Archive | March 2014

Liebster Award: Sharing New Blogs!

One of my favorite bloggers, http://foxonanisland.com/, has nominated me for a Liebster Award for new blogs. I had never heard of this award before, but I’m honored to be nominated!

Here are the answers to my questions:

1.) How long have you been blogging for? A few weeks this time, though I blogged for a short time back in college.

2.) What is your favorite pizza topping? Black olives.

3.) What’s the one thing you could never live without? My family, of course, but as far as “things” go, I’m awfully attached to my computer. I wrote my first short stories on a typewrite. I think I cried the first time I used a word processor.

4.) What’s the best book you have ever read? I have to pick? I’ve read so many, and so many good books. Can we narrow it down at all? What genre, era, author, or subject? (Or by what mood I’m in.) If you come to my house and pick a random book off the shelf, that could very well be my favorite book. That day. I’m a bibliophile. Can you tell?

5.) What musicians are you currently listening to? I listen to a variety of artists and genres, everything from classical to hard rock. Since my daughter was born, I’ve mostly been listening to lullaby’s and kid songs.

6.) Where do you live, and do you like it there? Alabama, and strangely enough, I do. The climate is nice; it never gets cold for long (which is a plus, when your body has issues dealing with the cold, like mine does.) The growing season is 7 months long and you can usually overwinter greens and root vegetables. Most of the people are nicer than the stereotypes, and while we don’t see eye to eye with many of them, most people are content to mind their own business. That said, there are some places in this state (and several others), were I would not feel safe traveling with my family.

7.) Of the places you have traveled, what city/country is your favourite? Toronto, Ontario. I love that city and would have moved there if it wasn’t so cold. I just can’t handle freezing temps in August.

8.) Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Living here on our farm with my wife and children. I hope to publish one of my novels by then. I’ve published several short stories, but I want to get my novels out there as well.

9.) Cat person or dog person? This is a hard one. I prefer dogs and I’m allergic to cats, but I got “adopted” by a Siamese cat in college. Gabby (short for Gabrielle) is a full-blood seal-point Siamese (with papers no less!). My then roommate bought her from the breeder as a surprise birthday gift for her fiance, who had been toying with the idea of getting a cat. That didn’t work out so well. Gabby quickly took up with me, and when the roommate said she was going to take the kitten to the pound if I didn’t want her, we made it official. She’s been my cat and I’ve been her servant ever since. (I should have bought stock in the company that makes Claritin long ago.) Interesting fact: According to her papers, Gabby was born on 9/11.

10.)  What is your least favourite word? Can’t. Don’t ever tell me I can’t do something. I’ll do it just to prove you wrong. This stubborn streak has served me well, coming as I do from a very poor family and a very rough background. I taught myself to read as a child, made it through high school (with honors), not only went to but graduated college, etc, all despite and because of the numerous people who told me I couldn’t do it.

11.) Imagine you’ve moved into a new house that is painted all white; what colours would you paint the walls? We’re actually in this situation, having just bought our house back in August of 2013. The walls were all white when we moved in (except for the kitchen, which is a loooooong story). I hate neutral walls, so we’ve been slowly painting all the rooms. T’s room is a sunny yellow. Our bedroom is a dusky rose. The dining room is a sage green. The living room will be a warm white with pink undertones. The third bedroom will be a pretty lavender or lilac color. We’re still debating the rest of the house.

via Liebster Award: Sharing New Blogs!.

Favorite blogs:

I have several, actually. Here’s a sampling.

http://foxonanisland.com/

http://newlywoodwards.com/

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/

http://thekitchensgarden.com/

I’m also supposed to pass this on to other new bloggers. I don’t know that many, but here’s one I really like:

http://bridetobrick.wordpress.com/

And here are your questions:

1.) How long have you been blogging for?

2.) Why do you blog?

3.) Where do you find your inspirations and materials?

4.) Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

5.) What’s the one thing you could never live without?

6.) What’s the best book you have ever read?

7.) What drives you outside of your blog pursuits?

8.) Coffee, tea, or neither?

9.) Who’s your favorite blogger?

10.) What’s your favorite color?

11.) What do you like most and least about blogging?

Help with color

One of our neighbors has a flock of chickens that includes a rooster. I’m not sure which neighbor it is because we are separated by at least 15 acres, but we can clearly hear him crowing every morning. (This would be why roosters aren’t permitted in urban areas.)

He’s normally a polite, mannerly gentleman. Not this morning. When I first took the dogs out at about 6:30 it sounded like he was shouting “I kill you!” “I kill you!” over and over again in chicken. My guess is a predator tried to get to his hens and he ran it off.  Our dog Floyd isn’t exactly the bravest dog that ever lived and this distant cacophony reduced him to hiding behind my legs.

I’m writing this morning because I would like your help with picking colors for the exterior of the house. I need to start the foundation beds soon so I can get all my pass along plants and transplants in the ground and it will be much easier to paint the foundation before I do so, so we need to pick all of the colors now. Here’s a picture of the current exterior:

House

The white vinyl siding is staying for now. The holly tree is going away. The current contenders for the door color are: red, orange, yellow, and green. The shade will be very bright regardless. I would like a deep blue for the porch. That leaves the foundation. Kelly refuses to let me just paint it white. I’m flummoxed.

What do you think?

(Disclaimer: I have NO color or fashion sense. I have been known to wear stripes and plaid together, and I can’t count the number of times Kelly has stopped me on my way out the door in the morning and gently suggested I change clothes.)

Weekly Farm Update March 28

I’m going to try to do these updates once a week. This is going to be a general post about how things are going on the farming/gardening/growing side of things.

After being pleasant all weekend, the weather started to turn horrid again on Monday. The temperature dropped back into the 20s three nights in a row, and the high didn’t exceed 40 until yesterday afternoon. I know everyone in the North would love to have those temps right now, but down here we’re just not used to it. It snowed Tuesday while the sun was shining. The weather finally improved yesterday, but we both ended up spending most of the afternoon at the doctor with little T, who has (another) ear infection.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying I didn’t get as much done in the garden this week as I would have liked to. All the rows and paths are marked and the cover crop is going in slowly but surely. I finally got the seed potatoes planted, though I have serious doubts about their viability at this point. It’s notoriously difficult to grow Irish potatoes in this climate, which is why I only devoted one 4×4 bed to it this year, but if they don’t work out I’ll try it again next year.

Most of my starts are up and growing and most should be big enough to start going outdoors next week. The mushroom spawn should be in sometime in the next 7-10 days. The blueberries are trying to leaf out and one of the pears and the cherry already have. Things are really starting to move along!

Last night we had our first meal containing food grown right on our land, though Mother Nature gets all of the credit for this one. Our dinner included a salad consisting of store bought greens and carrots mixed with wild greens from the land, including chickweed, dead nettle, plantain, and dandelion greens. If you are going to forage for wild edibles, be very careful; Kelly is a biologist and still had to double check the chickweed. The other homegrown additions to dinner were chives sprinkled on the baked honey mustard chicken and deep fried dandelion blossoms. Never turn down the latter; they’re amazing!

My goals for the next week include: start building the fence around the back, finish sowing the cover crop, and get the greens planted.

I apologize for the lack of pictures -I’ll post some new ones next time, I promise!

Tilling

The garden is tilled and almost ready to plant! It took a lot longer than expected (what doesn’t when you’re doing it yourself?) but we finished it on Sunday. The original plan was for me to spend all day Friday tilling it myself. That didn’t happen, and quite frankly, I’m glad.

The tool rental place made us a deal: pick up the tiller after 3 on Friday and we could keep it until Monday morning at the one day rental rate. After some discussion, we decided that was the way to go and I’m glad we did. If you’re going to till a new garden area this year, I highly recommend you rent the tiller instead of buying one, unless you have a good bit of cash to spare and can pick up a good one cheaply. The one we rented had about twice the power of one we could afford to buy. Plus, it was considerably cheaper. The cheapest tiller we found that would work for our needs cost $300 new. Total rental cost: $54 for the day, plus $1.44 in gas.

Here’s the tiller when I got it home on Friday:

Tiller Honking big tiller.

We got to work about 5 o’clock on Friday. T spent the night with her grandmother so we had all evening. 2.5 hours later, when darkness closed in, we’d done the first pass over half the garden area. And it sucked. It probably won’t take you that long to till your new garden area; ours is about 1500 square feet, which is considerably longer than average.

How long it will take you to till will depend on several factors: the type and condition of the soil (clay soil takes longer), how long it’s been since your ground was last tilled, and the power of the tiller you use. Always use a front-tine tiller to till an area covered in sod. It’s the most efficient way. You really need to be in good shape to till; if you’re not, consider hiring out the job. It won’t cost you much more than renting a tiller. If you’ll only be tilling a small area it might even be cheaper.

A note for those without much upper body strength: This means the majority of women and small-statured men. Tillers are not built for us. They just aren’t. This doesn’t mean you can’t use one. I did. It just means it’s going to be considerably harder. Don’t give up.

Back to the task at hand. Neither one of us had time to till on Saturday, so we had to get it down on Sunday. It took another 1.5 to finish the first pass. The first pass is the one where you chew up the sod. You may only have to do one pass if you don’t have clay soil.

We aren’t that lucky, but the second pass proved to be much easier than the first -it only took an hour to do the whole plot!

Here are the before and after pics:

Before Tilling Friday afternoon

After tilling Yesterday

Floyd Floyd dog helped take the pictures after rolling in the grass that’s been composting at the back of the yard all winter.

I marked out the rows and paths yesterday. Today I’m hoping to get the cover crop in the ground. It’s slowly coming along!

Expect an update on plants and the house soon.

Hail Spring!

Come in and be welcome!

Here’s some pictures for the first day of spring. Some of them are a little blurry, but I did my best.

Blackberry This blackberry has grown at least an inch in the past week!

Blueberry Swelling growth buds on one of the blueberries.

Pawpaw A new growth tip on one of the pawpaws.

Elderberry New growth on an elderberry.

I couldn’t get a decent, much less good, picture of it, but the cherry has a leaf bud opening up. I’ll try to get a picture of that one in the next few days as it finishes opening.

A St. Patrick’s Day Farm Update

St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal to me and my family. I’m Irish. Very, very Irish.

I’m so Irish we deliberately held my father’s funeral on St. Patrick’s Day. That’s not a bad joke; it’s the solid truth. This morning is similar to that one from so long ago -it’s a gray day with fog rolling over the fields and the chill of winter in the air. The mockingbirds call from the hedge, unwilling to leave the warmth and safety of their nests. It’s strange how two days so far apart -more than half my life! -can be so similar.

Now that I’ve depressed the two people who read this blog (sorry), I’m going to post a short update on the farm’s progress. All of the plants we’re going to start from seed for transplanting are or will be started by tomorrow; we’ll start the transplanting around the 15th of April, depending on the weather. A short list of our transplants include: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and a bunch of herbs. Our seed potatoes just came in and will be planted later this week.

I’m going to be tilling and preparing the garden beds on Thursday or Friday. We generally believe in no-till gardening, but tilling is the easiest way to start a new garden when you have to get rid of lots of sod. By this weekend, or Monday at the latest, I will have direct sown a bunch of early spring crops: peas, swiss chard, and so forth. I’m planting them late, but hopefully we’ll still have time to get a crop in.

Both pawpaws, both elderberries, all the blueberries, and one of the grape vines already have growth tips or swelling buds. Between the rain yesterday and the fog today, I haven’t been able to get any good pictures, but the sun is supposed to be back tomorrow.

And best of all -We should get our grower’s permit this week, maybe even today!

Planting Edibles

Our trees and bushes are here! Not only are they here, but they are in the ground. The package arrived late Thursday afternoon. Too late to plant them unfortunately, unless I did it with a flashlight. So I got to work early Friday morning. And a long day’s work it turned out to be.

I had planned to have all the holes dug before the plants arrived. Yeah, that didn’t happen. I had to finish digging the rest of the holes -I had 9 left -first thing. Then I went to the store for mulch and topsoil. The clock had almost struck noon before I ever planted anything.

I’m going to describe the process of planting fruit trees and berry bushes for those who don’t know. Don’t worry -there will be lots of pictures!

Step 1.) Choose what type of tree you want to get and select a variety that does well in your area.

You can buy trees and bushes either in containers or bare-root. Bare root trees are cheaper and have a wider selection; potted trees have a better survival rate. Make sure that any varieties you select do well in your area. Just because the tree is listed for your zone doesn’t mean it will work well in your specific region. If you are only planting one of a species, make certain it is self-pollinating or you won’t get any fruit. I also select varieties based on ripening time and disease resistance.

Your local nurseries will have container grown trees in the spring and fall. You’ll have to order bare root trees from a mail-order nursery. There are many fine mail-order nurseries, but I recommend beginner’s stick with those on the Top 5 list at Dave’s Garden.

Step 2.) Dig a hole at least as deep as the roots and at least twice as wide.

You don’t want to skimp on the size of the hole; it could be fatal to the tree or bush. Newly planted trees need loose soil to expand into. My holes always end up being far too big. Here’s a picture of one of the holes I dug for the blackberry bushes.

Hole

Step 3: Gently remove the plant from its wrappings and place it in the hole.

The crown of the plant should be at or above soil level once the hole is filled. Most bare root trees will have a paint mark to indicate planting depth. If all else fails, look for residual dirt on the trunk to see how deep it was planted in the nursery. Remember that it’s always better to plant a little too shallowly than too deeply.

If the hole is too deep, go ahead and backfill some of the dirt.

Tip: Exposure to air, especially wind, can be fatal to bare root trees. Keep their roots wrapped in plastic or newspaper right up until you go to plant them. Even a few minutes of exposure to high winds can dry out fine root hairs enough to kill the plant. To remove a container grown plant from its container, turn the container on its side at a downward facing angle and gently slide the plant out.

Our trees were a mixture of bareroot and container grown plants. I expected the berry bushes to all be bare root, so imagine my surprise when I opened the box containing the blackberry bushes and found this:

Blackberry Bushes

Hello gorgeous! Sure they were smaller than I expect, but I’ll trade a flat for size any day.

Spread the roots of bare root trees out in the hole. If a potted plant is root bound, gently tug at the bottom of the plug to loosen the roots, like so:

Roots

Step 4: Backfill the hole with soil.

Amending your native soil with topsoil is optional unless you have really poor soil. Do not replace your soil with topsoil; this will create a “flower-pot” effect that will eventually weaken or kill the plant. Aim for less than a 50/50 mix. If you choose to use topsoil, get good quality topsoil. It should look like this:

Topsoil

If you’re at the home improvement store and you’re trying to choose topsoil, the good stuff is usually around $2 for 0.75 cubic feet and the cheap stuff is about $1.50 for 2 cubic feet. Don’t skimp on the quality of your topsoil. If you need a lot, call your local farm supply store  and ask about a truckload.

Step 5: Water and Mulch

Water deeply and then spread a layer of mulch 2-3 inches thick around the newly planted tree or bush. Keep the mulch away from the trunk so the bark won’t rot.

Bushes

Newly planted blackberry bushes. That’s my flannel overshirt off to the side. I’m a real fashion plate!

Step 6: Stake and Guard if necessary

Most trees don’t need to be staked unless they’re really small or in areas with high winds. Guard the trees if rabbits or deer are a problem. You can make inexpensive guards out of a roll of window screening and some zip ties.

That’s it! Some more pictures:

Pawpaw One of the pawpaws. (The camera is at an angle, not the tree.)

One Pear One of the pears with rabbit guard.

Cherry A self-pollinating sweet cherry tree.

Everything is in the ground and alive right now. We’ll see how they do.

Trees!

And berry bushes and grape vines, oh my!

It’s official -our spring order of trees and other such goodies is on the way! It shipped last night and should be here on Thursday. Here’s a run down of what’s coming in:

-4 blueberry bushes

-6 blackberry bushes

-6 raspberry bushes

-3 grape vines

-2 elderberry bushes

-2 pear trees

-2 pawpaw trees

-2 cherry trees

These will join the peach tree and the plum tree we already have. Now I just have to finish digging the rest of the holes before Thursday. I’ve only got 9 to go. That’s not that many, right? Right?Oh well. At least it’s raining this morning. That will make things easier!

Moving with a baby (and other signs you might be crazy)

We realized even before T was born that we needed to sell our land in Tennessee and buy something much closer. Either that, or put off our homesteading plans for several years. We didn’t want to do that, so we put our land up for sale in late April of last year. Luckily for us, it sold really quickly, and we closed on it just before T’s birth.

In the meantime, we began searching for a place down here. We knew it was possible to find a place that met our requirements, as we’d seen several properties come up for sale already. It took longer than we expected, and not only did we not have a contract on a place before T joined our family, but she was six weeks old when we signed the contract for our house.

Moving with a baby is never easy. Moving with a newborn is even worse. Not only were we dealing with the sleep deprivation and other adjustments that come from having a baby, we were trying to pack to move out of our rental and to figure out how to do the repairs and renovations that had to be done before we could move in.

We closed on our house on a Wednesday. The following Monday I ended up in the hospital with my thyroid acting up. It had been giving me problems for some time but we didn’t know it. All the symptoms had been written off as stress or sleep deprivation. Instead, I had a toxic multinodular goiter that almost caused a thyroid storm.

So, I was out of the picture as far as moving or renovating was concerned, at least for a while. I ended up staying home for two weeks on a complicated cocktail of drugs trying to recover and get my thyroid under control.

If you’re keeping track, not only did we just have a baby and buy a house, but I had gotten deathly ill. And the house wasn’t fit to move into.

Kelly’s mom took care of the baby while she and her dad started on the house. First, they painted the dining room and two of the three bedrooms. Those rooms were bad enough that they had to be done before moving in. We decided the rest of the house could wait.

Next, they pulled out the awful carpets. Carpets are a no-no in a house with someone who has asthma (me) and animals. The original hardwoods were there, but they were in horrid shape. Check out the picture below.

hardwoods before

We had expected they would need refinishing, but this was something else again. Kelly and her dad went at it, and four days later the floors looked like this:

hardwoods after

After that backbreaking job, they put up the fence in the backyard. And then we were out of time. Our lease had ended and we needed to get out of the rental, so we hired a moving truck, called in our friends and family to help, and moved. It only took three trips with both the rental truck and our pickup. It’s surprising how much stuff people can acquire.

Now we’re here and settled, and things are going much better.  But yes –we’re probably crazy!

Pictures!

So, last week I promised you some pictures, and here they are. These aren’t the best pictures, because I’m not the world’s greatest photographer, and because I took them in a hurry last night before it started raining with little T in my arms and dinner on the stove.

So, this is the front of our house. It’s an old farmhouse, as I said. It was mostly built in the 1940s. I say “mostly” because the original owners built it in three stages, the last of which was the laundry room (on the far left). They finished the latter near the end of the 1950s. The homestead was 40 acres back then. The farmer who built it passed it down to his son, and we bought it from him. It had never been on the market before. It needs a bit of work, as you can see. Please ignore the couch on the front porch. A friend of Kelly’s mom just gave us a really nice new couch, and we haven’t been able to get rid of the old one yet.

House

Here’s a view looking towards the garage, with one of our vehicles in the foreground. As to why we’re not parking in the garage, well…not only have we not organized our stuff yet (after a mere six months!) but let’s just say getting a 1200 square foot garage/workshop is a lot like buying a truck.

The garage/workshop

The garage desperately needs to be pressure-washed. That’s on the list for this spring.

Here’s the fenced backyard for the dogs. The view beyond is our “field”, where the food forest and primary gardens will be. The orange flags mark the current and future locations of berry bushes and fruit trees. We’ve already planted three grape vines, four blueberry bushes, and two pears. More are arriving next week, and we hope to plant the rest in the fall.

3-6-14 003

3-6-14 004

The next pictures I publish will be much better -promise!

Up next: Moving with a baby…and other signs of insanity.