Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Cool season crops like radishes, bok choy and other greens are typically planted in very early Spring and harvested before it gets hot, the plants bolt and then go to seed. In Colorado, early Spring is when we are getting our worst snow storms, arctic air blasts and blizzard conditions. Once that passes we jump right in to 80º-90º temperatures with out batting an eye. Those tender cool air loving plants don't stand a chance.
Planting in Winter makes more sense with our wacky Spring weather, but you can't just throw seeds in your regular garden bed and expect things grow in the cold. Low light, high winds and cold night time temperatures mean your plants wont sprout. If by some chance some do, they will die quickly. By planting in November or December, most likely the local birds will dig up and eat your seeds and not even bother to say "thank you!". With a little planning and recycling you can fool Mother Nature and actually enjoy some fresh homegrown vegetables while everyone else has to go to the supermarket and pick through flavorless, expensive imported produce.
This doesn't look like much, but this simple piece of plastic covering a garden bed and held up by 2 bent PVC pipes holds a little secret...
These little Chinese cabbage plants were sown in October right before our first frost.
On the other side of the grow tunnel there is more Chinese cabbage, a few spinach plants leftover from Summer, and a cilantro plant that snuck in. No doubt it was a seed from a plant that bolted during the hot Fall weather.
The key to this growing tunnel is not just the plastic sheet cover, but those recycled 2 liter bottles you see bordering the growing bed. These bottles filled with water provide important thermal mass. Thermal mass absorbs heat during the day and then slowly releases the heat in to the tunnel at night. Without the thermal mass, you might be able to extend the growing season a bit during Spring and Fall, but your odds of keeping plants alive when it gets below 20º at night are not good. The combination of the 2 liter bottles and the plastic cover create a nice little microclimate that allows some plants to grow completely out of season.
The growth rate of Winter vegetables is going to be much slower than if you planted them in warmer weather. But by already being sprouted and growing they are poised to take off once the days start to lengthen.
Any plants that like cooler weather can be used in a tunnel garden, but Chinese greens are especially suited to this type of growing method. Thinking of trying your own Winter gardening experiment? Here are some good resources to get you started...
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Something moved through the back yard and tripped the motion sensor flood lights. Those lights coming on woke me up. Then I heard it calling. By the sound of the call, I have a GREAT HORNED OWL living in my corner of the burbs.
So this is one predator I can't dispatch. Like the hawk we had issues with a few years back, owls are protected. We can only use defense, no offense. Time to swap the netting for hardware cloth.
Apparently death comes from the skies around here.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
The hawk attack two years ago resulted in losing two hens, one I hatched in an incubator and raised myself and the other I had since she was three days old. Our latest attack by a predator two nights ago left me with one dead drake, a hen with an injured wing and another hen with a punctured throat.
The girls will most likely recover but we will miss our little man Cartman. We adopted him this June because he was from a different hatchery as our previous drake and would provide diversity in our breeding stock. I was delighted that he was a "perfect gentleman" as far as ducks go. He always let the girls eat first...even when favorite treats were provided. He was not rough or obnoxious during mating and he was very alert and protective of the entire flock. He even got along with our younger drake and set a good example for TJ as he went through his terrible teenager phase. Hopefully TJ learned his lessons well as he is now the flock leader by default.
Security in the pen has been beefed up and instead of letting them wander lose in the covered run all night the ducks are now getting locked in to the secure night pen. They weren't to happy about the confinement, but it is better than ending up as a midnight snack.
Hubby and I looked for clues as to what kind of varmint we are dealing with. So far we are thinking fox, but we are not sure. A few claw scratches in the fencing and a piece of white fluff stuck to the wood were all we found. Along with the secure night pen, we also set out a small have-a-heart trap we already had on hand. This should take care of anything small like a skunk, ferret or young coon.
Maybe I will have to ask Santa for a game cam set up...
Thursday, December 2, 2010
- Buy row covers. Row covers will keep the white flies from turning the kale, brussel sprout and cabbage to goo. This will be disappointing to the ducks who think bug infested vegetables are a delicacy, but they will just have to get over it.
- Don't worry about overfilling the raised beds. As the season goes on the dirt and compost cooks down and you will end up adding more dirt and/or compost anyway.
- Tomato cages are useless if you properly feed the 'mater vines. Our tomatoes were so vigorous they outgrew the cages and ended up as a tangled mass which made harvest a total pain. Arched cattle panels would be a much better way to tame the vines and make harvesting easy.
- Be prepared for late season diseases. Powdery mildew and wilt will eventually find your squash plants, so be prepared to treat with a homemade milk spray.
- Tree roots are your garden's enemy. No matter how well established the tree and how deep the tap root, it will take the easy path to water. Trees will send out surface roots in a thick stringy mess that will suck all the water out of your veggies. Raised beds with a root barrier, whiskey barrels or even hay bale planting can combat that. I am going to try a few hay bales and beg for a few whiskey barrels for Mother's Day.
- Squirrels are evil. And smart. They figured out the Have-A-Heart trap and I can no longer catch and relocate. Also a Daisy BB rifle will NOT kill a squirrel (particularly the fat, fluffy ones around here) unless you manage to catch one asleep and beat it to death with the rifle butt. Since they sleep 40' up in the air in the neighbor's trees, that isn't going to happen. If we ever expect to get pumpkins, we are going to have to use hardware cloth and build cages to keep the squirrels out.
- Don't be afraid to experiment! I had great success with my sweet potato test. I found a plastic Little Tykes toy box for $5 at a garage sale, painted it black and filled it with dirt. I was able to grow sweet potatoes that are actually more suited for a much warmer climate. I also used a wooden box and filled it with feed bags filled with dirt for more sweet potatoes. Next year I will actually buy a variety designed for colder regions to hopefully get an even better yield.
- Diatomaceous earth is not effective on all bugs, but it does work well on flea beetles. Sprinkle on the ground before planting things likes radishes to disrupt its reproductive cycle and save your plants. Reapply periodically to keep them at bay. DE is worthless for white flies. Just use row covers for those white fly favorites like kale and cabbage.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
The tomato patch was a big success and we had plenty for eating fresh, drying and canning as spaghetti sauce. The varieties we grew were black plum, roma, heirloom rainbow, Cherokee purple, and pink climbing tomatoes. The best producer was the black plum. They are also an excellent size for drying. The heirloom rainbow variety was terrible. It vined all over the place and there were only a few, pathetic orange tomatoes that dried out before they could even get decently ripe. The romas did well but this turned out the be the favorite variety for the pill bugs. The ducks got quite a few pill bug infested romas for snacks. They appreciated the extra protein. The Cherokee purple were ok. Pretty good flavor but slow to ripen and they had a tendency to split despite a pretty consistent moisture level. The best flavor for eating fresh came from the pink climbers. While the yield was not high, the taste was awesome. We are more than willing to give these a place in the garden again.
We did ok on the summer squash. There was a fairly steady supply of Italian, yellow, and black zucchini. The plants did get powdery mildew late in the summer, but the plants were pretty much done by that point. As for the winter squash, the squirrels got most of those. We did end up with a rather tasty orange acorn squash. More squirrel protection will be needed next year if we ever expect to get pumpkins, butternut or spaghetti squash like we planned.
The melons were good (see previous post for Collective Farm Woman review) but we didn't get nearly enough. The Charentais melon we harvested was delicious. Imagine a cantaloupe with a spicy aftertaste and a heavenly melon scent. That is as close as I can get to describing this delicious melon. We have more seeds and will definitely giving both the Collective Farm Woman and the Charentais better spots and more space in the garden. These were also subject to squirrel attack so hardware cloth covers are in the works.
We had cucumbers, beans, and alpine strawberries pretty steadily throughout the growing season and even managed a couple clusters of corn. The corn was part of an experimental 3 Sisters garden which uses corn, beans, and pumpkins on the same hill to assist each other and promote weed suppression. Our tiny plot did do rather well so we will expand the 3 sisters concept next year. The corn variety we planted was Golden Bantam Sweet Corn. We save and dried all the kernels so we will have more to plant in spring.
We had a really good pear harvest as well as quite a few apples. Apparently we were faster than the squirrels this year so actually had enough to eat fresh, dry and canned. One grape vine produced very well while the other took the summer off. It had been trimmed back the previous year. There were not many grape producing shoots left. The growth of the vine this year was phenomenal and all those new vines will give us grapes next year.
On the critter front, we had a coturnix quail hatch out 3 chicks, one of which made it to adulthood. Since coturnix quail usually don't set a nest and this was her first time, it is still quite impressive. The survivor, which almost died when he escaped the hutch and couldn't get back to mom, is named Zombie. Zombie is a boy so we will be finding him some girlfriends ASAP. Hopefully his mom will try and hatch out another batch next season.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
This is my first year growing "Collective Farm Woman Melon". I am impressed. The vine doesn't seem to mind our weird Colorado temperature fluctuations. Doesn't sprawl out too much and even works well on a trellis. Fruit are the size of large softballs. They start off green, turn yellow, then gold.
The important question is how does one taste?
DELICIOUS! The flavor is a bit like a pear crossed with a honey dew with a little musky spice added to it.
Texture-wise, the one I picked still had a little green on it. I didn't plan on picking it, but when I lifted it to see what color the bottom was, it came right off the vine. It had a bit of a pear texture to it. It was a little crisp so it probably could have ripened a tad more, but it was still yummy. Like a cantaloupe, if you can actually smell a melon scent from the fruit before you cut it open, it is good to go. I could distinctly smell the melon so we went ahead and ate it with breakfast.
As for yield, well, I only have 1 vine. I just harvested that first fruit and there are 2 more full sized melons starting to turn yellow. There are some more little green ones developing, so if the frost holds off, I may get up to 6 or 7 fruit by the end of the growing season. Next year I will be putting in several more plants.
I also got a late start on these so I feel really lucky to get as much fruit as I am. I will start some ahead of time in-doors rather than waiting to plant them directly in the soil. That will really help productivity.
I got the seeds at Baker Creek. I highly recommend this tasty little personal-sized melon.
Thursday, August 19, 2010
The latest food recall is just a reminder that I am doing the best possible thing for my health and the health of my family by producing my own eggs right in my suburban backyard. Not only do I have a handle on the allergy front, my eggs are not contaminated.
"Hundreds of Americans have likely become ill from tainted eggs, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC spokeswoman Lola Russell said Thursday.
The Food and Drug Administration, which investigates food contamination, said the CDC received reports of approximately 200 salmonella cases every week during late June and early July. Normally, the CDC has received an average of some 50 reports of salmonella illness each week for the past five years. Many states have also reported increases of this pattern since May 2010, the FDA said.
A total of 380 million eggs have been recalled since last week because of concerns they may be tainted with the potentially deadly salmonella bacteria, the Egg Safety Center said." (more)Poultry raised in uncrowded conditions with access to fresh air, greens and sunshine are far less susceptible to disease and infections. Commercially raised chickens are crowded, not allowed in the sun, get no fresh grass or other greens, and require medication to fight infections. Even the fancy, expensive "cage-free" and "vegetarian-fed" eggs come from chickens who aren't roaming in a pasture, but are in large climate controlled warehouses standing in their own feces. If there is an outdoor area, often the hens are packed in so tight they couldn't possibly get to the door even if they tried.
And here is a news flash... chickens ARE NOT vegetarians. If your eggs come from chickens that are vegetarian fed, they are coming from chickens raised in confinement. Given the chance a chicken will eat bugs, worms, lizards, or even mice. They thrive on animal protein.
Having your own egg layers is an obvious solution, but not everyone has the time, space or ability to raise their own poultry and produce their own eggs. If you can't raise a chicken or even a few quail, check your local craigslist. Often small farmers and backyard chicken owners sell their surplus. Don't be afraid to ask for pictures or even if they allow visitors. Due to biosecurity concerns, some might not allow you to roam through their hen house, but they should at least be able to send you a cell phone pic of the chicken's pen and run. Another option is the farmer's market. Talk to the farmers and make sure they are bringing their own eggs, not just reselling commercially raised eggs. Get to know them on an individual basis and learn as much as you can about their birds. Really know your food.
Humanely produced eggs do cost more than eggs you find at the supermarket, but the extra nutrition from naturally raised eggs makes them well worth it. According to a study by Mother Earth News, "Our latest tests show that pastured eggs have anywhere between 4 to 6 times as much vitamin D as typical supermarket eggs." (more) Other benefits include more vitamin A, vitamin e, beta carotene, and omega 3 fatty acids.
Just remember that cheap food isn't cheap. Those 99 cent/dozen eggs can come at a much higher price to your health than the dollar or two you save when buying them. It also comes at a price to the animal's health and welfare. Ask yourself how much your health and karma are worth to you these days?
Note: For more information on modern farming and food raising practices, rent the documentary FOOD, INC.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Sunday, June 27, 2010
We will be at the Consolidated Market Place again next Saturday. Along with our fresh-cut herbs, we will have fresh quail eggs, duck eggs, and mixed salad greens.
The mixed greens contain green and red leaf lettuce, baby vivian romaine lettuce, and baby spinach. When available they also contain nasturtium flowers and leaves, bean blossoms, pea pods, violet flowers, fresh shelled peas and pea blossoms. Many people do not realize that several varieties of flowers are edible and add, not only color, but nutrition and flavor to your favorite salads. Whenever our edible flowers are in bloom they will go in to our salad blends.
Rhubarb: We had requested for rhubarb this week but will will not have any available until later in the year. The second harvest is not as large as the spring cutting, so quantities will be limited. We are, however, going to be dividing and moving some of our plants. A few root cuttings will be available for those who want to try and grow their own.
We are also researching adding dried herbs and spices to our both. An update will be posted on this topic soon.
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Friday, June 18, 2010
Monday, June 14, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
It look like Lexus has successfully brooded her first time setting a nest. I was seriously beginning to wonder if she was sitting on a pile of duds or what. I checked yesterday and there was cracked egg that was peeping at me so I carefully placed it back in the straw and covered it.
While I was checking the nest, Lexus ran out of the broody pen and hopped in the pool. No problem there. The problem came about later when, instead of getting back on HER nest, she tried to take the nest that Shelley had just started setting on. I chased Lexus off of that nest and back in to her pen and locked her in. I wasn't sure if she was going to return to her nest and finish the job, but within a few minutes she was back where she belonged.
This morning when I went to bring her water and her morning snack (a few pieces of dried cat food and some peas) she came out to greet me and a little peeping fuzz ball tried to follow. It's a boy :D and since her nest was built inside of a garbage can, his name is Oscar.
After her breakfast she hoped right back on the nest and Oscar snuggled under her feathers. I went back in the house to get the cell phone so I could snap some pictures, but by then Lexus had turned around and Oscar had climbed underneath mom for a snooze.
I will try to get some photos later today or tomorrow. Hopefully Oscar will have plenty of sisters to keep him company at that point.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Friday, May 7, 2010
The final count is 10. Not a bad hatch rate considering we thought she only had 8 eggs! It looks like 4 girls, 4 boys and two unknown. The mixed ducks have too many marking on their bills to tell either way. 2 girls have already gone to their new home in Colorado Springs. 1 boy and the other 2 girls will go to their new home in Manitou on Sunday. The rest of the crew are for sale as well. $5 for mixed breed and for little Welsh Harlequin drakes. The girls sell for $7 each and we should have more next month. Lexus has been showing signs of going broody.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
I think this means "NO! Now GO AWAY!" in duck.
Monday, April 5, 2010
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Welsh Harlequin/Indian Runner hatching eggs will be available at the end of the week. Both Welsh Harlequins and Indian Runners are excellent egg laying breeds. If you just want a good egg laying duck that isn't going to fly, this is and excellent "designer duck" to hatch.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Fertile hatching eggs from our Welsh Harlequin ducks as well as from our Indian Runner are now available. Since our drake is a Welsh Harlequin, the Runner eggs are a cross. We are filling orders for the next 2 weeks right now, but please drop us a line if you would like to be added to the waiting list.
$7/dozen or $4/half dozen for pure bred Welsh Harlequin eggs.
$1 off for pure Welsh Harlequin and Welsh Harlequin/Runner mix assortment.
Friday, February 12, 2010
You can barely see their swimming pool in the very back. They often stand around it and look longingly inside. No doubt dreaming of being able to swim again. We are looking at hooking up a pump once we buy them a new pool. The circulation will keep it ice-free and then we can also hook up a filter system.
Each morning they get a "salad bar" in a bucket of fresh water. Shredded veggies like cabbage, lettuce, celery tops, cucumbers, zucchini, and anything else green and tender is added to the bucket. Favorites include bok choy, napa cabbage and peas. These greens make up for the lack of available forage and it is easy to see that they appreciate their morning treat. They really appreciate it when we add the peas to the mix. They always dunk their heads totally under the water to see if there are any on the bottom of the bucket.