Friday, January 31, 2014

watching how the snow thaws

snowy raised beds I like to watch how the snow thaws. It melts away from the edges of the raised beds in my community plot where the sun hits and warms the soil. My plot, with its raised beds, melts faster than plots with flat ground. I'm also in a location that's just a little bit sloped and facing south. The flat plots at the base of the small slope always take longer to thaw.

And I've been watching the snow melt on the spot where I'd like to put my new home garden. There is a very slight slope there too, facing south. Also tall trees all around the open yard. The snow melts fastest at the top of the slope, which is right along the south facing tree line. I'll put my garden in this spot.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

four eggs so far

Both Ginger and Penny laid another egg today. Omelets on the menu here for the weekend. I'm looking forward to comparing the fresh eggs to store bought eggs. I've been told they are much better.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

another egg

first two eggs My second egg! This one is medium brown with a few dark speckles. Penny, my Black Australorp, is the one who lays that color egg. Yeah Penny! Penny's first egg is a quite a bit bigger than Ginger's first egg yesterday. Both eggs are probably a size that would be called "peewee".

Monday, January 27, 2014

an egg!!! an egg!!!

129 - Copy An egg, an egg!!! I am so excited! My chickens have laid their first egg.

I was busy all day today and, for the first time, didn't get out to the coop until very late. It was about 7 pm and dark, but the coop light was still on. The hens muttered as I came up, something about "where have you been" and "why didn't you bring us our leftovers this morning" or maybe it was more like "we're really glad to see you".

Anyway, they clucked and baaked and I did the usual check of the coop and THERE IT WAS! I've looked for an egg at least once a day since the end of November. I hardly knew what I was seeing.

Its a pale blueish-greenish egg - that would be one of Ginger's. She's an Araucana chicken. My brown hen. (My other two hens will eventually lay brown eggs.) Its a lot smaller than the extra-large store-bought eggs I had in the fridge.

I found the egg lying in the middle of the hen house, almost buried in the extra deep layer of fresh wood shavings and hay I put down a couple days ago. I'll have to tell Ginger she's supposed to lay in one of the nesting boxes. That's OK, I can work on explaining that to her now that she's an official "laying hen"!

I'll make sure to bring all the hens a special breakfast tomorrow!

draft 2 of my new 2014 garden

Microsoft PowerPoint - 2014 Garden diagram v2.pptx This is my plan for my big new garden in my backyard!

Lots of room for tomatoes - I'm looking forward to canning enough the last the winter next year. Same with potatoes - I'll have enough room to grow baskets of potatoes for storage all winter. Lots of room for greens, spinach, lettuce, mustards, arugula, and bok choy. Room for green beans, soy beans and shell beans. Even space for cutting flowers, mostly zinnias and small sunflowers, I think.

Since I planted my garlic in my community garden plot last fall, I'll keep that garden too this year. My espaliered pears are there. This fall I'll move them to my backyard. I've planned to put crops that need less attention in my community plot. (I'm also the Garden Coordinator for at least another year, so I'd like to spend time there to keep up with how things are going.)

So I'll be busy in the garden this year!!! What fun. Microsoft PowerPoint - 2014 Garden diagram v3.pptx

Sunday, January 26, 2014

plant shelves are up!

plant shelves Today I assembled the lights for my seedling shelves. I searched and found the light holders in the shed, hung them on the shelves and added 4 new plant lights. To start the process, I put my little sweet potato sprouts on one of the shelves. My first sowing should be mid-February - 2 more weeks - when I plant my onion seeds. Don't know if I'll be able to wait that long....
Copy of 042 plant light bulbs 044

Saturday, January 25, 2014

january larder

2014 January larder 067 I have a pretty minimal larder this year. Mostly because I spent more time cleaning the house and seeding the grass so we could sell our house last summer. The good news is - we have a beautiful new home. And the bad news - I have to go to the grocery store a lot more than I'd like.

I have a good supply of garlic - I got that crop in the ground before we started the home-selling stuff. Its really nice, with big cloves and holding fine (even though we don't have a cool place to store it - that's another story: our new house doesn't have a basement yet. We'll build one this spring.)

I also have a couple nice shallots left. (I grew shallots for the first time last year and was really pleased with these. I'll grow them again this year.) I have a lot of dried chilis. I grow a cayenne and a Thai hot chili every year. These thin-walled chilis air dry easily on a plate my counter top. I also have a couple bags of dried herbs. These are plants I cropped short when we left our old house. I have dill, sage and oregano.

And I have a little bowlful of dried beans. I tried to grow crops of Jacobs Cattle beans and black turtle beans, but only ended few of the former. And, then I grew Fortex green beans, but didn't harvest them in time so they matured and dried. So I have a fairly unattractive and very small bowl of dried beans. Nevertheless, I'm saving them and looking forward to a special chili meal. 2014 January larder 058 2014 January larder 049 I do have great plans for next year's larder (“A garden is never so good as it will be next year" - Thomas Cooper ). I am hoping for shelves full of canned fruits, tomatoes, pickles, dried chilis and herbs, baskets full of potatoes, sweet potatoes, squashes and dried beans, a fridge full of beets, cabbages and carrots, and maybe even a freezer with pesto and roasted peppers. OK, a few winter radishes too for my martinis....

Sunday, January 19, 2014

chickens don't like the snow - but Suzie LOVES it

winter chickens Our snow had disappeared for a week or so and my chickens were really pleased. They wandered all around the yard foraging and just generally enjoying the January thaw. But yesterday we got a couple inches of snow and now they won't come out. They are hanging out in the coop and complaining.....

(you'd think they could at least lay eggs while they're in there - no eggs yet)
winter chickens in the coop Its the opposite with Suzie. She can't get enough of the snow. She brought her chewie out and enjoyed a good chew in the snow this afternoon. suzie in the snow suzie with chewie  in the snow Suzie is 7 months old now. She a slim, long legged Portuguese water dog pup and sweet as can be. She doesn't like to stay still and does a really good job of keeping Skippy (who's 8 years old now) on his toes.

American robin in the snow

winter robin

Saturday, January 18, 2014

snow on my future garden

backyard view 1-18-2014 That clearing in the center is where my new garden will be. I can imagine a rows of vegetables, a large bed of tomato plants, lots of potatoes, roses climbing on an arch, all sorts of greens ....

Thursday, January 16, 2014


A red fox walked through my backyard today not 20 feet from the window where I was. It was heading toward the chicken coop. I wish I'd gotten a picture as it was a beautiful animal, but I jumped up and ran yelling "Stay away from my chickens!"

Now that the local wildlife has found my hens, I'm wondering now if I should add that layer of chicken wire I'd been meaning to add at the base of the run to protect against digging predators.

The main predator of chickens that I've heard of around here is hawks. Red tailed hawks are big, but I don't know if one could fly off with a chicken. A friend of mine had a hawk get into her run's open door this winter and drag off a chicken. (I'll have to ask her if it was a full sized hen or a bantam.) I don't think it flew off with the hen, but was able to drag her out of the coop. It did not end well for the chicken.

I was looking up how long it takes for chickens to reach their full size. My hens are 6 months old now. What I found is that chickens grow for about 18 months. So I guess my girls have more growing to do. Ginger and Penny will eventually be 5-6 lbs and Bertha 10-12 lbs, if I can keep them safe....

Usually when I let my hens out of the coop, I stay and guard them. Last fall I would rake nearby. Now, I mostly just stand and watch. I wonder if I could train the dogs to guard them? Suzie and Skippy are good about being out with the chickens, even without me around. Silly Suzie usually joins the chickens in their foraging as she loves the sunflower seed I scatter. Skippy and I watch and shake our heads at her.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Sunday, January 05, 2014

BTW, no eggs yet...

more birds at my feeder

song sparrow 085 house sparrow downy woodpecker 089 mourning dove 075 chickadee 030 I took pictures of a few more birds at my backyard feeders today. A song sparrow, house sparrow, downy woodpecker, mourning dove and a chickadee. Added to the 11 species I saw yesterday, that's 15 total.

I think that's almost all of the birds I commonly see here at my new house in Lincoln MA. Other common ones that I didn't see this weekend are American robins and white-throated sparrows, though I suppose neither of these are feeder birds. I did see a big red-tailed hawk hunting in the yard - also fortunately not a feeder bird.

My mom saw a pair of bluebirds at her feeder not so far from me this weekend. I am very jealous and am watching for flashes of blue.

fruit tree planning

fruit tree planning 1 fruit tree planning 2 fruit tree planning 3 I'm working on deciding how many fruit trees I'll have room for and what varieties to get. I'd like to get a peach, a pie cherry and several apple trees.

Along with the peach and the cherry, I think I'll have room for 3-5 apple trees. I don't know whether to plant dwarfs, so I can spray, pick and prune them without a ladder, or semi-dwarfs, which I think are hardier, longer-lived and produce more fruit.

From my quick measuring of the space, it looks like I have room for either 5 dwarf apples or 2 semi-dwarfs and 1 dwarf.

For varieties, I'm thinking a good mix might be: Honeycrisp (high flavor eating and storage apple), Liberty (mild flavor apple for eating fresh) and Grimes Golden (a high flavor all purpose apple fresh eating, good storage and pies). A friend of my mom's has Liberty, Anoka, Macoun and Northern Spy trees and she likes the Liberty best. I grew Fuji a few years back and it was so-so, never seemed to ripen fully. I LOVE Honeycrisp for eating and definitely want to grow this variety. Grime's Golden is supposed to be one of the best pie and sauce varieties.

Friday, January 03, 2014

birds at the feeders after the blizzard

titmouse 038 nuthatch 052 house or purple finch 042 red bellied woodpecker 069 goldfinch 054 chipping sparrow 058 carolina wren 024 blue jay 068 birds 044 squirrel 078 junco 023 cardinal 047 I filled the feeders this morning and the birds went crazy! I've never seen so much action and so many different types of birds. We got about 10 inches of snow in the blizzard that came through yesterday and last night. Less than the 2+ feet some areas near us got. But the birds here were hungry!

I counted 11 different types of birds: blue jay, Northern cardinal, Carolina wren, black-capped chickadee, chipping sparrow, American goldfinch, house finch (or purple finch?), slate-colored junco (also called dark-eyed junco), white-breasted nuthatch, red bellied woodpecker, and tufted titmouse. Plus a nice little Eastern grey squirrel.

so cold!!!

thermometer 008 Our temperature went down to -6.5*F last night. Ouch!! I had the ceramic heater going in the chicken coop and the small monitor shows their temp: 13.5*F. The girls were no worse for the wear, but we had a pipe freeze in the house. So far it seems the pipe did not burst, but we are cautiously watching as it thaws. I can't remember ever seeing the temperature this low in this area before. Brrrr!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

sorting seeds

seed packs 2 There's a blizzard outside today - a good day to sort seeds.

I got out my seed basket, sorted the packets by type, and then selected the ones I want to plant this year. I've accumulated so many seeds that I really don't need to buy any this year. I'll get some new carrot, beet and summer squash seeds. Also some broccoli and zinnias. But mostly I'll try to use up the old seeds and not buy more - easier said than done....

I'm thinking I'll plant a section of garden for the chickens to forage in and direct sow my old greens seeds at 2 week intervals. (I read about doing this in the Territorial catalog last night.) I must have 50 packets of lettuce, escarole, etc seeds.

I checked the seed planting calendar at the link on my sidebar then sorted out the seeds that get planted at the same time. I wrapped these together in a rubberband labeled with the date for planting. Im almost ready to go! In the middle of February, I'll start planting (11 weeks before my last frost) - the onions and celeriac go in first. I have a month to get my seed shelf and lights set up.

sweet potato sprouts

sprouting sweet potato 1 About 5 or 6 of my little sweet potatoes have sprouted now. They're in a pan with a little moisture, partially covered with plastic, in a warm spot.

sprouting sweet potatoes 2 sprouting sweet potatoes 1