Things of spring

I can’t say spring is my favorite season, but it sure is a lovely time of year. Every thing is growing and blooming and popping up every where.

irisI planted these last year and had no idea what color they were. My mother-in-law was thinning her bed and gifted me an entire tub of Iris roots. I learned later they originally came from her mother’s garden. I love that.

Early spring gardenThis is my garden about a month ago. Onions, lettuce, carrots, spinach, beans just planted and peppers. It looks A LOT different now! A whole lot more green, growing food things.

Mixed green lettucesOur first lettuce harvest of the season. Baby greens, an Italian mesclun mix and oh so yummy! What do you look forward to most from your garden in the spring? While I love the tomatoes (can’t beat a garden fresh tomato), I really, really look forward to the first greens of the season. To me, that means the growing season has officially begun and if everything else shrivels up and dies, at least I had lettuces.

ShroomsGuess what else loves our wet, wet, wet spring? Mushrooms! I have no idea what kind these are but they sure love my manure pile a lot. And that’s a good thing because mushrooms are excellent at making good compost.

Ups and downs

I managed to get 19 tomato plants and 10 bell pepper plants in to the ground in the middle of last week during the one sunny, warm day we had. I also got red and Irish cobbler potatoes planted (have I mentioned what a pain potatoes are to plant? They are. But, the flavor is well worth the effort.)

Then, the weather went to shit. I should have expected it, Mother Nature never seems to want to operate on my schedule and usually has her own ideas. We’ve had rain and temps in the 40s every day since then and more rain predicted for the rest of the week and through the weekend. At least the wet weather this week is supposed to be accompanied by warmer weather rather than these seemingly endless damp, dark, chilly days.

Still have the Yukon gold potatoes and the Beauregard and Georgia Jet sweet potatoes waiting to hit dirt. The onions, romaine and mixed leaf lettuce are looking great. The spinach and carrots, not so great. Right after I planted the spinach and carrot seeds, we got rain, rain, rain, then it got HOT and windy  which made our clay-ey soil dry to an impenetrable crust. Poor little seedlings couldn’t break through. I replanted the spinach and because I spotted a few carrot seedlings, I left them to do what they will. If they don’t pop up this week, something else will go there.

We have chicks! 26 little fluffy peepers are now calling my family room home and we put a second clutch in the incubator last night. Pictures soon.

The fox is back. Little red bastard. He killed at least one of my turkeys this morning, poor thing. In the 15 minutes between finishing my morning chores and leaving for work this morning, that damned fox caught, killed and shredded the turkey. The other turkey couldn’t immediately be found, so he may have gotten that one, too. The fox is now on my hit list and the flock will be confined to the hen house until he’s gone.

I blew the engine in my mower and a little research discovered that it would be cheaper to buy a whole new mower than replace the engine, even with a remanned engine. Ugh. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Why couldn’t this have happened when the grass wasn’t growing out of control? Welcome to the jungle….

Itching to plant

The 2013 gardening season is here.

Oh sure, there is still some snow on the ground, a chill in the air and every square inch of Bramblewood Acres is a boggy, soggy, swampy mess, but no doubt about it, it’s time to get planting.

For the first time ever, I am completely ready for spring planting. I have all my seeds, all my equipment and have even started a garden log. I am ready to GROW!

I have started tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, a variety of herbs, and eggplant. Each one I logged into my book on the date planted, the variety, and the number of plants started. I will log again when they germinate and the date I plant and harvest for each variety.

I’ll be starting several flowers this year, too. So much cheaper to grow your own than buy them already grown.

I even have my garden plan on paper this year, something I’ve never done before. I’ve always been a “yep, this looks like a good spot” kind of gardener. And every year, mid-season when all the plants are big and producing, I realize I planted things WAY TOO CLOSE to each other. I couldn’t get down my tomato rows last year they were so close. This year, that won’t happen. I have everything measured out, the number of plants estimated and beds plotted according to how well each plant “gets along” with another.

Doing this made me realize I need more garden space! So, as soon as I can get out there without sinking up to my hips in boggy, sticky mud, we’ll be moving fence and adding quite a bit more space.

Last year, I had several varieties fail. But, I can’t remember which varieties did well and which did not. I’d prefer not to continue to grow plants that will fail so this season I will be tracking everything, from plant vigor to production. It’s a waste of time, money and precious gardening space to plant varieties that don’t do well. I had too many of some plants (OMG, cherry tomatoes out my ears. I started feeding them to the chickens we had so many!) and not enough of others. We definitely needed more green beans and more spinach.

We lost one ornamental tree and a pear tree during last year’s drought, and I’m hoping to be able to replace both of those and add a couple of apple and plum trees.

I’ll also start an asparagus bed this year. I’ve never grown asparagus before, and I know it’s a long-living plant, but it might be trial and error. I haven’t decided yet where to put the bed, but it’s location is going to have to be well-considered and well-placed due to it’s expected longevity. Close to the house, too. If you place edibles too far from the house (as I did with my strawberries. Huge mistake. Birds, bunnies and squirrels got to them before I could), you tend to forget about them.

So, here’s to a bigger, better, more productive garden this year. I’m off to a good start!

Year-end roundup

We got through the summer, despite the heat and drought. We had to have water hauled out to refill our dry well a few times, but thankfully we saw some rain raise the water table towards the end of summer. Too late to save my squash and melon and bean plants from turning to crispy bits of formerly living things.

I canned what I could: Several quarts of tomatoes, tomato sauce, peaches, rabbit stew and shredded rabbit (mmmm!) and chicken broth. We harvested many huge, tasty, sweet potatoes and a bucketful of late season turnips. The late-season beets did not do well and the late-season spinach did not produce enough to bother with. My garden is currently wintering beneath a layer of rabbit manure mulch and garden leftovers, waiting for the first bite of the tiller to dig in as soon as the ground is warm enough to get out there.

We are in the middle of winter now, and so far, it has been significantly milder than I expected. We’ve had some moisture, not much. We’ve had a few below-freezing days, but not many. I am worried this could be a precursor to a dry, warm spring and another hot, dry summer.

I think I will approach keeping my garden watered a bit differently this year. I learned the hard way that the overhead watering system (a sprinkler) cannot compete with dry, windy conditions and the plants fail. This year, I think I will invest in a good quantity of soaker hose and nestle the hose near the neediest plants. I am also going to reduce the number of tomato varieties this year. We had WAY too many cherry tomatoes and not enough good, meaty canning/eating tomatoes.

The spring seed catalogues have begun arriving and I am drooling and ready to start ordering. But before I do, I need to sit down and design my garden, decide what I’m going to plant and where, maybe try some companion planting this year. I do know that although I thought it was big enough last year, I need to add a few more feet this spring. And cattle panels will make better vining bean supports than strings between posts. For sure.

What are your “must have” veggie plants?

A few things have happened since I last posted (forever ago, I know!)

1. I got married to a good ole farm boy who has no problem doing some of the heavy lifting around here.

2. I somehow managed to acquire two more horses, bringing my herd up to five plus one boarder. Six horses takes a lot more time to care for than three! Just sayin’.

3. We started breeding/raising/butchering rabbits. We are working on perfecting the process so we can make the venture worthwhile. So far the meat we’ve gotten from the rabbits is yummy, but about as pricey as a filet mignon, pound for pound. I’m working on ways to reduce our costs (feeding), otherwise, it’s just not worth it. I would also like to figure out how to market them, and that requires some FDA research. I’m not sure if we can sell them dressed, or live only.

4. There are more than 20 homegrown, free-range chickens in my freezer. I will be doing the chicken-raising venture again! Aside from the initial expense of buying the broiler chicks and feeding them a high-protein diet for the first few weeks of life, the meat and effort was definitely worth the end result.

5. I’m down to only about 20 egg-layers, so much for having enough to sell some of the eggs. We get more than enough eggs to keep us well-fed, but not enough to sell. If I get a good broody hen this spring, I’m going to let her set and see what we get.

Still digging away…

I think we have the raccoon problem solved for now. And all it took was adding a different lock to the chicken yard door. No more fatalities since the additional lock was added and the chicks are all now free-ranging during the day and LOVING it. The adult chickens are still terrorizing the turkey chicks, but, the turkeys are growing fast and I think they’ll be turning that aggression back on the chickens before long. Hoping for peace in the coop sooner rather than later! I’ve never had this problem before and I don’t really know what the issue is. The turkeys and chickens have always gotten along in the past, but for some reason, my adult chickens, really, really don’t like the turkeys this year. They killed one of them early on when it was still fairly small and have bloodied the heads of the remaining chicks. The pecking is lessening as the turkeys get older, so that’s a good sign.

I managed to get the rest of the peppers planted, 17 in all, all of the tomatoes are in (25 plants, egads!) and all of the sweet potato starts are in the ground and looking pretty good (18 of those sweet little things). The peas are looking fabulous, the replanted swiss chard is coming back up and I picked up and got planted two purple cabbages because The Man requested cabbage and I didn’t start any this year. So, those are his I also got all the herbs I started in the ground. If the basil does well this year we will have endless quantities of pesto to make and put up for the winter. Yum!

All I have left to get in are cucumbers, melons, squash, zucchini, beets (a really late start on those!), butter beans and another section of spinach.

I’m hoping (planning) to get it done this weekend, the weather willing! I’ve managed to go through more than half of my compost so I picked up of a couple of bales of straw to cover the garden paths with (weed discouragement and moisture/soil retention). I usually put compost on the paths, not straw, but apparently my garden dreams are bigger than my compost pile this year!

Frost 0: Fruit WINS!

My fruit trees and baby fruit have successfully weathered our couple nights of frost. Yay! I wasn’t sure if they would, especially the biggest peach tree since we couldn’t get the sheets all the way over the top of it. It’s amazing how much they grow in three years! I remember bringing that tiny little tree home and tenderly, gently placing it into its  new home. Apparently it likes it here!

We have rain in the forecast for the entire weekend. Figures. The official last frost date for this area is April 14 and I planned to get the brussels sprouts, tomatoes and peppers in the ground and out of the basement. I’ve been hardening them off for about two weeks: Putting them outside during the day and bringing them in at night and they are all huge and healthy and starting to become root bound in their little starter pots. It’s time to get them out into the real world.

So far I have in the ground: Onions (red and yellow), Swiss chard, spinach, sugar snap peas, snow peas, regular peas and broccoli. Only about 300 more plantings to go!