Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tour of the Farm

I thought it was time for a seedling update, mostly I thought it would give me something to do while a spring blizzard wreaks havoc on my home town. First on the docket, the spinach. They have their first "true" leaves and I have almost been tempted to cut and taste. But, thus far I have refrained.

These little beauties are red giant mustard seedlings. They purportedly have more folic acid than even spinach leaves. I got these seeds from Markham Farm. I can't recall ever having eaten mustard greens so I'm pretty excited about them.

This leafy jungle is the broccoli seedlings. They are growing very fast. Last year we didn't get to eat any of our broccoli. A group of rogue bunnies in leather jackets (maybe)  helped themselves to the plants before they had a chance to head. It looked like someone had run over them with a lawnmower. Shameless gluttons. Shortly after that I enclosed the garden with chicken wire. That kept the buggers out.

Last but not least these tiny little guys are called alpine strawberries. They're a bit of a fun experiment. We got these seeds as part of a Valentine's Day gift. They grow a small strawberry about the size of your thumbnail. Everything that I have read about them says that they are very tasty despite being rather small. They took a long time to germinate so I was pretty pumped when they came up. Only time will tell.

Hopefully this weekend I will be able to get my cold frame out in the garden. It would have been nice to get it out there before the recent snows, but I had to go out of town for work on short notice.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sprouting Spinach

Spinach kinda looks like grass, no? People may be wondering why I am so garden gung ho when my garden still looks like this.

I have constructed a secret weapon. Well, it's not really a secret to gardeners that routinely use season extenders. This week I put the finishing touches on my first cold frame.

The cold frame is a bit like a mini greenhouse. It takes in sun and warms the soil throughout the day, then at night the soil slowly releases the warmth back into the cold frame. It's a really simple means to extend the gardening season. The design of my cold frame is an amalgam of this design and the thoughts of Eliot Coleman in his book Four Season Harvest. By the by, I highly recommend anything written by Eliot Coleman. He's not only a master of his craft, but a very talented writer to boot.

I made my cold frame out of 2x12 and 2x8 stock. The back side is 12" tall and slopes to 8" in the front. The slope is meant to face south in order to maximize the amount of sunlight in the lower winter sun. The lids, or lights, are made out of a 2x2 frame with salvaged plexi-glass screwed to it. I put corner braces in each corner for support.

There are 2" hinges on the back side of the lids for opening and closing. Next time I'm going to use beefier hinges. The 2" ones are a tad flimsy.

The initial test of the cold frame was a success.

The power of the sun warmed the inside of the frame 34 degrees more than the ambient air temperature. I speculate that both temperatures were a little high since the test was done on the concrete right next to the garage. Nonetheless, the difference is what I was looking for. Now, I just need to dig a 4'x3'x3' hole in the glacier covering the garden.

Friday, March 6, 2009

12 Acres and Almost No Dog

In Bailey's 3 1/2 short years, she has tried many times (unwittingly) to leave this earth. First, she found and ate a box of Decon. When such an incident occurs, one must learn how to make a Rottweiler/Husky vomit up a nasty green mass with only his wits and hydrogen peroxide. Here's a tip - turkey baster.
Next, she took herself and me on a 3 mile wild dog chase across the prairie which only ended when she was kicked by a horse. She limped for a day, but my anger lasted a week.

Her latest escapade is escaping from the dog run followed by the yard. This is only dangerous to animals that lack the ability to watch for cars. Two times this week she has jumped her chain link fence dog run and then the chain link fence that surrounds the rest of the yard. I can't really blame her, we have had so much snow this year that the fence has gotten increasingly shorter. So, yesterday and today I spent a lot of time chipping away the glacier-like snow around the perimeter of the yard. To her credit, she did stay near the house instead of bolting for the nearest highway, or mountain lion. Maybe she's growing up.

We often say that Bailey is lucky we found her before someone with a lot less patience did, but how can you stay mad at a face like that.

In other news:

The broccoli has sprouted!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Let The Gardening Begin

Ok, so I'm not sure if the indoor season really counts as gardening, but it cures the winter blues. At least for farmer nerds like me.

The wife and I start our gardening season indoors with the aid of grow lights (4' shop lights) and soil blocks. If you are unfamiliar with soil blocking, this is the basic gist of it. You wet a potting mix, fill a soil block maker, plunge out the blocks, plant your seeds and water daily until they germinate. In picture sequence it looks a little something like this:

Last year, I used a commercial mix of potting soil. this year I tried to make my own. The first recipe I tried consisted of

1 part finished and screened compost
1 part worm castings
a small amount of soy meal

As it turns out the soy meal used as a fertilizer activated some fungal spores and my soil blocks grew a feathery white fungus. It smelled like a pair of sweat socks that you wore to the gym for a month. I revised the recipe on the advice of Brett Markham of Markham farm. He is the author of a great book called Mini Farming for Self Sufficiency.

I followed his recipe only I omitted a couple of things. Not because I didn't trust his expertise, but because I try to buy as little as possible to start my seedlings. The mix is:

3 parts peat moss
1 part finished and screened compost
1 part worm castings

It worked great. My broccoli seeds sprouted after 4 days. I'll have an update on that soon.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My First Blog!

As I am new to blogging, you must be patient with me. I still don't have this page looking like I want it to, but this will do for now.

This is the story of a man, his wife and their dog in search of a country lifestyle. A reprieve from the confines of a suburban lawn. We'll trade non-native grass for sweeping prairie. We'll have the opportunity to build the home of our dreams (someday), and eat the food we've grown in our giant garden. But, first things first...