One Piece at a Time

We are buidling a barn one piece at a time. Both in the sense of pieces of lumber, and bays of the barn. Eventually, the barn will be 50×12. maybe even 60×12. We are building it in 10×12 bays because that’s all we can afford at a time! The first bay, currently under construction, is to be the Blacksmith shop. Mica is delighted, as this is be the first time he’s ever had a shop all his own. Other bays will be a storage unit, the Pottery, a rabbitry, and a honey house. The possible sixth unit would be for the cow, which is a subject still in debate around here… But plans aside, the Barn is finally rising, smelling of dust and sweat and fresh cut wood. One piece at a time.

We had our lumber cut to order at a local sawyer's. He gave us an excellent price on it.

 

All the wood had to be hauled home. Dad and Mica are very pleased with themselves.

 

Dad says he's going to lengthen this beam.

 

A loose chicken checks out the construction.

 

Dad and Mica got the first wall up in just a couple hours.

 

Mica hauling beams and beaming!

 

The balcksmith shop will have a dirt floor.

 

Johann is going to have the greatest block collection ever!

Mother of All Blueberry Bushes

Measuring and marking for the barn.

Mica breaks ground for his blacksmith shop, which will occupy the first bay of the barn.

 

We started out early today, as it’s another hot one. It was up to about 100 degrees yesterday, might hit that much again today. It did rain last night, and started off overcast today, which let us all work until close to one before knocking off for the afternoon. Dad and Mica are putting in the footings for the first tmodule of the garage. I headed off to pick black raspberries, and was up to my waist in brambles when Dad bellowed for me to come up. So I fought my way free of the prickles and headed to the garden, where he announced that BoPop would not be able to take Johann to Lowes for the Junior Builder workshop so could I please take him, in fifteen minutes. Oh, and could you pick up 6 bags of ‘crete while you’re there? Ok… So I head out with Johann, and as we got there Bopop showed up, having successfully started his car. I had the pleasure of watching my little man and his Great-grandfather build a pair of binoculars together. That was fun!

From one generation to the next… these two cross the gap of four generations.

 

After I got back to the house, I fed the guys lunch and watched them muck about with concrete for a bit before taking off to pick more berries. They did their best to get the footings level and square.

 

Mixing small batches of 'crete

 

We poured footings for the corner posts in sono-tubes.

 

I went down in the pasture, intending to start at the northern most berry bushes and work my way back to the house, but I found the mother of all blueberry bushes and picked it clean until my bucket was full. A gallon of berries off one highbush berry bush. Whew! It got hot, but I wasn’t going to give up until I had it clean.

Wild blueberries are small but good.

 

Tons of little berries!

 

beautiful as a bunch of flowers!

 

Black Raspberries.

Strawberry Jam

I went out for another hour this morning and picked strawberries with Johann. Actually, he chased butterflies and I picked. I seem to be averaging a cup of berries in an hour. When I came back in and took a look at my berries we had 6 cups total, 5 when mashed up a little. Perfect for a batch of jam. Strawberry jam is very easy to make, I did it in about a half hour today, with Johann’s help!

See where Johann is hiding?

 

Today's pick

 

Three days of picking for one batch of jam…

Wild Strawberry Jam

6-7 cups of berries (should be 5 cups when crushed slightly)

7 cups sugar

1 box pectin

Put the berries and pectin in a stockpot and set the stove to medium high. Stir frequently. When it comes to a boil, add the sugar gradually, stirring all the time. When the jam comes back up to a boil, let boil for 3 minutes and ladle into clean jars. Lid with dome lids that have been boiled and tighten the rings quickly. I use a canning funnel and don’t get jam on the rim of the jar, but if you do, wipe it off with a a paper towel before you put on the dome lid. Let them cool, and check for seal when cool. I am hearing my dome lids go “Tink!” every so often as I write this and they seal down. Even if a jar doesn’t seal, you can put it in the frig to eat soon. I made 7 half-pint jars today, the recipe will usually make 8.

a towel on the table, sterilized jars, and the book I get recipes from.

 

Jam on the boil. It will foam up, so keep an eye on it and stir often.

 

The finished product! Ruby red and so flavorful!

Herb Garden

I have been wanting to put in a raised bed herb garden for a long time. This year I finally got the opportunity, partly because I’d been able to get 12 landscape timbers for free. Determining where I was going to build the bed was to longest part of the whole process, as I knew I wanted it close to the house, but the east side yard is too shady to put it there. I will put the kitchen garden there instead, so I can grow cool loving plants like lettuce and cilantro longer. I have terrible luck with cilantro, it always bolts right away for me.

So the herb bed wound up on the south side of the sideyard fence, right in front of our heirloom roses. I used six timbers to make it 12′ x 6′. Before I put any dirt in it, I lined it with feed bags and newspaper, as I hadn’t done any prep of the soil under the bed. As this area had both raspberries and goldenrod coming up due to long neglect, I knew even with 8″ of soil in the bed I’d still have weeds coming through without a barrier.

For filling the bed I used mostly the sandy loam we’d had delivered a while back for another project. It was a little too sandy, so I added two wheelbarrow loads of partially composted leaves as I was filling. The added organic material will help retain some water without adding too much fertilizer. I am planting mostly Mediterranean herbs in this bed, and they prefer a sandy, poor soil. Adding rabbit or horse manure to this bed would have given me problems.

Smoothing the bed with an upside down rake.

Once I’d filled the bed which took me about two days working on it off and on, I soaked the whole thing thoroughly. The dirt was close to dry while I was filling, and I wanted to make sure the plants got a good start. Up until this morning, we hadn’t had rain for about two weeks. When I was getting ready to plant, bringing starts over from the greenhouse, Glady came home from school and wanted to help. Kids love planting. Something about putting little green starts into the dirt just makes them happy. I’m not ready to trust Johann with the more fragile starts, but Glady is old enough to learn how to spread pot bound roots, and how to be firm enough to take out any air bubbles in the soil while putting the plant in.

Glady and the planted herb bed

We planted herbs and edible flowers in the bed. Rosemary, lavender, thyme, sage and parsley for some of the herbs. Calendula, tagetes marigold, pansies and nasturtium for the edible flowers. Also Borage, chamomile and basil. I still plan to put in purple basil, lemon basil and lime basil, as well as pots of lemon grass, oregano, and stevia. I may have to build another bed for moisture loving plants like mints. Oh, and I need to transplant some chives into this bed. See how one thing at Stonycroft leads to another?

This little butterfly was getting drinks from the damp soil.

Hugelculture

It’s a funny word – I like to say it. Hoo-Gull-culture. And I love the concept even more. Hugelculture is the concept of using wood, particularly decaying wood, in the garden to boost productivity and reduce the need for irrigation. Well, here on Stonycroft the one thing we have lots of is rotting wood (and rocks, of course). I have a couple of stacks of rotting firewood at my easy disposal, and much more down in the woods if I had mechanical help getting it up here. I decided to try it on a small scale first, though, with two container gardens. I’d bought two “muck buckets” intended for children to keep toys in. They are about 3 feet tall and the same diameter. I picked out bright colors, to add a playful accent to the farmstand parking lot where I placed them. I had originally planned to drill holes in the bottom and fill them about half way with styrofoam peanuts, then with ProMix and compost, but couldn’t find peanuts, so I had the brilliant idea of the wood. I also opted not to drill holes in the bottom of them. I thought if the wood is to act as a sponge, they won’t need drainage. The roots of the plants will probably not go all the way to the bottoms of these tall planters. The wood I used is, I believe, apple wood that was stacked years ago next to the garage and never used. At this point it is spongy, some of it was coming apart in my hands as I moved it. And yes, it was wet. So an auspicious beginning for my low-irrgation planters. I planted one with annual flowers, and the other with herbs and edible flowers. I did water once so far, as the surface layer looked dry, and they will not have developed deep root systems yet. You can find out even more about it at Paul Wheaton’s site (http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/). He has as much fun with the word as I do. The concept seems to have originated with Sepp Holzer, a very interesting fellow who deserves a post all his own, some other day.

 

One of the planters half full of rotted wood.

 

Tagetes marigolds, lavender, basil and nasturtiums.

 

Fully planted and ready to grow.

Planting the Garden and Distractions

I’ve been working on getting the garden planted. I had a ton of melon and squash starts to get in, finished those today. I planted cucumbers, golden and blue Hubbard squash, watermelon sugar baby, Melons Jenny Lind, Crenshaw, Sweet Granite, Pixie, Charentais, and one that Johann lost the label to. I put in butternut squash and zucchini and yellow summer squash. Then I planted four tomatoes from the greenhouse, because we have way too many already, and I’ll put in a few more later today. We’ve put up electric mesh fence around the garden, and I made a big enough enclosure to keep the chicks in the chookabago inside it to keep the fox away. We had the dickens of a time getting the fence hot last night. Our portable charger was corroded, we couldn’t find a battery for another portable, so we finally set up and wired the big one that plugs in. I learned how to use the weed whacker with brush blade attachment. Exciting! Now that we have the enclosure up and hot, I can move all the poultry into it. I also did some prowling around the farm finding birds to take pictures of, we have so many birds.

I started these inside about 2 weeks ago.

 

The garden is now enclosed with electric fence to deter the groundhog and other pests

 

I melted holes in the 6mil plastic with a little blow torch.

 

The baby Phoebes in the rabbitry are getting big - they'll fly soon.

 

The chicks are loving their new freedom and green stuff to eat.

 

I found a Robin's nest in the plum thicket.

Gardening

Dad and I bought a contractor’s underlayment day before yesterday. 20′x100′ of black plastic, 6 mil thick. That was the foundation of my garden. Today I unrolled the plastic, realizing in the process that before today I had no concept of how long 100′ really is. I used the area the pigs have been “tractoring” as it’s $70 to rent a rototiller for the day and $350 to buy a used one. No budget for that, and I had this nicely turned and fertilized ground! Once I’d rolled out the full length of the plastic I cut 7 1/2′ off one long edge for Dad to use to line the troughs in the greenhouse. That leaves me with 12′ x 100′, approximately. I had gone beyond where the pigs were, so I cut about 20′ off the end, which I will put off to one side tomorrow, if I have enough soaker hose.

The intial roll-out and you can see where the pigs have been that I will cover in plastic for the garden.

The next step was to find, fix, and wrestle into place 250′ of soaker hose under the plastic. I’d had to stretch the plastic out to measure and cut it, but this step would have been a lot easier if I’d been able to do it before that. Between the plastic and the soaker, I will have to do minimal watering and weeding. The soaker hose is easy to cut with a shovel, and ours have been mended many times. I fixed one cut and mended a complete break in the hose with a connector.

Anchoring the edges was the hardest task. I couldn’t find enough large rocks to do the edges, which Dad thought I would. Kinda cool, actually, considering how much rock we have in places. Means this garden area will be easy to work. So to hold down the plastic I shoveled around the edge, putting a continuous layer of dirt on about 8” of the plastic. I did this for about 50’, using the rocks I had for the remaining 30’. This wasn’t easy…

Not much to show for all that work - it'll look different in a month or two!

I stopped and took a break a couple times while I was working, and drank liquid. I rarely sweat like that – dripping – but today I was a bit wobbly in the knees when done. I turned on the soaker hose and let it start while I went back to the house for the three sisters seeds.

I planted the north edge of the garden with Mammoth Sunflowers, pole beans, and sweet corn. I did drop in a few pumpkins, which I will have to watch since I don’t want them taking over the garden. The south edge, also where I had trenched to weight the edge of the plastic, I planted to shorter cutting sunflowers and bush beans (which are really old seed, 1996, it’ll be a miracle if any sprout). I plan to plant at least another 20×20 plot not under plastic to three sisters as well. Some of the seeds are really old, so I am heavily sowing. Corn will do all right, I think. Stored dry it will germinate after years. The beans, I don’t know, and the pumpkins that are more than about 3 years won’t germinate, I know from experience.

All that was from 6:00 am to 11:00 am. I can’t work in the heat, it makes me sick. So now I can get dinner in the crockpot (venison stew) and get ready for working at the library. Quiet time! Tonight when it’s cool again I will start setting out some of the starts from the greenhouse into the plastic. Not sure where I’m going to put carrots, that soil is pretty heavy.

Mica thought my bat girl belt was funny.

The little chokecherry tree just to the south of the garden is in full bloom - jelly later.

Bees and Bunnies

Quail waterer in the beehive to feed the bees.

Because it is still rainy – although not cool, at the moment it’s like a sauna out there! I have been feeding the bees sugar water. We use quail waterers to give the hives a solution of one-to-one sugar and water. I did notice that the bees were flying today, which is a good thing, and they aren’t going through the sugar as fast. Today I spoke to our farmer friend who leases them every year and he told me he wants them for his big pumpkin field next month. The bees will increase his yield enough to make our lease fee well worth his while. Beekeepers like the arrangement where they can get honey and get paid for the girl’s works.

Sugar and warm tap water make fine bee food.

This hive has a mason jar with slits in the lid for a feeder.

.

We took a closer look at the baby bunnies today. Michael moved fluff and I took a picture, and we were delighted to find we have six in there. As Michael says, they have wee little ears, and round tummies. Although we never see Mama in with them, she’s obviously feeding them. She’s a first time mother and doing pretty well, considering. They are half New Zealand but they are all black or dark grey.

Fat little baby bunnies! They are so cute!

One of the old apple trees on the edge of the garden.

We have a number of apple trees on the property, but most of them are seedling apples, which usually means the apples are small and very, very tart. We have one tree by the house that actually has sweet apples. They look beautiful in the spring covered with pale pink blossoms. I like to stand under them, inhaling the sweet scent and listening to the bees humming in the flowers. If we pay attention perhaps this fall we can harvest some to make apple jelly with, or to mix into the apple cider. We normally let them go and concentrate on the orchard up at Toad Hall, but they are planning to sell this year.

The greenhouse is filling up with green.

We have much work to do in the greenhouse, it’s only about half-ready for plants, but the tomatoes and herbs in there are doing really well. The decked center path will be lined with plastic and filled with water eventually. Dad says that will hold about 1200 gallons of water and may extend our season to almost year-round with the thermal mass. The little wood stove just visible in the foreground will help with that, too. We may try to grow fish in there, eventually. Long term we want to try a polyculture of fish, crawdads, and plants. Dad plans another trough on the North side of the greenhouse that will be pumped up into gutters full of plants. The fish poo will fertilize the plants. We might not manage it all this year, but most of the infrastructure is in place, I just have to follow Dad’s plans. Along with about a dozen other projects. It’s good, though. The farm is happening, inevitably as the grass grows.

More Dirt

It’s still raining, and I’m still not getting anything done outside, although I have been spring-cleaning and working at the library. Dad’s still up at Toad Hall eating bon-bons. He’s gotten the all clear from the doctors – they got all the cancer and he won’t have to get any follow up treatment. That was the best kind of news. He’ll be home before I know it, ready to work and all I have is this big pile of dirt…

Fill dumped on the driveway - the truck was too heavy to go further.

Michael and I will be moving this dirt from its current heaped state to fill in the hole in the sideyard. That’s 18 yards of sandy loam fill. Oh, my aching back. We can’t start on it quite yet, as ’tis raining and looking to continue until the weekend. But having that hole filled in (where an old outbuilding collapsed a few years back) will mean that I can build my kitchen garden, so I am looking forward to having it done.

Rainy Day Activities

seeds are what gardeners really collect

It’s been raining since Sunday, three days now. Which has put a cramp in my plans, a bit. But it has allowed us to get some things done inside that needed doing. Like going through all the seeds and sorting out what needed to be planted now, and what will be planted later in the ground. Once that ground dries up a bit and I can get a rented rototiller to work it up. On Sunday I planted five flats of seeds. At seventy-two plants each, that’s 360 starts. I’m being a little overambitious, yes. But those starts are veggies, herbs, flowers, and some oddments I really wanted to try. And we do plan to have a big garden and sell some and put a lot up. With 7 people to feed here on the Farm, and more in the shape of friends and family nearby, a big garden can go a long way. We have three shoeboxes full of seeds, and that’s not counting the old seed I tossed. Anything from the 1990s went in the pig bucket. I have come to the conclusion that gardeners collect seeds. All year long, Dad and I pick up packets of seeds, saying either, we need that, or hmmm… that would be interesting to grow. Which would explain the packet of Stevia seed. We don’t usually plant half of what we have stashed, so this year I wanted to get a good chunk in the ground. I planted several different kinds of melon, for instance, including some heirloom varieties we’d picked up. Hopefully they will do well, everyone here loves melon and will eat as much as I feed them. I paid three dollars for a honeydew melon today. It would be lovely to just get one in the garden.

Unrelated to gardening, but related to the rain, I have been spring cleaning the house. Both kid’s rooms are clean now finally. We’ll see how long they stay that way!

Nasturtium seeds are quite large.

Lettuce ready to go - we are planting mesclun mix greens every week, now, for a continual crop.

I did go out to the greenhouse in the rain and planted the next lot of greens. The lettuce Dad started a month ago is ready to harvest and looking good. It was nice to be in the warm greenhouse with the rain plinking on the plastic. The tomato starts and strawberries in hanging baskets are beginning to bloom. We will be selling them for people who want to have some sweet produce but don’t have the space we do to garden. The everbearing strawberries will start to fruit next month, and continue through October with minimal frost protection. Then they will come back next year bigger and better if overwintered in a sheltered place!

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