Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Staying on Center

We had our last snow on May 12th, and after that, the snow melted rapidly creating flash flood conditions.  Then suddenly the temperature rose and there was no moisture at all. Everything was bone dry and extreme fire alerts were posted all over by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Two counties over from us in Douglas County, Wisconsin saw the worst forest fire it's had in 30 years that burned over 9,000 acres of forest.  And as soon as the fire was put out, the rains came.  Heavy rains that flooded roads including US Highway 2 up in Ashland along Lake Superior.  We are expecting more rain, too.

We have been tossing trailer loads of mink manure in Tom's garden when we can, and I have been busy starting more seeds, potting up larger seedlings, and working in the forest garden. The deer may have chewed most of the trees, but as long as they are leafing out, I'm OK. It's hard to believe that the snow has only been gone for nine days.

Chestnut Crab Apple tree
Here are some pictures of new swales I dug in the forest garden. (I've ordered some books about permaculture from the library to help me get a better grasp of basic principles.  If I've messed up in the garden, I guess I can just grab my shovel and start digging again.)  I filled them with leaves I raked in the front yard:

 This is an almost finished small pond at the bottom of the knoll:

I have half of the forest garden left to make swales on.  I'm glad I finished at least what I did before the rains came.  All the raspberries that are sprouting up in the pathways are going to get transplanted into the berms.

The greenhouse is filling fast.  With the seeds I started today, there is not much room left.  Thursday it is supposed to get down in the 30's F and hopefully there will be no more cold weather after that. The sun is already so hot (when it does shine!) that I have to put some kind of shade cloth up (in this case it's my trusty Agribon fabric).  By the way, in that big center pot I planted Lara's fig tree. She can't wait for it to grow figs.  The four lemon trees I started from seed are in smaller pots in front of the fig.  If I can keep them all alive, I will keep them pruned to dwarf size and move them inside for the winter months.

This is Mohawk tobacco.  I've never grown it before and am looking forward to seeing how it does once it is planted outside.

Red cabbages and spring cabbages are looking good.  Tom is planting our main sauerkraut cabbages in his garden.

The hummingbirds came back on May 15th -- about two weeks early for us, and we have more orioles this year.  Yay!  Red, blue, and gold finches abound, and the chickens chase the wood doves, blue jays, and robins from "their" turf. Nothing is really growing yet out in the woods and I wonder if that is why so many birds are flocking to our feeders.

Speaking of chickens, I spoke too soon about the demise of that dratted fox.  I am now down to 18 chickens.  I also lost my beautiful rooster, Temujin.  Sometimes I wonder if I should even try having chickens.

Until next time, Be Safe and Peace Be To You!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Still Cold

The eight inches of snow that came down on May 3rd melted by the 7th and I have been busy since then working outside.  Boy, does it feel good to be outside!  Even though the soil in the garden boxes is still half frozen, I managed to get 600 onion sets planted in one garden box, and the garlic I planted last Fall in another garden box is already starting to poke up. I put three new gooseberry plants in a small garden box I used to use as a cold frame to see if they will grow better in a box than the gooseberries I have planted in the forest garden.  I will plant the second half of the garlic box with more garlic and see if there is much difference between Spring planted and Fall planted garlic in our short season climate. My guess is that there is not much difference.  Lara's fig tree arrived and I have that planted in the one big pot I have.  It is in the greenhouse along with the raspberry plants I have yet to add to the forest garden raspberry row.

Out in the forest garden I have been following Geoff Lawton's mantra, "chop and drop", and taking note of where and how the snow melt ran off the knoll so I have an idea where to dig my swales and make little ponds.  It is exciting to think how my efforts at water conservation will turn out -- especially in light of the predictions for widespread forest fires this year. I'm glad I have so much material ready to use for my mulch.

My fence work needs major consideration, however.  The brush fence has to go altogether.  I believe the deer think it is too much like moving through the woods and they have no respect for it as a barrier.  The fence along the marsh side was trashed in three different places.  Not sure what the problem was there, but I am going to take down the chicken wire and make a ladder trellis like I have on the house side of the fence.  For some reason the deer left the ladder trellis fence alone.  I have twine woven in and out of this fence and I wonder if the twine bothers the deer.  The worm fence is OK and just needs to be added to. 

My poor fruit trees look awful from being chewed on.  At least they are alive.  I have made a list for the next time I go to the hardware store for the ingredients in Sepp Holzer's bone salve tree remedy. I do feel sorry for the deer though.  It was a hard winter for them and they are thin and look stressed. 

The hugelkultur bed is looking good with the yard waste I've piled on it so far, and the rhubarb and horseradish I transplanted into it last year must have started growing under the snow.

I have moved the tomatoes, cabbages, and Mohawk tobacco seedlings out to the greenhouse to make room down in the basement for the many new seeds I've started.  As it is snowing again today and very windy, I have everything in the greenhouse covered with row cover.  I hope it is enough to keep from losing them to the cold. 

My Red Cloud seed potatoes have arrived so field work is on the menu for next week.  I'm glad I managed to get most of the front yard work done. If the weather cooperates, I may be able to finish it tomorrow.   

Dad was right about the maple sap still running because the trees had not budded out.  In today's newspaper there was an article about the long sap run with an experienced local maple syrup entrepreneur and he confirmed what Dad said.  This guy is retired but still overseeing the business and has over 40 years experience.  He said last year was the worst year for syrup he ever saw, and this year was the best.  I almost wish I had left the taps in the trees a while longer, but Tom must have been afraid I was going to burn all his wood because he rousted Ed out from his recliner chair in front of the tv and had him help Tom move most of the wood pile into the garage for next year. 

I lost 5 chickens in two days to that darned fox.  All the people coming up for the opening of fishing season  were probably wondering what that crazy woman was doing sitting outside in a chair with a gun till dark.  I saw the fox twice but had no safe shot.  When the fox couldn't get at the chickens he went down into the big marsh and rousted the Canada Goose nest down there.  I think he got the goslings because both parents went flying over me honking like crazy.  I was hoping they would grab hold of that fox's tongue and make him regret his thieving.  The next day I heard somebody take a couple of shots nearby and I haven't seen the fox since.  I think they got the critter  (and it was a big fox, too).  Thank you, whoever  you are!  Now Temujin, Börte, and the lesser wives can lay me eggs and hopefully give me some chicks to grow my Dominique flock in peace.

I was out early today fixing up my brooder box and was glad to get it in shape quickly because the temperature was obviously dropping and snow came when the wind picked up.  It was a good day for housework and hot chocolate.

Be safe and well!

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Is It Spring Yet Redux

Let's start this post with this past Saturday when the temperature finally soared and I finished boiling down the maple sap and pulling the tree taps.  I had one batch boil too long on me and turn into maple sugar, but the rest turned out well.  I finished the season with just over two gallons of syrup.  I took Dad some and that made him happy.  As most of the trees still do not have buds on them, Dad thinks the sap will run a while yet, but I have to get going on the garden work and two gallons of syrup is enough for us. 

On Sunday the snow continued to melt and I was able to get into the greenhouse to clean it up.  I took down my maple sap boiling rig and dragged the cement blocks back to the greenhouse to use as supports for the plant shelves.  The ground was too wet and the snow still too deep for me to get out to my hugelculture bed in the forest garden to dump the refuse, so I dropped it by the wild rosebushes for the time being and the chickens have made the pile their newest play area.  When the frost comes out of the ground more I will rake everything up and toss it into wheel barrow and haul it out to the forest garden.

On Monday the temperature remained warm and I was able to plant my six new apple trees that I had previously heeled in the ground.  The ground is still pretty much frozen and I had to use my mattock to get the planting holes deep enough, but the job wasn't too bad.  As I am trying to work back into the habit of being outdoors without overdoing it physically, planting the trees was enough sweat equity for me for one day. So far so good! You could almost see the snow melting. Later, Lara and I drove to the beauty parlor (Lori's Nook) and got our hair cut.  Boy, were we shaggy!  Lori's shop had been closed for a couple of months due to health issues and the fact that the water pipes froze and burst in the shop.  She had a real mess on her hands and quite a time trying to get contractors to repair everything with it being so cold at the time.  Thankfully her health is improving and the re-opened shop is really cute!  Lara and I had a good time there.

Driving home I took note of the area flooding.  Deer Creek was even with the road, and the road going to the boat landing near there was closed off.  Parts of Butternut were flooded, too, though I have seen it worse.  However, with the 1-2" of new rain turning to 8-12" of snow expected tonight under a winter storm warning weather advisory, I think we will see more severe area flooding.  It is already pretty bad north of us.  I told Tom we should walk down to the creek and take a look at our field.  It may be a while before we can get out there to safely work the soil and plant.   My seed potatoes are coming any time now from Potato Garden and I sure hope I can plant them mid-month (after the Feast of the Three Chilly Saints). 

By Tuesday the snow was almost melted altogether, but the ground was still very wet. I was able to get out and toss composted chicken manure around trees and bushes, and turn some over in the garden boxes.  The soil in the boxes is looking very nice; too bad it is still half frozen.  I think this will definitely be a rushed planting season.

Eddy's exercise bike bit the dust so we bought him a new one.  Tom and I had a heck of a time putting the thing together when it arrived, but Eddy had a big smile on his face when he saw it and that smile was worth the aggravation of arthritic fingers constantly dropping screws and bolts.  Since the number of exercise equipment pieces in this house seems to be increasing I took the opportunity to move around the furniture and sift through boxes for items that could be donated to the hospital thrift shop.  The basement actually looks pretty good now and will look even better when I clear off the small table in the center of the room where my log cabin quilt pieces await getting sewed. Not many more to finish.  I am looking forward to picking out a fabric for the quilt back.

Studying for my General ham license is slowly proceeding.  Right now I am working on what radio frequencies go with which band, and working through the functions of various electrical components.  I have the last few letters of the Morse alphabet to study before I proceed to punctuation marks and pro-signs.  I have been unable to figure out how to connect to a repeater with my new radio.  I can't hear anybody talking no matter what band I tune; I only get lots of noise. I don't know what I am doing wrong; I suspect it may be something with my antenna.  I'll figure it out.  Learn by doing. My radio's manual is already starting to look rather sad.

The chickens are laying well but I'm not selling any eggs yet because my egg refrigerator died and I have no way to keep the eggs cold after they get washed.  I won't sell anything where I question the quality.  So, I'm on the lookout for a new refrigerator. I hope I can find one before I lose any chickens to the fox I've seen hanging around. 

Well, I've gabbed on long enough.  Be safe and well!