Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dream a little dream

It snowed this morning.  Generally here in the South, snow is a novelty, an "oh boy dust off the boots and the winter coats, its time to make snow cream and snow soup (a specialty of my dad's!)" kind of novelty.  But this morning, as I rolled out of bed and stumbled to the window I sighed as I saw the little fluffy flakes...not again!  This winter has been a strange one for us here in NC.  Colder than normal, snow or rain almost every weekend and mud, mud, mud.  Enough already...I am ready for Spring.

This is that time of year where I get really antsy.  I start planning the garden in my head and perusing seed catalogs...thinking of the landscape and longing for crocs and garden gloves.  This year in particular I can't stop thinking about our expanded garden space, our plans for the chickens, and the new addition of bees!  There is so much swimming around in my head and I can't wait to put it to good use when Spring comes around. 

I know "hate" is a strong word, but I almost hate this time of year...the time of year when you have (and want) to start thinking of Spring but you can't do anything about it.  I am a planner, and when I can't put my plans in action they take over.  I read about gardening and yard work, I plan gardening and yard work, and I even dream about it....yes, this time of year, almost every night, my dreams are filled with some sort of Springtime plans. 

For example, Hubby and I, well let me rephrase that...I want to get some bantam chicks this Spring to add to our flock.  About a month ago, I needed to get chicken food for our full grown layers.  The night before I was thinking of the new chicks and had a dream about buying chicken food for the chicks (that we don't have yet).  Well, being that my thoughts are all consumed with my plans, I actually went to the feed store the next day and bought the layer crumble (for chicks) instead of the layer pellets (for our adults).  Not realizing my mistake until I returned home, our layers had to eat crumble for the next month or two.  No harm done, but really?  Can I not stop thinking about Spring long enough to buy the right chicken feed?

I imagine Spring would come and go as normal and our garden would flourish whether or not I started planning, thinking, and dreaming in January or planning, thinking, and doing in late March.  Sometimes I wish I could quiet my mind and not think about the garden or anything Spring until it is time to actually do it (my hubby is good at this)!  But I also think that the planning and dreaming gets me through the cold dreary days of winter and helps me appreciate even more the signs of early Spring.  

Monday, February 22, 2010


Progress is being made.  Progress by hubby and myself on our small construction projects and progress by Nature in preparing for Spring!


Hubby pulling the fence around the posts



Fence pullin' contraption....nuf' said...


Finished fence, except for gate which will go between those two posts in the right of the picture.


Raised bed in front of chicken pen.  This is strictly for growing veggies for chicken food.  Yes I know they are spoiled...but the eggs they spit out are my food so I want them to eat the best they can get!

After Hubby finished pulling the fence today, we closed up the gate "hole" with extra fencing and put the chickens in the garden space. Mind you, our chickens are not used to be handled, at all.  They are somewhat tolerant when you get ahold of them, but catching them is a different story.  
 I was given the job of catching the hens in their pen and transporting them to the garden space.  This worked well, as their pen space is relatively small, and I only ended up with a small scratch.  Getting the chickens out of the garden and back to their pen, required a towel and lots of running around like a chicken myself!  A sight many would pay to see I'm sure!  
 But the chickens seem to love the new space and we are happy to give it to them until the garden is planted.  Kyra (our Shepard) was not so happy about the chicken transfer.  She doesn't do well with change and she was not sure what to think about the chickens running around in the garden instead of being in their rightful place. 

Check out this link to see a video of happy chickens in the garden!

And last but not least, nature's progress...


My Lenton Rose is blooming after inches of snow and cold weather!  Yay for Winter blooming plants!


Look very, very closely and you will see the little bit of green from an Early Spring Bulb (not sure which ones I planted here!)
Here's to progress!

Friday, February 19, 2010


We finally have some green around our house!  We started hot pepper seeds mid-January and lettuce seeds late January.  The peppers are coming along nicely and the lettuce seedlings are ready to go outside as soon as it gets a tad warmer.  I have committed myself to wait until March 1st to put the lettuce in the container garden.  As much as I want to put them outside now, I know that my luck we will have some hard freezes before they get hardy and my poor lettuce seedlings will kill over.  So here's to patience!  I can't help but want to hurry Spring along with a gentle hand and boot those seedlings outside to get growing...but patience I can muster up, and patience I will have!  Here are some pics of our seedlings.  Hooray for green!

 Lettuce seedlings growing in egg shells!  Knew those chickens were good for more than just eating the eggs!

Pepper seedlings 

 Happy Hot Peppers!

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Great Blackberry Caper of 2010

So hubby and I visited his folks at their house in Western Carolina this weekend.  The snow was outrageous and so beautiful.  Well, beautiful for those of us got to leave it behind on Sunday as another 4-6 inches was dumping on top of the 12 inches already on the ground.  Not so beautiful for his folks who have to live and work in it! 

All that aside, we haven't been to their home in a few months and we were long overdue for the quiet woods and seclusion of their house.  They live on top of a mountain in a completely off-grid solar home.  Their lot is mostly surrounded by State Forest Land and other large wooded lots with houses.  The view from every angle is beautiful and the air is silent.  We weren't expecting so much snow, but aside from getting stuck in the driveway and having to "suit" up every time we went outside, it was a great trip. 

While visiting with his folks, we had planned on finding some blackberry bushes to bring home.  Hubby's dad had a stand of wild blackberry bushes just off the top of their driveway, so in the deep snow and cold air, we set out to accomplish the Great Blackberry Caper of 2010.

The caper begins here at home where hubby and I had decided to cut down some fir trees growing behind our garden.  The purpose was two-fold, the trees were partially blocking where we are going to build hubby's shed and they were growing in a precious sunny spot in our yard.  We (and when I say we, I mean my hubby as he cut down and drug away all the trees) left a row of 3 small trees to continue to provide a visual barrier between our yard and that of our neighbor's.  These trees will come down in the fall and be replaced with some that are slightly more aesthetically pleasing and useful.  But in the meantime, we decided to plant a blackberry patch in the space between the garden and the remaining trees.  Hubby loves some blackberries and I would have to say that this girl is pretty fond of them too.  We also figure this is one way we can add to our plants from which we produce food. 

Instead of purchasing bushes from a nursery we decided to swipe some from the folks-in-law.  Their blackberry bushes handle cold weather and extreme winds, and are currently growing in little to no soil on a rock face.  This created a formula for an interesting experiment.  How will these bushes do when planted using compost and pruned yearly?  Will they flourish and be manageable?  Because our fir trees have left behind trunks and roots, we figure these blackberry bushes may be able to compete a little better than the more delicate ones we would purchase.

Of course, we were not expecting 8 inches of snow on top of 4 inches from the previous weekend, equaling more than a foot in places where the snow had not melted.  Lucky us, the blackberries were growing in shallow soil so we decided that digging them out of the snow was not going to be all that hard.  We suited up and headed out to the rock face in the 15 degree weather.  Believe it or not it did not feel nearly as cold as it does here when the temperature is so low. 
briar-patch.  We trimmed off the old canes.  Many of the plants have new canes, which will produce fruit this year.  We cut these back a little but left some with the hopes of getting a little bit of fruit this year.  Here is a picture of Hubby digging up some of the bushes.
We placed the roots in landscaping pots and covered the pots in snow to insulate from the cold night coming up.  

We loaded the bushes in the truck and brought them home the next day.  Today, at home, I placed the plants in the leaf litter to cover their roots.  I hope to plant them in the ground tomorrow.  We are hoping that these bushes will take off this summer and give us lots and lots of juicy blackberries next year.  Stay tuned for more on the Great Blackberry Caper of 2010...

Here are some other pictures from the snowy weekend!


Friday, February 5, 2010

Garden Party

Hubby and I are coming up on our 4th Spring in our home.  For us this means the first year we really expect to get a good veggie garden.  Generally it takes about 3 years in one location to really figure out what grows well in your soil.  Our first year of veggie gardening here at this house was successful, all things considered.  We had a small garden that provided enough food to eat fresh veggies here and there.  But we kinda went crazy with trying way to many different types of veggies.  We ended up with just a little of a large variety of foods...think 6 green beans, a cuke, a zucchini, and 2 tomatoes at a time, you gotta be a lot more creative than me to make something out of that!

Our first year we experimented with starting seeds inside and transplanting them to the garden.  This was relatively unsuccessful, as most of the seedlings didn't transplant well and we had to direct sow later in the Spring.  Our efforts did yield a decent garden and the dogs provided us with pest control (rabbits and deer beware!).  We tried a variety of veggies, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, cantaloupe, edamame, green beans, zucchini, basil, and summer squash.  This was our year of experimenting and learning...and lots of learning we did!

Our second year gardening we did direct sow of almost all of our seeds.  The more fragile plants, such as tomatoes and peppers, we purchased from a local FFA plant sale.  Also, we started our first crop of hot peppers, direct sowing them outdoors in pots when the last frost was over.  We also staggered the planting of our beans to get a longer crop, mulched the garden to help with weeds and added compost from our compost bin. 

Learning from our previous experiment, we planted several tomatoes, peppers and beans, 2-3 cantaloupe, 2-3 watermelon, one squash and one zucchini plant, edamame, and basil.  What we didn't expect is an influx of slugs and insect pests (guess they found the garden) and good for nuthin' lazy dogs.  As the slugs devoured all of our young seedlings and the rabbits realized the dogs couldn't (or wouldn't) see them until they were in the safety of the garden, we became extremely discouraged and the prospects of getting a good crop slowly slipped through our fingers!

At the end of the season we did get a decent harvest of basil, tomatoes, and peppers.  We maybe got one batch of green beans and the rest were eaten by that wascally wabbit!  Our zucchini would flower and not produce fruit, which we could only assume was because of lack of pollination (fixing this problem and that of all of our neighbors' gardens by adding a bee hive this Spring).  We did get cherry tomatoes, salad cukes, and hot peppers that were grown in pots on the porch.  Overall we harvested enough food to eat during the summer, but not nearly enough to store food for the winter.

So...this year is gonna be different!  This is the year we conquer the slugs and the rabbits.  This is the year we grow and store for winter.  This is the year of the garden. 

We started last Fall.  Hubby expanded the garden space and we dumped leaves and chicken litter in the new plot.  About a month ago the process of building a new fence around the garden begun.  Previously we had just strung an electric wire around the garden to keep the dogs out, assuming the dogs would keep the rabbits and deer out (which we learned wasn't as effective as the rabbits are apparently smarter than the dogs).  Now, our fence will be a 4ft Red Brand Livestock Fence to keep the critters out.  Although the recent wet weather and snow has put a damper on our preparations for the garden, we expect to have it tilled under and fenced in by late March. 

Our fence posts...hubby is waiting for the ground to dry to pull the fencing.

Our plan is to attack the slugs as they emerge from eggs by relocating the chickens to the garden for the month or two before the last frost.  Now that we will have a fence around the garden, the chickens will be safe from our local prowess Kyra (wondering why she would eat a chicken in a heartbeat but wont chase the rabbits!).  These daily romps in the garden will allow the chickens to eat weeds as they sprout and eat slugs as they emerge!  Once we plant the seedlings, the chickens will be banned from the garden except under strict supervision until the plants are large enough to handle chicken beaks!  I am sure there will be some time during the chicken banning that you could catch me out in the garden picking slugs off the plants, what a site that will be!  Not exactly a spectator sport...but you are welcome to bring your lawn chairs and laugh at me as I get grossed out by slimy slugs!   

Our garden plan this year includes a Spring, Summer, and Fall garden.  The Spring garden will be carrots, lettuce, and spinach grown in pots on the porch.  The Summer garden will consist of bell peppers, tomatoes, pole beans, bush beans, edamame, cantaloupe, one zucchini plant, and pickle cukes in the garden.  In pots we will have cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, salad cukes, and baby watermelons.  Come Fall you will find spinach, collards, me planting garlic, and possibly late crops of green beans and tomatoes.

This year our focus is to grow a lot of what we can store for winter foods and a little bit of things that we enjoy in the summer (watermelons, cantaloupes, and salad cukes).  I have been reading a lot of inspiring books about homesteading and living off local home grown foods.  We are not trailblazers by any means and I would not call myself righteous about these things, but I have found that growing our own food and supporting local agriculture makes me happy and gives me a sense of sustainability.  Not to mention the healthy aspects of growing your own food or understanding where your food comes from.  I can tell you that as a diabetic I see a marked improvement in my blood sugars when I eat fresh, unprocessed foods.  Because of diabetes I have the benefit of seeing the direct effect foods have on our bodies, and fresh foods make the grade.  This of course makes perfect sense to most of us, but I wonder why more folks haven't joined this Garden Party. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bluegrass, Baking, Snow and Seedlings

So this weekend has been one of many firsts....I will start with the one that prompted some things and prevented others!

This weekend we had our first and probably last big snow of the 2009-2010 winter season.   A winter storm hit central NC on Friday night and dumped about 6 inches here in our area.  Nice fluffy snow, topped off with a layer of sleet.  Perfect for sledding!  I love it when it snows, it is so quiet and beautiful.  But, because we live in the South, snow pretty much shuts down everything.  Schools close, places of work close, and the roads are treacherous since our Department of Transportation isn't exactly prepared for any amount of snow over an inch. 

The chickens just ventured out of their house today after I shoveled the snow from their pen and put down layers of fresh, dry straw....spoiled girls!  The pups have been extra hyper, something about the snow that makes them super excited.  The wild birds have devoured every last seed in the feeder.  This beautiful, fluffy snow meant me and the hubby would spend the entire weekend at home, inside, neglecting the many things that need to be done outside to prepare for Spring.  So this lead me to...

The first time I have made homemade bread.  It started on Friday.  I picked up The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book from the library.  This book has detailed step-by-step instructions on how to make bread from scratch.  It even goes into details about how the bread should look and feel at every stage of the process.  It's like having another person, a bread-making genius, in the kitchen with you!  So, on Friday I slaved away over the hot stove (this is what I tell my hubby) to make my first loaf of whole grain bread.  To my surprise my first loaf turned out perfect and yummy!  I even went as far as to make french toast for the hubby on Sat morning with the homemade bread.

Of course, being holed up in the house all weekend...I couldn't stop at one loaf!  So on Sunday, while the snow was still holding fast, I tried a different recipe....Whole Grain Pesto Bread.  Now I am not usually one to brag, but I am too proud of myself!  These loaves turned out great!  Not bad for a girl on her first bread-making adventure! 

I also made some black-eyed pea soup and cornbread (can't take credit for the cornbread, comes in a mix add egg, etc you get the drift)!  But cooked in a cast iron skillet, makes all the difference.  That's a well seasoned pan there (almost got it all out in one piece!)

Other firsts this weekend....Hubby's band The Rye Mountain Boys had their maiden gig scheduled for this weekend, Sat night, when everything was shut down and snowed gig had to be rescheduled, but I got to listen to the hubby practice in the house most every evening.  This is a rare occasion, as he is usually in his music room, but practicing by the fire must have been more appealing to him!  So as he practiced and I made bread, I couldn't help but think this was what we were meant to music and make food.  Seems kinda crazy but I figure we were both equally happy with ourselves at that moment. 
Ah yes, and I can't forget...our first seedlings of the year!  We have officially started the growing season here in our household.  Under grow lights we have lettuce seedlings pushing their way through and our hot peppers just started rearing their hot little heads last night!  We usually straight sow everything in the garden except the hot peppers.  This year we are also trying our hand at a early spring garden with lettuce and carrots. 
So a weekend of firsts, and what a wonderful weekend it was.  Schools are still closed today and tomorrow, hubby worked from home, and I, well I don't have a "day job" so I just did the usual.  As we "recover" from the "massive snow storm" and things are slowly thawing out, I feel like Spring can't come fast enough.  I long for the warm days and all of the green that comes with Spring but I do actually enjoy the slowness of Winter.  Sometimes I think we forget how quickly things change.  Before we know it Spring will be knocking us upside the head with flowering Red Maples, seedlings galore, garden chores, bluegrass gigs and festivals, and a long list of work we will never finish.  That's when we will look back on weekends like these and long for the slowness of Winter.