Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wild Blackberries

Just a head's up everyone!  Blackberries are ripening up and soon will be ready.  We keep our blackberries that grow close to the barn trimmed back.  This helps control the briar and encourages larger berries.

One of my fondest childhood memories was picking wild blackberries for my grandmother's blackberry cobbler.  It took a lot of berries but was worth the effort.

Now, just a note about foraging and wild foods: before you pick, always ask the land owner for permission.  Just because something is growing along a fence row does not necessarily mean it's for the public to share.  Also the land owner can also tell you if the plants have been sprayed.  For years the highway departments and railways have sprayed along easements to reduce vegatation.  Although this practice has been reduced it has not been eliminated in many areas.  Be aware.

Please also remember that birds and other wildlife depend on wild foods for their dinners.  When you pick remember to always leave some behind for them.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gardening 101: support part 2

Trying to figure out how to support tomatoes can be a real head scratcher.  Imagine: you're standing in the garden center holding a tiny four inch tall seedling set in a plug tray.  Beside you are several different sized tomato baskets: 24", 36", and 52".  You look back at this tiny cluster of leaves, shrug and reach for what you think might be reasonable.  One month later, your tomato plant has completely filled and is now over-flowing the basket, weighing down and blending the wire.  Holy CATS!

If you are going to use the round basket type support, the best time to put these in place is at the time of planting.  Putting one in after the plant is established runs the risk of damaging the roots, breaking branches, or snapping the stalk.  So what is the alternative?  OR if the plant is now overwhelming the basket, what is the remedy?  Easy Peasie.  String Trellising.

When this was first recommended to me I thought the person was a little nuts.  String?  Does this guy know how heavy those tomato plants get?  Well, using the string would be better than finding the tomatoes on the ground so I gave it a whirl.

The basic frame is as easy as two lengths of conduwit with some heavy wire running between them.  Of course we use six foot metal fence posts cause that's what we had handy.  a local grower we know, uses ten foot pipes (about two feet into the ground).  The string that is going to support the plant needs to be fairly heavy duty.  We use a synthetic twine that is durable enough to last several seasons and strong enough to support even the heaviest tomato plant.  Gently tie one end (not tight) to the base of the plant or use trellis clips.  Tie the other end to the wire high above the plants.  I leave a little extra twine on the end so  that I can tie on some more if needed or to add some extra support later.

Gently spiral the twine counter clockwise up the central stem of the plant.  As you do so, look for any suckers that may be forming at the base of the leaves.  Remove these small leaflets.  The general rule of thumb is, remove any sucker that forms below where the flowers are.   This will encourage the plant to form a stronger central stem and better tomatoes.

The grower who lives nearby uses this method exclusively to grow eight and ten foot tall tomato plants which supply the local market with some of the best tomatoes in the area.   Try String trellising.  You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Bees and pollinators

Sorry about letting you know after the fact, but this last week was National Pollinator week!  So what you say?? Pollinators are so much more than honey bees.  Birds, bats, butterflies, flies, and bees are all pollinators.  Bees are the best known with the European Honey Bee as the poster child.  But did you know that there are over twenty varieties of American Bumblebee on the East coast alone?

Common Eastern Bumblebee
Most pollinators are not aggressive except with their hives are threatened.  They build their homes in trees, holes in the ground, or, such as in the case of the carpenter bee, will chew holes in untreated wood to create a cavity in which to lay its egg.

Carpenter Bumblebee

This can be annoying although not as much as the subsequent attraction by woodpeckers to the site looking for bee larva.  To deter bee activity from undesirable places such as one's shed, garage, or house, paint untreated wood and keep it in good condition.  The bees will seek out other locations to lay their eggs.
Worker Honeybee died while gathering pollen & necter

A bee's life is short however the pollinators activity helps provide all the foods on our tables and health to our gardens, trees, and flowers.   So celebrate Pollinator week every week.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Gardening 101: Day-to-day

The garden is on its way.  Blossoms are forming. Stems and leaves are stretching skyward.  Tendrils are grasping their loopy fingers around blades of grass and other items within their reach.  Each morning before it gets too hot out, we walk the garden.

Light rains overnight are a blessing.  It makes the soil pliable, easy for baby plants to grown strong, healthy roots.  One needs to watch that the garden gets the right amount of rain.  Not enough and the plants will not set fruit.  Too much and things will rot and spoil.  If rains have been sparce, supplimental watering in the evening with a soaker hose is helpful. 

On the downside, light rains and supplimental watering will also encourage opportunistic weeds to grow.  If these are taken care of while they are small, a few minutes each morning, the garden will be relatively weed free.  Skip weeding and things will be difficult.  fortunately there are all sorts of items to help the home gardener with what feels like the never ending journey toward that first fruit for the table.

To begin: we don't use chemical weedkiller of any sort in our gardens.  To keep weeds under control we compost or gently till & remove the weed sprouts.  I prefer to use a hand cultivator for this task.  It looks like a large bent fork or according to WeeChick, like moma chicken's foot.  It gives me the control to gently loosen the soil enough to rake the weed seedlings out root and all,  yet not disturb the growing vegetable's roots.  It also has the benefit that in event that WeeChick jumps into the work zone, she is less likely to be injured than if a powered device was being used (besides my little chicken helper is very handy at removing unwanted grubs we occasionally come up).

To demonstrate the importance of periodic maintenance, the left side of this group of Cauliflower was cleared of weed seedlings over a week ago and the area to the right was left alone.  In no time at all the area to the right was starting to be taken over by weeds.  Working with WeeChick, it took about an hour (including playtime and snack breaks) for us to clear about 16 row feet.

So far I have been unsuccessful at using weed blocking materials in the gardens.  The black weedblocking material gets hot in the summer sun.  By adding chips or compost on top of it appears to encourage our local slug and snail population.  When I finally find a happy balance, I will share that info with you.

Now a word about weed removal tools.  There are all sorts of tools out there designed to make weeding easier.  With most weeds, if you don't remove the root, the weed will grow back.  So tools that claim to cut down the weeds then 'churn them into healthy compost' can turn your garden into a bit of a nightmare if you're not careful.

One weed care easily turn into hundreds.  This is a bit of milkweed root that was accidentally left when initally preparing the soil.  Buds formed on the rootlet, creating three where there had been one.  So clear those roots out as you find them, moving them far the garden.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Gardening 101: Support, part one

When looking at these little seeds or watching spindlely sprouts struggle and grow, it's hard to imagine that in just a few more weeks vines and indeterminate vegetables are going to need some kind of support.

Ever wonder how some people get those lovely, straight cucumbers?  Uniformally shaped, perfect in color, and no soft spots these are say first place at the county fair!  What about tomatoes?  how can you maximize yield yet still be able to support a load of healthy fruit?

Let's start with the seeds.  when you're looking at the seed packets or at the plant tags look for these words "indeterminate" or "determinate".  Basically what this means is how compact the plant will be when mature.  Those with limited space or who are doing container gardening may be more satisfied with determinate varieties.  Those with more space and room to grow may want to try their hand at indeterminate varieties.

At My Happy Acres we grow indeterminate varieties.  This allows us to train the plants to their support.  We have used a variety of materials however have found that vining plants such as cucumbers, summer squash, ole beans, and some gourds grow best when trained to Cattle feedlot panels.  These fencing units are sturdy, affordable, and last many, many seasons.  We have the 16-footers however these panels come in a variety of dimensions.  Six foot steel fence posts are evenly spaced and driven in the ground along the area where the planting will take place.  The panel is then attached with wire to the post.

Plant the cucumber about four inches from the base of the  panel.  Be aware: your neighbors and loved ones may laugh and point when they see this giant structure beside these wee little plants.  But wait.  In a few short weeks with a little water and a little care, these tiny seedlings will suddenly be springing up.  As they grow, gently lift and weave the vine and leaves to the panel.  When the time comes and the cucumbers (or summer squash or pole beans) start to form, they will be up off the ground so less likely to be misshapen, subjected to slug or snail damage, or the nibblings of passing  bunnies looking for vegie snacks.

This technique can also be used for other plants such as tomatoes however we have found another method for tomatoes that we will detail in a future post.  Have fun and keep an open mind to try new things.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Gardening 101: Helpers

As we head out to the garden each day don't forget to get your loved ones involved.  Children can pick up rocks, pull weeds, or help inspect plants for creepy crawlers and first fruits.  No hands are too small that there may be a task to fit.
The rains were welcome earlier this week.  All the trees, berries, and garden had a deep drink.  The pasture grasses are coming in thick and strong.  Part of gardening is keeping the weeds at bay.  Sometimes this is an easy task such as just after a rain when the weeds easily slip from the ground.  Sometimes it is more labor intensive such when one procrastinates and suddenly the garden is over grown.

Fortunately I have a good helper.  She likes to come outside and play in the garden.  She's good at loosening up the dirt and scratching up the weed sprouts.  And did I mention? She's a chicken.

Wee Chick was injured a couple of weeks ago when she fell off a high roost.  She's about half the size of her siblings and although she wants to run and play just as much as the rest of them, no one seems to want to play with Wee Chick.  She now has a safe place to sleep while she gets better and gets to join Mom in the garden to help.
Today we pulled weeds, took care of a few bugs, and Wee Chick enjoyed a few worm snacks.  Leafy greens are excellent for chickens and since we use no chemicals, we have little to worry about as she or her siblings scratch and enjoy green treats.
Such a good helper.  Little more work to do but when you have a little friend to lend a hand (or foot) the time passes quickly. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gardening 101: seeds

So there you are: you've selected the area you're going to plant, determined what you want to grow, and are now standing before the seed display at the local garden center.  The bright pictures on the outside promise luscious orbs kissed by the dew, long tender pods, and deep orange globes to inspire us to dream of pies and Jack-o-lanterns.  Take a deep breath. 

Johnny Seeds Snap Bean
Select a package and take a look at what's printed there.  Most of the better seed companies will tell you up front when the seeds were packaged or what year they were intended for.  Some of them are also kind enough to provide the germination rate.  Germination rate will give you a reasonable idea to about how many seeds you'll have to poke in the ground to how many will actually come up.  There are several bits of info that are good to note. 

Days to maturity is also important to note.  One of the nice things about some plants such as beans is if you stagger the plantings by about a week apart you can extend harvest for quite a long time. 

Remember that first frost date estimated on the USDA site?  That's something to keep in the back of your mind when looking at the maturity date.  Do you have enough time to nuture your plants to harvest?  If not, remember that it's not cheating to start with potted or plants started in a flat (that's what those trays of seedlings are called at the garden center).

Now let's say you were inspired to garden last year or two years or ten years ago, yet didn't quite get to the point of planting all those seeds.  Just because a seed is old doesn't mean it's no good.  Seeds are like ideas.  If it's a good seed, given the right environment it may surprise you.  So let's get started.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Gardening 101, step one

Eastern Common Bumblebee in the Cucumbers

There is probably nothing quite as satisfying as presenting fresh produce on a well set table.  Especially when that produce was picked fresh from the garden that morning.  For those fortunate to have a bit of clear, clean ground to grow one's own vegetables or those who have the pleasure of container gardening tomatoes on the balcony, you know the wonderful flavor difference between store bought and fresh picked.  If you don't have access to grow your own vegetables, then please, support your local farms and purchase from farmers markets. 

For those who do have access and the time to maintain a garden, I'd like to give you a few hints to help you along.  To begin, I'm pretty frugal.  I'm a firm believer in the three R's: reuse, repurpose, or recycle.  I also save seeds.  My favorite cucumbers are the one's I've selectively grown for over 10 years.  They are delicious right off the vine, prolific, and make a wonderful, crisp pickle.  For other vegetables, I always try to buy the best seeds possible or plants which are locally grown, healthy, and, whenever possible, organic. 

To get a jump on the season, starting in late February/early March, I carefully plant some seed trays for those plants that I know are going to take awhile to get going.  By consulting the germination/days to maturity calculation found on the seed packet one can get a general idea to how much time will be needed before one can expect those first fruits.  Remember: there are a lot of online tools available.  Don't hesitate to use these. they can be very helpful sometimes..

To find out when your zone, growing season, and last frost date, check the following link:

Once you have decided how much time and room you have available for planting, decide what you would like to grow.  It's easy to get carried away, so I suggest you start small with something relatively easy such as tomatoes (already started from your local greenhouse or farm market) and green beans (from seed).

First tomato 2011
Next check and compare when best to plant.  Some sites such as Mother Earth News Vegetable Garden planner combine garden planning with planting schedules, which is very handy to both the novice as well as the more experienced.  For those who are more hands on, Organic Sciences LLC, an online store out of New Jersey, has a nice tool to figure it all out:

Just remember: this is supposed to be fun.  enjoy and play in your garden.  Take a deep a cleansing breath and celebrate small victories.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Spring Wildlife

Spring is a season full of wonderful surprises to those who keep their eyes open.  Tiny Cottontails are chasing their mom around the pasture.  A whitetail doe carefully hides her fawns in the grass.  Many, many birds are on nest or fledging.
American Woodcock
Now here is your test: in the center of this picture is an American Woodcock.  While coming back across the pasture to pick up some more fence posts, we came apon this little lady sitting patiently on her nest.  We have heard them in the twilight however had not yet come to recognize their call for what or who was making it.

Birds and animals will come where they can find food, shelter, and feel safe.  This is something to think about when encouraging or discouraging wildlife in your area. Give up on where little bird is hiding?  look to the center of the picture for her eye.  she is facing right, bill down, and her wings are folded across her back to the left. 


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Sunrise in Central New York

The storms have passed for the day creating a beautiful sunrise.  Every morning we are greeted by a variety of birdsongs.  Mourning doves, robins, song sparrows, even a Baltimore Oriole has chimed in.  Of course our roosters also have to have their say but we'll leave that for another day. 

Remember that just because a bird may be dressed in drab colors doesn't necessarily mean that its tongue has not been tipped with gold.  I keep my Peterson's guide near the back door to identify the type of bird by sight.  I then later look up the bird online to connect the song to the feathered beastie.  For example, there is a song sparrow who has a nest near the kitchen garden.  want to hear him?

We enjoyed those first juicy treats earlier this week when the first strawberries were ripe and ready.  The mild weather has been a blessing.   All the berries have been thriving.  Although we have had a bit of an issue with a profusion of bunny rabbits so far the strawberries have been doing well.

Monday, June 4, 2012

June Showers

I always smile a bit when I hear the rhyme: April showers bring May Flowers.  In central New York, April showers are more likely to be April snows.  On the other hand, we can ususally expect pleasant rains throughout the month of June.  Soft steady rains have been the rule and all the trees are drinking it in. 

There is something soothing about listening to the rain in the meadow.  We mowed the pastures this last week to encourage more growth.  Have you heard the expression 'Make hay while the sun shines'?  This comes from the advice to cut the hay and let it dry a bit before baling.  Dry hay is less likely to develop mold or have issues than wet. 

Although chickens are not known for loving water, everyone appreciates a cool salad from time-to-time.  Despite the rain, the chickens all came tumbling out of the hen house this morning.  anxious for fresh green snacks.

Americaunas are a very nice breed.  they are calm, friendly and don't squabble too much between themselves.  They have lots of room and plenty of good things to scratch.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Today's readings

this morning has had all sorts of interesting stuff to read.

About the Bees:
I had wondered about this.  some of the old guys at the orchards said that one should harvest honey in Spring.  in that way the bees have enough to carry them for the winter and the hive will be healthier in the long run.  when I look at how much of the commercial honey is harvested it gives me pause.  Honey has all sorts of good stuff in it including enzymes that boost immunity and aide in wound healing.  to say that giving bees diluted corn syrup as a substitute for harvested honey seems contrary to common sense.  but what do I know?  I have no experience in this.  but I keep reading...

Bees in wild Blackberries
On the other hand, something I do have a wee bit of experience with is eggs.  there are so many pluses about eating eggs.  it was nice to see someone write up all these benefits:

the day is pretty overcast.  I have my fingers crossed for soft steady rains.