Onions, Potatoes and Beets Oh My!

I’m ready to get started planting the Enormous Frickin Vegetable Garden with early spring plantings.  At the front of the bed I’m putting in Walla Walla sweet onions, probably my favorite all time onion. I picked up a bunch of onion starts at a local nursery a few weeks ago before we were all on lockdown. I like using onion starts because they are easy to handle and fast to plant.

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These guys all got separated and placed into the bed a few inches deep with the dirt firmed around them. As they grow we will need to ‘ring’ them which is essentially moving the dirt away from the growing bulb so it can plump up unimpeded. But that is a later task for warmer weather.

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I separated each onion and laid them out on the bed. For this planting I’m going with four in each row. This is a four foot wide bed so it worked out great. It only took a few minutes to plant them up.

I also planted some onion sets or bulbs. These sets are red onions which are my second favorite onion, they are sweet, caramelize easily and are great sautéed in olive oil with red peppers and a little red wine vinegar. Sets are available at nurseries and feed stores in the early spring.

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There were 100 bulbs in the bag! I planted some in my other vegetable garden closer to the house so I am estimating I only planted 50 or so.

While I was searching for the red onion bulbs I came across an old package of beet seeds and decided to go ahead and try them. I sowed them a little more thickly than I would have a new package because I’m expecting that some of the seeds might not germinate. In a few weeks we will see what comes up!

Here’s a few video links to what I accomplished today.

 

 

 

Enormous Frickin Vegetable Garden

The Victory Garden. It’s a thing. During WWII, to help offset rationing and support the war effort, people were asked to plant a vegetable garden. Some estimates suggest that people grew as much as fifty percent of their own produce.

I’ve been growing fruit and vegetables for almost thirty years. I’m by no means an expert but have found through the years that enthusiasm accounts for a lot.

If I’m honest my veg garden always starts out looking organized and tidy and by mid season looks like the ball pit at Chucky Cheese during a birthday party, total chaos and disorder. 🤷‍♀️🤷‍♀️🤷‍♀️

This year I made the decision to turn my horse arena into an enormous vegetable garden. My horse friends are mostly appalled but I’m feeling good about the plan. I decided to blog about the process hoping that I would find additional motivation to keep it all tidy, weed free and productive.

Seeds a Plenty

I generally grow around 30 tomato plants, mostly heirloom varieties, but I’m ramping up to reach a goal of 100 plants. A lofty goal for sure but is there any other kind of goal??? 😂😂😂

Here’s a short video clip that starred out with multiple interruptions and required me to physically extract my dogs from the UPS truck. (My UPS driver is a saint)

Take One

I hope this video entertains. It will certainly be fun to document the experience. If it inspires anyone to grow a garden I will send you a virtual social distance high hive!

Take Two

Goat! Why Wouldn’t You Want Some???

People often ask me what it’s like to have a herd of milking goats. Mostly they are frowning and interjecting every few sentences with, “But how do you go anywhere???”

It’s true. Milking goats require you to be home to milk them. If you are milking twice a day you will need to adhere to a schedule so both you and your goat will be happy.

Wrong.

Goats like routine just like any other farm animal. It’s important to train them to use the milking stand. They will happily jump up there to eat when it’s time to milk.

Correct.

Training goats is easy and fun if you are patient. Goats can be stubborn and like to think things are their idea not yours. Luckily Saanen’s have good temperaments and are generally agreeable.

Total Chaos.

It’s a lot of work, but like all things worth doing, it comes with an enormous amount of satisfaction and plenty of goat love.

Lace
Baby Butter

Olive Eggers

Olive Egger chickens have recently become fashionable. They are the offspring of a brown egg laying chicken and a blue egg laying chicken. Kind of a mutt really.

Mutt or no, it really doesn’t matter because their eggs are beautiful. This morning I received my first olive egg from a chicken I raised last year. Pictures really don’t do it justice!

Farm Math

People often ask me how many animals I have. There is never a simple answer, like an actual number. It usually goes like this:

“Well I had four alpacas and then someone gave me two more…but one was white so I traded it for a rose grey one but then they had a fawn one and it was buy one get one free day so…”

Recently I finally got down to one rabbit, however, he managed to escape and take up residence in my neighbors chicken coup. I know this because I was feeding my chickens early in the morning when my neighbor called over the fence to ask if I was missing a rabbit.

After a lengthy convo over the fence that involved her explaining her rabbit math (she has four rabbits) we decided that what she really wanted five rabbits and one less goat. A bargain was struck. A trade was made. A goat was put on a leash.

When doing farm math it’s important to remember that 1. It’s not linear and 2. It requires lots of stories to explain why you have a goat on a leash while in your pajamas.

First Eggs

There’s nothing like first eggs. After raising 30 chicks last spring, I’ve started to get some of the first eggs from them. Since I have almost 40 chickens, some already of laying age, there is no way to be sure these eggs are from the babies I raised in the spring. However, I don’t recognize them as coming from my older chickens.

Each chicken lays a unique egg. I recall having a Wellsummer chicken which laid a beautiful dark brown egg with tiny even darker brown spots. I could tell her eggs from my other chickens including my other Wellsummers.

Today’s eggs, I’d like to think, are from my young hens. Raising newly hatched chickens is a boat load of work. Baby chicks are messy and require looking after several times a day. Clean water is essential and 30 chicks will keep their water clean for approximately three seconds. This means that the water needs to be changed approximately four hundred times per day. Their light source for heat needs to be constantly monitored and adjusted. Wasted feed and poop mingle together and foul up the bedding which needs to be changed. It’s a chore, but all that work is forgotten when you find a nest of first eggs.

Orchard

I love orchards. We have about thirty fruit trees planted at the moment with plans for more. IMG_4461 (1).JPG

Each tree needs a protective bit of fence around it to keep the alpacas and deer from eating them. Eventually when they are big enough we can remove the tree wells. This is usually around the three to four year age of the bare root trees we buy. I spaced these trees fairly close together which means I can’t use the tractor to mow, I picked up a crappy push mower on Craig’s List so I plan to mow it a few times a year by hand…in the mean time I planted several hundred daffodils.

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Planting anything with the help of dogs is so much easier than without the help of dogs. Said no one ever. Dogs get very excited about digging holes. When they get tired they like to curl up in them.

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I can’t wait for Spring to see the bulbs bloom. I hope to add more bulbs every fall. Also toying with the idea of underplanting with lavender. So many great ideas!

Incorporating stumps into the landscape. (If you can’t beat em…join em?)

So many stumps. Sometimes I go out and count them. Creating an orchard in an area with old growth stumps has been a labor of love. It’s coming along. I realized late in the game that I wouldn’t be able to remove all of the stumps no matter how hard I tried. So I incorporated some of them.

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Some of them make good bird feeders. This particular stump had a perfect hole rotted down the center.

 

Hugelkulture or how I learned to love stumps…sort of.

Hugelkulture. It’s a german word. I think it was invented by a guy with a lot of stumps or downed timber. Basically it’s a system of gardening where you bury wood, limbs, stumps, branches etc. and mound dirt over them. The idea behind this is that the wood rots and as it breaks down it provides moisture for the growing bed. This is great for areas with low water or areas that are hard to water. I was excited by this technique because it involved getting rid of: stumps, branches, logs, TREES, of which I have plenty.

I observed hugelkulture on my property when I was clearing land for our orchard. Logging is not always an efficient operation and much of the slash piles or non marketable  timber is often left on the ground to rot. If you have plenty of time, say like eighty years, this will rot down into some fabulous soil. I didn’t have eight years but I did notice when I started clearing areas, the slash piles that rotted had a very nice layer of topsoil that I was able to save. Digging around the old growth stumps also produced nice soil that was distributed through out the orchard.

As previously discussed, okay I rambled about it for days to anyone who would listen, I have about twenty five old growth stumps that are simply too big to remove in a cost effective way. They range in size but the average stump is about three feet in diameter. For almost all of these I was able to have them cut almost flush to the ground. Some of them I buried with dirt and planted grass on top of them. Those were the stumps that were able to be cut at grade. Most of them were not. I piled stones on top of them so I can see them in the spring when I mow.

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I bought a crapy push mower off of Craig’s List just for this purpose. I’ll be able to mow tight to each stump which I wouldn’t be able to do with a brush hog. A few times of mowing should keep the weeds low enough that the alpacas can graze everything.

Back to huglekulture! An enormous stump cluster, which appears have been three trees growing close together proved impossible to deal with, excavator, bull dozer and tractor all gave it the thumbs down or the middle finger up, however you want to look at it. I covered this area (about eight feet long by four feet wide) with sticks and leaves and dirt and a couple of road kills. I topped the entire thing off with a tarp and let it sit for about seven months. I was hoping to rot the thing down somewhat. I recently took the tarp off in a stretch of good weather and was surprised to find it still moist. This stump cluster is in an area I want to have a vegetable garden. I thought about huglekulturing it right on up except it would have been about seven feet tall, not ideal!

In order to make the mound smaller I made a fire on it. Everyone knows to make big hot fire you must first make little hot fire. My husband reminds me of this constantly. I built a fire and used a leaf blower and some diesel gas to get it going. I am not recommending starting a fire with gas. It is however, very effective!

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This fire would have needed to burn for about six weeks and reach a temperature of four billion degrees to completely take out the stumps, I certainly didn’t have time for that. My goal was to burn the thing down enough to make it manageable for a huglekulture bed.

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This took some time. About seven hours. Even my helper pooped out on me.

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The fire eventually died down, in the above photo you can see the center burnt the best, the two stumps on the end were too wet to really burn. After several days, the fire was still warm in the center, I spread the ashes out and examined what I had. The end stumps still remained but the center was nicely burnt down, practically flush with the ground. I had my husband cut the two end stumps with a chainsaw so that there were much lower to the ground and then we had a snowstorm so…photo unavailable.

I plan to make my huglekulture bed when the snow melts. I will dig down a bit and add some wood and organic matter (thanks to alpacas and their use of dung holes I have no shortage of manure) and cover the entire thing with dirt.  I will most likely make this my composting spot as well and top the entire thing off with wood chips which we have no shortage of thanks to the wood chipper PTO. It’s going to look like I buried a cow but I’m hoping over the course of a few seasons it will continue to rot down and maybe before I die it will even be flush with the ground.