Where is Winter? – 1/15/2020

So far this is proving to be a mild winter, gray and drizzly. It suggests that stink bugs, ticks, and fleas will be prevalent this summer. It is so mild, that the weeds that are usually beat back in the vegetable garden in winter are not only growing, but thriving. Last summer, the garden was a lot of work and I tried to stay on top of the weeding, but was losing the battle with some of them. I never beat the mint bed and the Creeping Charlie is taking over and choking out everything. The garden is also too big for me to keep it all in rotation. I have looked at options for reducing the size, making some of the boxes 4 boards high instead of 2, but the perennials are at the two ends with a 4 X 8 bed of blueberry bushes that finally produced last summer, the 3 barrels that are old and fragile of red raspberries and I fear they would disintegrate if I try to move them and they finally have the raspberries contained at one end. The other end has the asparagus bed that is now 6 or 7 years old and produces more asparagus than daughter, a friend, and I can eat in a season. Those two perennial ends do control the garden size to some extent.

One side of the garden is a pathway away from the chicken pen for about half of the garden length, beyond the chicken pen is one of the worst patches of Creeping Charlie. I have considered pulling down all of the fencing and starting over. If the fencing was hard up against the boxes on the side that the chickens can reach, the length of the garden and if I keep the plantings far enough away from the fence to prevent long necks from reaching through to eat my veggies, perhaps their scratching would keep the weeds down on that side of the garden. The chickens won’t touch the Creeping Charlie to eat, but maybe their scratching for seeds and goodies tossed down there would reduce it. The sides of the garden nearer the house and south of the berries could be reduced and the boards from those boxes used to make the rear boxes taller so they are easier for me to work. The issue there is the post that has the solar charger on it is on that edge, though the charger is dead. Maybe it could be moved with the fence or just be removed entirely. If moved, I could hang a gate on it.

In April, the university has a service day that you can sign up for help. Maybe some help getting the fencing in order for the garden and chicken pen would be incentive to keep at it.

Today’s forecast looks like maybe the thunderstorms from a few days ago are going to be followed as the adage says with some snow to start the weekend. More likely it will be a sloppy mix of snow, freezing rain, and rain with little or no accumulation.

The hens must think it is spring. This week I have had a day with 3 eggs, one with 4, and yesterday I got 5. There probably won’t be any today, but that is okay. This is the first winter I have gotten any from my hens.

The warm weather has had me reluctant to use one of my Christmas gifts, a cast iron bread pan, but this bread is an easy loaf that can be made in just a couple of hours with no kneading, so we had a hot loaf of Herb and Onion bread for dinner one evening.

The drizzle outside, the doctor’s appointments, and now a pair of head colds between us have keep me indoors and instead of warping the loom, I finished spinning 4 ounces of Romeldale CVM that I got from my friend Gail (Sunrise Valley Farm) and got a generous 289.5 yards of light fingering yarn from it. It is now washed and awaiting the arrival of a purchase of mill spun alpaca, silk, wool blend yarn from another friend. The mill spun will be the warp for a scarf or wrap and the CVM the weft. I also spun 3 ounces of Coopworth from another friend, Debbie (Hearts of the Meadow Farm) and got 112.5 yards of worsted weight from it. I have ordered another 8 ounces of Coopworth that may be from the same lot, or will at least coordinate with it and it will become another scarf or wrap. I am going to try to spin some of it tight enough and fine enough to be the warp.

Today after a frustrating attempt to order a rigid heddle book online using a gift card, we went to Barnes and Noble and ordered it there. I hope to learn some new techniques and patterns to work into my weaving. With the 8 ounces of Coopworth to match the maroon above, I ordered another 8 ounces of this

It doesn’t really have a plan, but I have a 4.8 oz braid of BFL and Tussah Silk that might go well with it. I’ll have to wait to see how they spin before I decide.

And You Thought Garden Posts Were Done for the Year – Nov. 10, 2019

The last few nights have been very cold for this time of year. A couple hovering around 20 f but today the day time temperature is above 60 f, the sky clear and very little wind. With one more day similar to this due tomorrow, it seemed like a good time to prep the garden for winter and to get the perennial onions and garlic planted.

The bed that was designated for it is a 4′ x 4′ raised bed that had sunflowers and cucumbers in it this past summer. It was cleared of stalks and a few weeds. Each time I put straw or woodchips in the chicken run, they scratch them into wonderful compost mixed with their droppings and some of it gets kicked out the low end of the pen. I was able to gather a full wheelbarrow full of this rich compost to add to the bed.

The alliums were planted, a thick layer of hay spread over the top and mesh fencing laid over the top to hold the hay in place in the wind and to keep the chickens from digging that bed up when I let them scratch in the garden during the winter.

While I was in the garden, I pulled the Creeping Charlie from the Blueberry bed, removed the deteriorated tarp from over the mint bed, grabbed armloads of mint, dead pepper plants, and weeds to throw to the chickens. Cardboard was placed over the mint bed. I am going to add another layer to it when I can get some, place heavy rocks to hold it down and put hay over it too. Maybe I can regain control of that bed.

Each morning, I go to the coop to let the hens out. They get free range time for several hours until the dogs need to go out again. Once I release them from the coop, I look in to see the cleanliness of the coop, to check to see if their water is frozen, and make sure their 5 gallon feeder still has feed. They have been only providing 1 or 2 eggs each day now for a couple of weeks, or so I thought. When I looked in the coop this morning, I saw an egg in the back corner opposite the nesting boxes so I climbed up in the coop to get it. Tucked in a neat nest there were 11 eggs. Sneaky birds. And I actually bought eggs yesterday at the Farmers Market.

Having an extra dozen around with Thanksgiving coming is a good thing. Eldest son and family will be here for a couple of days so breakfast will be needed for 4, hubby doesn’t usually get up for it. Pumpkins pies will need to be made, so more eggs will be used than the usual amount. I cook an egg for the dogs each morning and sometimes one for me for breakfast or dinner. Now that I know they are being sneaky, I checked the coop while out in the garden and sure enough, there were two more in that corner, plus one in the nesting boxes. I guess I am going to have to check daily.

If tomorrow proves to be another good day as forcast, after I go for my hearing aid fitting tomorrow morning, I will weed a couple more beds, cut back the asparagus tops and get hay on that bed as well. It is fenced off so the hens can’t get in it. Then the hens will be given time in the garden to scratch for bugs and seeds to help keep the weeds down in the spring. I still want to get help to redo the fencing and posts, but the garden is getting bedded down for winter.

Jack Frost’s visit – 10/25/2019

Jack Frost made his arrival 14 days after the average frost date for our area in the mountains. And he returned the next night too. Though neither frost was a “killing” frost, it did burn the leaves on the pumpkin vines, revealing the 4 dozen fruits hidden in their midst. Most are still green, but Google says they can be set on a sunny patio and will ripen. There are no more frost dates in the forecast for about 10 days (of course that can change in a blink), so they will sit and cure or ripen until it looks like the weather requires they be brought in to the root cellar.

These are Seminole pumpkins. They remain small and turn tan when ripe. Being a moschata variety, they are resistant to vine borers. I feared there wouldn’t be any as the vines took so long to take hold and grow, but in spite of the frost, there are still a few flowers blooming.

The frost wasn’t enough to totally kill off the remaining peppers, but to make sure they weren’t wasted, the last of them were picked, along with a handful of sheltered Calendula flowers.

The Calendula still has many buds and because of it’s sheltered position along a south facing stone wall, I may be able to continue harvesting them to dry for salves for another month or so. The peppers were all cut in half lengthwise and for the next couple of days, the house will be piquant with the scent of capsaicin as the oven is used as a dehydrator to reduce the moisture in them for storage.

My longterm to do list includes an arbor for the grape vine and a solar dehydrator. Short term, I need to clean up the mess that was my garden this summer. A few handfuls of weeds and spent beans were tossed to the chickens to pick through.

The asparagus tops need to be cut back and their bed mulched with hay. The spent sunflowers need to be cut or pulled and the bed nearest the compost turned and fed with shovels of compost in preparation for the garlic and onions in about a month. The beds that had the tomatoes and the overgrown mint bed are full of mint and weeds and need serious clean up and mulching. The bed that was peas last spring, that I planted oats, field peas, and vetch in as cover crop and then the chickens scratched up has a few of the cover crop plants in it, but is mostly weeds, so it too needs to be pulled up and covered with hay. I tried to control the mint with a tarp which failed miserably. Maybe the weed wacker will bring it down and I can cover it with a thick layer of newspaper and cardboard, a thicker layer of hay and let it sit dormant for a year. The mint that has escaped the bed is growing over the top of cardboard in the aisles and is fairly easy to pull up.

Each year in April, the University has a Saturday where you can sign up to have students come help you with projects. I am going to try to catch that date and see if some students can help me rebuild my boxes and reset my fence so that it doesn’t look like a drunk erected it. If I can get the posts set where I want them prior to the student’s arrival, perhaps we can get a tight run of 4 foot welded wire around the garden, the gate hanging hardware put in the wooden post that has the solar charger on it, and the gate moved. Both of my solar chargers need new batteries, perhaps that can get done this winter so it will fully charge and once the fence is repaired, new electric can be strung along the top to discourage the deer. There is a lot to be done, but the weather is cool now and not so onerous to be outside working. A couple hours a day over a few days should get the garden put to bed for the winter.