Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Experimenting with cover crops -- tiller radish

The other day I wrote a post about using cover crops in the back yard to improve soil.  I put down tiller radish and organic wheat.  The wheat grew so fast that I couldn't tell if the tiller radish did anything or not.
I threw more compost on the ground and moved my screened-box-thing over top of it.  This time I planted only tiller radish.  It didn't take long for them to sprout.
September 25.
September 28.
I have no idea at what density I was supposed to plant them.  There appear to be a lot of them in there.  I have no desire to thin them out.  So I'm just wait and see what happens.  I'm hoping they get enough light in this location.  They didn't come with any instructions.  I just have to hope for the best. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fall garden maintenance

A lot of the plants are out of my garden already.  It's a good time to amend the soil before putting in more fall plants (I already have a few kale plants in).
I moved the drip irrigation line out of the way.
It's clear in the picture above that the soil in the raised bed has settled.  It's now several inches lower than when I filled it.  So what do I add to my raised beds?  I add compost, lots and lots of compost.
The hay is from the rabbit hutch.  I dumped the trays from their hutch on top of the compost from my bins.
I used a shovel to move the compost from the wheel barrow to the raised bed.  I didn't want to just dump the whole load in there with no control.  I spread the compost with a rake to get it fairly level and in the corners.
Lots of fresh compost in half the bed.  I'll fill the other half once those beans are gone.
My other raised beds needed additional compost as well.  (I'm not including pictures of all of them.  That would be redundant.)
I used more than one wheel barrow load of compost per bed which put quite a dent in the compost pile.  I'm not sure that I'm going to have enough to fill all of the raised beds.  I still have a few to do. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Using cover crops to improve bad soil

I've written in the past that I have bad soil in my back yard.  I've made multiple attempts to get grass to grow.  It's a lot of effort and I have other things to do.

I thought it might be easier if I focuses on smaller areas.  I'm also going to get nature to do the work.

My old chicken tractor rotted and fell apart, but the wire mesh screen on it is still good.  Removing the screen was a pain, but it was worth saving. 
I built a wooden frame out of pressure treated 2x4 lumber and attached the screen to it.
Then I went to the nearest bare spot in my yard.  This soil is bad.  It's sandy on the surface and compacted and hard just below that.

I found tiller radish at the gardening store the other day.  I thought I'd give it a try.  Supposedly it grows a 32" tap root that'll break up hard soil. 
I also picked up some organic wheat.  I figured I'd throw some of this down and the chickens could eat it.  It'll also put down roots and grow green matter that can be used as mulch or composted.  I probably could have used plain old grass, but I thought I'd give this a try.
I threw some compost on the ground to give the seeds something to germinate in.  As soon as it hit the ground the chickens came to investigate.  They seem to think that everything I do is for them.
I placed my newly built box-screen-contraption thing over the compost and threw down some seed.  The chickens were clearly irritated.  They could see the seed, but couldn't get to it.
 It didn't take long at all for the wheat to germinate.
September 10, 2014
September 12, 2014

September 21, 2014
The wheat grew so fast that I don't know if the tiller radish is working or not.  I'll have to move the screened box and try this again just the radish and no wheat.  Then at some point I'll need to figure out how to get actual grass to grow here.  I haven't thought that far ahead...

Monday, September 22, 2014

Will there be baby rabbits?

We put the rabbits together last month.  Then a week ago we put pine shavings in the doe's hutch so she could make a nest like last time.  She has completely ignored them.  She hasn't pulled out her hair.  That's a pretty good indication that she's not pregnant.  We still have a few more days until her due date.  Once that passes we'll put them together so they can try again.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Yet another compost bin update.

Thought I'd post a quick status on my compost.  It's looking pretty good these days. 

I've found an easier way to deal with turning it.  I try to turn it on the 15th of every month.  It's a lot of work to move all of the compost from one side of the bin to the other.  So recently I got lazy (or smart depending on how you look at it).  Rather than move it all at once, I move a little bit every 3 days or so.
I started by pulling the compost from the top of the pile to the ground in front of the bin.

After 3 days I moved the compost in front of the bin to in front of the other bin.  Then I had more room to pull compost out of the first bin.

Three days later the stuff in front of the second bin got moved into the second bin and more was pulled out of the first bin.

Eventually the first bin ended up empty.

It took about 2 weeks but all of the compost ended up in the second bin.
I don't know how well this slow turn process will work during the first few months of composting.  I tend to fill the bins with a lot of dry leaves and they might just blow away if they're not contained.  At this stage everything is pretty much broken down so I don't have to worry about it going anywhere on its own. I'll be moving it to the raised beds soon.  They've settled quite a bit and need to be topped off. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Then there were two...

I came home from work last night and from my driveway I could hear a chicken making noise.  My son went to investigate and found that the mother hen was on the wrong side of the fence and couldn't get back into the yard (somehow she manages to get out but not back in).  He got her back in the yard and told me that another one of the chicks was missing.  I waited until it got dark to be sure.  It didn't show up.  So now we're down to two. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

New chicks after three weeks

I has not been a good week for the new chicks.  We started the week with five and ended the week with three.  I think we lost both of them to a hawk. 

On Thursday my wife and daughter went out to check on the rabbits.  They came back inside and a little while later my wife heard the mother hen freaking out.  She went outside and two of the chicks were in the front corner of the yard and the other two chicks were near the back fence (they never spread out like that).  The mother hen was in the middle of the yard.  The fifth chick (the bright yellow one) was nowhere to be found.  I searched the yard and the woods when I got home and found no evidence of it anywhere.  It didn't show up when it got dark and I didn't hear it peeping.  They make a lot of noise when they get separated.  Something got it, and got away in a hurry.  

The very next day we were sitting at the dinner table.  I looked out the window and saw the mother hen freaking out.  She jumped up and landed on the fence.  I jumped up, called for the dog, and ran outside.  All of the full grown layers were hiding in the bushes.  The three remaining chicks darted across the yard to get to them.  They were all visibly spooked.  I checked for the lost chick, but it was not to be found. 

So we're down to three.
I was in the yard for quite a while this afternoon.  I wanted to use some firewood to make room for more firewood (I have trees that need to come down).  So I built a fire and watched it burn for a few hours.  The chickens hardly came out from under the deck and when they did, they didn't get too far.  One time while they were out I got up to take the above picture.  The mother hen made a loud squawk and all of the chickens ran back under the deck.  They're really on edge.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


This backyard homesteading thing gives me a lot to do (chickens, composting, gardening, rabbits, etc.).  In addition to that stuff I also have to keep track of the usual homeowner todo's (yard work, painting, car maintenance, etc.).  It's a lot to keep track of.  So I looked to technology.  I found an app called Wunderlist.  It's a todo list that's available for your smartphone and it's accessible through the web.  It stays synchronized across both.

You start by creating your list of categories for keep track of your various tasks.  I use Inside, Outside, Garden, Paint/Stain, Pressure Wash, Vehicles & tools.  The Inbox is where everything else goes. 

You can create tasks with or without due dates.
One of the features that I find most useful is the ability to make recurring tasks.  I have a task to "change the HVAC filters" every two months.  That way I know when it's due and I don't have wonder whether or not it needs to be done again. 
You can also highlight items by starring them.
Also included in the category list are items due Today, and this Week.

This next feature is also very useful.  You can mark tasks with hashtags.  There may be other reasons to do this, but I use it to tag tasks with special requirements.  If I'm going to get my extension ladder out, I want to get everything done that requires it.  I don't want to have to get it out more frequently than I have to.
There are other features in Wunderlist that I have not used.  You can share lists with other people and even set it up to allow multiple users.  I've been real happy with it.  It meets my needs.  I just with the number of tasks would go down.  Every time I finish one thing I seem to add one or two more. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Saving, sorting, and organizing seeds.

I started gardening in 2009 and have acquired a lot of seeds since then. 
I decided that it was time to organize them.  I started by dumping everything onto the table.  I threw out all of the packets that had 2009 dates on them.  I kept all of the 2012-2014 stuff.  I don't think I had anything from 2010-2011.  

Then I put things into like piles.  All of the carrot packets went into one pile and all of the peppers went into another, etc.  I used paper clips to hold the groups of packets together.  That should make finding what I need easier next time. 
Since I was already sorting seeds it made sense to save some seeds from the current crop.  I had plenty of pepper seeds already.  I just focused on beans and peas.
It's pretty easy to save seeds from beans and peas.  Just let them stay on the vine until the pods dry out.  Then pick and shell them. 
I put them in a bag and labeled them with the year. 

I haven't had much luck saving cucumber or tomato seeds, so I just buy them when I need them.  I saved a lot of pepper seeds in previous years.  Germination rates will probably start dropping off soon, but I have so much seed that I can just start more and not worry too much about it.  (Seriously, you get a lot of seeds from a single pepper.)  I tried saving seed from carrots once, and it just wasn't worth it.  It takes two years and the seeds are very tiny and a nuisance to get.  I had plans to save kale seed this year, but that didn't work out real well.  The kale plants ended up covered in seeds pods.  So I waited patiently for them to dry out.  That's when I found out that once kale seed pods dry out, they open and release all of their seed.  Whoops!  At some point I'm going to have kale showing up all over the place in that raised bed.  Oh well, that's just how it goes sometimes.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

New chicks after two weeks

I got new chickens two weeks ago.  They seem to have integrated themselves into the rest of the flock just fine. 
The chicks still stay pretty close to the momma hen.  Once in a while one will get separated and squawk like crazy until it's reunited with the rest of the group.  They go all over the yard now. 
I've had at least two occasions when they've made it out of the yard.  One night I went out to close the coop and only one of the chicks was in there.  I searched the yard but couldn't find the rest of them.  So I started walking the outside perimeter of the fence.  It didn't take long to find the mother hen sitting on top of the other four hens.  I'm not sure how they ended up on the wrong side of the fence.  My guess is that they went under the gate.  Another time I came home to find the chicks in the yard and the mother hen on the other side of the fence.  I'm not sure how to explain that one. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fruit Trees and IrriPans

I've been in my house for a little over 3 years now.  I've been slowly planting fruit trees during that time.
Pear tree.
Just recently I found out about a product called IrriPan weed mats.  They looked interesting so I thought I'd give them a try.  I ordered them from here.

Their web site claims that they multiply water by:
  • Capture rain water falling in a 5 square root area and funnel it to your plant
  • Prevent precious soil moisture from evaporating
  • Keep weeds from stealing moisture from your plants
I would add that they'll also prevent chickens from digging up the roots.
IrriPan weed mat
These things capture rain water and focus it to the roots of the tree.  Water will also condensate on the bottom and go back into the ground.
Pear tree with IrriPan installed.
Installation was easy.  I didn't count how many stakes they sent, but I had enough to use 4-5 stakes per weed mat.

Second pear tree with IrriPan in place.

Peach tree.  I put the logs there to prevent the chickens from scratching that area (which they tried to do as soon as I put the tree there).

Peach tree with IrriPan weed mat.

This is a mulberry tree.  I'm hoping that one day it will produce fruit that my chickens will enjoy.
Since I just installed these things I can't really comment on how well they work.  Installation was easy, and they're sturdy.  I have no reason to believe that they won't do what they claim. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Pumpkin ice cream.

I followed the Almanac planting guide and planted pumpkin seeds in May.  I had never grown pumpkins before, so I assumed that I would have pumpkins in October when pumpkins are normally available.  No, I had pumpkins in July!  I picked 3 nice pumpkins just before the vines died.  One of the pumpkins developed some rot, so the chickens got it.  Anyway, I ended up with two really nice pie pumpkins. 

Then I had to decide what to do with them.  Ice cream seemed like the obvious answer.
I started by cutting the pumpkins in half and removing the seeds.  Then they went into the oven for 45 minutes or so.
After that it was easy to scoop the flesh out of the pumpkin and into the food processor.
I pureed the pumpkin in the food processor.
I put the puree in the fridge to chill over night.
I have a Cuisinart ice cream maker, so I thought I'd use Cuisinart's pumpkin ice cream recipe.  Well, I used their recipe as a guide really.  I didn't use corn syrup and I didn't have ginger snaps or ginger.  And I didn't use heavy cream or whole milk.  I just used half & half.  Just for good measure (and because I found it in the cabinet) I threw in some pumpkin pie spice.
I mixed all of the ingredients in a large bowl and then dumped the contents into the ice cream maker.
It took half an hour, but I ended up with yummy pumpkin ice cream.  It had too much cinnamon, but that didn't stop me from eating it.
The dog even helped by cleaning the ice cream maker afterwards.
My wife informed me that pumpkin pie spice contains cinnamon, and that I should not have used it in addition to the cinnamon that the recipe called for.  Oh well...  That just gives me a reason to try again in the fall when pumpkins are normally available.