Stella Dog: Our Urban Homestead Mascot

Stella Dog: Our Urban Homestead Mascot

August 2, 2011

Already August?

Seemingly, the summer is getting away from us once more. Being busybusybusy will do that! Mostly we've been busy with fun things- backyard barbecues, camping trips, walks to the park, tennis dates, the list goes on. We're squeezing in "farm maintenance" around the edges of these long days. Watering our neck high tomatoes, who haven't gotten the memo that we wish they'd focus on fruit rather than height. Harvesting squash, peppers, peas, greens, and herbs.  Oh, and a few strawberries and blueberries here and there-- there are never enough to collect and save for later, so they go straight from the vine to our mouths.

A photo update is really in order, so to be continued...

June 16, 2011

Ups and Downs of our Little Farm

May was a rough month on the farm.

Miss Kitty had an encounter with a possum during the night of May 2nd, and it was a long month of ups and downs.  The ups including the fact that she lived through it (barely) and was back to her wild, feisty, spirited self once the meds wore off. The downs, well, there were a bunch of "downs" including torn ligaments, lots of vet bills and a questionable prognosis. She's a feisty, spirited, wild kitten and rest, was the least of her priorities (despite sedatives) making the month even more of a test for all of us.

Despite the prognosis, she's using her injured leg now, though it's wobbly and probably always will be. But the hardest part is that she's an indoor cat now, for the foreseeable future. Her job was to keep the rodents in check in the chicken coop, that's why we got her after all, but the hunting urban farm cat lifestyle faded from her reality overnight.

The garden hovered in inactivity for much of rainy, grey May.  Starts were planted, seeds were sown but the sun never came out to inspire growth. But June has been a whole other story and fingers are crossed for a long, sunny Summer, just around the bend.

April 15, 2011

Spring? What Spring?

It's been a month since the last round of farm updates because Spring didn't really start a month ago as prescribed... It's been 45 and rainy since, oh, October. Which means there's not a whole lot going on in the garden yet and we're closing in on the end of April. Fingers crossed this means summer lasts a month longer than usual to make up for this ridiculousness. Here are the meager farm happenings:

  • We're getting 3 eggs a day, almost every day, probably averaging out at around 19 eggs a week! Woohoo! This has been going on for almost a month now- so next winter when I am lamenting the lack of eggs, I need to keep the first day of Spring in mind as the beginning of "3 egg days"
  • My tulips, which optimistically came up around March 1 have been shuddering in the cold ever since, and one opened this week... only about 6 weeks behind schedule. 
  • Cherry blossoms finally appeared this week!
  • Lettuces are in progress, albeit at a snails pace, the starts are big enough to pull leaves off of occasionally as garnish... hopefully full salad harvests are in our near future. The lettuce seedlings, rounds one and two, have both come up but haven't made any serious progress. 
  • Peas went into the ground, but most likely were all consumed by the chickens during one of their great escapes (more on that in a moment). 
  • Tomatoes are hanging out on the windowsill as of last weekend, having graduated from their position under the lights. A few more are still under lights, along with the slow poke eggplant seedlings. 
And then there is my latest pet guilt trip... the chickens.  The chickens have been consuming anything green and even slightly edible whenever they've been out to free range. Which has led to a few futile fencing attempts, much frustration, living the "flew the coop" metaphor, chasing escapees (Rose and Darby, Goldie's too fat to fly apparently), and more frustration. Which ended in them all on lock down this week, until we figure out a permanent solution to keeping them away from baby plants.

The cat finds no greater pleasure than pulling down the bird netting that was originally keeping them from eating every pea and lettuce start, so we're moving on to bigger and better things. Like permanent fences and a run down the unused side of our house (which borders the neighbors driveway, hopefully they don't mind...). Hopefully by the end of the weekend they'll have a secure place to roam and destroy things.

Miss Kitty has been a full fledged indoor/outdoor cat for going on two months now, and has only scared the bejesus out of me a few times by running in the road at lightening speed. Here's hoping she continues to steer clear of the road!

Next up, rain barrels and chicken run fencing. Oh and those thousand other projects we've started and not yet finished...

March 18, 2011

March Gardening

Our camera is broken :-( so this post will be without photos of the 2 inch tall tomato starts, the teeny tiny lavender from seed starts, and the finally turning green, starting to look alive yard.

I planted the tomatoes & eggplant from seed, oh, about a month ago now, and they are just now getting their second leaves. This year I did Heinz and Couer de Bue tomatoes from last years seeds and a new variety-- Mortgage Broker. Strangely, the old seeds are faring better than the new ones and I don't know that we'll end up with more than two Mortgage Broker plants.

I put in lettuces and kale from starts two weeks ago, and then promptly started worrying about them since it's barely hovering around 40 at night, and many nights we're closer to 35 than 40. They seem to be doing ok, now that they are protected from the greens-seeking chickens.

The chickens! Who are laying again! All three are back to business (or so it seems from our egg count, though our confidence in Goldie is so low that neither of us will truly believe it until we SEE it).  It's great to have overflowing egg cartons in our fridge and the daily egg-hunt underway.

A week ago I put some sprouting out of control kitchen potatoes (i.e. potatoes we bought from the store and intended to eat, not seed potatoes) in the ground. And I supplemented them with three varieties of seed potatoes today-- Purple Majesty, fingerlings, and Caribe super-early.  We'll be swimming in potatoes come summer, and I'll wonder what I was thinking, but if there's any urban farm activity that I enjoy more than the egg hunting, it's the potato harvest! It's far too much fun to dig around in the dirt and find dozens and dozens of potatoes in there. (I'm also a big fan of the way that potato plants look when they are full and flowery and so un-potato looking.)

This March has been WET. Last March was dry and springy; I remember last March so quickly because it was our first month in our new house.  We're continuing to hunker down (all the while hoping that April brings SPRING. And SUN.)

Since I can't post a true garden photo, here's an update on our resident rodent controller, who also happens to be the best resident lap warmer, all grown up (or mostly anyway):

February 23, 2011

Snow and Seedlings

It felt rather ironic to be planting the first seeds 2011, in the warmth of the kitchen, while snow fell outside and the forecast calls for the most snow we've seen in two years. But being home sick meant having ten minutes to spend playing in dirt. I filled our kitchen windowsill with soon-to-be-seedlings of the tomato, eggplant and lavender varieties. One kind of eggplant, and three types of tomatoes (Couer di bue, Heinz and Mortgage Broken-- love the names!), and an experiment--lavender. I have failed at every attempt to grow herbs from seeds, but haven't tried lavender before so thought I'd give it a shot.

I planted all of the seeds in seed starting mix and in easily transplantable containers, and will set up lights the next time I'm up off the couch. Now back to snuggling with my personal heaters on this cold day, Stella Dog and Maddie kitty, and willing this winter cold to take a hike.

January 4, 2011

New Year's Farm Goals

The quiet season continues. Today the chicken water was frozen, well, for the last 7 days or so really. Today the ground is solid, the leaves are brittle and full of crunch, and our hose is frozen under our fence, rendering it impossible to move and reminding us just how cold it is out there.  Last week the first seed catalog arrived though, and I studied up on new varieties of tomatoes, early green beans and lettuces galore. Next week the kitten gets spayed, and begins to fully undertake her permaculture role of Miss Huntress.

Though it's dark and frozen outside today, February is on the horizon. And with it the time for starting tomato seeds.  So the 2011 garden goals list is underway. Main goal: to protect the strawberries from the chickens and Stella Dog, so that we get more than 10 of them this year. From there the list look like this:
-plant a tree, or two, with Friends of Trees in early February in our parking strip--fruit trees
-start my tomatoes inside again this year, the third year of tomatoes from seed
-more potatoes!
-skip the peppers? maybe it was the crappy weather this summer but they were less than impressive and not worth the space they took up
-stagger lettuce planting more
-finish hardware cloth installation on the chicken coop
-rain barrels! in place before next fall
-a raised bed in the front yard? have to see what our trees do in terms of creating new shade before we commit to this

Phew. I think that's enough to get us started.

November 10, 2010

Quiet Season?

The last five months are a blur of busy, busy and more busy.  In short, the days were long and the happenings were many. Our chickens started laying eggs in late July, and quickly earned a great deal respect, as they became the pets with  a payback. We left all our animals in the care of some fabulous pet and garden sitters for a trip to Colorado for a good friend's wedding. We enjoyed visits from friends and family, and had so much fun showing them our new corner of the world. We watched the days get shorter, and the to do list get longer with the addition of Miss Madeline, our latest (and last for hopefully a good long while) pet.

Miss Madeline, aka Miss Kitten, or, usually, Maddie is a grey tabby cat who joined our family as a complement to the chickens.  Her purpose (other than entertaining us with her kitten antics, and keeping Stella Dog company while we're away during the day) is to keep the rodents, attracted by the constant buffet of chicken food that they scatter around the run of their coop, at bay. We've been thus far successful at keeping things clean enough to ward off any hungry rodents, but have noticed some tunneling in the run lately, and Maddie will hopefully be solving that once she's old enough to have free range of the yard.  She's proving herself to be quite the hunter already, with spiders being promptly caught, played with momentarily and then devoured, and her poor stuffed bird toy has died a thousand times over by now.

We are slightly worried that she'll continue to view Stella Dog as the best recipient of all things hunted--currently bringing Stella her catch doesn't arouse much interest from her, more of a "what do you want me to do with this stuffed bird toy?" look, but I have a feeling a dead mouse might elicit more curiosity and potentially be viewed as an excellent snack. Things to look forward to.

The first year of our garden was productive, despite a colder and rainier than usual summer. Our tomato plants, of which there were about ten, yielded enough tomatoes for us to get sick of tomato sauce and can enough for most of the winter.  We won't make it through the spring or early summer on our supply, but I'm neither interested in canning that many hours, nor tending more than a dozen or so tomato plants. Because we didn't have the long spells of hot, dry days the tomatoes didn't start ripening until mid-September, for the most part, a full six weeks later than last year. On the flip side, we still have tomatoes turning red on our counter right now.

We planted enough basil to satisfy our basil-loving household--I think we had five basil plants in all. Two japanese eggplants produced enough little eggplants for a couple of dishes--the weather slowed these guys down a lot.  Our green beans, or future dilly beans, as the case may be, were very productive! And the kale and chard, well, they weren't the super-producers our last year's crop was, and the chickens managed to eat every leaf that did grow, so we need to reassess the deep greens for next year.  The salad greens were amazing this year--after failing to show up for the party last year. The strawberries were being eaten by everything but us this year, and we were underwhelmed by berries for our breakfasts and desserts. Potatoes were a garden favorite again. Maybe because it's like a treasure hunt when you dig them up, or maybe because they multiply to greatly, but I love garden potatoes.

It's November now, and we've finished putting the garden to bed, with a liberal blanketing of leaves and some hen house manure mixed in they'll sleep until spring. I am experimenting with some cover crops--crimson clover and fava beans, in a few areas of the garden too.

Our attention has already turned inward, and we've resumed the front bedroom painting project we left off on the first sunny day last March.  A key element to living in this climate is learning to live the long days to the fullest, and sleep in the winter. Like the garden.