I’ve made planting my herbs on time this year a priority, and I’ve very happy with their progress thus far. I’m working on a rock garden, where I hope to plant some of these along with some wild spearmint. The garden will consist of a set of steps constructed out of old barn stones, with an area devoted to the herbs. I’ve started building the steps under a wild apple tree in a nook of the farm near a stream. Having the stream nearby will make watering easy, and since this area is out of the way, the herbs will be able to grow back year after year.
Last years lettuce was off to a great start, until the rest of the work of the season kicked in, and weeds grew over the plants to the point were they were all but smothered. This year, I’ve decided to take my lettuce much more seriously. I’ve selected a diverse set of lettuces, mesclun and chard to make a very colorful, flavorful and nutritious salad, so when it came to actually choosing which type of lettuce to plant first, I was a bit torn. I was unsure when I would get time to plant more, so I did the only logical thing I could think of: I planted a row of Lettuce, Mesclun & Chard all mixed up.
You can see two types of Lettuce (middle and far bottom), Mesclun (top), and red Chard (middle bottom). This arrangement should come in handy if I find myself with time to only weed one row of lettuce. I can then weed the mix of lettuce row and be assured lots of salad.
I still need to call the Rototiller guy and schedule and appointment, so for now I need to work the soil the old fashioned way: By hand. I was using my garden hoe to level dirt as part of my chicken coop project, and couldn’t find it when I was ready to get started, so I used the rock pick in the photo above. I am so impressed with how well this pick works that I will be using it from now on to work the soil in the first pass. The tool is somewhat heavy, so once you lift it off of the ground, gravity kicks in and propels it deep into the soil, much easier they a hoe.
I planted some De Cicco Broccoli right next to my already thriving Swiss Chard. This is my first year growing broccoli from seed, and with all of the spring rains, I’ve just now gotten it planted outside. Hopefully I haven’t ruined the taste of the produce by exposing these young plants to temperatures above 90F in the greenhouse. I guess it really doesn’t matter, as I’m not a big fan of most cold weather veggies. I’ll just smother these broccoli heads in cheese, or chop them up real small and add them to macaroni and cheese or spaghetti for nutritional value.
So here’s the progression of my cold weather crops plot, with Peas on the far left, Cabbage and Cauliflower in the second row, Swiss Chard growing like mad in row three, and Broccoli on the right. The Chard is doing so well, that I’ve had to use a plastic barrel to hold my sprinkler high enough off the ground to hit all the transplanted seedlings.
There is one cool weather crop that I have a fond taste for: Strawberries. I used to spend hours in the fields of Sullivan County, PA collecting the smaller wild versions of these. I would return home at a young age with my shirt held out holding a large collection of berries witch surely stained my shirt. I couldn’t return without enough to share with the rest of my family, and my father would usually look at my filthy stained shirt, smile while shaking his head and hand me a large bowl, to which I’d return once again filled. This was once my favorite activity, with Blackberries and Raspberries also in abundance. Now that I’m older, I hope to build a more complete collection of edibles on the farm for my nieces and nephews to pick. I’ve got everything from Gooseberries and Apache Blackberries to Honey-berries, Strawberries, Grapes and Cherries so far…. I guess if I’m not conning myself these berries are as much for me as the children.
This year, I’ve started about a week later then past years, and so I’m trying to be maticulous in tracking my plants growth. I’m curious to see just how important the planting times are.
Above you can see my jungle of tomato plants which cover the center table in my greenhouse. With all of the rain, I’ve used some of the time I would normally spend mowing grass to arrange the plants by category. I have even separated the Roma type tomatoes from the slicing tomatoes….. I’m such a dork = )
It’s amazing to see the many different leaf patterns on tomatoes. Some of them have thin leaves, while others have very broad leaves like the San Marzano plants above, which are similar to Roma tomatoes.You can see some of the plants which were started fairly late in the background, they’re only inches tall.
Here are some of my shortest plants. Peppers and Eggplants seem to be very slow starters.
This is my first year for eggplants, and I’ve never tried one before, so it may be the last. In the very front of the photo my celery plants barely grow. I see now why they are started 11 weeks before being moved out of the greenhouse. I bet it would be safe to start them in February next year.
At planting time last year my tomatoes topped out at 16 inches tall. With about 2 weeks left in the greenhouse, they have about 7 inches to make up this year. The rain may have played a part in their shortness, but I think the extra week may have played a integral role last year. I’m really hoping the rain will slow down, the clouds will part, and these plants can get some sun. If you really break the whole process down, gardening is converting sunlight and chemicals into food. Without the sunlight, the chemical reactions needed cannot happen, and plants grow slow. This is why oil is so valuable…. It’s basically stored sunshine from only two periods in time millions of years ago.
My peppers are a little behind too, but I’m sure once they get some sun and side dressing, they will be popping out peppers. These are the one garden crop which I didn’t grow enough of last year, with about 60 plants. This year I planted about 200 seeds, and I’ve gotten around 110 plants. Once I counted the plants and realized my low germination problem, I planted about 100 more, in the small plastic planting cells. Most of the crops I grow leave plenty for everyone including storage in freezers for the winter. I’m hoping to get overwhelmed with peppers this year, like all of the other things I grow. It’s nice to grow enough that your happy to give a lot away.
The weather has still been mostly rain lately, and I’ve had little progress on my Chicken Coop / Shop. I finally got all of the first layer studs for the roof in place, and I’m planning on ordering some rough cut 4 x 4s for additional support.
The chicks are starting to get too large for their little pen in the greenhouse, and I was given the above cage by a neighbor who was planning on burning it. I took about an hour of my time and sided it with the same sheeting I’m using on the larger Chicken Coop. I’m still undecided if I will add dark brown trim to the corners, and I still need to clean out some of the former occupants leftovers.
This will serve as a temporary enclosure, for medium chicks. I will still be using the large shed for chickens, but this smaller pen will give me more time to do it right, and make a building that will last; and have a spacious wood shop =) .
I’m grateful to be sparred the same flooding as in the mid-west, and I’m not complaining a bit about the “puddle” shown above. This water is about 4 feet deep, and this usually happens every year. The photo helps shown just how much rain we have had lately. There is so much water soaked into the ground, that when we had a brief and heavy rain over the weekend, it all ran off, and flooded everything in it’s path. The good side to all of this water is the amazing tones of green so early in the season.
I managed to break up the soil where I had my old chicken coop, and I planted some strawberries there. They should have plenty of well rooted fertilizer from the chickens time in this area. Their is strawberry that is almost ripe in this patch, and lot’s more that are growing. I didn’t think about this when I bought the plants, but I hope they are ever bearing, rather then “June Bearing”, which only get strawberries around the month of June.
I also received and planted two Honey Berry bushes. They require two different plants for proper pollination, Wild Honey and Honey Sweet. I made markers to help me keep track of the names, but to make sure I don’t mix them up, I planted the Wild Honey plant closest to the forest behind my house. I’m still waiting on a some Goji berry plants, and a Paw-Paw tree. I guess I should be thankful for all of the rain, since it helps these plants and the strawberries cope with being transplanted. If it were hot and sunny, the roots would dry out quickly, and I’d loose these new members of the farm.
There’s a new tool on the farm, one that’s been needed for far too long: a John Deere tractor. Now that it’s finally here, it’s time to get serious about spreading manure. The manure spreader has been on the farm as long as I can remember, but it was never much use without a tractor to get it moving. Before we could use the spreader, it needed to be oiled up, and prepared to work. The machine has been sitting idle for years, so we had to knock off some rust here and there, add air to the tires and replace a few pins.
The bucket on the front of the tractor is very useful for getting giant scoops of manure and plopping them into the holding area. When it’s full, simply pull it to the field, and flip a lever. The cart then uses the rotating motion of the wheels to power a series of gears which fling the poo everywhere, and in just the right amounts. Manure should be allowed to rot for a year before spreading it, or spread it at the end of the season. I can’t express just how much work this tool has saved me, as I used to do all this work with a pitch fork !
After all of the progress in the garden, I finally got around to planting these “Black Raspberries”. My sister gave them too me last year, and they have been sitting in buckets next to my walkway. When they were in the ground, I mulched then with some straw to prevent weeds from growing nearby.
To replace all of the energy I expelled during the day, I figured it was time to try out something new. In the fall of last year we bought a “half-cow” or all of the meat cuts from the animal. Since I’m not used to the names of the different cuts, it’s been a trial and error learning process about how to cook it. I like to keep things simple, so a frying pan, and some butter seemed appropriate. I then cut up the “English Roast” to help it cook better, and tossed in a few Stuttgarter onions from last years garden. Just as I was about to finish up, I ran out and grabbed some Chard, and added it before calling the whole concoction “edible food”. I really enjoyed the taste, so I thought I better add this to my blog so I won’t forget how it’s made.
The weather lately has been so rainy, that I’ve heard more then one joke about my chicken coop being the start of an arc. Now that the sun has finally decided to battle the clouds and start soaking up some of the puddles left everywhere, I’ll stop thinking about an arc conversion of the shed I’m building. Granted, it would be pretty cool to build a boat around the first story, and use the shed as living quarters while floating here and there. I even have a good selection of local animals that I could have stocked the boat with….. I’ve got two cats, two pigs in the barn, three horses, and the neighbors have cows, sheep and goats.
Thankfully, I’ll pack those thoughts back into my dreams where they belong. The sun is out for it’s second day in a row, and I’m starting to feel happier now that I’ve actually got some Vitamin D in my blood.
Instead of using the sunny day as an opportunity to build, I’m planting peas, very late in the season. I’m not a big fan of these veggies, but I do like stir fry, and they are good for me, so I’m sure I’ll eat them if I can beat the critters to the harvest.
It took about 30 minutes to break up the soil, and mix in some aged manure. The whole time I was digging, I had a few Amish children watching and cheering my name from across the valley. They are very friendly, and smile and wave when they see me drive by.
In the right of the photo, I’ve removed the protective plastic from my Swiss Chard, leaving the stakes in place more out of laziness then worry about the cold. These plants did survive the winter, and began growing as soon as the snow began to melt.
In the center I’ve planted a mix of different cabbages, which have yet to sprout. I’ll give them a few more weeks before I determine them to be missing in action.
The rest of the garden is covered in a blanket of thick green grass, odd, but not to worry, the Rototiller will solve that problem soon !