Friday, May 16

The Mulch Results

Last season I experimented with mulch options in the veggie garden. I used shredded bark mulch on the tomatoes and a mixture of straw and grass clippings with the beans, eggplant and peas.

The bark mulch kept the weeds out almost entirely which was wonderful but the tomatoes did not do very well. I had a massive foliage wilt and die-off on the bottom half of the plant before the tomatoes started to get fully red. I did get some tomatoes but not nearly as many as in previous years. I also noticed over the winter that the bark mulch was not decomposing very well. After Roy tilled I did not notice obvious residual bark chips which was good since I was worried about how will it would till in and compost, and how it would effect this years plants.

The straw and grass mulch did well. There were more weeds but I noticed that it composted much more easily over the winter and I am not concerned at all with the plants that will go in that section this season.

I looked into it a little and  some sources say that shredded bark mulches should not be used in veggie gardens in the first place since they are not fully decomposed and steal nitrogen from the top layer of soil as they break down. They take several years to decompose and are acidic so I should have monitored the pH level of the soil. Some sources say that it is ok to use it, but from my experience, it caused trouble. This probably explains my tomato problem and I will not be using bark mulch in the veggie gardens again.
 
  • Bark mulch is for landscaping.
  • It is used as a decorative covering.
  • Using it around young seedlings and vegetable plants results in excess numbers of pillbugs, slugs, snails, etc. that can, when they have nothing else to eat, lead to plant damage. 
  •  It provides no nutrients to the plants, can rob nutrients from the plants, does not retain soil moisture nearly as well as many other mulches.

This year I am using a cardboard and straw/grass clippings method. I am putting down a layer of heavy cardboard and covering it with straw and grass clippings. This will be used in the walking rows between the plant rows, and the plant rows with only be about 6 inches wide. This will limit my weeding which saves me precious time and I will have no concerns about how this will compost into the soil for next season.

Updates to follow - I am sure that I will find both problems and benefits with this new experiment.

Thursday, May 15

Murphy

We are very happy to announce that our small farm is once again home to a member of the canine family.
 
We adopted Murphy from a rescue organization after meeting him at our local Tractor Supply a few weeks ago. We completed the adoption process and he has been with us for two weeks now. He is a boxer mix with what we think might be some beagle or terrier genes. And he could not be sweeter.
He is a very loving little dog who enjoys cuddling on the couch, playing with Saemus the cat, trying to play with Cheese and Buffin who want nothing to do with him, and following us around the yard inspecting everything in his path.
 
He is fascinated by the chickens who do not return the sentiment but he is sweet and gentle in every way. He loves the kids and seems to like other dogs even though we have not introduced him to our neighbors and their canines yet. He will meet what amounts to his cousins tomorrow - an English mastiff and a sheepdog/collie mix - but I am not anticipating any trouble. He is 16 weeks old and I can easily carry him around if necessary and he is so affectionate and eager to please that socializing should not be an issue.
 
It has been almost three years since Snowy, our Shepard/husky mix, passed away and I have been on the fence about getting another dog. I love dogs and I missed having them in the family but I knew that it had to be just the right dog. As with all of my cats and dogs, I knew the first time I saw them that they were going home with me. I am sure that any pet owner out there knows what I am taking about. I saw him at Tractor Supply and immediately all my concerns about bringing a dog back into our lives vanished. I knew that he was my dog.



Tuesday, May 13

Iris and Moneywort - I love the color contrast.
Moneywort - spreading like crazy in the shade garden and the garden under the kitchen window. I love the color of the foliage in contrast to all the green and when the yellow flowers come out, the contrast is even more beautiful. I believe this variety is called Persian Chocolate.

 

Spring flowers in May - it has been a very strange spring here. It is like we have skipped the entire month of April and gone straight from March to May.

These huge poppies as quickly becoming one of my favorite garden additions. Given to me by my neighbor, they not only survived the transplant but have flourished and spread. I can almost see them growing they are coming in so fast.

The lilacs will be here shortly and this year it looks like there will be lots of blooms on this light purple bush.

These smell wonderful and I wish they would stay around longer. Like everything this season, it seems like they are here one day and gone the next.


Monday, May 12

The Case of the Missing Chicken

 
I currently have 9 laying hens in my flock. They are happy ladies, as far as I can tell, and they spend their days pecking around their fenced-in area and squawking loudly in their nest boxes. Every evening I count them as I refill the feeders, collect the eggs and give them fresh water. There are always 9.
 
But the other night, I counted 8. I checked all around the coop, in the pen and around the yard but there was no sign of her. I was dreading the sight of a large mess of brown and white feathers and I was glad I did not see one. I hoped that she had flown out of the pen, which does not have a top at the moment, gotten a little lost and had found a place to roost for the night. I closed up the coop hoping that I would see her scratching and pecking in the yard the next morning.
 
 
But that was not the case and I was sad in that I had lost a hen to some predator or that she had gotten out and gotten lost. I kept an eye on the ladies all that day - watching for any signs of a returning predator or that the ladies had all decided the 'fly the coop.' There was no odd behavior and as evening rolled around I got some kitchen scraps together and went out to do the evening chores.
I counted the ladies - 8 - and completed the chicken chores. As I was just about the leave the coop I heard a faint clucking sound. I had just given the ladies the kitchen scraps and they were arguing over the best carrot peels but I was sure that this 'cluck' came from the other direction. I waited and I heard it again, and again.
 
I went to a small, narrow space behind the indoor coop area where I usually store extra bales of straw. It is empty now in that I need to re-stock and I had stored the small blue kiddie pool that I use for their dust bath in the summer back there. I noticed that the pool was laying flat, tipped over, instead of leaning up against the shed wall.
 
 
I heard the chucking again and I slowly lifted up the kiddie pool. There she was - all hunched down and looking very angry. She started squawking at me in a very indignant way and I admit that I did laugh at her a little. She must have flown up on the dividing fencing and jumped down to the other side, jostled the pool, and got stuck under it when it fell. I was very happy to see her and I took her right to the feeder so she could get a good drink and a meal.
 
 

Sunday, May 11

I made these three cold frames a few years ago from some old windows that I found the upper barn when we moved here. I originally had black plastic on the bottoms of the frames so they could serve as raised beds and I used them that first summer with mixed results. The paint started to flake off which dropped pieces into the plants and they did not do very well for a number of reasons.
 
 
 
I put the frames way in the shed and they stayed there until this spring when I finally dragged them back out with a new idea for them. I removed the plastic from the bottoms and scraped all the loose paint from both sides of the window frames. I re-caulked the windows and moved them to the garden where we had made three new raised bed gardens. the frames would sit on top of the raised beds which we made the same size so they would sit perfectly together.
 
 
I will use the cold frames until the plants emerge and then either have the frames open all the time for the rest of the summer or I will remove the frames and just have the plants in the raised beds. I have lettuce in one bed and spinach in another so I will have to put up some sort of netting to keep the hungry woodchucks.
 
So far, I am happy with the new setup. I did lose a few panes of glass during that last wind storm that came through here - the frames were still standing up against the picnic table at the time - so I am searching thrift shops for 10 X 13 picture frames that I can use the glass from.
 
This spring has been so strange that I am finding it hard to decide when to plant, what to plant, and if I should be using cold frames and cloches or not. We just tilled today after having to wait for the ground to dry out a little since it has been so rainy the past couple of weeks, so I am hoping that the peas and beans will go in tomorrow.
 
I also took my seedling trays outside today and they will stay there now until I am ready to plant them. They are currently spending their first night outdoors under a few sheets to guard against temperature change and any curious critters. Hopefully I can get them in the ground sometime around the middle of this week if the weather stays nice.

Saturday, May 10

Snakes!!!!! (well, just one, but still...)

Just look at these nice seedlings....

So wonderful and strong and fuzzy....

Some else likes my seedlings too....
Um, yeah.

This is what I was treated to when I went to water the seedlings the other day. Happily warming himself (or herself - I am not well educated in snake anatomy) under the grow lights on the bottom shelf.

So there it was, just hanging out and I had reached an impasse. I needed to water my seedlings and I was not going to water around this uninvited guest. He didn't seem like he was going to move. So I did what any homesteading, DIY woman would - I ran upstairs yelling "snake in the basement!!!" My husband graciously went downstairs and removed the snake - which was huge by the way! - and I have been dreading the watering and chick feeding every morning and evening since.

I have no idea where he came from or how he got into my basement but since I am pretty darn scared of snakes, it is a mystery that I either want to solve or forget about.