Category Archives: Farmer’s Wife Life

{The Homestead Garden} Asparagus Planting – It’s a Jungle Out There

I hope all you mamas out there had exactly the weekend you wanted! Happy Mother’s Day! 

It’s Monday and I feel like I’ve been hit by a train. Apparently weeding a garden that has been left to Mother Nature for almost 10 years is no small feat. But, we’re making some serious progress and I’m not regretting undertaking the crazy project. Well, I’m not, but my back (and legs, and arms, and abs) might be. If you missed the first post in this series, click here to start a the beginning of The Homestead Garden.

Before we dive into this, here’s your daily reminder to vote for our photo in the Steamboat Then and Now contest. VOTE HERE: http://bit.ly/1W2WBPt

CQrSnTAccording to my handy dandy weekly to-do list I created based on what my Garden Planner told me, this week was for prepping and planting the asparagus beds and clearing the beds for peas, onions, and fennel.

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I’m just seeing the note about clearing the pea bed today, so … clearly that didn’t happen. But aside from that, we made some great progress! Over the course of the last week, I bought asparagus and onions to plant, cleared and planted the asparagus beds, cleared the onion, beet/fennel, and kale beds, and started building beds. Oh, and I completely redesigned the garden for the third time. Apparently I am really bad at using my steps to measure anything, so when I finally got out there with a measuring tape, my garden got even smaller. Here are the new plans – sketched out and then updated on my Garden Planner.

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Tip: I covered my garden map in a plastic sleeve to keep it from getting ruined in the garden. And, I used a dry erase marker to remind me of the planting specs for that day’s crop.

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Planting Asparagus

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Getting the asparagus in the ground was our priority because it’s supposed to be planted in early spring (May counts right??) and it takes two years to mature, so we didn’t want to wait whole year to start the process. I triangulated the tips from my Garden Planning Tool, my garden book, and the asparagus package and came up with a plan.

Plans

1. Pull all the weeds (that wasn’t in the book, I came up with that on my own #genuis #iknow).
2. Dig two rows of 5″-6″ deep trenches that were 15″ long which would accommodate ~25-30 crowns.
3. Test the soil – asparagus wants a high pH – between 7-7.5. 
4. Amend the soil if needed.
5. Put a layer of compost/manure at the bottom of the trench.
6. Place the crown roots down/crown up (you buy 1 year old asparagus called crowns) and spread out the roots. Plant them 18″ apart in rows that are at least 18″ apart.
7. Cover the asparagus with 2″ of soil.
8. Water.
9. As the asparagus grows, cover with 2″ more of soil until you’ve used up all your soil.

And, here’s how the plan actually went down.

As I was weeding (and by weeding I mean forcefully hacking at the weeds with a hoe), I heard these squeals and was freaked out about what might be on the end of my hoe. Nothing was impaled, but this tiny little rabbit came stumbling out of the ground. There ended up being a nest of teeny tiny baby bunnies in my planned asparagus bed. TimTheFarmer advised me not to touch them because our scent could scare off the mama. We guided it back into the nest with some sticks, covered them all back up, and hoped the mama would come back and move them. I weeded around them last weekend and when I came back Saturday to start digging, the nest was still there and all the bunnies were dead. 🙁 Despite knowing these bunnies would eventually come back and terrorize my garden, it was still super sad. I loaded them up on the shovel and took them into the woods. #keepingitrealfolks 

AsparagusThe bunny is still alive here…be glad I didn’t show you the shovel pic.

To add to the feeling of being in wilds of the jungle, I was seriously pulling out 8′ long vines from under the entire garden. Between the vines I fought with and the manually dug trenches, it’s no wonder I feel like I did after that one time I tried surfing (except for the full body chafing from the surfboard … so there’s that #brightside). And, because I was deep in the wild jungle, I was startled by this little guy when I went to pull the tarp off the fence to load up more weeds. I’m confident my next sighting with be a cheetah. 

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I was able to get the kiddo off his phone for 30 minutes by enticing him with doing our soil testing. A chance to dig in the mud, but not actually have to weed? For sure! It turned out our pH is perfect for all the other veggies we’re going to plant, but not alkaline enough for asparagus. So we picked up some lime and as I dug the trenches, I mixed it in to both the bottom of the trench and the dirt I was piling up. I used a regular shovel to dig the trenches and at first I was wishing we had a pick axe because the width of my trenches seemed overkill, but once the asparagus was in there with it’s roots spread out, they were perfect. Oh, it was raining while I dug the trenches … that asparagus was getting planted come hell or high water. 

Asparagus4Note: I was NOT intoxicated while digging these trenches. It’s hard to dig a straight line! (I should have put the twine up first)

TimTheFarmer brought me pig manure home from the farm (that might have been my Mother’s Day present??) #thankshoney and I laid it down in the trench. I went light with it  and mixed it in because it had some shavings in it. For the record, I have no idea if that matters … don’t forget that I’m making this whole thing up as I go. I then got to work spreading out the crowns.

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I planted them ~18″ apart, covered them with 2″ of dirt, and watered them in. Fingers crossed I didn’t completely blow it at some point of this because that was a TON of work for a crop we’ll harvest in two years! Now, on to the rest of the garden we’ll actually get to enjoy this year.

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Here are the question marks at the end of the process, which we’ll answer as the asparagus starts to grow:
– How quickly can you change soil pH? Will the lime be enough for the asparagus to thrive?
– Is old pig manure mixed with wood shavings an adequate compost/manure?
– Did I plant the asparagus too late in the spring?



{Homestead Garden} The Plans

Alright y’all, I’m about to majorly over commit to a project, so I thought it’d be a good idea to put it out there publicly. This way, if there is an epic fail at the end of the summer, everyone will know about it. You’re following my logic here, right?

The project? A homestead garden that replaces our CSA/farmer share. The reason? I’m not completely sure. We have all sorts of farms around us that could provide our vegetables and we both work (very) full-time jobs and I’m trying to complete big home makeover projects. But, our new house came with a giant, fenced-in garden that’s just begging to be used. And, if zombies take over, we’ll be ready. 

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Before

With this project, I’ll start a new series here, The Homestead Garden. Each week, I’ll post updates on our progress, tips, and lessons learned (of which, I’m confident there will be many). Now, I know what you’re thinking: Aren’t you married to a farmer?? Why would this be a challenge? Well…let me tell you.

First: I have absolutely no green thumb. I’m currently struggling to keep aloe alive. 
Second: TimTheFarmer did large scale, in-the-dirt farming on an 80 acre vegetable farm; we’re doing this in 900 square feet with raised beds and have to be super strategic with when and where we plant things. 
Third: I hate weeding. 
Fourth: I am really good at killing plants.
Fifth: our garden is current a giant bed of weeds (did you see the pic above?), so substantial prep is required.
Sixth: it’s humid here. I don’t function well in humidity. Weeding and humidity=whiny Katie. #somanythingstolookforwardtoo That hashtag for for my dad, in his style.

So, we’re going to set aside all the reasons this is a big, scary, intimidating project and focus on the fact that we’ll be growing our own food, will be producing what we eat, and will have what we need to preserve for the winter. Plus we’ll totally feel cool 😉

 

We’re drowning in produce….

A photo posted by Katie@Isn’tThatGrand? (@kt_co) on

The only other time we planted a vegetable garden, we totally winged it. We bought all our plants at once and planted them with minimal strategy.* Some worked, some didn’t, but between that lesson, watching TimTheFarmer farm, and seeing my rockstar gardener friend Gretchen garden, I’ve learned that you do need to have a plan. This weekend, with planting season upon us, was the time to plan and I dedicated an entire day to making a plan of attack. I got out our various gardening books we’ve inherited from people and pretty quickly turned to the internet to help me make a plan…who has time to read an encyclopedia to plan this out??!

Plans

After a few strikeouts, I found this sweet garden planner on The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Here are the plans:

The Food

Despite my love of the idea of a CSA model, it doesn’t fit our lifestyle. Between our paleo dietary needs (and general preferences), two VERY hungry boys, and our desire to put up food for winter, we need WAY more of some things and none of others. #talkingtoyoutatsoi We got totally spoiled the last few years because, as a farmer’s family, we could get as much of what we wanted—when we wanted—from the farm. This garden is an attempt to recreate that. Before mapping out where we’d plant things, I started with a list of what we wanted to grow. Luckily I have a pretty good sense of how much we need of what after a few years of picking-our-own at the farm. Here’s what we’re growing:

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The Layout

This is where that handy Almanac tool comes in. Not only does it map the layout for you, it tells you how many plants you’ll get in a given area. I ventured into the rain to measure the garden. I walked it out and concluded I had a 62’x42′ garden. All the space! I then spent a couple hours working out (and reworking) a layout. Once I was finally happy (tall things in on the north side, squash with room to sprawl, succession plans, lumber cost plans) I headed outside to prepare the asparagus bed (which needs to be planted yesterday). As I was walking it out, I realized after my first 3 feet, that I did not, in fact, have 39 more feet between me and the fence. Ummm….I walked it again and realized I did my math wrong. This is why that one architecture project I did in 7th grade DROVE ME CRAZY #notgoodatplanning. It turns out our garden is 42’x22′. Hmm. Well, that’s slightly smaller. I spent the next hour reworking our design and was able to get everything in there except the cauliflower and broccoli, which is ok — they are finicky and take up a lot of space. So…here’s the first attempt at a plan:

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Note: We are not doing companion planting, because we’re not really growing things that are common companion plants. In my head, this is a mini vegetable farm, not a garden…somehow that justifies this…on farms, they just plant in rows…there’s no tomatoes by beans by corn. That’s my justification. We’ll see how it goes. Thank you for listening. 

The Timeline

To keep the sense of feeling overwhelmed under control, I next turned to the handy dandy planting tool within the Garden Planner. It gives you timelines for seed and seedling planting, harvest, and tips on each plant.

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How awesome is that?! I used this to make a weekly plan for clearing parts of the garden, building beds, buying seeds and plants, and planting. We are going to do 2nd successions of lettuces, kale, carrots, beets, and fennel for fall harvest. We’ll work on that timeline once we get through the chaos of the next 6 weeks. If all goes according to plan, beds will be built and crops will be planted by mid-June. #alreadyexhausted From there we’ll install irrigation, weed, trim, harvest, and plan for the next succession.

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Note 1: We are not starting seeds, so the only seeds we’ll planting are beets, carrots, and fennel. 
Note 2: We’re planting asparagus crowns (year-old asparagus starters). In two years we’ll be able to begin harvesting them and the bed could produce for 30-50 years if properly maintained. #dedication

The Budget

Our goal is to keep the cost of this project under the cost of a full farm share which is $600 per season. I made another spreadsheet to track costs. The biggest expenses will be lumber and plants plus weed barrier. It’s looking like we’ll need around $400 worth of lumber. At this point, I have no idea how much plants will cost.  So, I’ll track costs and if we go over $600 (which I guess we will), I’ll consider the beds and weed barrier to be capital investments and spread their costs out (in my head) over a couple years 🙂 Luckily we’re on  a well here, so we don’t pay for water. 

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Ok, that’s the plan! We’ll see how this all goes come October. If you have any tips on how to arrange things, or other things I should know…please post them! I need all the help I can get here.

*TimTheFarmer would like me to point out that this was when he was Tim, not TimTheFarmer.



There’s a Fox in the Hen House – Fo’ Reelz

After working late last night (hosting a happy hour…rough, I know), my plan was to sleep in a bit this morning (nice and late…until 7ish). My sleep was interrupted around 6:30 when Taz started barking his head off. He’s great a crying wolf, so I put a pillow over my head and rolled over to try to sleep a bit more. But, he would not stop. He was losing.his.mind. I groaned and got out of bed to tell him to knock it off. As I came down the stairs I could see the piles of feathers in the yard and hear the chaos of terrified chickens. 

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After years of having chickens, I’ve learned that there are lots of things that want to eat your chickens—bears, foxes, skunks, coyotes, weasels, hawks, your FIL’s dog—so as I was standing there in my pj’s, I was searching the yard desperately to see what I was up against. At our old house, our chickens were an acre away (not a unit of distance, I know) at the top of a hill and we couldn’t see when they were under attack. Now, they’re 100 feet away, so we bear full witness to their demise. I spent this fall chasing a hawk off our chickens (literally, I actually hit it at one point), so I figured that’s what was out there, and then I saw it.

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Standing in the middle of our yard, with a chicken hanging from its mouth, was a fox. I went sprinting out the front door like a crazy person, barefoot, in my pajamas, screaming at the fox and looking for anything I could find to scare it away. I found a few rocks to throw at it and charged it. It looked at me, casually dropped the chicken (who ran off into the woods), and trotted away. It was clearly not worried about me. Realizing I couldn’t chase down a fox barefoot, I ran inside, threw on my pastel LL Bean Wellies, and ran back out to defend my flock. I was going for drama there, was that dramatic?

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The fox had looped around the house and was going in for the kill again by the coop. I kept charging at it, throwing rocks, and shouting, and it really couldn’t care less. It would drop whatever chicken it grabbed, run around the house, and come back for more. At one point, while I standing there throwing rocks and shouting, it was chasing a chicken directly at me and we ended up less than 10 feet apart. That fox has some cojones, man. 

I finally chased it down the road, but as it was running off, it found a chicken in the woods and carried away. Sad face. I figured it was distracted for a few minutes, so ran in to grab my phone and call TimTheFarmer, who was on a tractor. As I made laps around the house looking for the fox, rock in hand, TimTheFarmer shouted at me to get the rifle (remember, he was on a tractor, so I couldn’t hear him). Ummm…all the sudden I had all sort of excuses about how things were totally under control. It’s not that I’m uncomfortable with the idea of doing what we need to do, and I’m a good shot, but the problem is that I never pay attention when whomever I’m shooting with shows me how to load the gun. I pay attention long enough to safely load the gun while I’m doing target practice, but the minute we’re done, that knowledge totally goes flying out one ear. Don’t rely on me when the zombies come. I decided to stick to my rocks, and try to round up the chickens.

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At one point, it seemed like we were down to 4 chickens. I couldn’t find any more, and given how balsy the fox was about grabbing them (he grabbed 4 different ones while I was chasing him around), I figured we’d had a massacre. I slowly lured each chicken I could find back to coop (and told the chicks in the brooder to thank their lucky stars we hadn’t gotten around to getting them outside yet…they’d be toast). As I did, other chickens started to emerge from the woods. Most were too spooked for me to pick them up, but the one back there on the grill was happy to hitch a ride back to the coop. I eventually recovered 11, which means that jerkface fox only got two.

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For now, they’re all safely locked in the coop and TimTheFarmer just got home to set up the electric fence. We used to always have them fenced in, but over the winter we let them totally free range, and they were happy has clams…or free ranging chickens. Clearly it’s time to set the electric fence back up and hope they stay in. Right now, Otis and I are on lookout patrol.

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And, it’s time to destroy the nearby fox den, which should prevent him from coming back. We learned this a couple years ago when chickens kept disappearing. It turns out that foxes only build dens once a year and that they build a couple dens. If you can destroy the closest den, they’ll often retreat to their other dens and leave you alone. To destroy a den, you need break it up/demolish it, and —and this is gross, but effective—urinate on and around it to establish that it’s not their territory any longer. This is what boys are for. We’ll also hang some vinegar-soaked sock balls around the coop area which also can keep foxes away. 

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Is it bad that as I was chasing away a fox with one of our chickens in its mouth, I thought, “Well, at least this will be a good story for the blog.”?