Sunday, January 30, 2011

January 30, 2011

Not much has gone on garden wise over the past few days, so no posts from me.  Looks like no traffic either, which is ok.  All the buzz a few years ago around my potato bins really kept the site hopping. Now it's down to a select few, which is fine since it's less teaching and more diary-like.  If you do come here looking to learn, by all means check out the pages, or my first year. You'll learn TONS!

Anyway, since my last post, just about everything in my initial tray has sprouted, so that tray is under lights in my unheated beadroom upstairs, sitting at 60 degrees.  What didn't germinate is on it's own.  Next time I water up there, any soil block not germinated will be recycled and used for another seed.  That'll show them.  I was quite surprised how BADLY my salad bowl seed germinated.  I put 2 seeds per block and maybe something's sprouted.  That's 8 seeds that didn't work as well as any other lettuce variety.  Sure it's 2008 vintage, but so is some of my others. /shrug

Also since my last post, the vacant spot on the TV was filled by my un-germinated tomatoes.  I've tried a number of things to make them germinate faster.  First off, they're in direct shot of my heat vent, so that helps.  I've got a thermometer to tell temps, and with no help it's in the upper 70s just trying to heat the kitchen.  Of course I first tried out my lamp with a 120 watt bulb to see what kind of heat it'd generate for chickens.  I've heard one way to drop the temp in their brooder is not to raise the light but to lower the wattage bulb.  Anyway, it clearly heated things up a bit.  The temp was 90+ degrees before I knew it, a tad hot for seed germination.  So that light you see is put away until some germinate and I need it with the CFL, a-la make-shift-light-system. 

Everything else that's happened has been chicken related, so bear with my new obsession.  First off, I finally made it through all 142 pages of the brooder thread on Backyard  It reinforced my plan to use an 18-gallon (think SWC) Rubbermaid tote for a brooder for the first month or so.  Then I plan to ask Costco for a watermelon display box for the next month before they move out to the coop.  It's a large octagonal box with 3+ foot high sides, strong enough to hold in hundreds of pounds of watermellon.  Otherwise I'll be forced to use chicken wire and my kiddie pool.  No comparison which is better.

I also spoke to my father-in-law, the carpenter, who used to have chickens before my wife was born (she doesn't remember them).  He is excited to help lighten the coop design to the point that it's portable.  I want to move it either to keep the land from becoming toxic, or to put it under my eve's during the fierce fall/winter storms that could blow it over. 

Lastly, my brother, niece and I took a trip out to the Bothell Feed Center to check out the place, as well as ask some questions about getting chicks there.  Seems they're putting on a raising chicks class on March 6th, so we signed up for that.  I also found out that my plan to get chicks 2 weeks apart is bad for a number of reasons.  One I knew, that the heat schedule of starting at 95 degrees and walking it down 5 degrees each week would be thrown off by introducing chicks that need it at 95 when you're at 90 or 85.  The other I didn't know, that by the second week the pecking order would be in place and the new day-old chicks may very well be murdered by their sisters.  Finally I found out that if you get chicks and then come back for more, bring the original chicks back so they can get accustomed to each other and get the warmth of each other on the ride home.  Go figure.

So, my wife and I (mostly her, YAY!) researched the breeds that would be availalbe one week on either side of when others we wanted came in.  In the end, we decided on the following four breeds; Gold Laced Wyandotte, Welsummer, Barred Rock and Buff Orpington.  Each is a good dual purpose bird so my brother can have the meat when they stop laying, and they're all prolific layers, which meets my primary purpose.  My secondary goal was to have 4 birds that look pretty and distinct.  I am not sure I'd be able to tell them apart from their personality.

Well, that's it for my garden adventure this past week. I hope you enjoyed your garden!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

January 25, 2011

Well, today was kind of odd.  One reason it was like that is due to a nap I took mid-morning.  It was raining and I had nothing better to do, so I gave in to my tiredness.  I did spend an inordinate amount of time on Backyard researching brooders to make sure I could use an 18 gallon Rubbermaid container for the first month or so.  Thankfully it's been successfully used by many others, so I'm safe.  For the next month I hope to get by with the box our new ottoman came in, if my boys don't destroy it "inventing" something first.  Lastly, if necessary I think I'll bring in the surplus kiddie pool and ring it with chicken wire.  I don't have the Super Gate that my kids used as toddlers. That would have been ideal as it was a large octagon and would have made for a nice mobile paddock later.  Maybe I'll find one on Craigslist.

This evening after the kids went down, I headed over to my brother's to get our seeds ordered.  We had a great conversation about seeds, seed starting, newspaper pots vs. soil blocks, chicken breeds, and chicken coops. It was way past his bedtime when we FINALLY got around to thinking to order our seeds.  Unfortunately he was too tired or didn't have his order ready, so the one thing I went over to do didn't get done.  Grrrr.  My fault for being distracted.  I just don't see my brother enough. I did come away with a tentative plan to postpone the purchase of any chicks until late March, early April.  It will mean my chicks are only 2 weeks apart in age, not a month.  I also got him to consider revisions to our coop plans to make it more portable.  The issue was the eventually toxicity of any static chicken run.

Anyway, the one thing I did for my garden today was my wife's idea. Almost all of my Italianshier and Buttercrunch lettuces have sprouted, while none of my Red Sails or Salad bowl have.  Since my light system is set up in an unheated bedroom, it is too cold up there for germination to occur.  That means I must keep the tray in the kitchen until complete germination is done.  I've got a CFL bulb over the plants, but it was about 1 foot above the tips of the plants, not 1 inch like it's supposed to be.  So I was considering raising the tray when I mentioned my problem to my wife.  She said, "why don't you move it to the top of the TV instead."  It is much higher on that side of the stove.  So, I quickly jury rigged a way to "level" the top of the little TV with the cable box on top.  As you can see below, it's not perfectly level in the slightest, but the light is MUCH closer to the plants. I'll just have to take it down to water it.  No biggie.

Sure hope the deliver of my seeds happens fast.  I don't want my tomatoes that far off each other.  Again, it was my fault for being distracted tonight.  There was too much to talk about gardening wise.  You could say I've got the winter gardening itch... do you?

Monday, January 24, 2011

January 24, 2011

Well, today's the day.  My brother had better be done procrastinating with his seed order, because I'm done waiting.  I've got tomatoes to plant!

Speaking of which.  Yesterday was all about the garden and family, as a weekend should be.  I got to spend some quality time with both my boys individually at two different swimming pools in the area, so that was cool.  But I also found some time to plant some tomato seeds.  I went through all my seed packets and determined which of the remaining varieties I wanted to plant. 

As you can see, almost all of the varieties I chose were graciously given to me by gardening buddies over the years.  Some of the seed is from 2008, but I'm hopeful that it will still germinate.  I decided on 5 of may available varieties, not so much for their flavor, because some of them I've never tried because last summer was so crappy for tomatoes.  The number of varieties was based on my existing SWC containers and the upcoming seed order.  I have room for at least 8 plants in my 4 SWCs, unless I use the scrap bins.  After choosing the varieties, I got my trusty seed planting setup ready.  Have you ever noticed that my indoor work space doubles as the lid of my chest freezer, hehe.  Don't tell my wife, I'm not sure she realizes how it gets dirty.

Above you see I've filled five 9-oz. cups with my old compost mix.  Still not sure if it's in the best shape, but I am not sure my compost pile is finished.  Of course my compost is never "finished" like you see in composting videos.  I always have twigs and leaves in it, so what.  I digress.  You also see the popsicle sticks that I use to label each cup.  I also labeled the cups with sticker labels, but as I reuse the non-recyclable cups year after year, it gets pretty confusing.  Also, I can just move the stick from container to container when I pot them up in a few weeks. 

Above are the finished tomato starts.  I went with Black Cherry, ILDI yellow cherry, Bloody Butcher, Gardener's Delight and Sunset Red Horizon.  Notice I am using a Costco salad green container as a holding bin.  That way I can put an inch of water in the tub and let them bottom water.  Also, they won't fall over as easy with the high sides.  I kept these containers, knowing they'd come in handy some day.  Unfortunately the container wouldn't fit on the tray in the kitchen with the rest of my soil blocks, so it went on top of the fridge.

That project done, I had just enough winter sunlight to get outside and do some preliminary prep work for the chickens.  The picture of the area where I want the semi-permanent run was covered in leaves.  I wanted to save the grass for the chicks. I also wanted to use the leaves as a start for this year's compost pile.  So I simply raked them into the open bin. I never touched them with my hands.

As you can see, the area's not that well covered with grass to begin with.  Long ago it was a low spot in my yard.  So when we were taking out sod from someplace else in my yard, I placed it grass down in this area to try to raise it up.  I never went back and reseeded grass here, so it's mostly just crab grass and weeds.  The chickens will love it.

Speaking of chickens, I've been doing more research on them online.  I'm trying to figure out the best way to keep them in my yard.  I really don't want to fence off my tomatoes or my blueberry/strawberry bed, so I am likely going to have to tractor the chickens.  Not quite the free range I was hoping for, but it may only be during the peak growing season.  Not sure yet.  So most of my research last night was on tractors.  I don't think I'll combine the coop with the tractor, but that means more stuff in my yard and buying two sets of water and feed containers.  Not very frugal of me, I know.  See, I'm still working through all this information.

As for the chickens themselves, Fred of over at the Garden Girl's forum made me consider the frugality of heavy breeds.  Apparently they eat a ton compared to the lighter breeds.  He recommended Leghorns for their production yet smaller feed consumption ratio.  That's something more to research.  Maybe it's in Dummies, but I haven't finished it yet.  More reading is in order.

Overall it was a rewarding weekend.  I hope you had a chance to enjoy your garden!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

January 23, 2011

Short post today. LATE night last night out with friends and watching their 1 year old while they went dancing.  That late night was followed by an early morning taking my eldest swimming.  In a few hours I need to be in a pool myself for a birthday party my youngest is attending (they need parents in the water). 

That said, I still plan to get some activities done garden wise.  My brother wants to go to the Bothell feed store to look around and see what they sell in the way of chicken supplies.  I hope to go with him to ask if the day they get chickens is more like a concert ticket line or a trip to the corner store on a Tuesday.  Hehe, should I be there 2 hours before they open the day they get the chicks or whenever is fine.  I also want to see about how much this is really going to cost me.  My brother hopes to get going for about $300.  I could probably swing that.

The other thing I hope to do is to make some more soil blocks and plant a few tomato seeds.  I hope to order my Legend and other tomatoes Monday, but I do have several varieties in the fridge from last year.  Other than that, today is a busy family day.  Gotta love those.

Thanks KitsapFG for the confirmation that hens are on the loud side early in the morning.  Definitely going to be a fun conversation with the neighbors...

Enjoy your garden!

Friday, January 21, 2011

January 21, 2011

Today my youngest was off school (3 day preschool week), and cabin fever had set in.  So despite the rain, he wanted to go outside and run.  I joined him after a bit to make sure he didn't get into trouble, and took care of some "fall" cleanup that didn't get done.  Mostly I cut back dead branches off perennial plants.  I'm still not sure if I want to keep the pineapple sage plant I planted last year.  It grew MUCH bigger than I anticipated and is out of place in my strawberry/blueberry bed.  I may move it or just remove it altogether.  Either way, I started by cutting it back to the ground.  There was no sign of the anisette plant that did so poorly from seed last year. I have more seeds so I can try again, but boy was I disappointed.

Anyway, the real reason I went out there was to look over the likely spot for my chicken coop and primary run.

The coop would go about where that toddler play set is located.  I should get rid of that thing as my 4 year old is too big for it.  I digress... The coop would go against the fence there, and the run would come back towards the camera.  On the left there is a huge rhodie and magnolia tree, with other native ground cover plants surrounding them.  The upside is that there is a dirt covered area surrounding the trees that would partially be within any run.  That would give the birds a dirt area to take dirt baths and a grass area to forage.  I don't care about that grass anyway because I can't get anything good to grow there... too much shade.

On the right side of that area is my spent pear tree and my compost bins.  As you can see, fall/winter storms wrecked my cover.  I should really tidy up, but I'm not sure if I won't use the lumber or corrugated plastic for the coop construction.  Sorry for the mess.  Oh, and I should really rake the leaves into next year's compost pile.  Did I mention I don't care about that grass area? hehe. 

Anyway, having the compost pile right next to the chicken coop has many advantages. One, when I clean the coop I can simply put the soiled bedding into the compost pile.  Droppings need to age about 6 months to not burn plants. Yes, they're that high in nitrogen.  Two, the compost pile could be a great foraging spot for the hens, the piles are teaming with bugs and worms.  Yummers!

Tonight I spent a good deal of time on chicken research.  I read more of my book, found Backyard Chickens dot com and researched free coop materials on craigslist.  Much more work needs to be done, but it's a start.  I also went through all of KitsapFG's chicken posts to see how her experience has been this year with new chickens.  From that I found some great tips, like I shouldn't have got rid of our toddler super gate.  It would have made an excellent portable tractor and teenage pen.  Yet another thing to look into on Craigslist.  I'd say ain't Craigslist wonderful, but so far I've struck out on everything I've looked for.  There's still time though.

In other news, I didn't order my seeds. I'm waiting until Monday when my brother will have his order ready.  I figured I wouldn't gain much shipping time over the weekend and I can't start my tomatoes this weekend anyway, so what's the difference. 

Actually I could start some of my tomatoes early, but I'm not sure I have space for all of them to be babied for months inside.  Just not sure.

Well, that's about it for me.  Enjoy your garden!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

January 20, 2011

It's been freezing rain here almost all day, so nothing much gardening is going on.  My soil blocks are soaking up as much water as I can give them.  That's probably because I used old compost to make them.  Ah well, water's cheap.  Of course nothing's germinated yet, but as soon as they do, I'll break out my trusty clip lamp with a CFL bulb in it.  Sure it's no where near the light spectrum of my 4' lights upstairs, which have a cool and warm bulb to give me the full spectrum, but it works nicely until all the seeds germinate.  Yep, I'm cheap and don't want to spring for a heat mat for my unheated storage room upstairs.  If you're new here, that's where my light system is set up.  Heaven knows where I'll put it when my kids move into the rooms over the garage.  Everywhere out of the way is too cold in the winter.  Ah well, we're a year or two off of that happening.

I'm chomping at the bit to put in my Territorial Seed order.  I've emailed my brother to give him an ultimatum of tomorrow to get his and his boss' order together.  Hehe, I can just see him pressuring his big boss for her order... not.  Oh well, maybe I'll put in a small order by myself.  All I'm ordering is Snow Crown cauliflower (I'm out), Green Wave mustard greens (a trial), then 4 tomatoes; Legend, Siletz, Stupice and Oregon Cherry,  All but the cauliflower is Open Pollinated.  I just really like that variety and since my wife likes it I'm not messing with it, unless I find out Monsanto owns it.

I was going to say that I always let my brasicas (broccoli and cauliflower) go to seed from laziness, or wanting side shoots from the broccoli, so I should get an OP cauliflower.  However, with the prospects of chickens this spring, I'll likely be yanking everything spent and feeding it to the girls.

Speaking of chickens, I'm into Raising Chickens for Dummies (Kimberly Willis and Rob Ludlow) and have actually learned some things from the much more technical book.  One is that hens make noise, possibly enough to make my neighbors complain, especially in the morning when one or all exclaim their egg has been laid.  Not sure my iffy neighbor would do well with that, even if the coop is as far from his place as possible.  He may just poison the chickens like he "may" have done with my 40 year old cedar trees that were blocking his sun.  We've had a strained neighborly friendship ever since that time.

The other thing I've learned is that Polish crested birds lay smallish eggs.  Not sure what I'd do with small eggs, hehe.  We'll see if my wife can be swayed.  Of course we may have to cut that breed if we can't get McMurray Hatchery to bend their 25 bird minimum order rules.  My brother called and got them to agree when he was checking into mail-order hatcheries, but who knows when we go to order.  We may just go to the Bothell Feed store for our birds, looks like they're the closest for supplies too, 15 minutes away.  I looked at their bird availability schedule and they have all but the rare bird I wanted, no surprise there.  However, the birds I want are hatching almost a month apart.  I am not sure I'd want to get them that far apart. 

Well, that's about it for me tonight.  Time to check out my pic storage site and see if I can still remember how to get in, if it's still there, hehe.

Enjoy your garden and thanks for stopping by.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

January 19, 2011

Wow, after midnight and I totally forgot I hadn't posted here. Bad me. Well, here's a post to keep you knowing I'm still jazzed about my garden, my prospects for chickens and of course, my poor neglected blog.

Last night after the kids were asleep, instead of working on the garage or house, I read through some of my favorite blogs (see my side bar).  Low and behold, Laura commented on all the seed starting she'd done. Drat, behind yet again.  I can't START the year behind her and expect her amazing results, can I?  So I break out my kitty-litter-container-seed-starting-kit, aptly named as I have so many of those useful kitty litter containers that I use one to hold year-old dry compost and vermiculite, a bucket to mix in, and my wonderful home made soil block maker (thanks John Best!). 

Seems I needed to get the lead out and plant salad greens and onions.  Well, I only grow green onions, but those would have to do.  I eye-balled some soil and added water to the bucket, then proceeeded to make 24 soil blocks.  In 16 of them, I planted four each of Red Sails, Salad Bowl, Italianshier and Butter Crunch, enough for one square foot each.  I find that's enough for late spring, but I may stagger plant another square foot to make sure we have enough salads in the early spring.  Oh, and of course the last 8 blocks got Guardsman onions, they're about the only green onions I'll eat.  A flat of blocks is now perched on top of my iced tea maker in the kitchen to germinate and my wife is already complaining about the "moldy" smell, hehe.

After that was done, I made sure my Territorial Seed order was ready.  I'm not buying much due to my forced frugality, but what I am buying are the tomatoes Laura convinced me to get.  I've got seed for about half of what I'm planting this year.  So I called my brother to convince him to place our order, we combine shipping.  Well, apparently he was looking at the catalog at work and his big boss asked to see it.  Long story short, he's giving her until Friday to put in her order.  Looks like I'm going to be at least a week late on my tomatoes also.  Just can't catch a break.  Ah well, I'm still much earlier than last year, and it's not like I have a green house like Laura does to transition to the outside before the last frost is over.

Hope you enjoy your garden!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 18, 2011

Well, whatever happened to the site, it appears to be back up and running.  Thanks Judy if you had a hand in it.  Anyway, I've been spending this last week's spare moments reading Raising Chickens for Idiots, by Jerome Belanger.   I've been trying to come up with reasons not to get them, if that makes sense.  I realize they are a ton of work, but I want to make sure I can live with them if I commit.  So far, I've come up with the following negatives excluding cost:

1) The new chicks need 4 weeks of mother henning... 5 times a day check ups to check the heat lamp temperature, sanitation, water and feed supply etc.  Sounds like a full time job, and I really hope to be employed by then.

2) After the first 4-5 weeks, they still need to be inside, but are running around and need more space.  I believe I could set something up in our newly created play room in the unheated garage, but still, it would be a bit of a sacrifice for the family.  Of course, it's ony a month or so before they can go outside.

3) As good for the droppings are for the garden when composted, they are a hot fertilizer and burn grass and plants.  The idea of free ranging them in the back yard could destroy our grass area (read children's play area).  Also, my wife would kill me if I tracked presents into the house.

4) Finally, I likely wouldn't be able to free range them in the strictest sense.  Apparently they love to eat plants, any plants, so my food and ornamental gardens would be at risk.  The solution to that is to tractor them.  I had planned on building a tractor for my beds, but using one all the time was not my intention.  I thought maybe tractoring during the strawberry season, or a temporary chicken wire fence for the blueberry beds.  Permanent fences would be ugly.

As you can see, the more I learn about them, the more questions I have.  I'm still not to the point where I'm abandoning the idea, but I need more research for sure.

I am almost done with Chickens for Idiots.  Then I'll move on to Chickens for Dummies.  My brother said to read them both in that order.  Great information there if you're at all interested in raising chickens, now or in the future.  Pretty much everything I was planning on is what he recommended.  At least I know I'm on the right track and not biting off more than I can chew.  For backyard chickens, 3-4 is the gold standard. I am planning on getting four chicks and hoping at least 3 survive.  

I'm also researching Laura's garden planning schedule to make sure I don't miss seed starting.  You'd think I would know better by now, but I really think she has the timing down for the area.  More about that and the breeds of chickens I'm considering later. 

Enjoy your garden!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

January 9, 2011

First off, Happy New Years all.  My resolution is to stop being so wrapped up in my bubble and share more here.  Of course, getting garden fever doesn't hurt either.  So, let's see how this goes.

What have I been up to over the last year? Well, I've been looking for work.  Anyone need a commercial real estate expert?  hehe.  Of course I haven't been just looking for work.  I've been enjoying my time with my family.  I will never have this kind of time with my boys again, and I'm taking advantage of it.  Essentialy I'm the most active dad on the planet, and enjoying every minute of it. 

I've also been taking care of nagging house projects.  Mostly it's been repairng patched holes in drywall and texturing walls to match.  Our paint all died, so I had to get new.  Thank goodness there is a place in nearby Everett that takes paint and other hazardous chemicals.  My brother and I are taking a trip there next week.  I found tons of old paint cans when we cleaned out the garage.  That project was way overdue. 

About the only thing I've been doing in the garden is harvesting candy carrots (post-freeze carrots that transform starch to sugar) and adding to the compost pile.  The last time I emptied my kitchen compost on the pile, my pitchfork bounced right off the pile.  Boy was it cold. 

Of course what made me finally decide to post here was the arrival of the Territorial Seed Company catalog (sure wish they'd just dump their dealings with Monsanto, who NEEDS Early Girl tomatoes anyway?)  I've been sitting here and flipping pages.  There aren't nearly as many dog ears this spring though.  Not only do I not have as big of need to replace my stores, but the economy is such that I'm not going to grow something that isn't a sure thing.  I need to feed my family.  Have you noticed prices have risen of late, espectially of produce?  Well, we haven't been purchasing as much produce of late, so this garden is our way of getting good nutrition into our kids. 

Some of the things I'm definitely buying from Territorial are some different tomato varities.  I'm afraid my experiement with heirlooms and out-of-state OPs is going away.  I really thing most of the problem was our crappy summers over the past two years, but I just can't invest more time in plants that don't necessarily do well here.  To that end, I'm purchasing Legend (OP-68 days), Stupice (OP-60-65 days), and Siletz (OP-70-75 days).  All of those varieties come highly recommended by Kitsap Freedom Gardener and all are well suited to our short, cool, wet summers.  This year is not expected to be any different. 

Lastly, the secondary reason for my completing so many house projects.  My wife's been kinda annoyed at me that I spend more time thinking/working on our outside than our inside, considering how much time we spend at both.  Well, after my brother told us at Christmas that he was getting chickens this spring, I begged again and my wife caved... sort of.  If I completed her list of projects, I could get chickens.  Well, after seeing her list, I have several issues with it.  For one, with everything on there, there is no way to complete it all before I'd need to make the decision to order chicks (my brother's getting day-olds via mail).  Second, I can't complete many of the tasks myself.  And lastly, once we do all those projects, we won't have enough money to build a coop and take care of the chickens.  She's softening, but defintely isn't sold yet.  I must say I too am having concerns about taking care of three or four new pets, especially when I'd have to get up at the crack of dawn every day to open the coop up to let them out, at least into their caged in area.

Well, that's about it in a nutshell.  Hope you too are getting the itch and scratching it with seed catalogs and web pages.  I really hope to get back into this to post almost daily like I did ages ago.  Let's see who comes back to read my drivel.

Enjoy your garden!