Monday, January 30, 2012

I'm Planting!

   You might remember that wonderful calendar I mentioned in the last blog, the one that tells the best times to plant according to the planets and such. It told me that Saturday and Sunday were leaf days. So, I began to plant our herbs and some cold leafy greens in the basement.
   The process is really simple. We have these nice shelves and grow lights set up downstairs. I use plastic “flats” with a plastic “top” underneath to catch the excess water, hold plastic packs of 36 cells to plant into, and have a nicer clear plastic top on the topside to hold the heat in and keep the mice out (farmhouses have a healthy supply of mice and they dearly love tasty little sprouts).

   I reuse the soil and the plastic cell packs from the years before for most of the new plantings. Some people say that the soil should be heated in the oven or microwaved or whatever to kill bacteria. We don’t own a microwave and I have no intention of killing my soil microbes before I need them to help grow my plants. But, I’ve also never had a problem with bacteria in my seedling trays. (You’ll have to make your own judgment if you want to do this method of bacteria killing or not.)
   So, I check my calendar, gather my seed, fill the cells with soil, pop in two seeds (I believe they need to have a friend to grow with), water (we include a sea mineral in our water to help boost the little guys), and put the top on. Then I place them under the lights, which are just shop lights with no special bulbs or anything. The basement is about 65 degrees right now so I’ve hooked up a heater to help warm it up. We also have three small, handmade heat trays for the tougher to sprout items. Some herbs and the peppers like the extra warmth.

   The lights are hooked up to a timer so the plants have a “night time” to rest. When the plants are about an inch or so high, I’ll take the lid off and turn on the oscillating fan. The fan blowing across them helps to make their little stems sturdy, keeps them from reaching so badly. Another method I use to keep them from becoming spindly is to keep the light close to them so they aren’t reaching for the light. I raise it as they get close to touching it, just a little at a time.
   Today was a “fruit” day so I worked on my peppers. This year we are sprouting them in bags that are placed on the warm radiators. This will help us to know we have full flats, no empty cells, saving on space which is becoming more scarce in the basement every year. I can fit about 50 flats down there right now, but we plant about three times that much to transplant in the fields later.
   My system…ziplock bags, a marker to write on the bags (don’t forget to write on them what is in them!), paper towels or napkins, seeds, my planting list, and water.

   Here’s what you do…Wet a piece of the paper towel and squeeze out the excess. Lay it out and sprinkle the seeds on half of it. Then fold it over the seeds, slip it into the ziplock, seal, and label. Put them in a warm place. Light doesn’t matter since they don’t have light to sprout in the ground anyway (only matters for those seeds that require light to germinate, read the packet if you aren’t sure). Check every couple of days. When they are sprouted, take some tweezers and place them into your soil, cover, water, lid on, under lights. Wha-la!
   Word of advice…learned the hard way…if you are planting peppers – DO NOT put your hands on your face, nose or especially eyes, after touching the seeds! Wash your hands extensively before doing anything like rubbing your face. Believe me…not fun!!

   I’ve planted my herbs and some cold crops such as kale, leeks, brussel sprouts, etc. in the basement flats. The cold crops will go out to the hoophouses fairly early, maybe by the end of the month. The herbs will get transferred to some shelves upstairs after they are up and going. Peppers will go into the flats downstairs, and the latter half of February I’ll start tomatoes. I might use the same radiator method for those.
   We move plants out as they get larger and sturdy, making room to start more flats of seedlings. They go into the greenhouse next to the garage. That way if we have a cold spell, we can hook up a heater. The plants that like the cold go out to the south hoophouse (plastic top) and the larger hoophouses until ready to transplant.

   We are mailing our seed orders this week! Quite a bit of seed we save ourselves, which saves a pile of money. The seed we save is stored in a special refrigerator in the basement until needed. Beans, peas, peppers, tomatoes, tomatillo, flowers, corn, etc. We also save our own wheat, rye, barley, and oat seed as much as we can. The crops that are biennial, such as beets, and some others such as carrots or radishes, we don’t bother to save. They are difficult to clean and the seed is cheap enough to buy every year.
   Well, that’s it for the planting for now…off to get ready for syrup season!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Winter Reading

   Today is a good inside day. It is really windy outside, although it is a somewhat warmish south wind. We’ve decided to work inside today. That’s GREAT ‘cause my sinuses are rebelling against me for sweeping the basement yesterday, threatening a cold. I’m all piled under a bunch of blankets and quilts with my books all around me. I love book reading weather!

   I’m reading some interesting books right now. My winter study this year is on how to reconnect with the farm in a more spiritual way. I’ve found that in the past few years I’ve lost spiritual connection with my home. I get so involved in the production side of it, making a living from it, and with the programs (thanks to Carolynne for taking all that over), that I’ve not been rewarded with the refilling of my soul from living in such a beautiful surrounding. That might sound strange to most…but most work someplace where they don’t live.
   In retrospect, I have to thank our friend Mark Edwards. Mark had a garden here for a season and would walk around the farm, just enjoying the beauty of it. He would see “vistas” that we never saw before. And, he would say “this is paradise”. We would reply…”paradise is a lot of work”. And, it is a lot of work to keep this place beautiful for the visitors and functioning for the income. But, he taught me a lot with his “vista viewing”.

   In December, Marty and I were able to attend the ACRES USA conference in Ohio. I wanted to go mostly because of the Biodynamics class by Gena Nonini and Hugh Courtney. It was terrific! They were so knowledgeable and I learned so much. I came home with a few books and am working thru them now.
   The first is the “Agriculture Course” by famed Rudolf Steiner, pretty deep stuff. And to go with it I’m working on the “The North American Biodynamic Sowing and Planting Calendar for 2012” by Maria Thun.

   Biodynamics is teaching me to take a look at the energies on the farm, how to work with them, and how to strengthen them to create healthier soils, animals, plants, and us. This is a hands-on approach with preparations to spray on the soils and some of it is very technical. Some of it may also sound strange to people, filling cow horns and burying them, etc. But, I believe that if you have faith in something then that faith can make huge differences in the world around you, whether strange or not. To me it is worth trying out and seeing what happens. After all…miracles can happen anywhere, anytime.
   My next reading is really fun. “Sensitive Permaculture” by Alanna Moore. It teaches the reader how to live with the elementals around you, including earth spirits and fairies and such. That might sound strange to some also. But very old cultures, such as in Ireland, the Aborigines in Australia, and our own Native American cultures (and many, many more), have been connecting with these spirits in the world around them for thousands of years. I figure they MUST know something about it.
  For those of you fairy lovers...don’t worry, I’m NOT going the direction of Lady Cottington’s “Pressed Fairy Bo0k”. She went around the garden, creeping up on the little good people and smashed them in her book…

Sick lady.

   Since I’m working on making my “picket garden” into a really nice spiritual haven of flowers and interesting vegetables this year…not a place of producing an income, but a place of producing a healthy soul…this book fits in great with another book I’m reading called “The Sanctuary Garden” by Christopher and Tricia McDowell. If you are interested in creating your own garden of sanctuary for the soul, this book is wonderful. It covers a lot of ground for planning and creating with a loving approach.
   And all of these above readings fit nicely into my studies of ancient Chinese Qigong healing. Also a very old belief of using energies to heal, most commonly seen in America in the form of Feng Shui and acupuncture.

   So, that’s my reading list for today…pretty extensive. I’ll have to go get some tea for this!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Snow day and seed orders

   We finally got a little snow last Thursday. It was actually kinda nice to pile on my snow pants  and snow boots to go out to do chores. Altho I suspect the animals weren't quite as happy as I was. They were all doing pretty good tho and we gave them all a little extra straw to hunker down in. We hunkered in also (in the house) and looked at the seed catalogues for what we want to order, compiling lists from last year, piling up what we have on hand, sorting, dreaming...ah...

   The bad winds and snow kept us from our deliveries in Chicago on Thursday, so we went to the big city on Friday to deliver. I took Ricky with me...he rides on my head.

   I do have to be careful with him tho. As we cross the streets, some people have the tendency to speed up when driving toward us. I know that happens in the country...but come on folks! A quick whip off of the hat sometimes helps...

   The snow was blowing and drifting across the road when we left the house at 7:30am. The day before was pretty windy so we were glad that we sat it out at home. Chicago got a lot more snow than we did and it wouldn't have been fun driving all day in it...not to mention the crazies (oh, guess I mentioned them above with the Ricky hat huh?).
   We've been excited to take the new seed catalogues to the chefs. Every year we contact a couple of our favorite seed companies and ask for extra catalogues. Then we distribute them to the chefs so they can peruse them for interesting new products they'd like to try. They love getting them and we love hearing their wish lists.
   We ask them to give us their "dream lists" by the end of the month. Then we finish up our orders and mail them in. It is super exciting to see what they would like to try, and it's always fun for us to try new items. We really enjoy growing items that are requested special by our friends. It also helps us to know what to grow, takes a lot of the guess work out of it.
   Today, a Monday that feels very much like a Monday, the snow is already melting off. The chix are happy about that as they HATE walking across the snow. The ducks love the snow and look like penguins as they skid about on their bellies from puddle to puddle.
   I'm cleaning up the plant areas in the house today. Re-potted the cacti garden (one of the only gardens I'm actually good at, even tho they look a little on edge in the pic) and got the upstairs bookcases ready to hold new seedling trays. Then I started work on the downstairs.

   We can fit about 50 flats (36 pots each) in our downstairs planting area. But, we also "borrow" the plugs and extension cords throughout the year. So every year in January I clean up, find all the plugs, buy new extension cords, fill the water jugs, and start filling the plant trays with soil. That way everything is ready to go as soon as the calendar says the timing is right.
   The Stella Natura calendar tells us the best days to plant, so I start figuring out what gets planted first. I seem to be having issues with which way to tilt my head when I take a picture. But, you get the idea...

   Usually I start in mid to late January with some herbs as they take longer to get them big enough to transplant. Then the peppers and cold loving items (like cabbage and bok choi) get started the first of February as they will be transplanted into the greenhouses early and harvested in early April.
   So, back to my Monday work schedule!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Still NO Snow

   Today the weather is downright balmy...maybe in the 50's. Yesterday I spent all afternoon with no coat on, just in my shirt sleeves, cleaning up my picket garden area. It just seems so strange! The first of January still and 50's! Will we have a syrup season? 

   It seems that most people I know aren’t too happy about getting snow this time of year. I keep hearing the words, “well, at least we don’t have any snow”. In some ways I agree. It is a real pain in the butt to have to trudge thru drifts of a foot or more in the woods, carrying firewood to a cart, hoping all the time that the tractor (or me) doesn’t get stuck.
   On the other hand…I look at the beautiful pictures of last year…snowy, blue, peaceful. Snow can be nice. It isn’t as bad as the ice storms or the below freezing weather. It blankets the ground, protecting the plants from the hard freezes. It also provides moisture.
   And while some would say, “yes, but we could use some rain for moisture”. Hm. For me I think trudging thru MUD ankle deep is worse than snow that deep. The snow is a little easier to walk in. I’ve lost boots in mud that deep, but never in snow.
   Besides, when it is so nice out then I have to keep working outside. Sometimes it is nice to have that wintery break...otherwise it is a VERY long year. I like sitting inside by the fire, reading or knitting, or looking at seed catalogues...knowing I have a short couple of weeks to enjoy some down time. 
   So, to ease the hearts of those who are still waiting for the wintery wonderland (me included)…here’s some pics from last year.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year!

   The first day of the new year and all’s well at the farm. The sun is shining and it is about 35 degrees outside, pretty warm for this time of year. There’s a very strong westerly wind, but all the animals are out and enjoying the sunshine and the nice weather.
   Today is the beginning of an annual tradition for us. We’ve decided to begin our seed sorting for the upcoming season and to do so on the first day of each year. It’s one of the most enjoyable and exciting things we do in the winter.
   I have the seeds all laid out on the dining room table in groupings of leaf, cold, root, cucurbits, brassica, mais, etc. It is sooo exciting! We’ll figure out how much we have of everything and then how much we used last season. That will give us a good idea of how much to order for this season.
   We have our favorite seed catalogues on hand…Seed Savers Exchange, Baker Creek Heirlooms, Fedco, Shumways, and Johnny’s. I love the ones with the most pictures. We always come up with a huge wish list of seed and then have to take a reality check with the money in the bank…usually cutting our huge list down to a quarter of it. But, it is the planning and dreaming that is so much fun!
   Again this year I am reworking my garden that has the picket fence around it. This occurs every other year usually, with mixed results. The fence needs repairs and propped up, the soil needs compost, the gnomes need respecting. A lot to do in there. But, the dreaming is the most exciting part. I plan to grow more herbs, some garden leeks, and my favorite heirloom tomatoes (German Howard), as well as some other interesting things and some nice flowers.
   In about a month and a half we start our syrup season, Mother Nature willing. Firewood collecting began this past fall, but there is a lot more to collect. Last year we had a delightful visit from Lynn Miller of Small Farm Journal. He did a really nice write up in this last issue. If you would like to know more about our farm and see some nice syruping pics, check out the Journal. We love it for all the fantastic homesteading and horse information…more of which we are working slowly toward.
   Here’s wishing all of you a terrific new year!