Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Outfox Farm on TV

We joined another online farmer's market called Farm2Work and here comes the media.  Local news Channel 11 did an article yesterday in our front yard garden with me and the market founder Diane Rose.  Even our rabbits got in on the act.

Click this link to see the article and video:

Farm2Work connects farms to Arkansas workers 

We wanted to get across how wonderful local agriculture was and how its is great that customers could know their farmers and where their food comes from.  The internet allows urban homesteaders like us to participate with the public in the local food revolution.  Hold the phone, now Channel 4 is calling...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Save a seed company.

"Please visit Landreth Seed Co and LIKE it! Then go to their website and order a catalogue. It takes only $5 to save this heirloom seed company from going under. We need to save our seeds! Thanks :-)," says the cry of gardeners who want to save our seed heritage.
You'll want to get a copy of this great heirloom seed catalog anyway.
Company website where you can buy a catalogue.

Article on the movement to save the company.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

How to get local produce from local farmers

We try to buy local, because we like to buy directly from the farmer.  We can ask questions.  We can determine for ourselves what food is good and good for us.  We can avoid the labeling and mislabeling, the processing, the petroleum and the petrochemical industries.


When we can't stay on our own side of the gate...
Saturday mornings seem to be the best time for farmers and consumers to get together.  That routine necessitates a certain regularity and consternation of purpose. Here is my morning in a nutshell.

I get up at 6am to water my garden.  My front yard is the most local of all.  I try to stay on my urban homestead whenever possible.  That means I exercise my hobby by keeping autumn seeds moist for germination, looking for bugs to pull off the plants and generally being the farmer.  This is a busy morning, so I keep my ablutions short.  I nibble on a few leaves and pull some weeds which go back to the pregnant doe in the rabbit warren.  I am off to work at my construction sites.  I have clients to meet for Saturday morning coffee and review.  I meet a carpenter at 7am and another at 8am.  Back again for breakfast with the family.  I pack the bags and the ice chest.  Then the fun begins.

I load up Izzy in the car seat and we head out to find some farmers.  First, I go the ASN market pickup downtown in Little Rock.  They only have local produce from local farms that provide all their growing philosophies and are visited by market organizers and consumers alike.  We did our ordering online earlier in the week at their market website.  My wife had ordered cantaloupe and herbs.  We have the hardest time getting a variety of fresh fruit in Arkansas.  At the market, our order awaits.  The helpful volunteers help you find your orders that the farmers have prepared for us.  On another table I see the bags of produce from my garden that I had dropped off yesterday for other people who had sent me their requests.  This is the best system for a farmer's market that exists.  The people order online to get exactly what they want instead of a random box or basket.  The farmers only have to harvest and deliver exactly what was ordered.  Money is exchanged at the drop location and everyone is happy.  If not, then the volunteers are there to help, and there are plenty of the farmers there volunteering to answer your questions directly.  Everyone has a smile on their face.

Next, I head over the river to North Little Rock to the Argenta Farmers' Market.  I am there to meet my main CSA farmer at her booth, Falling Sky Farm.  In addition to providing us with chicken, pork and beef for the year, she provides us all our eggs, pastured and organic, every two weeks.  It seems we are her largest consumer of eggs besides a bakery who gets slightly more eggs the other Saturday every two weeks.  That's a frightening amount of eggs, but the lovely does a lot of cooking and grain-free baking which require a lot of eggs.

I was so happy to pick up the eggs at the market today instead of her husband delivering them to the house, because I saw my favorite bee keeper, K Bee Honey.  He has been running low on inventory recently.  On his booth table he had, amongst other smaller bottles, a GALLON of honey!   A lot of people were joking about the size, but I snatched it up.  Finally I said.  Honey is the only sugar that we use, so we go through it fast.  It is best to get local honey to help with your allergies of local flowers.

Loaded up at the public market, I went to a drop off location for a local farmer to get produce directly.  I've been to this farmer's place and looked at his land.  I found this farmer from a remote area of Arkansas, through socializing in a food buying club.  We do various clubs and loose groups such as the customers of Azure Standard, who send a truck to our state every month and has a traditional catalog approach to ordering bulk food.  The food in that group is not local, but sometimes certain food is just not available local, but local people can get together to share the shipping costs. We buy feed bag size portions of organic grains this way for our rabbits.  Other products include truly raw nuts, coconuts and pure olive oil. On the way back home, I pass through Hillcrest's newest farmers market, doing well and staying busy.  I see some of the same vendors at both markets, like Kelly's North Pulaski Farm, an organic greenhoused farm.  So many good farmers, so little time.  I will see Kelly later, or read about his farm on his blog or FB group.  The Internet does make staying in touch with your food a lot easier.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Conejo for my Birthday dinner.

My wife is very special.  She made me my favorite dish for my birthday yesterday and I want to share it with you. The dish has its origins in the mountain areas of Mexico where I first experienced real Mexican food devoid of all that CalMex and Tex Mex spin.  This cuisine deals with the flavors that are found on the land, cactus, peppers, banana, wild game.  It is very sustainable.  It is very real.  My favorite of that cuisine is Conejo in Guajillo sauce.  Chef Hugo in Houston had perfected the recipe and his dish has been my favorite for years at his restaurant on Westheimer Road in Houston..  My wife found his recipe online and has made her own modifications to celebrate my birthday.  Chef Hugo's Mixiote de Conejo Recipe.  Yeah!
Conejo in guajillo pepper sauce with nopales cactus wrapped in banana leaves, black beans, jicama salad
 She did have to ask me to go shopping while I was on a business trip to Houston.  That let the cat out of the bag.  There is not much available in Little Rock, so needed me to bring back essential supplies.  She asked me to pick some cactus, jicama, banana leaves, guajillo peppers, ancho peppers, dried avocado leaves... The list pretty much gave the surprise away.  The Hispanic girls in Fiesta Grocery were tickled that this white boy was trying to shop for all this.  They all suspected that I was about to embark on tamale making and each gave me their favorite recipe.  Still, none of them knew where or why to find dried avocado leaves.  The closest substitute was bay leaves and ground star anise.

I already knew I needed to harvest some of our rabbits when I got back into town.  This meal also marks the first meal from meat that we have raised on our homestead.  That is the primary reason for calling the meat by its Spanish name, so as to distance it from the animals that we tend.  Our original intent on raising rabbits was to produce manure for the garden and to supplement the dogs' diet.  Our Aussies, however, are great culinary snobs apparently.  They do not like the meat that we produce on our own homestead.  We switched out the common feed we were buying from the farmers' association and started buying various organic grains and seeds and mineral blocks.  Our new custom blend of rabbit food now looks positively delicious.  We subscribe to the adage, "You are what you eat eats."  Now that the rabbits are finished on this blend of feed and the fresh greens of the summer garden, we are comfortable trying the meat ourselves.  Let the dogs eat... whatever they eat.
Prepared conejo, paddles of cactus, and sauce combined in a banana leaf wrap to steam in the oven

She prepared the meat, paddles of cactus, and sauce all separately and then combined them in a banana leaf wrap to steam in the oven.  The banana leaves did not fare well on the trip from the market but we managed to pull off the steaming.  I had to help in that I had to take care of the 2 year old munchkin while mommy cooked.  I took that to mean that I would direct the munchkin to hold the cook's cord while daddy tied the square knots on the banana leaf bundles of joy.

Daddy needed some additional help to do this.  He had picked up some Mexican beer and made his own Michalada as a summer time beer cocktail.  Directions are easy.  In a tumbler, add 1 tablespoon sea salt, 2 tablespoons line juice, 1 tablespoon chili powder, dash of black pepper, 4 large dashes of hot sauce, dash of coconut aminos (we don't have soy sauce in the house), ice and one Mexican beer.  It has to be Mexican, or the flavors won't understand each other and there will be quarreling.  This is for relaxation I tell you!! and for reminding me of good times with friends who taught me the drink back in San Luis Potesi.
Banana leaf bundles and Michalada
Afterwards, she complied with my selection of birthday cake ... well er, begrudgingly acquiesced to my request of flan.  A traditionalist, she wanted something to put candles in.  I still wanted flan.  It went with the dinner, and the two number candles stayed in the flan long enough for me to make my wish and blow them out and over.
Real flan made with honey, fresh whole milk, and pastured eggs.
She made my birthday the best!  Thank you!  I love you Christi.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Preserve those tomatoes! and herbs and peppers...

Horse radish marinated and roasted bell peppers.
Dried herbs.  The open jar and flower is Lemon Bergamot.
I have a dozen Pompeii Roma plants 10 feet tall and several each of Chadwick Cherry, Yellow Pear and Cherokee Purple.  Although the later is great for slicing, and the cherries and pears are addicting as pop n snacks, the Romas are for canning.  They made thick walls, little seeds and they are easy to peel.  We have tried to save a little of our crop this year with various preparations and preservations.
From top left: tomato soup, three jars of hot salsa, two quarts of sundried tomatoes, three half pints of sun dried yellow tomatoes, lacto-fermented ketchup, paste, freezer bags of dried romas.

A day's pick.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Never throw away a celery base again!

Celery bases recycled.
Somewhere along the line, I read that you can create celery starts from the base of your grocery store bought celery stalks.  What a wonderful idea!  I had bought two organic celery bunches.  The base ends have a bit too much root and fiber for my cooking, so I usually cut them off and compost them. 

I had already started cutting off green onion bases and planting them directly into the ground of my garden.  These onion roots easily restart.  Now, I have a little section of my garden amongst my herbs of green onions that I can harvest anytime and still have onions growing at the same time.  Maybe this bed will start off shooting and I will end up with even more.  All from nothing but an idea that one should look for any way in the garden to keep its resources at the highest use possible.  Taking a vegetable from the garden and eating it is the highest use I can think of.  Throwing the scraps or cuttings in the compost isn't so bad.  At least that plant matter will rot and nourish the garden some enough to grow more veggies for me to eat.  But wait, let's not throw that onion root into the compost when I can replant it and get vegetables to eat directly.  That's keeping the onion resource at its highest productivity.  This is a core permaculture concept.  Maximize your garden.  Minimize your work.  Don't waste energy moving resources.  Relax.  Have a home brew.

So, when I heard I could do the same with celery root cuttings, I was thrilled.  Instead of tossing the celery base into the compost bin, walking it back to the compost, and waiting 6 months for it to downgrade into organic matter for me to wheelbarrow back to the garden and then grow other plants, I took the easier path.  I put the celery bases in a bowl of water on top of my refrigerator.  Two steps to the cupboard for the bowl, a stop at the sink for water and three steps to the refrigerator.  One motion to lift the bowl with the cradled celery roots to the top of the refrigerator, and one equal and opposite motion to remove a bottle of home brew from the refrigerator.

I did check on the bowl every now and then to make sure it had enough water and that the cat didn't play with it.  Along side the celery bowl, I had calendula flowers drying and an the ever disappearing camomile flowers drying for tea.  I don't drink home brew exclusively!

Before long, the center of the celery base will grow a new stalk.  After about a week, tiny white roots will appear outside the base.  It's time to move it out to the garden.  Nobody told me to harden off this plant.  Its not like it's a seedling.  It really is the old celery root that has been brutally chopped off to make my dinner.  I pop the base into a hole of heavily laden organic soil, cover and then I water.  I hope to have two celery plants with minimal effort.

Why does this surprise me so?  I have started potatoes from eye cuttings and even started avocado seeds with toothpicks suspending the seed in water.  Maybe it is because there is no seed involved.  It was trash.  I had made the jump in seeing the trash as recyclable organic matter for my compost, but I had not seen the potential of it as a new plant ready for the garden. Some one had to tell me.  I would love to remember the blog or comment that told me.  I would credit them, I would.  I should have been looking for such opportunities.  I should be a better gardener, a better urban homesteader, a better permaculurist.  But at least the idea sunk in.  Note to self: drink less beer.  A little less.

My new celery plants look great in the garden.  Either the bugs or I will be very happy with them.  I am already happy to have tried a new idea.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Take Back Urban Homesteading Video Day of Action

Click here to see our video tour of our July garden homestead on YouTube.

We raise our own food as best as we can and keep the tradition alive of sustainable local agriculture even as we enjoy city life.  There is a public stink by some few that they own this concept and its very words.  No person or group can claim the word "urban homestead."  It is a common tradition, rich in folk lore, and open source.  You cannot trademark freedom.  We need our community.  We need to create a supportive local food awareness.  We need to be self sustainable to give our society the resilience it must have to feed our children nutrient dense foods into the future.

Personally, there are so many lessons for me in this garden.  The best wisdom of garden is an old one, "because I have grass, I have learned persistence."  Seems I can never quite get rid of grass fast enough.  We moved into the house near downtown Little Rock and plastic sheet mulched all the grass for the the whole summer before we brought in composted soil.  The whole front yard became our garden.  The picket fence is nearly done, but the cucumbers have halted construction for a while.  They are trellising their bounty over the tops of the fence that I still need to trim.  Patience.  I'll finish the fence this fall.  The companion bit of wisdom is " because I plant trees, I have learned patience."  Nothing teaches you better than trying to survive on a homestead.  Nothing rewards your learning better than enjoying one.

The cover crop last fall for the garden was massive amounts of Daikon Radish that till the soil deep with their strong tap roots.  They have reseeded and seeded again and are a permanent weed in my garden.  That's ok.  They are a delicious green and tangy root.

We added kitchen compost with some live seeds of tomatoes, melon and peppers that seem to pop up in strange places.  I'm very tolerant of volunteers. They do their work with very little noise.

Most of the additions to the soil were rabbit manure.  We produce plenty of that in our backyard warren.  To supplement the rest of our nutrients, we spray a foliant spray of concentrated kelp.  We didn't start this soon enough, though.  The tomatoes showed early signs of blossom end rot from either lack of calcium or lack of regular water to absorb the calcium.  I wished we had started the garden beds with broken egg shells.  We have so many of those, since we buy from a local pasture-fed chicken ranch.  Lesson learned.  Check and double check all your nutrients. Perhaps I'll concede that a soil test was warranted and could have saved me the trouble of throwing out the first tomatoes that made.  I relied on the sheer volume of organic matter in the soil to balance out the elements and keep everything friable and moist.  I credit the organic matter for my problems being so small.

Pests and diseases have not found me yet.  When I put in a starter bed last fall of kale, the aphids munched in on me.  I did a little pepper/Castile oil on the leaves but then gave up and had the neighbor's chickens finish off the bed.  Now that the garden is alive and diverse with flowers and herbs and numerous veggies, I have had less problem with a monoculture attack by pests.  Or maybe since this is my first year here, the insects have not found me yet.  The best defense is still a watchful garden.  I have not seen much of a problem yet.  There have been a few incidents of leaf miners and aphids, but I have also seen parasitic wasps, lady bugs, toads, and assassin bugs.  Everything seems in balance so far.  The parsley, dill and cilantro are blooming their hearts out attracting these beneficial insects.

I was worried for a while that I had not seen honey bees.  There is an active bee keeping community around me, so I knew they were there.  The bee keepers all said that the bees were active.  I saw plenty of wasps and bumble bees so I kept looking.  The honey bees had not found our first year garden yet either for a long while.  They must remember only grass being here.  Before I started worrying about hand pollinating tomatoes, I saw swarms of honey bees on my dozen borage plants.  Yeah!  Those blue flowers attracted them better than a highway billboard.  Hopefully my garden is told far and wide in those knee shaking, complex dances around town, so that bees will continue to come and visit my humble garden for pollen.

I had moved from flat Houston, so had to adapt to a yard that sloped at least five feet across a narrow urban lot.  I planned my garden plot with swales along the hills contours.  Once the soil was in, I dug paths.  You could say that the entire yard is a raised bed, with cuts of paths.  The swales were techniques learned from permaculture instructors.  They slow the water runoff and force water into the aquifer to keep irrigation needs down.  My downhill neighbor may benefit from the irrigation factor more than I, but we all do our part.

The swale paths are curved, because I like curves.  It makes a small garden look bigger.  It gives an English cottage garden feel.  It is more organic and less engineered.  It fits my style.  It makes devices like hoop structures and trellises more challenging, but I still like it.  I don't want to till or keep to a rigid pattern.  Plants meander.  They blur the edges.  They don't like to color within the lines.  They change the pattern before you have a chance to exert dominance.  It is their ability to find light and water that teaches me.  I learn from the plants.  What does well and what combinations do better?  I keep asking, and politely, the garden answers, given enough time for it to express itself, which might take many seasons.

I just finished putting away a gallon of canned salsa.  My wife fights me for time at the dehydrator to dry tomatoes while I try to dry herbs at their most flavorful time.  She is starting in on pickling okra and making lacto fermented ketchup.  Thank goodness for the ketchup.  We haven't had ketchup since we read what was in commercial ketchup last fall.  We have been waiting like crazed condiment fiends for rich tomato taste to come from the garden to make some ketchup of our own. We need that to go with the crazy good mayonnaise that she makes. I was hoping that we would have some before hamburgers were grilled on the July Fourth barbeque.  Maybe, just maybe.

The local coop has bought some of my Daikon greens, Napa cabbage, kale, chard and a few herbs.  We sell what we have in abundance and buy what we cannot grow ourselves.  I am eying a Napa cabbage right now for sauerkraut.   That one won't go to the market.  And none of the tomatoes.  There are plenty farmers producing that for the crowd.  We plan to use all we produce.  The misses has made some of the best tomato soup I have ever tasted.  There is gazpacho and tomato steaks with mozzarella and basil.  My herb jars are filling up with dried sage, various mints and basils, parsley and dill.  My prize is my anise hyssop plant.  The package of seed said "easy to grow."  Humph.  I have never been too successful and this year proved no different. In my cold frame starts I only managed 1 seedling start out of two packages of anise hyssop seeds.  That's not a good germination rate in anyone's book.  One plant I nurtured and  one plant I am now harvesting and thankful.  I'll take what I can get and I will learn to do better.  I will try propagating it instead of seed starting now.  The plants are important to me.  Yes, I love fresh herbs, but I plan ahead for winter by drying some of the harvest.  I would much prefer knowing how long an herb has been in a jar and how it was treated.  I prefer knowing what is in my food pantry and going into the meal we fix for my daughter.  Congress can keep its food safety bill.  I prefer to buy locally because I know my farmers.  I am the best judge of my food, thank you very much.

I am an Urban Homesteader.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Filling in the hot spots

Where some of the cool weather crops have been harvested in my garden, I have filled in with more heat tolerant crops.  What to do when Arkansas gets all humid and hot in late June? First, I bought a bale of straw to mulch the paths and beds.  We were hit with a minor drought that was broken yesterday, thank goodness.  I needed more mulch to keep down the weeds and keep the soil moist and cool. I reseeded the cilantro as most of the plants now are going to seed and making coriander.  The hot peppers are doing ok, but I WANT MORE!  So I planted a bed of nothing but jalepenos, and another bed of cayenne chili pepper.  I am on my third seeding of okra due to low germination rates.  I expanded the bed and planted Cremson Spineless Okra. I filled in some gaps with a Detroit Dark Red Beet to hopefully harvest before frost.  And along the front path where the peas and lettuce have dies out, I have planted Georgia Southern Collards because I just loved the shredded collards that the Brazilian cafe down the road serves.  I am biding my time before I plant my fall and over winter crops and flowers.  Maybe August....

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spring garden tour 2011

I thought I should give a little more introduction to my garden and a tour of what is growing at the high point of Spring this Memorial Day weekend.  I tore up my front yard and planted a 40foot by 30foot vegetable and herb garden for my family.  I did this mainly to sustain us and to demonstrate to myself and others that the small attempts at food production in our tomato pots and rosemary bushes could actually make an impact in our lives and participate in a community wide local foods effort.  I participate in the Arkansas Sustainability Network's local food coop as well and sell them spare crops and plants that I cannot consume or preserve myself.  When I came across on the internet a family in Pasadena that took this urban homesteading idea to an extreme, I was impressed and inspired.  Too bad they turned out to such bad apples, tearing down the community rather than building it.  Here is my one year old garden:

Napa Cabbage almost ready for harvest.  Sauerkraut here I come!

Huge selection of Thai Basil with Dill in background.

The last of the sugar peas.

Chard Chard and more Chard.

Sweet basil and Cherokee Purple Tomatoes

Calendula (Pot Marigolds) and Chadwick Cherry Tomatoes

Red Bell Peppers ( they got a drink of water after this picture)

Stepped terraces of Tomatoes with Golden Beets on southern edges.

Baby lettuce.  Nasturtium on other side of picket fence.

Peppermint next to the stone pond.

Around corner of house are pumpkins pioneering my Southern facade. Flat leafed Parsley seeded from neighbor's garden and now returning the favor.

Cucumbers starting to climb the southern and northern pickets

Borage and other herbs and flowers on Eastern picket facing street.

Nasturtium, Lacy Lavender blooming, and Bee Balm on street bed.

Garden looking downhill.  It slopes 5 feet down going south.

Bulbs from the previous garden.  At least they are edible.

The garden gate.  I built the picket fence because veggie gardens are notorious for looking a little wild, especially the way I garden.

When I got tired of waiting for Carrots to germinate, I started Strawberries.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Giggle and other Larks, Quips and Snickers

Our Aussie Dahlia had her first litter back on April Fools.  Here are PUPPY PICTURES!  Actually the joke was on us.  She had them on the 2nd day of the month, but we still used April Fools as our theme for naming the litter.  Here is Miss Giggle at two weeks posing with a few of our Mini Rex bunnies.

Go to our Kennel website, Outfox Aussies for more pictures of puppies.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The color is green.

After winter's blanket of gray, my garden has returned to green.  Few of the colorful Spring flowers are out yet, so I enjoy the green.  Everything is sprouting and growing.  Maybe this new garden will fill in nicely, but I bought a few more flower seed packages today to spread around to fill the gaps and make the garden even more intensive. 

Here's a quick tour for today:
The wormwood that we rescued from another garden has a friend in a wayward pea sprout.

Tomatoes are putting out blossoms next to edge rows of golden beets.

The sugar pea bed is half way up the pea sticks.  A volunteer lettuce sneaks its way into bed with the peas.

From front to rear: green onions rescued from the bottom of the veggie drawer are blooming, lavender sends up shoots, oregano spreads, salvia adds its pink, rosemary stands steadfast, sage is copacetic  in the back.

Napa cabbage hasn't complained yet of the close spacing while spinach and lettuce together mulches the foreground.

Last fall's kale goes to seed beautifully.

Sage and salvia get along

Winter's cover crop of daikon blooms on the edges of the garden.

Broccoli tastes still sweet when blooming.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I sold my first produce at the market!

Ok, it was a HUGE sale of $2.70.  I listed my extra Borage herb seedlings and sold three, which I lovingly wrapped together in peat pots, tape and my computer printed label. I love the Locally Grown Foods coop here in Little Rock, run by the Arkansas Sustainable Network.  They are a real great bunch of growers and pasture feeding ranchers who allow my little urban farm to contribute in its tiny way.

This week I put up my extra tomato starts, the sage, and my broccoli flowers.  I've had huge sales on each.  WooHoo!.  I'm in Agbusiness!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Is this Urban Homesteading movement catchy?

Bye Bye Grass - My "garden" last summer
Yes, I plowed up my new front and side yards this year for a massive garden, but I've been doing this kind of homesteading for decades.  What pricks my interest is the startling number of times I hear that people have started their first garden this year.  Seems gas and food prices and the recession has spurred many on.  The rising distrust of the whole BigAg food chain and its suspicious quality has some concerned enough to try gardening.  The paranoia of some podcasts and watching CNN is enough to get others prepared.

Yesterday was a big day though.  My new neighbors to the north converted their south faced dirt driveway into a raised bed garden.  That was not too surprising.  They have chickens and an intense personal and profession interest in creating local food agriculture.  The lady of that house works for the Arkansas Sustainability Network.

More surprising however, the family across the street had their gas motors going tilling up the grass front lawn.  Seems their foundation beds of tomatoes last year just weren't enough.  Now they have committed to the movement.  Lawn as farm; a wonderful aesthetic if I do say so myself.

The neighbors to the south were out working on decks and tree houses and trimming the trees to get more sun into their front herb beds and rear vegetable parterres.  The lady of the house repeats her chicken envy.  Maybe this year she will break down and go farm all the way.

The neighbor across the street and down a ways with the raised hoop beds was bringing in new compost and the lady of that household was over at my garden asking what was growing.  Another neighbor across the street was planting herbs in her newly landscaped front beds.  I know she harbors a permaculture forest garden in the rear of her house.

Dirt!  My garden with transplants and seeds started.
What's going on?  Can we really be seeing Urban Homesteading as a sustainable way of life taking hold?  Wouldn't that just be the ticket?  Growing and preserving and enjoying life right in our own community.  I can dream can't I?

Meanwhile, I plot along with my own land.  The picket fence is almost done.  The beds are made. What remains of the winter cover crops are flowering.  The seeds are planted.  The rabbits are kitting.  The chicks are chirping.  Our dog is nursing puppies. My persimmon tree is moved to its showy spot in front.  Now for those spring showers...

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Direct seeds

The planting for the garden is in full swing.  Not only have I put out all the transplants, but I have most of the early spring direct seeding done.  No sooner had my transplants been in the ground, then thetemperature dropped.  Luckily my milk jug cloches were close by and I put tarps over most of the transplants.  I only had to do this for one night, thank goodness. We have past the average last frost date, but one never knows.  My wife keeps asking if I am going to put away that pile of cloches in the front yard.  Not yet.  Not yet.

Direct seeds into the garden include:
Marshmellow Althaea officinalis (Horizon Herbs)
Angelica, Angelica archangelica (Horizon Herbs)
Valerian, Valeriana officinalis (Horizon Herbs)
Melon Honeyrock Cantaloupe (Organic Burpee)
Cucumber National Pickling (Peaceful Valley)
Catnip (Peaceful Valley)
Beets Golden (Renee's Garden)
Parsley King Flat (Renee's Garden)
Cilantro Slow Bolt (Renee's Garden)

The cold frame is completely put away.  I have turned the manure into the soil and put out alternating seedlings of peppers, tomatoes and zucchini. Behind them against the fence will be my cantaloupes and cucumbers.  On the fence behind the fruit trees where the blackberries are starting to make whips will be winter squash vines.  I'll throw cucumbers on my side picket fence and nasturtiums later on the front picket fence.

Its all so overwhelming to keep up with all the seeds, but it is nothing to what the wife is tending inside.  Our darling Dahlia had her aussie puppies today.  More on that later...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Protect the transplants

No sooner did I make the decision to transplant my seedlings, the weather decided to get cooler. I still stand behind my decision right now to start the garden, but yesterday I did get a few comments from the local food coop that it was still early to plant tomatoes outside. One neighbor agreed with the skeptics but did admit to being jealous that I had plants in the ground. I do enjoy the risk.

I also enjoy taking precautions. I had prepared a few milk jugs for making cloches. This was done by cutting off the bottom inch and stringing the jugs together for storage and moving about the garden. Some people cut little flaps at the bottom of the jugs for securing the cloche down to the ground. The wind is picking up so I also punched a hole in the milk jugs for my landscape cloth staples which do the same thing.

I had enough for my tomatoes which are the more precious of my transplants. The peppers and greens can be direct seeded again without too much loss of energy, should I have frost damage. I still plan to have floating row covers if I see a cold evening coming.

Onion starts are peeking through.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Decision - transplant.

I decided that the forecast was favorable. The chances for frost are minimal. Willing to take the risk of protecting my new seedlings, I started transplanting today.

Sure, the peas and the onion starts have already been in the ground ready for the first warmth of Spring, but now I am risking the seedlings that I have been nurturing in my cold frame for up to 6 weeks. Average last frost date is still a week away, but the 10 day projection is no lower than 40 at night. The average temperatures for the week after that are from 30 to 80, so the chance of frost is small, right? Am I off base? I am constantly second guessing myself. However, if I am wrong, I have cloches of milk jugs to spring on in the nick of time.

I had my beds prepared and manured. I started with the big structural plants. 15 Roma tomatoes and 4 to 6 each of Chadwick, Yellow, Cheroke Purple, and Mexican Heirloom are in their beds. Hot and sweet Peppers go in another. Those are my large beds. I'll interplant basil and beets and chard and calendula with them.

My deadline to harvest bamboo from my land is upon me. I need to erect the tomato frames soon. Wish me luck.

I emptied the cold frames, washed the black plastic liner and stored it. I emptied the manure bed that was below the plastic and prepared it for the pumpkin beds on the South side of house. Now the cold frame bed will be worked for the cukes and squashes. I have so many peppers and tomatoes, I bet I will not be able to resist more plants in there as well.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Friday, March 18, 2011

One more once. Third seed starts are the charm

I started seeds in my soil blockers 6 weeks prior to planting, 4 weeks prior, and now 2 weeks prior.  I find this method a great way to build up to the Spring planting season, and spread out the work.  Last week all the 6 weeks prior seedlings were transplanted from 3/4" cubes to their larger 2" cubes.  Tomorrow I start transplant some from the 4 week tray.  It is as easy as dropping a sugar cube into a sugar cube dimple, literally.

This time I made a tray of the normal 360 3/4" sugar cube soil blockers and an additional starter tray of 2" for the larger seeds that I have this time round.  This is going to strain my little seed warmer because the two trays are larger, but I am placing them both in the trash humidity bag and we will see what happens.

Also I replanted some varieties from the earlier seed starts due to low germination rates.  In the case of Feverfew, none!  I know Feverfew requires light germination, but my cold frames get plenty of sun.  I only managed get one Anise Hyysop to germinate out of 28, but then when I looked in my sand and seed stratification bag I had set aside, I found that most of the seeds had germinated in the plastic bag which makes the seed starting easier, I'd say.  Napa cabbage germinated great, but I replanted because I just wanted MORE.

Here is the run down, chronicled here lest I forget what I planted:

Large seeds:
Squash Waltham Butternut (Grow Organic)
Squash Zucchini Fordhook (Organic Burpee)
Pumpkin Small Sugar (Peaceful Valley)
Pumpkin Pie (fruit from Whole Foods)
Small seeds:
Feverfew (Seeds of Change) replant
Anise Hyysop replant
Cabbage Napa replant
Bergamot Lemon Monarda ciriodora (Horizon Herbs)
Lemon Balm (Turtle Tree Biodynamic)
Lavender Fernleaf (Renee's Garden)
Purslane Large Leaf (Seeds of Change)
Chard Ruby Red (Peaceful Valley)
Calendula Flashback (Renee's garden)
Chives Garlic (Renee's Garden)
Chamomile Bodegold (Renee's Garden)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Borrowed the neighbor's chickens.

My winter greens garden has done its duty and now has been invaded with aphids, ants and caterpillars.  I made a small attempt to use Castille soap spray to fend them off.  There are no flowers yet to feed the beneficial insects and balance the garden. I thought hard about what I needed to do.  I like my kale greens in my morning smoothie.  It is hard to think I will have no greens at all til the young plants are larger.  Nevertheless, I could not help to think that the impending battle with the tiny animal kingdom over my old kale was not good karma.  Better to put the insects to good use.

I pulled the majority of the greens and buried them in a hot compost.  I could have simply tilled the bed under, but thought again about my old chicken flock that I would have let into the garden for just this kind of fowl fun.  The thought stuck with me for a while.  Chickens are useful in so many ways.  A diverse collection of animals can be like precise tools, each geared for a certain task or aptitude, when they don't go crazy and add chaotic laughter to your day.  At that moment I gave into my wife's desire to go buy chicks.  We did not need a whole McMurray's order of 28.  Two or three sounded fine.  Off to the farmer's association we went.  We ended up with 8 bantum straight run chicks.  Surely some will be pullets, right?

We returned home to set up the brooding light and get the new chicks comfortable.  The kale bed stared back at me.  "But what about meee?"  I needed to do something now.

Before my neighbor could get to his car, I accosted him.  I asked for a favor.  "Could I borrow your chickens?"  He smiled, but did not otherwise react.  My neighbor is of Gemanic descent. Ok, he's really German. To be told, he speaks much better German than English.  I did not think he understood me when I said I wanted to tractor his two leghorns in my kale bed and feed them aphids and caterpillars.  We laughed again and I arranged the transfer of fowl for later in the afternoon.  We were both off to the ASN, the local food buying club for locally grown Arkansas farm produce.  There his wife was working.  I got her attention, and she immediately said, "Yes I know.  You want to borrow our chickens."  Apparently I was right.  Her husband did not know if I was joking earlier, but she understood.  She assured me it was ok with them both, and I moved the leghorns over into a thrown together tractor as soon as I got home.  For the afternoon, while I slaved away in the garden with pick and shovel, the girls tractored across my greens bed, enjoying the smorgasbord of raw protein. 

I returned the chickens just as my neighbor came home.  I thanked him profusely for the loan.  Chickens can be so useful.  He thanked me for feeding his chickens.  We exchanged a laugh about how mutually beneficial the loan was.  ... I skipped the story about how one flew over my picket fence.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Take Back Urban Homesteading Day of Action

This is my "Take Back Urban Homesteading" Day of Action submission. Having an urban homestead frees you to be self sufficient. You cannot trademark freedom.

We bought this home 6 months ago and are still remodeling when we are not working on our client's projects. The first thing we did to start our homestead was remove the front yard, bring in compost, and plant a cover crop of daikon to till the soil deep. We also added 600 sq ft to the house, just so we could have a fully functional homestead kitchen and utility room.

We are not new to urban homesteading, however. My first homestead was a home called "SubUrban Homesteading" in Houston that won an AIA design award for Sustainable Architecture. Tenants still tend the orange and locquat trees and gardens. My last homestead was a fourplex called "Two Homes/Two Offices" that won an AIA design award for restoration. We market gardened herbs and spices to local restaurants. Now, tenants there tend the peach trees, blackberry trellises, and gardens. We did have to disable the rainwater collection and graywater systems and remove the chickens. Homesteading takes personal time and commitment, but the results are wonderful.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Second Batch of Seeds

Now that the first batch of little sugar cubes have started sprouting and even a few have been transfered to 2" cubes, I am ready for the second batch.  These I am starting roughly 4 weeks before I want to put them out in the garden.

Here's the run down:
Thyme, Common (Organic Burpee)
Cabbage, Napa Bilko (Peaceful Valley)
Fennel, Florence (Peaceful Valley)
Borage (Peaceful Valley)
Feverfew (Seeds of Change)
Basil, Sweet (Peaceful Valley)
Majoram (Peaceful Valley)
Basil, True Thai Queenette (Renee's Garden)
Pepper, Red Bell (fruit from Whole Foods)

I plan one more seed start tray in 2 weeks.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Mullein pioneers our house pad.

You know you have disturbed the soil when you find a stand of mullein.  Its soft leaves may be called cowboy's toilet paper which sounds common enough, but it is not found on our land, except on the house pad, where we have cleared the forest enough for our house and garden.  There on the edge it grows now, close to the quartz boulder.  I like the flowers.  I have never tried it as a tea, but am curious.  I first saw this plant as a self seeder in a permaculture garden in downtown Houston.  I am happy to see my friend again on our land.  It is a pioneer, creating a new sward on barren soil.
Christi and Izzy walk the site looking for the house.  We are still planning and dreaming.  Thus you see the random walk on the pad as we trace our latest plans.

The second year stalks have filled the sky with seeds, so we will continue to have this flowering plant around for awhile.  At least until the savannah is developed and the grasses compete.  No worries.  There will be space in the garden for it, and if not, the seeds last 100 years in wait for the earth to be disturbed again.