Wood Chip Madness

Lots of manual labor around the Micro Farm this weekend.  It all started with a truck load of wood chips.  Several municipalities in our area offer free wood chips, you just have to load them.  I filled the bed of my Ford Ranger and drove them home to unload.

I have been reading and learning about “permaculture” this past winter.  One permaculture technique is “sheet-mulching”.  You put a layer of cardboard, or something similar, and then put mulch on top.  Wood chips are free so I used wood chips.  When everything breaks down, I will just put down another layer of cardboard and wood chips.  Hopefully, building my soil upwards.

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New growing bed. The cardboard watered. The next step mulch.

Several beds were mulched with wood chips others will be mulched with pine needles.

The "circle" garden and the primary wood chip bed.
The “circle” garden and the primary wood chip bed.
The cucumber bed, mulched with pine needles.
The cucumber bed, mulched with pine needles.

I was also able to fully connect the second rain barrel.  The gutter is about 18 feet long and catches water from three roofs.  This winter ice accumulated between the buildings make it difficult to navigate.  The gutters and rain barrel will help reduce that problem.  I like solving two problems with one solution.

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Rain barrel connected and looking better than last week.

Spring is springing in big ways around the Micro Farm.  The raspberries are starting to leaf.

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New growth from the yellow raspberries.
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Young leaves on the black raspberries.
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Red raspberries are putting up new canes.

I planted over 200 peas this spring.  They were from seeds I saved last fall.  As a new seed saver I am very nervous about not doing it correctly.  I was starting to get nervous that my peas would not come up.  I figured I could not have screwed up 200 seeds. Right?  Well, in the past coupe of days I have seen many pea shoots coming up.  I am very excited.  I really enjoy fresh peas.

 

 

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Yeah. The peas are sprouting.

After a few more things are cleaned up we should have the Micro Farm presentable.  The past two weeks have been busy, but productive.  We will see what the fruits of this labor will be.

Enjoy this season, learn from last season, and look forward to next season.

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One project, two project, yeah!

The past two weeks have been a busy around the Micro Farm.  The first project was a new compost bin.  We have become the compost center for several households in our neighborhood.  The two bins we had did not give us enough space.  I also had several pieces of material that needed to be used.

The new compost bins.
The new compost bins.

There are now three bins instead of two, and all three bins are larger in size.  I also was able to sifted a load of compost in my lawn tractor trailer.  I am hopeful these new bins will help us make more compost.

The second project has been connecting our rain-barrels.  I was able to connect the first barrel using parts that I had on hand.

The first barrel connected to our garage
The first barrel connected to our garage

This barrel is completely full after about two storms.  It collects from about 18 feet of gutter and fills with a small rain shower.

Connecting the second barrel required new equipment.  I am still waiting on a few parts from the store to complete the full set up.

However, with a few pieces installed and a little rain fall I have been able to collect about ten gallons of water.  Only 10 feet of gutter is connected, and the rain fall since it was connected has been small.

The second barrel connected.
The second barrel connected.

I am not happy with how the downspout looks.  After the rest of the parts arrive I will make that change and a few other small changes.

I have also planted several cool weather crops.  The peas were planted but have not come up yet.  The radishes have come up though.  There are two varieties this year, an heirloom black radish and an heirloom red radish.

Small radish plants.  You might have to look close.
Small radish plants. You might have to look close.

I walk in the garden everyday and I am still amazed to see the garlic as tall as it is.

Two varieties of garlic.  Foreground is one variety; background another
Two varieties of garlic. Foreground is one variety; background another

I have a good crop of plants.  I planted four varieties of garlic in the fall.  Two of the four did not come up.  They did not look good when I planted them and was not surprised when they did not come up.

The other two are very strong.  It is difficult to see in the picture but each varieties’ greens have a different color and shape.  I am excited to taste each variety.

More projects are on the way.  The seedlings are growing in the basement.  It looks to be shaping up to be a nice spring.  Hopefully, it warms up a little.

Enjoy this season, learn from last season, and look forward to next season.

The Butterfly Buffet?

Everyday Biscuit (our dog) and I take a walk.  We have our patterns and variations on a theme but we regularly follow the same route.  Our route takes us past several areas that currently be used for field corn.  Eventually, these areas will be developed into either residential or business uses.  Over the past few summers I have seen an increase in milkweed plants.  I was very excited to see milkweed on the edges of the corn field and hoped the Monarch butterflies would be equally excited.  Last summer I noticed a disturbing trend.  The farmer pushed further than he had in previous years and could be plowing under more and more milkweed.

Coincidentally this summer a friend, native to this area, was sharing how she used to see fields full of Monarchs and that she had not seen one Monarch at all this past summer.  On one of my walks looking at the seeds of the milkweed ready to take flight I began to wonder if I could save milkweed seed and start some on my own.  If I could I thought they would be a great addition to our native and butterfly planter.

Sure enough you can propagate wild milkweed.  I ended up using Wild Ones’ website.  They promote native plants and landscaping, which was what I was the type of website I thought would be most helpful to me. I did not want to use the milkweed in a way that was outside its preferred characteristics or unknowingly unleash an invasive plant in my community.  They have a nice milkweed fact sheet to help the average person, like me, propagate and learn about milkweed.

Milkweed is the only food source for Monarch larva.  If, for example, the plants in my neighbor hood get mowed down next summer what or who is going to replace that food source.  Hopefully, I can help build up the milkweed population in my area in places that will be more stable than along my walking route.

So what have I actually done so far?  This fall I harvested a few seeds from a few plants.  I tried not to take to much from the plants, but just enough for my purposes.  I pulled off all the fluff and keep them in a cool, dry place.

A few of my milkweed seeds.
A few of my milkweed seeds.

I did some simple research and I believe I have Common Milkweed or Asclepias syriaca.  Today they were mixed with sand, according to the Wild Ones’ instructions and were placed in our refrigerator.  The process is called stratification and it is to create a simulated winter experience for the seeds.  Wild Ones recommends sixty days for common milkweed, but the USDA recommends ninety days.  I am trying sixty plus a few days to see what will happen.

Common milkweed seeds undergoing stratification in my refrigerator
Common milkweed seeds undergoing stratification in my refrigerator

In about sixty days I will start the milkweed seedlings.  It should be interesting to see how it works out.  I am hoping to be able to help provide some food for local Monarch butterflies.

I would encourage you to watch for milkweed and try planting around your home to help feed the Monarchs.  I have heard several reports about the Monarch population is declining.  Maybe this will be one more piece of the puzzle to help increase the population of this wonderful butterfly.

Enjoy this season, learn from last season, and look forward to next season.

Forward to 2015

Happy New Year. I hope your holidays were fun and safe.  Planning for the 2015 planting has begun.  I have begun to plan my growing beds for the next year.  There are always edits that need to be made, but for now I have a start.

Click to Enlarge the Square Garden Plan
Click to Enlarge the Square Garden Plan

I practice rotating my crops and attempt to not put the same family of plants in the same row two years in a row.  There are some challenges with space so that goal is not always achievable.  In the square garden you will also notice several rows of buckwheat.  Each year I take section of the growing beds “offline” and plant a cover crop.  This year the cover crop will be buckwheat.  It does not over winter and is easy to pull.  I am planting buckwheat for the first time and I look forward to learning how it works at the Cohocton River Rock Micro Farm.

The circle garden will be fully open this year, after  two years of being planted with a cover crop. Having the entire circle is exciting because it is one of the easier places to plant popcorn, one of my favorite.

Click to Enlarge the Circle Garden
Click to Enlarge the Circle Garden

Now that a general plan has been put into place the next step is plant variety selection.  First, priority is using seed I currently have in my collection.  Then I will look for varieties I do not currently have but plan to grow.

Just a sample of the seed catalogs I have received.
Just a sample of the seed catalogs I have received.

I have been receiving seed catalogs since before Christmas.  Some go quickly in to the recycling bin.  Others I spend time to read.  Still, others I keep for the year for their growing information.  Everyone has their favorites.  I have mine, but my favorites are the ones that include lots of growing information.

Several years I have tried to improve my succession growing (planting at different dates to have produce throughout the growing season).  It has been a struggle.  I have begun working with two spreadsheets created by Johnny’s Selected Seeds to help me be more specific about the dates I need to be planting.  I am hoping this will be the next step to improving my succession growing plans.  I guess I did have a New Year’s resolution after all.  I hope your gardening resolutions all come to be.

Enjoy this season, learn from last season, and look forward to next season.

Seeding the Solstice

“I read somewhere…” is a phrase that gets me in trouble regularly.  Typically, I connect two or more thoughts together that are not related.  However, that is how today started.  The weather here has been unseasonably warm and will be getting warmer the next couple of days.  Today is the winter solstice, oh so few hours of daylight today.  I remember reading, somewhere, it is optimal to plant onions on the shortest day of the year to harvest them on the longest day of the year.

Well, I thought I would give it a try.  The frost around the micro farm is barely an inch or two deep.

The meager frost trying to hold on.
The meager frost trying to hold on.

Under this layer the soil was loose and much warmer.  I mixed the two soils together.  I planted two types of onion, Cortland – a storage, yellow onion; and Redwing – a storage, red onion.  I also planted a short row of Lexton leeks.   I have not had good luck with leeks in the past so I wanted to experiment with a few this year.

Cortland seeds ready to be planted.
Cortland seeds ready to be planted.

Over the next few days the temperatures will be better for planting.  I am traveling for Christmas and won’t get time to plant on the warmer days.  The most challenging part of the past two weeks has been the lack of sun.  Our televison weatherman predicted we may not see a sunny sky for another day or more.

To help my seeds adjust to the soil with rain and varying temperatures I added at least two inches of pine needle mulch.  Hopefully the pine needles will act as a buffer as the rain, snow, and crazy temperatures come.

Seeds under their pine needle blanket
Seeds under their pine needle blanket

We are enjoying a slower time around the micro farm.  We here at Cohocton River Rock Micro Farm wish you a merry Christmas.  We hope you have a wonderful and safe holiday.

Enjoy this season, learn from last season, and look forward to next season.

Spencer: Crime Scene Photographer

Two weeks later I got outside and finished trellising the red raspberries.  Everyone looks good for spring.

Red raspberries trellised and trimmed.
Red raspberries trellised and trimmed.
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A fairly good “V” shape

After I finished working the red raspberries I checked on the black raspberries to see if they remained attached to the wire.  Again this year I found rabbit pellets and even a urine mark.  But what I found next put me in an Elmer Fudd kind of mood.  Beware the picture below is graphic, well not really, but I was not happy.

The scene of the crime.  If you look in the lower part of the picture you can see the black raspberry victims
The scene of the crime. If you look in the lower part of the picture you can see the black raspberry victims

The rabbit(s?) have chewed off several of the small black raspberry canes.  You can see why I almost went for my big, floppy hat and gun.  I will continue to observe and protect.  More action may be needed.  Fortunately, my neighbors recently brought home a kitten.  Over the past couple of months he has grown considerably, and really enjoys attacking my leg from behind.  He is very aware of the rabbits hiding places and works hard to find them.  So I now have a partner in my mission.

My neighbor's cat ready to pounce...on me.
My neighbor’s cat ready to pounce…on me.

I took some winter pictures around the micro farm, because the snow will all be gone in the next day or so.  Several days of above freezing temperatures will melt the little snow we had away.

The rocks are already showing through the snow.
The rocks are already showing through the snow.

The compost bin that was a month ago above my head has settled down significantly.

A much more reasonable height for a compost bin
A much more reasonable height for a compost bin

The seed catalogs have begun to come in.  It is difficult not to get in over my head in mid-December.  There will be lots of thought, dreaming, and careful planning in the next month.  Then we begin again.

Enjoy this season, learn from last season, and look forward to next season.

Raspberry Pruning

I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving and took a few moments to reflect on the most important elements of life and said a prayer of thanksgiving for them.

Warmer temperatures early in the week allowed me to pick up three more garbage cans of free wood chips.  My mulched pathways were getting thin and needed to be replenished.  Our local electric company has a site where they offer free wood chips, if you load them yourself.

Two more areas mulched.  1) In the top of the picture 2) In the middle of picture - almost done
Two more areas mulched. 1) In the top of the picture 2) In the middle of picture – almost done

My raspberries suffered this summer from not being tied up and pruned.   It was difficult to harvest or walk around.

Black raspberries
Black raspberries
Red raspberries
Red raspberries

When working with raspberries I recommend thick leather gloves, long pants, and long shirt.  Their rasps grab and pull.  Grabbing a can is difficult if you do not have gloves on.  For pruning tools I use a hand shear and a large two handle shear that really works well on the thicker canes.

I start by cutting canes that look dead or wooden.  The wooden canes are not pliable or may even have a hollow wooden sound to them.

You can see a difference in canes.  The closer canes look more like a tree stem
You can see a difference in canes. The closer canes look more like a tree branch

Often the dead canes will come off when I tug on them.  However, I like to cut them with my shears so the cut is clean.  Jagged cuts leave more surface area for disease and insects.

Then I selectively cut to allow for the best sunlight access, air flow, and space on the trellis wires.

The black raspberries, long view.
The black raspberries, long view.
Black raspberries, side view
Black raspberries, side view

I was aggressive with the black raspberries.  They are fast growers and I have difficulty controlling them.  The “V” shape helps to get air flow in.  Inside the “V” is were new canes can grow and get plenty of light.

I tied each cane to the trellis wire with twist ties.  I get a roll of twist tie, that is about 25 feet long, from my local nursery.  I wrap each cane so it has enough room to grow thicker but does not get away from the wire.

The sun set before I was able to finish tying the red raspberries.  I hope to get out on a sunny day this week and finish.  I think both berries look better than they did when I started.  I hope they now have enough space to grow.

I have already begun dreaming about next spring.  Seed catalogs are starting to come in the mail.  It is good to get outside and do some work.

Enjoy this season, learn from last season, and look forward to next season.