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Save, Save, Save your Seeds

August 30, 2012

Where, oh where to begin?

It’s been more than 10 whole days since I’ve written a post (and since the first batch of Meat Kings have been slaughtered. Tear.) My time at Fresh Earth Farm is quickly coming to an end and thus I have spent my time writing cover letters rather than blog posts. Yay! Sort of.

Much has happened and grown. Vegetables have been harvested, fruits preserved, and seeds are now in the process of being dried and saved.

The whole process of saving seed is fascinating and differs greatly with each plant type. There is so much to know and it is explained quite nicely here.

Similar to lettuce, mustard greens put up a flowering stalk each with pretty yellow flowers. Each flower becomes a pod bearing seeds. It takes several weeks for the seeds to ripen, but it is worth the wait. Why buy seeds when the plants give them to you for free.

When the pods are dry they break open quite easily. So I suggest holding a bag or bucket under the pods as you remove them from the stalk. I used scissors to cut off the pods, but you could simply rub the pods and let the seeds fall into a bag or bucket.

Mustard green seeds a plenty!

For effective seed saving and storage, one needs a seed packet.

Nothing like recycled paper and electrical tape. Remember to name and date your packets.

Happy seed saving!

Ode to the Kings

August 19, 2012

Dear Kings,

Just yesterday you were breathing and now all that remains is your flesh. It breaks my heart to see you all go, your coup is now empty and the freezer is full. Please know that I never intend to eat you or any of your animal friends. I see no difference between creatures of land, sky or sea and me.

Rest in peace.

The BEST Tool For Starting Seeds: The Soil Block

August 16, 2012

The summer CSA is well underway. Plenty of delicious and colourful vegetables are growing in the garden and in the greenhouse, with more on the way.

Image

Gardening requires a lot of planning and preparation, which is why we’ve started sowing seeds for the winter CSA. With the help of the wonderful Eliot Coleman‘s book, The Winter Harvest Handbook, we are learning the ways of winter farming.

For a successful winter harvest, cold-hardy vegetables must be planted. There are about thirty vegetables that can tolerate cold temperatures. Turnips, chard, leeks, kohlrabi, red russian kale, pak choi, winterbor kale, and mesclun lettuce are some of vegetables being planted.

In addition to being more winter harvest savvy, we now have a great tool for starting seed: The Soil Block. This amazing piece of metal makes 2″ square blocks with a nice little hole on top in which to place your seed of choice.

To make the soil blocks, you need to make a soil block mixture. Our recipe is as follows:

  • 3 parts compost
  • 3 parts soil (from the garden)
  • 4 parts potting soil
  • a sprinkle of limestone (~1/4 c.)
  • 2 parts warm water

To successfully make soil blocks, follow these easy steps.

Mix all your ingredients in a bucket.

Make a rectangular mound.

Push down on the mound, then press down on the handle to make a hole on top.

And there you have it, four seed blocks.

A perfect fit. The last step is to cover the hole with your already made soil mixture.

Benefits of seed blocking are endless. The seedlings will experience less transplant shock and will grow roots more rapidly. You want a seed block now, don’t you?

An Abundance of Apples!

August 14, 2012

Summer just got better. It is not yet autumn and apples are aplenty in Albert County. Apples are ready to harvest, and eat, when they begin to fall off the tree. My are they falling! There  are a bunch of apple trees at Fresh Earth Farm, but they aren’t quite ready.

 

This apple tree, however, belongs to a lovely lady, Diana, down the road. She is so lovely that she let us pick from her tree. Thanks, Diana!

This tree has been a source of happiness and abundance. There might be more apples under the tree than on the tree at this point. They are delicious, free and organic. Apples are one of the dirty dozen, so be weary.

The apples we picked are Yellow Transparents, an heirloom from Russia. The skin is pale and yellow, while the flesh is crispy and juicy. If Granny Smith and Golden Delicious were to have a baby apple, this would be it, or close to it.

If it weren’t for ladders we would have to wait until the apples fell. Once apples fall off the tree they don’t store well. Apple sauce is a great way to use up a ton of apples. We’ve made three batches in the crock pot already!

I’m not one for sugar water beverages that go by the name of juice, but when it comes to homemade juice from a juicer, oh man! I’ve been making juice almost daily since we picked the apples.

Here is my brew (recipe): 

6 apples (cored)
5 leaves of swiss chard
1/2  cucumber

Juice it and enjoy immediately. It’s that simple. (If only I had an image…)

I could bake apple crisp, but then I’d eat it all. I made two dozen cookies yesterday and now there are only two left. Yes, I had some help, but I think I ate fifteen today. I’m going for a run tomorrow, and every day after that and I won’t be baking cookies any time soon.

 

Mmmmmmm…. Apples! August Apples!!!!!!!

Freecycling: A Great Way to Keep Good Stuff Out of Landfills

August 10, 2012

There’s nothing like driving down the road and finding treasure in other people’s trash. No matter where we’re going, Ryan scans for goods left at the side of the road. A great way to save on cash, or not spend cash at all, and reduce waste! Yippy!

Some time ago, Ryan and I were on our way home and lone behold there was a dilapidated desk at the edge of the road. Garbage? Most certainly not. At Fresh Earth Farm, nothing goes to waste! We sure struggled getting that desk in the back of the truck, mostly because I have zero upper body strength, but it was worth all the effort and the splinter in my finger.

Though the desk was in no condition to enter the humble abode, it is serving three purposes outdoors.

1. A portion of the desk was cut with something sharp (the name of the tool has escaped me…ha!) and nailed to part of a tree trunk to make the coolest table ever.

 

2. What were once drawers of a desk are now two little raised beds.

 

3. The remaining bits (or lots) will be used for outdoor fires, which can only mean fun, fun, fun.

If you are into reducing waste and free stuff, cause who isn’t, check and see if there is a Freecycle Network near you.

Tomatoes Plants Have Crotches

August 7, 2012

I know little about growing vegetables and I’m not afraid to say it. I will even shout it from a mountain top. What I do know is that one must sow seeds according to the instructions on the seed package and the zone in which you live, water the plants, remove weeds and mulch to help prevent weeds from sprouting which also helps to keep the soil moist. Seems simple enough, but there is more to it.

For the past few weeks, maintaining the greenhouse has been my responsibility. It’s fun stuff, seriously. Watering and watching plants grow has become one of my favourite pastimes.

This is the greenhouse in mid July. See the window in the background?

This is the greenhouse today. The window can barely be seen. You would think that all this growth is amazing, I sure did.

I thought I was doing a great thing by watering the tomato plants, which I was, but I didn’t realize that at times they need pruning. It wasn’t until my amazing friends, Adrienne and Steph, came for a visit (and also know WAY more about plants than I do) and told me about a little thing called a sucker.

This is a sucker and it really sucks. They grow in the crotch of tomato plants. That’s right, tomato plants have crotches. And in those crotches, suckers grow. These suckers must be removed. If they aren’t, then you will experience complete and utter chaos, which can be seen below.

Not an ideal situation here.

Tomato suckers are side shoots that, if left unpruned, will eventually become another main stem with branches, flowers, fruit, and even more suckers. Though suckers lead to more fruit, they also compete for nutrients with the original plant giving you smaller fruit and a chaotic plant. Do not go overboard and remove all the suckers because this can lessen your yield.

Tomatoes are categorized as either determinate or indeterminate. The latter are “vining” tomatoes that can grow up to 10′ tall and produce tomatoes all season. Growers, myself excluded, do not let their tomatoes vine because the plants become heavy and out of control. Yup. I seem to be learning things the hard way, but I am learning nonetheless.

I must give credit where it’s due, you can read more about suckers here, where I got much of my information.

Happy Gardening!

The Cucumber Conundrum

August 2, 2012

A lot is happening in terms of growth (and eating) in the greenhouse. The plants are now enormous and have completely taken over, while the resident slugs and snails, though unwelcome, continue to make their way into the greenhouse to eat the plants’ leaves and blossoms.

I love observing this growth, though maneuvering around the plants with a hose in hand for watering, whilst trying not to damage the plants, has become a cu-cumbersome task.

The cucumbers (on the right) have been growing since May and have, until today, taken over the stone walkway. A bit of an issue, though one that can easily be resolved.

It never occurred to me to redirect their growth, until I had nowhere to walk.

Ta-da! The path has been cleared. I suggest doing this BEFORE things get out of hand as it was not easy trying to untangle the beautiful mess of cucumbers. Their tendrils wrapped around the peppers and hanging tomatoes. The snails and slugs were definitely in paradise since it became increasingly difficult to find them beneath the ever increasing number of heart-shaped leaves.

Awww, look at the little baby (cucumber). Though adorable, they have not seen much growth. Why? Because there are no bees to pollinate the little lassies. To remedy the situation, we’ve resorted to hand pollination.

A cucumber plant has both male and female flowers. The female flower has a tiny cucumber growing behind it (which, sadly, is missing, most likely due to a slug!), while the male does not.  (For images and more information on identifying cucumbers.)

A Q-Tip being put to great use. We gathered some of the pollen from the male…

…and transferred it to the female.

Despite doing this, the minuscule cucumbers have yet to grow. WHY? Perhaps the male flowers need to be removed, or more frequent hand pollination needs to happen.

One thing I do know is that I want to built a cucumber trellis outdoors next year!  This would provide the plant with something with which to wrap its tendrils around, and the bees would pollinate the female flowers. Less work for me!

Look how amazing that is. I did not take this picture, by the way. You can read all about how to make a cucumber trellis here. This is an easy DIY project that anyone can take on. Go for it.