90 days to Grow and How to Protect from a Freeze.

When April fifteenth rolls around we scramble to get plants in the ground and into production, before the temperature tops 100 degrees in early July. This year we jumped the gun and suffered three freezes already, and expect another this weekend!

gardentarp

To save the plants we put old bed frames in the garden and covered them with sturdy tarps, weighted down by bricks. When the low was 25 degrees we put a small space heater under the thinner of the two tarps. The heater prevents snow collection on the thin tarp and radiates warmth through the tunnel created by the bed frames and heavy army tarp, thus saving the seedlings from a 25 degree freeze. (It worked! We were pleasantly surprised.) But the whole reason we’re in this mess, is to try and lengthen our 90 day growing season.

The 90 day growing season is demanding so we’ve compiled a list of vegetables that can grown from seed to food in 90 days or less. Count back from the first 100 degree day in your area, and you will know the last applicable day to plant each seed variety in the outdoor garden.

  • Cress 10 days
  • Watercress 14 days
  • Green onions 20 days, harvest as needed
  • Radish 25 days
  • Collard greens 40 days
  • Spinach 42+ days for leaves, 70 days for bunches
  • Leaf Lettuce 46 days
  • Potatoes 50 days
  • Swiss Chard 50 days
  • Squash (Summer, Straight- and Crookneck, Zucchini) 50 days
  • Bush Beans 56 days
  • Beets 60 days
  • Cucumbers 60 days
  • Pole Beans  63 days
  • Peas 65 days
  • Hull Beans  67 days
  • Corn 75-95 days depending on subspecies
  • Chinese Cabbage 85 days
  • Endive anytime up to 90 days
  • Peppers – edible at all stages, 90-110 days for ripe

Tomatoes and Okra are tricky picky vegetables unless you live in a humid subtropical environment. Tomatoes do not like temperatures above 85 degrees. They will not set flowers, nor will they color-ripen outside, but if the fruit breaks off the stem when lifting gently, take the fruit in the house and let it color-ripen on the counter. Okra seeds will not sprout until the soil temperature is consistently at or above 70 degrees. They are a shrinking violet of vegetable seedlings. We’re trying them anyway. Hopefully our humidity will be high enough to make the okra happy.

Temperatures fluctuate wildly in our neck of the woods, so we may reach daytime highs of 85 degrees before the end of April, and not maintain a 70 degree soil temperature until mid-May (because of nighttime lows). With ideal conditions, the tomatoes are good to harvest in 56 days, and okra in 60 days.

Some years we have great crops and other years, not so much. Such is the nature of a vegetable garden.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Not a Square Foot Vegetable Garden

The January plan for the vegetable garden did not pan out. After further thought and discussion we decided not to plan a square-foot garden this year. Gardening by the foot is a great way to get the most out of a small space and we have used the method for many years, but a number of factors have led us to try something else.

We do not enjoy weeding. Square foot gardening  negates the need for mulch because plants are tightly packed in small spaces. The problem is, weeds will find a way so we spend a fair amount of time weeding. We are trying the wet newspaper trick this year to see if it helps keep the weeds down. We’ll share our results with you as the year progresses. Despite planting less, we still planted enough produce to take care of our fresh needs and have surplus zucchini and cucumber, in July and August.

Our summers are getting longer. In our region high temperatures rule with a melting fist until mid-October. Most gardeners focus on what plants might over-winter, but for the past few years, we have become more concerned with what plants will survive the ever-longer, hotter, and drier summers. The lack of over-summer vegetables might be negatively impacted by square foot gardening. The proximity of neighboring plants and the resulting increased competition for water and nutrient resources might cause too much stress when coupled with prolonged summer heat. With less intensive land use, the tomatoes and peppers might make it to a second harvest. Theoretically, tomatoes can go dormant during the hot summer days, then flower again and produce in the fall. I’ve never seen this, but rumors persist. Since the dawn of agriculture some 6000 years ago, planting cycles have been based on the knowledge of these kinds of active/dormant blooming cycles.

El Niño, La Niña ocean-atmosphere cycles are changing. For the past six thousand years (give or take), farmers relied on seven-year cycles. However, fluctuations began to appear during the mid-19th century. Which might be early evidence of the anthropocene era. The El Niño/La Niña cycles are increasingly erratic. Farmers no longer know when to expect rain or drought.

La Nina years are gray. Data compiled from http://origin.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/ensostuff/ONI_v5.php

At the end of the 19th century, scientists adopted the Peruvian name for these very old cycles and started monitoring them only to discover that the farmers are on to something: Ocean-atmosphere relationships, and therefore weather patterns everywhere, are changing. At the time of this writing, La Niña is prevailing which means less precipitation in our neck of the woods. That means the garden will need more watering this year, so we plant less to make sure each plant gets the water it needs.

We have a brand new soaker hose to help out on the watering front. I am so glad to have a soaker hose buried in the garden. Under that newspaper it delivers water to the roots so we save water, time and money.

That large C by the Zucchini is a Cilantro plant. Yum.

Speaking of time and money, our business obligations are evolving. We might see more business related travel this year. If that is the case, this garden can fight the good fight without so much help from us.

Taking all of these factors into consideration, a square foot garden does not make sense for us, at least not this year. This is what the new and improved garden layout looks like.

Hopefully,  the newspaper will stop the weeds (or at least some of them), production per plant will rise, and everything will taste delicious. Whatever happens, we’ll keep you posted.

 

It’s chick season! Or is it?

Every year we debate the costs and benefits of purchasing new chickens. This year we have a new idea. But first, a little backstory…

Two years ago we started with a mixed flock of twelve, then lost three birds to predation, and so purchased three more birds last spring. We lost eight birds at various points through the past year (hawks and owls, we think) and one more last weekend. So now we have two hens. We are tired of losing chickens. They are the ultimate prey birds. Even our hardy girls, Vera and Bossy, are at risk. It’s in their nature. They vanish during the twilight hour, just before it’s time to lock them up in the coop for the night. We even moved the girls to the back porch in January, but to no avail. Edna vanished the same day we shot this compost video.

The last three girls: Edna, Vera, and Bossy were/are Jersey Giants. We think their intelligence (if you can call it that) helped them survive. Sadly, they are not impervious to hungry foxes, hawks, owls, or other predators. Interestingly, the Jersey Giant is the largest breed of chicken. Their size probably contributed to their survival more than anything else. We were sad to discover there are no larger chicken breeds in existence. However, there are turkeys.

For the past few days, we have researched turkey keeping in North America. This is what we’ve learned.

  • Turkey’s are native species in North America and they can tolerate the weather swings of our region.
  • They lay larger eggs less frequently and those eggs pack a more nutritive punch per gram by volume. (Yay B vitamins!)
  • Adult turkeys are not victims of predation near as often as chickens.
  • Numbers of wild turkey populations are in decline, but that same species, Meleagris gallopavo, is also domesticated and we can buy numerous varieties of the species for our little homestead.
  • The most popular commercial birds (Broad Breasted White and Bronze Turkeys) are no longer able to reproduce on their own so we’re not interested in them.
  • Hens do not gobble, only toms, and only when it’s mating season (or when they feel threatened).

These are all good reasons for us to switch to backyard turkeys, but there are some drawbacks.

  • The eggs have four times the cholesterol of chicken eggs. Yikes.
  • They need a stable at night; a coop is too small.
  • Waterers and feeders need to be elevated so the birds don’t knock them over or poop in them.
  • Everything needs to be bigger.
  • Turkey chicks and poults die at a higher rate than chicken chicks and pullets.

For cooking needs, three turkey eggs are roughly equivalent to five chicken eggs by volume, no shells. To keep us in chicken eggs we needed at least three chickens which works out to about 18 eggs during good sunshine and nice weather weeks, as few as a dozen during cloudy or cold weeks, and seven eggs per week through the winter. To keep us in turkey eggs we’ll need four turkeys which should produce 10 or 11 eggs during good weeks, 7 (maybe 8?) during less pleasant weeks, and 4 (rarely five) through the winter.

If we ate other dairy, poultry, or meat products we would not be able to justify the extra cholesterol. We don’t, so turkey cholesterol is an acceptable trade-off (for now). If we were reliant on these eggs for all of our protein needs and B vitamins we would need many more birds. Luckily, we aren’t, so we don’t!

Our newest plan to produce organic, homegrown, bird eggs requires a lot of prep work on our end. First, we need to dismantle the current chicken run, then rebuild the stall that the 2013 tornado destroyed. It needs to be a turkey stable with sturdy, low, roosts. We’re going to try the deep bedding method outlined by this Swedish guy (Simeon, he’s great) who has many, many videos about poultry keeping and homesteading: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tcx26yWdvac

After contacting some local suppliers of turkey poults we learned they do not start selling them, typically, until mid-summer, so they will be ready for slaughter in November. We might buy from farms that sell butchered Thanksgiving birds, if they are willing to sell live ones at a much cheaper price, and if we can find Auburn Heritage birds.

The AH birds are a hearty, pretty brown, calm, large bird. Adult hens weigh ~20 pounds and adult toms weigh ~36 pounds. The hens start laying at seven months old, and the species can reproduce on their own if the need should arise next spring. Wild hens with a 100% pasture diet produce 2 eggs a week, but the domestic bird with a 50/50 feed/pasture diet can lay 3 eggs a week.

If we can get all the prep work taken care of by mid-summer then this plan is go-for-launch. Either way – we’ll keep you posted.

 

Veganish (Eggs, Honey, and Oysters)

Yup, we’ve been doing the vegan thing for not quite a year. Like much else in life, diet is a personal decision – so no hate. Veganism is the latest in our list of eating quirks. I’m GF, my son is allergic to tree nuts, my husband and daughter cannot tolerate milk products but – funny thing – it’s not the lactose that bothers them. We don’t know what it is. Being vegan(ish) makes life easier in some ways, and harder in others. I think we’ll stick with our version of veganism (not rigidly) for the foreseeable future.

We eat eggs, honey, and oysters and call ourselves vegan instead of vegetarian because we’re really picky about the source of these animal foods. No, we will not join you for breakfast at the diner and order eggs. My daughter and I don’t eat any animal products, except the eggs our chicken’s lay, honey from the bees who live down the road… and oddly, oysters. Although tbh, we’re still kind of on the fence about the oysters.

My husband and son, on the other hand, are not above the occasional indulgence in sardines, herring, or pepper jack cheese. They indulge in one of these treats every three months or so – and seem to enjoy the indulgence as a bonding activity more than they enjoy the sustenance these foods provide. We girls do not judge, but enjoy the dark chocolate chips that accompany these food-focused outings. The boys also accept food-gifts from family when offered – these food-gifts include chicken or turkey in a thousand different combinations, while us girls opt for vegan friendly snacks.

Our daughter is sensitive to the plight of animals in the livestock industry and has been since she was a little girl. I think she was five when she decided she wanted to become a lacto-ovo-vegetarian. By the time she was ten she quit dairy altogether and would only eat the eggs that her hens produced, citing,

My chickens are happy, healthy, free-range babies. I take care of them, I love them, and they lay the eggs. It would be wasteful to let them rot.

She’s rubbing off on us. Turns out veganism is contagious.

People ask, “…but what about protein?” So I’ll try to explain what we do to make sure we’re healthy. We eat a lot of beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts, and seeds. We eat Mexican dishes, Cajun dishes, Cowboy dishes, lentil soups and stews, chickpea salads,  soups,  stews, and hummus on all the other veggies. For iron, we devour the burritos,  meat-free jambalaya, beans and cornbread, incorporate seeds and nuts and these legumes into soups, stews, and salads. Vitamin C helps us absorb the iron so we have lots of pineapples, oranges, o.j., lemon juice as a seasoning, broccoli, and brussels sprouts too. We also love spinach and tolerate kale (kale chia chips are pretty yummy).

Getting enough fats is the hardest part of maintaining our healthy vegan diet. Growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, fat was the enemy. It’s been difficult for me to see fat as a friend and ‘good’ food. In addition to the miracle of coconut oil, and olive oil, we recently added farmed oysters back to our food list. The omega’s that eggs and oysters provide help our brains function. Avocados are mainstays, and Country Crock (of all things) is important too. Concerned for cholesterol, we only use the Churn style,  which contains no mono- or di-glycerides. We conclude glycerides make the other styles of Country Crock more spreadable. The Churn style is thicker but nowhere near as thick as real butter and so, is easier to spread than what we used to use!

Reasons going vegan is easy? It limits your options… in a good way.

  • Grocery Lists – You can eliminate perhaps 80% of all grocery store products from your planning.
  • Meal planning – Once you identify which cuisine your family likes, 1/2 of the meals they offer go out the window because they contain meat or animal products.
  • No more calorie counting – When your diet is plant-based you can pretty much eat all day and not worry about eating too many calories.
  • Hydration – it’s easier to stay hydrated when the water it takes to digest a parcel of food is (mostly) included in the food. Most veggies are waterful, so most of our meals are also waterful!

Reasons going vegan is difficult? It limits your options… in a bad way.

  • Grocery Lists – You have to read the ingredient lists on e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g, and google the unknown ingredients. Or – always stick to the same (boring) items and never try anything new. Or – decide that you are doing enough by avoiding what you can, and accept that life and the grocery store are full of unknown unknowns. 🙂
  • Meal Planning – Beginning vegans are really limited by their knowledge (and love of cheese). It takes time to develop a vegan meal plan that you’ll be happy with, let alone everyone in your house.
  • Not enough fat – When eating a plant-based diet you have to make sure you get enough fat. If you don’t, you’ll have a spike in cravings. I craved chili cheese tater tots and milkshakes. Without the cheese, and with vegan chili, the dish tasted flat. It was the cheese I wanted, the fat. An almond vanilla smoothie was slightly more satisfying, but the slushy consistency was just not the same as a milkshake, and there was not quite as much fat! Just remember Healthy Fats are your Friends!
  • Salt – A lot of processed foods marketed as a vegan (or low-fat, or vegetarian, or gluten-free) option, are higher in salt than their traditional counterparts. Just check those levels when you’re reading the ingredients and keep your numbers reasonable.

Our list of pros outnumber our list of cons (to say nothing of the broader implications of an ecologically low-impact diet) so we’re sticking with this vegan(ish) thing. Every day is easier than the one before and after a year we can feel the effects of this diet choice; We’re healthier, happier, and a little bit leaner all around.

Minimalist Garden

This year we are planting a  low intensity, high yield, minimalist garden. Last year we made an elaborate, detailed, plan for the garden with a wide variety of plants and cycling plant/harvest schedules. We planned in the bullet journal and posted it on Instagram. It was a great plan, like others made by mice and men…This year we’re following a less intensive regime.

Our soil makes vegetables spicy, and that’s great – unless the vegetables are typically sweet. Zucchini, tomatoes, spring onions and okra are tasty in spicy dishes so we’ll plant those to provide fresh ingredients for our spicy Italian, Mexican, and Cajun favorites. We’ll amend 1/5 of the garden soil with a focus on increasing the acid levels and then try spinach again. If the spinach is still bitter we can switch to plan B; make banana spinach smoothies. 🙂

We’re working within the same space, a 16ft x 4ft garden. We divide the garden into five even plots, each measures 48″x 38.4″. Using the square foot method we know we can plant the following amounts of each vegetable:

  • Zucchini – 8 with cages
  • Tomato – 12 with cages
  • Spring onions – 208
  • Okra – 12
  • Spinach – 108

Here is a drawing for you visual learners:

For the first time, we get to incorporate our own compost into the soil, with manure, and topsoil to replace what washed away in last year’s rain. The chicken ladies made their contribution to the soil last fall, too. This -no frills- plan should yield more reward with less work. We’ll see how it goes.

Growing Along

So we’ve got the garden started!  The hens were in the garden house for about a month and they chewed through all the roots, weeding and feeding as they went. Let me just say working chickens are entirely underrated. After they moved out we let the ground rest (and the chicken poop wash) in two days of rain. Two days after that, the ground was ready for planting and biodynamics indicated it was a good day to plant leaf foods.

We transplanted organic green onions that we bought about three months ago from the grocery store. Green onions are a grass so we kept them in a water/dirt slurry in the bottom half of an Aquafina bottle, mowing them when needed. Green onions are a great addition to most anything we eat so it worked out great. We sprouted the kale and spinach from seed and transplanted on the same day. It took about half an hour for all the work and we made a timelapse video. Timelapse makes everything look easy.

Since then, we’ve planted peas, cucumbers, celery and radish. We also started the peas and cucumbers early and from seed. The celery was an organic vegetable from the grocery store (like the green onions) that we kept in coffee cups and water until the leaves resumed growing. The radishes are just seeds yet and we sowed them directly. Hopefully they’ll pop up soon! We also sowed some more kale and spinach seeds indoors. Although the freeze date has officially passed (yay!) we have may hail dates ahead, and it’s a good idea to keep back-up seedlings so the garden can bounce back after a severe storm.

Also I’d like to share a recent failure. No mother hens have adopted the three chicks. We tried and tried with the hens but each one preferred the freedom of the flock to adoption. Oh well, so it goes. Good news is, the babies are nearing big enough to join the flock! Once they are as big as the smallest two hens then in they go. We’ll be back up to ten hens and an intact rooster. Aiming for that perfect dozen means keep buying more. Maybe Alphonse can help us out in that department. Time will tell! Until next week then, indulge in a little simple heresy.

 

Seed Starting Soon!

We’ve had another unseasonably warm winter. If this keeps up warm will be the norm and cold – a thing of the past. I visited one of my oldest friends recently, and it turns out we are both contemplating moving north to escape the heat. Neither of us knew that the other was even thinking about moving, but great minds think alike…

Until we move though – I’m going to garden here. So that means it’s time to plan and start seeds! Since I’m into the bullet journaling thing – I wrote it all down in there…

garden2017

We use the square foot gardening method. It is intensive so we have to keep the soil nutrient balance carefully managed. It needs composts now, but no manure (at least not yet). The rectangular plot is 16×4 feet. It’s the box on the left hand side of the spread. The adjacent list shows what’s planted in the plot and where.

Starting on the left you can see a to-buy, to-do, seeds to plant, and when to plant list. In the seeds column I wrote (4×4) behind peas and radish because they get their own little plots. Radish greens make the best salads. Last year the radish roots were woody and underdeveloped because the nitrogen level was elevated in the soil. It turned out fine though because the greens were plentiful and delicious.

This year we’re starting the seeds in 100% biodegradable paper cups. We’ll tear off the bottoms and move them directly into the garden, preventing most of the transplant shock.

We’re really excited to see the way this garden grows. Through successes and failures – we’ll keep you posted!

Save