Monthly Archives: October 2012

Recharging Station

I have been a busy gal these past ten days or so.  I’ve been painting, rearranging, hanging neglected artwork, reorganizing, purging, and generally working to make our house a home where we like to be.  It seems that things kind of creep out of hand after awhile and I start to notice too many undone projects weighing on my mind.  One thing that has been bothering me for at least a year – probably longer, is our out-of-control electronics recharging gadgets!

It seems we’re never really happy with where we end up plugging in our phones, Kindles, iPods … all those things that must be recharged on a regular basis.  We’ve tried nightstands, the bathroom counter, the desktop, the kitchen counter, the kitchen table – and not been happy with the resulting mess!  I’ve been keeping my eye out for some “miracle recharging station” in one of those great organizational catalogs.  Well, since I haven’t found one and since I was already rearranging furniture and clearing some of the clutter out of my bedroom, I decided to make my own using a drawer in a dresser in my room.

First, I found a scrap piece of bubble wrap and cut it to fit the bottom of the drawer so there would be some soft cushioning under our electronic devices.  I would have liked a piece of packing foam, but I used what I had on hand.

Next, I raided my scrap wallpaper stash and found a pattern I liked.  I cut it to fit the drawer exactly and laid it on top of the bubble wrap.  This gives the drawer a finished look.  You could use fabric, thick gift wrap, or craft paper, too.

Then I used a 1 1/2″ drill bit to drill a hole through the backing on my dresser.  You could also use a night stand, hutch, sideboard, desk, or anywhere that’s convenient.  The only requirement is a spare drawer you can use that’s near a power outlet.

Finally, I attached a power strip to the back of the drawer with a couple of screws and fed the cord through the hole in the back of dresser.  I plugged it in, plugged my recharging cords into it, and flipped on the switch.  Voila!  I no longer have to fight with cords dangling off my nightstand or the bathroom counter, or worry about spilling orange juice on my iPod in the kitchen.

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The Shady Vegetable Garden

 

Help!  I barely have any sun anywhere in my yard!  How can I possibly grow anything?

While most gardeners covet a nice sunny spot to showcase their prize-winning tomatoes, pumpkins, and peppers, even those of us (me included) with mostly shade can make good use of it.  In fact, if part of your garden is in the shade, blessed are you, for your lettuce and spinach will be much slower to bolt!

Living in the middle of a National Forest, I have to fight for every scrap of sunlight I can get, and you can be sure that any sunny space goes to my coveted tomatoes, squash, cukes, and other sun-loving beauties.  But fully 1/3 of my 20×40′ garden is in part-shade.  What’s a gardener to do?  Believe it or not, there are actually advantages to gardening in partial shade.  Your shade-tolerant plants:

  • Will be slower to bolt (go to seed and become bitter or tough)
  • Don’t need watering as often because they don’t lose water through evaporation so quickly – more is available, longer, for the plants to use
  • Can let you make use of shady spots, giving you more available garden space than you thought you had

Here’s an easy rule to follow to determine if a plant needs full sun (eight hours or more each day) or if it will still do well in part shade (4-8 hours of full sun each day, or all day in dappled shade):  If you are eating the roots, fruits, or seeds of a plant, it will do best in full sun (there are a few exceptions that will still tolerate shade).  If you are eating the stems or leaves, flowers or buds (as in the case of elderberry fritters, for example), they will probably tolerate shade pretty well.

While heavy shade (less than four hours a day of full sun) is less than ideal even for shade loving crops, you can still try planting many of the shade tolerant veggies.  Choose the sunniest of your shady spots.  Anything you plant in deep shade will be much slower in growing, and will probably not produce a full-sized harvest, but you can play around with it and see how much you do get.  Plant twice as much, or three times as much as you ordinarily would, and you might get enough baby lettuce, spinach, or snap peas by the end of the summer to make it worth your while.  If there’s nothing you can do about the amount of deep shade, you just have to pull on your big kid britches and work with it the best you can!

Here are some plants that will tolerate partial shade well.  In some cases, the yield may be smaller, but the quality and taste will still be good. It may take some trial and error on your part to figure out what works well in your yard:

  • Lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Collards
  • Spinach
  • Mint
  • Endive
  • Arugula
  • Lemon Balm
  • Cress
  • Mache
  • Dill
  • Snap Peas
  • Dandelion
  • Coriander
  • Radishes
  • Other Salad Greens
  • Tarragon
  • Blackberries
  • Green Onions
  • Thyme
  • Raspberries
  • Chives
  • Sorrel
  • Currants
  • Garlic
  • Bok Choy
  • Gooseberries
  • Cilantro
  • Mustard Greens
  • Some strawberries

    and huckleberries

There are some fruits that actually love dappled shade… blackberries and raspberries naturally grow on roadsides and the edges of clearings where they can get dappled or partial sunshine.  So do wild (alpine) strawberries, and huckleberries, which are really a small, wild variety of blueberry.  My entire (huge 58×20′) patch of raspberries is in dappled shade at the edge of the clearing across the way from my vegetable garden.  They do great there!

Remember those “exceptions” I mentioned earlier?  The ones that grow best in full sun but that might also tolerate partial shade?  You’re likely to get smaller overall yields from these exceptions, but when you need to make the best use of shade, you might try growing these in the sunniest of your shady spots:

  • Beans
  • Carrots
  • Rhubarb
  • Beets
  • Cauliflower
  • Strawberries
  • Broccoli
  • Kohlrabi
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Peas
  • Turnips
  • Cabbage
  • Potatoes

Remember that for crops that will still produce, but probably produce smaller yields, you can offset their lower production by planting more of them if you like.

So if you’ve been downhearted because you have a limited (or nonexistent) amount of full sunlight to plant a big garden, go ahead and do your happy dance, then start planning to make use of some of those shady spots next year!

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Autumn Garden at Aspendale Farm

It’s been a fun gardening year in many ways – and disappointing, too.  But that is the way with gardening.  It seems that always there are some things that didn’t turn out well, and some things that surprise you with their abundance.

This is a bit of what our gardening year looked like:

We had the most success with cucumbers we’ve ever had! Lots of fun!

All along the Big Barn wall I trellised summer squash, watermelon, pumpkins, buttercup squash, and tomatoes. I find trellising these crops very rewarding in a limited space!

We even had a successful sweet corn crop – something we haven’t done yet. The electrified fencing, choosing an early variety from the Amish Greenhouse nearby (they really know their corn!) and adequate water made a huge difference. Very rewarding this year!

Our potatoes didn’t do so well. The bulk of them were eaten by voles, leaving only enough for next year’s planting. At least we didn’t lose the entire crop.

A cottage garden next to the front porch is my very favorite way to use dirt and plants! I get no bigger return on investment from any other thing I plant!

Even the flowers down by the horse barn put on a nice show!

I got plenty of garlic, but they were small bulbs.  We harvested a good sized crop of onions and got plenty of strawberries.  Even our raspberries did well, though I had moved the entire lot of them all to a new bed across from the main garden.  The blueberries, too, had a good year.  The elderberries didn’t.  They either fell off or were picked off by birds or insects very early on when they were still small and hard.  And of course, the orchard was frosted out.  We probably had the only two apples growing in our entire county.  And my dad picked those and I never even got to see them, the dirty rascal!

The tomatoes were fun to grow, but there’s definitely a bit of a learning curve here with this new trellising method – and darn it, I will not use cheap seed starting mix ever again.  That was the ruin of many of my starts – although I did get a few green peppers and some jalapenos, I didn’t get any banana peppers (thanks for the gift of banana peppers from your garden, Dave!), and the green peppers were so late that I didn’t get any to ripen to red, which is the way we use the bulk of our peppers.

There were other mixed success stories – the salad greens, the spinach (lots of spinach!), then there was the spinach the ducks ate.  The broccoli I planted in the spring that is just now coming to a head.  I never did get around to planting beans, and my snap peas were not as prolific as they usually are.

If you haven’t stopped by Small Home Farm Radio to hear about gardening, farming, livestock, and more, we hope you’ll check us out!

I’d love to hear how your garden did this year, so drop me a line or leave me a comment below!  Wishing you all Happy Home Farming!

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Ducks on the Loose!

The Khaki Campbells are cleaning out the strawberry beds – a favorite slug hangout!

Better watch out when those ducks are on the loose!  Slugs and bugs beware!  They think nothing of eating most any creepy crawly.  That’s what makes them so valuable in the garden!

As we’ve been cleaning up the garden this fall, we’ve been putting the ducks in when we can so they will clean up some of the gnarly pests that I don’t like to have in my garden … caterpillars, slugs, salamanders, and big, ugly spiders.  I do realize the spiders are useful.  But it’s a little disconcerting to put your hand down into the strawberry patch and have a big, fat Mama Spider run across it.  Living in the woods, we have plenty of Wolf spiders.

Khaki Campbell hen (left) and drake (right).

There are certain times of year you may be able to put your ducks into the garden during production, but not if you have salad greens – which I’ve discovered they love (the hard way) – or small berries, such as strawberries.  They’ll eat those, too!  But since this is my first year with ducks, I’m keeping it limited to fall and spring – and I have my spinach well covered so they can’t get at it!  🙂

 

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Apples

I returned home from Vermont just in time to pick up the apples I had ordered from the Amish greenhouse nearby. They operate something like a co-op, getting bulk bins of different varieties of apples shipped in. People in the community can place an order, or just stop by to pick some up if there are extras left over. We do have an orchard. But this year a late frost in our area meant there were very few apples to be had. Indeed, I may have had the only two apples in my county growing on my Gala tree. I can’t remember how they survived. I think I threw a sheet over the tree, and the three blossoms that remained to grow into apples were indeed in the center of the tree. One of those fell off eventually and the other two matured. That will hardly get us through the year! So I brought home a bushel and a half and we had fresh applesauce with dinner. We’ll have baked apples with our breakfast, and the next week will see a lot of stewing and canning here as we turn much of it into applesauce. Good applesauce, like good cider, is usually a blend of different varieties of apples. I throw some sour apples in there, some that are sweeter, some with more tang. I have McIntosh and Cortland and they will make good applesauce. I don’t grow those varieties, however. I wanted the apples in the orchard to be ones that would keep well, ones we would enjoy for fresh eating as well as pies and sauce. So I planted some of our favorites: Honeycrisp, Fuji, and Gala, Pink Lady, Sweet Sixteen, and for a late apple that will withstand those late frosts when it finally starts to bear, Fireside. I wished I could have chosen the varieties for their names alone! But it should be obvious that this is not the best way to plan an orchard. Since we had limited space – enough only for nine trees, and wanted to include two pears and a cherry, we had to make careful choices.

I have a predisposition toward semi-dwarf trees. These are trees that end up roughly twelve feet tall (give or take a few feet). They have the look to them of orchard trees. They are small enough to manage well with organic sprays if needed, thinning, picking bugs and tentworms, and harvesting the fruit. Yet they are large enough to give me that homey orchard feeling. The dwarf varieties are so small, often around eight feet tall at most, that I feel more like they are garden plants and less like trees.

My affection for trees borders on the ridiculous. With woods filled with hundreds and hundreds – thousands really, of trees, and living in the midst of a National Forest, I should be giddy with glee at the prospect of cutting down trees, but each tree is agonized over and removed only with painstaking thought and care. So I want trees that feel like trees to me. I want to go out to my orchard and feel like I’m in a real, old-fashioned orchard. But that limits the number of trees and the variety I can incorporate into my small orchard. It also adds quite a bit of waiting for harvest. The dwarf varieties will produce an apple crop rather quickly. In just a year or two after planting, you will begin to get apples,. In only a couple years more you will have a good crop. Semi-dwarf trees, on the other hand, will not produce for at least three years, sometimes five years. And if you live in a cold climate as we do, and have felt the urge to include “iffy” varieties whose zones aren’t exactly perfect for your area (I sheepishly raise my hand in acknowledgement here), you will often have years where they are frosted out and you get no crop at all.  It’s good to have varieties that do well in much colder climates – my zone 3 Firesides for example.

I haven’t mentioned full-sized apple trees. I guess I will, if only briefly. For the person who wants a large apple tree for decoration only, or one with nicely sized, crotched limbs for your kids or grandchildren to climb into and read a book, a full-sized tree is fine. But they take years to achieve their enormous 18-25 feet or more and you won’t harvest an apple from them for a good five to eight years. You’ll also need quite a long ladder to climb up there for spraying or harvesting, and to be honest, it would take a mighty stalwart and agile person to hand-pick leaf-rollers or other pesky critters off your tree. If you can’t take care of your tree due to the size of it, apple quality will be poor, but you’ll get plenty of cider-quality apples if that’s all you care about.

Our first orchard we inherited when purchased the house and property twelve years ago. It was an enormous chore to spray the full-sized trees, but I did it. We never picked from the top of the tree – we were not serious orchardists at the time anyhow, we just wanted a few apples now and again, so it was not a big deal. So if you have full-sized trees on your place already, or just can’t resist the idea of planting them, it can be done. It’s just not as easily managed as with dwarf or semi-dwarf trees.

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“Ode to the West Wind” in Autumn


O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave,until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!


~excerpt from "Ode to the West Wind" by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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Farm Spotlight: Benson

Benson.

Benson is our English Setter.  He loves to pile up with the kids, and it’s obvious he’s always thought of himself as “just one of the puppies.”  Never mind that my children are *not* puppies.

While the photo above is a handsome picture of Benson, it’s not really accurate.  He rarely looks noble and unconcerned.  He goes from “I’m really tired, do I really need to pry my eyes open, sit up and say hello?” to “Oh, boy!  What are we doing!  Let’s go!”  to “Hmm… is that a little snack for me in your hand?  No?  Well did you drop something on the floor for me?”

He thinks he’s pretty clever, but he’s just a little bit dumb… the way I like them!  I never wanted a dog that was smarter than I am – and I love his enthusiasm.  He’s game for anything!

As much as I like the horses, chickens, and ducks, Benson is the heart, and the cats are the soul at Aspendale Farm.

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