And They’re Off……

The currently planted seeds germinated sometime between Friday and Saturday night, with most of them now up.  Our only problem seems to be the Slim Jim eggplants – germination rate appears to be 6 out of 18, one of them a double (we put 2 seeds in each cell then pull the less-robust plant as they get bigger.)  J is vaguely irritated with Pine Tree Seeds, our seed-supplier of choice – last year we had a problem with the red pepper plants where the first batch never germinated, the second batch only gave us five plants, and we only grew two peppers all season and they both rotted before picking.  This might be the year they get a note about the seed problem.  I hope it’s not a repeat of last year’s pepper debacle.  I picked the new type of eggplants (we are also growning another type, but these are leftover seeds from last year) because it’s got a fast growth rate and I was looking to have an early harvest of eggplants (Slim Jims) before the later summer eggplants.  Thereby guaranteeing I will be completely sick of eggplant by late August.

In other news, this morning we were invaded by birds.  This is secondhand information, mind you, because I leave the house so early I never see or hear any of our feathered friends because they are not yet awake.  Apparently they caused quite a ruckus:

This reminds me, I should start thinking about a scarecrow for the back 40, so the little buggers don’t eat all the seeds we put in.

Do not get them wet….do not feed them after midnight….

So there has been a misunderstanding back at the farm.  J thought I called the tractor rusty, not the rototiller.  He agrees that the rototiller is rusty.  In fact, both of them are, one just a little less so.


Just before my last post J found another identical rototiller on Craig’s List, this one in better shape than the original.

This one has all the parts, belts, dodads and thingamajigs that make it run.  In other words, the purchasing of parts to actually make the thing work is probably not necessary, unlike the original:

So the new plan is to cannibalize the original one for parts and use the new one.  Apparently these rototillers are no longer produced, making it extremely difficult to get parts (except for things like belts.)  Or so I’m told.  All I know is, my garage is beginning to look vaguely like a used John Deere parts department.

In case you’re wondering why the new one looks so much larger than the old one, apparently Rusty has already had parts removed and stored.  It does look pretty sad sitting next to the newer, better kept model, doesn’t it?

In other news, the eggplant and pepper seeds were planted this weekend (3/13), and are currently under the light in the basement, 16 hours a day.

It is a bit like watching paint dry until they actually sprout.

Brown eggs are local eggs….

Last week J met a really interesting guy who sold him another rototiller.  (More on that later.  It was a very smart purchase, even if my garage does now look like a John Deere accessories dealership.)  Somehow the conversation turned to chickens, a topic that gets kicked around my house occasionally.  This guy had been doing a lot of research on chickens and told J a lot of what he’d learned.  Apparently his family had decided on Dominique chickens because they are less agressive than other breeds, produce more eggs, etc.  What really intrigued J, however, is the fact that chickens are known for their voracious consumption of bugs, and deer ticks in particular.  I hate deer ticks.  I may or may not have chronic Lyme disease, but I definitely have a deep hatred for deer ticks and their propensity to carry Lyme.  I’m just not sure I hate the ticks enough to agree to get chickens.

I like the idea of chickens in theory, but the practical application of them could be a nightmare.  One, we have two free-range cats that live next door (Max and Lily) who spend a lot of time in our yard.  Two, you have to clean up after chickens, and I’m just not sure I want to get involved in that.  Three, who will tend to the chickens if we’re away?  Somehow I cannot see my mother doing this.  And we have a house sitter that we love, but she has a somewhat unreliable schedule and often isn’t there every night.  You are supposed to collect eggs twice a day, never mind make sure the chickens have food and water.  Fourth, I don’t see myself being enthusiastic about going out to the coop to collect those eggs and manage the chickens twice a day in the dead of winter, or especially not when there’s a snowstorm, as there was every three days for about two months this winter.  Finally, hens get old and must be dispatched.  Would we really feel comfortable butchering and eating something that we had raised? 

On Saturday my equally-agressive-gardener cousin J dropped by and announced she wanted to get chickens.  I think our fresh egg problem has just been solved.  I can drive two towns over and pick up eggs every few weeks, and she can deal with the twice-a-day egg collection, mess and neighborhood menaces.  She can handle anything, she has three children.

When we’re not gardening, I’m reading about gardening

Or, in this case, farming, which to me is the ultimate hard-core act of sustainable living.  A few weeks ago I read a great memoir called The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball.  She was a NYC writer in a rent-controlled apartment who met a self-taught farmer while on a writing assignment, fell for him, and move to upstate New York to start a farm from the ground up.  The book covers the good and the bad, talking about the fun of making your own cheese with the worry about money when your bank account reads nearly zero.  She doesn’t romanticize or sugar coat the hard work that she and her fiance (now husband) put into starting a farm from scratch, but you get the sense that she truly feels its worth it – she’s traded the security and lifestyle of NYC for a simpler life where they grow their own food and were able to develop a year-round CSA model that provides a complete diet to their members – they have bees, chickens, pigs, cattle and dairy cows.  They even use draft horses to plow the five acres in which they grow vegetables.  It got great reviews online, and I picked it up thinking, “Even when the garden expansion seems overwhelming, it will never be as much work as this.”  Heck, we don’t even have pets, never mind dairy cows that need milking or pigs we have to slaughter.

There’s a plan to start some of the seeds this weekend, requiring a trip out to pick up some new supplies.  J has some new things he wants to try, namely grow lights.  We’ve already been using covered trays and seed mats for heat.  This year we also have a new baker’s rack, assembled and waiting in the basement.  We’ll have more trays of seedlings this year, based on the expanded, ambitious garden plans, and it will be easier to move them from their daytime home on the sun porch back into the kitchen if we have the rolling rack.  The tentative plan is to start the eggplants and peppers now, staggering the rest of the seeds (tomatoes, squash) based on our target planting date of Memorial Day weekend.  We’re currently debating whether to put the peas, beans and cucumbers directly into the ground or not.  We did decide that the corn, pumpkins and watermelons are going directly into the ground one to two weeks before our big planting weekend.  J is planning on creating furrows in the garden and we’re going to buy hay for insulation during the germination period.  In the past we’ve used weed block, but last year’s heat and dry weather shredded the material and we ended up weeding once a week anyway.  We’re going to try and keep the weeds down with the hay and some good old-fashioned hoeing.  I also think it’s an excuse for him to buy some other piece of equipment to attach to the tractor for the plants in the open field.  Did I mention that we might need to build a new and larger shed this year? 

Tonight the alpine strawberry seeds are going in the freezer – in order to mimic nature and what they would experience if they were outside all winter it is recommended you stick them in the freezer for 4 -6 weeks prior to planting.  I have been reminding myself for weeks that I need to do this, and finally decided tonight was the night; it will be easier to remember the date I did it since today is the start of the month.  Depending on the rate of germination, I might sow them directly into the raised beds that have yet to be constructed, or I might start seedlings in about a month.  My research shows they can be somewhat susceptible to frost, so they’ll be going in the ground around Memorial Day either in seed or seedling format. 

A lot of this is guess work and trust in others’ research and experiences.  Our favorite phrase around here is, “It’s an experiment.”  So far it’s worked out fine (except for those blasted pumpkins!) but I can’t help but feel at some point there will be a failure.  We’ll see.  It’ll probably be those strawberries I’ve spent so much time thinking about.  They’ll probably get frostbite in my freezer.