Saturday, February 18, 2017

Fresh Air and Sunshine

Isn't that what we all need right now? Adam's still recovering from bronchitis/pneumonia/tracheitis, and now Julia and I are coming down with some ugly upper respiratory bug. Grr. But today was a glorious day outside! We enjoyed it fully.
Our Japanese magnolia (called a tulip tree by some) is ready to burst into bloom. I've seen two others in full bloom elsewhere in the county, but they're in full sun.
 Both my climbing roses look superb! I'm encouraged that they survived transplanting and the winter.

The one on the left is a very prickly rose moved from the orchard. On the right is my bought-from-the-nursery Lady Banks Rose.
Today Adam finally lit an interesting contraption -- an alcohol jet stove -- on the front porch. Here's a photo:
 Isn't that cool? It's moments like these when the Mad Scientist comes out in my husband. That's camp-stove fuel in the little Mason jar. The copper tube has a wick threaded through it. A tiny hole allowed the fire to eject and heat the top of the copper coil. And it does heat it!
He'll put that heater inside two of these clay flower pots, which will be suspended from the top beam of the hoop house. The pots will heat up and keep the hoop house warm on those cold March nights.

Don't you wish you had  Mad Scientist for a husband?
Yesterday Adam decided he'd had enough of sitting on the couch coughing so he trimmed a pear tree.
It felt good to be outside in the fresh air.
He'll keep the straight cuttings (the new growth) and try his hand at weaving a little wattle fence.
 Meanwhile, I pulled some of my plants off the front porch-cum-greenhouse for a good hosing down. The basil plants and lemon verbena both had aphids and sticky leaves. Hosing them down aggressively combats the aphids.
 The hoop house is steamy.
 Here's a shot of our automatic window-opener with its thermostatic control. It's working! It opened this far on its own, by about 10:00 AM.
 Our pitiful old easy-set pool is dying. The upper inflated ring punctured, so it barely holds water.
 We still have this 1000 gallon water tank lying around. Adam hopes to use the old plastic pool as a liner for it.
Today I dug random daffodils out of the lawn. I enjoy doing that. I'm gonna have the most amazing daffodil bed when I get them all together! And Adam put up some higher-and-stronger fencing around the chickens. I will be gone all next week to visit family, but hopefully the following week I'll start my tomato seedlings in the hoop house. That will be grand fun. If you don't hear from me, it's because there's nearly no internet access or cell phone coverage where I'm going. It should be a very restful week :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Valentine's Week on the Farm

Feb. 10 -- I put the first Wando peas into the garden, in the first bed north of the hoop house.
Feb. 11 -- A 4th asparagus spear is up in the center crown of the bed.
Feb. 11 -- I started my very first seeds in the new hoop house, a small 9-cell of basil seeds from last year.
Feb. 11 -- Adam trimmed the grapevines in the orchard.

Feb. 11 and 12 -- I made grapevine wreaths.
Feb. 12 -- Punkin laid an egg again after a laycation of about a month and a half.
Hers is the blue one.
Feb. 12 -- Julia wanted a painting companion, so I painted Ruby, my Rhode Island Red.

Feb. 13 -- Adam put posts in the sweet pea bed, but then he was very tired.
He also attached the window opener on the hoop house window. And Punkin gave another egg, so perhaps she's on a roll.
Feb. 13 -- After promising not to do any unnecessary crocheting (for the sake of my aching thumbs), I am making a soap pouch for myself. I have so many soap slivers and want to put them all in this pouch to use them. Then I thought, "This isn't too bad. Maybe I should make a few for selling at the market." Sigh.
Feb. 15 -- I'm still yarning. After finishing that soap pouch, I made another, and then a dishcloth, and now a second dishcloth too. I don't seem to do anything by halves.
 I think this soap pouch is particularly cute, don't you?
 Here's the hoop house window opener I mentioned. The temperature-sensing device is in the black wand. It screws to adjust the setting for what temperature is desired, and the lever arm opens the window accordingly.
 And Adam put a handle on the door, which is quite useful.
 These are all little things, but it's been a week of little things because Adam is still tired, weak, and sick.
My hens are confused. They never used the laying box on the left. They sometimes used the laying box on the right. Their favorite laying spot was down on the floor of the coop, back in that far right corner under the board, next to the cement block.
 Then I put this straw bale in the coop to have ready straw to put into the boxes and on the floor, so they would be more comfortable ... but they had other ideas!
 They quite like the top of the straw bale as their very favorite laying spot now! They've dug out a nice recess there. Yesterday I found three eggs there, the first time I've found three eggs in one day in a very long time.
And so our days go on this week, with Adam recovering slowly, and both of us longing for warm days. Today was rainy, windy, cold. I came home from work ready for soup and a hot bath. I'm eager for Monday when I start a week off, and take a few days to visit my parents and family in West Virginia. I haven't seen them since last May.

Thursday, February 9, 2017


This morning -- a blustery, chilly morning -- I thought it would be fun to read my farm posts from this time last year. How fascinating to see that so many of the things we started early (January or first of February) in the hoop house, didn't do well.  Potatoes, ginger and turmeric, broccoli, wax beans, etc. Perhaps it's good that we're not starting anything in the greenhouse quite yet.
The tomato seeds we ordered arrived in the mail yesterday. We ordered fewer varieties, eliminating many types from last year that didn't perform well. As soon as I have shelves in the greenhouse, I'll start these, but Adam has to recover from his pneumonia first before he can do that work.

Reading the old blog posts reminded me of what did do well at this time year: herbs. I started cilantro, dill, thyme, and parsley in the greenhouse, and they germinated quite well and transplanted into the garden beautifully. For the first time in my life I have abundant thyme that's overwintered. Cilantro self-seeded and is popping up randomly. Today, instead of starting those herbs in pots, I decided to strew some of last-year's leftover seeds right into the dirt of the herb garden, giving it a little covering. I did this with some leftover thyme seed and some dill seed. Adam needs dill for his pickles.

One thing I need to get into the ground as soon as possible, is peas.

Adam is frustrated at being too sick to work outside. He is sitting on the couch drinking coffee and writing in his hand-crafted books. Last year he started tomato seeds under a light in the barn office, but they didn't germinate well because of the cold, and I had to redo them in March. It's important to learn from previous years on the farm. I'm glad I have this blog for that reason.

Today is perfect for packaging my two batches of soap that are in the middle of curing.
 Lots of tea tree oil soaps, some with oatmeal, 3 oz. - 4 oz. per bar.
Here's a pretty, large bar, nearly 6 oz. in size, wrapped just for Valentine's!
Keep warm out there, folks. Spring is coming!

Monday, February 6, 2017

Plastic Keeps Us Warm

 Lookie what happened this morning! The plastic went on the hoop house.
 It's much thicker and sturdier than last year's plastic. It's also more clear and see-through.
He'd already put on the channels and used wiggle-wire again to make the plastic sheeting fit tightly.
 This new hoop house is about the same height as the last one, but it is four feet longer and three feet wider. So there's room in the middle for a little aisle. Adam plans to put these three barrels in there with boards on top to make a table top down the middle. The barrels are a bit too tall for that, so he will bury them in the ground a little. If the barrels are full of water, it helps the greenhouse to maintain a better temperature.
 The hoop house will also have shelves down both sides like last year.
One improvement is the back window. Adam framed a real window with plastic sheeting instead of glass.
 Last year he bought this neat window-opening device on sale. It's temperature controlled. When the hoop house gets too hot, it will automatically open the window to cool things off. That way if we're gone to church or town, we won't bake our little seedlings.
Sad news: Ethel the hen is dead. She flew out of the orchard (naughty girl), and Ned got hold of her and worried her to death. It is rather upsetting, not because I was very attached to her. (She was one of my Barred Rocks and the most stand-offish of the hens.) But it's troubling because we must really figure out how we can have chickens on the farm that can somehow coexist with Ned. Clearly we need higher fencing around the orchard.
I have about a half-dozen jonquils/daffodils blooming now, hiding under the large fig tree. Day lilies are coming up, as are hyacinths. And one hardy fern has little fiddleheads emerging. My hardy amaryllis also is doing beautifully -- last year's single bulb is shooting up about ten spears this spring!

Oh! One more thing. Adam talked yesterday with a young man who grew up in this area and knew the previous owner of our farm, Mr. Mahe, the Frenchman. He was able to tell Adam that the fenced area we're calling the orchard, was never an orchard. It was Mr. Mahe's veggie garden. It was fenced (of course) to keep his miniature horses and donkeys out of it. It did have the espaliered apple trees around the perimeter, as it does now, but the raised rows were never for any fruit trees. Now I feel better that we did not lose fruit trees that never were there in the first place, haha!

On a serious note, Adam got a few quotes from roofers for getting a new asphalt roof on our house. Right now, we simply cannot afford it and must defer a new roof until another year and keep living with the occasional drips from the living room ceiling. It's been 18 months now, and much of the work on the house is "on hold" until we can get the roof in order. But it's a big-ticket item, and at least right now, some medical issues for Adam and me are squeezing the cash out of our budget. We are learning to be patient!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

73 degrees in February!

Granted, it's only barely February, but 73 degrees! Ain't that grand? Yesterday Adam had to do pastorly work in town, but today he is back working on the farm. He put stringers on the hoop house.
 This hoop house is solid, let me tell you!
The 2x4s that run from front to back along each side and along the top of the hoops are called stringers ... at least, that's what we're calling them. The stringers are screwed to the metal hoops.
 These metal straps do that job.
 The hoops are attached to the front and back walls using bigger metal straps.
Last year's hoop house didn't have metal straps ... it had duct tape. I kid you not!
While Adam did that hard work, I strolled around the house lot looking for signs of spring. Daffodil bulbs are popping up in random spots in the "lawn." (I use that term loosely.)
 Instead of mowing down the daffies for the next 9 months, I decided it was time for these to find a new home. I dug with a trowel below the bulb.
 And gently lifted the entire thing out.
 Then it's easy to slip the bulb out of the soil backwards - grasp the bulb and pull the stem down through the dirt.
I dug a few.
 I spent a few minutes in my herb bed, currently snoozing for winter. Last fall I placed the dry, cut basil branches over the oregano and thyme to give them a little protection. I removed that. I also cleared out a section in one corner (upper right hand side, in the photo) and sprinkled more of my cilantro seed there. I figure if the cilantro is self-seeding and coming up right now, then that should work. I covered them lightly.
 My poor little bay tree looks dry and dead, but I cleared out around its base and there are green leaves there. I hope it survived the winter.
In other rather desperate farm news, we had a SKUNK. I woke at 4:55 AM, night before last, and discerned the distinctive aroma of said critter. I told myself it was my drowsy imagination. We assumed the dead animal was on the road somewhere and hoped the aroma would go away. Yesterday. But it didn't. It got worse ... especially around the barn. This morning Adam found the dead skunk in the back bay of our barn. The bay door was shut with a bar across it. Ned has been doing this most of today:
 The skunk probably entered through another bay without a complete door, and there are holes from most of these bays into others. (The barn is a mess. The chicken coop, which is also a barn bay, is only vaguely secured.) We aren't sure how the skunk died, nor why it didn't get out the way it got in. Adam threw it over the back fence into the ditch, but Ned apparently still thinks it's in there. His nose is seriously confused.
The big farm behind us (such a dead-looking place) is being worked as we move into spring. When the tractor was harrowing it this morning the seagulls followed in its wake, looking for fresh worms.
 I've made two batches of soap lately. Two weeks ago I made one with tea tree, tea tree/oatmeal, and lemongrass poppyseed bars. Yesterday I made a batch with lilac and linen bars. Those last two are fragrance oils.
lilac soap bars
tea tree with oatmeal, tea tree, and lemongrass/poppyseed

 Just so you can see it, here's what a long log of freshly made soap looks like. That's probably 3 to 4 pounds of soap.
One word about soap molds. Originally Adam made me long rectangular wooden soap molds. Those were fine, but I tired of lining them with freezer paper (see above). So he made me molds from PVC plastic that could be disassembled and washed, with the idea they would not need lining paper. But they did. And eventually they warped slightly (bowed out), allowing the liquid soap to leak. Ugh! The batch of two weeks ago suffered this catastrophe -- and believe me, a fresh, liquid soap catastrophe is a real catastophe. I had mere moments to find something else to pour this fresh soap into! I had some silicone baking pans that worked.  But yesterday I opted for my old wooden molds again. Very nice. Very solid. The log of soap above was just taken from one of those molds.
That's it for now! It's a lovely warm afternoon, but I have to go to work soon. The plastic sheeting for the hoop house arrives later this week, and today we started ordering seeds. It's about to begin!!!