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.

Some quick garden 2013 updates

Due to a nice warm spring here in Vermont, our garden is off to a great start.  Here are some photos from a couple of weeks ago, stuff is much bigger now.

We are trying out some new trellis ideas.  The trellis netting works great for most things (tomatoes, peas, beans, cucumbers), but couldn’t really hang (no pun intended) with the heavier squashes such as Blue Hubbard.  Here is a new trellis I built using scrap wood and chicken wire.  May build a few more, this only took about an hour.


Peas poking through and then a few weeks later

peas1 peas2

Garlic off to a good start.  It’s almost 2 feet high now


Bought a tiller


Hoop tunnel


Cabbage overwintered in cold frame. Soon after we transplanted it, the chickens got into it. This poor cabbage can’t catch a break. It’s still limping along, so maybe it will come back.


You can see more photos and keep up with our 2013 garden on Flickr.

Sights of Spring

Not a lot of big new projects lately, due to visits from friends and traveling.  But still continuing to get ready for summer.  Lots of seed starting, both indoors and out. And a sudden explosion of color around our rental property as the huge number of hidden bulbs suddenly make their presence known.  It still seems magic every year after the gray of winter.

P1000990Onion starts.  This is the first time we’ve ever tried doing onions from seed.


Various brassicas


Windowsill pots of oregano and thyme


Peas!  We are attempting two regular types and two snow/snap types.


The garlic we planted last fall is looking fantastic.


Various brassicas inside the cold frame. We will transplant these out.  Comparing how this works with starting inside.


A view inside the hoop.  The big splash of color you see is various lettuces and arugula.



Tulips, daffodils and other lovelys.

Seed starting

I’ve been fairly heads down with all sorts of projects.  Spring is trying to come early this year in Vermont, in fact it is supposed to be in the 60s and 70s all this week.  We had a beautiful weekend and I got some more things planted in the low hoop tunnel and also in the new cold frame I just put together.

I’m also attempting to start some seeds in the basement.  I scrounged together a system using mostly stuff I already had.  I already have some wire racks that are great for all kinds of things, including storing homebrew and equipment.  I also had a couple of aquarium fixtures with working lights, so that is my light source for now.  I think I’ll likely have to upgrade to a) bigger lights and b) better bulbs (more full spectrum) to get great results.  But trying this first before I go spend a bunch of money.  I did buy a heat mat, some seed starting trays and a little fan to circulate the air around the plants and help them develop decent stems.

Here are a few pictures:


The whole set-up.


Starting with onions, they take awhile to get going.


A few seedlings poking through.

I’m curious to see if I can use the cold frame outside to start some seeds as well.  One nice thing about that is the plants get used to the soil immediately and there isn’t much in the way of hardening off that you need to do.  But you definitely have less control over temperature and environment in general.  So I’m just going to try some of each and see what works.

First month in Vermont

So we’ve already been in Bristol for a bit over a month.  So far we are really enjoying it for the most part.  Kristin has been busy at work unpacking and getting the house into shape.  We’ve been whipping the garden into shape, although the season is nearly over.  We’ve planted some cold tolerant veggies in a couple of raised beds (one existing, one hacked together with spare cedar shingles).  Hoping they get enough of a start before the first good cold snap.  We’ve planted lettuce, radishes, kale, rutabaga, carrots, Asian greens and some other things.

I’ve also tilled most of the garden and put down some cover crops.  We already have a nice crop of buckwheat goingWinterRye on one side of the garden and I just planted another section of winter rye.  If all goes well, we might even get a few loaves of bread out of it.  But mostly it’s just for green manure and to keep our good soil in place over the winter.  The soil in this garden is gorgeous, rich stuff.  Our landlords did a lot of amending over the years (manure, compost, cover crops) and it has made a big difference.  It’s teeming with life, both visible and invisible.

HoopsWe put up some low hoops over the beds as well, using Agribon AG-19 row cover material over some PVC pipe planted in the ground over some rebar.  This only gives us frost protection down to 28 degrees, so we’ll probably lose most of the plants at some point.  But combined with some mulch, it might get us towards the end of the year. We are using this time to experiment with some of the techniques we’ve been reading about, so it will be interesting to see how things go.

Working from home has its pluses and minuses, but it has mostly been going well.  I built a new PC because my old desktop was just too slow and that has helped.  It’s nice to have lunch with Kristin most days and have no commute.  Focus can be hard at times, but I think I’m getting the hang of it.

As far as Bristol, it’s a nice quiet town, but lots of people out and about.  Friendly neighbors. Beautiful setting.  One nice change from Chicago is that it doesn’t take forever to get basic life stuff done.  I’m talking about getting a driver’s license, setting up bank accounts and utilities or finding healthcare.  There are less options to be sure, but the options that are here have been easy to find, get set up and the quality has generally been very good.  We have a wealth of hikes within a 10 mile radius, which is a welcome change from having to drive hours to find good hiking in Illinois.  Even after a month, the geography is still stunning and only promises to get more that way as we are seeing the first hints of the beautiful fall foliage Vermont is famous for.

There are some things that we are still trying to adapt to.  Driving everywhere for the most part, unless we want to just walk into town for something.  Fortunately we have a great bakery, several grocery stores (including a natural foods/organic store that is awesome), drug store, hardware store and most importantly brewpub right in town.  But for anything else we have to drive.  We are starting to make some connections with people, but it is taking some time.  It’s not easy to find a lot of the ethnic food or groceries that were so easy to come by in Chicago, although there is no shortage of great food here and some good Vietnamese places in Burlington.  Church options are not plentiful, although we’ve found very good community vibes and friendly people at the ones we’ve visited.  Still not sure if we’ve found our place yet.  Certainly nothing like Chicago where there were a variety of good options, although some were a bit of a drive, probably more than from our place to Burlington here.

We are starting to move into a more intense baby mode now. Kristin has found the midwife practice she is going to use and we have a birthing center picked out.  We are starting to buy all the “stuff”, although doing a lot of research.  Tonight we have our first birthing class.  We are down to about 10 weeks, which will probably fly by very quickly.

I’m sure there is more I could write about, but that’s a good start for now.