Thursday, May 29, 2008

I've got my eye on you!

My chick babies are getting to an age where personalities begin to emerge. Just look at my Ameracauna - no names yet, but she's already emerging as the ring leader of the flock and is rapidly becoming my favorite. You can see in the picture that she's frequently keeping an eye on me. The other Ameracauna is almost as canny but is definitely playing second fiddle. The Wyandotte babies are a week younger than the others and still have a distinct pinball quality as they run around and under their cell mates.

The cold weather has prevented any field trips to the great garden outside. The cold is also slowing down bean seed germination. I may put up some floating row cover to warm up the soil, and maybe put the chickies in there too. The chicks need to remain between 85° and 95°F to stay healthy. You can see their feathers are growing in, but it's a slow process. In the meantime they must be protected from drafts and kept warm. There is a heating pad under one corner of their cage and a heat lamp, which allows the birds to self-regulate inside the cage.

Monday, May 26, 2008


Our artichokes are still producing, and our three year-old speciman is rather spectacular. Artichokes were a bit problematic in our garden microclimate. We're in the Bear River canyon, which tends to be 4-5° cooler than our neighbors due to the accumulation of cool air. This means that even though we are at a relatively low foothill elevation, we accumulate frost amounts similar to gardens in Nevada City, at double our elevation.

The extra frost we get in winter has previously set back the plants, so that about the time they have resprouted in spring, they do not have enough cool weather to produce flowers. This year I covered them with floating rowcovers, and they kept their foliage though the winter. This spring we have been rewarded with several weeks of artichokes. It looks like we'll have at least one more harvest, maybe two if the weather cooperates!

Sunday, May 25, 2008


My potatoes were planted about a month ago and are growing strongly. I'm using the bin method of growing them. The green tops can grow through the holes, and hay is added periodically to encourage the growth of potatoes, which is not a root, but a specialized plant stem. Traditionally, potatoes are "hilled up" to stimulate the growth of tubers. Growing in a bin means growing above ground, and means no digging for the potatoes at harvest time. Just open the bin and the potatoes spill out onto the ground!
You can see that it's time to add another layer of straw. I'm using rice straw which minimizes resulting grass weeds that could be introduced when using another type of straw such as oat or rye.

Oh - what kind of potatoes am I growing? Russian banana fingerlings, a particularly tasty variety with an amazing, creamy texture.

Tomato Time!

I was worried about not getting my heat loving plants in the ground the week of Mother's Day, and then it was too hot to plant. My tomatoes, squash and peppers would have been hard pressed to know if summer was coming or going the past two weeks, culminating in yesterday's rain showers. However, the soil temp is holding steady in the 80's, a great temperature for planting corn, beans, and other items from seed, and is also sufficiently warm for everything else to go in the ground.

So I've been trying to plant something everyday over the last week. Asters, eggplants, bush beans, and today, finally the tomatoes. A friend of mine grows a combination of new (to us) varieties mixed with old faves. Here's the rollcall for this year: Azoycha, Glacier, Siletz, Black Prince, Aunt Ruby's German, Mortgage Lifter, San Marzano Redorta, Sun Gold, and Pink Ping Pong. Most of these, new to us or not, are heirloom varieties, and represent a range of colors, sizes, purposes and maturation times.

Unless you shop farmer's markets or drool over seed catalogs you are probably unfamiliar with these varieties, as they are not grown in conventional, corporate fields. Most of the tastiest varieties do not hold up well during conventional harvesting, packing and transportation processes, and are therefore never known to supermarket shelves. What you get instead are those sawdust grocery store, second rate imitations pretending to be tomatoes.

San Marzano Redorta is an amazing paste tomato which will become canned and frozen sauce. Black Prince, Mortgage Lifter, Glacier and Siletz will probably be dried or canned in addition to fresh eating. Sun Gold and Pink Ping Pong will be lucky to make it into the house as they are some of my favorite fresh eating tomatoes.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Of Flowers and Compost

Spring has been unpredictable here in the foothills. In the last three weeks we have ranged from severe freezes to 100°, which has been tramautic for newly planted vegetable crops as well as developing fruits such as blueberries and apples.

However, the return of cool weather has prolonged these peonies and bellflowers. My friend assures me this is the lushest this flower bed has ever appeared. While the weather has played its role, we believe it to be the result of yearly compost and organic fertilizer applications. The low-dose pelleted manure not only feeds the plants slowly, the compost feeds and loosens the soil.

The compost we used this year our gardens came from Fulcrum Farm, a local biodynamic farm. In addition to their amazing compost, they have a grain CSA (community supported agriculture), raise heritage turkeys and host field trips to their farm.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I'm a chicken mommy!

One of our first steps to becoming locavores is to start our very own egg-production facility. The equipment is pretty simple - get some chicks, raise 'em up right, and in exchange for a home, protection and a yard to roam, they produce eggs! I love it!

These little gals are just a couple of days old in this photo - they've already been at home for a week now. The two in the front are Ameraucanas, which will produce blue/green eggs and the two in the back are Sicilian Buttercups, which produce white eggs. Not in the picture are the two new Wyandottes, which are great egg-layers. Right now they are cute little fuzzballs whizzing around the cage!

The cats are not sure about our new acquisitions. Jilly has been in my lap despite 100° heat, and until yesterday Cassie wouldn't come in further than the food dish. She managed to make it to the bed last night without first hissing at the chicks. Meanwhile, Jilly goes en garde when we take the babies into the garden, making her an excellent chicken nanny.

Our laying flock will begin to produce eggs in the fall. Due to our temperate region, chickens tend to continue with egg-laying through most of the winter, though at a reduced rate. We're now contemplating a second flock of broilers for meat production, though we're not sure about the economics of it, or who will actually kill the chickens. I'm ok with butchering and eating, being quite secure in my place on the foodchain as an omnivore, but the killing part... We'll have to figure that one out. I might personally have to become very hungry before I get comfortable with that step.