Monthly Archives: May 2011

Orchard in bloom! … at least I think so.

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Apple Blossom

Cortland and Honey Crisp Apples, Anjou and Flemish Beauty Pear, Italian Prune Plum and Golden Plums, Sweet Cherry and Sour Cherry, Butternut, Walnut and Filbert.

Right about now some of the trees will be in full bloom. I planted this orchard last summer before I had equipment to turn soil and till it up. There was a really nice excavator guy who was digging the hole for the foundation of the workshop and I asked him really nicely if he could turn the grass over on a small spot in the meadow. Okay, so I gave him $100, too.
He did a pretty decent job turning the soil but what I didn’t factor in was that this piece of grass here, had not been farmed or turned or likely even broken for over a decade. I decided, having already parted with $100 that I had to make the best of this spot and made a bargain with my then eight-year-old son that I would pay him a nickel for every rock he pulled out of there that was bigger than his fist. By noon I owed him $10, by four o’clock, close to $35. Okay, at least the job was done and all I had to do was dig the massive holes to put the roots.
It was thirty-six degrees(C) that day and not a cloud in the sky. I did what I had to do. I turned on the sprinkler, attached to a hose, attached to the pump atop the well and plugged into the gas powered generator, and started digging. The sprinkler was not for the soil, it was for my back, and strategically aimed at me for the duration. After each hole was dug, I adjusted the spray for the next hole to be dug. By the end of the day, we were all well watered and seemed to be doing fine.
This meadow is on a slight slope to the south, maybe 15 degrees or so, and has lots of grass and milkweed with a few raspberry canes here and there. I will have to pull the raspberries and a few of the milkweed (reluctant to disturb these as we have a fantastic population of Monarch Butterflies laying eggs on these)

Monarch Caterpillar on our milkweed in the meadow

This year, I got a tiller for my birthday! Rates up there with the most perfect birthday gift of all time, for me.
I’ll run it through the centre isle of the orchard and till up some of the ground on the other side of it to add a few more trees.
I hear that Quince grows well in the Maritimes. I have never tasted Quince, but I have seen a few recipes for pies and pastries that call for it, so maybe it is worth planting. I know they look like pear, but beyond that… no clue. If anyone has a tasted description for me, I’m all ears.

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Garden planning

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Garden planning

I’ve been working on the garden plan.
Initially, I thought this would be easy because in the past, I have had to cram too many veggies into too small a space, then stuff all the pretty flowers bought at the irresistible garden centre in-between. With this garden, I have more space than I could ever use, but with more options come more decisions.
100 ft. X 100 ft. of market garden has left me with infinite possibilities!
I know I want to plant the garden so that I have different vegetables ready to harvest at the same time, so I can offer variety at market.
I have dug into all my books, and several internet sites to help me out.
Two things I must keep in mind are
1) the possibilities of companion planting. Companion planting in a nutshell means that there are some veggies that work really well together. Some will be thirsty for nutrients of which the other needs less.
Lettuces, for example, prefer shady areas or areas that get dappled shade, so planting them under corn which requires plenty of sunshine, makes sense. Basil and tomatoes planted close together do better than if they are planted alone. There are so many of these companions that trying to get them all hanging out together in the garden makes perfect sense but can be a bit of an organizational nightmare.
2) Crop rotation throws another challenge at the situation. Crop rotation is good for a few reasons. First, some garden pests, after the first season, get to know where you plant your broccoli and have set up permanent homes right there with their favourite foods. Second, some plants, take peas for instance, are nitrogen rich and will replace nitrogen in the soil, making it available to the next crop placed in that plot, where other plants may use more nitrogen and leave the soil depleted. Rotating crops so that the soil is left in good condition for the specific needs of the next crop, takes the need for soil amendments way down.
From now on, we will be taking very good care of our soil. Most especially in the next few years as we will be getting our soil tested to find out what specifically it needs to grow vegetable crops.
This summer, before the soil is tested, I will stake out the placement of the garden, till the soil and remove any large rocks. A deep layer of manure will go on top of the tilled soil. Then a thick layer of straw, grass, leaves and other vegetable matter. Some bone meal and or seaweed meal to make up for several years of fallow land. Then the whole area will be covered with black landscape fabric which will let in moisture and warmth from the sun but get so hot under there that weed seeds will be killed. By the time we get back there next year, we’ll peel off the landscape fabric and the ground should be wonderfully nutritious for its first planting. We’ll test the soil and see if it requires a tweak here or there, and we are off to the races!!
I’ll have oodles of space for early tomatoes, peas, both dried and string beans, beets, swiss chard, carrots, parsnips, brussels sprouts, asparagus, artichokes, pumpkins, summer squash, lettuce and spinach and every other vegetable seed I can get my hands on. I’ll be saving seed from these gardens, too so need to be careful to only plant one variety at a time so I don’t cross pollinate and come up with untrue varieties. I am using heirloom seeds, after all. Don’t want to mess ’em up!

I am open to suggestions on what to plant, so if you have a favourite, let me know and I’ll give it a go!

I have planned out a few other gardens that I’m not sure I will be able to start on this summer, but I’m sure going to give it my best shot. The medicinal garden, the herb garden and the kitchen garden.
Things like “Devil’s claw” or “Harpagophytum procumbens” is its botanical name, for the medicinal herb garden. This herb is from the sesame family and its’ root is used to reduce pain and fever as well as to help with digestive issues. Its seed pod is what I suspect gives its the sinister name. It looks like a large black, twin tined claw.
Another plant for this garden is “prunella vulgaris” or “Heart of the earth” or “Common self-heal” or ” All Heal” which, as its name implies is used for an antiseptic, an antiviral agent, and inhibits growth of bacteria, too! All parts of the plant are edible and it looks really pretty in a salad. It grows almost like a lavender flower. Look for it – it’s gorgeous!

Spearmint, Lemon balm, Fennel, and Thyme are just a few of the herbs that will go both in the kitchen garden and the herb garden. I think they warrant the two spots since I use them so much.
I hear it’s always a good idea to plant Rosemary by the garden gate, to keep a happy home. Just superstition, I’m sure, but I’m not above paying attention to a little superstition now and again.

I will take a bunch of pictures of the gardens before, during and after preparations to give you an idea of what’s entailed.
Meantime, I hope you are all enjoying the planning stages or planting stages of your own gardens!

Your brother’s a rooster

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free rangin'

The latest reading I’ve been doing is about keeping chickens and a breeding program that will ensure genetic diversity. For the small farm flock, this can be a real challenge. You can’t just let your hens lay fertilized eggs, hatch them out and carry on for years that way. If you think about it, after the first year hens are having babies that are also their brothers and sisters. The old Royals know from experience that this can lead to some unpleasant traits.  So, then, how do you make sure that your birds have sound genetic background and continue to improve the flock you have year after year?

Well, there are several acceptable ways to go about this. One way is to make sure that you always have a rooster from outside the farm. Borrow a different one for each new hatching season. Trade roosters with neighbouring farms, if you know your neighbours flock and trust their breeding techniques, or buy a new one from a hatchery every season which will help with the strength of genetic diversity as hatcheries tend to be very careful in this area.

I read one way was to divide your flock into two groups. One group never breeds within their own group. Breed only one group per season. Roosters from group one breed with hens from group two, then the next season roosters from group two breed with hens from group one. This will still result in some inbreeding but it is apparently considered an acceptable amount. I would imagine that years down the road it becomes a non issue and if you had received your starter chicks from a hatchery, the chances of any of them being related to each other from the get-go is relatively small.

Another method is to divide your flock into three groups which will diversify even further. Roosters from group one breed the first season with hens from group two and from then on group one only breeds with group two. Roosters from group two breed with hens from group three – from then on, as well. Roosters from group three only breed with hens from group one. This method eliminates the need to find unrelated roosters, so if you live in a remote location or would like to try your hand at improving your own flock without outside influences, this might be the method for you. I see this method as the most practical for our farm simply because we will be trying to be self sustainable. The less we have to go off the farm for anything, the more efficient our operation will be.

There are other methods of breeding poultry that I haven’t covered here. For in depth information you can check out the websites listed below or contact your government agricultural representative for advice.

http://www.world-agriculture.com/poultry/poultry-breeding.php

http://www.raising-chickens.org/chicken-breeding-methods.html

Travelling with…..

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The date is closing in and I have much to do. My sweetie has finished the trailer walls just in time for several days of rain. We will have to wait for a dry day or two before we start loading.

I have made list upon list of things to take. 1. The 3 gallon antique butter churn with a crank on the side and a spigot to drain buttermilk (will likely be a while before I make that much butter but it was available at a great price and I will use it before market days!) 2. The hammock and banjo for my sweetie to finally relax after so many months of days too long, missing supper, and working weekends. 3. A bed and dresser for the little guesthouse. 4.The bedding, 5. window panels, 6. rug, 7. wash-basin and 8. water pitcher & chamber pot. Yup, that’s right, chamber pot!

Then there is all the equipment acquired in the last few months for jobs at the farm. The chipper for twigs up to 8″ diameter (if you can believe it) and the log splitter!

Yup, that trailer is going to be holding some pretty valuable stuff. Not monetarily, though I suspect it would be expensive to replace, but in “necessary to the goal” and “make my life sooooo much easier” categories, invaluable.

I am sad to report that my travel companion – G – is not able to join me this trip. On the up side, she has landed a wonderful job that she loves and is gaining fantastic experience while making pretty decent coin!  So as sad as I am to not have her with me this summer, I am thrilled for her and look forward to perhaps having the pleasure of her company next year instead.

On that note… meet my new travel companion… Ella

Three feet at the shoulder, she is not fully grown yet. She thinks she is a lap dog.

Ella is our great dane. Surprisingly sweet and gentle unless you show no fear and wrestle with her. Then she will lay you flat with one stroke of her paw. She allows little kids to pull on her tongue and count her teeth, ever so slowly, while she keeps her jaws apart and her mouth dries up, she waits….. till they are done….. which sometimes takes a very… very… long time.  She is a darling dog and a very good traveller. I shall be lucky to have her for company.

My first quilt.

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I have been doing a little poking around on websites and blogs about farms that have started to use their places as destinations for weddings or other functions.  This idea appeals to me because I have some event planning background that I enjoyed and because you can’t beat one more income generating avenue open to you.

I saw a photo during my recent poking, of a hayfield with square bales set up on either side of a wide isle. The bales had homemade quilts thrown over them for the guests to sit and at the end of the wide isle was an arbour and alter for the wedding ceremony.  I loved this photo. I loved this idea. The country, homey, casual atmosphere seemed perfect for an occasion held at the farm.

So, from there I started thinking about other considerations for hosting such an event. Where do your guests sleep?  What are the logistics for feeding a large group? Where and on what dinnerware? Entertainment?

I have a few places for guests to sleep this summer.  A small guest house will keep two comfortably, our travel trailer can sleep up to 12, but not that comfortably. The barn will be completed likely the first week of July and will have hot and cold running water as well as electricity, so we could set up a bunkhouse situation in there since we don’t have animals. Then there are always tents. I love tents. Not the nylon modern dome type but the safari canvas variety!! How romantic to see unbleached cotton canvas dotting the field with small campfires in front of them like a little gypsy village! Yes, that is more like it.

As far as dining is concerned, I figured pint sized mason jars will work nicely as beverage containers. I will need hundreds of them to put up food for winters, and they may as well double as ginger beer vessels until they are needed for their primary purpose.  Dinner plates and flatware, along with banquet tables, may be the things we need to rent for large parties, but if it turns out we are going to have a lot of them, I have found some great websites for wholesale or case-lot sales. The VV boutique for unmatched dinner plates is also a reasonable option.

Then we set up banquet tables, use the same bales with quilts for the seats and all that is left is the bountiful meal!

Our adobe oven should be big enough to handle a few roasts. If it can bake 16 loaves of bread at a time, beef and chicken should be a breeze. Huge vegetable salads and a campfire with a big kettle for ear corn; potatoes, boiled, baked or roasted in with the meats and we will have a feast fit for royalty!

From there it isn’t hard to imagine lanterns being lit, a few guitars and a banjo strumming, maybe a fiddle playing. The bales are moved to the outside and the dancing continues into the night.

Yup. That’s how it should go, and this was the original inspiration for my first quilt.

We have friends getting married in the middle of June. Coming up with the perfect wedding gift for these two was no more difficult than seeing that picture. A wedding with quilts, the very symbol of home and a life spent together in love embodied in that cozy home-made textile.  So I headed to the fabric store.

planning stage

I love green, so I loved all these fabrics. Okay it might be a bit girly, but I thought the colours were rich enough to pull it off.

All wrapped up with a ribbon to give away to the happy couple

I have to admit, I have caught the quilt making bug. Next time I may try a pattern, since I think I made it a little harder on myself designing as well as sewing. Trial and error, mostly error, dictates that I not try to reinvent the wheel every time I try something new… or maybe I will do it exactly as I did this time, but with a little experience under my belt.

Bottom line is this quilt turned out okay and it was made with an original design, some pretty, complimentary fabrics and a whole lot of love so I will view it as a resounding success and try it again.