Tag Archive | gardening

Still Learning

I wanted to set the record straight, right here and right now.  I know nothing about Homesteading! My husband and I have a dream.  We want to be food indepenant.  We want to live simplier lives and be good stewards of the gifts that we have been given.  This dream has grown and changed over the years leading us to where we are now, a small homestead.  Our dream has been fueled by fellow bloggers, Mother Earth News, YouTube, food sensitivities and a general love for dirt among other things. After growing food, composting, raising chickens, rabbits and fish for the past 3-5 years, I think it is still safe to say we have no idea what we are doing. 
I watched a documentory about Market Gardening and the woman said “how do you become an expert at something you only every do, maybe 50 times”.  That really resinated with me. Think about it, we are in our 30’s right now, if I grow potatoes for the next 50 years I will have only grown potatoes 50 times.  It is said that it takes doing something 30 times for it to become a habit.  How many times do you have to do something to become an expert? I am certain that I will never stop learning and I will never be an expert.
Now that we own our dream homestead, everything we are doing is new.  Even silly things like planting in the ground… I have never done that.  The only successfull gardening I have ever done has been in raised beds.  I do not know how to plant seeds in the ground!  This year is a perfect example of that inexperience.  All of our plants died.  I did not know to ask the previous farmer how much fertilizer he put on the field this Spring.  Who would know to ask that, it was just field grass. Well, weeks before we took over the property, he put the strongest fertilizer you can buy on the land and killed all my seedlings.  I just thought, “wow, you are really bad at this planting in the ground stuff”.

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Currently, we have 46 chickens and 7 ducks.  I have never owned this many chickens.  I honestly have no idea what I am doing.  We have read all the books, gone to workshops, researched online, but when it comes down to it, we have never done this before.  At this point I am just praying we do not get the bird flu and lose all our birds.
Within 3 weeks of closing on the farm, I decided it was the perfect time to get baby goats.  We have never owned baby goats, we had no structure to keep them in and no fences, we obviously needed goats.  I know nothing about goats, this is a fly by the seat of your pants, learn as you go operation.  With a lot of hard work from my husband, I can now say the goats have a great run in building and a fenced in yard. Currently are doing very well, but I have no idea what winter will bring.
Before closing on the farm, I contacted a pig breeder, because what you really need when you move to a farm with no buildings and no fences and no idea what you are doing, is pigs.  The pigs arrived a month after the goats and here it is 1120 at night and I am up researching how to raise pigs.  They are currently 5 months old, some people would have tried to figure things old before they bought them, but I am a fly by the seat of your pants kind of girl.

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So consider this your warning.  If you are coming here for experience and absolute education, this is not the site for you.  If you would like to come along side my family as we learn, please take my hand and we can jump in together. 

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Tomato Sauce

I think that I have finally found a recipe for tomato sauce that works for us and that I just love. I am honestly writing this post for me just as I am writing it for you. I have a very bad habit of tweeking a recipe to get it just the way I like it and then forgetting what I did. I am writing to down now for all the world to see so that I do not forget it.

As you know I do not have as much of a garden as I would like. I get a couple pounds of tomatoes a week but never 45 pounds like the Ball recipe calls for to make tomato sauce. I have created a recipe that uses just 6 pounds of tomatoes. I call it a recipe for normal people. It makes two quart jars of sauce. It is not as much sauce as the big recipes make, but it is the best way for me to preserve my harvest and enjoy tomato sauce year round.

My small batch tomato sauce. Makes 2 quarts

6 pounds of Romas or San Marzano Tomatoes. (I grow San Marzanos and I love them and I am never going back to another variety.)

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon of onion powder

1/2 tablespoon of garlic powder

1 tablespoon of mince onion

1 tablespoon of basil

1 tablespoon of molasses

2 tablespoons of lemon juice or 1/2 tsp of citric acid (This is per quart jar and it does not go in till you are ready to put the lids on to can them)

 

I wash my San Marzanos and I cut them in half, remove the core and any seeds that are there. The great thing about San Marzano is that there is very little seeds. They are a very dry tomato and there is not much “jelly” as my kids call it, on the inside. I put all the washed and sliced tomatoes in my stock pot.  I add all my seasoning and put it on the stove to simmer.  I start out at a low temp because I do not want any to burn on the bottom of the pan.  Once the tomatoes start to liquify I then increase the heat to about medium heat.  I let them simmer for about a half in hour.  Once all the tomatoes are soft I then use the immersion blender and create a perfectly smooth liquid.  Yes you read these instructions correctly. I do not take the skin off my tomatoes, I like the added texture, nutrition and it does not waste as much of my precious tomatoes.  Once it is blended I let it simmer till it reaches the thickness I like in a sauce.  I like my sauce to stick to my spoon so there are times it simmers for an hour.  There are times there is less moisture in the tomatoes and it only simmers for 1/2 an hour.  Either way you can simmer it till it is the thickness you like.  Place the sauce in two clean and warm quart jars, I put mine in the dishwasher, and add your acid, either from lemon juice or citric acid. Put your canning lids on and water bath can them for 40 minutes or pressure can them at 11psi for 15 min. (This is based on our altitude and the Presto Canner guide instructions.)

I hope that you enjoy this sauce as much as our family does.  There is just something special about opening a can of sauce that you made, I love it.  Enjoy the rest of your canning season!

 

Tomato Rot

Every year we learn new things, and this year is no different.  We have grown tomatoes in the past, but we have never had a problem with tomato rot.  Our garden is not very big, we have very little sun in our yard, as a result we have to plant our crops as close together as possible to save space.  That and I also have a problem throwing away seedlings, I plant everything even when I know I will be planting them too close together.  In the past, that has just caused me to have a garden that looks like a jungle, this year however, I think that me planting the tomato plants to close together has caused the tomatoes to get tomato rot. 

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I dont think that I can take all the blame though, we have had a very unusual spring for this area.  It was cooler than normal with  a lot of rain.  I honestly think that it was a combination of the two, no matter the cause now we had tomato rot and we had to figure out a way to save at least some of our crop.  I planted a couple different types of tomatoes all with a different purpose.  Our sauce tomatoes however, were the ones that were effected the most by the tomato rot, they are also the most expensive to replace if I were to buy them at a farmers market. 
Not knowing much about tomato rot, I did a little research and found that moisture and air flow had something to do with it.  Even though no one really knows the reason for tomato rot.  I decided to try and trim my plants as much as possible to increase air flow at least two feet off the soil.  We trimmed off all suckers as well as any limbs that had not started to produce any tomatoes.  We made sure all the plants were tied up and supported and clipped any limbs that were rubbing another limb.  At first you read that and you think oh, that does not sound like much work at all… well you would be very wrong. It took three adults 2 days to complete this simple task.  In the end I think that it was worth every second of effort.  We still lost some of or crop, but once we trimmed we noticed a drastic improvement.  Was it the act of us trimming or was it the weather warming up and the rain slowing down, I cant answer that, but I am happy to have my sauce tomatoes back and we have continued to produced a close to 10 pounds of tomatoes a week.  Not bad for our little plot of land. 

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What’s growing

This spring started off really slow, but is now really getting going.  We are grateful for the warm days, sun and even the rain.  I have friends that make hay, they are not liking the rain, but my tomatoes are loving it.

We expanded out garden this year, but did not add a lot of variety.  We planted a couple different types of potatoes, tomatoes, beans, squash and melons… that pretty much takes up our whole garden.  We do have smaller batches of lettuce, radishes, beets, carrots, cucumbers, strawberries, blueberries, brussel sprouts, and asparagus.  We also have some stuff experimenting with in the aquaponics system.

 

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This is a picture of my little girls fort for the summer.  We are growing lettuce in the middle till the beans get nice and tall.  It is doing really well, my daughter is going to be spending a lot of time in there this summer.

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This is one of my variety of tomato plants, san mazanos tomatoes.  I was able to tie all of the plants up so that they can get the sun and rain that they need.  These plants are really looking good!

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I love this upcycle.  That is a broken window in the middle.  I hung it from the frame of my raised bed and tied my plants up so that they have tons of room to grow.  I have flowers and some small cucumber buds.  I can not tell you how much I love spring.  Those are my tomatoes in the back ground.

 

 

Seeds! Glorious Seeds

The harshness of this winter has made the sweet smell of a packet of seeds even better.  Finally, March is here and for me that means starting seeds.  I know I am slightly insane, not many people in Baltimore start their seeds this early, but I really like to make sure I get the most out of the growing season.   Some good friends of mine used to run a farm and had a stand at the farmers markets, they always started their seeds on March 1st.  This meant that they had tomatoes before everyone else and had a more profitable growing season.  I know that I am not quite ready for the farmers markets, but I am trying to learn from the best.  So far this spring I have already started 216 seeds. Mostly tomatoes, peppers that will be transplanted into the ground and then also a tray of broccoli, spinach, collards, tomatoes, and lettuce that will be transplanted into the aquaponics system, (if it ever thaws out). 

I am still learning when it comes to gardening, we have been “gardening” for 6 years.  I use the word “gardening” loosely because the first year the only thing we successfully grew was volunteer tomatoes from the compost.  The second year we did better, we had maybe two tomato plants. squash and some beans.  By the third year we were doing much, much better, we had tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, squash, peppers, blueberries, a few carrots and some herbs. This was the year I learned how much damage chickens can do to seedlings. The fourth year, I made sure the seedlings were fenced in, the chickens were fenced out and it was better than the third. Last year, however, was the first year I feel when we really started growing some of our own food.  We had enough for our family as well as enough to give away. This year I would like to do even better than last.  We are hoping to grow enough to support our family as well as enough to sell to another family. 

All that being said, with seed starting there is always a balance.  Heat verses light.  I had some seeds that I started really early in a window with a heating pad.  They sprouted early, but because there was not enough light they grew too tall and stringy and do not look healthy.  The second set I started with a grow light, but I am concerned that they are not warm enough.  The seeds are not sprouting very quickly.  I hope that I can get the balance right and we can have a good start to our growing season. 

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Aquaponics seeds grown in Rockwool

All that matters to me right now is that we are on our way.  I have hope that spring is coming and soon I will have my hands deep in dirt!  For now I have done everything I can do, seeds are ordered and some are planted, potatoes are ordered.  We are building more garden beds when weather allows and we are turning compost.  Those tomatoes and cucumbers warm off the vine are going to taste so wonderful this year. 

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Winter aquaponics

Like most of the country we woke up to very cold temps. We prepared the chickens, the rabbits, cut firewood, sealed up the house and checked on the garden but we were not prepared in the greenhouse. We had a grow light on thinking that would put off enough heat to keep everything above freezing, well we were wrong. Our main fish tank was fine, the sump and the grow bed was fine, it was the small pvc pipes in the system that froze. 
One of the pvc pipes that froze is the pvc under the bell siphon. This caused the water to back up in the upper grow bed. Luckily my husband caught it in enough time that we did not have any over flow.  He disconnected all the small pvc and brought them inside to defrost. He also used the grill as a temporary great source. We know this is not ideal but it works. In Baltimore we do not have many days with weather like this so I think a temporary solution will work for now. I think some recycled pool noodles will help insulate the small pvc pipes and more grow lights and a small heat source with a thermostat will help. We also have a part of the green house that faces south and does not get much sun. Adding ridged foam insulation for the winter would help as well. There is even insulation that has a foil backing that can reflect the light and heat from the North.
We are glad we have not lost any fish and that the broccoli that is in the system seems perfectly happy. These are lessons learned that will help us improve the system and more forward.

Baby It’s Cold Outside!

Winter in Baltimore is always interesting to say the least.  Five years ago we had something crazy like 50+ inches of snow.  Three years ago it was so warm I could have continued to garden all winter.  Most years we have a nice mix of warm days (50’s) and cold days (20 is the low).  This year we have temps that are all over the place.  Tomorrow the high is going to 4 degrees F.  I don’t mind the cold, but it does make taking care of the “farm” a little more difficult.  I am so glad that we do not have to deal with this for months at a time.  To all my family in the mid-west, I just can’t hang, I am an east coast girl.

Our poor chickens.  Year round we have problems with hawks, so our chicken yard has bird netting over it.  I have to say, I personally HATE bird netting.  It comes un-stapled and falls down and then on mornings when I go out there before my coffee I get clothes lined by the sagging bird netting.  The bird netting is horrible.  This last snow finally defeated the dreadful  bird netting. The problem is that the netting was put up in such a way that I can not clean it up by myself. There is way to many supporting ropes and boards that we used to try and hold this horrible stuff up.  It took the chickens all of 3 minutes to get tangled up in it.  Very frustrating…  So I let the chickens out the roam the yard.  Our whole backyard is fenced in with privacy fence, and if it was not for the hawks I would let them roam everyday.  Today the danger of the netting was worse than the danger of the hawks. Well, at least at the time I thought so.  Their feet were turning white from the wet ground and the cold temps.  I ended up locking them up in their covered area, which is not very big.  They are some mad hens. I hope that when my husband gets home we can remove the netting so that tomorrow they stay in the chicken yard, where there is not as much standing water.

I need to get one more cold weather chicken frustration off my chest, I HATE our heated waterer… this thing in horrible.  My advice is to buy a heated disk that you can set a metal waterer on top of, DO NOT buy the plastic white and red heated waterer. The base never stays on, the chickens trip over the cord and unplug it.  When you fill it water gets spilled everywhere and you end up cold, wet and pissed off.  I would love to save everyone that frustration. That is just my two cents, I would love to hear what you use in freezing temps.  OK rant over!

Chickens in the Snow

Chickens in the Snow you can even see the bird netting hanging down!  Horrible stuff!!

As unprepared as we were with the chickens and cold weather, the bunnies are doing fantastic.  The bunny barn is insulated and has heat lamps over the baby kits on nights when it is below freezing.  The waterers are not freezing and everyone seems happy and warm.

I enjoy having the four seasons in Baltimore. It is nice to look at the snow from the window, while sitting in front of the fire place crocheting.  But I really enjoy being in the garden in the spring, summer and early fall.  I enjoy my chores and harvesting the veggies.  I do not mind the heat and I love being in the garden in the still of the morning as the sun first comes up.  Now that we have taken control of the mosquito problem it is even more enjoyable. I do not like doing chores in the freezing rain and really cold temps.

As winter continues I will continue to dream of warmer days and plan out my garden.  Some days I just sit and look at my seeds, it makes me all warm inside.  The nice thing about living in Baltimore is I know winter is only for a season.  Some places have a much longer winter or constant winter, no thank you hon, I will keep my crazy Baltimore weather, it is not predictable, but I know it is always changing.