February Chores

pexels-photo-296230.jpegAt first glance, February doesn’t seem like a busy garden month.  It’s cold and rainy, and still very much the dead of winter.

But!  It’s also just a mere matter of weeks before the first seeds get planted into the ground, and so it’s high time to get everything ready.  Cleaning up and preparing the garden for the plants that will go in later in the spring can be a dirty full-time job, but it’s absolutely essential to get it done if you want to have a successful growing season.

Here’s what I’ll be doing this month!

In the Garden

Lift the remaining rutabagas:  The rutabagas, those hardy Swedish root crops which I let overwinter in the garden, are probably extremely woody and tough by this point.  It’s time to take them out of the ground and gift them to the chickens.

Uncover the garden:  We’ve had the garden covered with plastic sheeting since practically last year.  It has looked incredibly ugly and I have hated it.  But, hopefully, most of the weeds and thatch will have been killed and reabsorbed into the soil, giving us a clean slate to work with.

Define and build permanent beds:  My ultimate goal for the garden is to implement no-till permanent raised beds.  I know the terms “permaculture,” “back to Eden,” or “lasagna gardening” can sometimes be thought of as hippy-ish, but honestly it just makes sense to me.  Rather than tilling and weeding and amending the entire garden area, slowly depleting the nutrients and eroding the soil despite what we amend it with, we’ll layer defined planting areas with newspaper, manure, leaves and compost and then cover it all with wood chips.  These will slowly break down, feeding the ground beneath them, and we’ll just keep adding more good stuff on top.  The soil will be healthier, it won’t be compacted, we’ll weed and water less and we’ll be using free, sustainable and natural materials.

Dig in lots of well-rotted organic matter:  February is the month of love, and gardens love manure!  They love compost!  And I love gardens!

Cover with tarps again:  Just in case.  To kill any weed seeds.  But it won’t stay on all summer this year, I promise!

Sow early seeds indoors:  Despite the cold weather outside, now is the time for me and other maritime gardeners (zone 8, right on the cusp of a and b) to start sowing seeds inside.  I’ll be starting all my tomatoes, eggplants and sweet peppers this week, as well as my first sowing of brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and cabbage.  I’m also going to start some green onions and lettuce, and hopefully get them into the greenhouse by early next month!

IMG_2518.JPGIn the orchard

Prune the fruit trees:  This chore honestly scares me little, because you’re basically cutting off parts of your tree and what if you do it wrong?  The trees could die!  But really though, pruning actually helps reinvigorate trees, reduces problems with pests, and boosts fruit production.  Jasper and I are going to start with the easy stuff, like getting rid of suckers, dead  or injured branches and water spouts, then we’re just going to give them a haircut!

Prune the marionberries and blueberries:  As with the fruit trees, so with the fruit bushes.

Feed all the fruit trees and bushes:  Now is the perfect time to feed all your fruiting things, too.  I  spread a very little bit of wood ashes from the fireplace around the base of our apple and plum trees, and I will be adding well-rotted compost to all these, then a layer of mulch of some kind.

In the greenhouse

Clean up, clean out:  The greenhouse is so, so messy.  And dirty.  And filled with stuff that we didn’t put there but never bothered to take out, either.  So first and foremost, we need to clear it out completely, and then give it a really good deep clean.  Scrub the walls and sweep out the cobwebs.  And weirdly, I can’t wait.

Dig in lots of well-rotted organic material:  The greenhouse has a dirt floor, so we plant directly into the ground.  That means we need to pile on more manure and compost each year, to keep the good stuff coming.

Cover walkways with something:  Last year, not knowing any better, we laid straw over the walkway in the greenhouse.  The plan was just to keep the dust at bay.  Then we turned on the automatic waters, and the walkways grew!  We had a nice crop of grass all along the walkway, from seeds that managed to survive in the straw.  So, this year we’ll either be putting down cardboard and wood chips, or plastic.  Something.  Anything but plain straw.

Direct sow the carrots and radishes:  I don’t know if these will start growing in an unheated greenhouse in February, but the weather has been rather warm and I’m up for an experiment.  So I’m going to sow some and see!

IMG_1942February is the shortest month of the year, and it certainly feels that way as we scramble to get everything done on time.  But it’s a good scramble, knowing that at the end it will be spring.  Spring!

And then we will be in thick of it, happy with dirt under our fingernails once again.

Advertisements

Goals For 2018: Ducklings!

duckies-3-1379886.jpg

Alas, this is not my duck

This time of year, if the temperature is right, we can hear the first of the season’s honeybees out buzzing around.  The frogs are starting to chirrup in the lengthening twilit evenings, and the chickens are clucking and scratching and crowing all the day long.  But there is one sound lacking here on the farm, and without it this place just doesn’t feel or sound complete.

I’m talking about the quacks and burbles of ducks.

When I was a little girl, my mother would regale my sister and I with tales of hatching a duckling in her kitchen oven when she was a child, and how wonderful and sweet that pet duck was.  He would follow her around and wag his little tail whenever she gave him treats.  I was captivated by this story, and by ducks themselves.  There’s just something about them, from their smiling bills to their happy bottom-heavy waddle.

I just love ducks!

I also love that I get to tell you that this spring we’ll be adding ducklings to our farm, including one of each type of:

  • Welsh Harlequin
  • Silver Appleyard
  • Pekin
  • Fawn and White Runner
  • Chocolate Runner
  • Cayuga
  • Buff
  • Blue Swedish

I’ve reserved a late March hatching of eight eggs and I honestly just can’t wait!

duck-drake-water-bird-lake-158112

Also not my duck

Why are we getting ducks?

There are lots of reasons why adding ducks to a homestead is a good idea, not least of which is because they’re just so adorable as babies and entertaining as adults.  There are some great websites out there that go into all this in a little more detail, but here are the main reasons we’re getting ducks:

Eggs:  Ducks produce far more eggs than the average chicken,  as many as 350 per year from the more prolific breeds.  As an added plus, those eggs are bigger and have higher nutritional values than chicken eggs.  I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a duck egg, so I don’t know what I’ll think of the taste.  But my tentative plan is to use them in my burgeoning baking hobby, as their higher fat content should make baked goods fluffier and richer.

Pest Control:  “You don’t have a slug problem, you have a duck deficiency” — Bill Mollison.  I can’t remember the first time I heard that quote, but I do know that it’s genius.  The chickens have been OK when it comes to eating pests, but they disdain slugs, caterpillars and many of the other bugs that wreak havoc in the garden.  They are darn picky.  Not so, ducks.  They will happily and enthusiastically eat all those buggies that the chickens won’t, especially the slugs.

Gentler on Land: This is the big, number one reason we’re getting ducks (besides the cuteness and indulging my childhood fantasies)!  The chickens are no better than pests themselves when it comes to destroying the vegetable garden, or any landscaping, or just the lawn.  They’re not picky when it comes to scratching things up and they do it exceptionally well.  Now, I know that ducks, too, can destroy delicate seedlings in the garden, and will make mud holes anywhere given half the chance.  But overall, everything I’ve read agrees that ducks are much less destructive.

Hardiness: I live and garden on the northern Oregon coast.  I’m a bit inland from the ocean, but not enough to make any real difference in the weather.  It can be wet and cold and miserable here for more than half the year.  The chickens hate it.  Hate it.  There are some days they don’t come out of their coop at all – they just huddle together in their filth – which can obviously negatively affect their health.  We always have to keep an eye out for sickness and signs that the chickens are suffering from any infections.  Ducks, on the other hand, have an internal temperature of 107 degrees (Fahrenheit), which means that their bodies are pretty much inhospitable to parasites and bacteria.  And bad weather doesn’t phase them.  It’s raining outside?  Perfect!  It’s cold outside?  Who cares!  Ducks just go with the flow.

ducklingsNow don’t worry!  The chickens aren’t going anywhere!  Well, OK, to be perfectly honest we are going to move them down to the lower field, where the orchard will be.  All fenced in it will be about half an acre or more, and it will give them much more room to roam.  They’ll still get loads of delicious table scraps, and we’ll still use their eggs.

Meanwhile, we’ll convert their current coop and run to accommodate the ducks, and we’ll be able to give the ducks straight access into the garden once the plants have reached a certain height.  That way they can do their pest control thing, and keep me company with their chortles, quacks and honks.

The perfect soundtrack to working on the farm.

Will anyone else be starting a flock (or is it a brace?) of ducks this spring?  Does anyone who already has ducks have any pointers for an excited new owner?!

Glad Tidings

IMG_E2453In the early light of morning, after letting the chickens out of the hen house and into their run for the day, I like to take a slow turn around the garden.

Until just a few months ago we only got out to the farm every few days during the growing season, and hardly at all in the winter, and so being able to walk through the garden daily is still a thrill and dream.  I check to see if there’s been any damage from errant critters, and note things that need to be done.  And, most especially, I like to observe the changing signs of the seasons.

The swelling of tiny buds on the blueberry bushes.  The deafening chorus of frogs.

The sudden thrusting forth of the garlic.

IMG_E2476.JPGThis is it, for me.  The definitive sign that spring is coming!

I don’t know what the weather will be like between now and summer.  I would love an early (and sustained) spate of warm weather, but if I can’t have that then I just hope things stay seasonable.  I also hope hope hope and say a little prayer daily that it won’t be like last year, and rain torrentially up until almost July.  Anything but that.

No matter what happens with the weather though, at least I know that there will be garlic.

They made it through the coldest times, these valiant little foot soldiers.  They bravely lead the way, and all the rest will follow.

More Seeds From Baker Creek

FullSizeRender (8)After getting my first order in the mail from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds a couple of weeks ago, it seemed to me like it was missing a few varieties.  And sure enough, I’d completely forgotten to order some of the herbs I was planning on!  So, into the proverbial cart went:

  • White Horehound
  • Basil, ‘Blue Spice’
  • Basil, ‘Lettuce Leaf’
  • Hyssop, ‘Korean’
  • Flower, ‘Monarda’ (Bee Balm)

Baker Creek also always sends a free packet of seeds, and with both of my orders I got Black Vernissage tomatoes.  I’m happy to try them, but I’ve already allocated all the room in the greenhouse to other tomato varieties I’m more excited about.  So, I’ll plant these outside and cross my fingers that it’s a warm summer.  Also, I’ve read a lot of reviews on this tomato, and the majority of them don’t have great things to say about the taste.  I’ll give them a fair shake though, and if I like them then they’ll get a chance in the greenhouse next year.

AND NOW SOME THOUGHTS ON THE HERB GARDEN

I don’t think I shared it at the time, but last year during the tail end of summer I decided (on a whim) to start my perennial herb garden.  I bought two English lavender plants, some garlic chives, a lemon thyme, and a start of sweet marjoram.  I also planted out a root-bound chive plant that I’d had with me for a few years (and which has since done phenomenally!), and some transplanted echinacea.  There’s also true comfrey growing pretty much everywhere.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a huge space to work with if I stay within the confines of the existing brick raised beds, but I’m planning on clearing out space behind the beds as well.  It currently houses nothing but broken plastic pots, an old sink (of course), and a really very overgrown honeysuckle plant.  That will give me a good amount of space to work with, I think, for a nice beginner’s mix of edible and medicinal herbs.  Then in time, if I need to, I can figure out how and where to expand.

Gah!  I’m so excited for spring!

Rowanberry Bubblegum

IMG_2342.JPGThis dog.

Did I ever tell you that when we first got Rowan, we put her crate in the girls’ bedroom so that she would bond with them and think of them as her “flock” and protect them from all the coyotes and bobcats and bears and cougars that roamed the hills?

No?

Well, we did.  Having no livestock more precious than our free-ranging children, we decided that we had to somehow train her to protect them.  And what better way than to have Rowan – an 8-week-old puppy away from her mother for the first time ever – sleep in our young children’s bedroom?  Fool-proof!  Except, as soon as the lights went out Rowan started crying and then the girls started crying and then everybody was crying.  I’d run in and take the puppy out to potty and shush the girls and then try to quietly put the puppy back in the crate and 45 minutes later the whole charade would start again.  Finally, at about two in the morning, I decided I was an idiot and dragged the kennel out of their room, down the hall and into my room.  I fell asleep with my hand in her crate that night and many others, petting her softly and making those quiet mama-noises that all babies, regardless of species, seem to appreciate.

And that was it.  From that moment on, I was hers and she was mine.

IMG_4167Except, she’s also all of ours.  A true family guardian.

Six months have gone by and that tiny little puppy has blossomed into a massive, courageous polar bear of a dog.  Granted, she is still very much the pup at eight months old, but her personality and character are already there for us to see.  She is sweet and loving and fearless in her quest to protect us from all the dangers (real and imagined) that surround us on the farm.  Actually, sometimes she’s quite afraid (I can tell by the way her tail is tucked tight underneath her) like the time she first saw our Halloween jack o’ lanterns lit on a dark night.  But even afraid she meets all potential threats head on with her big, deep bark, ready to fight if she has to.  She is utterly brave.
IMG_2113 (1)Does she wander, the way most websites claim her breed does?

Well, yes, but in the same sense that I, too, wander around when I’m outside.

We don’t have any fences around our property, but we do have a sort of natural boundary in that the five acres surrounding the house is ringed by forest.  She often trots that perimeter during the day, checking to make sure all is as it should be.  She investigates strange noises and smells, and sometimes finds something good to bring back to her special “treasure spot” and chew on.  She visits her friends across the street, Max and Sophie, an Australian shepherd and an Australian cattle dog, and she’ll go on walks with the neighbors if she happens to notice them going by.

But she knows where she lives and she always returns.  In fact, as soon as dusk falls she usually asks to come inside, where she spends her evenings happily in front of the fire and begging for belly rubs.

IMG_4280Does she bark constantly?

Surprisingly, no.  In fact, Una and Juniper, our sheep dog mixes, make most of the annoying racket in the house.  Inside, Rowan hardly ever makes a peep.

She barks more when she’s outside, as she should.  Sometimes when we let her out at night she’ll run the wooded perimeter just barking barking barking.  We don’t know if she’s seen, smelled or heard anything in particular or is just giving a general warning to any and all critters that might be thinking about coming onto her property.  Regardless, that’s pretty much her job and I don’t begrudge her for it.

IMG_1831And it turns out that Rowan didn’t need to sleep in their room or be trained to bond to Avery and Iris.  She has adored them from the first.  If they are outside, she is close by.  Sometimes she’ll join in their play, and sometimes she just keeps a benevolent eye on them.  She knows when the school bus is coming, and is always first to greet them, tail wagging, overjoyed to be reunited with her girls after a long day apart.

I couldn’t imagine life without this dog anymore.  Of course, she has her (extremely trying) moments, as all pups do, but I think it’s safe to say that Rowan has more than delivered on her breed’s promise.  I have no doubt that her companionship will only get better as she ages, and that there will always be room for a Great Pyrenees in our family.

Even if we have no livestock (or kids) to guard.

Rainy Days, Again

IMG_2426.JPGWriting about the unseasonably warm weather we enjoyed for a few days last week certainly seems to have jinxed it.  The rains came back with a vengeance.  They always do though, this time of year.

And I think I’m going to be OK with it (as long as it stops, to some degree, by spring).  Rains, of course, mean rainbows and feeling snug and secure in our new home, which is neither damp nor cold.  After last year’s temporary quarters in a house that was constantly both of those things, in a year that broke records for being rainy and awful, our state of accommodation this year leaves so much to be grateful for.

IMG_2421There’s still so much to do out in the yard, but in the face of all that rain I’m staying inside.  I’ve got bread to bake and laundry to do.

In all honestly, I’ll probably spend a good amount of time right here at the kitchen table, gazing outside.  Trying to figure out where I want to plant the vegetables in the garden come spring.  Appreciating the form of that graceful old apple tree.  Hoping that sooner or later we can find a spot to store the ladders and all the wood that Jasper wanted to save, and to get rid of the two piles of heaped up metal.  Wondering how much work it’s going to be to remove that old gravel driveway.

It’s not supposed to stop raining anytime soon, so I think I’ll be here for awhile.  That’s okay.  My feet are by the heater, and my thoughts are full of spring.

Sun Peeks Out

IMG_2406I’m always shocked and incredulous when the days turn sunny in the middle of winter.  Thrilled, to be sure, but skeptical.

It’s like a double rainbow — what does it mean?!

For three days in a row we had 60 degree temperatures.  Here on the Oregon coast, that’s tee-shirt weather, June weather.  I’ve tried to block out most of my memories of last year’s meteorological conditions, but I can assure you there were no 60 degree days.  In spite of myself, I’m hopeful.  Maybe this means a mild winter, a balmy spring?  Wouldn’t that be a treat?

IMG_2381.jpgTo celebrate, we spent time outside.

Jasper hooked up the electricity to the greenhouse and the attached shed, and then we spread fresh straw over the trench and around the front and back steps so that we wouldn’t track so much mud inside (we hope).  We also spread a bale in the chicken coop because they’d reduced their last bale to dirt already.

I worked on my perennial herb garden too, spreading chicken manure, compost, punk wood and old bedding on the cardboard that I’d laid down a month ago.  I’m trying to transition into using permaculture practices in the entire garden, and I’m starting here.  No tilling, no digging, and hopefully no need for weeding will be the end result.

And — this is so neat! — while I was checking everything over and just quietly enjoying the moment, I kept hearing this weird, low crunching, munching sound.  It sounded like something was chewing on cardboard.  I was absolutely mystified until I lifted up the layers and discovered that that was exactly what was happening!  I was hearing the worms and other bugs eating the underside of the cardboard!  So cool.

IMG_2312Another sound I heard a lot of was the buzzing of bees.  It was a little disconcerting to hear and see honeybees flying around in the middle of January.  We saw a lot of them in the straw we put down, presumably because it was glowing rather brightly in the sun, and around the hummingbird feeder.  Anywhere there was a bit of color.  I felt so bad, knowing they wouldn’t find anything to eat this time of year.

But!  While walking down to the girls’ school bus stop I passed by our hazelnut trees (enormous bushes really, they need badly to be pruned!) and discovered that they were absolutely covered by bees foraging on the blooming yellow catkins!  Full of pollen, full of food.

Nature’s got it figured out, my friends.

I just need to spend more time outside observing, apparently.  Which I am more than happy to do, if the weather could just stay so wonderful.