Sunday, May 6, 2012


Picked up seven 2-week old Buckeye chicks/pullets from a local breeder this evening, and got them set up in the somewhat luxurious (if I do say so myself) brooder setup in the basement.  As of the time of this writing, they are all eating, drinking, looking mighty healthy and curious and peeping up a storm.

Cute little buggers.  Some of them are a bit skittish still, but there's one that always comes over and makes a play for attention.

This is my first experience with chickens, so I'm a bit nervous.

The plan is to wait for Leah to come down and meet them before the naming process begins, but we'll see what happens.  Video below!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Greenhouse in the home stretch...

A week off work, a fortunate run of fair weather and the hard working hands of my dad and a good friend made this past week possible, as well as the hugely significant progress we made towards the completion of the greenhouse.

Since my father tore his shoulder earlier this spring, we've only had three good arms between the two of us.  Certain remaining tasks, like the process of installing twelve foot long polycarbonate panels along the steep angle of roofing rafters were likely to be extremely difficult or impossible without the help of another set of hands.

Enter Scott: my friend since college, former U.S. Marine, intelligence expert, bearded gentleman, and soon to be NYC resident and Columbia student can now add "greenhouse construction expert" to his resume.

The learning curve on polycarbonate panel installation proved somewhat steep... we got off to slow progress despite pulling long hours the first few days.  Not helpful in the least was the building itself and the rafter structure onto which we needed to affix the panels... the pressure treated lumber we used to construct the rafters before winter set in had shifted and warped somewhat despite our best efforts.  Every single panel we installed required the rafters to be hammered sideways, levered with clamps and pulled with come-alongs so that the poly panels could fit straight along them.

Installing plywood panels along the north side of the building as underlayment support for the roof also proved challenging.  Our previous treatments to the rafters on the south side to accomodate the poly panels meant many of the rafters were at a very slight angle, preventing us from being able to lay down a straight and manageable grid of 4'x8' sheets.  What we ended up with was a lot of very subtle trapezoids that fit together in fun and challenging ways.  Fortunately we were able to custom cut them so that the final effect is very much square, even if the panels themselves aren't, exactly.

While the rain kept off during work hours, the week was comprised mainly of a lot hot hours in the sun, lifting things up and down on ladders.  We overcame a seemingly endless parade of engineering setbacks and material failures, and by the end of the week we were all very sunburned, sore, underslept and worn down (Scott notably remarked on Thursday morning that he was primarily running on "black coffee and rage").

But we did get it done, and we are now just a few working weekends away from having the greenhouse fit for inspection (and hopefully, approval) by the county.

Tremendous thanks goes out to Scott and my father, who worked themselves raw, and put up with me besides.  I doubt Gatorade and pizza make up for the time put in... but if one of my new chicks grows an awesome beard, I'll name it in Scott's honor.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

If the three varieties of squash I planted weekend-before-last were racing, "Pipian From Tuxpan" would already have a commanding lead with almost perfect germination, a super-brief germination period and an almost alarming rate of growth.  As a gentleman who values various flavors of oven roasted pepitas over almost any other snack (despite their tendency to cause digestional regret when consumed in quantity, as I cannot help but consume them), I already can't wait for fall.

These guys have just been sitting in my passively heated (i.e. whatever heat the house happens to absorb) dining room on the table by the window, and a little over a week later, they look like the photo above.

At the rate they're growing, I may already be regretting my decision to start them indoors this year (previous attempts to direct-seed squash in the field have proved entirely disappointing).  I also have a two varieties of summer squash seeded, but with no sprouts peeking out thus far from either one.

Normally I would have misgivings about growing a space and nutrient-demanding crop such as squash whose stated purpose is mostly the edible seeds it provides, but I'm hoping that hogs might be keen on the gourds' flesh even if I'm not.  As we don't yet have swine here (save myself), I may have to go find some folks that do for an entirely un-scientific experiment on how they do or don't favor this variety.

Why feed pumpkins to hogs, you ask?  Why, cause they're so damn cute when they eat them, of course.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Weekend update,

This weekend found me graced with the bounty of a house full of loved ones.  My sister and father were both up to visit/work from Cincinnati, and Leah came down from Kent.  The proliferation of people whose company I enjoy most took the edge of what would have otherwise been a somewhat dreary and unpleasant working weekend.

Despite temperatures consistently in the 40's, moist cold winds and occasional rains, my father and I prevailed as we could and managed some decent progress on the greenhouse front.

We installed almost all the interior skirting (pressure treated two-by-whatevers) which will serve to seal up the bottom edge of the building, which we built to be perfectly level but on un-level ground and thus has an increasingly large gap from along it's length from East to West.  The skirting will hold in the four inches or so of limestone gravel that we will be using as a flooring surface inside the greenhouse, and hold out the dirt that will be filling the raised perennial bed I plan to install around the perimeter of the greenhouse later this spring.

We cut the first of two twelve-inch ventilation openings in the uppermost corners of the building.  Depending on how well the building collects and retains temperature during the summer months, we may well need to install some sort of exhaust fan system at some point in the future, to keep the building as a whole from becoming a giant solar oven and killing the plants inside.

We also got the vinyl siding complete on the south-facing side of the building, and got a fair bit more siding up on the west side.  Custom-cutting lengths of vinyl siding that require a different angle on each end and a very specifically spaced gap in the middle proved somewhat difficult.  We called it a night after two unsuccessful attempts, but I know we'll get the hang of it.  After we're done with this, I will be able to rightly call myself a vinyl siding professional...

And, in case anyone ever asks, the best way to finish off a rough weekend is with homemade cream of sorrel soup, oven roasted jacket potatoes, "Knock You Naked" brownies, and a highly competitive game of Bananagrams.  Bliss!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

First sprouts in the garden...

During nightly watering rounds, I noticed a joyous thing(shown in blurry detail above)...  the peas I planted a while back in the garden are sprouting.  Significant action is visible from both the Tall Telephone peas as well as the Green Beauty snow peas.  Also seeing some sprouting love from my carrots and lettuce seedings in the shaded beds, but it's too early to tell who's who yet.  These are the first direct-seeded sprouts to emerge from the new garden beds.


Also, notably, the Aronia is in full bloom (for the first time since I planted it two years ago), which will hopefully result in me getting to taste aronia berries for the first time (if the birds don't get them first... which they probably will).

The yacon plants in the windowsill are getting big, by the way.  As in, every day I come home, they are noticeably larger.  If they keep this up I may have to upsize them to bigger pots before I can get them out in the garden.  Starting to understand how these things end up being six feet tall...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fuck the grass.

Given some water and strategic windowsill placement, the yacon starts have regained their proper appearance!  While I do enjoy getting healthy plants in the mail, I'm a little worried at how big they are already.  Hopefully I can get them through to this year's "safe from frost" date and into a garden bed before they take over the kitchen and start making demands.

Tonight I indoor-seeded some basil (Purple Petra, Genovese, and Tulsi) and squash (Lemon, Pen. Crookneck and Pipian from Tuxpan).  I've never had much luck direct-seeding squash, so I thought I'd try to remove some potential-for-error by starting it indoors.  My best sources say that this can work fine so long as you don't let the starts get rootbound or disturb the roots when you transplant them into the garden.

Pipian From Tuxpan squash seeds are huge!
Today was a picture-perfect day to work outdoors, and sadly I had to spend it on routine lawn maintenance.  By the time I was done mowing the entire property (around 3 acres or 1.5 tanks of gas in the Ariens) and string-trimming around trees and garden beds, I was both plum tuckered and plastered with shredded plant matter (to which I am ironically allergic).  The itchy loss of an yet another otherwise productive day is but one of many reasons I loathe the American fetish of lawn cultivation.  Why, you ask?  Well, I'll tell you!

I can confirm that I killed two snakes and one frog today during my mowing excursion.  I spied their gruesomely mangled corpses strewn atop an even plateau of green as I rode my roaring mount around the required concentric paths... and I can only assume that I killed more whose remains happened to display less dramatically.

Now, here on the farm we have nothing if not plenty of frogs and snakes, and I'm not one to cry over every individual drop of milk (or, in this case, snake blood) that's spilled... but that's at least three distinct beneficial organisms that are now wholly removed (save for their decomposition) from my ecosystem... for no real purpose whatsoever.  They died, along with my usable work day, because somewhere down the line our society decided that everyone is supposed to have a lawn.

As best I can determine, our American fascination with lawns represents an ironic and masochistic impulse to symbolically and retroactively compete with the landed elites whose idiotic policies our ancestors braved a dangerous trans-Atlantic voyage to escape in the first place.  It's a holdover from the days when ownership of land was a sure sign of personal status, furthered by the means and willingness to arbitrarily maintain expansive areas of a variety of plant (whose natural height is several feet) at a  height of just under three inches tall.

This stunningly logical ritual comes to us from the same society that at one time saw the wealthy gentry building largely windowless mansions complete with the facade of previously existent windows because the presence of bricked-up windows was seen as a status symbol at the time.

The culture of lawns also plays directly into our delusions of power over nature.  The violent act of "cutting the grass" is in fact nothing more than a scheduled assertion of our dominance over nature, a flashing neon sign regularly reinforcing the idea that we alone control the land we own... not only it's borders and obvious contents, but also the exact manner in which the organisms within shall develop and exist.

But in this instance, as in all others where we imagine our human goals and methods to be superior to those of nature, we are humorously mistaken.  The poor bastard who is forced to spend his weekends shirtlessly riding a smoking machine in circles around his property (and I must unhappily include myself in this group) has found a master in the grass, and never himself becomes the master by doing so.  If I live to be a hundred and twelve, and mow it down until religiously until my last day alive, it matters not.  Given enough time, the grass will win.

So why do we bother?

The grass on my lawn does not provide me with anything.  It does not nourish enhance the soil in any way, and the meager benefits it does provide (aesthetic appeal, erosion control) could easily be achieved with a variety of other plants that would also provide a greater benefit besides (lawn-space lovers please note here that my primary gripe here is with the grass itself, not the usage of space).

Even the benign varieties of grass constantly fight and compete to choke out and kill any tree, shrub, or vine I attempt to plant in it's midst (and has succeeded on more than one occasion).  The more obnoxious strains (quack grass, for one) prove themselves on a daily basis to be a pestilent weed without equal.  

Due to the size of the lawn, I have been forced to spend thousands of dollars on specialized equipment and fuel to maintain it in the accepted way, a process whose accomplishment itself consumes not insignificant amounts of my quite meager (and thus quite valuable) free time.

So, in short... fuck the grass.

The only consolations during my long mowing expeditions are the fantasies I allow myself, of turning over large areas of what is now neatly mown grass to productive pasture, where some manner of mammal (I want goats, Leah wants alpacas, and I'm pretty sure we both want pigs) can make better use of grass' perpetual nature than I can on my own.  My mind dances and twirls with childish delight as I imagine a large auger bit tearing through the sod, the fence posts going in, and the fencing being pulled taut.  I plot out the fence lines constantly... which animals might fare best where, how many I can reasonably hope to support on the space I have, etc.  I picture stepping out the back door and towards the treeline... not into an endless flat lawn, but a pastoral pasture complete with a small earth-topped shelter to house my as-of-yet imaginary critters.

It is usually at this point that I am forced to stop the mower to scrub a loose fistful of airborne clippings from my eyes and mouth.  Even in it's temporary defeat, the lawn laughs at me.

A man can dream, can't he?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Yacons arrive...

Came home tonight to find a small box from Nichols Garden Nursery waiting for me.  Stuffed gently inside were three decently sized (and already off-and-growing) Yacon crowns.

Watered them and put them up by the window and they can get on to the business of straightening themselves out...

I'm quite excited to try growing these things this year.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Planting in the working week...

The days are just now getting long enough that I have time after I get home from work to dabble a bit in the garden before true darkness.  I also have about half an hour in the morning.

I'm running a bit behind on direct-seeding in the garden, so I've been using this time this week to try and play catch up (Heidi the dog wishes I'd drop the mucking around outside and play Spitty Ball instead).

So today I managed to plant two full raised beds (the most tree-shaded ones) with a companion planting of various lettuces and carrots.

Every time I go out to plant lettuce I can't help but think about how all winter long I was weeding out self-seeded lettuce volunteers from the gravel in between my raised beds.  As odd as it sounds, lettuce grows great in limestone gravel (even with thick/quality landscaping fabric underneath), even over a winter with no real protection from the elements.  I have no idea why this is.  Maybe some special concentration of certain nutrients?  Residual warmth from the day's sun absorbtion?  Excellent drainage?

I feel that I should be able to put such information to a very practical use, but I haven't figured out how to do so yet.  A small frame filled with gravel?  I also never got around to tasting the lettuce that grew... it may well have proven bitter.

Next up are spinach, radishes and beets.  I can't find the packet of German Giant radish seeds I thought I had, and all the radish seeds I can find are more autumn varieties.  May have to scramble and find a packet of red radishes somewhere locally.  

Monday, April 9, 2012

When the living ain't easy, and nothing com-frey...

Photo via
I have a terrible garden confession to make.

Many an otherwise viable root crown, tuber, or seed has gone dry, dead or rotten because I didn't get it in the ground in time.  Two years ago, a bag of asparagus crowns got misplaced and forgotten till they were crispy.  Last year, a bag of jerusalem artichokes got put off until they turned to moldy mush.  Some otherwise lovely fruit bushes have been slowly neglected to death while waiting to find a spot in the ground.  It's a not-infrequent problem.  My garden aspirations consistently surpass my available time and opportunity.

But after I goofed up and hurriedly planted a bunch of jerusalem artichokes (the second bunch after I destroyed the first) in the middle of the damn yard earlier this year, Leah gently suggested that I review the decision making process that determines where vigorously spreading large perennials might go when I do manage to find the time to plant them.  Valid point, I said.

Thus, it was with such considerations in mind that I jumped out of my car tonight upon my arrival home, desperately trying to squeeze enough workable daylight out of the evening to get some of my freshly arrived 'Bocking 14' Comfrey root cuttings in the ground.  I wasn't going to let them spoil!

My "better judgement sense" was already tingling... while almost supernaturally beneficial/useful, comfrey propagates easily from root cuttings and is almost impossible to kill/eradicate once it establishes without the use of extreme measures or nasty chemicals.  Each plant can also grow to several feet across and can be quite tall.  I needed to plant it carefully.

I ended up installing half of my supply of root crowns in two different locations: first in a generally weedy corner along the backside of two of my outbuildings (near the loosely encouraged Stinging Nettle plot), and secondly just outside the edge of the back lawn in a low moist area of low scrub below our Black Hawthorn tree.

Both locations feature at least half-day sunlight and soil that tends to remain generally moist, and are far enough out of the way that the plants can grow and spread without displacing anything important or causing an eyesore.  It actually kind of felt like I was hiding them.

As comfrey makes an excellent companion plant for a lot of edibles, we will no doubt end up planting it in other places in the future.  But for now I merely aim to establish a "mother patch", from which I can pull and distribute viable crowns and root cuttings as needed.

Now I just have to figure out where I'll be putting the second half of the order... with ten more to plant, I know there's still time to make a terrible mistake.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

"Vinyl siding is the mulch of buildings..."

"Vinyl siding is the mulch of buildings." - My Dad.

Truer words were never spoken.  On the mend from a uncharacteristically debilitating shoulder-injury, this weekend found my father back in action up at the farm, if not exactly 100%.  Despite having only three good arms, our goal was to get as much vinyl siding up on the greenhouse as possible.  The materials were already on-site.  The weather seemed ready to cooperate.  As usual, I did most of the work but he's the only one in the pictures because he's terrible at operating any form of camera device..

We spent Saturday morning fighting off the frosty air by bending and installing a whole bunch of garden trellis supports on the raised beds.  I learned how to consistently bend 1/2" emt using a conduit bender for the first time.  So now, by the time this year's peas and beans are poking out, they'll have an 8'x6' span of netting to climb to their little heart's content.  Speaking of, I managed to plant 16' of Tall Telephone Peas (which might be one or two generations away from deserving their own varietal name as I've continued selecting out for the huge mutant peas/pods that began appearing last year) and a first-attempt 8' row of Green Beauty snow peas from Adaptive Seeds, especially notable for being a true vining variety.  They're going in awfully late for peas, but we only got the raised beds filled last weekend.  What can I say?  We're doing the best we can.

The properties of vinyl siding are deceptively ingenious, and the stuff goes up relatively quickly once you get the hang of it.  By Sunday night we felt like siding pros, and had managed to get the entire north side of the greenhouse and most of both of the ends covered in the stuff.

The hardest part is successfully tacking it in with short little roofing nails in a manner that doesn't involve smashing your fingers with the hammer.  I got better at that too as we went along, but the middle finger on my left hand remains sad nonetheless.

Due to some warpage of posts and boards (lord, how I loathe pressure treated pine for this reason) our walls were not plumb-straight, but the application of the vinyl siding really smoothed things out visually.  One more good working day, and we should be done with the vinyl and on to the really intimidating part... installing the polycarbonate panels.

Monday, April 2, 2012

We all have lives that we are owed...

"We both have lives that we are owed.  You can own an acre, but not what it grows." - J.Tillman, Diamondback.

We spend a long and strenuous day Saturday working on the annuals beds.  We hand-pulled large patches of well-established turf and weeds out of the raised beds where the cardboard I applied last fall had failed to hold them down.  We shoveled a seemingly endless parade of wheelbarrows full of topsoil and compost and dumped them into the beds.  We planted some the fruit trees from Stark Bros (a sweet pit apricot, a nectarine, a peach, a plum, and an almond).

On Sunday we re-installed a few rain barrels to help temporarily stay the soil runoff problem that occurs when water runs off the roof into the perennial/herb beds.  Still trying to devise a good passive long-term solve for the roof runoff...

While cleaning out one of the octagonal annuals beds, we came across a juvenile snake beneath a sheet of cardboard.  Not being an expert yet on matters of local snakes, I have been working from the general rule that one should pay attention to the shape of the snake's head... they that have a slimmer head more in line with their body are generally harmless, while those that have a more protruding, arrow-shaped head are more likely to be venomous.  This one had the arrow-shaped head, and seemed far more aggressive than the snakes I'm used to seeing in the garden, coiling up, spitting, and even striking at the cardboard.

Leah happened to have her camera, so we photographed it, but we weren't sure we would have time to go inside and positively ID it before it disappeared... if it did turn out to be venomous it could be a problem as I've still got lots of tall grass around the garden beds and we had a fair bit of work left to do in the garden that day.

I respect snakes and the function they perform in the local ecosystem, and have even gone out of my way to provide habitat for them in the garden beds and around the house... but I don't want venomous ones taking up residence around my garden... if somebody got bit and injured while helping me I'd feel terrible.

So we made the call to kill it.  I dispatched it quickly with the blade of my shovel.

Upon later research online, we sadly discovered that it had indeed been a variety of garter snake that does happen to have a more triangular head when small (they grow into them later), and can occasionally be aggressive when confronted or surprised.  My heart sank.

I do not take easily to harming or killing living things.  The decision to remove life cannot be revoked.  In discussing it later, Leah and I were both of a mind to better learn the characteristics of the snakes in this area, so as to not make a similar mistake in the future.

If I can, I'd like to make a small physical reminder to place in the garden bed where this occurred... not because I'm so distraught at the loss of a single garter snake, but more as a learned reminder that unfounded fear of something unfamiliar is no excuse for causing same.  "Let not my ignorance be cause for harm" seems fitting in this case, and looking back on some of the mistakes I've made here on the farm since I moved here, it's a lesson that bears repeating.

The more I learn about what's happening around me, and find myself more aware of multitude of natural exchanges and tiny interactions that get made constantly in any natural ecosystem, the more I am humbled.  By and large, things which have no place or purpose in nature do not exist, and if I cannot see the place or purpose they hold, the fault for such a failure is most likely my own.

On a lighter note, I'm beyond plussed to report that the farm will be acquiring it's first (under our ownership, at least) chickens in early May.  I found a breeder and poultry concern up the road who hatches Buckeyes (the heritage, cold-hardy dual-purpose breed that originated here in Ohio).  This will be my first time having chickens, so we're going in small at a straight run of 6 chicks.

We're just hoping not to get all roosters.

Friday, March 30, 2012

We have soil!....

Some storms came and went, but my topsoil arrived on time, and Leah ended up being able to come down for the weekend from Kent.  I bought an extra shovel, and I hope she's ready to get dirt-y, cause we've got a lot of beds to fill.  Hmm, that whole sentence sounds a bit off.

Experimented with HD video on my new phone for the first time tonight.  Inspired by Paul Wheaton's videos over at, I might try doing some short narrated clips to offer more detailed insight on the goings on around here at the farm.  I did a really short one about the burdock mini-plantation that seems to be in effect along the soggy south side of my woodshed barn.  If I can get it uploaded to YouTube, I'll post it up.

The best laid plans...

Earlier in the week it seemed we were destined for nice weather this weekend, and we might get another strong work week in on the greenhouse/outdoors.

Now the weather is hinting at thunderstorms and my normally iron-clad father is nursing a busted shoulder that will likely keep him home in Cincinnati this weekend.

But the twenty cubic yards of dirt that are likely being delivered as I type this wait for no man, and neither do the bare root trees that showed up in the mail from Stark Bros. yesterday.  The garden beds need filling if I'm going to be putting plants in them this year, and those trees need planted, pronto.

So, help or no help, I've got work to do.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Link: Biodiversity Heritage Library

In searching for the full text of an old reference from vegetable varieties from the 1920's, I stumbled across an amazing project over on the Internet Archive called the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

At first glance, it appears to be a huge collection of old (but still very useful) texts on a great variety of topics.

Some random titles from the top of the stack include:
Insects, their ways and means of living
On growth and form
Fish hatchery management (sound familiar, oh beautiful rescuer of library cards?)
Ants and some other insects; an inquiry into the psychic powers of these animals (!!!!)
Birds in legend, fable and folklore

And oh so many, many more.

In a separate post soon I will post links to a variety of more practically useful texts I have found on Internet Archive, some of which are not part of the BHL... so stay tuned for that.

This almost (almost) makes me want an eBook reader, so I can peruse this awesomeness in bed at my leisure.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring blooms

Pulled in the driveway tonight with enough light left in the day to take a quick tour of the property and see who amongst my fruit trees and bushes is budding and blooming this (sudden) spring.

The peaches are blooming hard, even the ones I planted just last summer (pictured above) .  The apricots are already falling out of bloom, and might just be big enough to take a shot at making some fruit this year without stunting their own growth.  The pears and plums are swelling into bud, and a few more plants I had written off as potential casualties appear to have pulled through another winter (I will have some replacing to do in the vineyard, however... I don't think many of the grapes I planted last year survived).

Checking my dear Leah's blog Foxglove and Folksongs, I see she too is thinking of spring tonight and posting pictures of it's resulting blooms, and has posted some seasonal prose and verse.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

This place is crawling with amphibians...


Taking the dog out for the last time last night, I paused just before opening the storm door, noticing that a frog had attached itself to the glass.  I guess the porch light was delivering a bug buffet.

Pretty little guy!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Link: "An Eerie Winter"

Kurt Cobb over at Resource Insights has many of the same misgivings I do about this winter/spring's odd weather patterns.

His piece just happens to be a lot better researched and written than mine.

Definitely worth a read.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Springtime is proceeding at full throttle!  There were garter snakes everywhere underfoot all weekend, including lots of cute little guys like this.  We had to be constantly careful when walking.

Some of the asparagus I tried to salvage from a super-late planting last year seems to have survived, and has put up one very stout looking spear.

Besides a few bouts of light rain and one severe but short-lived thunderstorm on Sunday, the weekend weather held out for us, and we got a lot accomplished on the greenhouse.  

We finished some supplemental framing work, and plywood walls are up on all four sides of the greenhouse.  I caulked all the seams through which air/heat might escape.  Trying to keep this thing as airtight as possible!

We opted to wrap the entire structure with Tyvek to serve as a moisture barrier behind the vinyl siding.

All the materials requied to finish the job are on-site.  Vinyl siding is waiting to be installed, as well as roofing sheets, felt, and shingles.

A few more weekends with decent weather, and we might just be able to finish off what has become a very long term (but very rewarding) project.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Big Greenhouse Weekend

Hoping like hell the weather holds out this weekend, as we're doing a huge push for progress on the greenhouse.

A wallet-draining materials shopping trip tonight means we'll have almost everything we need to complete the thing... after that it's just time and sweat.

Good friend Scott will be visiting the farm on Sunday as well!  We'll put him to work.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It's not May in March

The news and weather media are abuzz with the undeniable joy of a Spring season come early, even as last week's headlines of devastating weather across the country still sit in the recycling bin waiting to go out to the curb.  Unseasonably warm temperatures are sweeping across the country (20-35 degrees above Mid-March averages in much of the U.S.) this week, "vaulting us into record territory."

Setting records is something to aspire to when you're running a race, or even (god help us) competing to see how many grilled cheese sandwiches you can eat in a minute, but in this case I think it's cause for concern as opposed to celebration.

Displaying the standard myopic approach to the news, media outlets are taking the opportunity to herald the wearing of shorts and the early arrival of golf-and-barbecue season without devoting any space whatsoever to why the weather is so pleasantly odd.  The closest thing to critical analysis I've seen is a few articles on whether or not the unseasonably warm weather is goosing the national economic figures.

In all fairness, I must admit that I too am susceptible to the wiles of springtime.  It's positively lovely out there.  Trees are swelling into bud, the frogs are proudly croaking away in the woods, and it's almost too easy to forget that this time last year, I was slogging around the snow-covered back roads of Geauga county during the apex of a frosty maple sugaring season.

Trying to hold memories of that same time last year whilst walking around today produces a bout of cognitive dissonance that far exceeds my recent ill adjustment to Daylight Savings Time.  And so I'm left wondering... what's going on here?

You would think that Americans would join me in scratching their heads, especially as we collectively waltz out the other side of one of the mildest winters in recent memory (those of us whose towns weren't wiped off the map by severe tornadoes, that is).  But most people seem content to simply shrug and go on about the business of enjoying the comfort they happen to be enjoying at that particular moment, without concern for what comes next.

In a country where the subject of climate change serves as a litmus test of of ideology more often than a topic of serious debate and discussion, the most pressing issues of our time can be easily identified as the ones being most pointedly ignored by the population-at-large.  Most Americans remain hopelessly adrift on a shaky raft of misinformation, politically expedient pipe dreams and industry-funded propaganda that have little support from actual science, but whose soothing tone has reverberated deep enough to muddy the waters of any informed debate on the topic.

Put simply, people hear what they want to hear.

News comes out today that 4 million Americans will (proverbially) be underwater by the end of the century.  I have little doubt these and other numbers will be revised continually upwards, as similar such numbers have been in the past.  Not only do we have a history of underestimating such environmental impacts, but we as a species don't seem to be in any great hurry to stop or even slow the acceleration of the very behaviors that are driving such results.

I continue to hope that at some point, modern society will look up from it's own navel and finally catch the scent of something big happening all around it.  It might be too much to hope that our major news media (whose job it would seemingly be to inform the public) would aid us in that goal, as opposed to just handing us a bottle of sunscreen and commenting in a neighborly way "how nice it is outside."

I wonder if the headlines will retain their chipper tone this summer if we find ourselves in the midst of similarly record-breaking temperature trends... when the results might make us all far less comfortable than an early spring day.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

First seeds started indoors, and the Plant Hospital...

With clear skies yesterday and temps in the 70's today, it was a prime opportunity to get out and do some early spring garden prep, cleanup, and tie up some nagging loose ends from last year's gardening season.

What you see above is the area I lovingly refer to as my "plant hospital."  It's the place where the plants that I had written off as dead go when they suddenly show show signs of life come springtime.  It's also where I pot out tree seeds and volunteers from my rambling bramble collection.  So far I've "rescued" a blueberry, two elderberries, two afghani figs, and a small cadre of Cascade hops that I was pretty sure were all toast.

I had to dig up and re-pot some bramble suckers that had escaped their original pots and plantings in various places.  I've long lost the tags (some of these plants were from little root bits that remained in the soil after a flat of 4" pots had been moved), but they're all various cultivated strains of Raspberry, blackberry, and Tayberry.  They'll be fine in the pots, but I need to find a place where I can get some of them properly established without worrying about their wandering and spreading habits.

I also potted up a fair number of the paw-paw seeds that have been chilling in the fridge since last year's Ohio Paw Paw festival in the hopes to get some of them growing.  Paw paw seeds are supposed to be notoriously tricky, so this may be a long-shot... we'll see what happens.

Leah and I also got our first batches of indoor-started seeds going.  We seeded some cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and leeks.

I actually got a little sunburn on my translucent white arms today!  After thinking about being outside so much these past few dreary months, it feels amazing to actually be out there.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Learning about ollas...

Photo via threeForks

Just found this post on threeForks from a few years back about a concept I've never seen before called ollas.  Basically it's using buried unglazed terra cotta vessels as a slow-release watering device in your garden.  Seems quite simple and efficient.

I've got a ton of terra-cotta pots out in the white barn, so it'd likely be a zero-cost experiment.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Keyhole Gardening bed mimics Hugelculture...

Someone over on posted a link to this interesting article about using (what amount to) hugelculture principles to make a drought-resistant keyhole planting bed.

Good read!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

First day in the garden!

My dad and I were talking over dinner Friday night about projects, and how many I tend to take on, and how many is too many.  My mom perhaps gives me too much credit (as moms so often do) by using the analogy of Michaelangelo (the painter, not the ninja turtle) whom apparently had a tendency to take on too many projects and had to be prodded to finish older ones he had already begun.  This is me to a "T", but I think that's probably where the similarities end.

However, this weekend proved itself to be an excellent example of why it can be beneficial to have multiple irons in the fire.  Timing, weather, temperature, and circumstances often keep you from being able to work on one project or another, and having multiple projects going on at once means you'll always have something to do.

The basement is coming along nicely.  We spent the first half of the weekend chipping, scrubbing, and mopping the layers of sediment off the concrete.  It looks like they had a small flood at some point when their sump pump failed.  The previous owners (a very nice elderly couple) never used the basement for much, and so they never bothered cleaning up afterwards.  But we wanted to paint the floor, and so we needed it squeaky clean.

We rented a floor buffer/polisher and some scouring pads.  It took the better part of an entire day to get the floor clean enough to paint.

Over the course of Saturday evening and Sunday morning, we painted the floor and got a second coat of paint up on the drywall sections of the wall.  Then we headed upstairs to let things downstairs dry.

With some bonus time on our hands, amidst chilly winds and the occasional toss of snow flurries, I actually got out and about in the garden today.  I weeded the garden beds for the first time this season.  We patched some muddy ruts in the driveway with gravel left over from the greenhouse floor fill.

I prepped the "stinging nettle beds" along the sides and back of several buildings, getting them ready to harvest the nettles when they start coming up.  I also did a number with a machete on the on the wild grape plant that consistently overtakes my giant raspberry bush behind the barn in the hopes that I can actually get some fruit off it before the birds eat it this year.

Also got to digging down in a few of my raised beds, giving the ol' Hugelculture practice a try.  I dug out the garden bed about a foot below original ground level, then buried a fair bit of punky wood bits leftover from the wood shed and some charcoal from the fire pit.  Mixed in some compost and coffee grounds with the soil when I covered it back up with soil.

My understanding is that Hugelculture pits can be dicey in high-clay situations like we have here in Central Ohio, so I want to give this a try before I incorporate such practices in all the beds.

My back hurts.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My lovely, brainy and talented girlfriend has just started blogging over at

Drop by and check out what she/we are up to.

We've been graveled!


Friend Chris of next-door-neighbor Bryon stopped by yesterday with his big yellow backhoe and saved me at least an entire weekend's worth of backbreaking manual labor by moving the entire giant pile of gravel from the tail end of the driveway to the interior of the greenhouse.

Watching the guy maneuver a large vintage piece of heavy machinery with inch-by-inch precision was pretty awe-inspiring.  Now all we have to do is rake the gravel out to an even bed and we'll be good to go to start moving in the planting benches!

Would have loved to snap pics (staring down the scoop of the thing as the gravel poured out was pretty neato), but I was too busy helping Chris know where to dump the gravel and madly shoveling out space for the next scoop to be dumped.

I owe Chris a big one, and I'm beyond fortunate to have neighbors and local folks who are willing to go out of their way to help pitch in on a neighbor's project.  I hope I can repay the favor in kind.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pics of the greenhouse with all trusses installed....

A combination of lousy weather and camera difficulties mean it's been a while since we got the last of the roof trusses up on the greenhouse, and I still haven't managed to get a good picture during daylight hours.

Today presented the opportunity, and I managed to snap a few.  Next we'll be putting up the walls, then the roof and polycarbonate panels, then the siding, doors, and finishing touches.  Can't wait to get this bugger built!