A bit about us...

We are a modern family of three, living on less than two acres with a 3,000 square foot garden that meets our produce needs and allows us to share with friends and neighbors. Our laying flock of chickens seems to expand each year as we raise chicks each Spring to replace older hens. This blog is more of a journal, if you will, for us to chronicle and share our experiences in the yard, garden and kitchen. It is our hope that along the way a few folks might learn something, be entertained, or simply enjoy sharing in our stories and the lessons we learn on a daily basis. I named the blog after the times when I am the happiest, when I am elbow deep in earth.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I am so behind! (Or am I?)

I have been feeling like the garden is never going to get planted lately.  I get this sense of urgency every year, each time feeling as though I will fail to get crops in the ground in time to make anything of them.  It isn't just a feeling this year though, the weather truly has been slow to warm.

Mother Nature has been cruel this spring, presenting us with a warm day followed by a reminder that spring has not yet taken hold.  Either a cold spell, lots of rain, or snowfall reminds us we are not in control.   This is clearly evidenced by the trees and bushes.  My blueberries are JUST beginning to leaf out and the trees have yet to start.  As I walked around the yard yesterday, I noticed that the lilacs are budded with leaves, but nothing more.  Mother's Day is in two short weeks.  In most years, the lilacs are in full bloom and nearly spent by the time Mother's Day rolls around.  They appear easily two weeks or more behind schedule.

We have yet to be able to till anything due to the extremely wet soil from all the rain we have received.  We were contemplating expanding the raspberries (which was in the plan last year but never came to fruition), and the garden has not been worked even once.  There are plants that must be moved before they get too far into the growing season (strawberries, blackberries, horseradish, and rhubarb), and we have not been able to dig around them.  Walking through the garden to assess the situation yielded only disappointment and mud caked shoes.  It has rained nearly every day for what seems like weeks.  The cool weather and all this moisture have made for poor gardening conditions.

We have, however, made progress in a couple areas.  First, Shane was able to mow the yard Saturday (4/23)  for the first time.  We had one sunny, warm day and we took advantage of it!  It took some prep work though, as one tire on the mower was flat, it was nearly out of gas and mice nested in the seat over the winter, so some clean up was necessary.
There was a terrible mess of seat cushion shredded below the seat.  Thankfully, they went in through the bottom, so you can't really tell from looking at it normally.

Second, I began my straw bale garden experiment. I have read about gardening in straw bales, and decided to try it since we have several lying around already soaked and beginning to break down that were used to shelter a bit of the chicken yard for the flock over the winter.

They have been set upright (cut straw ends up) and I added some potting soil to the top.  I won't use new soil for this experiment (as I am trying to be as resourceful and frugal as possible) so I used old soil from pots that I dumped and refreshed in years past.  I typically save this soil and mix fresh soil with it to fill new containers each year.

I watered the soil in to allow it to settle a little, then planted some pole sugar snap peas, some shelling sweet peas and spinach in the bales.  They are situated next to the chicken yard, so the plants can climb the fence as their trellis/support and will be out of reach of the snacking hens.  Additionally, the bales are serving to cover a couple areas where the fence (purchased used) is bent up and/or pulling away from the frame (creating small openings along the ground).  Multi-purposing is always great!

We have done a fair amount of clean up as well.  This weekend, we worked to get some junk that was sitting around organized and rearranged so that it isn't so ugly out next to the garage and near the shed.  Two weeks ago, we took advantage of another odd warm day and cleaned up flower beds, fallen limbs and even moved a few plants so we can eliminate former beds and reclaim lawn.

The third item of business we took care of this weekend was adding to the laying flock.  I have been debating about doing so, as I do not want to draw the wrath of my township (there are extreme restrictions on the number of animals we may have AND I live across the street from the township supervisor). However, my flock is aging fast, and having lost another hen this week, we were down to 14 hens.  Adding to that, we are only getting 4-6 eggs a day.  When I discovered I had reached the last week I could pick up chicks at the farm supply store, I pulled the trigger on the idea and brought home 6 Isa Brown pullets.  They are a few days old and just adorable.  It will be months before they begin to lay, and I expect to lose more hens when the weather gets hot.  Some of my oldest hens are more than 4 years old.  Replacing them with laying birds is important to me in order to continue the supply of healthy, fresh eggs we have become accustomed to.  I believed that I was much later in picking up chicks that last year, until I looked back at old blog posts and discovered that I purchased them on precisely the same date, 4/23.  I guess I am right on schedule with them after all!

Even though the weather is making it nearly impossible to imagine getting the garden in on time, as we assess how much we have accomplished thus far this season (especially considering how few work days we have had) we are actually in pretty good shape.  Most of our clean up is finished, the chicken yard has tripled in size, the garden just needs tilled to be planted and the animals are ready for the season.  Now, if Mother Nature would catch up with her end of the work, we would be ready to kick off another awesome season playing in the dirt!

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