Harbinger of Spring

FullSizeRender (3).jpgSome people wait with bated breath and glad hearts for those first snow drops; for the blush of purple from crocus and bluebells; for the yellow of daffodils mirroring a warming sun.

Not me.  Not as much as the others, anyway.

What I wait for are the little flags of garlic pushing up through their sodden blanket of old straw.  I can only barely remember planting them, with the flimsiest of prayers that they make it through the winter, back in the fall.  But they did.  They always do.  And that first glimpse of green astir in the muck is when I know for sure.

Spring.  It’s not so far away, now.

Onion Seedlings in February

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February.

We’re so close to spring, and yet also so far away.  The northern Oregon coast, where I live and garden, was dusted with a couple inches of snow this week.  Temperatures were up to the 50s just a few days before; I thought briefly that it might be time to put away my winter coat.  But no.  Not quite.

However.  However!

February is the perfect time to plant onion seeds!

Since I live in the Pacific Northwest I need to grow long day onions (I was super confused about long and short day varieties when I first started gardening, but basically if you live in the northern part of the world you need to grow long-days, and if you live in the south you should grow short-days or day-neutral varieties).

I chose to grow three different types this year:

  • Walla Walla Sweet Onions
  • Australian Brown Onions
  • Ruby Red Onions

I grew Walla Wallas last year with great success, but they don’t keep for very long.  We ran out of them within just a couple of months.  The Australian Browns and Ruby Reds are storage onions, supposedly able to last 5-6 months, so hopefully I will be able to cure and store them long enough to still be eating homegrown onions in the winter!

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How to start onion seeds indoors (with no fancy equipment)

I don’t have any fancy grow lights or other special equipment, and I’m still able to grow all my vegetables from seed.  The only thing I would caution is that it’ best to start with fresh seed every year, as onion seeds have a very short shelf life and you’ll have very low germination rates with old seed.

  • Moisten your soil mixture and pack it into your containers (this year I’m using a mix of peat pots, 4×6 inch black plastic pots and yogurt containers.  Use what you have!)
  • Make sure to gently tamp down the soil, otherwise it will settle over time and expose your seed or your root
  • Some people sow their seeds very thickly, but I prefer to sow only about 2 seeds per inch.  This will give them room to grow.  Onions are very heavy eaters, so the more space the better
  • Cover your seedlings with a thin layer of soil (roughly 1/4 inch deep.  I don’t know how to measure that, so I just wing it usually)
  • Keep your seeded flats covered with a clear plastic top (or plain old plastic wrap) and put them by a south-facing window.  Use a heated seedling mat if you have one, or just try to keep the room warm
  • When the seedlings emerge you can remove the plastic covering the top
  • Remember to keep the seedlings moist, but not over-watered
  • Fertilize with a liquid fish emulsion once a month, even after you’ve planted them out.  Onions love to eat!
  • If your onion seedlings get too tall and start to flop over, don’t be afraid to give them a haircut.  This will direct more energy to their bulb.  Just make sure to leave them about 2-3 inches of green

Hardening off and transplanting your onions is worthy of it’s own post, and it doesn’t need to be done until April so I will leave that for later.  Until then, just enjoy the tentative, trembling emergence of something green in the depths of a very dark and wintry February.

 

The Farm Giveth

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Do you know what is extremely unfair?

The growth rate of chickens.

One day they are just tiny breaths of fluff, small enough to fit in the cup of your hand.  And the very next day?  They are little rocket vultures the size of your foot, squawking and carrying on the minute you so much as look like you might want to give them some affection.

While I knew going into this flock addition that they wouldn’t stay small for long, I forgot to really plan on where I was going to keep them once they got big.  With our first chickens, by the time they fully feathered out it was April, the weather was in the 60s for the most part, and they could go straight into their coop.

Well, this go around the Ameraucana chicks have almost all of their feathers, and we have a small separate coop for them, but it’s only the beginning of February and it is cold outside.  Too cold for chicks, even if they are little ruffians.  We need to keep them inside for a while longer, but they desperately and quickly outgrew the 27 gallon storage tote they’d been living in for the last three weeks.

img_0537What I really wanted to get for them was a nice metal stock tank, just like the feed store uses.  We could clip the heat lamp to the side, there would be lots of room for the chicks to run around, we could use it later for lots of different farm-related things, it would be perfect!

Perfect!

Except … it wasn’t.  Do you know how much large stock tanks cost?  Upwards of $150!  And for us, trying to live more frugally and save up money for fence posts and fencing and, you know, a new house, that was just too much money.  Whomp whomp.

Isn’t it funny though, how sometimes the universe will surprise you and pay attention?

When we were out at the farm during Dumpster Days, after sorting through piles and piles of garbage in the house, we moved on to the piles of junk in the yard.  Beer bottles, broken gutters, cracked toilets.  And, under piles of rotting wood and gargantuan blackberry brambles, we found (wait for it) a stock tank!

IMG_05481.jpgIt’s not pretty or shiny or new.  In fact, it’s dented and rusty and old.  But, it is 6 foot long and, most importantly, it was free.

Thank you, thank you, whoever was collecting old junk on the farm!  It DID come in handy!

The chicks love it.  I love it.  They have enough room to run around and play and flap their wings maniacally.  It should be big enough for a couple more weeks, anyway, until they hit another growth spurt.  But by then it will be spring and they can go outside.

Right?

The Books of January

StockSnap_Q9KNRI9EU2.jpgIn my senior year of university I had to take an entertainment writing class to round out my journalism degree.  My midterm involved writing a review of something (it might have been a book or a play or a movie, I can’t remember what exactly anymore), and long story short I got a D.  I pretty much failed at writing a review.  It was the only D I ever got, and it stung.  Luckily my final was writing a feature piece about an artist, and I excelled at that sort of thing, so I ended up passing the class with an A.  But.  This near-failure has stayed with me.

I will be turning 35 years old this year.  It’s constantly kind of a shock to me, since I still think of myself as between the ages of 18 and 22: at the very brink of a new life full of possibility, and every day discovering something new about myself.

The truth is though that I’m smack dab in the middle of my life – a wonderful life, if I do say so myself – and while I am still occasionally discovering new things about myself, mostly I am just recognizing my personal truths.  And one of my personal truths is this: I love to read, and I love to recommend books to others, but I don’t particularly love to write a monthly synopsis of ALL the books I’ve  read.  And I’m not particularly good at it.  Hence, my monthly reading wrap-ups have fallen by the wayside.

StockSnap_Y4P32I1G1K.jpgI’d like to return to writing a monthly list of what I read, for posterity’s sake, but I’m going to keep it simple this time.  Just a list of the book titles and authors.  If I really hate it I might make note of that, but otherwise I probably loved it, and you should probably read it too.

So, at long last, here are the books I read in January:

  1. A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin
  2. The Real Minerva by Mary Sharratt
  3. Flight of the Sparrow by Amy Belding Brown
  4. Eliza Waite by Ashley E. Sweeney
  5. The Valley by Helen Bryan
  6. Doc by Mary Doria Russell
  7. Gold, Fame, Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins (great dystopian near-future read!)
  8. Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon

In case this just isn’t enough for you, I am planning an occasional book review series focusing on homesteading, farming and gardening books, and I will be doing a complete review of those (as well as offering some giveaways, so stay tuned!)  In the meantime, happy reading!

2017 Seed Order #2 (and 3,4,5,6)

img_0491The winter stretches on, the cold weather lingers, and the seed orders come filtering in.

I meant to do each group individually as they came, but then they all seemed to come at once.  I still need to figure out where in the garden I’m going to put all these guys (and as I look, there seems to be an overwhelming amount to try to fit in!), but I’ve got a little time yet to do that.

I decided to try out two new seed companies this year, Pinetree Garden Seeds and Seeds of Change. Both companies sell seeds that are not genetically engineered, which is important to me.  Before ordering, I read some negative reviews about the germination rate of Pinetree Garden Seeds, but their prices were very good and I found some varieties I hadn’t seen anywhere else, so I decided to give them a shot.  I’ll let you know how they do.  As for Seeds of Change, I knew they were a company as I’ve seen and eaten their Quinoa and Brown Rice from Costco.  I didn’t know they also sold seeds, but it turns out they do!  Their seeds are non-GMO and organic, so that’s a plus; also, the seed packages are made of a nice food-grade mylar and are resealable.  I know that’s a small thing in and of itself, but it means that I can save seeds from the plants themselves and reuse the bags indefinitely.

Now, on to the seeds!

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds:

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Strawberry Cabbage Lettuce/Image via Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

  • Carrots, ‘Cosmic Purple’ (this was a free gift from the company – I haven’t had much luck with purple carrots in the past, so I’m eager, if skeptical, to see how these do.)
  • Herb, ‘Toothache Plant’
  • Lettuce, ‘Flashy Butter Gem’
  • Lettuce, ‘Sanguine Ameliore’ or ‘Strawberry Cabbage Lettuce’
  • Radish, ‘Malaga’
  • Strawberry, ‘Tresca’
  • Turnip, ‘Purple Top White Globe’
  • Watermelon, ‘Blacktail Mountain’

Annie’s Heirloom Seeds:

  • Beans, ‘Black Turtle’
  • Beans, ‘Cannellini Lignot’
  • Beans, ‘Dark Red Kidney’
  • Beans, ‘Vermont Cranberry’
  • Cauliflower, ‘Annie’s Rainbow Mix’ (this is a blend containing Early Tuscan, Macerata Green, Precoce di Jesi and Violet of Sicily seeds)
  • Onions, ‘Australian Brown’
  • Onions, ‘Ruby Red’
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Pink Berkeley Tie Dye Tomato/Image via Pinetree Garden Seeds

Pinetree Garden Seeds:

  • Carrots, ‘Tendersweet’
  • Onions, ‘Crimson Forest Bunching’
  • Tomato, ‘Polish Linguisa’
  • Tomato, ‘Pink Berkeley Tie Dye’
  • Watermelon, ‘Tom Watson’

Seeds of Change:

  • Basil, ‘Genovese’
  • Dill
  • Shelling Peas, ‘Green Arrow’

Ed Hume Seeds:

  • Carrots, ‘Scarlet Nantes’
  • Cucumber, ‘Homemade Pickles’
  • Onions, ‘Walla Walla Sweet’
  • Onions, ‘Evergreen White Bunching’
  • Peas, ‘Alderman (or Tall Telephone)’
  • Peas, ‘Lincoln (or Homesteader)’
  • Peas, ‘Super Sugar Snap’

I think that I am now done buying seeds.  I’d like to find all my old seeds, because I have some pumpkin varieties I’d like to plant again, but finding anything in the sea of boxes we have is daunting at best.

Now it’s on to setting up a seed starting area and getting these babies to grow!

It Was a Week

img_0460Ugh.  We were knocked flat on our backs this week.  Not by the insane amount of work that happened on the farm, although I’m sure that contributed, but by the common cold.  It was actually bronchitis in Jasper’s and the girls’s case, but for me I think it’s just a cold.  A cold that resists all attempts to quell it, and just refuses to go away.

In spite of feeling badly most of the week, we actually did get a lot done.  We filled up that 30 ton dumpster with old farmhouse junk, we moved a lot of the salvaged wood into the garage (although it seems like there is still more), and we burned the large pile of burnable stuff that had accumulated in the front yard.

img_0336Every farm should have a place to burn odds and ends, and this farm is no exception.  The fire pit is, literally, pretty much a pit in the ground down in the lower field.  I was raised on a standard city lot in the middle of town, and my first inclination is that a fire pit should be out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nothing, preferably on a giant concrete slab.  My father-in-law and Jasper both assured me that the farm’s existing grassy fire area, surrounded by brush and alder trees and adjacent to a creek, was fine.  And lo and behold, it was.  Nothing caught on fire except the things we wanted to catch on fire.  I have a lot to learn, I know.  The number one thing being trust the old-timers who came before.  This fire pit was here when Jasper’s family bought it, and if all goes well it will still be there long after we’re gone.

Also, burning things is very therapeutic.  I’m actually really looking forward to this being a yearly farm task.

img_0453img_0467In other news, we suffered some losses this week.  Dottie, the Silver Laced Wyandotte chick I told you about, was doing so poorly that I decided to go ahead and end her suffering.  Real farm people would call that “culling” her, but that phrase seems very clinical and cold to me.  I looked up all the various ways to do it, and decided I just didn’t have it in me yet to cut off heads or snap necks, so I put her in a paper bag in the deep freezer.  She was barely conscious at that point, and I’m pretty sure she just went to sleep.  Nonetheless, it was hard.  Iris and I gave her a proper sendoff after she was gone, and buried her under a large rosemary bush.

We also lost our last rabbit, Butternut.  I’m not exactly sure what happened, but he somehow lost the use of his back legs.  He didn’t have any marks on him, so I’m not sure if something tried to grab or bite him, or if he just twisted the wrong way and snapped something.  Not knowing what else we could do for him, we brought him inside and kept him warm and dosed up with pain meds until he passed.

I’m not sure if we’ll get more rabbits.  Maybe someday, but not now.  For one thing, the rabbits stopped serving any purpose.  They weren’t pets, they weren’t food, and because I couldn’t bear to cage them, they weren’t giving us manure any longer.  I like the idea of having a breeding pair on hand for meat purposes, but we’re not there yet.  So.

img_0471img_0472Lest you think we’re all doom and gloom and sickness around here though, we did end the week on a good note.  We brought home two healthy chicks from the feed store: Sunny, an Ideal 236; and Ruby 2, a Production Red.  We’ve got a meeting with the fire chief tomorrow to discuss and schedule burning down the farmhouse, and a meeting with another home builder on Friday.  We’re going to start fencing a section of the lower field so that we can move the chickens out there later this spring, and even though it’s only the beginning of February, I’ve got seeds to start sowing and fields to start preparing.

I guess for some people this would be a negative, but for me it’s a plus – there’s always something that needs to be done on the farm.

Dumpster Days

img_0237img_024720170125_133430img_0243img_0245img_0262img_0249img_0250img_0254img_0260img_0261img_0264img_0268My friends, these were a gross couple of days.

Really gross.  Like covered in decomposing flies and rodent, bird and bat urine and feces gross.

Yeah.

But we got so much done.  The majority of the house is cleared out now.  The man who’s been living there for the last few years hasn’t quite moved out yet (sigh), and so there’s about three rooms that are waiting on him.  We got that 30 yard dumpster filled up though, and our burn and scrap metal piles are sky high.  Jasper’s out there today working on taking down old scaffolding and salvaging the amazing 12′-20′ lengths of old growth ship lap timber lining the walls of the living room.

The rest of the house is really not in very good condition.  The bare bones are good, but the floors are soft, there’s mold blooming everywhere, the layout is awful, the stairs are lethal, and most of the walls have a good deal of water damage.  Having been in there and really experiencing the house for the last two days, we feel much easier in our decision to take the old girl down and build new.  Much easier.

We didn’t get any of the outbuildings cleared, but we did poke around and found no less than half a dozen old sinks and toilets in the yard and fields.  I don’t know why there were so many, since the house only has one bathroom, but it felt really good to get them off the ground and into the dumpster.

You know what else felt good?  Coming home each day and taking a long, scalding hot shower and scrubbing off all the grossness.  You don’t even want to know what I washed out of my hair.