Spring Harvest

I went out yesterday and gathered in some green harvest…

Stonycroft

Fresh from the bed, first asparagus of the season

 

Greenhouse produce

Dad’s Pac Choi is huge!

The Pac Choi won’t last much longer, as temps in the greenhouse near 100 every day. Dad rolled up the sidewalls yesterday, but the lettuce and greens will bolt within a week, I’d guess. Frost-free date for NH is officially June 1, but we could risk planting out sooner than that, especially peas, whcih don’t mind cold feet. Not sure how the peas he planted in the greenhouse will cope with the heat, though!

And we will have strawberries within a week… I saw ripening ones in the greenhouse while I was picking. Yum!

 

December Greenhouse

“tis the season to renovate the greenhouse and prepare it for next season’s crops. We haven’t done anything with it for a month or so since we finally had a hard enough frost to freeze it. But even with the waning daylight hours and cold weather over the last couple of days, it was nice out there for a while. Dad is putting in a bigger, better hydroponic system to grow lettuce, spinach, watercress and what-not. We are lining and will be flooding the trough under the central path. This will help keep the greenhouse from freezing, as the water retains the heat from the day, releasing it in the night slowly.

We also set up a shelf for start trays, as we will begin starting seeds as early as late January. Under that is a series of glass-covered cold-frames. Greenhouses within greenhouses to give us an even earlier start. The greenhouse isn’t heated, although Dad does have a nifty solar exchange system that forces hot air under the beds from the top of the tunnel, heating the soil.

Laying heavy black plastic in the trough.

Thin wall pipes for hydroponics. Water barrels for added mass heat storage under.

Trough. Once it's flooded we can trim the plastic and deck over it.

Installing a shelf for seed trays. Cold frames below it, with in-ground plantings.

Gladiolus corms from last year, they can't freeze, so we lift them and plant them again in the spring.

Dad has a nucleus hive in the greenhouse temporarily, and one of his girls escaped.

Everbearing strawberries planted in-ground. They will start blooming again when it warms up a little.

We’ve been Working in the Greenhouse

Last season we planted in ground in the greenhouse and by the end of the season it was a jungle in there… difficult to get around without a machete. This year Dad wanted to create defined growing beds, and to get the infrastructure in place for aquaculture. Yesterday we finished decking the center path, which will eventually be flooded and hold fish, and built a 30″ wide tomato bed next to it. The final step, another trough on the far north side of the greenhouse, will be built later.

Once we had the bed built, we planted tomatoes. Dad had started way too many, but we have fun names like Black Krim, Brandywine, Chocolate Drop, and Italian Heirloom. They were mostly in gallon pots, so we have some that are already flowering. We will have tomatoes in a matter of a couple weeks. Some will go into the farmstand, others we will eat and process for storage. We made gallons of tomato sauce last year, and I’m down to my last two jars, so I will have to make at least that much this year! This morning we will plant peppers and tender herbs (basil, mostly) in the big bed next to the second row of tomatoes. The outer bed is reserved for squash and other veggies.

The finished tomato bed. The Center path is quite done here.

The center path completed. We wil be able to take a wheelbarrow up it once we install the ramp.

Tomatoes set on the bed for placement

As we planted the tomatoes we gave them a shot of what Dad calls Ferti’gator. We took a bucket half full of rabbit manure, filled it with water, and gave each plant a couple of quarts of the resulting liquid ‘n bits directly on the rootball before backfilling the hole. We grow naturally around here, so the only other fertilizer they will get is a sheet of compost applied to the bed later in the season. The potato-leaved tomatoes in the foreground are Brandywine. As you can see, the gallon starts are raring to go.

While we were getting the bed ready I pulled a bunch of Catnip out. Dad had put in just a couple plants last year, and this year I pulled a half-dozen starts out of the other bed. I cut the tops, and will dry those to make into cat toys, but we’ll put the starts in pots to sell at the farmstand. Nice, big guys, but they are a mint and will spread! I left Dad’s original plants in, so no doubt I’ll be doing this again next year. Speaking of volunteers, we had a ton of baby tomato plants. We decided not to keep them, as goodness only knows what they would have given us. If we want to save our own seeds, it won’t be in the greenhouse. We also had a perfect bok choi volunteer. I really should take a picture, it is so pretty.

Nepeta cataria, intended for recreational kitty use

Popovers and Chicks

Popovers with Blueberry Jam

My popovers didn’t “pop” but they still tasted awesome, especially with the blueberry jam that we put up last summer on it. I think next time I will use a metal pan, the silicone muffin tins didn’t work well for this!

Chicks!

The little golden ones are Golden-Pencilled Hamburgs, and the black and white ones are Cuckoo Marans. The Cuckoo Marans will lay deep brown shelled eggs. Once they are laying, with the green egged Aracaunas we already have, and the Hamburg’s brown eggs, we will have very colorful boxes of eggs to sell! Right now they are just gosh-darned cute.

Rhubarb Hatching

Ok, it’s not really hatching, but it’s cool to see that leaf crumpled up in the cup that forms the base of the stem. They will grow like mad now, and by May we will be harvesting rhubarb. I plan to make rhubarb jam soon!

Tomatoes in the Greenhouse!

Finally able to take the starts out to the greenhouse. It’s freezing at night outside, but they will stay warm enough in there, and we’ve got a huge head start on the growing season. We are harvesting lettuce out of the cold frames at the far end of this bed already.

Recipe for Dirt

Dad walked in the house the other afternoon, looked down and said “Happiness is having dirty knees.”

When I had stopped laughing, I knew he was right. For him,and so many other gardeners out there, happiness is about getting down in the dirt and making things grow. And as an organic gardener, his goal in life is to leave behind great soil. Here on Stonycroft, out life revolves around the weather, and the condition of our dirt. We make compost, we add lime, we sprinkle ashes… it’s all about the dirt.

So what makes good dirt? Organic materials, which are rotted bits of leaves, worm poop, and much more. Sand, silt, and other mineral components lend structure. But increasingly we are understanding that the living parts of dirt, the mycorrhizal growths, the microbes, and insects, are crucial to the plants growing in that soil. I recommend the article at Mother Earth news for an overview look at what makes a fertile soil. For and even more in-depth look, check out Teaming with Microbes by Lowenfels and Lewis. It is truly fascinating, all the things that are going on under our very noses in the garden.

One of the things that we did recently was to conduct a simple soil test in the greenhouse. This was to determine the soil texture. We took a quart jar and filled it with soil and water to determine the amount of sand, silt and clay, and the organic material in the dirt. The right kind of soil structure is crucial to supporting a healthy garden. We have a nice mix of sand, some silt, and organic materials (which you can see floating in the picture). If we needed, we could have added sand, or organic materials. Loam, the ideal garden soil, is an equal mixture of sand, silt, and clay.

Soil Composition Test

Greenhouse Chickens

The first chickens were about 3-4 years old and not laying well.

Yesterday was a big day here on Stonycroft. We started the day with biscuits at 7, and from there we made a list of everything that needed to be done on the farm, and then set out on errands. Agway first, our local feed and seed store. Rabbit food, chicken food, and pig food for the new piglets we will get today. Bales of potting mix and shavings for the critters. Juliet was with us, and she fell in love with a salmon-pink flowered geranium, so we let her get that, and then I found a strawberry scented geranium… oh, and we bought 60 strawberry plants. After the feed store we continued down into Tilton, the the hardware store on Main Street that still has much of the fixtures and feel that it did a hundred years ago when it was young. Juliet loved exploring and finding all the cool doo-dads.

Once we had returned home I helped Dad offload the feed and bales, while the kids ran the groceries inside and put them away. Once the truck was clear we took the cap back off… when we had put it on that morning I had pulled a muscle in the part of me I sit upon. I grabbed Glady and the two of us ran to the library. Everyone at the house had made book requests, so we wound up with quite a stack. Dad got a couple of bee books put on inter-library loan, as he is finally studying for the Master Beekeeper’s Exam. Juliet had asked for a cookbook, and we found her a gluten-free one. Pippa asked for a book on raising pigs, as they are to be her responsibility. And for Johann I grabbed a book on tractors and one on robots. I found the Omnivore’s Dilemma, and a book on edible landscaping. Glady found a book on drawing cats, to her delight.

Back at the farm I parceled out the books to some very delighted children, taking my find Teaming with Microbes up to Dad, where he was potting up leggy tomato plants and bemoaning the chickens still invading his greenhouse. we talked about what needed to be done, and then I headed out to the greenhouse. I needed to build nestboxes into the chookabagos (chicken tractors by any other name…) so we would have a chance of keeping more eggs from the older flock. They have been eating their eggs. Te original plan was for me to build slanting shelves out of plywood and one by two that were partially outside the coops so we could collect the eggs. I wound up modifying that plan and using a salvaged drawer from an old dresser and the tray from under a decrepit rabbit cage. I also used the jigsaw for the first time. Ours lacks an on/off switch, so Juliet plugged and unplugged on command. Pippa brought me screws and drill bits as needed, and Johann made dirt angels. You know it must be spring when your son is filthy from head to toe. Pippa discovered the loose Ameracauna hens had made a hidden nest, ad we retrieved about nine eggs out of that. All our Ameracaunas lay green eggs, so it was a pretty nest.

By the time I had finished, Dad was in the greenhouse potting the strawberries into hanging baskets. He put two plants in each basket, and we had only bought everbearing strawberries, so they will be very nice indeed in about a month. We plan to sell some at the farmstand, the rest will be for family use. While he was doing that, I realized I had been putting off butchering the spare roosters for too long. We’d gotten about 6 with the first flock of chickens, and then 3 more with the Ameracaunas. We really only want 2, although I think we will wind up keeping 3. So off the the house for my hatchet and knife.

I haven’t done this for about eight years… maybe more than that. It wasn’t difficult to remember how, the only problem was that Johann was insisting on watching. I made him go a suitable distance away, but he watched me do in most of the chickens, without visible signs of trauma. I wasn’t going to make him go in the house, this is a part of farm life. I skin chickens, plucking is too much time and I didn’t have the set-up for it yesterday, anyway. Part of the way through the third chicken Dad brought me a table, as my back was killing me working on a low surface.

Juliet came out to watch me and demand an anatomy lesson. Then Glady came out to join us. They were fascinated with the whole process. Juliet went from “I won’t touch that thing!” to “Ooh, the heart is so smooth like silk.” Glady was chasing her sister with a foot. She wasn’t perturbed by the process at all. Pippa bravely took a look and then fled. I finished the cleaning inside in the sink. While Dad was helping me clean out the gizzards we discovered that one of the chickens had eaten a balloon. It was pretty well ground up. He suggested I take a picture for BalloonHQ, but I declined to share that gross visual.

Finally finished with that whole process, and with 5 chickens tucked in the freezer, I realized that I needed a hot shower badly. Not only did I have blood and guts on me, but my hip was about to give out. Glady and Dad started dinner while I stood under hot water. We had burgers for dinner, sat and watched an episode of CSI while we were doing that, and then out to the last task of the day.

We moved the chicken tractors out of the greenhouse, with some difficulty. They barely fit through the opening in the end of the greenhouse, but we managed. The second one had two hens roosting on the ridgepole, and the  little buggers hung on all the way outside. Dad and I had to laugh… we didn’t know if that was persistence or agility. It took us a while to catch the now loose flock in the greenhouse, but as it was twilight they were ready to roost, and as long as we moved slowly we could catch them fairly easily. Even though we had gotten 6 inches of snow the day before, it was almost fifty degrees yesterday, and the bed on the south side of the greenhouse was snow-free by the time we put the chickens on it. I imagine the hens are enjoying themselves this morning with all that fresh scratch.

We built the chicken tractors (dubbed chookabagos) in the greenhouse.

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