It starts to get pretty busy around this time of year as we make our way into spring. I am still not quite adjusted to the idea of living seasonally. I always have to think about what I am supposed to be doing when. And there’s still a lot of room for improvement in my planning and timing of things.
Many small farmers and homesteaders keep extensive journals and notes to help guide them from year to year. I do, as well, but I thought it might be helpful to write a weekly recap as a blog post. Partly this is just for me, so I have an easy way of looking back from year to year. But I also hope people who are just getting started with homesteading will pick up information that might be helpful to their own endeavors.
Seed Starting – Round 1
This was a week of starting things for spring. I started 800 seeds in my plug trays. About a quarter of these seeds were Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage which grows really well here given our short cool season before we go straight to scorching hot. But I am also trying some other varieties of cabbage including Glory of Enkhuizen, Cour di Bue, Chinese Hitton, Matsushima, Primo, Red Drumhead, and Danish Drumhead. I really want to have success growing several different kinds of each of our main staple foods. And cabbage is a super staple for us. We love our kimchi, kraut, cole slaw, and choucroute.
I have been trying to adapt my thinking to “grow stuff like our life depends on it”. For now, we can still run out to the grocery store and buy what we need, but as we decrease our dependence on money and increase our self-reliance, this will no longer be true. So betting on tried and true plant varieties like Jersey Wakefield is is part of this strategy. But we also need diversity in all that we do to hedge our bets.
Besides cabbage, I also started Purple of Sicily cauliflower, Witloof Di Bruxelles (for Belgium endive), Red Russian Kale, Monster of Viroflay Spinach, and a few radicchio style greens – Castelfranco chicory, Veriegata di Chiogga and Rossa Di Treviso. Most of this is for us because these are things I love to eat. Braised radicchio on the grill or under the broiler or shredded in salad is delicious. And the classic salad of Belgian endive, walnuts, and blue cheese is a long-time favorite. But, I also want to bring some of these to market. There are so many good vegetable growers at our local farmers’ markets. I don’t really want to compete with them, so I try to focus on things other people aren’t growing and that many market customers may not even know about.
I also started a lot of licorice. It’s really good for asthma and this year I want to be more proactive about boosting my lung health and avoiding boughts of seasonal asthma.
Some of the cabbages and licorice have already sprouted in the my new The Little Shed that Is!. For me, this is a record, starting seeds in only 3 days. Other methods have taken at least 5 days, and often longer.
Last year I grew 400 onions. We had eaten them all by October. Part of it was because of our drought, our onions were smaller than the grocery store kind and so I underestimated our needs. But also, homegrown onions, greens and all, fresh from the ground are so sweet and delicious, you can just cut them in half and sear them in your cast iron pan with salt, pepper, and lard, and make a beautiful side dish out of them. They also make a terrific sweet relish when paired with Rhubarb. And cucumber is so much better with rings of fresh crisp onions. So we also ate more onions than usual.
I started about 1000 onions this week – Creole red and white, Australian Brown, and two varieties of bunching onions White Spear and Evergreen Hardy White. This round of onions will be for fresh eating. The bunching onions will end up in our edible landscape areas for perennial use. And I’ll start more of the Australian browns and Creoloes over the next two months for late fall harvest and curing too.
I also started flats of French Marigold Sweet Mace, Stevia, Cal Green Globe Artichoke (Bountiful Gardens), Lovage, Rouge D’Alger Cardoon, Gobbo Di Nizzia Cardoon, Green Globe Artichoke (Baker Creek), and Victoria Rhubarb.
Some of these are for our edible landscape areas and some will be for market. People have a hard time growing rhubarb around here because of our heat. But I discovered that if they bolt early, let them go to seed, then cut off the seed heads. After that they’ll start producing again and I can get rhubarb form June to September. You can also grow rhubarb as an annual. They are pretty easy to start from seed and they grow quickly in soil loaded with composted manure.
Egg incubating – Round 1
On the 12th, I set up my incubators in my shed and started 52 eggs. A neighbor gave me an incubator that he was no longer using. It’s great to have two incubators, but this one operates a little different than my old one. You have to regulate the temperature manually using a turn dial, unlike my main incubator which is programmable and self-adjusting. One night we got down below freezing with 30-40 mile an hour wind gusts and the manual incubator temperature dropped to around 92 degrees F in the shed. This is about 8 degrees lower than ideal. When a duck sit a nest, she gets up for short periods to eat, bathe, etc. so some fluctuations are fine in egg hatching. However, the temperatures were down for a couple hours which is longer than a mama would leave for. But I decided keep the eggs incubating and see what happens. I am not used to having two incubators to work with, so any extra hatchlings will be a bonus anyhow.
I also haven’t hatched Muscovy/Pekin crosses before so I am not entirely sure how things will go anyhow. The crosses should take about 32 days to hatch. While pure Pekins will take 28 days and pure Muscovy will take 35 days. So, I should have some idea just by hatch times what breed I’ve hatched out. I still run Pekin drakes with my flock because internet research suggests natural fertility rates are only 20-30% when a Muscovy drake is crossed with a Female Pekin.
From my observations, the Muscovy drakes are go-getters, but they take longer to achieve their end goal. The Muscovy females are very submissive and lie still while the male does his business (as shown above). Pekins females…not so much. They are calm for a few seconds then lose patience and try to swim or run away from the males. They do this to Pekin drakes too, but Pekin drakes seem adapted to getting things done quickly. Anyhow, with all the unknowns, I decided not to put all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. And I am excited to see how it all turns out.
I have finished marking out our new vegetable garden beds and digging the new pathways around the beds. I also put up the rest of the faux wattles along what will be our new edible landscape areas around the structured beds. I transplanted strawberries as a ground cover in our new edible areas. I also put in some Issai Hardy Kiwi and Aronia Berries that I picked up from Tractor Supply. The kiwi were supposedly 1 year plants, but when I opened the bags, I found that the roots were not well established at all. The area I planted them in has a pretty protected microclimate, so they have as much chance of making it in their permanent location as they would if I potted them up and nursed them in the greenhouse. But, I suspect I’ll be changing them out in a month with plants from a more reputable source.
When first started my goat herd, I was in a rush to make more does. So, I didn’t really have a breeding schedule. But now, I am trying to breed one doe a month to space out births and avoid milk outages. I keep Nigerian Dwarfs, so they can be bred year round. La Bandida, my first doe born here, is due April 29th. We crossed her with our young buck Patchouli (Patches) shown as a kid and buckling below. She started naturally drying off this week and will be off milk by next week. That works out perfect for her to have a little over a two month break before she starts nursing new babies.
I also bred one of my first does, Fancy, to Popeye (my main buck), this week. She stands at the fence and screams for the boys when she’s in heat, so in 21-23 days it will be easy to tell if she’s pregnant. Fancy was also kind enough to squeeze past me as I was bringing water to the does and walk herself to the buck pen. Since it was actually her turn, all I had to do was open the door and let her in.
I also have an older doe, my herd queen, Phoebe who has fooled me twice on being pregnant, so I can’t swear she is. But if she is, she’ll be my May mama.
Grape Vine Pruning and Training (Based on Bud Plumpness)
The rule on when to prune grape vines is to wait for the buds to plump but before they open. Around here, that’s about now. This is the third year for the vineyard. When we planted the vines, I left the labels on the grape vines until I could figure out some kind of signage to identify what was what. Unfortunately, those labels didn’t hold up to the weather, so when I went back to make signs a few months later, most of them where gone. We have ten different varieties. And so far, I’ve only bee able to figure out three of them. That makes pruning and training a little tricky.
We have everything on a two wire trellis since it’s a small vineyard. So, it’s really just a matter of whether I am training from the top wire down or first wire up. I think I got most of them right, because the naked vines tell you a lot about how those vines want to grow. But we’ll see for sure this year when the new growth starts and the clusters come in.
After my wine-labeling issue, I started keeping a master planting journal to record the position of where I planted things and when, and data like where I bought them, special growing instructions, etc. And this year, as things come up, I am going to put name posts by perennials so I can identify them and also keep track of the vegetative perennials for making root divisions in late winter/early spring. If I could do it all again from the beginning, I’d make permanent labels when I planted.
Odds and Ends
I moved more manure, made design plans made for a new duck shelter I will start working on next week, and worked a lot on an eBook writing project. That about covers the work week.
Other things came up, like taking special care of my older dog, Honey, who is on the mend with the help of antibiotics and steroids. And my dad had some check-ups and prescription modifications that took some time this week. He’s also still getting better every day. It feels like a gift each time he manages to string together a few sentences and sound just like his pre-stroke self. That seems to happen a lot more now and gives me hope that one day we might be able to talk about anything and everything the way we used to. Until then, we’ll still have fun and communicate whatever ways we can.