Sunday, March 22, 2015

What to do with a Sloped Lot of Hard, Yellow Clay

Last fall we were able to acquire the property next to us.  After the demolition of the decaying house, a sloping lot was left.  The lot was graded away from both our house and the neighbors, but probably could have used some more fill.  What we have, ladies and gentlemen is a yellow clay hill, and an imminent erosion problem.  But, I've never been so excited about a problem.  It's totally experimental territory here.  Figure out how to keep soil here, and manage water effectively.  Swales?  Terraces? Soil Building?  Yes, please.

Today Jason and I worked on starting to build some terraces out of stumps and wild grapevines that we have.  I passed the contents of our kitchen compost bin over to him in 5 gallon buckets, and he placed this unfinished compost on the uphill side of the log rounds.  Then covered with a bit of straw to keep things tidier and weighed that down.

The empty lot with neighboring house
This is the beginnings of building soil on the lot.  We don't have plans to grow food here, but would like to have areas to sit and hang out, maybe a water storage tank for water running off the roof, and native plants, flowers, and other perennials for pollinators and habitat.  

The lot looks so stark now, I am excited to get going on building some soil for it and get some coverage for it's nakedness.  I have visions of trench composting with veggie trimmings Jason could bring home from the restaurant he works at covered with wood chips that a tree trimming company might be willing to drop.  

Log round terrace with wood, compost and straw on the uphill side

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Signs of Spring

Bees are bringing in pollen
Happy to be out flying!
The garlic is up!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Chicken Feeder Invention

I'm sure someone has made something similar before, but I was pleased with myself when I made this chicken feeder to feed the chickens wet mash.  I often feed them wet feed, either fermented, or grains mixed with keifer, or the powdery dregs of what is in the hanging feeder mixed with some water so they will eat it.  You can't put wet feed in a hanging gets clogged up.  When you give chickens a dish of feed on the ground or on a cinderblock, they eat from it excitedly, then promptly knock it over, step in it, and/or poop in it.  I usually (partially) solve this by wedging the feeding dish between two heavy bricks, making it harder to knock over.  But, I wanted better.  So, from some vinyl coated welded wire and a deep, heavy metal dish I give you, the Mesh Covered Dish Feeder for Wet Chicken Feed.  It might need a catchier name if I ever wanted to market and sell it.

The point is, they can easily reach in and get some feed without stomping around in it and kicking it over.  The pan is a heavy metal, powder coated pan from Goodwill, so it is hard to knock over.

Of course, new ways of doing things often come with problems you don't figure on at first.  This has been in service a week and so far so good.  Time will tell if it is a good solution or if those chickens will find a way to kick it over and stomp in it.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Spring Spinach

Today was warm, and it began to rain in the evening.  After work, I still had the itch to get in the dirt, so I uncovered our two overwintered beds and seeded some stuff, til dark in the old raincoat.  Yep, I was midnight gardening again.

Pigeon spinach and Clodia endive seeded last fall and now about 3" tall in March
Spinach is great because you can seed it late in the fall, even in October or early November, and as long as it germinates and gets a little growth on it (an inch is fine), it will overwinter with row cover and burst into production in March for several cuttings of fresh spinach salad.  There are many great varieties of spinach to try.  I love the large, crinkly, leaves of the old variety Bloomsdale Longstanding for spring sowings, but I usually go with an organic hybrid for overwintering, like Pigeon or Corvair offered by High Mowing Seeds.   Germination can sometimes be a pain with spinach.  It just won't germinate in warm weather, and I find fall sowings have better germination than late spring sowings.

I was pleased the the overwintered spinach and endive is about 3" tall...salad mix is soon in our future.  I removed the bit of straw mulch on the spinach (no straw in my salad please!) and added a few seedlings of arugula and lettuce mix I had on hand.  The rest of the bed had been planted with arugula, kale, cilantro and parsley, which we harvested into the winter, but by January the intense cold had killed them outright.  In the empty space, I seeded a few rows of Franchi Seeds, which I purchased at the PASA conference in February.  I planted a little broccoli raab, a chicory mix, some sylvetta arugula and a little patch of oats to harvest for chicken greens.  Finally, I put in two rows of Green Arrow shelling peas in the other overwintered bed.

Greens (before I raked out the straw and filled in any holes with lettuce and arugula)

I have experimented with overwintering several different veggies, and I've had the best luck with two things:  leeks and spinach.  If you transplant leeks into the garden in July or even August, they will grow and then overwinter very well, even with just a light mulch.  Straw mulch is good.  You can pull them whenever the ground isn't frozen.  I harvested the last of my overwintered leeks today, and they were just fine.  A bit mushy on top but the white shaft is fine.  The best overwintering varieties for me are Bandit, Bleu de Solaize, Tadorna, and Pandora.  Bandit is the hardiest.  I find the leeks do best out in the open, just mulched, no low tunnel.

Uncovered hoop with winter killed arugula and parsley and spinach that is alive and kickin'

What to do when it is raining and you want to seed some rows?  Put your seed in a metal tin, and bring a hand towel!

Here's to the impending spring!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Hardening Off Seedlings

Today was beautiful.  This evening when I got home from work, I took the seedlings that have been living in our basement under fluorescent shop lights out to get in a little time outside, and let the gentle breeze blow through their leaves.  

2 months ago, I started shallots, onions, and alpine strawberries from seed.  Alpine strawberries are really lovely, small strawberries with intense flavor.  Their shape is elongated and they are about the size of an almond.  I grew them a few years ago in a garden we had and really loved them, so I decided to start a new patch this year here at home.  This is their first trip outta the basement to see the light of day (or evening as it happens to be).  

Alpine Strawberries: Alexandria
Alpine Strawberries: Alexandia, and Onions: Red of Tropea, Cortland, and Red Marble
Shallots: Conservor and Zebrune

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Chicken Saddle

There exists in the world an item called a "Chicken Saddle".  It consists of some fabric that rides on a chicken's back like a saddle, and is held in place by elastic bands under the wings.  Probably slightly uncomfortable, but hens tolerate them I've read.  The purpose is to protect a hen's back and let the feathers regrow if a rooster has mucked up her back while mounting her.  No roosters here, but for the past month, the other hens have plucked the feathers off a certain hen's back, despite my efforts to give them alternative entertainment, like cabbages hung from the roof of the henhouse.  This hen in question is at the bottom of the pecking order, a sweet Easter Egger who lays pretty pale pink eggs and just gets bossed around all the time.  Enough is enough, so I ordered a chicken saddle from the internet after attempting to make one myself that she promptly ripped off.  

The saddle came and I put it on her.  She was not pleased, and spent about 10 minutes trying to rip the thing off.  The other hens tried to peck her back and seemed puzzled that they couldn't get at any feathers.  So, the thing works, but I removed it, as the tighter she pulled on one elastic strap, the tighter the other one got round her wing.  I'll try again right before I give them some delicious treats that will take them awhile to eat and maybe distract her and hope she accepts the saddle until her feathers regrow.  Acceptance seems unlikely and I would prefer a naked back to her cutting off the circulation to a wing by ripping at the elastic straps.  If she refuses, I guess I'll have it on hand if anyone else wants to saddle up.  

"WTF is on my back?"
"I will rip this thing off me if it's the last thing I do"
"What's up girl?  I just tried to pluck a feather off your back and draw blood but all I got was a mouthful of fabric!"
"I don't care; get this thing off me!"
With only a few years of observing chicken behavior under my belt, I don't think the flock is going to maul her to death.  They are tired of winter, and their slightly smaller run, and their lack of fresh veggies and they are taking it out on her.  The pecking I have observed is very half-hearted.  But still, I'm sure it hurts, and it has been cold, and her back is naked!  So, come on spring!  If the chicken saddle won't help, I need the allure of daily fresh vegetables, interesting ground to scratch on, and an end to winter boredom to help her feathers regrow, which I am pretty confident they will with the changing of the seasons.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

March Beehives

Peeked in the hives yesterday and added a bit more sugar candy to the hives that need it, or repositioned the candy closer to the bees.  As you can see, they munch a hole up through the middle of the candy and it helps to then slowly slide the candy closer to them.  

Close up of bees with sugar candy
Peeking in top of the hive  
The cluster of bees in the picture above is covering 6 of the 10 frames in the box.  You can't see them all, but they are underneath the sugar candy.  I can tell how many frames they are covering by looking in (quickly!) from the top.  I wouldn't open the hive just to do this, but I opened it briefly to check on their candy level, so I also checked how many frames the cluster was covering.  This cluster should be big enough to stay warm til the weather breaks if all goes well.

When nectar starts flowing and the temperatures warm, I will remove the remnants of candy and the wooden spacer so that the bees don't build comb in the space.  (I usually do this a little too late and they get started building a little comb here, but I'll try to be ahead of them this year!)