Monday, February 28, 2011

The Ducks Have It

After tons of research, we've decided on DUCKS.  Not only that, we've decided on a breed.  We'll be looking for Welsh Harlequins.  They should be good layers, and are considered "rare", so by raising these we will help prolong the breed.

We're making all kinds of plans: how many, when to get them, how to house them, etc.  Like we need something else to do!  It'll be fun, a new adventure.  We're planning on making a "duck tractor" or portable pen/house, so we can move them from place to place, letting them forage in the garden when not planted or when plants are established, to eat weeds and unwanted insects.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Chickens or Ducks?

We are thinking about getting chickens or ducks, for eggs and/or meat. We are still only thinking, and plotting out how we will do this, where they will be, and whether we want one more thing to tie us down. If we do it, we will build some kind of moveable coop that can be moved around to different areas, so they can dig up the weeds and eat snails & grubs, one area at a time, and deposit their manure for us. We might design something that would fit over most of our beds, so we can move it from bed to bed during the winter, and leave it on vacant beds in the summer. Or, we can put them in the weedy area that isn't planted. We are finding a few plans in different books, and looking for more books and information.

There seems to be difference of opinion about whether chickens or ducks are better. Some prefer one, others the other.  Some say ducks have nicer personalities, some say ducks are noisier and messier.  How about you?

My Setup

I thought I'd show some pictures of my garden working area. First is indoors where I have my grow lights. So far I'm only using the one light. The seedlings are on a rolling cart, and the seedlings can be raised or lowered according to how much space they need to be below the lights as they grow.

Outdoors, under the porch, I have my potting bench area, which Tim put in last summer. We found this cart (on the left) which was called a "serving cart" at the thrift store for just $35. It's perfect. There are slots for two pans that are perfect for making my soil blocks, and at a good height for me. I can keep a lot of fertilizers and tools below. The sink and its cabinet and the counter to the right were all items also purchased at the thrift store. We did well. This area has been very handy for me.

Looking out from where the bench area is, we have plans to build a greenhouse area off to the right. We plan to put some hoops down from the porch above, out to the ground, to be covered by plastic or other greenhouse material. We might make it removable, so it can be open in the summer, or make a way to roll shade cloth down in summer. It can be quite hot there, as this faces the south.

Looking out from the upstairs window, this is the west side of our garden today. I look forward to planting and seeing green things! It's kind of gloomy today, but this is the most snow I think we've had all winter--much needed moisture. Our nifty "manure makers" are hanging out back there napping, I think.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


I finally finished buying/ordering my seeds! I really get myself into a tizzy trying to decide what varieties to get, particularly when it comes to tomatoes and peppers. I go back and forth from one website to another, trying to choose which one has the most varieties I want. I want to get as many organic, heirloom seeds as possible, but still get varieties I think will do well. I don't want to pay shipping to too many places, so I want to keep it to just one, if possible. I also like to buy locally. Sheesh!

I bought most of my seeds from Botanical Interests, who are located not far from here. After searching through their selections online, I purchased a large amount of seeds from my local nursery the other day. (On Tuesdays it is Senior Day, and I get 10% off.) What I couldn't get from them, I ordered from High Mowing Seeds and Tomato Growers. My criteria? Besides wanting organics and heirlooms, I'm a bit picky about what I want.

Tomatoes: I want a variety that will produce well in my climate and mature at different times, based on the types of tomatoes. I have a trellis structure to use for a limited number of indeterminates, but I prefer determinate varieties for my paste/saucing tomatoes, so they'll ripen pretty much at the same time for large pots of sauces and canning. SO! I'm getting 4 indeterminates: one cherry, one early slicing variety, and two paste varities. I'm getting 6 determinates: 3 paste varieties for sauces/canning, 1 paste that should be good for drying, and 1 early slicing variety. What did I choose? San Marzano, Amish Paste, Sugar Sweetie, Red Siberian, Bush Beefsteak, Oroma (these I did last year and they were very good for sauces & canning!), Rio Grande, Martino's Roma and Principe Borghese. For sauces & canning diced tomatoes, I like large paste varieties that have more meat and few seeds.

Peppers: I love red, yellow & green sweet peppers, which I freeze and roast and eat. Last year I grew some anaheims, which were great to roast and freeze, and I love the ability to reach into the freezer and dice them up for Mexican dishes at a moment's notice. I also like jalapenos made into jelly and frozen, pepperoncinis canned for sandwiches and salads. So this year I'm getting: California Wonder, Canary Bell, Mini Belles, NuMex Joe E. Parker, Early Jalapeno, Sweet Banana, Golden Greek Pepperoncini, Hot Cayenne.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Transplanting MICROS to 2" MINI Blocks

Some of the things that sprouted in the MICRO blocks are ready to go into MINI blocks. I've made my first batch of 2" MINI blocks with the 3/4" pin to make a hole big enough for the MICRO blocks to be inserted.

I was frustrated and concerned that the 3/4" pin in the MINI wasn't really deep enough to put in the MICRO and have it even with the surface. I'd even like it to be a little below the surface, because some of these seedlings so close to the top are floppy, and I want to give them a little extra soil for support. I had Tim add a small piece of something to the insert to give it a little more depth. At first it didn't work real well--it may have been too deep. He made tweaked it a bit and now it's working well.

I also went back to the "drawing board", in this case the website, to review the procedure. I think my mixture wasn't wet enough at first. I made it wetter, and it's working great now. When I drop the blocks from the device, I'm also pushing down and up a bit as I release them, to remove the suction before I allow it to go all the way to the bottom to drop.

All said and done, the MINI blocks, with MICROS planted in them look like this:
For "bottom" watering, I'm using these cake pans with lids. (I know, I bought these things, but at least they're cheap, and re-usable.) I drilled some holes in the bottom of the aluminum pan and place the plastic lid underneath. I can lift the aluminum pan out, pour water into the plastic lid, replace the aluminum pan with the blocks, and the water soaks up from the bottom to water the blocks. Nice.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Micro Blocks

Yesterday I made my first batch of "micro blocks" for germination. I'm starting some lettuce, spinach, kale, leeks & scallions to go into my cold frame early, before the last frost date. I'll probably plant them in early to mid-April. I'm also giving some onions a good start before planting out.

This is my first experiment using the micro blocks. In the past, I found that germinating in the 2" blocks was inconsistent, and I ended up with empty blocks I kept replanting, and in the trays I had them in, I ended up with seedlings of different ages all mixed in. Hopefully with this method there will be less waste of the empty blocks. Starting early like this, I'll get a good trial run to see how well this method works.

They look like this: