Sunday, June 3, 2012

Gardening Class 102 - learn by example.

At Cherry St I had a very limited amount of space to garden in.  My plot was 12x12', and I could only grow corn, peppers, 2 types of potatoes, garlic, beans, onions, carrots, 8 varieties of tomatoes, okra, basil, red malibar spinach, lettuce, broccoli and zucchini squash.  Yeah, all at once.  And I had enough to freeze and give away. Honest!  Plus - I could push a wheelbarrow around inside the garden and could reach everything I wanted to pick.  Oh - even better - I never weeded and didn't ever touch a shovel.  HONEST!  How?  Raised beds and a high-intensity method called Square Foot Gardening. It was very little work yet huge yields, and I was anxious to get started at the new place.

Pros:  TONS!  Too many for me to get into.  Read up on it yourself, or just see paragraph #1.
Cons:  Upfront expense and it creates a fairly structured garden appearance. 

In a nutshell - you raise the garden up and contain it within walls.  You can use cement block, decorative stone or even just wood.  (read up on the chemicals involved in pressure-treating, I like to use regular pine for anything near what we'll be eating...).  Don't worry about the existing soil - fill the beds with peat moss, compost and vermiculite or perlite (the exact stuff potting soil is made from). Make your beds narrow enough to reach in from either side - 4' is about the maximum width you'll want to deal with.  Divide each raised bed into square foot sections.  Each section will be filled with one, four, nine, or sixteen plants, depending on their size at maturity.  

When I first started getting the garden together this year, I figured I'd have to make due with a bare-bones setup.    I reused some old oak fenceboards for around the asparagus (Mary Washington and Purple Passion), had an old tractor tire and some mucktubs filled with soil that would make due. I considered doing a traditional, square dirt patch garden, but after digging the trench for the asparagus I said screw it.  A small garden is better than having to dig! 
A friend had some raspberries to share,  so I dug some pine needle compost out from under the trees, and the raspberries got a raised bed, too.  A lot of grass is poking up through, so as the Merchandiser comes and Josh mows, I lay the paper down around the branches and then smother it with grass.  No more weeds and it will be great compost.  

Well, wouldn't you know it, mom decided to replaced most of the pasture fencing - so I got a ton of oak boards to reuse.  The corners are 2x2" pine - I was going to pound them into the ground to anchor the beds, but when I started pounding the screws snapped, so, well, there you have it.  They're 6" deep, I'd like them to be deeper, but I'm not going to criticize my free boards.  

Someone on Craigslist had composted horse/chicken/sheep/goat manure for free, and loaded it for the same price.  Awesome - but I"m prepared to do some weeding because of the horse manure.  These are butternut squash coming up, the marker is cut from a plastic window blind that broke.  One blind will give me about a hundred of these babies, plus I will cut them very small to mark seed trays.  Waterproof and will last several seasons.  

 Peppers and eggplant.  Each bed is no wider than 4', I want to be able to reach the middle from both sides.  They can be as long as I want - in this case I was dealing with 8' boards, so that's the longest I'm using.  There's 2x8' beds, 4x6' beds, 4x8' beds and some 4x4's.
Each little pepper (and eggplant) gets 1 square foot of space.  So in this little 4x6' bed I can have 24, yes, twenty four, pepper plants.  There's some jalapenos, sweets, habanero and black beauty eggplant.

 More eggplant. 

There were a lot of boards!  I'm not sure what's going on with the fence yet, the pickett reminds me of a grave yard, the woven wire is just there to keep the dogs and chickens out.

This year I'm planting strawberries, peppers, eggplant, carrots, basil, swiss chard, tomatoes, green beans, wax beans, pole beans, yellow and green summer squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, watermelon, corn and asparagus, potatoes, sweet potatoes and turnips. 

Yeah, it looks crazy organized and like hours and hours of work every day.  But if you know me, I'm all about short, simple and minimum maintenance.  You do the math - and feel free to come get some veggies, I'll have more than we can eat! 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


"Exhaustipated" def: too tired to give a shit about updating the blog! Today has been somewhat relaxing so I really have no excuse about running out of energy. (Alls I did was go to Home Depot, help Josh build a window grate, install said window grate, pick up chicks, have Sully tested for kindergarten, and clean the barn.) Here's the past few weeks in a nutshell.

Will got his CGC and a bath.

The cat broke his ear

I built stalls:

Put in more fence, and got some goats

Dug some gardens

Turned into the crazy chicken lady

Rode the pony (think of a 5'3" person riding a 13 hand pony...)

And attempted to keep up with Sully

I'll try to be better about updates, but right now I'm going to bed!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Planting Class 101

We're half way through January and its 28 degrees out side with 30 mile per hour gusts. I'm holed up inside nursing a pot of tea. I've got on my fleece lined pants, fuzzy socks and a fabulous cardigan wrap- for once I'm actually cold in this house. Yesterday I went for a run in a t-shirt, today finally feels like winter.

Is it spring yet?

Someone must think so - Parks, Stokes and Burpees have all sent me seed catalogs filled with pictures of overflowing bushel baskets, perfect bouquets, and fruit-laden branches.

YES! I want to plant PEANUTS! Yeah, really easy to go overboard this time of year, especially when Gurney's offers a 'buy $100, get $50 off" offer, which is exactly what I did. The best way to survive those catalog orders is to HAVE A LIST, preferably one you started in the fall last year.

I've often been asked what/when/how I plant... so here's Sarah's Planting Class 101 - Surviving the Seed Catalog

#1 Plant only things you're actually going to eat. Peanuts? Seriously? I'm never going to eat them, so why spend the money on the seed and take up the space in the garden? I do however, eat lots of broccoli, okra, corn, beans, peppers and squash, onions, sweet potatoes, yukon golds... So that's what I plant.

#2 Plant only WHAT you're going to eat. Unless you are a pesto fanatic, a 10' row of basil is way overkill. If you're not going to preserve it (or can't, like with lettuce), don't go overboard. ONE zucchini plant will produce more than I'd ever want to eat in a season, and I'm a squash nut.

#3 Plant only what you have room for! Many veggies have a 'bush' or a compact variety and will state 'best for small gardens' in the description. Don't plant bird house gourds if you only have a 20x20 garden - one plant will take up the whole thing. Pay attention to space requirements!

Ok, I've done my soul searching and decided what I want to plant this year. Next, I check out the fridge and see what I need to buy. I save my leftover seed from year to year (who plants 200 broccoli seeds in a season?) in the fridge - its cool and dry and most seeds will keep a respectable germination rate for many years after the 'packed by' date as long as they're kept well. Now I know what I need to buy, and can safely place my order.

Next up: Planting Class 102 - Planning the Garden

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Heated chicken nipples

The #1 issue with keeping livestock is frozen water during the winter. Nothing much is worse than carrying water to the barn twice daily, well, maybe scrubbing out a heated dog dish once daily in winter, then filling it with the water you bucketed - twice daily.
I wanted to keep using my nipple bucket since the water stays so clean for the birds, yet couldn't have the nipples freezing. #1 its bad for the device, #2 not having water is bad for the girls. I broke out all the stops and went super high tech, there's a total of 2 gadgets, one flower pot and a grand total of less than $30... and no more frozen water worries.
The first gadget is a thermo cube that you can pick up for about $12 from Amazon, Tractor Supply, or possibly your parent's garage. It has a temperature switch that allows power to flow from the outlet once the air reaches 35 degrees, it switches off at 45 degrees. So whatever I chose to be my heater will only come on when it reaches near freezing. Brilliant invention.
The second gadget is a 100 watt Tetra aquarium heater from WalMart. Tetra Submersible Heater 100 WattThis little guy will heat a 30 gallon aquarium to 75 degrees - a bit overkill for my 5 gallon bucket but I do expect some days into single digits this winter. I attached the suction cup on the heater to a smooth ceramic planter I had laying around to keep the element near the nipples. If I wanted, I'd splurge and spend the 50 cents on a small ceramic time the next time we're at Lowes... just hasn't happened yet.
The result? An unsightly mess of wires that keeps the water flowing without me having to scrub.... thus keeping me (and the chickens) from mutiny. Hummm, maybe I need to scrub afterall, but you get the point!

We're still here!

Yes, ladies and gentleman, we're still here... just Busy with a capital B. The latest project has been the Critter Containment unit, AKA a 47" woven wire fence around the perimeter of the property. The holes got dug thanks to Josh and my dad, and I've been chipping away at planting posts. Last week we braced the corners, today I ordered the wire. Yippie! Forward progress feels so good. Its snowing like crazy outside right now, but Mr Weather says we're looking at a 50 degree weekend. Guess who will be stringing her new fence!?
We had great fun playing in the rain, until the auger got stuck, then things were much less fun. However, all the holes got dug with the exception of three which were easy enough to finish by hand. For the record, only Sully and the dogs were covered in mud when we were done!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Two words...

Chicken Nipples.

Yup, betcha can't say that out loud without giggling. They're my new obsession, and I guess its a bit odd since I don't even have the chickens yet. I realize that hens do NOT lactate, although I did see a cooked egg sprout feathers on the sidewalk the other day... and I digress.

Chicken Nipples. Yes, Chicken Nipples. I just can't stop saying it! Ok, what's so great about CHICKEN NIPPLES (last time, sorry...) is that they eliminate the nasty goo and keep the poop, shavings and hens out of their water supply. My parents got fed up with the girls roosting on their waterer and opted for the open bucket which was easier to clean every day - which is what they were doing with the vacuum style. I'll be the first to admit that I'm laaaaaaaazy, and scrubbing a bucket daily was starting to grate on my nerves during a week-long farm-sitting gig.

Chicken Nipples to the rescue! These babies are attached to a water source (pvc pipe, bucket, drum, etc - google for ideas!) and when the bird pecks the nipple a drop of water comes out. Sounds great in theory, so I ordered two styles (screw-in and push-in) from QC Supply Company for under $2 each. Actually, I got 8 nipples and a free pair of gloves shipped for around $16.
Instructions say to use an 11/32" drill bit, and that was fine for the milk jug and the screw-in style, but the push-ins needed a slightly larger hole plus a bit of vegetable oil for lube. It took a whole whopping 10 minutes and I'd made two bucket waterers and a chick drinker. Just drill a hole, insert nipple (I said stop giggling!) and screw or push in with a pair of pliers. These will not work with a sealed unit, so be sure to drill a hole in the lid of the water container. It seems the thin plastic of the milk jug works best with the push-in style, and both types worked well in the 5 gallon bucket. Neither are leaking and both let water flow equally well.

I removed the nasty scuz water in the evening and hung the bucket high enough they would have to stretch for the nipples. Chickens can not swallow, so when its nice and high the water just drips down their throats. In the late morning I checked on them and saw several birds take a drink. Just to be on the safe side I put the open bucket back in for the day and the flock rushed it. #1 I don't think all the ladies had figured the nipples out yet, and #2 - chickens will ALWAYS prefer an open source of water, even a mud puddle or pooped-in scuz. In this instance I"m willing to bypass their preferences for their health...

So now mom's girls will have clean, fresh water for about a week at a time... probably longer but even my lazy butt can handle scrubbing a bucket once a week. One word of caution - do not set the nipples on the ground. Either hang the bucket when you're cleaning or set the edges on something sturdy. My grand idea of using a cat litter bucket with the ridges failed - the ridges are not deep enough to allow the nipples to clear. Sully happily destroyed the rejected container - while I liked the square for ease of hanging in the coop, I preferred the metal hangers of the round buckets. One more bit of advice - a full 5 gallon bucket of water plus hanging hardware will weigh nearly 50lbs - be sure your rope/chain/clips/beams etc are sturdy enough to handle the weight.

Update: After 3 days I stopped putting in the open water bucket in the late morning, having seen most, if not all the hens drink from the nipples (the majority of mom's girls are Barred Rocks - can't tell them apart!). Although I did not see the rooster drink, I was pretty certain he'd be ok. They've been on the bucket for over a week in the middle of July and everyone (and egg production) is fine.