Thursday, April 5, 2012

Need an excuse to start a garden?

If you have been pondering whether or not to start a garden, this news story might give you the extra push you need to break out the seed catalogs and place an order.

"World food prices are likely to rise for a third successive month in March, and could gain further beyond that, with expensive oil and chronically low stocks of some key grains putting food inflation firmly back on the economic agenda." (Click here for the entire article)

Instant Garden Gratification

If you are an impatient person, gardening might not be the best hobby choice. All that work in the dirt can take months, or even years for a payoff! However, there is hope for those who need a little more of an instant garden gratification to stay motivated. If you plant extra dwarf pak choy, you will be able to see sprouts in a matter of days and harvest your first crop within a month.

Extra dwarf pak choy doesn't mind nippy nights or an occasional blast of snow either. In fact, you want to get these seeds in the ground as soon as you can work the soil and harvest before things get too warm. This is a great choice for fickle Colorado spring weather. You can plant a batch, wait two weeks, and then plant more for 2 successive spring crops. Once you harvest you can put in a warm season crop, then plant more of the tiny pak choy in the fall.

Tender and tasty, Extra Dwarf Pak Choy is a great "distraction" crop. It will keep you busy enough in early spring that you wont obsess about how slow everything else is growing. In fact, the dwarf choy went from seed to harvest faster than it took my corn salad or red winter kale to even sprout! Not only is this a great option for an impatient adult, this is a fantastic crop to get kids excited about starting their own little garden patch.

I bought my seeds at Baker Creek.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

2011 Wrap-up

2011 was a very interesting and challenging year on the micro-farm. We had definite winners and losers in the crop department. A big LOSE was our fruit crop. The apple and pear blossoms got hit with a very late deep frost so we ended up with no fruit development. The grape harvest was average on our seedless grapes, but we got nothing off the concord vine. Weird spring weather can really impact your harvest so we are very nervous for this year as well. Even though it is still March, the apples and pears are budding and should be in bloom next week. A late frost could wipe out our fruit harvest yet again.

On the plus side, our tomato crop did fantastic. In an area not known for good tomato production, tomatoes continue to be one of our best crops. The key is variety selection. We don't even attempt to grow large Beef Steak types and instead stick to medium-sized, cherry, and grape-sized tomatoes. Marglobe and smaller varieties have plenty of time to ripen and are resistant to splitting from uneven moisture - typical Colorado issues. Our marglobe, yellow pear and sweet 100 vines gave us plenty of fruit for fresh eating and drying. The black krim and purple cherokee tomatoes tended to split so we wont be planting them this time, but they did make some tasty spaghetti sauce. This years varieties will be Sweet 100's, Black Cherry, Marglobe, Red Currant, White Currant, and our experimental variety.... Box Car Willies.

The sweet potatoes were a disappointment, especially since we selected some special short season varieties. We were expecting a much bigger harvest than our test patch of grocery store purchased sweet potato we made in to slips. Unfortunately we got the same pathetic number of small potatoes from the Violetta and Carolina sweet potatoes that we got from the grocery store Garnet. Since these were all grown in containers, it could very well be that the containers were the problem so there will be one last experimental patch of sweet potatoes grown. If those don't produce, we will skip them in the future.

Potatoes grown in containers were a fail. but we did get a small harvest of purple viking potatoes from an in ground patch. Not sure if we will plant those again, but if I do it will be IN GROUND for sure.

The herbs produced very well as usual and are already up and growing rapidly for this season. We are already harvesting chives, and the thyme and oregano are going strong. We haven't seen any of the mint make an appearance yet, but knowing the mint, it will still try to take over the garden by July.

On the critter front, we lost our entire pen of quail due to a stray cat. It didn't just kill for sport. It actually ate them all. The quail pen has been torn down and will be rebuilt from scratch to make it totally critter proof. Obviously nylon netting will not deter a hungry feral cat.

The ducks continue to thrive, but we did have a separate stray incident involving a couple of large dogs. While, thanks to our son, none of the ducks were killed, we did have a hen get a seriously injured wing. Fortunately she recovered, but she will not have use of the wing anymore. Since she couldn't fly anyway, it isn't much of a loss. Extra drakes were butchered and we did some flock shuffling when we inherited some quality Welsh Harlequin hens from a friend that moved. From those ducks we kept three beautiful breeders. Last week we purchased a new drake from champion show lines. Unfortunately his pen at his previous home did not adequately protect him from frost bite and he is missing toes. His feet have healed, but will always look rather ratty. Happily, this does not prevent him from doing his drakely duties. We have named him Fred Garvin, so all of you fans of the old Saturday Night Live sketches can laugh at that one. While not happy with the condition of his feet, his friendly, protective personality towards all the hens have earned him a spot in the flock and not on the BBQ.

Looking forward to 2012, if the spring weather doesn't turn, the gardens should be very productive. If it does go south, we have a small supply of frost blankets at the ready. Stay tuned for more photos, gardening tips, recipes and more.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

For Sale

We are getting a steady supply of duck eggs and will be offering them for sale. $2.50 per 6 pack or $5 for a dozen. We now have 6 pack clam shells cartons big enough to comfortably fit most of our duck's eggs. We still get an occasional monster egg that wont fit even in these extra large cartons, but we are not complaining! Email a message to bluefeatherfarm @ gmail com if you are interested.

The new cartons (note - chicken eggs shown. Our duck eggs are white to off-white.)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

"Teenage" Quail

The coturnix quail are 2 1/2 weeks now. Since they can be laying eggs as soon as 5 weeks I guess this makes them teenagers. Their baby fuzz is almost gone and so far they all look like girls! One may surprise me, but i guess it is time to start thinking up girl's names.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Bale Fail

One of my experiments for this year was growing vegetables in straw bales. It is a pretty simple concept. Instead of planting in the dirt, you add a layer of dirt to the top of an aged straw bale and plant in that. This allows you to grow in areas with bad soil, lots of rocks, or other challenging garden situations.

Since I had a rather "challenged" area near the north fence in the front yard, I thought straw bales would allow me to grow some veggies rather than waiting a year as I beat that spot in to shape. I planted some peas after giving the straw bales time to age, adding good soil and keeping the bales moist.

While a few of the peas sprouted, it wasn't long before I knew something was not right. They grew about 2" and then stopped. Some started to turn yellow. Thinking the frequent watering had depleted the nutrients in the shallow soil layer, I gave it shot of compost tea. It seemed to help a little bit, but only a few pea plants started to grow again. The rest just sat there looking all pathetic.

While I was prepared for extra feedings, the extra time to age the bales, and the possibility of frequent waterings due to the porous nature of the bales, I had not counted on the wind. The constant, hot, annoying, ridiculously strong winds we have been hit with since early in the year. I have lived in this area for over 25 years and I have never seen a year like this. Chicago, often called the windy city, has nothing on Colorado. The whole state is a giant wind tunnel right now.

Even when watering two and 3 times a day did nothing to keep the straw bales moist enough to get many of the plants to sprout or to get them to a productive size even if they somehow did. There was no reason to keep pouring good water and fertilizer after bad. I went ahead and cut open 3 of the bales. They were as dry as dust on the inside when they should have been damp and started to break down and look more like rich soil. Even a bale I had wrapped in plastic as a last ditch attempt to get it to stay somewhat wet for more than 5 seconds was dried out. Straw bale gardening in a hot, dry climate was a total fail.

I did have an area where instead of plants growing on soil on straw, I had soil in an indented area surrounded by loose straw. The straw acted as a wind break and allowed plants to sprout in that dimple that didn't emerge on top of the bales. If you live in a windy area, think of your straw more as a wind block and not as a soil substitute, and you should avoid the bale fail I experienced. Over the next few days I will finish cutting open the hay bales and use the straw to mulch in other areas so it wont be a total waste.