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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Peas poking through and then a few weeks later

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

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Bought a tiller

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Hoop tunnel

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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.

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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.

2012: The Season In Review

So our first gardening season in Vermont is pretty much over, although we still have a number of things under tunnels again.  Looks like we may have some cabbage, carrots, beets, chard and a few other things.

Overall, we are pretty happy with how things went, although we still have a lot to learn.  But considering I haven’t worked a garden this big since I was a kid, I think we did okay. We mostly kept up with weeds and getting things picked. One thing we didn’t expect to struggle with so much was the insect pressure early in the season.  We had certain crops we planted multiple times and still didn’t get anything going. Next year we will probably use more row cover until the plants get established.

The good

  • Peas –  got a decent little crop early on, both shell peas and snap peas. We only had one row, so not enough to get much. Definitely want a lot more when we have some land. Had better luck with pre-sprouting the peas before planting than seeding directly.
  • Carrots – Tried a bunch of different types and got a good yield eventually, but they take awhile to get going.
  • Tomatoes – Mostly did pretty well with these, although had some disease issues with certain varieties. Had some volunteer plants from the compost as well, mostly cherry.  We were able to dry and slow roast a lot and put them in the freezer.
  • Peppers – Once again, some of these took awhile to get started in the New England climate, but once they did we got a fairly prolific yield. Even the habanero we started ended up loaded late in the season, although it would have been nice to have a bit more warm weather for them to finish ripening.
  • Tomatillos – We only planted a couple of plants, but they grew over 6 feet tall and got loaded with fruit.  Once again a couple more weeks of hot weather would’ve helped, but Kristin was able to make a bunch of salsa verde anyway. The main thing we learned is even though the stems get pretty thick and woody, when the plants started getting loaded they needed extra support, particularly in the wind.

The disappointing

  • Cauliflower – We didn’t have great luck with any variety, but the Purple of Sicily from Baker Creek was particularly disappointing. The thing is, it was wonderful in every way except fruiting. It germinated quickly and at a high rate, was very hardy when transplanting, responded well to insect pressure and grew really large. So maybe it was the season or something we did wrong. I’ve heard cauliflower tends to do better in fall plantings since it likes it colder when fruiting, but didn’t get around to starting fall plants early enough.
  • Zucchini – Yes, really, even though this is normally one of the easiest plants to grow and you end up with more than you want. We tried planting this multiple times and the bugs kept getting it.  We finally go a few plants started in mid-summer, but they never did much.
  • Melons – Same thing, too much insect pressure for them to get going and they need a whole season here to do much.
  • Tomatoes – like I said above, we did okay for the most part. But the Brandywines succumbed to some sort of rust or blight and we got maybe one or two decent fruit. Plus the slugs would start eating them before they got fully ripe, so was hard to get one that was nicely sun ripened. This seems to be the story with Brandywines, they are notoriously tricky to grow. The Paul Robesons did much better and I like them just as much.

    The other plant that seemed to have disease issues was Stupice, although it is very widely grown.  In retrospect I don’t think I allowed enough spacing between plants and they probably could’ve have use both more air flow and pruning. Something to remember for next year.

  • Brussel Sprouts – similar to the cauliflower, plants looked great and never sprouted. Another one I think I’ll reserve for fall planting next year.
  • Cucumbers – we had some issues with cucumbers here that we never had in Chicago.  Same variety, but they formed stunted fruit that seemed to be an off shade of green along with some brown. I expect it is some type of mineral deficiency or something, but we never figured it out.  We did plant Mexican Sour Gherkins later in the season and they actually did great. But we were hoping for more pickling cucumbers of other varieties.

Well, there is a lot more I could go into, but that’s probably enough. I would like to post a list soon of the various food we were able to put up.  We’ve got a pretty nicely stocked basement now and should be able to have some food this winter from our garden. We aren’t close to being most self-sufficient in food yet and we’ll probably need more land for that, but we are another step closer to that goal.

How did your garden do this year?

The harvest begins

Looks like soon we will be heading into a busy time of harvesting, but we’ve already gotten a few things.  The first batch of potatoes was harvested last week; this batch was planted about 2 weeks before the main group of potatoes.  We are starting to get some tomatoes, although it appears we are fighting some blight or something.  Hopefully we’ll get a decent number before the plants go south.  We had a bunch of volunteer tomatoes pop up in the compost, but I think most of them are cherry.  Still, might give us some backups if the main plants don’t work out.  I am seeing some decent Brandywine and Paul Robeson on the vine, so hopefully they will hang on long enough to harvest.

We’ve also harvested a row of carrots.  The best of the lot seem to be the St. Valery from Baker Creek.  We also had some Purple Haze, which look very cool, but tend to go woody and get a lot of roots if you leave them in too long.  I think the others are Napoli and Parisienne or Paris Market.  We are trying to keep everything labeled, but eventually the labels succumb to rain and dirt.

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We are starting to get beans. We have 4 or 5 varieties, including some soybeans for Edamame and Dragon Tongue which is a cool purple striped Dutch heirloom that is pretty popular.

Anyway, this is starting to get long and I really just wanted to post some photos, so without further ado…

Red Norlands

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St. Valery carrots

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Purple Haze carrots

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Dragon Tongue beans

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More beans (I think these are Kentucky Wonder)

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Stupice

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Who needs a TV (when you’ve got chickens)

For quite awhile now, getting some backyard laying hens has been on our list of things to do.  We even thought about doing it in Chicago and it was allowed, but we just didn’t have the room. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was finally able to complete the chicken coop and so on Father’s Day we ended up heading out to a “chicken swap”.  We joined the Vermont Bird Fanciers group and they put on a number of swaps throughout the year.  It’s not just a swap, it’s really more of a place to buy all kinds of poultry, rabbits and other animals. In addition to chickens, we saw a number of different types of rabbits, geese, ducks, pigeons and guineas.

We ended up finding one vendor with a good variety of the breeds we were interested in and they raise them organically for the most part, so it was a good fit. We weren’t sure there would be a good selection, but actually it was pretty good. Since we originally wanted to start in the spring, I was looking for either pullets or perhaps hens that were already laying. There were plenty of pullets available and the ones we bought should be laying sometime this fall if all goes well.

I’m sure this isn’t original with us, but we decided to name the girls after characters from the Buffyverse.  So without further ado, introducing:

Buffy (Buff Orpington) – I’m sure we aren’t the first to do that.

buffy

Willow (Golden Comet) – type of Red Sexlink (typically a cross of a Rhode Island Red rooster and a white hen)

willow

Drusilla (Black Star) – type of Black Sexlink (typically a cross of Rhode Island Red rooster and Barred Rock hen)

drusilla

Faith (Barred Rock)

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Faith is the most curious and/or dumbest, depending on any given minute. She is the most personable hen and is very friendly, although she throws a fit when she is held. We think she may end up as the alpha hen, but not sure yet.

These hens pretty much immediately started foraging, scratching and generally acting like chickens should.  We put up some poultry netting (without power for now) and let them run around the yard and garden.  They figured out how to crawl through that almost right away, but once they are bigger it will be a bit harder.  They have already taken to exploring the garden and we are hoping to make them our bug catchers. After already bribing them with hand-picked slugs and other goodies, they seem to be getting the idea pretty quickly.

We’ve now had them about 5 weeks and they seem to be settling in just fine.  They are growing like crazy and love helping us with our Japanese beetle issues.  They are certainly a source of endless amusement and make weeding a lot more enjoyable.

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.

 

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Various brassicas

 

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Windowsill pots of oregano and thyme

 

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

 

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The garlic we planted last fall is looking fantastic.

 

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

 

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

 

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Tulips, daffodils and other lovelys.

Goat kids!

We visited Twig Farm on Sunday, so here is just a quick post with some cute goat kids. 

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Our friend Mark was in town and came along for the visit.  Here I am getting some goat kid love.

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We also just happened to arrive as a yearling doe was in labor and got to see 2 kids being born.  We’ve read a lot about it, so it was interesting to actually see it in person.

GoatInLabor