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Rain, rain, and…

wait for it….more rain.

It has rained here everyday for more than two weeks. I am not joking or exaggerating. Some days we’ve had barely misting rain in the evening and other days we’ve had driving rain all day long. We had one storm with such awful straight line winds it shredded our neighbor’s fence, took out part of our side fence, and dismantled our mailbox. We spent ours picking up downed limbs after it.

Luckily, our fruit trees and garden have come through mostly unscathed, though we did lose some smaller seeds and have had a hard time working out there. I’ve been working whenever the rain let up, and one day this past week I put in fence posts while it misted.

The chickens are growing so fast. Oddball started strutting Tuesday morning. He is such a male. We know we have at least one other rooster left in the flock (possibly as many as three), but they aren’t yt acting like roosters. I really think I may have a pet chicken in Oddball; he’s started occasionally perching on my shoulder and he likes to tuck his head under my chin.

As for the hens, they are almost indistinguishable at this point, save for one hen who has a panic attack whenever anyone comes near them. She’ll be joining the boys we decide not to keep in the freezer this fall.

Today is supposed to be our second market day, and it looks like the rain will hold off long enough for it to go on today. Right now the sun is shining, so I’m going outside.

Have a great day!

What’s Growing on the Homestead: Amish Paste Tomatoes

I started this series with a nightshade, so I’m going to continue with them for a while.

One of the tomatoes we’re growing this year is known as Amish Paste. It’s an heirloom paste tomato that gets to be about 8-12 oz and is known for having very few seeds. It’s also registered in the Slow Food Ark of Taste. The plants are indeterminate.

I’m not normally a fan of red tomatoes straight, but I’m hoping I like this one. We use a lot of canned tomatoes around here in the winter, mostly in soups, so I’m hoping to get a good crop. I’ve never grown this variety before. Thus far, the plants are doing fairly well. They’ve been slightly effected by early blight, but are merrily growing anyway, so they have at least some resistance. I’ll update on them later this year.

Here’s a picture, copied from the seed company’s website. I got these seeds from Sow True Seeds in Asheville, North Carolina.

v-tomato-amish-paste

 

What’s Growing on the Homestead: Red Pontiac Potatoes

I thought I would take advantage of a cold and rainy day to start a new series. Each of these posts will feature a plant we currently have growing here at LBF. I’m going to kick it off with one of the plants I’m most excited about: Irish potatoes.

Potatoes are incredibly easy to grow in most climates and give you a lot of food bang for your effort and expense. One pound of seed potatoes can produce up to 10 pounds of eating potatoes. That’s a lot of return for your investment. They are a good source of nutrients and are very calorie dense. These are the two primary reasons potatoes have long been grown as a subsistence crop in much of the world. Plus, they are dang good eating. I come from a Irish family, so I’ve eaten potatoes in every manner possible.

Unfortunately, potatoes don’t grow well in the Deep South. They don’t handle the combination of high heat and higher humidity very well and are prone to any number of fungal diseases and insect attacks. Sweet potatoes are traditionally substituted for them in the summer garden. It is possible to get a spring crop in if you plant early and get good weather. I’ve never tried it, but we decided to take the plunge this year and we must be having beginner’s luck, because the plants are growing great.

You can choose from dozens, if not hundreds, of different varieties. We chose Red Pontiac potatoes. This is a pretty red potato with white flesh. It’s great for mashing and is a good storage variety. Here’s a picture of the spuds, snagged from the seed company we ordered the seed potatoes from.

v-potato-red-pontiac

Hmm. I can’t wait to eat them.

We’re growing them using the hilling method. We cut the seed potatoes up, buried them under a few inches of soil, and then hilled dirt around them when they were about 18 inches tall, then hilled then again with straw when they’d grown another foot. We’ve only watered them once since planting; Mother Nature has done the rest. They started flowering yesterday, so it won’t be long before the tubers size up, the vines die back, and it’s time to harvest.

I can’t wait!

Summer Comes to Laughing Bird Farm

Summer has finally arrived. This will be our first summer on the homestead, and I am really looking forward to it.

I know, I know, the calendar says it is still spring for another month and a half, but let’s face it, spring lasts about two weeks here in the south. Okay, this year it lasted about six weeks, but you get the point. I don’t measure the arrival of summer by the calendar anyway, or by the thermometer (which reached 87 here today), but by something much more mundane: the return of the mosquitoes.

The first of the little bloodsuckers showed up again last night, which means it really is summer. It also means it’s time to break out the long sleeves in the evening, the repellents, and the Bt dunks. Ah, the joys of being outdoors in the summer.

Something new is always happening here our homestead. Today our potatoes started blooming. I managed to get one decent picture.

Potato Flower

Pretty, isn’t it?

Speaking of pretty things, I was knocking down weeds on the side of the house when I discovered the vine pictured below has taken over the chain link fence that separates our neighbor’s property from ours up in the front. This vine is vetch, and it is quite pretty in bloom, but it is also very invasive. The good news is that it also fixed nitrogen. I prefer to look on the bright side.

Vetch

The entire fence is covered in it. I’m going to have to rip it out and replace it with something more appropriate. I’m thinking morning gloried and moonflowers for quick screening this year, and possibly clematis in the long run.

I got our corn in today. This was the flour corn; I’ll plant the popcorn in a couple more weeks. I also planted sunflowers, collard, and a heat tolerant lettuce, and transplanted the two butternut squash plants we were given. I’m going to let them run through the corn and make a three sisters style planting.

Life is good!

Weekly Farm Status Update 5/11/14 (and a great mother’s day gift)

A lot has been happening around the homestead this week. The garden is exploding. I’ll get to all of that in a moment. First, baby T gave us the most amazing Mother’s Day gift in the world: she took her first step! She’s been getting close to it for a while, and she’s tried all weekend, and finally she did it. She promptly fell down of course, but wow! What a day to start walking!

Ok, now for the farm stuff.

Our First Market Day

Laughing Bird Farm’s first farmer’s market was a success. Not a huge success, but a success nonetheless. We learned a lot and made about $100 which is nothing to sneeze at, especially given our distinct lack of product. Here’s some of the lessons we learned:

  • Signage and displays are key. We need to work on these before next month.
  • We need more product. The booth needs to look full.
  • The kids need to wait to come out until after it starts to cool off. (I know, this one should have been obvious.)
  • Disposable tablecloths do not work well for the kind of products we have. We’ll pick up some vinyl ones before next month.
  • Most important of all, we learned how NOT to pack fresh herbs. Not that we had that many to begin with, but I ruined them all by packaging them in plastic baggies. I thought they’d be okay despite the heat and humidity. Not. I’ll do some research into the best way to package them before next month.

I forgot to take pictures, unfortunately. We were just too busy. I’ll try to snap a few next month.

What’s growing in the garden

A little bit of everything! It’s really popping. The corn’s not in yet, but the plot is mostly ready, and the seeds will go in on Tuesday or Thursday of this week. Here’s a list of the current crops:

  • Lots of herbs including basil, sage, lemon balm, cilantro, parsley, thyme, and peppermint.
  • Potatoes (see pictures below)
  • Radishes
  • Pole Beans
  • Lima Beans

The potatoes are really growing fast. They were first hilled just  8 days ago. Take a look at this picture of one of them I took tonight.

Potatoes

Yep -they had to be hilled again. This time I used straw instead of dirt. I’ll see how it works. And one of them is starting to flower.

It won’t be long now!

The Orchard

Our fruit trees and berry bushes are mostly doing well, with the exception of the Pineapple Pear tree, which has never leafed out. I’m reluctantly calling it a loss. I’ll contact the nursery for a replacement sometime next month.

Check this out, though. I discovered tonight that our peach tree tried to set fruit this year. I knew it bloomed, but this was the first time I found a sign of fruit.

Peach

There were several of these, and since the tree is too young to bear, I pulled them all off.

What’s waiting to be transplanted

Quite a lot, actually.

  • Lots of herbs
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers, both hot and sweet
  • Tomatillos
  • Eggplants
  • Swiss chard
  • Butternut Squash (a gift)
  • Zucchini (also a gift)

Chickens!

We’ve got 16 days until our chickens arrive. I guess I better get started on, ur that is finish, the coop. I’ll leave it to you to decide which one is the true statement. 😉

Until next time, happy gardening and homesteading. And happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

It’s market day!

Today is our first ever farmer’s market! To market, to market, to market we go!

I’ll have pictures and such tomorrow.

Oh, and we have only 18 days left until our chickens arrive. Next week I have to start building the chicken coop.

And sometimes you just order pizza…

I apologize for the lack of posts. This has been just about the craziest week of my life. Here’s a rundown of some of the happenings here on the farm:

T’s been sick.

The ear infection just hasn’t wanted to clear up. We finally got the pediatrician to refer her to an ENT for tubes. Sometimes a day goes well and you get everything done. Other days you sit and hold your fussy, sick baby for most of the day. And sometimes, when she feels better a few days later and goes back to preschool, you’re so tired you go back to bed for a couple of hours after dropping her off. I’ve felt old lately, but I have to remind myself that I’m not -I just have a toddler!

The rabbits found the cover crop.

I knew they would; I just hoped they wouldn’t do to much damage before I finished installing the fence around the back. No such luck; they devastated the cover crop to the point that I might as well not have bothered planting it. Lesson learned.

I transplanted 40 herb plants.

More will go in soon. Because of the rabbit damage, I sprayed each and every plant with some OMRI certified rabbit repellent spray. I’ll let you know how it works.

Deal of the Week.

When I went to Home Depot for the spray (Lowe’s doesn’t carry the OMRI certified brand in store), I found a cart of “damaged” lumber marked down by 70%. Most of the damage was minimal or nonexistent and I brought home 5 12 foot long 2x4s for $2 each. The employees even cut them down to 8 feet for me, free of charge.

A family crisis landed a 2 year old on our doorstep.

This one is the biggie. We don’t know how long she’ll be here, but in the meantime, we have two children under three in the house, one of which is very insecure and traumatized. Both of us are exhausted. (Oh well…we’ll sleep when we’re dead.)

Floyd is turning out to be much better with children, even toddlers, than we ever dreamed. It took him about two months to become T’s staunch guardian, and about two hours to warm up to his newest charge. The girls share the room next to ours and the previous homeowner took the door between the two. We haven’t found the odd-sized door needed to replace it yet, so the rooms are only separated by a curtain. Floyd will get up periodically during the night and check on both girls to be sure they are all right and breathing. It’s really adorable to watch him shove his snout as far as he can between the bars of T’s crib to sniff at her.

Normally we cook all our dinners at home and have leftovers for lunch the next day. Not last night. Last night we ordered pizza, because yeah, that’s the kind of day it was.

More posts will come soon, I promise!

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.