Finally getting some eggs

After a long winter with little egg production, things are finally looking up. Some of our new hens never came “online” last fall and ended up waiting until this year. But since Wednesday morning, we’ve gotten 17 eggs including 2 already today. That’s from 9 hens. Based on the color of the eggs, it looks like at least 6 hens are laying some of the time.


2014 Year in Review

Well, between keeping up with all the projects and having a new baby, this blog has taken a bit of a hit. So this post won’t be too lengthy, but wanted to do a quick bullet point list of stuff we managed to accomplish this year.

  • Poultry
    • Built a brand new chicken coop based on Fresh Air Poultry Houses, large enough for 15 chickens or so.
    • Lost one of our original hens, but picked up 6 new ones.
    • Got our first blue eggs.
    • One of the 6 new “hens” turned out to be a rooster (the Cuckoo Maran). He is still on probation until we determine if he’s going to be nice and helpful or a pain.
    • Built a duck coop and planned to get ducks, but that didn’t happen this year. Hopefully next year.
    • Set up solar for the new coop, which I still hope to blog about at some point. It’s struggling a bit now with the limited daylight and snow/ice, but I think overall will work well for lighting. Would eventually like an automatic door as well.
  • Gardening
    • Put in 2 brand new garden plots. They did okay considering it was the first year, although we still have a lot of soil consistency and wetness issues to work on.
    • Started 4 blueberry bushes, 25 asparagus crowns (of which about half made it) and 75 strawberry plants (3 different varieties of 25 each).
    • Had some luck for the first time with the following this year
      • Melons
      • Pumpkins
      • Leeks
      • Eggplant
      • Gourds
      • Popcorn
      • Sweet peppers
    • Standouts included
      • Potatoes (despite web conditions and compacted soil)
      • Brassicas (broccoli, cabbage)
      • Some of the tomatoes
      • Soybeans
      • Flowers – we had decent luck with various flowers this year, including sunflowers, that we’ve struggled with before.
      • Peppers, although I always want more variety and quantity
    • Still can’t seem to get Brussels Sprouts to work.
    • Our cucumbers and squashes mostly succumbed to a vicious onslaught of insects. Need to do a bit more row cover and other stuff next year.
  • Landscape and other property work
    • Got a riding mower and shed to store it in.
    • Planted 4 apples trees.
    • Had a full landscape design done that we are really excited about implementing over the next 5-10 years.
    • Built 2 bay compost bin

Lots of plans for next year that I may get into in another post. Soon it will be time to buy and start seeds. By the way, if you are thinking about seeds, don’t forget about my new site and tell your friends. It allows you to compare prices and see varieties carried by 13 of my favorite non-GMO seed companies, including lots of heirloom, organic and open-pollinated varieties.

State of the garden

Well, it’s already July and I’ve been so busy working I haven’t had much time to blog about it.  The short story is our gardens are overall doing fairly well, considering it is the first year.  We are certainly fighting weeds, but that happens regardless.  The soil structure is definitely better in the front garden, where we dug up a spot that was more hay pasture than lawn.  Both need a lot of work, particularly when dry.  After a rain though, the soil really isn’t too bad and I think with some tender loving care in a few years we’ll start seeing some pretty good structure.

We had a chance to plant more peas this year and focused more on sugar/snap peas, since you get a lot more for the space and they are easier to freeze for later.  Ezra has taken a big liking to peas, particularly shell peas which he eats raw by the handfuls.  On most days he has to go “check his peas” and is actually already doing a pretty good job at learning when they are ripe.  It’s pretty cute.


It’s been pretty interesting to see the difference having lots of direct sun makes.  It’s mostly a good thing, although we had a couple of issues with transplanting where the plants got some sun scald.  We’ve always had to worry more about wind or temperature than sun before.  The tomatoes I am especially happy with and we’ll see if the actual harvest lives up to the expectation.  But this is the first year I’ve been relatively happy with my tomato (and pepper) starts.  We should start seeing some ripe tomatoes here shortly, there are a bunch off small green ones on the vines.


Here are some nice jalapeno plants, with some sweet basil in the background.


More peppers, including the “fish” peppers in the foreground. We use red plastic mulch to help reflect more of the good light spectrum that peppers (and tomatoes) love.  Still trying to determine how much difference it makes.

Potatoes are coming along nicely and we had our first red new potatoes the other night.  We have a nice variety planted, including several different fingerling varieties.  This year we decided to try seed potatoes from Wood Prairie Farm in Maine.  Jim Gerritsen has a reputation as one of the top organic potato experts in the country, so curious to see how these do. I think this may be a hit and miss year, with the soil structure not being super loose the way potatoes like.

A lot of folks don’t realize potato blossoms are some of the prettiest flowers you’ll ever see in your garden, check out this fingerling variety in bloom right now.


Here are a few other things that are starting to come into harvest. This is the time when all the hard work starts to pay off and you actually see some results from the labor, so I love this time of year.

One of our first broccoli crowns.


First bush beans, a variety we discovered last year and really has become one of our go-to beans: Provider


And of course the first of probably too many zucchini.


Gardens from scratch

We’ve just about got our two garden plots in shape and have started some planting.  Took a lot of tilling and it’s still not great.  With the clay soil it is either too wet and mucky or it’s dry with hard clay balls.  So going to need a lot of amendments, but we knew that.  I’m making semi-permanent raised rows, which should help with drainage and give us a place to focus our compost, manure and other nutrients.

Here’s a few shots of what we’re starting from.


Slightly closer look at the rows.


We’ve got three raised beds with row cover going now.


It’s been really warm for the last week and plants are suddenly taking off.  I had to mow the lawn already.  The lettuce seems happy.  This is lettuce I started indoors in February or March.


Here is a view of the front garden, which will mostly be perennial berries, asparagus, etc.  We’re using it this year for a few other things, like peas, pumpkins and potatoes.


And one last shot of some peas that appear to be thriving despite the conditions.


Some favorite music of 2013

Little bit of a departure for this blog, but I’m always going to be a music lover and musician.  So just thought I’d note some of my favorite music of this past year, in no particular order:

Post move update

As you might expect, life has been pretty busy since our move.  Fall went pretty quick and now we are already headed into winter, so work outside will slow down for awhile. Here are a few of the things we’ve been working on.

  • We put in an herb spiral.  I’ve always found the idea of these one of the most interesting and accessible permaculture concepts.  We have some rocks scattered around the property, so I was able to build this with a combination of repurposed bricks and rocks.
  • We had one little hoop in a raised bed for the fall.  Got quite a bit of lettuce and other greens out of it into November.  Also some radishes and Hakurai turnips.  The last part of November was fairly cold here, so not much is still growing now.  But there are also carrots and bunching onions that should come back and continue to grow in the spring theoretically.
  • Kristin is experimenting with the concept of a couple of “lasagna” plots, which is basically where you build up a raised bed using various materials (grass, straw/hay, food waste, chicken shavings/manure, spent beer mash, etc.)  It’s basically building a compost pile, letting it sit over the winter and early spring and then planting directly into it.  We have two of them going so far, both a standard 4’ x 8’ size that we settled on for raised beds. Makes it easy to use scrap dimensional lumber for frames and the hoops fit over them nicely.
  • We dug up another section in our back pasture and planted garlic.  Our tiller really struggled with getting anywhere with our dense pasture grass sod.  It took about 8-10 runs to break the ground into anything useable.  So we may need to get some sections of the properly plowed at least once to get certain things started, like asparagus, strawberries, etc.
  • I just planted a couple of hazelnut bushes from the Arbor Day Hazelnut Project. They are developing hybrid bushes that can grow in a much wider range of climates, hopefully over most of the US instead of mainly in a small area of the Pacific Northwest.  I also started our windbreak with 10 Norway Spruces from Arbor Day. Eventually I want to build up a substantial windbreak on the north and east sides of the house and along the lane, with a mix of evergreens and deciduous trees.
  • We did a bunch of efficiency work on the house, including blowing cellulose into the attic which was never done for some reason.  We also insulated the basement above grade for now as well as our bulkhead door, with the intent of eventually putting foam board on the entire set of walls in the basement.  This may not be necessary and foam board is pricey, so we’ll see how it goes.  The basement is already noticeably warmer. We would like to eventually put in another heat source, such as a pellet stove.  We have a fairly efficient oil furnace, but I don’t like having that as my only option and it’s certainly not the cheapest way to go for a house of this size.

This winter I hope to do a few small projects, including building a larger chicken coop using the principles in Fresh Air Poultry Houses.  We also still have some odds and ends to wrap up in the master bath, painting to finish in the upstairs and some electrical work to have done.  I hope to get some additional storage and a workbench/tool area set up in the basement, now that we have some of the insulating done.

I’ve ordered my first 4 apple trees for spring delivery and we’ll need to start thinking about strawberries, blueberries, asparagus, rhubarb and additional trees for windbreak to plant in the spring.  Plus our normal seed starting and the fun we always have looking though all our seed catalogs.  This year we’ll finally be able to grow some things we didn’t have room for in the past, such as sweet corn, melons, pumpkins and lots of other things.  Not sure we’ll get to all that in the first year, but we’ll do what we can like we do every year.

We found our plot

In all the busyness, I have neglected to post anything about our new property. On July 19th we closed on a 10 acre property in New Haven, one town over from where we are renting now in Bristol. The house is a nice size with plenty of room and not too old. It was built in 2000, so it’s just old enough to need some updating. The last owners moved to California about 5-6 years ago and it’s been rented ever since. So it’s in need of some TLC to get it looking the way we want, but we think the house and property has a lot of potential.

We’ve already gotten hardwood floors put into the living room and master bedroom. We’ve gutted the master bathroom, ripping out a corner whirlpool tub, the vanity and the toilet. Small closet in the room is getting demoed out as well. The whole place could use a fresh coat of paint, so we made a good start on that over the weekend between us and also some hired painters.

We may update the kitchen at some point, but probably need to wait on that. We would like to use it for a bit to determine exactly what we want to do. We are going to put a gas range in and replace the refrigerator at least. All the appliances appear to be original from when the house was built, so they are showing some age.

View from front porchP1010956

The property itself is mostly cleared, rolling pasture. The farmer next door is haying a lot of it one final time. We’ll be putting in a small garden plot or some raised beds immediately for a fall garden. Next spring I would like to set up 3-4 smaller garden plots and we’ll set up rotations through them over time. We also want to plant some berries, apples, asparagus and other perennials in the spring. May need some trees as well, particularly to get some windbreaks going. The house is up on the side of a hill overlooking the valley, which provides fantastic views, but is also likely to be windy.

Another view from front porchP1010958

Much more as we go, including some before and after room photos as we get updates completed. At this point we plan to move in early September.

Mid-summer in Vermont

It always seems the summer starts to get away from me around this time.  I did manage to go out and take some photos today after all the family left.  We had a full house over the 4th and got to eat some great local meat, including my cured sausage and bacon, eggs and produce from the backyard and homebrew.  I finally smoked some local pastured pork shoulder into some delicious pulled pork in the barrel smoker.  It was in there about 5 hours and to be honest it probably could’ve gone another hour or two as it wasn’t quite as “falling apart” as I hoped.  Still very good though, with a great smoke ring and nice bark.

The summer so far has been a strange one weather-wise in Vermont.  After a mild sunny May, it seemed like it rained all of June.  I think we’ve had rain almost every day for the last 3 weeks.  That means we still have a bit of lettuce and other greens holding on in July!  But also means the tomatoes and peppers aren’t as happy as they could be.  However, most things are holding up well.  The potatoes look great and all the brassicas are enjoying the cooling effects of the rain.  We’re even still getting some radishes.

Anyway, I just added a bunch of new photos to Flickr if you want to see the latest progress.  I did want to show one before and after photo that I think it’s interesting.  This is a row of kale and beets.  The first photo is from June 16th and the second photo is from today.



See more photos at Garden 2013 on Flickr

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.

Dreams for Ezra

Ezra turned one year old on first day of December.  I was hoping to get this posted closer to his birthday, but the holidays have a way of getting in the way.

Typically this blog tends toward the practical and matter of fact, but sometimes it’s good to reflect on the why.  Although having a family wasn’t necessarily the primary motivator in our decision to move to Vermont and change up our lives, it certainly played a part.  While many people raise families in a large urban area like Chicago and I have the upmost respect for those who do, the fact is it can be difficult.  It’s pretty expensive to afford housing in the city with plenty of room for kids, although people make it work.  Obviously much of the world where extended families live in large huts would consider this a first world “problem”. 

So that’s one reason people move to the ‘burbs, but that wasn’t in the cards for us.  In particular, many of the things we wanted to do involved needing space, not just for kids, but for canning jars and beer making equipment … animals and gardens … and so on.

Anyway, I’ve already covered a lot of the reasons we moved to Vermont, so I won’t reiterate those.  I’m more interested in thinking about what kinds of dreams I have for Ezra and how living in Vermont plays into that.  When I was growing up in a very rural area, I reached a point where I couldn’t wait to leave.  There were a lot of reasons for that, many having nothing to do with the rural environment. 

Anyway I’m hoping we can do some things differently and give Ezra some good reasons to love the lifestyle we’ve chosen.  I know he may reach young adulthood and need to set out on his own adventures.  He may have to live in his own “Chicago” for awhile to appreciate his young life here. That’s certainly a discussion for another day well down the road.

Here’s what I’m dreaming for him in the meantime though:

  • That he’ll learn to appreciate good food and drink and what it really takes to have it.  That includes growing his own food, including understanding where meat comes from.  Eventually making beer. How to preserve food through canning, root cellars and curing meats.  How to cook something yourself and realize it’s better than whatever you ordered that last time at the restaurant.
  • That he’ll be able to plant stuff and watch it grow, including stuff that takes awhile to mature like an apple or nut tree.
  • That he’ll learn the joys of hospitality, community and good friends.  You don’t have to be in the country to learn that, as we found in Chicago and other places we’ve lived. But we certainly hope to continue it here and have already made strides in that direction.
  • That he’ll be exposed to other viewpoints and people from all walks of life.  This may take some work in Vermont, which isn’t the most ethnically diverse place.  That’s one thing we miss about Chicago.  On the other hand, we have way more friends of the “experienced” and even “elderly” persuasion here, so I’m hoping he’ll take advantage of their wisdom and knowledge.  And we’ve met people who have moved here from all over and/or have traveled extensively.
  • That he will develop an interest in creativity and the arts.  We are starting to meet a lot of creative people (musicians, artists, writers, potters, fabric artists, etc.), so I’m hoping we can expose him to all of that.  Also hoping to spend more time on music myself, so that he’ll not just be around music we play at home, but also seeing music be made at home and by others in the community.  I know I can’t force him to play an instrument (or at least force him to enjoy it), but I would love to see him develop an interest in really any musical instrument and/or singing.  He seems to be trying to sing already.
  • That he’ll learn to enjoy contemplation, silence, nature and just being in the moment.  That seems to be getting harder and harder in our fast-paced world, but Vermont has a lot of natural beauty and outdoor space that at least provides a setting for it.
  • That he’ll learn to use technology in a balanced way.  Despite living in the country, we still have a lot of technology around and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.  I’m still a computer programmer.  But I want him to get his hands dirty and do physical things as well.  Since moving here, I find that getting out and doing physical work provides a nice break from being on the computer and vice versa.
  • That he’ll learn to work hard, but also play hard and relax hard.  I got a great work ethic from the way I was brought up, but I also struggle with being a workaholic sometimes and getting too caught up in always doing stuff.  When the garden is in full swing I’m out there all the time.  That’s good, but sometimes you need to take a break too.

It will certainly be fascinating to see how Ezra develops and experiences his environment.  I can’t wait to watch and dream with him.