Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Itty Bitty Garden Fence and Free Ranging Hens

I've been letting the hens out to free range when I have been working in the garden the last few days.  I constructed a little 2' high wire and tpost fence to keep the hens out of the garden. While they could easily hop the fence, they seem to have enough to keep them occupied outside it that they have not bothered yet.

Itty Bitty Fence 
Free Range Birds
"That's supposed to keep us out?  As if!"

I can't remember where I saw this root protection tip to foil chicken's claws
Hiding in the berries.  A favorite activity.
Mid Day Mix
How we do nest boxes
Tupperware dust bath: Peat moss with a little diatomaceaous earth and wood ash from the fire pit mixed in

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Evidence of the Occurrence of Good Things

So, guess what?  Flies like chicken poop.  Even in a healthy environment with room a-plenty, flies can be a nuisance now and again in the immediate area of the coop.  Enter the hornet I found hanging from the roof of the the coop yesterday, just decimating a fly.  I don't know exactly what maneuver it was using on the fly, but that fly was not moving, and I was glad to see it.  Folks love to prattle on about how awful hornets and yellow jackets are, but they are truly predators on a mission, and seeing this one kicking a fly's ass was a welcome addition to my morning chores.

In other news, our niece Emma is visiting and has been an awesome help in everything from building bee boxes with me to digging potatoes, as evidenced in the last photos.  We were picking tomatoes today and made a welcome discovery of lacewing eggs laid on a particularly lucky tom tom.  It's not a bad spot to lay those eggs, as the tomatoes do have aphids for the larvae to eat when they hatch, but I'm glad I spotted them and was able to deposit the tomato back into the garden.  It has been so lovely to have Emma here, and be able to garden, cook and generally hang with her.

Summer is flying by...all the more reason to savor those sun filled summer evenings, right before the sun sets, which I plan to do each evening I can from now 'til fall!

Free Ranging Evening
Blurry documentation of hornet killing fly
Don't Eat Me!! Lacewing eggs laid on a Juliet tomato
Jason and our niece Emma digging potatoes
Digging taters (a little early) to make room for fall crops

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Onion Breath Forever

Onions, onions, onions.  It seems like something not worth growing in the home garden.  They are relatively inexpensive in the store and have a long shelf life.  I am an onion-growing convert however.  They are fairly easy to grow, once you find a variety that works well in your conditions, the curing process is fun and at least the variety I go back to every year is pungent, man!

This year we harvested 78 onions from a 25' x 4' sheet mulch bed.  3 rows were in onions and 1 row of strawberries so the onions took up only 3/4 of the bed.  The onions grew in a 4" layer of compost and leaves.  I added bonemeal in a strip near each row on planting, and fertilized once as they were starting to bulb with a general organic fertilizer.  I didn't know how they'd do in the shallow sheet mulch bed, but they did fabulous.  I'd go outside and gawk at how fat the bulbs poking up above the soil line were getting as it got close to time to harvest them.  

Onions are ready to harvest when the tops fall over at the neck and begin to brown.  Pull them and lay them out in the sun for a day.  If rain threatens, simply bring them into the curing area early.  To cure for 3 weeks, or until they appear as a store bought onion looks, put them somewhere:
  • out of direct sun
  • warm
  • with good airflow (you could hang them or put them on screens)
Let them hang out for 3 weeks and once they are truly dry, you can trim the tops 1" above bulb, or braid them.  Sweet onions need to be used within a few weeks, but storage onions like Copra are good for almost a year under ideal conditions!  Storage at 35 - 40 degrees is ideal for onions. If you don't have that, just put them somewhere cool, in a crate, basket, or box with holes in it.

We don't have a proper root cellar, so I am beginning to think now how we can store our "keeper crops" with the spaces and materials we have.  These will be different conditions for potatoes, onions, and winter squash.  

Copra.  My fav variety.  A long keeper, and easily forms nice bulbs.
Onions are ready when they fall over at the neck.
Onions pulled and drying for a day in the sun.

Front porch converted to onion curing area.  
A Big 'Un!  The thicker the neck, the less likely the onion will store for as long.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Egg Time

Our hens are laying and we couldn't be happier.  

The first small eggs from our hens.  

Dog Days of Summer

This summer has actually been surprisingly cool.  Today is hot though.  The chickens are panting and the dogs are layin' in the shade.

Our neighbor's dog visits Ida 
Ms. Mouser Annabelle hangs with the doggies
Our house has old school, thick guage aluminum siding that the white paint has almost completely chalked off of.  It looks like a dingy silver bullet.  We hope to paint it next year.   
Buckwheat in front, pumpkins with a bad case of powdery mildew.  I hope the plants make it long enough to ripen the pumpkins.
Buckwheat flowering.  This was a really quick covering crop, flowering within a month of planting.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Clucks, Corn, and Huacatay

August seems to be the time of year when I finally have a moment to step back and think "What is working and what is not on our little homestead?"  Some of my favorite things are all the flowers, how well the onions and winter squash are doing in the sheet mulched beds, and the chicken coop itself.  In need of improvement are the chicken area in general, the fact that our dog Ida squashes some plants here and there when she runs around because they are not protected, and getting our fall crops and fall deer preparations ready.  I have to give it to Ida though, she stays out of the garden beds no problem, its just the flowers on the perimeter that get a bit of a beating.  The goals for the chicken run: adding a chicken-sized door, making entering the run easier, creating a huglekulture area in the middle, creating 2 pasture areas that the birds alternate between every 2/3 weeks to save the grass, adding comfrey and other pasture crops to the area.

New Hampshire Red and White Rock at 20 weeks with open air coop behind.
Chicken area (coop is from plans from GardenCoop.com)

My backyard hived swarm.  When I inspect I often use a pillowcase to cover the bees I am not working with and keep them chilled out.  

Jason shucking corn for the grill with Ida lurking in the background.  I can't wait to paint that brown cinderblock another color.  

Tagetes minuta/Peruvian Black Mint/Huacatay...antiviral medicinal herb in the marigold family.  A gift from friends and growing well!
Green Headed Coneflower with Visitor

Friday, July 25, 2014

Bee Chains, Forgotten Frame and Papalo...The Summer Cilantro

When I extracted honey, I forgot to put a frame back in one of the hives.  I had removed some undrawn frames of foundation to replace with a few combs I had when I removed the honey, and one frame just never got replaced.  A few days later when I discovered my mistake, I had to move the comb the bees had built in the void I had left onto a new frame.  They will have it fixed up in no time.  Also observed, my favorite...a bee chain, also called a festoon.  Bees link together and use their bodies to....actually no one knows for sure.  Measure space?  Help wax production some how? Another delightful bee mystery.

Chain of Bees
Oooops...forgot a frame.
Moving their handiwork

Also in full swing is a new plant we are growing at Garden Dreams this year called Papalo.  It is tall, hardy and delightful.  The flavor is a bit like citrus and cilantro and quite strong...you only need about 1/3 of the amount of cilantro you would use in a salsa for example.  It's great because cilantro is quick to bolt in the summer heat....when this Papalo just seems to keep on growin'.

Papalo...my new fave.

So aromatic...oil glands on papalo leaf underside.