Tuesday, November 29, 2016

(Very Late) Potato Sowing

On Sunday, after the first frosts had come, after the potato leaves withered in the biting cold, after the stalks surrendered and fell on the dry soil, my mom and I walked up to the vegetable garden to excavate the potato beds.

Earlier in the year, I had ordered seed potatoes from Seed Savers. Apparently I had ordered too many, for no matter how closely I laid the tubers in the ground, I still could not fit half of the total order into two 8'x4' beds. In an attempt to preserve the remaining tubers, I placed them in the refrigerator. There they sat for months until I realized that it was probably too late to make a second sowing. In my defense, the summer was so ridiculously hot and dry that I thought it would be a waste to plant the remaining seed potatoes. Of course, keeping them in the refrigerator simply produced the same effect with the opposite approach.

In mid-September, it seemed at least worth a try to grow more potatoes with what remained. I really had nothing to lose, so I planted the rest and waited. Less robust plants grew, and then they got hit by an unexpected frost. I assumed the effort had been wasted.

This weekend, my mom, armed with my border fork, was too curious and had to investigate. So she sunk the tines deep into the soil and brought up a few wonderful fingerling potatoes. I sat on the gravel path and rescued the little gems from the soil. Again and again she sank the teeth of the border fork into the earth and delivered more unexpected potatoes. She began to chuckle every time I said, "Oooh!" and grabbed at the harvest.

The potatoes were mostly small, but they fed us for two nights. Maybe I waited too long for the second sowing. Maybe I'll get them in a little sooner next year. But sinking my teeth into those last creamy, tasty bites of the summer garden was a pleasure I may remember until the next batch of tubers finds a spot in the garden on the hill.

The photo isn't great, but the potatoes were


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Putting the Garden to Bed

Late this afternoon, as the sun sat just above the horizon and cast a golden glow over the farm, Turfman and I took part in what has become an annual ritual. The temperature is expected to drop overnight and bring frost with it. We have wrapped the sugar snap and shelling peas in a frost protection blanket, anchoring it against the blustery winds. The radish, lettuce, cabbage, and kale seedlings are nestled under old sheets. But everything else that has, perhaps, overstayed its weather welcome, remains exposed to the elements and will likely blacken and wither in response. In the coming days, I will make my way around the garden and begin adding the damaged plants to the compost pile.

It's always a little sad to gather one last harvest before winter sets in. I hate leaving behind so many vegetables that are so full of potential but appeared on the scene far too late to reach it. I'll still be able to grow plenty of things underneath the protection of poly tunnels, and next year's summer growing season will (hopefully) be better than this year's disappointing results after too many days of brutal, withering heat.

But it was still hard to close the gate behind me today.

The last haul of summer 2016

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Raising Chickens

This is just one of those brief weekday posts to send all of you a little bit of cheer.


I have been falling in love with my hens, and so has a certain little dog in the house. Zoey cannot allow me to go up to the coop without her. She stands with her head resting on the top of the coop ramp and greets the girls as they descend. The chickens run to see her when we visit during the day, and at night, Zoey always needs to be with me as I tuck back them into the coop.

We're both besotted.




Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Fall Vegetable Garden

I got a late start on the fall vegetable garden this year. I blame the chickens for that. Of course, I was the one who decided to get chickens before I had even begun building a coop or run, so maybe it's unfair to blame the girls. Maybe the blame should rest completely on me.

No matter who is at fault, the late start meant that I had to cut back on my plans. Starting a fall vegetable garden is not as easy as one might think, especially when I have to completely remove the summer vegetable garden in order to focus on the fall. In the end, I planted some lettuce and spinach, then followed two weeks later with another sowing. Of those two sowings, I have a grand total of two lettuce plants and two spinach plants. Only one of my Chinese Slow Bolt cabbage seeds germinated, as well. I'm not sure why I'm having such trouble. It's either that the seeds are bad or the soil is. Even though the drip irrigation is working fine, I think the complete lack of rain for two months now has really caused some problems.

It's not all bad news up there, though. I also started my two favorite types of radishes--lovely and mild French Breakfast and the wonderfully spicy Watermelon, and they're coming along nicely. I also planted sugar snaps and regular shelling peas, and those are growing really well. And now loads of Dwarf Blue Curly Kale seedlings are peeking out of the soil.

The peas are now scrambling up their
trellis supports


Some elements of the summer vegetables are still in place, largely because they have been producing heavy yields in the cooler weather. I can't keep up with Asian eggplants, and the peppers of all varieties are going crazy. But they likely won't last much longer unless I start protecting them. We woke up to 31 degrees on Friday morning, and the first kiss of deadly frost has damaged parts of the plants.

These eggplants like the cooler weather


Some leaves are browning and curling

The upper portions of the pepper plants have suffered, too

I'll likely try the lettuce and spinach again in another bed to see if I can get a better germination rate in different soil, but even if they don't produce, we'll still have a good showing from everything else.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Growing Peppers in the Garden (Still!)

[Note: I'm going to try and provide mini dispatches from the garden during the week in case anyone sitting in an office needs a little pick-me up. Here's the first. I'll still aim for the longer reports on the weekends.]

I'm so glad I decided to leave my pepper plants alone when I started clearing the summer garden in preparation for fall. They really seem to love the cooler temperatures at night because they are producing profusely and looking lovely. (How's that for a little alliteration?)

The little golden ones came from an unmarked plant, but I love finding all of those little babies hiding among the green leaves. It seems that the slender light green peppers are now unmarked, too, but they are delicious. And the Iko Iko sweet peppers (the purple ones) are beautiful to watch ripen. Summer was a little harsh in the garden, but the peppers are making fall pretty sweet.

A rainbow of organic peppers

Friday, November 4, 2016

Garden Demolition Team--Deer Damage Edition

When we lived in Orlando, the squirrels and I were almost always at war. The battles never ended in any casualties (unless I count my pride), but we were always trying to outsmart each other. Those squirrels were downright cunning, and though I thought I was, too, I had to wave the white flag of surrender in the end.

On our new property, squirrels aren't much of a problem. Of course, the property is massive in comparison to our small Orlando plot of land, so perhaps I simply don't see the impacts as much. Even though the larger property would seem to harbor far more critters capable of damaging things, the only trouble I had initially was with a certain chipmunk who seemed to have an affinity for Lily of the Valley bulbs. There's also been an armadillo problem, but since it was always rooting around the lawn, that was more of Turfman's aggravation.

In the last couple of months, however, things have taken an ugly turn. It all began with a seemingly ravenous rabbit (identified by certain "gifts" left behind) who treated my vegetable garden like it was his personal all-you-can-eat buffet. First he took every leaf off of my bean plants. Once those were completely destroyed, he was lucky enough to discover my sweet potato plants. Again, he removed every leaf and added the flowers to his diet. Annoyed but unimpressed, I covered the sweet potatoes with chicken wire. Goodbye, rabbit.

The last month has ushered in a new destructive force, and to identify it, dear readers, all you have to do is think of what rhymes with foe (but it's likely I'm not just dealing with the females).

I'm not sure why I haven't had too many issues with deer previously. They've always roamed our property in the mornings. The worst they've done up to now has been to prune one of my plum trees (and yes, the pun is most certainly intended). I stuck a pinwheel in the tree, and I haven't had a problem since. But now they are destroying my front garden, and along with it, my hopes and dreams for so many plants I've nurtured from seed.

First they stripped the leaves from two branches of my Philadelphus (mock orange). I reassured myself that it is virtually a weed and should easily recover. Then I saw they had ravaged my David Austin 'Olivia' rose. That's when I felt the first spark of hate ignite in my belly. Then came the hollyhock. Then (surprisingly), the Salvias. On they went, methodically working their way through Rudbeckia and the tree form Hydrangea, stoking my anger fire. I cut pieces of chicken wire to defend my precious, damaged plants.

Okay, they've left half of the Philadelphus
so far

I thought the Rudbeckia triloba was a goner, but it's sprouting
new leaves at the base

What's left of my 'Becky' daisy. Are you kidding me?!?


When I discovered this morning that they had actually removed the cage I had placed over one of my grown-from-seed Echinops (globe thistle) and completely removed it, let's just say little children's ears would have required covering.  And now it's war. I don't know exactly how I will defend my turf, but most options are on the table. The deer are soon to meet their match, I hope.

If anyone has suggestions for me, I sure would love to hear them. Please post your ideas!


Saturday, October 15, 2016

The New Additions

I have wanted chickens since I started watching Alys Fowler's BBC series The Edible Garden on a fall day in 2011. When she brought two chickens, named Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, into her garden and sang their praises, I was hooked. There was only one problem--I lived in Orlando, and chickens weren't allowed there.

When we planned our move back to Georgia, chickens became part of the plan. A friend gave me a book on chicken keeping as a farewell gift. Neighbors asked me to send photos of the chickens as soon as we got them. When the reality set in that I could have them, though, I began to worry about whether I was making the right choice. So the chickens, oddly enough, became like the story of my tattoo. I had an initial desire, worried about the decision, and waited three years to finally get one. The only difference is that the chicken decision only took two years to make. Well, two years from when I could get them. Five years total.

Ultimately, I made the decision on a whim. I had been trolling a Facebook list for people selling livestock for more than a year. When a friend at work asked me in August why I just couldn't get the chickens already, I looked at the list that evening, saw a post for week old chicks, and picked three up the next day. The trick was that I hadn't made any preparations for them.

Virginia, Vita, and Vanessa on their first day
with their family

Enclosing the left bay on the barn and building a chicken coop had been on my list of projects for the summer, but the list was long and the coop at the end of it. As the summer wore on, I fretted about spending too much money on accomplishing all of my goals. The estimate on the coop design plans I had was $600, and with the other things I needed to enclose the run, I figured the total cost would be $1,000. I couldn't justify such a significant expense.

But one day, as I was walking the property, I thought about the many structures that the previous owner had built and I hated. Maybe instead of demolishing all of those things, I could reuse or repurpose them. That's when the hideous archery shack started to look a little more appealing to me.

That? Really?

The target inside (which was filled with old
clothes when we dismantled it...ick)

A side view of the hideousness

The measurements were perfect for a coop, and I figured that I could use the planks on our ugly covered bridge to enclose it. That would save me both money and time. It took me forever to get the target out, but once it was, I had a nice pile of wood and trim from it to use on the coop. The only issue left to deal with was that this enormous thing was cemented in. I attached temporary legs to it, and as Turfman braced it, I took the ripsaw to the 4x4 posts that it stood on. Then we removed the temporary front legs, climbed inside, carefully tilted it forward, and began to drag/carry it into the barn bay. I built a new base for it, and then we stood it up again and put it in its final position. We worked on the coop every free moment we had, and the chicks grew on in the large box in the garage as the weeks went by.

Friends came one Saturday in September to help install the framing for the run and hang the hardware cloth, which moved us a lot further along and made the work more enjoyable.

Here's our crew!
We buried the hardware cloth around the entire perimeter to discourage any critters from trying to get in, and we prepped and painted day after day until I thought I might break. But then we made it, and the girls got to move into their new home.

Nearly every part of the coop is repurposed from the archery target and the bridge. Even the ramp into the coop is built from the frame of the target. My dear friend Maureen (pictured in the center of my crew) gave me her old French patio doors that she replaced with sliding doors a few months ago (don't worry, she's getting eggs). We used white paint that the previous owners left behind, and the blue paint was left over from painting the doors to my vegetable garden. All of it saved me a lot of money. The big expense was the huge roll of hardware cloth and the lumber to enclose the run, but after all of that, my expenses came in under $400 for a very lovely coop and a 20'x30' run for the ladies. In the end, I think they love it, and I'm pretty chuffed at the result. Now the rest of you can judge for yourselves.

Welcome home!


Announcing the residents
(sign from reused bridge parts)


Not sure if I'll enclose the bottom for
storage. The girls like to hang out there.


The ramp that was an archery target


I had to buy plywood for the back and
nesting boxes.


The inside, which is dusty. I use a sand bed, and the
girls like to take dust baths in it.


Enjoying their jungle gym


Virginia on her throne


They seem pretty happy