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.