Quick Spring Update

Lots of life stuff to deal with so far this year, but I wanted to just get a few notes in about what we’re working on this spring. So far it’s been very wet, so I think it’s going to take a bit longer to get certain things in the ground than last year. That being said, the soil structure in the garden continues to improve, so that helps.

Last week we planted probably the last larger order of fruit trees in the orchard. At this point there are probably enough trees out there. Still a chance we’ll include some additional fruit trees in a food forest/ wind break or something elsewhere on the property, but we’ll see. This year we planted the following:

  • Ashmead’s Kernel – great heirloom, good for cider, drying, etc.
  • Chisel Jersey – this one isn’t much use for anything but cider
  • Dabinett – another English cider apple, we already have one of these started from a previous year. Makes an amazing single varietal cider.
  • Golden Hornet – cool crab apple type with yellow fruit, very nice in the spring as well and a great pollinator
  • Redfield – another cider apple
  • Spitzenburg Esopus – second one of these as well, the first one we planted is probably one of our best trees so far. This is one of the varieties Thomas Jefferson was infatuated with.
  • Mount Royal Plum – first plum tree, hardy to zone 3, curious how this one does
  • Northstar Cherry – not having great luck with getting cherries started, so planting another. Much more susceptible to transplant shock than apples.

 

I did a count and I think this brings us to around 30 trees, give or take. If I can get even half of these to thrive, we’ll have more fruit than we know what to do with. We’ll let you know when that happens in case you are close enough to enjoy some yourself.

Otherwise, seed starting continues to go well. Tomatoes are going gangbusters and I’m running out of room to the point that I’m already putting some extras in the greenhouse. Calculated risk as it may still get too cold, but if not they will be hardier and bigger when we transplant. Probably going to share some seedlings as well. We started some seeds Kristin saved and got really good germination on all of them, so we’re curious to see how true to type those are. This was a bit of an experiment to see how well we could do at growing our own saved tomato seed, so this year we may be a bit more intentional to avoid cross-pollination.

We aren’t doing a ton of new things this year, but Kristin is getting more and more interested in medicinal herbs and plants so we are trying to grow a few more of those type of plants. We are also trying to get comfrey going in the orchard (non-invasive type that makes sterile seeds). Comfrey is great for all kinds of things and will outcompete some of the undesirable grasses and weeds in the orchard to eventually become a living mulch. When it gets tall, it falls over so it almost does the mulching for you. Tons of nutrients and minerals and good for the soil as well. I’m also trying to see if I can start some perennial shrubs from seed (sea buckthorn, service berry, Siberian pea shrub). This requires cold stratification (basically starting for a few months in soil in a fridge) and getting to transplant stage takes two growing seasons, so it’s a multi-year experiment.

The other big spring project is re-doing our back deck. This will be a lower deck, almost at grade (basically 1 step down to the ground). We plan to put some beds around the perimeter of that and probably some cedar planters so we can have some herbs and flowers within steps of the back door. Hope to post pictures of that process once we get started.

2017 Growing Season Awakens

Not much of a winter so far here in Vermont. A bit more snow than where we used to live in Chicago, who just had the first January and February with no measurable snow for the first time in a long time. But still a fairly mild winter. It’s been brutally cold the last few days though, so winter is not done yet.

Anyway, seed starting is well underway. Still trying to fine tune my basement seed starting setup, which in this case mainly means adding a few more lights. Otherwise I’m pretty happy with my current setup. Starting a few things a bit earlier than last year now that I have a better understanding of when and how the greenhouse plays into the mix. Basically thinking I can get even bigger and better starts than last year and potentially get stuff into the ground sooner.

This year we are going to experiment with going no-till for a bunch of reasons. After research and talking to some people who know more than me, I would just like to get away from using the tiller for anything except maybe establishing new plots. Tilling does a major destruction on soil structure and biology and basically stirs up a bunch of your nitrogen to the surface where you basically lose most of it. The other thing we’ve found is that we end up fighting weeds in the aisles by mid-summer, which is both a waste of time and takes energy away from the plants we want. Makes more sense to develop a deep mulch structure and use carbon (newspaper, cardboard) between the rows. Eventually you get a much richer, deeper soil structure with a lot of bio-diversity plus help from the mycorrhiza fungi network and the soil structure makes it much easier to pull the weeds that do germinate. That’s the theory anyway and we’re going to experiment with it. What we are doing now is too much work and we aren’t building soil fertility as fast as we want, so time to shake things up.

In other news, our lazy chickens (and one of the ducks) just FINALLY started laying again after taking a break since mid-December. And not all of them have started yet. That’s a lot of freeloading. Fine with them having a month or so break, but this has been too long. That being said, our youngest birds are about 2 years old, so not that surprising that egg production is slowing. We’re going to add some new hens to the mix this spring.

Before long it will be time to start putting cold hardy seeds in the ground, like lettuce, carrots, brassicas and peas. And maybe even some potatoes if we can get into the ground. The long range forecast isn’t showing a lot of frost after the end of March, so it will be interesting to see if we can get an earlier start this year. In Vermont every day helps.

2016 Year In Review

Bit late getting this figured out this year, but I guess it’s still January. Similar to last year, here’s a quick bullet point list of stuff we managed to accomplish this year.

  • Poultry
    • Built a “chicken tractor” big enough for about 10-15 broilers.
    • Raised and slaughtered 15 Freedom Ranger broilers. Overall it went okay, but still debating if we want to do this every year. Not including labor and equipment (2 big expenses), our cost per pound was in the low $4 range.
    • Lost two more of our original hens. We still have “Faith” the barred rock remaining from the original Bristol 4.
    • Got 6 day old Ancona ducklings and successfully raised them to adults. Three were male and three were female, so two of the boys were redundant and went to the freezer.
    • Put automatic doors on both the chicken and duck coops. This has simplified care significantly as well as made it easier for us to leave the property in someone else’s hands for a few days.
  • Gardening
    • This was the first full growing season with the greenhouse and it made a significant difference in the size and quality of my starts. We bought very few starts from outside the property this year.
    • For the most part, an amazing gardening year. Super warm and sunny, which made for an abundance of tomatoes.
    • We added more fruit trees, 6 more raspberry plants, 25 everbearing strawberry plants and another purple asparagus bed.
    • The original raspberry plants from 2015 really came into their own this year for the most part. We got a great yield of berries.
    • Had some luck for the first time with the following this year
      • Bush Limas
      • Sweet Potatoes
      • Flint corn
      • Sweet corn
    • Standouts included
      • the aforementioned tomatoes
      • Peppers did fairly well, including sweet peppers
      • Brussel sprouts finally worked. Turned out we had been planting too late for New England.
      • Dynamite popcorn
      • Bush beans of various types (green, yellow, dry)
    • Still having trouble getting melons to work with any consistency
  • Landscape and other property work
    • Cleared an overgrown patch of original landscaping from the front yard and re-contoured the whole front yard, including the drainage ditch.
    • Rebuilt the main culvert near our house, put in a small duck pond and widened the drive over the culvert.
    • Expanded the beginnings of our windbreak
    • Reshaped the driveway and added new stone/gravel.
    • Put up a Gorilla playset for the kids.
  • Goals for 2017 include
    • Attempt to convert to a mostly no-till approach in our gardens
    • Expand the existing rear garden footprint around the greenhouse
    • More fruit trees
    • Start working on the “drift” landscaping ideas in the front yard. These are wide swaths of perennial plants and grasses in mostly organic shapes following the contour of the land.
    • Expand the windbreak and begin preparing for a more extensive hedgerow or permaculture mixed species planting on the north edge of the property. We are working with a permaculture specialist on a plan for this.
    • At least begin the planning stages for fencing in the front pasture.
    • Tear down our existing rear deck and rebuild a new one.

Soon it will be time to buy and start seeds. By the way, if you are thinking about seeds, don’t forget about my site PickAPacket.com and tell your friends. It allows you to compare prices and see varieties carried by my favorite non-GMO seed companies, including lots of heirloom, organic and open-pollinated varieties.

Garden and property June 2016

Here’s just a few shots of what’s going on with our gardens and rest of the property near the beginning of June. We had a mild spring that wasn’t too wet and actually got very hot towards the end of May. Just had a nice rainy day yesterday after about a week without, so everything is pretty happy at the moment.

Here’s the back garden in a couple of wide shots.

Those are potatoes in the foreground.

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A shot from the front to show off some flowers already blooming.

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Hops are already going nuts. These poles are about 15-20’ at the top.

 

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Here’s the front garden. Look how big the garlic is already. It’s pretty happy this year. By the way, all the green is partially due to the cover crop of buckwheat that we are leaving in place for now between rows and where we haven’t planted yet. A bit of an experiment and in some ways makes it harder to see the rows, but hoping the benefits make it worthwhile.

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Here’s the orchard. A couple of the initial plantings are finally starting to show some growth.

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Here’s a similar shot from around the same time last year. Notice how much we filled in the middle section this spring.

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And finally, another shot of the ducks at 6 weeks just for fun. They are now outside in their permanent spot, although not free ranging yet.

Ducks6Weeks

Finally some tomato starts I can work with

I’ve been trying to start my own tomatoes ever since we moved to Vermont with varying degrees of success. It’s partly because I like to grow some more obscure tomato varieties that are hard to find in the nurseries and garden centers and partly because once again I’m apparently a glutton for punishment.

greenhouse2

Tomatoes and peppers were one of the primary reasons I really wanted to invest in a greenhouse. We got one last year, but by the time we got it installed it was well after the prime tomato starting period. So I was very curious to see how much difference it made this year in the quality and size of my tomato starts. I have not been disappointed.

These greenhouse shots aren’t all tomatoes of course, there are also some peppers, eggplant and other odds and ends. But it is overflowing with tomatoes at the moment.

greenhouse3

This is probably the first year I’ve had quite a few tomato starts that actually look like something I would buy at a good nursery, both in size and health. I still started them initially in our basement under grow lights, but once it started to warm up they went in the greenhouse. There were some nights of moving them back and forth when temps once again dipped into the 20s and low 30s at night.

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We are now starting to plant them out and I’m very happy with how many nice big plants I have and it’s only the middle of May. I also have a pipeline of additional starts in case some plants don’t take. Plus, we’ve never really had quite enough tomatoes to put away just from our own garden and end up buying extras. Hoping maybe this is the first year that isn’t the case.

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Spring 2016 Bulbs

Planting bulbs is like a lot of gardening; an exercise in hope, planning and patience. Last fall we added a bunch more tulip, daffodil and some other bulbs to the front beds along our walkway. Despite the chickens deciding that is a prime digging area and eating some of the leaves, we are now at just about peak bloom and it’s pretty cool.

Bulbs1

Bulbs4

Bulbs3

Red, green and blue

After a very nice May for the most part, June has been nothing but rain. Sometimes terrible torrential downpours, sometimes just annoying bursts here and there to ruin the day. I hate to complain about water when other parts of the country are dry, but my plants are drowning over here. It’s a good thing we put in the swales in May or it would be even worse.

In spite of all that, we are somehow getting our first crop of the sweetest strawberries we could hope for.

strawberry1

Don’t blink, you’ll miss them.

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At least the cooler weather plants like it. The greens are going nuts.

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Greens2

Onions seem much happier in a raised bed than in the garden, to no one’s great surprise.

onions

The hops have already made it nearly to the first wooden support.

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The fifteen raspberry plants all made it and are getting plenty of leaves now. Here are 10 of them, they are even bigger today.

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And finally a view of the orchard, where all of the trees seem to be relatively happy so far and surviving the onslaught of water.

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