March 31, 2010

Seed Givaway

I have five packets of Shumway seeds, which I received as a free gift for my seed order. I don't need them but would love to find a home for them. All are experimental varieties and include: melon, hybrid tomato, beans, hybrid sweet corn, and peas. I'm offering these as a giveaway. If you're interested, please leave a comment which includes a way to contact you if you should win. I will use the custom math number generator at Mrs. Glosser's Math Goodies. Deadline is Tuesday, April 7th, at midnight EST.

Ten "Free" Trees

We discussed tree stewardship in this post, and I mentioned needing to replace the two pecan trees we took down, plus future replacements for my two old oaks. Even though we planted six fruit trees and an almond tree last year, I felt that we needed some full size trees to plant, as these are all dwarf and semi-dwarf. I was delighted then, to go to my mailbox and find a long, slender mailer with this on the front:

Cute label, huh?I had forgotten about these! They are the ten free trees, plus a crepe myrtle given as a gift for joining the Arbor Day Foundation.

This is what I found in the mailer...

Arbor Day Foundation free tree packThe trees are very small, about 10 to 18 inches. They were color coded...

Color coded trees getting a drink before pottingPurple - 2 Sargent Crabapples (Malus sargentii)
White - 2 Eastern Redbuds (CercisCanadensis)
Dark blue - 2 Washington Hawthornes (Crataegus phaenopyrum)
Orange - 2 Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida)
Black - 2 Goldenraintrees (Koelreuteria paniculata)
Red - 1 Crepe Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)

Considering that they are small, plus not knowing exactly where I want to plant them, the best plan seemed to be to pot them for the time being. I have plenty of pots leftover from planting our privacy hedge. This way I can keep an eye on them until I decide where their permanent homes are going to be.

Potted, labeled, & ready for a homeI got the soil for the pots from the old swimming pool.

If you would like ten gift trees, as well as be able to buy others at excellent prices, check out the Arbor Day Foundation website. The annual membership is $10. They are a great resource and a good cause.

Ten "Free" Trees photos and text copyright March 2010 

March 29, 2010

How Does My Garden Grow?

Fall Garden

Can you believe my fall garden is still producing? The onions and garlic are still doing well though not ready to be harvested yet. I pulled a few radishes the other day too.

Fall planted broccoli still producingI'm still getting small broccoli florets. Not enough to serve as a main vegetable, but enough for an occasional salad or mixed vegetable.

L to R - cabbage, lettuce, spinach Lo and behold, the things I thought didn't make it: carrots, beets, Savoy cabbage, Romaine lettuce, and spinach have all made a glorious comeback with the longer days and warmer weather. I should get a spring harvest from these yet!

Lotsa little turnipsThe turnips started to bolt, so I harvested most of the rest of them. I pulled the biggest ones throughout the winter, so these are medium to smallish. Even so it's almost 8 pounds worth.

These were planted thickly and my thinning didn't really do enough for them. When I pulled the ones you see above, some were thin and spindly. I left those in the ground to see what would happen. I also left some to go to seed for this fall's turnip crop.

Fall Nursery Plantings

These included:
Everything survived the winter and are beginning to awaken on their own schedule. There are a couple of photos I can show you.

Elderberry bushElder bush leafing out. I splurged on these and got plants four foot tall.

Best of all is one of my little peach trees!

Little pink peach buds!It will be several years before I actually get peaches, but these little blossom buds were a delight to discover.

Row of young cabbagesSpring Garden

Planted so far, out doors:
  • De Cicco broccoli
  • American Flag leeks
  • Parris Island Cos lettuce(Romaine type)
  • cherry belle radishes
  • Dutch Flat cabbage plants (pictured on right)
  • 5 horseradish roots,
  • Yellow Ebenezer onion sets
  • Little Marvel peas
  • 2 blueberry bushes, Jubilee and O'Neal
  • 3 Caroline red raspberry bushes
  • 25 June bearing strawberries
  • 25 everbearing strawberries
Planted indoors in egg cartons:
  • sweet Basil
  • Hale's Best Cantaloupe
  • Lavender
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Roma VF Tomatoes
  • Rutgers Tomatoes
  • Sugar Baby Watermelons
  • Chinese Giant sweet peppers

This is the only pea that made itOne big disappointment; out of a 30 foot double row of peas, only one plant came up! One plant!

Tomatoes in egg cartonI got a late start on my indoor seed planting. Our last expected frost date is around April 15 - 20, so my tomato and pepper plants should have been started a couple of weeks earlier. As you can see, these tomatoes are reaching for more light. I have a table set up in my studio, with all it's windows, but that still isn't enough light. Obviously a grow light would be a good investment.

Also growing after being planted this spring, are my strawberries.

Strawberry plant growing wellI planted two types, and the everbearers are doing very well. Of the June bearing ones, 9 out of 25 didn't make it. I've contacted Stark Bros for a replacement. Everything else I bought from them is doing splendidly.

Obviously things are going well in the garden. Our weather has been lovely and warm for the past several weeks, and the temptation is there to plant tender things that wouldn't survive a frost. That's where self discipline comes in, and indoor seed starting!

How Does My Garden Grow? photos and text copyright 

March 28, 2010

Independence Days Challenge: 3/21 - 27

In her book, Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage & Preservation, author Sharon Astyk says of the Independence Days Challenge,

I challenged myself to not be intimidated by the whole idea, but to do one little bit every day or week.

The categories in the challenge (below) do indeed seem like an overwhelming task list. But after I read the above quote, I resolved to aim for at least one thing each day. That helped. I no longer had to juggle the entire list in my head, nor was there any pressure to accomplish everything each week. So here's my summary for last week:

1. Plant something – nary a seed

2. Harvest something - from fall garden:
  • radishes
  • turnips - almost 8 lbs
3. Preserve something -
  • fresh turnips refrigerated for food storage
4. Waste Not
  • Made a chicken feeder from an old piece of PVC pipe and scrap lumber
  • Mulched strawberries with cardboard and chipped twigs and leaves
  • Learned about the Society of St. Andrew, a grassroots, nondenominational, hunger relief program which feeds the hungry by gleaning farmers' fields after the harvest. For more info on this one, click here.
  • Using discarded wooden stakes as twitches for the goat fence bracing
  • line dried laundry
5. Want Not
  • Found Sharon Astyk's Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage & Preservation at the county library and checked it out. An inspiring read.
  • Found Mrs. Wages pickling lime (for nixtamalizing corn) and Bread & Butter pickle mix (DH's hands down favorite) on clearance and bought two of each for food storage. Also bought more tuna and some canned turkey for food storage.
  • Researched area farmers markets. Found one locally, which operates from May through September
6. Build Community Food Systems – only via my blog

7. Eat the Food

March 26, 2010

Outside At Last

We finally had a day warm enough to let the chickens out of doors. They are six weeks old now, and only have their brooder lamp at night. On the first sunny warm day, we opened the chicken door to let them out.

1st brave little chicken.This was not as easy as one might think. The door is elevated due to the corner bracing in the shed, which didn't allow us put it lower. Still, ramps make it accessible. The trouble was, the chickens didn't know that yet.

With a little help, they were finally all outside.
Rascal, our yard guard could care less.
(His take on the whole thing here. )

Lots of dirt to scratch.At first they congregated under the door,
but gradually began to explore...

Lots more room to exploreAs you can imagine, they absolutely loved it.

2 Delaware chickensDelawares

One of my 5 AmeraucanasAmeraucana

A pair of WelsWelsummers.

The Welsummers are the only of my four breeds that we're getting an idea of who's the cockerels and who's the pullets. mostly because of the head coloring.

Welsummer cockerelBoy

Welsummer pulletGirl

With the other breeds I can't tell. Behavior maybe? Any hints?

[UPDATE: while I was in the coop this afternoon, one of the Welsummer cockerels crowed! Not a big rooster crow, but it was definitely a crow.]

In other chicken news.....

New home crafted chicken feederThey have a new feeder made from a piece of 4" PVC pipe. We got the idea from here. It works well as they can't tip it over, can't stand on top of it, and can't spill feed all over the place.

Roosting like big chickens do.Also learning how to roost. Of course this behavior comes instinctively, but still, they have to learn how to keep their balance while negotiating the roosting perches.

As you can see, all is well in our little chicken world.

Outside At Last photos and text copyright March 2010 

March 24, 2010

Progress (At Last) on the Goat Fence

We have had so much rain this winter, that we haven't been able to do much on the fencing for the goats. The ground has just been too muddy. Of course we've had the chickens to keep ourselves busy with, not to mention the house. We started the fence last September though, and considering the progress we've made (or haven't made), this project has seemed to hang over our heads like a rain cloud fixin' to burst.

Fortunately March has been a drier month. While waiting for the ground to dry out a bit, one thing we were able to do with our beautiful weather, was to trim off some large branches which overhang the field.

Heavy branches of oak for next winter's firewood.These will make good firewood for next winter and we figured it was better to take them down before the fence went up, rather than risk them being blown down onto the fence.

Yesterday, we got the t-posts into the ground, 90 of them.

A row of t-posts along the side of the garden.I measured and laid them out. Dan pounded them in with a post driver.

There is still some bracing to be done and a couple of gates to hang, not to mention the wire fencing itself. But at least we feel like we're making some progress on this project. At last.

Photos and text of Progress (At Last) on the Goat Fence copyright 

March 22, 2010

We Found The Old Swimming Pool

Last summer one of our neighbors came over to tell us about the blueberry bush that grew in the field next to the house. Of course we were delighted to learn this, and spent a little time talking with him.

He had grown up in the neighborhood and remembered swimming in the swimming pool at our house when he was a kid. Well, a swimming pool was news to us because none was ever mentioned as coming with the house. Not that we particularly wanted a swimming pool, but still, we wondered about it afterward and assumed it must have been an above ground job.

Well, I was clearing out a pile of brush last week (I have lots of brush piles around the place), and found this...

It's located behind the carport and clothesline. It's not particularly large, and it must have been filled in with dirt quite awhile ago, considering the size of the bushes that have grown up in it.

Dan plans to have it dug out and we are considering what we might do with it. No telling how deep it is . This is the area we want to put a tank or cistern for our eventual rain catchment system (see our master plan in this post). Doubtful it could still hold water but if it did, or if we could line it, it could become our cistern. If not and if deep enough, maybe it could become a root cellar? I guess we'll have a better idea once we remove the dirt and see what's what.

March 21, 2010

Independence Days Challenge - Week 3

This is my Independence Days Challenge update for week 3, March 15 - 20th. I'm going to start posting my updates posted on Sundays for the previous week. The weeks seem to be fairly random, depending upon the folks participating. Sharon (The Chatelaine's Keys) is offline currently, so I don't know when updates from others will be available. For myself, this is a useful exercise, and even though a lot of it has been routine for awhile, it's helping me seek other opportunities for independence, as well as keep track of it all.

1. Plant something
  • rosemary from pot to herb bed
  • seeds started indoors:
    • Sweet Basil
    • Cantaloupe
    • Lavender
    • Oregano
    • Peppers
    • Thyme
    • Roma tomatoes
    • Rutgers tomatoes
    • Watermelon
2. Harvest something -
  • rosemary leaves
  • broccoli
  • carrots
  • turnips
3. Preserve something - nothing for week

4. Waste Not
  • line dried laundry
  • kitchen scraps to chickens and compost
  • grass clippings to compost
  • old cardboard boxes for mulch and leaves. Last year I found this worked very well for keeping weeds down all summer. In addition, using them this way means less trips (less gas) to the recycle center.
  • made the door to the chicken yard with odds and ends of lumber. Looks like it too :)
  • reused a kitchen sink we found when 1st cleaning out the chicken coop. Same size as the old one, but much newer.
5. Want Not
  • prepared front yard Mediterranean herb garden for planting by adding sand, kelp meal, and wood ashes. Turned and hoed it.
  • tilled big garden
  • weeded peas and cabbage
6. Build Community Food Systems
  • blogging about it
  • talked to neighbor about our chickens
7. Eat the Food
  • fresh rosemary for soup
  • split peas from storage for soup
  • soaked rolled oats and rolled spelt for breakfasts
  • carrots in salads
  • steamed turnips and broccoli
  • sourdough molasses cake - adapted from another recipe

Sourdough Molasses Cake

1/2 C organic palm shortening
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 C raw sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 egg
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 C blackstrap molasses
1 & 1/2 C unbleached all purpose flour
1 C sourdough starter

Cream shortening & sugar. Add egg, molasses, & sourdough starter; mix thoroughly. Sift dry ingredients together & add, mixing well. Bake in greased & floured 8x8 inch baking pan at 350 F for 35 to 40 minutes.

March 20, 2010

Colors of March

Week 1:

March debuted by sprinkling
February's first daffodils with snow.

Week 2:

The snow melted quickly though and
soon there were daffodils everywhere.

Rascal accompanied me on a walk in the woods to
look for March color, but we only found all-year-'round
green things, like mosses and magnolias.

Week 3:

Spring color at last. First violet

And first "weeds."


As yet unidentified flowering tree.
Kobushi magnolia. Thank you Bettina!

Amazingly, the pansies I planted last fall
survived our weeks of freezing weather.

And an unidentified flowering shrub. Any ideas?

Want more? Check out Sue's blog, here.
For Rascal's walk, click here.

Colors of March photos and text copyright March 2010
by Leigh at

March 18, 2010

An Outing For The Chickens

This is not the "big" out, mind you. They didn't get to go outside. But they did get to go out of their brooder area, to explore the rest of the coop.

We were curious as to which one would be bravest to go first. We thought it would probably be the Barred Hollands, who though smallest, are most curious. But it wasn't.

It was the Delawares.

Cautious at first.

Peeking out.

A quick conference.

Then off to go see.

Soon followed by the rest of the Delaware clan.

Who's next?

An Outing For The Chickens photos and text copyright 

March 16, 2010

2010 Goals: Researching HVAC Systems

As many of you mentioned in the comments to my previous post on this subject, the HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system is only part of the home comfort/energy efficiency equation. Insulation is the other factor, and we are researching both. In this post, I'll give you the gist of my research into different types of heating and cooling systems. The ones I chose are the systems which were most feasible of us: electric, combustion based, air source heat pumps, ductless mini-split heat pumps, and geothermal heat pumps. For each one I've included links to more information at the US Dept of Energy Energy Savers website.

Electric systems include electric resistance heating and electric air conditioning. Heaters can include electric furnaces, base-board heaters, space heaters, and some radiant heat systems. All air conditioners are electric, no matter what heating system they come with. The advantage to electric heating is that almost 100% of the electricity is converted to heat, so it's efficient. The disadvantage is that not only is it the most expensive way to heat and cool, but also electricity is often produced from oil, gas, or coal generators, which are not efficient as they produce the electricity itself, not to mention they are fossil fuels.

To read more on these systems, click here.

Combustion based are your oil, gas, and propane heaters, often packaged with electric AC. These systems require an open flame to produce heat and hence a pilot light. These are of course, safety concerns. In addition to heat, they produce waste products such as carbon monoxide, requiring them to be vented to the outside. While they are less expensive to run than all electric, they require a lot of maintenance. They are less efficient, typically having an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) of 80%. This means that only 80% of the fuel is converted to heat. To be Energy Star rated, a system must have an AFUE of 90%, and these are considerably more expensive as you can imagine.

For more reading on furnaces and boilers, click here.

Air-source heat pumps transfer heat from outdoor air, rather than create heat from a fuel source. This makes them more economical to run. While they can be efficient air conditioners in the summer, they do not work well as heaters if outside temperatures drop to about freezing or below because the air is no longer warm enough to transfer heat from. Consequently most air-source heat pumps in our part of the country are duel-fueled, equipped with a gas heater as well. Gas kicks in when the outdoor temperatures are too cold. Other alternatives would be electric heaters, or as in our case, a woodstove.

Air-source heat pumps have two efficiency ratings, the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) for the air conditioner, and a Heating System Performance Factor (HSPF). The most efficient ones have a minimum SEER of 14, and a minimum HSPF of 8. With both ratings, the higher the number the better.

For detailed info on these, click here.

Ductless, mini-split-system heat pumps are air-source heat pumps which can be retrofit to a home without ductwork. After the outdoor unit is installed, 3 inch pipes carry the wiring/tubing to indoor units, which are installed about a foot from the ceiling. They make it easy to zone one's home, but the indoor units themselves are pretty conspicuous and ugly. To me, a cooling source near the ceiling makes sense, but heating doesn't. Why? Because heat of course, rises and the ceiling is not where one wants the heat in winter! Strong blowers can help, but we had ceiling vent registers when we lived in the apartment and didn't think the heat circulated well.

For more information on these systems, click here.

Geothermal heat pumps, also work on transfer heat, but their source is either the earth or water, rather than air. They are least expensive to maintain but most expensive to install, primarily because of the several hundred feet of tubing which needs to be either buried 5 to 6 feet in the ground, or submerged. They have the least impact on the environment of all the options, and the longest service life, something like 25 to 30 years for the unit and 50 years for the tubing.

Click here for more information.

We are not considering radiant heat, as this would be difficult and expensive for us to retrofit (as in tear up all the floors). Nor solar, because we do not get enough sunlight during the winter for it to be truly useful nor worth the expense.

We were able to attend a home and garden show earlier this month and talk to a lot of both HVAC and insulation folks. The next step should be to have a variety of them come out, and give us their spiel and free estimate.

March 15, 2010

Independence Days Challenge - Week 2

Let's see, what have I done since week 1?

1. Plant something
  • De Cicco broccoli
  • American Flag leeks
  • Parris Island Cos Romaine lettuce
  • Yellow Ebenezer onion sets
  • Cherry Belle radishes
2. Harvest something - nothing this week

3. Preserve something - nothing this week

4. Waste Not
  • kitchen scraps to the compost
  • soaking water to sourdough starter (see Date Muffin recipe below)
  • uneaten catfood short story - uneaten dry goes to the songbirds, uneaten canned to the chickens.
  • uneaten catfood long story - It seems that Rascal has suddenly decided that he's a finicky eater. Not that he's always eaten anything offered. For years, the only catfood he would eat was Friskies Dental Diet. He didn't like other brands or flavors, he didn't like canned catfood, and he didn't care for table scraps or cooked meat, maybe only a bite or two of raw. For about a month or so now, he's begging to be fed but turns his nose up at almost anything I offer. Needless to say, he's lost a lot of weight and I'm stuck with bags and cans of stuff he doesn't' want. Rather than composting the uneaten stuff, I'm giving it to the chickens and songbirds.
5. Want Not
  • stocked up on Ezekiel 4:9 flourless, sprouted whole grain cereal from a local discount grocery
  • bought a couple more pounds of baking soda for food storage

6. Build Community Food Systems
  • blogging about it
  • a neighbor commented on the fence for our new chicken yard, so I know folks are noticing what we do here

7. Eat the Food
  • from home preserved we're down to jams, jellies, pickles, and relishes
  • Oh! And the spaghetti sauce. Can't forget about that on pizza.
  • sourdough starter in bread, muffins, and pancakes
  • the sauerkraut (yum)
  • Ezekiel 4:9 cereal with the yogurt I made last week
  • tried a new muffin recipe which used both sourdough starter and dates from food storage. Recipe below...

Date muffins

1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup warm water

Mix and allow to sit about an hour and a half. In the meantime soak:

1 cup dried date pieces in warm water

When ready to make add

1 egg
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder (non-aluminum kind)
1/4 C raw sugar
dates, soaked & drained, add soaking liquid to sourdough starter

Mix, spoon into greased muffin tins and bake at 425F about 15 - 18 minutes or until done.

For more Independence Days, click here.

March 13, 2010

New Gadget

Don't ask me why I'm so excited about this thing, but I am. This is what I found on clearance....

My new favorite gadget, clock with indoor & outdoor temps!An atomic wall clock, complete with radio transmitted atomic clock time, day, date, moon phase, indoor, and outdoor temperature! I love the outdoor temperature part. As a gardener those temperatures in spring and fall are important to me. Plus, for some reason I just like keeping track of our daily highs and lows. I'm not sure why, I just do. So this find was a delight and I'm a happy camper.

New Gadget photo and text copyright 13 March 2010 
by Leigh at