roasted it all some more.  The flavors melded really well.  Once in a while I surprise myself when I attempt to cook. Have a happy holiday. 
Parsnips 4 lbs 6 oz

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wrapping up for the year

The lettuce in the greens bed was ready for a thinning  and I picked 6 oz of fresh lettuce. There’s two spinach plants in the bed that will overwinter.  There should be a lot more since I planted two rows but only two plants germinated.  Another case of seed no longer viable.  I should test my seed the second year but never get around to it.  Why?  The reason is simple – I’m a lazy arse.  The parsley has gone crazy since Labor Day.

I still haven’t picked any leeks or parsnip, preferring to see a few more hard frosts.  The parsnip still looks like it’s doing some photosynthesis.  

Friday and Saturday was unseasonably warm.  Saturday looked like the last chance to get the outdoor work finished.  I raked the remaining leaves in the yard and shredded them.  The early leaves were mowed with the mulching mower.  Then the oaks let go.  This year many of the leaves blew off the cut grass.  There were still a lot of leaves that collected in corners and such.   The pin oak in front never drops its leaves until midwinter, usually after a good snowfall, so it’s mess will have to wait until next spring.  I don’t know why this tree has to be different, but it is. 

Last year the weather turned nasty before I could shred the leaves and they stayed on the ground all winter.   They were shredded in the spring and put into the compost bin but there wasn’t enough time to get fully finished compost for the beds. 

I filled the cart nearly full with shredded leaves then pulled it over to the compost bin.  I added the leaves in layers about 3” thick.  Each layer got a handful of blood meal then was watered (lasagna compost?), then the next layer of leaves was added.  The ideal carbon/nitrogen ratio for compost is 30:1.  Leaves are about 50:1, a little short of nitrogen but not as deficient as sawdust or straw.  That’s why I added the blood meal, to get the nitrogen level where it should be.  I just guessed at the amount of blood meal to add.   I’m hoping for finished compost next spring, ready to go into the beds.

Now I’ve got a bin full of shredded leaves ready to turn into compost.  I’m hoping they will start decomposing right away.  Even with cold weather on the way the leaves should do a good job of holding any heat generated by the decomposition.  A bottom layer of decent compost was already built up over the summer.  There’s about a dozen fish heads and entrails in there too.  It should be a rich mix next spring when it’s ready to go into the garden.   
Next post:  Bed plans for 2011 and 2012 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Year in review - best and also rans

I got nothing this week.  Their will be some lettuce to pick soon, and still lots of parsnip and leeks underground, but just about everything else is out of the beds now.  I planted some sugar snap peas before Labor Day as an experiment.  The seedlings started off very slowly in September when we had about two weeks of continuous cloud cover, then put on a growth spurt in October.  They’re chest high and set flowers but there’s a small problem – no bees this time of year – so no edible peas.  (My vegetables are pollinated by the native bumblebees).   A novelty item. 

It’s a good time to highlight some vegetable varieties that performed really well here, and some of the ones that did not.  Keep in mind that a variety that performs well in this climate and soil may not do as well in another garden.  But I think that some varieties are just plain better than others.  Here’s a few that have worked well for me.

Broccoli:  Major (F1) is a variety of broccoli that I grew for the first time this year.  And yes I’ve gone on about this variety in earlier post.  It’s early, about 10 days earlier than Gypsy, and appears to tolerate heat and cold well.  It does not get tall, only about one foot high, so it won’t shade adjacent brassicas.  It produces a nice-size firm head on a compact plant and the flavor is the best of any variety I’ve tried.   This picture was taken in mid-June

Kohlrabi:  For comparison I grew two varieties side by side in four plantings.  One variety, Early White Vienna, is an old standby often seen in the seed racks at hardware stores.  The other variety is Grand Duke, an F1 hybrid from Pinetree seeds.  Both are supposed to mature in 50 days.  I found that Grand Duke was consistenly 7 to 9 days earlier, formed a larger bulb, and was less woody.  No contest, Grand Duke was the clear winner.
Early Cabbage:  Normally I plant Gonzales cabbage, but the two year old seeds did not germinate this year.  So I had to go to Lowe’s and buy a Burpee’s variety called Earliana.  The size and maturity times were similar for the two varieties, but for flavor there’s no comparison.  The Gonzalez cabbage is by far the better tasting cabbage.   I’ll order more seeds this winter.
Snap beans:  I grew several  varieties of bush beans this year:  Dragon Langerie, a purple striped heirloom wax bean; Bush Roma;  Provider; and a half bush/half pole variety called State ½ Runner.  The State ½ Runner just wasn’t very good.  The beans went very quickly from a tender young bean to a tough woody bean which is not what you want in a snap bean.  Of the other beans I liked Provider the best – great beanie flavor and productive for a long time.   The other bush beans were also very good.
Tomatoes:  There’s room for two tomato cages in the beds and this year I planted heirlooms in both cages:  Brandywine and German Queen.  The Brandywine does have a superb flavor.  Neither variety lasted into the fall, succumbing to diseases.  Both varieties had lots of blemishes and cracking, with a lot of wasted fruit.  Next year I’m going back to a modern F1 variety that works for me – Supersonic.  I buy the seedlings at a greenhouse in Bloomington and it’s a variety that has produced really well for me with no disease problems.  It also has a very good flavor, not as good as the Brandywine but close.  I may try Cherokee purple in the remaining cage since I know the Supersonic will produce enough to supply me with tomatoes.
Cucurbits:  The cucumbers succumbed to bacterial wilt this summer, as well as the Acorn and summer squash.  I’ve grown Diva cucumbers the last three years and they produce an excellent cuke.  They are parthenocarpic all-female plants.  I’m not going to grow the Sunburst pattypan squash again.  It’s striking in appearance, but it tends to produce a glut of squash all at once and then has to recover.  That may be a good trait for a commercial grower but not for a home gardener.  I’m still looking for a compact summer squash with good flavor.  Sure the seed catalogues claim a squash is compact, bur then it grows to six feet across and makes enough squash for an army.  This year I’m ordering Cocozelle from Pinetree, an older Italian variety that they claim can be put in a planter, which probably means it may only reach five feet in diameter.
The Pinetree catalogue showed up a few days ago.  I’m working on next years order already.  And Blogger still changes fonts on a whim.   

Monday, November 7, 2011

Winding down

Things are winding down as we ease, or regress, toward winter.   The oak trees are still holding their leaves, while all the other trees have lost theirs.  I’ve got two pin oaks that flank the front porch, and they always hold some of their leaves until we get some real winter weather.  I’d like to see the rest of the leaves drop, then I can shred the leaves and put them in the compost bin for compost next spring.  So far I’ve run the mulching mower over them and left the leaf pieces for the lawn.

Most everything is out of the beds.  The peppers were killed by the last frost.  A shame, since there were a bunch of green cubanelles and others that were ruined.  It was a good year for peppers.  I got almost 17 pounds from six plants.  There’s some sugar snap peas that I planted around Labor Day that are four feet high with some flowers.  I may get a snack from those.  Sunday I pulled up one of the Chinese cabbages (Soloist).  It was a really dense cabbage – 2 lbs, 10 oz.  That’s it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

It’s been two weeks since I’ve posted, but the vegetable beds haven’t provided many reasons to post.  It’s the time of the year to remove spent plants and their supports (trellises, cages) from the beds.  The recent rains have made it easier, but not easy, to pull up the 6’ fence posts that supports the cages and trellises.   Only the trellis that supports a small planting of sugar snap peas remains. 

Last week the total harvest was 4 oz of green beans.  I was hoping to get one more picking, but the sunny weather was cut short by several overcast days.  The beans have been in a race against the bean beetles, and as long as the sun was shining they were producing fast enough to stay ahead of the beetles.  Once the sun was blocked the beetles took the lead.  It was time to take out the beans. 

I was hoping the beds would produce a pound per square foot this year – 250 pounds – but it doesn’t look like I’ll reach that number.  Still, there’s a 4x8 bed of leeks and parsnips that hasn’t been disturbed so I expect to add to the 205 pounds that I’ve picked to this point.   I’ll start pulling parsnips in a month or so.  Not making excuses, but the bacterial wilt killed the cucumbers and all the squash except the butternut this year, a major setback, but something always happens every year.   These are the parsnips, the foliage still green:
This week I picked a batch of peppers – Hungarian wax, red hot cherry, giant marconi and pimento – and made more salsa using the same routine that I posted earlier.  The marconi’s don’t peel as easily as the Cubanelles after roasting but the flavor is mighty fine.  For the salsa I added about 10 more cherry peppers that were in the refrigerator.  The heat level is about right.
The potatoes were an experiment this year.  I planted Red Pontiac in three cages this year, and planted Yukon Gold in front of the cages on the south side of the bed.  Nearly all the potatoes were done by midsummer, succumbing to the fungi and pathogens that attack them.  One cage of potatoes showed a lot of new growth at the base of the stems, so I let the potatoes in that cage set out new foliage in the hopes that they would produce more spuds. 
The first light frost on Sunday morning left the potato foliage looking worse for the wear.  I got the pitchfork and dug up spuds - a little over 7 pounds of potatoes.  The reddish potatoes are likely the newer ones that resulted from the second growth of foliage, while most of the potato harvest is the older potatoes.  The previous cages produced about 4 ½ pounds per cage, so this cage produced more taters.  The bigger potatoes showed some pest damage but it doesn’t look systemic.  The new small potatoes should make some nice redskins with butter and parsley. 
Next year I plan to space the cages to allow for better airflow, maybe plant onions between the cages.    They sure are good, much better than store bought.  I’d like to get 10 pounds per cage next year.
I got one last eggplant then pulled the plant.  This was a large plant, about 5’ tall, and it had an impressive root system, much deeper than a tomato plant, and not easy to pull up.   The peppers are hanging on but the frost withered the leaves somewhat.   Too bad, they have a lot of peppers that will never mature.  There’s still some Chinese cabbage, lettuce and spinach growing in the beds.  Not done yet. 
Yields (two weeks):  Green beans 4 oz;  Eggplant 4 oz;  Sweet peppers 17 oz;  Hot peppers 11 oz;  Potatoes 7 lb 1 oz.  And a catfish, 9 oz of fillets.  Totals for the year are under the Results tab. 

Monday, October 17, 2011


Hope the eggplant doesn’t find out that summer is over.  The eggplants have some surface blemish but are sound.   Same with peppers and beans.  This month has had a lot of sunny warm weather and even though the days are short the warm weather plants are producing more now than they were a month ago.  Not at summer levels to be sure but any production is a bonus at this point.

The last patch of Provider beans produced almost two pounds this week.  Many of the beans had to be tossed because of beetle damage.  About 10 days ago I picked any beans of size then sprayed with pyrethrins to control the bean beetle.  Since then I’ve given up on spraying.  I’ll probably get a few more pickings before the cold weather and the beetle combine to put an end to it.
I’ve wanted to make salsa with the bumper crop of red hot cherry peppers.  The Brandywine tomatoes are no more, except for some orange split tomatoes on the picnic table which may or may not mature, so I used a can of plum tomatoes, or plum-shaped tomatoes as it says on the can (????). 

While grilling chicken this weekend I put two whole Cubanelle peppers at the edge of the grill and let them cook with the chicken, turning them several times.  By the time the chicken was done the Cubanelles were lightly charred all around.  I put them in a plastic tub and sealed it.    After an hour the skins slipped easily off the peppers.  A small kitchen triumph for a novice, this is the first time I’ve successfully deskinned a grilled pepper.  And the flavor,  sweet and smoky, perfect for salsa.  Here’s how it was made:
Plum tomatoes from 28 oz can or better yet fresh tomatoes
2 Cubanelle peppers, grilled and deskinned, deseeded
6 Red hot cherry peppers, seeds removed
2 Hungarian wax peppers, seeds removed
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of ½ lime
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
            Parsley and greek oregano, fresh

Put tomatoes in a blender and break up briefly.  Stir onion in a little olive oil at low/medium heat until translucent to remove pungency.  Add garlic to onion, stir briefly then add to blender.  Dice peppers, parsley (use a lot) and oregano (not too much), add to mix.   Add lime and vinegar (I added vinegar later to give the salsa more bite, more lime juice would probably work as well).  Add tomato liquid to desired consistency.  Salt to taste.  Blend to desired texture.  Let sit overnight. 

How’d it turn out?  Darned good.  It wasn’t hot enough for my taste, which was surprising, since the red hot cherry peppers have been comparable to jalapenos in heat.  Maybe the autumn hot peppers don’t have the heat of the summer peppers.  Next time I’ll throw a Serrano into the mix.  The flavor was excellent, slightly smoky but fresh.  It wasn’t a good sauce for eggs, but as a fresh dip for tortilla chips it was nearly impossible to stop dipping.
Yields for the week:  Beans 31 oz;  Eggplant 10 oz;  Sweet pepper 10 oz;  Hot pepper 13 oz.  Closing in on 200 pounds for the year.     

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sweedey Hollow revisit

The excellent fall weather prompted me to do another hike at Morgan-Monroe State Forest.   I got to the Low Gap trailhead on Sunday afternoon at about 4 PM, too late to go very far with the shorter days.  I hiked to the top of the ridge and down the other side to a bottoms area where some creeks intersect.  This is where most of the backpackers put up for the night.  This area is isolated from the roads and usually has reliable water from the creeks until July.  I’ve walked the dry creek beds and found a few geodes in the past.

 A few of the trees are changing, but peak color is another week away.

On Tuesday I went back and hiked the section of trail to Sweedy Hollow.  About a month ago I hiked the hollow and wrote a post about it.  The camera batteries were low and I only got a few pictures before they went dead.  This time the batteries were fresh but the shadows were long.  I reached the hollow about 4:30 PM and found sunlight in short supply.  Most of the pics were blurry from poor exposure with my basic point and shoot camera, but a few shots were OK.  The weird rock formations in the hollow make it an intriguing place to visit.

This picture was taken standing underneath the largest overhang.  It’s a very dark and damp place.  I always think about all that mass of rock overhead.

I didn’t stay long.  The sun was getting low and the trail was sometimes hard to see beneath the leaves. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

October 10, 2011

For the last week and a half the weather has been warm with ample sunshine.  Not only is the grass a verdant green, the garden has been producing some vegetables lately.  It’s nothing compared to summer production but I’ll take whatever it will give me.  The last patch of Provider beans are still hanging on.  The beans look different this time of year, and many have some insect damage, but they are still beans, and still mighty tasty.  I also got two eggplant, a Marconi pepper and a Cubanelle pepper.  Enough to roast beans and grill eggplant for company this weekend. 

This is what the garden is up against now.  This picture was taken at 10:30 AM looking south.  The peppers are just  getting the first direct sun of the day.

And here’s a picture taken at 3:30 PM the same day, facing WNW.  The peppers have been in the shade about 20 minutes or so.  There’s a large red oak tree that casts a lot of afternoon shade in the fall.  The beds get about 4 ½ hours of direct sun right now, and less everyday. 

I don’t know if the Chinese cabbage will get to a head before it just stops growing.  I’m still hoping for some lettuce.   It’s just about over, and I’m already planning out next years beds.  

Yields for the week:  Snap beans: 21 oz;  Eggplant 12 oz;  Sweet peppers 12 oz.     

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Short post October 4, 2011

September was a crummy month weather-wise.  Lots of overcast, cool days – November weather.  This week is supposed to be sunny and warm, no rain, highs in the high 70’s.  I hope so, the beds should produce some more with some sunlight, even this late in the year. 

I picked the rest of the Butternut squash (Metro from Johnny’s) on Sunday.  The overnight temperature was supposed to drop into the 30’s and I did not want to chance a frost.  I got 9 squash from one vine this year.    Two of the butternuts set in midsummer and the color of the skin is paler than the others.  Don't know if they will taste as good as the ripe ones.

With a few sunny days last week some more eggplant matured.  Also snap beans, a pound.  Not great but it’s something. 

Well I forgot the notes with the actual weights, but it was something like 9 pounds squash, one pound beans, 12 oz eggplant and a few peppers.   About 190 pounds for the year now – I’ll update the figures later.   Cheers
Correction it was 8 oz eggplant, 2 oz hot peppers.  Totals are updated on the Results page. 

Friday, September 30, 2011

2011 - Was it productive?

Until a month ago when I started teaching part-time I had a lot of time available to complete projects in the house and the yard.  It seemed a good time to assess what was completed in 2011 and what I still want to do in order to get the property in the shape I want. 

Thursday saw fantastic weather, clear, sunny and mid-70’s, the first nice day in nearly two weeks.   I’ve been looking for ways to expand the growing space, now about 250 square feet in beds.  The tree shadows don’t allow for any more beds to the south of the existing beds, but the bed in front could be expanded on one side.  The triangular shape fits into the contours and also looks nice.  It should be a good spot to grow some herbs.  I started this project last weekend, was stopped by a rain shower, and finished it on Thursday. 

At the beginning of 2011 I started remodeling the master bath.  That project dragged on for several months.  I replaced the vanity and toilet, installed ceramic tile on the tub surround and new vinyl tile on the floor, put new casing around the doors, installed a ceramic tile baseboard and repainted the room.  It was a long job and ceramic tile can be very time-consuming for a novice but the finished results make it all worth it. 

In March the raised beds looked like this.  The cherry tree that I felled the previous autumn did not quite drop where I wanted it to fall.  Before I could cut it into logs the snows came and left me with this spring project.  At this time I’m splitting the logs for firewood.  The damage to the beds was not as bad as it looks here.

Another spring project were the shade beds behind the back deck.  The landscape timbers that formed the beds were rotting away.  The ground under the beds has a lot of slope, and the beds not only look nice but prevent erosion by terracing the slope.  When the old timbers were removed the soil actually held in place until I put in the pressure treated 4x4’s.   I tried to avoid walking in the beds when doing work, and finished this before the hostas came up.

Putting some flower beds around the front porch was another spring priority.  I used retainer blocks to form two semicircular beds around the front porch.  A foundation bed was built along the front of the house with edging blocks.  A yard of compost and a yard of soil/compost mix were dug it into the clay.  The beds were planted mainly with hostas and lillies.  The rhododendron is a little out of its comfort zone but has survived several hard winters in its south-facing location.

The ongoing project in the house has been the repainting of the interior doors and jambs and refinishing the wood trim throughout the house.  I removed the doors to the pole barn and painted them on sawhorses.  All of the door and window casing and the baseboard is varnished cedar which was only half-finished by the builder (shocking isn’t it?).  The woodwork was never sanded to smoothness and the original varnish had already soaked into the wood. 

 I removed the baseboards and the top and bottom pieces of the window trim, then sanded and revarnished them (two coats) in the pole barn.  Since there was some extra wood available I was able to cull out the wood that was off-color and replace it with better wood.  While the baseboard was off I repainted the walls in the walk-in closet, second bedroom and sunroom.  So far I’ve used six quarts of varnish.  

The sunroom was the most work of any room.  It has more windows than all the other rooms combined and more wood casing.  Here’s a picture of the almost finished sunroom with the top pieces over the windows being put back on.  That’s a glass of red wine next to the miter saw – I was finished for the day and thought a reward was in order. 

The chicken tractor and mobile henhouse projects were in earlier posts.  Here’s a basic workbench I built in one of the minibarns.  It’s hard to get work done without a decent workbench.

Can’t forget storage.  A double row of shelves across the back side of the polebarn provides a lot more storage space.

Now that I’m working part time I won’t be able to get as much done.  The one project I still hope to complete this year is the installation of a light tube in the kitchen.  Part of the kitchen never gets enough natural light and the suntube looks like a good way to light up a dark area.  Next week is supposed to have nice weather, maybe a good time to cut a hole in the roof. . .

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The drought is officially over

It started raining Saturday night.  It rained all day Sunday and into Sunday night.  Monday morning before I left for work I checked the rain guage.  The drought is officially over.  This rain in addition to the rains last week total about 7 inches after a late summer drought.  The grass is now very green and growing fast.  The pond has risen about a foot.  Now we need some sunshine.

I’ve been thinking about extending this 4’x8’ bed like this and decided to go ahead and do it (I still have to finish it).  The triangular shape fits well into the landscaping I want to do in this area.  It’s a small increase in the square footage, about 7 square feet, but it should be a good spot to grow herbs.  And the soil doesn’t have to be great to grow herbs, so I can get out of deep digging this spot.  I may put some black plastic over this to kill the overturned sod.

Yields have been really off since the hot weather broke.  The cloud cover has been nearly continuous, but there have been a few sunny days that produced some growth.  Just a few days ago I picked the first batch of Provider beans from the last bean patch of the year, in the middle bed above.  A few more weeks of sunshine should give some more beans before their curtain call, if the bean beetles don’t get everything first.  

There’s a lot of peppers that also need some sun. The red hot cherry peppers and Hungarian wax peppers have really set out a lot of peppers on long stems that drape over the sweet pepper plants. Just one week of sunny weather and there should be enough peppers to make a batch of salsa. I was planning to can salsa but after some research it looks like canned salsa requires more vinegar or lemon juice than I want in a fresh salsa. So I think I’ll make salsa the way I want then put it in plastic containers and freeze it.  The eggplant is big but not producing.  Doggone heat-loving plants.
I’ve been really lazy this year about planting crops for fall.  There are two chinese cabbage (Soloist) and a bok choi growing in the brassica bed, but I never really got started with brassica seedlings.  Too many things going on right now.  There’s spinach and lettuce seedlings in the greens bed which are coming along.  Soon I need to plant the other half of the bed in spinach and lettuce for overwintering.    
Yields for the week:    Okra 1 oz;  Hot pepper 1 oz;  Beans 13 oz;  Tomato 14 oz;  Sweet pepper 3 oz. 
Total for year:  176 pounds.     

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mobile A-frame Henhouse

The idea for an A-frame chicken coop came from a book about chicken coops.  There was also an article about one in an old issue of Mother Earth News.  So I decided to build one.  I started building it last Fall and got the basic structure finished except for the hinged roofing panel.  Then I got to thinking that I really want to do some traveling in the near future and that wouldn’t be possible with a group of layers.  I decided to finish the coop anyway.  

There weren’t any clear plans for the construction so I had to wing it mostly.  That’s OK, the only drawback to being creative is my zero experience raising chickens, so I would not know if some of the features of the coop would work or not in a real chicken situtation.  I knew the coop needed some nest boxes, a perch, a way for the hens to get to the second floor, and chicken wire all around the ground floor.   Here’s a pic of the almost finished henhouse, with the nest boxes, and enclosed ground floor.

The frame members are cedar 2x4’s.  They were on sale at the local lumberyard so the price wasn’t ridiculously high, just expensive.  The A-frame layout makes a very strong structure which isn’t likely to get blown over.  The coop is about 5’ by 5 1/2’.  It’s built on a rectangular frame of 2x4’a with the A-frame built on top of that.  The A-frame 2x4’s were notched to accommodate the horizontal crosspieces so all the frame members were in the same plane.  This allowed the roof panels to go directly on the frame without additional lumber.  I was trying to use as little lumber as possible in order to keep the weight low.  The lower horizontal crosspiece supports the penthouse floor and extends past the house so a handle or rope can be attached. 

The roof on one side is fixed.  I used some leftover metal roofing to cover that side.  The peak has an open space about one inch wide for ventilation.  The grooves in the roofing panel should allow for air to enter at the bottom and flow inside to the ridgetop. 

The other side has a hinged roof panel built of 2x2 cedar.  I bought one sheet of clear roofing which did not quite cover the hinged side.  Considering the cost of this stuff I decided to fill in the rest with a piece of metal roofing.  My thinking here is that hens need light in order to lay eggs, so why not let in natural light.  I thought the clear side could face away from the sun in hot weather and also be propped open a bit.  During the winter the clear side could face the sun and also bales of straw could be stacked against the coop for insulation.  That was the plan anyway.   This is a recent pic of the finished coop.

This is the hinged door to access the nest boxes.

The chickens need a chicken ladder to get from the ground floor to the penthouse suite. Here’s a pic of the chicken ladder down.  The rope is threaded through some eye bolts to the outside where it can be cleated. 

Here’s the chicken ladder raised up.  It would take a very determined predator to get past the ladder once it is raised. 

The one part of the coop that I really don’t like is the ridge top.  It needs a flexible ridgetop so the hinged side can be raised and lowered.  The only thing I could find was a rubber floor liner which is not nearly thick enough.  Anyone has any ideas where I can get a more solid sheet of flexible material please leave a comment.   
Lastly here's a recent pic of the finished house with the hinged lid propped open.  A perch made of closet rod has been installed and a handle was attached to the crosspiece extensions for pulling the coop.  The coop is not all that heavy and is easy to pull over level ground.  Hope you enjoyed the tour.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday, Sep 19 Rain Finally

After a two month drought we finally got a decent rain here.  I woke up several times last night and heard a light rain every time.  This morning I checked the rain guage before leaving and it showed 1 ¼ inches of rain!  We got ¼ inch yesterday and about the same a few days ago.  This was a good rain, light and steady all night long, the kind that soaks into the soil.  I’m looking forward to seeing green grass again.

There’s been a real shortage of sunshine the last two weeks and the yields from the garden have taken a hit.  The past week has been a little better than the week before, when there was only an occasional break in the cloud cover, but the garden still hasn’t rebounded.  The last plot of bush beans should be producing beans right now but they just stopped developing. 

Worst hit by the change in weather were the tomatoes.  I watered the garden the last 90 degree day about two weeks ago, then it abruptly turned cold and cloudy.   The tomatoes stopped growing, but did not stop taking up water, and I lost five nice Brandywines that literally split to the core.  (At least they didn’t explode).   I’ve just started teaching a lab and recitation at the university in Indy and was trying to get up to speed with the course material and wasn’t paying attention to the garden.  Yes I should have picked them and brought them inside right away but hindsight is always 20/20.  

At least the peppers are still looking good and some more sunny days should provide a batch of red hot cherry peppers and sweet peppers for salsa.  I’ll have to use canned tomatoes though.  Cubanelle peppers develop a sweeter more intense flavor in the fall that makes them almost like candy.  There must be some enterprising cook somewhere who has made a pie out of very sweet peppers such as these.

The last batch of Provider beans were mostly ruined by something that ate pits in the beans in different places.  At first I thought it was Mexican bean beetles until I found this small caterpillar inside one of the pits on a Roma bean.  They don't do much damage until the beans are nearly finished bearing.  They could be a bigger problem on pole beans that bear all season.   Bt should be an effective control for these.  There are also some bacterial (halo blight) and fungal diseases (bean anthracnose) that also leave pits on the bean pod.  Guess everything likes beans.
I cooked a Butternut squash that was picked a few weeks ago.  Winter squash and pork are a great combination.  I sliced it lengthwise, leaving the seeds in, and steamed it face down in a covered pan until soft, which takes about an hour for a butternut cured in the sun.  I’ve found that steaming with the seeds in really adds flavor.  Then the seeds were removed and the pulp scored with a knife.  Butter, a little turbinado sugar, cinnamon and ginger were added and it was baked face up about 15 minutes.  A simple prep but very good – comfort food for sure.  

It was about fifty degrees Friday morning and it seemed like time to start splitting wood for winter.  There’s probably about four ricks of wood there after the logs are split.  The big oak logs were split with a wedge and sledgehammer into quarters then split into smaller pieces with a maul.  It wasn’t long before I was out of breath and a T-shirt was sufficient insulation on a cool windy morning.  That is hard work.  Three days later and my stomach is still sore.  

The  structure in the back is an A-frame mobile chicken coop which I built this spring but never used.  I plan to write about it in an upcoming post.  

Tally for the week:   Okra 1 oz;  Tomato 1 lb 13 oz;  Snap beans 6 oz;  Eggplant 4 oz;
Hot pepper 2 oz;  Sweet pepper 4 oz.   Totals for year:  174 lb


Monday, September 12, 2011


“I’m fixing a hole where the rain gets in. And stop my mind from wandering. . where it will go.”

Poor yields this week.  The weather went from 90’s to 60’s in the span of a day.  Cool and almost no sun for a week and the plants just stopped producing.  We need rain badly but got only a little.  Just lots of clouds. 

Sunday was the first nice day for relaxing on the deck in some time, probably a week but it seems a lot longer.  I was going over some notes for a lab I’m teaching at the  Indiana-Purdue campus in Indianapolis, enjoying the quiet and gentle breeze – a perfect September day.   Suddenly there was a loud splash at the pond’s edge, much more commotion than any fish can make.  I looked up over the railing and just below the deck saw a large bird of prey unlike any I had seen before around here.  It was a bit larger than a red-tailed hawk, definitely not a Cooper’s hawk which is much smaller.

The raptor had landed in shallows with its wings spread.  Then it took flight and I could hear the beat of its wings as they lifted it from the water, but no fish was in its talons.  It circled up around the trees, then briefly out of sight, then flew back over the pond.  It started another dive toward the water from treetop height then aborted about half way into the dive, then flew away.  Wow!  Could it be an osprey?  I checked the bird book.  The face markings matched, with a dark streak on the side of the head.  What other raptor dives into water to catch fish?  The map showed that ospreys have a patchwork range in this part of the state.  I really wanted to get a picture of this bird because I may never see another one around here.
There’s  a lot of open spaces in the beds now.  I took out the German Queen tomato plant since it stopped producing.  I seeded some carrots in August and none of them germinated.  Who knew, the seed was only three years old?  And I never got any fall brassicas seeded into pots until late August, probably too late.  There’s one chinese cabbage that was direct seeded that is doing well.   My excuse - the house is torn up from the ongoing remodeling –and I’m sticking to it.   Well I did get the spinach and lettuce planted and it’s already germinating.  Got to keep after it with the watering until we get some rain. 

This is the last patch of bush beans for the year.  I think they are Dragon Langerie, a very vigorous wax bean.  The patch of Roma beans should be good for another week.  The bean beetles have not been real bad this year.  They were just starting to ruin the patch of Provider green beans when I pulled them up.  The beetles eat a few spots out of the bean and ruin it.   Maybe my strategy of planting patches of beans in different beds has thwarted the beetles enough to hold them at bay, or maybe there just aren’t many beetles this year.

The osprey got me thinking about eating fish, so I baited a hook with a chicken gizzard and heaved it into the water.  It took awhile, not that I mind, but a really nice channel cat took the bait.  This is the biggest fish I’ve caught all year – 21 inches head to tail – and it really put up a fight.  It made a pound of filets and the meaty backbone, which was frozen for fish stock, weighed 7 oz.  Breaded and fried it can’t be beat.  I want to harvest more before the weather turns.  They will replenish in the spring.

Totals for the week:  Sweet pepper 7 oz;  Okra 2 oz;  Beans 3 oz;  Tomato  22 oz;  Catfish 1 lb, 7 oz.