Friday, February 25, 2011

February 24, 2011

Sorry I haven't posted in a while.  Every so often I think I should be posting, but then I realize I have nothing to say.  I'm not like some bloggers that grab an idea from the news or research and expound on it. This blog is solely about my gardening adventures.  Right now, not much adventuring is going on.

Even my spring garden plans seem to be in stasis as snow is falling here in the Seattle area.  Sure it's not much, not much at all, but it's darn cold and anything but spring-like.  For some reason, spring seems like a whole season away, rather than a month or so.

Of course, you wouldn't know it looking at my light system, though it's pretty much on auto-pilot except for watering every few days and moving the lights around if necessary.  And boy has it been necessary.  Here is what my light system looked like a few weeks ago.
And here is what it looked like a few days ago...
Yes, it looks like I could start harvesting lettuce already, and the root systems are actually growing together from one soil block to the next.  If it weren't snowing, I'd be planting these out now.  They may very well go in the ground this weekend under a hoop cover.  Not sure.

Here are the tomatoes that I successfully germinated this year. 
As you can see, there is a real difference in the ages of the various seedlings.  Though I started germinating seeds in my kitchen weeks ago, I have had several failed attempts and replantings have been necessary.  Maybe two of my original 8 actually grew.  And yes, I still have a good handfull of cups on top of the fridge trying like mad to germinate.  Grrr.

That said, I should give a word of caution for anyone that was frustrated like me with poor germination and replanted new seed into the same cups that failed to germinate.  I strongly believe I gave up on a variety and planted another in this next cup, only to have three seedlings germinate eventually.  Now I have no idea which is which.

According to my gardening buddy EG, it is simple to separate out seedlings like this when potting up.  I however have never had luck doing it with tomatoes.  I am not sure if I'll try it or just pick a random seedling to survive. That'll teach me not to remove the top half inch of soil before replanting a different variety.

Lastly, I should mention that my brother may not be getting chickens this year.  As he was my chicken buddy and motivation to take the plunge, I am not certain I will either if he does not.  Of course I would be very disappointed, but I don't think I could do it without him. Silly, I know.  Here's hoping I can convince him to go through with it.

Enjoy your garden!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

February 18, 2011

I was just inspired by KitsapFG's post about her garden area and the pros and cons about it, so instead of immediately responding to her post, I decided to come here and steal the idea and post it here first. Thanks!

Like Laura, I too did not pick my house for it's garden potential, though I do find myself looking at houses that way now, especially those for sale.  Also like my good friend, my house has many pros and cons for gardening, not all real estate related.

  • I had a great southern exposure fenced in area with a large reflective wall at the north end that I wasn't using for anything.
  • I have other areas in my secluded back yard that also have amazing southern exposure, perfect for container gardening.  Some folks, like my brother, have their front yard facing south, forcing them to create neighbor beds.
  • My garden area gets plenty of full sun to grow just about anything this climate will allow... 8-10 hours a day during the growing season.
  • What the wonderful Pacific Northwet doesn't provide us directly in rainfall, I have access in my garden area to a torrent of rain to fill my rain barrels (project still to be completed).
  • If I want to create some neighbor beds, I have access to about a 20'x20' area where I could expand in front.
  • My garden area is severely limited, though maximized at about 150 SF including containers, just over 10% what Laura has to work with.  Even with intensive gardening techniques, I just don't have the space to put up much for the winter.
  • My lot, though sizable at 1/4 acre, is pie shaped with the small tip in the back yard where my garden is, and a great deal of shaded space in the front yard.
  • Though I could technically expand my garden in my back yard, I have 7 and 4 year old boys that need a place to play, and their childhood takes priority over my garden.  The potential for my side front yard to be used by the kids as they grow is why I haven't expanded to that 20x20 area.
  • I too have very tall trees along the property line to the south that block the low winter sun from my garden for most of the day, limiting the potential for year-round gardening, though it hasn't stopped me from trying.
So, just like Laura, my home is not ideal, and I'm constantly drooling over homes in the area with better gardening potential.  However, we bought this house specifically for the size, location, and availability of two identical rooms above the garage for our two kids. I'm not moving until they're out of the house, and maybe never.

So, in keeping with Laura's concept of what makes your garden good or bad, feel free to let me know!  And if you're not a reader of Kitsap Freedom Gardener's blog, it's amazing and beats the pants of mine.

Enjoy your garden!

Friday, February 18, 2011

February 17, 2011

Well, as you can see, I've successfully migrated just about everything over to the new blog site.  I say almost because I have hundreds of comments that were left on my pages that didn't transfer over.  I believe this is because they were hidden on my word press blog due to the theme I was using. 

I'm not sure which blog site I will use going forward, but I wanted to try this one out, so I'm posting here tonight.  I won't go into all the factors I'm weighing, but so far, I'm leaning toward my old site, mainly because I still get hundreds of hits on my potato page that I wouldn't get here.  However, the working spell check is a HUGE bonus here (you know I'm a bad speller if you've read my other blog).

OK, enough about my blog woes, you came here for garden stuff.  All that I can say is I'm having germination issues.  Several of my tomato seeds have failed to germinate, or they're taking their own sweet time.  That said, one of the three mustard seeds I planted has germinated already, which is lightening quick.  I'm pretty certain it's not an old seed left over from the previous failed germination, because it's a little 4-leaf clover and nothing I planted starts that way.  So now one more plant's made the journey upstairs into the light room, where today I added the fan to give it some pseudo-wind to deal with.  Spring is coming along nicely in this house!

Lastly, my brother got let go from his work the other day, so he's up in the air about getting chickens.  I've been out of work so long I just have to go with it, but if he won't, I'm not sure I'd do it solo.  So, maybe chickens will be next year.  I sure hope not.

Enjoy your garden and thanks for following my blog!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

February 12, 2011

Not much in the way of garden topics tonight.  First off, I wanted to let you know to check out my new page, 4) Hoop Covers.  I've been toying with the page for a year or two, and just decided to finish it, especially since I came to the realization the hoops could be used to tractor my chickens in the beds in Fall.  Also, I just realized that this theme does not allow comments on pages.  I've got hundreds of posts nobody can see because the theme won't allow it.  Grrr

Next, I wanted to apologize if you got yet another message that the site's been suspended.  I've tried to contact the site owner, without success.  Since I don't own the site, or pay for it, I have no say.  My wife thinks I should switch to Google, but I see a few problems with that.  I don't have a clue if or how I could save all my posts and transfer them over.  If I couldn't transfer my blog in its entirety, I wouldn't want to move.  Second, I would likely lose all the traffic I get here, which used to be formidable... And a distant last would be learning a whole new set-up.  Ah well, something to think about.

About the only garden activities I've had of late are the occasional sprouting of tomatoes, which go up to the light system.  Boy are these taking a long time to germinate.  One of the latest to germinate was one of the new varieties.  I am worried because it germinated right at the edge of the cup, not in the middle where I planted it.  I'm afraid it won't root well right near the edge and I'll lose it.  I may pot that one up sooner to give it more dirt on that side. 

I also got from my folks a few of their pill bottles so I can try my hand at building a new soil block maker.  Mine works fine, but I kind of wanted the taller one. I get so many stubby soil blocks that I wanted them to start taller.  Just what I need, more projects!  EG I'm not!

On the chicken front, I've finished Chickens for Dummies and am still bumping around Backyard (see sidebar).  In my research, I'm now concerned that the 4x8 ark I'm planning will be too small for 4 chickens.  At 32 SF, that'll hold a maximum of 3 birds, not 4.  I don't want to make it bigger as it would become awkward to move around daily, especially if I wanted to lift it over the fence to have them hang out in the front yard for a change.

Lastly, my wife's Facebook friend has started a blog.  She's a chef and it's mostly a gardening/self sufficiency blog.  And where I got a boost in 2009 from the Seattle Times, she just got one from CNN... in other words, I'm not in her league.  Hehe.

Well, there are several random thoughts, but that's how my mind's going today.

Enjoy your garden!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February 9, 2011

Quick housekeeping issue.  When I fixed the posting issue I opened up so anyone could register.  Since that time I've had a SLEW of folks registering for my blog.  That is awesome, however, I haven't heard from any of you.  I hate to assume that folks are registering for any other reason than to learn about gardening and our adventure in sustainability.  So, I would like to hear from folks that don't post regularly.  Just a quick line or two saying what why you are here or what your garden is like, or how you found me.  Anything really.  I just want to know that I got 30 odd registrations in a few days because folks care about what I'm doing here.  The last thing I want to do is to delete the registrations of anyone or change the settings.

Ok, enough of that. I finally made it over to my father-in-laws to chat about the coop design from a carpentry standpoint.  Gotta love having a Master Carpenter in the family.  Anyway, he was a big help, even if he did keep relating all our fancy coops, brooders and research to his previous experience with chicken raising.  All he did back in the day was let them free range and collect a few eggs a week.  That sure is one way to do it.  What I found out about our design is that it's solidly built and should work well for us.  To make mine lighter I'll use 2x3s instead of 2x4s except for the trex on the bottom to keep it from rotting.  I also found I should use tons of L brackets to firm up the structure so it doesn't torque if and when it's moved.  Speaking of moving, since I don't plan on moving it regularly, we're not going to put wheels on it. Instead we'll just use a hand truck to drag it where it needs to go.  Lastly, he recommended for a natural light source to take the entry door for coop cleaning an feeding and make it out of plexiglass.  That side gets late evening sun so hopefully it won't heat up the place too much.  Oh and of course he offered to help build it... YAY!

I finally got digital copies of my coop design so I thought I'd upload them here.  Feel free to comment on them, though I warn you, they've been altered a bit, especially in the roof design.


The new roof design will be a slant shed-type roof to reduce the weight.  No trusses.  Oh and of course aside from the bottom 2x4, the rest will be 2x3s now.  Also at the roofline will be a 6 inch gap in the plywood wall to allow for ventilation.  I hope that adding louver vents in the back side will create appropriate air flow rather than that dreaded draft!

Let's see, what else.  The chicken wire is going to be welded wire or the like to keep out predators.  We've got a bad raccoon problem, and that'll keep them and anything else, out.

As you can see by the last pic, we'll have 2 nesting boxes and an electrical hook-up.  It'll be one that requires an extension cord to power the outlets on the inside.

Enjoy your garden!

Monday, February 7, 2011

February 7, 2011

Well, let me start by saying that KitsapFG wasn't entirely right when she said my comments would pick up after I fixed the comment problem...  Either that or I'm losing my touch to get folks to disagree with me... hehe.

Anyway, I've been doing nothing garden wise since my last post.  Well, that's not entirely true. I have been mother henning my tomato seeds in the kitchen, trying to force them to germinate.  I've been alternating them from one side of the stove to the other in the hopes of providing them the optimum germination environment.  On one side there's the direct air from the heat vent to warm the soil, but I can't use the lamp there because it causes too much heat.  The other side gets no benefit from the heat, but the lamp with an incandecent bulb generates too much heat also. 

In general I'm finding that the fluffy seedling mix I used for my latest plantings of more Legend, Stupice and Stiletz tomato seeds dries out very fast, at least on top where the seed is sitting.  What that means is I am regularly spraying the cups with water.  It's insane the amount of energy I'm putting into these seeds.  Boy I need a job, and not just for the benefits...

On the chicken front, this evening I had a good chat with my brother who's the cause of my chicken obsession.  We worked through several issues in about 30 minutes, some I didn't even know I had!  I hate to say that I called my dumb brother a genius on more than one occasion tonight (I always say he's the dumb one because I did far better in school than he, hehe inside joke).

We were tentatively planning on two separate chicken doors in our small coops.  One would lead down into the mini-run below the coop, the other would lead out to the yard where I could deposit them directly into my ark.  We decided to change the gate for the mini-run from the 6 foot side to the 3 foot side.  Hopefully I have the space to place the ark on the side of the coop and then let them just come out into the ark.  However, as I type I find one problem with that. If they don't want to come, I can't very well reach in 6 feet to get them... something to consider.  Gotta love designing your own coop.

Now for the reason I called him a genius.  He totally changed my mind about the type of ark I would build.  My plan was to build a hoop-house type ark our of PVC, though mine would be adjustable in length to fit on any of my garden beds during the fall to let the hens till and fertilize my soil for the next year.  I worked hard to design a way to make that work using different sized pipe for the bottom supports such that they could slide into one another to change the lenght of the run.

The genius part was when he made me realize that I didn't NEED an ark for my garden beds.  I already have one!  I was going to put a hoop house covered in bird netting into my beds.  I already HAVE hoop houses for all my beds.  All I need to do to make them chicken friendly is to replace the 4-mil plastic for bird netting and presto, instant chicken ark!  Brilliant. I can't believe in all my pondering I didn't think of that until tonight.  My excuse is that I was spending so much time learning to care for the hens and building my coop from scratch that I hadn't spent much time on the ark.

So instead, both my brother and I are going to build light-weight triangular arks, similar to the ones with plans for sale on the net.  Ours will be simple 2x2 frame construction with light 1/4" plywood on 1/3 of the ark for rain cover and maybe a nesting box, though I do like my idea to use my cat carrier as a portalbe nesting box. 

As you can see, nothing is in stone yet, but we are rapidly approaching the time to build our coops (he wants them built before the arrival of the day-old chicks).  Decisions are going to have to be made soon, and I need to get over to see my father-in-law for his take on lightening the coop to make it more mobile.

Fun stuff! Enjoy your garden!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

February 3, 2011

Well, I owe KitsapFG a word of thanks for making me figure out why I wasn't getting comments.  Seems you had to be registered, but you couldn't register yourself.  Double whammy.  How those boxes got checked I have no idea, but it's fixed now, so I welcome your coments!

Today was all about tomatoes.  In the end, out of the five cups I started with two seeds each, only three germinated anything.  I even dug around a bit to try to find a deep seed or something and found nothing but dirt.  Yuck, especially since one of the cups I'm out of seed for that variety.  No biggie, it allowed me to plant another cup of each of my new varieties.  I had already decided to plant tomatoes in one of my scrap SWCs, so I had two more plants to start. 

In digging around the cup, I found the dirt had settled a bit and was firmly packed, not very conducive toward roots forming.  So in when I replanted the failed germinating cups, I dumped out the compost mixture and added a bit more vermiculite to lighten it up.  I also added my mix of bloodmeal and 10-10-10ish tomato fertilizer.  Can't hurt I guess.  I didn't add much.

So, now that two of the cups have moved upstairs under lights, I filled their spots in the kitchen with two more cups.  One more is germinating, so once it stops being curled up and spreads it dew leaves, I'll move that up too.

Lastly, part of me wants to go upstairs and steal one of the ungerminated soil blocks and plant Green Wave mustard greens in it and start it germinating in the kitchen.  Unfortunately I have no idea when to plant that out.  Is it like lettuce, or something else?  First time growing for me.  All it says on Territorial's site is soil temps for germination, but since I'm starting it indoors it doesn't matter what that says.

On the chicken front, I'm just trying to work my way through Raising Chickens for Dummies... boy is that a comprehensive book compared to Idiots.  I'm so glad my brother had me read Idiots first.  Speaking of my brother, I may as well share our friendly debate that we've been having over flock management.  Specifically, what to feed the hens.  We agree on using starter feed for the first part, but when they reach maturity, I plan on using commercially produced feed that's balanced nutritionally for layers, supplementing with kitchen scraps and scratch.  My brother's gone to his local independent grocery store where he shops and spoke to the produce manager.  Seems they have about 10% loss for their produce.  That's stuff they can't even give away to food banks. Apparently the manager feeds it to his pigs, but said my brother could have some for his chickens, so my brother intends to go about 50/50 with feed and scraps.  Chapter 8 in Dummies makes quite the compelling argument against trying to manually get the right balance of protien, carbs and the like for your chickens.  Not only is it hard to do yourself, but the consequences for failing could be malnutrition, leading to poor egg production and even mortality.  That's just not a risk I'm willing to take.

Of course, that's just my brother for you.  He's trying to make it so his coop costs him as little as possible, using free materials whenever he can, and he hopes not to spend any money on caring for them either.  He even talked to a few mills or whatever, that generate wood chip waste.  About the best I plan on doing is talking to the arborist down the street.   He always has logs he's chopping up for firewood.  I'm pretty sure he still has a garbage can full of chain-saw dust.  A few years ago I made the mistake of putting a wheel barrow full of those wood chips into my compost pile.  They didn't break down for a year!.  I bet they'd make good bedding for my hens.  Something to consider.  I'm sure he'd be willing to part with as much as I wanted for a dozen eggs every once in a while.

Speaking of giving eggs to neighbors, I finally caught my former farmer neighbor today and spoke about getting chickens.  He was very cool with it, as I knew he would be.  He even told me that once upon a time, he could get a catch a chicken and put it in a pot for supper in 7 minutes flat.  I can't imagine doing everything it takes to cull and prepare a chicken for cooking in 7 hours let alone minutes.  Gotta love old farmers.  Now I just have to convince my other neighbor to not report me for noise violations every time they peep.

Well, that's enough for me.  Take care and enjoy your garden!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February 1, 2011

Not sure how to start this blog post tonight, but I guess I'll start with something that made me mad.  A Facebook "friend" posted a story today about three giant organic food retailers (Whole Foods is the only one I recognized) all caved to Monsanto and met with them to start selling GMO produce in their stores.  I know we can't get away from the THOUSANDS of products made from Corn #2, their biggest crop, but I do my darnedest to stay away from anything I can that they've touched or profited off of.  It's just sickening that they have that much sway in the retail world.

Anyway, on the homefront, I finally got tomato sprouts!  It sure took long enough.  Maybe I should consider using our regular heating pad on low under my germinating seed flats.  I fear they'll be too hot and dangerous, but can't afford the proper heat mats.  So, I've got some sprouts (two to be precise). I personally think I shamed them into sprouting since they think I planted up their replacements last night.  I really planted the Legend, Stiletz and Stupice I got from Territorial yesterday. 

Speaking of my order, I'm not sure when to plant my Green Wave Mustard greens.  From the Territorial site I see I should plant one or two per SF, which is fine since I want to try them out.  The 2 foot tall plants though scare me. I think I'll harvest them early to keep them young and salad-worthy.

Lastly, I've been tinkering with my seed germination spots.  You may recall I put my tomatoes on top of the TV, under lights and under my heat vent. 

Unfortunately that was generating temps in the 90 degree range.  Too hot for seed germination. So I turned off the light. No problem.  Ah, 75 degrees, perfect!  WELLLL, then two seeds germinated today and need the light.  Even with a CFL bulb in the fixture, it's too hot (80ish). I don't want the plants getting the wrong idea that it's 80 here when it's 40.  But I need light, so I had no alternative but to move the setup to the other side of the stove.  Unfortunately that means the light is about a foot above the bin.

It's either too hot or leggy plants.  Joy.  Well actually, the solution is tomorrow when the seedling actually creates it's first leaves, those two plants go upstairs under the grow lights.  I could use the room anyway.  Maybe I'll replace them with a few more of my new varieties.  I have SWC scraps that I can put more tomatoes in.  Not sure.

Anyway, on the chicken front, I've got conflicting information from the Bothell Feed Center.  The woman who helped us when we went there Sunday made it clear that we should get chicks within a week of each other, and to bring the initial chicks back with us when buying new ones.  Everything she said made sense.  So after my wife and I changed our breed preference based on the arrival times, I emailed the Bothell Feed Center to ask which of my options was best.

1) Buy 2 chicks on day, bring them back the next, get one more, then bring them ALL back a week later to pick up the last chick, all with less than week old chicks. There's no way for me to keep 95 degree temps during the 13-mile round-trip car ride.

2) Possibly wait until the day the third breed comes in and buy three birds at once, assuming the other two breeds are still available.  I would hate to substitute breeds yet again, so I was hesitant with this plan.

3) The final option would be to drop the third breed arriving the day after the first two, in favor of a similar looking breed arriving the same day as the fourth, cutting out a trip to the store.

I must say, I got a response early the next morning from the store manager.  He contradicted the other employee. He said he has added chicks up to 4 weeks apart (how he handled the temperature swing in the brooder I have no idea).  He also said it would be best to leave the nice warm chicks at home when I go back for the others.  Total contradiction!  Anyway, I'm going with his advice. I'm going to get the ones I want and leave the chicks at home when I go.  I do think I'll skip the Rhode Island Red in favor of the Barred Rock for the simple reason that SOME RIRs can be mean.  I am not worried about that as I plan to handle the birds often, and my wife is excited to as well (kids always want to play with them).  They'll be friendly for sure!

Make sense? No, well no problem. It's just my new obsession creeping into my blog.  Thanks for being patient with me.

Enjoy your garden!