by Matt on July 18, 2014
It’s been a busy week down on the Ashram.
The break between spring planting and summer harvesting is quickly coming to a close. Cucumbers are ready to be pickled, leeks are ready to be fried, celery is ready to frozen, tomatoes are almost ready to processed, and the sweet corn is almost ready to be enjoyed.
We spent a good chunk of this last week cleaning up the yard and garden. We have had beautiful, almost fall-like, weather which was perfect for mowing and trimming the lawns and paths. Some of the corners had grown some fairly tall weeds, so it was good to knock those down with the weed eater. I also took the time to tie up the first year grape vines to encourage their upward growth.
This has been a horrible year for Septoria Leaf Spot on our tomatoes. I usually try to run a garden totally free of all sprays and fungicides. That was not going to work this year if I wanted to have any sort of tomato crop. I have been spraying the tomatoes with two organic fungicides. The first is a microbial fungicide called Serenade. The second is a generic organic copper fungicide. The cool temperatures and low humidity of the last week seem to have also helped control the Septoria, so I hope to have a good, but not great, tomato crop.
I think the lesson for next year is to utilize some resistant hybrid varieties of tomatoes to help slow the spread of disease, rather than grow all heirloom tomatoes.
We finished harvesting the winter wheat crop. It was our first year with winter wheat, so the harvest involved a bit of trial and error. We tried pulling the wheat by hand, tried to cut the wheat with a corn knife, tried to use the weed eater (an epic failure), and tried hand clippers. Ultimately we used a hedge-trimmer to give the wheat field a haircut. We bundled several sheaves, but must of the wheat went into a giant tub to dry. We need to thresh the wheat over the next few weeks. That seems likely to be another adventure in experimentation.
After the wheat harvest, I took the flame weeder to the weeds left in the wheat field. I intend to till the field this weekend and plant our summer barley crop.
Looking forward, there are a number of things we need to get done in the next week:
- Pickle our first batch of cucumbers.
- Order more organic fungicide.
- Install grape support wires on the trellis.
- Plant the barley.
- Harvest the carrot crop.
- Prepare for canning season (jars, pots, food mill, etc.).
- Weed and mound potatoes.
- Clean the front and back porches.
- Catchup on dishes and laundry.
On a final note, our outdoor cats, Joey and Emily, died last fall and this spring respectively. They were both great cats and will be missed. In their absence the bird, squirrel, and rabbit populations have exploded. So we now have two new farmhands in training. Shadow and Ghost are going to be great hunters…someday.
by Matt on November 6, 2013
It’s been a busy week down on the Ashram. Construction of the lotus pond has been put on hold as we worked on finishing up our fall winterization projects. The raised beds have been placed in the new front yard garden. These beds will take the place of our corn field next year. I spent five hours this last Sunday filling them with goat muck/compost and they are read to be topped off with 3-4 inches of dirt.
The wheat field has been planted. This is our first experience with winter wheat and I already see a few sprouts. I am hoping to be able to alternate wheat and barley in the small front field and so get two grain crops each year. We planted our wheat little late, October 20. I am hoping there are enough growing degree days to get a good root system established before our first hard freeze. There is a stretch of warm weather predicted for the next week, so luck may be on our side.
Jen and I spent just under four hours last Saturday mucking out the goat pen. We cleaned out all of the old straw and manure. Partly because of the wet conditions last spring, a good portion of the bottom layer had already fully composted. The goats have been set up with a new row of straw bales around the perimeter of their pen, this will act as insulation and a wind block. We also put straw down on half the pen to give them a warm place to sleep. After that we wrapped the pen in 8 mil plastic sheeting to keep out drafts. Last year we had a problem with the goats eating down the plastic in the corners. We are trying a couple new wrapping techniques this year to see if anything will discourage them from a repeat plastic meal.
This week at work someone was trying to find a home for their daughter’s two yearling ducks. Jen volunteered a home for them and so they have joined our flock in the back yard. They appear to be a boy and a girl. Hopefully they get along with our boy and two girls already in the poultry run.
Looking forward there are a number of things we need to get done before our first hard freeze:
• Clear out the dead vegetation from the terrace garden
• Wrap and winterize the bee hive
• Dig and set the posts for the grape arbor
• Plant the garlic patch
• Fill the garden beds with dirt
• Mulch some leaves and cover the flower/blueberry beds
• Clean the front yard and hang the Christmas lights
• Install the back dividing fence
• Clean up the back yard
• Finish the lotus pond
So much to do, but soon it will be cold, dark, and snowy; so better to get it done now.
by Matt on July 31, 2013
It was a hot and humid evening, the sun was just beginning to set and the temperature was still about 85 degrees. I was watering the goats and putting the chickens in for the night when I decided to walk back and check on the bees.
Our bees are located at the far end of the back yard, away from all the places that we (and the animals) usually spend our time. The hive box is on a stand of bricks about two feet from the back fence. The entrance faces a six foot. This location forces the bees to immediately elevate and spend most of their time above the heads of any people who may be nearby.
As I approached the hive I could hear them buzzing, which is not unusual for a hot day. However, when I got around the box, I was startled by what I saw. The front of the hive was covered with bees. These pictures are from a bit later and do not truly do justice to the layer of bees on the front of the box.
I was instantly worried that the bees were trying to swarm. Swarming occurs when the bees decide to leave their current hive and find a new hive. The bees will congregate for a few days while scout bees locate a new hive space; then the bees will leave and populate the new hive. In some cases when bees swarm the entire hive leaves, in other cases the current queen only takes a portion of the hive and leaves the old hive to workers who must then generate a new queen. Generally swarming is damaging for a hive, particular as my hive is not particularly populous right now.
However, after studying the bees for several minutes, I realized the bees were not getting ready to swarm. Rather, the bees were engaged in a behavior called “Bearding”.
Bees use their wings to circulate air into and around their hive, thereby regulating the hive temperature. In the summer the bees typically circulate air in the hive in such a way that cool air is drawn into the hive and hot air is blown out. On cool fall or spring days, the bees will circulate the air to keep warm air in the hive and cool air outside. In the winter the bees will not use their wings to circulate air, but will rather bunch together and vibrate, thereby generating heat.
“Bearding” is an outgrowth of this behavior. Bearding occurs when bees need to draw so much air into their hive that a large portion of bees need to be stationed outside the hive in order to push cool air inside the hive. The bees who are outside tend to be older bees as they are exposed to predators and it is less harmful to the hive for the older bees to be eaten.
Of all the animals I have worked with, I think I enjoy the bees the most. They are relatively self-sufficient and there is always something new to learn.
by Matt on July 17, 2013
When we got home from our vacation late last week, the first thing I did was check the garden. Everything appeared to be going well (although, the sweet corn seems to be tasseling a little early) and I picked about four pounds of cucumbers.
That means it’s time to make dill pickles!
I sliced the cucumbers into slices about a quarter inch thick. In the past, I have tried spears, but they have never really worked out as well as the slices. All of these slices were dumped into a non-aluminum pot of water with one cup of pickling lime. The lime makes the water very white and you need to be careful not to get the lime water in your eyes or on your clothes as it is a strong base. I put a glass lid over the pickles to hold them under the water and let them soak overnight. The pickling lime keeps the cucumbers crisp and helps them stay firm throughout the canning process.
The next day I drained the soaking cucumbers; the water had turned a greenish-yellow. Again, it is important to be careful with the waste water as it is corrosive. I rinsed the cucumber slices three times and then let them sit for an hour or so in ice water, they can sit for longer if needed or desired; the ice water is to help them finish firming.
I added water, vinegar, and pickling salt (not table salt) to a pan in proportions of 3 cups water to 4 cups vinegar to 1 Tablespoon salt. The proportions can be changed based on personal taste. I then set the pot to boil. At the same time, I started the heat on a large canning pot in which I would later finish the jars of pickles.
I peeled the garlic and added one sliced clove to each pint jar. Then I added one stem of dill to each pint. I put the clean cucumber slices in a big bowl and transported them over to my canning area.
I put the cucumbers in the jars, shaking the jars to pack the cucumbers as tightly as possible. I have yet to have a jar that was packed too tightly.
Then I poured the boiling vinegar solution over the cucumbers using a funnel. I was careful not to fill the jar beyond the bottom of the neck; if you fill the jar too full, the lid will bubble and the jar will not seal. Finally, I popped the lids on and put the finished jars into the canning pot to seal and sterilize. Pint jars boil for ten minutes and quart jars boil for fifteen minutes.
The pickling process uses an acid (in this case vinegar) to prevent anaerobic bacteria, such as the bacteria that results in botulism, from developing inside the jar. Sealing the jars prevents the growth of aerobic bacteria. If you are canning something that is not acidic, be sure to can in a pressure cooker.
This first batch of cucumbers resulted in two and a half gallons of pickles. They need to sit for about a month before they will gain their full flavor.
by Matt on July 3, 2013
Saturday evening was wonderful radish picking weather. Here is our radish patch. It’s about two square feet, and as you can see quite crowded. The crowding is because we got too busy with all our other spring planting and never got around to thinning out the radishes.
The short grow time required for radishes makes them a really fun crop. It takes about 6 days for the seeds to germinate and then about 25 days of grow time until harvest. This means, if we really stayed on top of the radishes, we could get 4-5 harvests in a growing season. Realistically we can usually get about 3 radish harvests.
Radishes are also really nice because, with the exception of thinning them out, they require very little maintenance. Unfortunately, because we never thinned them, most of our radishes are long thin roots, rather than nice fleshy bulbs.
Harvesting radishes is pretty simple: just grasp the plant where the leaves meet the root and gently pull. It helps if the soil is a slightly damp.
I took the whole bunch inside, washed them, and cut off the leaves and roots. Then stored them in a small tub of sugar water. I prefer short term storage in water to keep them moist. You can also use salt water, dry storage, or canning to save them for later. I have never tried to freeze radishes, but suspect they would hold up well.
Even though I didn’t get to eat very many radishes, the chickens had a wonderful time eating the greens.
We will probably plant again after the July 4th holiday. With the busyness of spring planting behind us, we should be able to thin this crop out and have a much more productful harvest.
by Matt on June 24, 2013
With the spring planting mostly behind us, it’s time to catch up on all those random projects that need to be done around the homestead. There is a lot of cleaning, pickup, and general maintenance that needs to be done; but this weekend I had a small project I wanted to get done before we had some visitors over on Saturday afternoon.
In our front orchard area there is a maple tree that I have wanted to create a bed around for some time. The plan for this bed is to plant garlic, asparagus, and maybe a fenw other plants and vegetables if the mood strikes.
As you can see, the grass goes right up to the trunk. The first step was gathering the tools I was going to need: shovel, pitchfork, rake, wheelbarrow, ad bricks.
A few years ago Jen had picked up about 100 bricks off of the local free-cycle board. I hauled 34 over to the tree and began placing them on the ground. I wrapped a string around the tree and set a pair of bricks at about 40 inches from the trunk in all four directions. Then I began to fill in bricks trying to make a circle. It took a couple trips around to get the shape right. I ended up using 31 bricks.
I put cardboard down to help kill the grass and watered the card board down. Then I went back to the chicken manure compost pile and forked two wheelbarrow fulls of compost onto the cardboard. Finally, I went to our dirt pile and spread four wheelbarrow loads of dirt on top of the manure, being careful to keep both dirt and manure off of the base of the tree. Here is the final product:
I hope to eventually border all of the fruit trees and the strawberries in the orchard. Later this summer we plan on taking out the huge ugly locust tree and putting in a grape arbor. But one project at a time.
Have a great week.
by Jen on April 27, 2012
Here’s a quick little video I took of our livestock. I thought it turned out cute, so I wanted to share it with you.
by Jen on March 22, 2012
So, you may remember that our drake had been chasing our hens around, which led us to order some ducklings as more girlfriends for said drake. When the ducklings were 3 weeks old, and outgrew their brooder, we put them in with the hens/ducks. Only to have the drake chase them all day and damage the down & new feathers on one duckling in particular. So, we were forced to put the drake in solitary confinement (ie live with the goats).
Well, earlier this week, the goat kids were being ornery and knocked down part of their pen wall and the drake managed to escape and run loose through the garage. When I went to do chores in the evening I found him wedged between the chain link chicken pen and the wall trying desperately to get back in with his girls. I managed to catch him before he got out into the yard, but we decided it was probably okay to go ahead and let him back in with the girls.
Really, the drake’s escape wasn’t the only reason we moved him back in. Our 9 meat birds were severely outgrowing their box, so by moving the drake out, we were able to move the meat birds into the goat pen.
We also discovered through this process that the mama goat, Geraldine, prefers chicken feed to goat feed and would quickly eat up the chicken feed before they got any. So we had to switch to a covered chicken feeder attached to the fence. Here’s Geraldine trying her hardest to get some of those chicken crumbles out.
Really they’re getting too big for the garage pen, so we’ve been working lately on their outside/permanent pen. It’s been going relatively quickly and progressing well. Here are a couple of pictures of what’s been done so far.
Matt got the gate put in and part of the drainage ditch dug to route the runoff water around the goat pen.
In order to get all this done recently, Matt took a couple of days off work. The first day he was home this week I was out in the garage doing chores with my youngest, and he turned to me and said, “Mommy, look a baby.” I looked where he was pointing and the broody hen had in fact hatched a duck egg.
The bigger hens got to picking on the baby ducklings so we put up some chicken wire around the nest. I went back in the evening to tuck everybody in and do evening chores and all the hens and ducks crowded around the newly fenced off area like it was a nursery window in a hospital. It was pretty funny.
Well, I think that’s enough excitement for one post, especially since it took me three days to get it all posted.
I hope you’re all having a productive spring so far. I have several other things to tell you about, but I need to end here for now. See you soon.
by Jen on February 28, 2012
So, something I learned recently is that winter is mating season for ducks. Which would explain why our lone drake has been harassing not only his girlfriend, but also the chickens.
In an attempt to help settle the drake, we decided he needed a few more girls to hang out with so we ordered 5 ducklings. However, the company we ordered the ducklings from uses male chicks for warmth with small orders. We weren’t planning on raising chicks again, since we’re still within city limits and there are ordinances regulating that kind of thing. Until Matt pointed out that chickens are darn good eatin’ (so he didn’t say those exact words) but the point is, we decided to keep them and raise them as meat birds.
The box of chicks & ducklings arrived the last weekend of January, and for the most part, everyone is doing pretty well. There have been a few issues, but it seems as though everything has settled out for the moment.
Here are a few pictures, because baby birds are cute.
They’re all much bigger now, but we’ve been busy around here. And we’re passing around a cold and taking turns having sick days. I’ll try to get some bigger pictures posted sometime so you can see just how much they’ve grown.
by Jen on February 17, 2012
“Oh yeah? How much?”
Was the conversation we had. And now, we have three goats living in our garage.
Here are some pictures of the process.
So, we’ve only named the mama goat, the babies still need names. They’re both girls, so if you have any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment.