Winter Prep in the Greenhouse

DSCN0352

Over the course of the last four days, I’ve been busy getting my entire greenhouse planted with enough varieties of greens and herbs to feed my family for the Fall, Winter, and Early Spring. Wait….I jumped in a bit prematurely, which is typical of me. Sigh.

First things first. I just want to briefly point out that what I actually have here on the Meyerstead is not a greenhouse in the technical sense. A true greenhouse can be heated and cooled as necessary depending on the outside temperatures. What I have is, in fact, a cold frame, which is just another term for an unheated greenhouse. Just so that no one gets the wrong idea about what we are working with here. A true greenhouse would be quite an undertaking and quite an expense. Also quite unnecessary in my humble opinion. Now, let’s get back to the fun part of this post…

I planted ninety two 16 oz plastic cups, one plant per cup, with the following cold hardy greens:

  1. Tatsoi – 10 cups
  2. Brunswick Cabbage – 9 cups
  3. Minowase Daikon Radish – 4 cups
  4. Verde of Taglio Chard – 9 cups
  5. Russian Red Kale – 9 cups
  6. Vates Kale – 5 cups
  7. Wild Garden Kale – 8 cups
  8. Arugula – 9 cups
  9. Corn Dutch Salad – 8 cups
  10. Parsley – 5 cups

20170901_144102-e1504422907641.jpg

I have my Clayotonia, also known as Miner Lettuce, planted in two 8″ plastic water catchment trays. You know, those plastic trays you put under your potted plants to catch water? Well, I was out of containers and didn’t want to stop so that’s what they ended up in. They’re one of my favorite salad greens, so hopefully they give a decent show this Fall and Winter.

I found these two extra large pans that are roughly 18″ by 24″ and planted them both with Austrian Winter Peas. These are extra delicious in the dead of Winter and I know they do well. I had a ton of them planted under plastic at my previous house and they went all the way through Spring. Most people use them as a cover crop to fix nitrogen in the soil (great cover crop to plant where you have grown corn, for example) but the shoots taste just like fresh garden peas…which is a surprising treat in a mid winter, home grown salad. I feel they are not done justice planted as a mere cover crop, I prefer them as a food. No surprise there.

20170901_144122.jpgI had some dollar store cat pans lying around from the fodder experiment I had done when we first moved in. I decided to use one for planting my Mustard Greens and a dish pan to plant all of my Spinach. These will mostly be harvested as baby greens, so I planted them pretty dense, as they will not need a lot of room to grow to full size. I will thin as they grow, and as needed, when I harvest them out.

Spinach & Mustard TraysSpinach SproutsMustard green Sprouts

Finally I planted herbs in terracotta pots. Because I love herbs in terracotta pots, and that’s reason enough…amiright? Sometimes it’s awesome being a grown up. I do what I want. (aha…ha…ha. ahem. rarely true). I have it on good authority that rosemary, cilantro, and parsley are proved to survive and thrive in an unheated greenhouse throughout our zone 5 winters. The rest of these herbs will be experimental to see if they will go all winter. Can you imagine harvesting fresh tarragon in January? Eeep!

  1. Oregano – planted in an 8″ pot
  2. Rosemary – planted in a 12″ pot
  3. Thyme – planted in a 6″ pot
  4. French Tarragon – planted in a 6″ pot
  5. Parsley – planted in a 6″ pot
  6. Cilantro – planted in a 6″ pot

Though this entire first year of everything here is somewhat of an experiment, I am trying something out that I have no idea how it will preform this Winter. I planted Autumn King carrots in four 5 gallon buckets. I also planted Blue Scotch Kale in one of the buckets. The buckets will remain on the ground, in between the barrels, for the winter. I have a plan/idea for next Fall/Winter if these two particular plants do well in this spot.

20170901_144233

I also have a rain barrel in the greenhouse that I will be filling and using to water, to avoid dragging a hose around in the freezing cold of Winter. This will also add extra thermal mass to my greenhouse, a win win! I love winning.

The plants will likely have to be watered every day in the greenhouse, maybe every other day. The point is, a lot. So there needs to be some kind of convenient way to do so, otherwise I will hate my greenhouse, and I don’t want to hate. I’m all about love. Especially when it’s growing food to feed my family. If you decide to go with this handy watering solution…make sure it has a spicket!

20170901_1440561.jpg

It’s been a great start here for Fall and Winter planting. The soil is warm, the weather has remained warm, and there is plenty of time for seedlings to germinate and get some growth on before the cold of early Winter hits and growth slows. I am already drooling over fresh, homegrown, hearty Winter Salads!

First Summer Garden

21216205_10214097232649549_2136913530_o

I love a good veggie and herb garden. Flowers are nice…as long as they are interspersed amongst herbs and veggies! And edible. I like to eat, could you tell? Marigolds andflowers that resist pests, or attract them away from my food = also acceptable. It’s tough being a flower in my veggie garden, obviously. I find much more beauty in a lush green garden growing food for my family than a bunch of pretty flowers that will soon die and fade away.

Once I decided a garden was happening this year, I had some obvious obstacles to overcome. Specifically the abundance of herbivores roaming through the area; mule deer, cotton tail rabbits, jack rabbits, quail, etc. I put up a quick and temporary double fence using t-posts and deer netting (aka: horrible overpriced nonsense) that has worked fine for a temporary solution.

Next step, since I wouldn’t be using raised beds, like I had at my previous house, I had to decide what type of garden to do; double dug beds, hugelkulture beds, lasagna mulch beds, traditional tilled beds, no till beds, waffle garden, back to eden, swales, and on and on the options go! I initially decided to combine several different methods and was going to experiment with 2 hugelkulture beds, 1 double dug bed, and one back to eden style bed with swales dug around the entire garden area as well as each individual bed.

But then…it took me 3 days to dig the trench around the entire garden area (maybe 20’x25′), dig out one hugelkulture bed (4×20), and one additional swale. The ground is more like a solid brick than any dirt I’ve ever seen! I vowed that I would not put one more shovel into that horrid ground. So I ditched the idea of a double dug bed (duuuh) and moved on with my one dug out hugelkulture bed, another hugelkulture bed that I started from the top of the ground, instead of digging down, and a back to eden bed.

Here’s a quick overview of these different methods (and I mean very quick);

Swale: A fancy word for a trench to catch and retain water in the soil instead of it all running off the property, also helping with erosion issues. I live in the desert so, of course, my primary purpose for them will be water retention.

Hugelkulture: The idea of putting large logs, sticks and wood in a big rectangular pile, or bed, then covering that with leaves, small sticks, and finally soil which you then plant your seeds and plants into. The idea here is that as the logs and sticks take on water they do 2 important things; 1. Soak up water when it rains and release that moisture back into the soil when it gets hot and they “sweat”, thereby reducing or eliminating the need to water your plants and 2. They break down over time and add organic matter and nutrients back into your soil, feeding your plants so you don’t have to continually add organic matter. Here’s a great picture of what a hugelkulture garden bed looks like over time, though mine are not nearly this large.

hugelkulture graphic

Back to Eden: Basically a deep mulch method that emphasizes using a “covering” over the soil to retain moisture and build rich soil. This is a no till permiculture method that I cannot say enough about. There are so many reasons why tilling is harmful in the garden (or basically anywhere). A few of these reasons, that matter the most to me when I’m trying to build soil for a successful garden, are the weed seeds tilling brings to the surface and allows a chance to reach light and grow, and the soil organisms and structure it disrupts. The back to eden, or deep mulch, method of layering on top of the ground is simply copying Gods way of adding organic materials and feeding/nurturing the ground. Paul Gautschi is the man who has coined the “Back to Eden Garden” term and has an amazing documentary film about his own inspirational garden. It’s free to watch here, which I highly recommend! You can use any kind of mulch you have that’s free or cheap, hay, straw, rocks…Paul uses wood chips and that’s also what I am using here on the Meyerstead. They are typically easy to find, just contact a local arborist and tell them they can unload the chips from their tree work at your location. They should be more than happy to do so!

This fall, I will put chicken manure, straw with goat poop, and rabbit poop on top of the wood chips I have laid down to fertilize. Resist the urge to till it in or disturb the ground!!! Below is a basic layering outline for setting up this type of garden area.

Back to Eden.png

Now that I had my methods decided, I got to work getting the beds and swales dug out. This was a long miserable process…in fact I’m having some PTSD just looking at the pictures here…

Dug out hugelkulture bedTrench surrounding entire garden

I used brown contractor paper from Lowes, instead of newspaper, to lay down in order to kill current and prevent future weeds. It’s not free, but it is very affordable ($10 a roll).

20170615_070247.jpg

Once the paper was down, I filled the dug out bed with lots of small logs and sticks. Next, I put a mixture of compost, top soil, and aged horse manure on top, roughly 4 inches deep. On top of that goes the wood chips. The compost/soil layer is only necessary if you’re going to use your garden right away. If you have a few seasons to wait, just put the wood chips on top of the paper and let them do their thing. You will have beautiful soil to plant your seeds and plants into when you move the chips back after several months of sitting. Obviously, I am not that patient so I had to “fake it” this first year.

Hugelkulture filled with sticksSticks covered with paper and compost mixSoil topped off with a thick layer of wood chip mulch

Here are both hugelkulture beds completed. I stacked wooden sticks and logs around the edges to help hold in the soil and wood chips. It is also a fun way to identify these as hugelkulture beds in the future.

20170626_064708

Finally my back to eden bed to round out my experimental first year garden! Nice thick compost mix on top of brown paper and ready to be topped of with a rich wood chip mulch covering.

20170626_064656

I got everything covered and moved wood chips aside where I planned to plant, exposing the soil underneath. Side note: you have to move the chips aside when planting. As soon as the plants are up and established, you can side dress with the wood chips. I planted bush beans, watermelon, cantaloupe, squash, pumpkins, peppers, beets, and turnips!

received_1021376923696436020170626_193748

Here is how everything looks at present (Late August) after roughly 10 weeks of growth. The bare open spaces are where I’ve planted for Fall/Winter. The red posts are where we are putting up our permanent fence! I’ll be doing a separate post on that once we’re done! I’m pretty excited about it 🙂

DSCN0225.JPG

For a garden that initially wasn’t to be, and then one I was sure would be nibbled to non existence, I am pretty thrilled with how well it’s doing! Especially considering I did not get one seed in the ground until almost July! And I am also notoriously easy to please 😉 Hoping to harvest at least 3 watermelons, 2 cantaloupe’s, at least 2-3 quarts of bush beans, several large zucchini, we’ve been eating beet and turnip greens all Summer and will harvest full beats and turnips in the Spring, after eating them all Winter. We have already had a decent pepper harvest and looks like another one is on the horizon with the number of new flowers on our plants. There are a few squash and pumpkins growing, but not sure they will have enough time to mature before our first frost hits. So far, looks like we will be riding this heat wave well into September, so I am still hopeful there will be time! Is Thanksgiving pumpkin pie made from fresh home grown pumpkin, sitting next to our home grown turkey, so much to ask?

Well that’s a wrap for our first years Summer garden! Not too shabby, eh? Looking forward to my 2017/2018 Winter garden already!!

Fermented Chicken Feed – the WHY’s and HOW’s!

20562832_10214136808993431_1109602698_n

Let’s talk about chicken food for a moment, shall we? It seems so simple and not really blog worthy, and yet! AND YET! I have more issues with their food than anything else regarding chickens. They throw it everywhere, the squirrels (THE SQUIRRELS!!!), the cost of feeding the chickens AND the squirrels, and the chipmunks, and the mice, and the birds….I mean really. I love wildlife and I don’t mind sharing but things were getting a little out of hand. A bag of organic feed a week was making for some pretty expensive eggs…and fat squirrels! Don’t have a squirrel or rodent or bird problem? Your chickens are very neat and don’t happen to throw their food EVERY-WHERE when they’re eating? Well here are a few additional reasons to ferment your chickens food:

  1. Fermenting boosts the nutrition of the grains you’re feeding! Usable protein increases, digestibility increases, enzymes and vitamins become more bio-available and the ladies love it!
  2. Feed cost. We feed only organic feed and it does get a bit pricey (especially when you’re feeding the entire wildlife population). Any way we can cut down on feed costs really does make a difference in our monthly budget. My girls are much more satisfied with much less eating fermented feed and the squirrels don’t like the mushiness of the fermented food. HA! Victory!
  3. You won’t have to buy expensive feeders! I put out 2 black recycled tire bowls that cost me about $20 for both. The hanging feeders were expensive, bulky, and honestly just a pain to fill.

Okay! Now that you have your “why” let’s talk briefly about the “how”. I hope you’re ready for this…it’s quite sophisticated and very complex. You will need…

  • Chicken feed (I use organic crumble or non GMO turkey crumble)
  • A container (size depends on how many birds you have)
  • Non chlorinated water (call your water department to check if they add chlorine to your drinking water. Ours does, so I fill a 5 gallon bucket and let it sit for 24 hrs to allow the chlorine to evaporate)

THAT’S IT! There are a few different methods that people use to ferment their feed. Some people line up several buckets and use one full bucket per day. Here is my method, for simplicity sake;

  1. When you first start, you will have to wait 4 days for the grains to fully ferment. I know. The agony. Four days is basically forever, but ya just gotta do it. Sorry.
  2. Fill your jar or bucket a little less than half full with whatever feed you are using. I am currently using a mix of organic layer crumble, barley, and scratch.
  3. Fill the bucket the rest of the way with chlorine free water.
  4. Give the whole thing a good stir a few times a day (mine is in the garage so I stir it up in the morning when I’m out getting the animals fed and then at night before bed) You might have to add more water as the grains expand. No big deal. I like to keep my fermented grains a little thick, like oatmeal, but not dry. Some people prefer a soupier consistency, not I.
  5. You will notice bubbles and fermenty-like activity in your buckets or whatever container you are using (see video below). That’s awesome! Just imagine all the gas and bubbles your Chick’s will not have to deal with because you’re fermenting their feed! What a good chicken keeper you are!

After 4 days, your feed is done and fully fermented! Feed half of the bucket to your chickens, and refill the bucket with new feed and water. Because the fermentation bacteria is already present and active, the new feed will ferment much faster! In about 24 hours (this is similar to how my sourdough works!)

So now you have a simple system to save your gobbly gals digestion and your pocket book. Win. Win.

I really cannot find a downside to this method! Except for the small extra daily step of adding water to the dry feed…but it’s nowhere near as annoying, or costly, as loosing 30%-40% of your feed to random acts of nature.

Greenhouse at Last!

Another bucket list item to check off the list! I have always wanted a lovely little greenhouse, made of glass and brick, sitting in the middle of a vast garden in a big open field! Well, I didn’t exactly get the one I’ve dreamed of, but I am SO HAPPY that I have one large enough to grow everything I need for Winter salads and Spring starts!

The funny story behind this greenhouse is that I literally did not even think about it as an option for the first few months we were here. It was dirty, dingy, full of garbage and scraps from the previous owner, and NOT the pretty picture I had envisioned for my dreamy greenhouse space. When the light finally came on, and I put a bit of work and elbow grease into spiffing it up a bit, I found an incredible diamond in the rough!

The first thing I did, after giving it a thorough clean out and scrub down, was fill the 5 white rain barrels my dad had hauled to the property with water for thermal mass. Haven’t heard of it? It’s a very effective (arguably the most effective) system for heating and cooling an “unheated” greenhouse. Here’s a coolio page full of great info about using water for thermal mass in a greenhouse, if you’re interested in looking more into that as an option: http://greenhousegarden.com/thermal-massheat-storage

20170524_104558

Once those were in place, and they will never be moving again, I got to work on the “prettying” up part and bringing bits and pieces of my “ideal” and fitting them into my “practical” and “currently available” greenhouse. Here’s the steps in a nutshell;

Paint EVERYTHING white to reflect as much sun as possible during the Winter months. Another “non-ideal” part of this greenhouse is that it is NOT South facing, it faces West. So I need to make sure I use every beam of light to my complete advantage. White reflects light and the light will bounce off all of the white surfaces until it finds something dark (ahem….plants) to absorb into.

Remove old, nasty, yellowed, disgusting…you get the point…roofing. I replaced the old roofing with a slanted, corrugated, clear glazed greenhouse roofing. Immediate win.

20170524_10453820170524_104547

Put up a shade cloth so the sun doesn’t scorch all life inside the greenhouse…ask me how I know that life doesn’t exist in a scorching hot West facing Summer greenhouse…sacrificed some beautiful seedlings to the greenhouse sun god 🙁  I didn’t get around to actually putting the shade cloth up until about 2 weeks ago, when I planted all of my Fall seedlings and realized they would be smoked the instant their tiny little green heads poked out of the soil. Make sure it’s white, so the UV rays can still get through though! I just nailed mine up and into the roof beams. Ahh….it feels cooler in here already!

20786375_10214229512790968_1300857106_n20786600_10214229503870745_97267646_n

I have always wanted a brick floor greenhouse. Like, always. The space of this greenhouse is narrow and long, not idea for what I wanted to do, which was actually brick flooring and in ground beds. No room for in ground beds with the shelving that was already present and the 5 huge rain barrels, so I settled for as big a brick pathway as space would allow for. I worked through several patterns and narrowed it down to these two options:

20170530_113959_Burst0120170530_113948

I asked everyone on my facebook and instagram pages which they liked better and the left option was overwhelmingly more popular. So, of course….I went with the one on the right! Muwahahahaha! To be fair….I did love them both but the one on the right was SO much easier and actually did look better and offer a bit more style in the small space I had to work in. I decided to just go with sand as a base, no cement, and got to work. And work it was! Geez! I was thankful for a small space after leveling and laying every single brick by hand! But I LOVE how it turned out!! The antique brick gives it such a sweet rustic touch, doesn’t it?

20170530_14050520170531_183451_Burst0120170601_114455received_10213164962063367

PLANT ALL THE THINGS!!! But make sure you have that shade cloth up if temps are still getting up there in the high 70’s even. I have my greenhouse winter greens planted and growing scorch free!! YAY!

 

Kitchen Garden

20170519_094646_burst01.jpg

Initially I had the silly notion that I would not be doing a garden this year (hee! hee! ha! ha! ho! ho!). Luckily, my best friend suggested a kitchen garden. MIND BLOWN. Of course I needed a kitchen garden! Duh. After a little investigation, we found the perfect location right outside the kitchen window. Life is grand, isn’t it?

I got to work that weekend! I pulled out the ridiculous pine bushes and daffodils and decided on raised stone beds to match the existing walkway. I drove my happy self down to Lowes (do I own stock in that company yet? Cause…) and bought an entire pallet of my chosen brick (okay they were the cheapest ones there) and headed home. The kids tucked into bed and I started working. At 10:00. Ten at night. That’s when the work gets done around here folks. By midnight I had figured out the pattern for my raised beds and built about half the walls. Then the baby woke up and life halted until morning. If you have children, this should sound familiar. yep.

20170422_09141720170422_11473420170422_114743

I finished off the beds the next day and my hubby was nice enough to fill them with dirt for me. He’s a keeper.

20170423_161808.jpg

Because we have allthebunnies and allthedeer and this is going to be the location of many green, delicious, herbivore faves….I felt better knowing there was some kind of fencing around the area. I didn’t do anything too crazy, just a small basic deterrent, because the location is so close to the house, we figured the majority of the animals wouldn’t be inclined to come into the garden anyways, the fence is really just an extra precaution.

I simply used 1×1 placed into the ground about 8-12 inches deep, no cement (I wasn’t that serious). Once the posts and cross beams were assembled, I attached rabbit wire and called it good! See that fancy fence work there…where the posts meet? Yea, that was also done by huba huba.

20170424_19145520170423_161825

I originally planted herbs, lettuce greens, kales, mustard greens, micro greens, pansies, and chards in here….and have had a summer to see what did well and what did not. This area ended up being pretty much completely shaded all day, which was great for some things, not so great for others. Here’s the short list for you:

Sorrel – AWESOME! I reseeded the entire back back with sorrel for Fall and next Spring. This will be our main salad green for quick salads when I don’t want to go all the way out to the pasture garden.

Bee Balm – Doing great! Will be planting more for homemade tea’s!

Cilantro – surprising well though growing slow. Debating about putting this in the pasture garden due to so. much. sun. I’m thinking that it will bolt much more quickly there than in the kitchen garden with some shade. I will just start the seeds earlier in my greenhouse next year and see if more greenhouse growth helps growth once planted out in the garden.

Kale – Did well enough. I never got huge over grown kale, like I do when they are in full sun, but I did get enough to take weekly cuttings to sautee or blend in smoothies

Mint – Getting established this year but I think it will thrive in this area. I have it growing all the way around the kitchen garden because bunnies do not like it and we do not like bun buns in the garden!

Claytonia (Miners lettuce) – should do well in this area because it prefers shade. It never took this Summer and I’m not sure why. It may have already been too hot when I sowed the seeds. This is another great staple to add in with the sorrel because it reseeds well and does well in shade. Will re-try next Spring.

Mache – Did well here! Will reseed next Spring.

Lettuce Greens – These did not do well here, though it may have been because I over thinned. I am going to try them again next Spring here and also out in the pasture garden

Mustard Greens – Did amazing. Will be planting those here every year! We love these to spice up our Summer salads! “We” as in the hubs and I…too spicy for the littles. Same with arugula…more for us!

Micro Greens – Loved this area! Will be replanting in Spring.

Pansies – I loved having these in my kitchen garden! Did you know that pansies can be “candied” and put into salads? What a beautiful Summer treat!

Tarragon – not so much, needs more sun. Out to the pasture garden next Spring.

Thyme – It’s hanging in there but needs more sun. Will go out to the pasture garden next Spring.

So that’s the list I have for my kitchen garden next Spring. I think it will be just the right mix for quick salads and Summer Iced tea 🙂

Do you have a kitchen garden? What are you growing close to home that’s easy to snag for a quick healthy meal? If you have lots of sun, your list will look quite different from mine!