Archive | Seed starting RSS feed for this section

Another “it seemed like a good idea at the time” farm lesson

29 Aug

We’re going to do some Before and After pictures here so that when Spring comes around next year we can refer back to our “lesson” lest we forget.

BEFORE – BEFORE: Nothing fun here, just work, work, work. The door to the hoop house in the back? Yeah, there’s an example of measure once, cut – never mind.

Springtime 2013: Pre-weeding, Pre-raised bed preparation and Pre-planting.

Springtime 2013: Pre-weeding, Pre-raised bed preparation and Pre-planting.

BEFORE: Weeded, planted and off to a nice start! However, our folly this year (and every year) is over crowding the beds. We just get so excited for our summer fruits!!! And the plant starts and seeds are so small…

Can't you just taste those ripe tomatoes and squash already?  Can hardly wait!!!

Can’t you just taste those ripe tomatoes and squash already? Can hardly wait!!!

We even gussied up the front of the greenhouse area and painted the old door, so we could just hang out and relax. Cuz that’s what farmers who milk goats and work full-time do, they hang out and relax.

Almost like, a destination!

Almost like, a destination!

AFTER:

image

Since we are no longer pig farmers, this is not really what we would consider a wildly fortuitous, fabulously abundant crop. More of a pain in the neck, really. Although the smaller zuchettas taste great sliced thin and cooked as the pasta in a pork sausage lasagna with chèvre, goat mozzarella and marinara (marinara from last year, mind you as this years crop of tomatoes had a little – ahem, competition for sunlight).

Squash lasagna with pork sausage, chèvre,  goat mozzarella and marinara.

Squash lasagna with pork sausage, chèvre, goat mozzarella and marinara. Prior to cooking.

So what to do, what to do. The goats are NOT interested in eating this forage. did I mention there are no pigs around?

A  local artist's impression of the fact that there are no more pigs on the property.

A local artist’s impression of the fact that there are no more pigs on the property.

One of my good friends who I actually met through Craigslist (bartering goats for pigs, what else?) has pigs. He, and his pigs are the lucky beneficiaries of this forest of Zuchetta in addition to numerous buckets of whey from cheese making.

The other day, I was talking to the artist who rendered the pig picture above and she told me that when she grows up and purchases her own farm, she is going to raise pastured pigs. Wow. I guess dairy goats might be too much work for our budding farmer who is calculating having stout fencing in place, lots of silly greenery abundance and gallons of whey (read: free pig food) at her disposal from her parents that don’t do a very good job of remembering “lessons” on the farm. Momma didn’t raise no fool.

Sunflowers, planted by goats.  Who tossed their dinner bucket on the ground, which included black oil sunflower seeds.  Maybe they are more work than pigs.

Sunflowers, planted by goats. Goats who tossed their dinner bucket on the ground, which included black oil sunflower seeds. Maybe they ARE more work than pigs.

Advertisements

Heritage piglets, heirloom seeds. Happy Easter!

24 Apr

Though we have not slept in for eleven years (kids) our morning started more gradually than it should have. Mr. Pink Guitar ran a hay/mulch errand, meeting up with Farmer Joe, one of our kindest farmer friends who offered to give us rotten hay rolls for the garden. Free mulch, what’s not to love about that?

Mr. Pink Guitar indicated that he would do chores when he got back, so the rest of us drifted around sleepily making breakfast, reading and starting seeds. Mr. Pink Guitar must have spent a lot of time shooting the breeze with Joe (who is a wonderful conversationalist and oozes wisdom) because it seemed like hours before he got back. We’d finally decided to start chores just as the big ranch truck rumbled up the drive, trailer laden with hay in various states of decomposition.

Sophie left the house and wandered off to the barn right after the truck pulled up. Soon after I heard her scream, when I looked out the window she was running, arms flailing towards the truck. I got my muck boots on quickly, mentally prepared to face something terrible.

Roselle had farrowed, but what should have been a joyous occasion became somber as the situation revealed itself. Roselle was not showing interest in her piglets and had crushed two. Two more had not made it through the birthing process. We counted six tiny piglets skinny and shivering huddled in the corner, ignored. We tried to put a heat lamp on them and Roselle freaked. Well, at least she was being protective.

There were a lot of hushed comments about letting nature take its course and leaving the new mom alone. Because it was Roselle’s maiden voyage into motherhood, we needed to give her a break, and the birthing conditions were not ideal. We had wanted her to farrow out in the woods separated, but comfortably close to her herd the best way for a gilt/sow to farrow in our humble opinion.

But Roselle had become Houdini and would be held in by NO pen, maybe she wanted to range with the chickens, but with babies on the way, we didn’t want her nesting in the woods somewhere – way out there. We put her in the barn (well, actually she walked right in because that’s where she was hanging around) two weeks ago, in a horse stall, ousting our calf; and with fasteners, clips, hog panels, power tools and stall mats, we were able to keep her contained.

The critical time for piglets or any newborn is the first 24 hours, the piglets needed colostrum and warmth and if they made it three days we figured we could announce with confidence the arrival of 6 purebred heritage Red Wattle piglets.

Update: Roselle has calmed down and is taking wonderful care of her babies, they are all fat and sassy. She just needed some time to figure things out and get used to the idea that it is not all about her right now. She does still like her “me” time a little more than the other sows seemed to. However, all is well in piglet world with 5 females and 1 sturdy male, who nurses at first position.

One piglet had an injured foot, so we had to do a little doctoring, which gave us an opportunity to cuddle (!) with her. This piglet is a runt and her name is Zinnia.

Heirloom seeds are one of the greatest gifts on the planet, at least to me. Great things come in small packages and I love seed packets. I collect them like a pre-pubescent baseball card junkie of olden days hoarding them in boxes and containers; I even turned my wine fridge into a seed vault.

So when we got an Easter care-package in the mail from our wonderful friends Bob and Kathy a few days ago we carefully cut the tape and opened the box with rapt anticipation. Care-packages are always exciting. Among the goodies, plastic Easter eggs filled with treats and treasure as well as several thought provoking books “Harvest for Hope, A Guide to Mindful Eating” by Jane Goodall and “The Good Good Pig, the extraordinary life of Christopher Hogwood” by Sy Montgomery. Both authors are vegetarian, one – Vegan.

Interesting how I had just come across this article and was pondering the debate about humanely raising animals for food versus the Vegan perspective – all this after watching Food, Inc.

I find it’s important to look at all sides of an issue with an open mind. Research and contemplation of an issue so close to home is a much better alternative than ignorance.

So what else was in the box? Some nice Easter cards and news clippings with great information about farming and food, mentoring us further along this journey, and last but far from least, was a small innocuous looking bag from the gift shop at the venerable Monticello Estate. I carefully unfolded the small sack to reveal the most marvelous selections of Heirloom seeds!

A cache of 12 historic plant varieties! Cardoon, Prudens Purple tomato, Bloody Butcher corn, Lemon Balm, Early Curled Siberian Kale, Purple Calabash tomato, Fish Pepper, Brown Dutch Lettuce, Sesame, Red Calico Lima Bean, Cow’s Horn Okra, Balsam Apple. WOW! Hey, what’s Balsam Apple?

From Packet: “Jefferson planted this tender annual vine along the winding walk flower border on Monticello’s West Lawn in the spring of 1812. The Balsam Apple’s glossy, delicate foliage, small yellow flowers, and bursting orangish red fruit are a curious and unusual addition to the summer flower border. Plant the seed after the last spring frost and provide support with a fence of trellis. The vines will twine to ten feet in a sunny, fertile site”.

This year will be the year for cardoons and artichokes, multiple varieties of purple tomatoes, herbs and pink corn, unique peppers, amazing lettuces, beans of all shapes and sizes, several types of okra and Balsam Apple! What am I forgetting? Oh, I need more land…

What a wonderful Easter Sunday: heritage piglets and heirloom seeds, it doesn’t get any better than this. We also planted a mini-orchard with 10 fruit trees (orchard now totals 50), moved the chicken coop so our 27 new chicks could be closer to the house and to make room for our 7 Bantams and 6 Pekin ducklings.

Reflecting back two years ago exactly, the enormity of our move away from friends and family was sinking in. We had just lost a favorite uncle with no opportunity to say good-bye. We were alone on the holiday and phone calls to loved-ones made the distance more painfully clear. We did the only thing we knew to do, face the future and embrace it, and plant an apple tree in honor of Uncle Wayne.

Pinkguitarfarm is in its infant stages. We keep on keeping on against various odds because we have cherished friends who have lent us huge amounts of emotional support, not to mention gifts, seeds, rotten hay, fencing, green house supplies, free pig and bull-calf castrations, community endorsements, wagon rides, songs and music, wisdom, social invitations, articles, links, books, mentoring, care packages, a skype camera, visits, wine and late night conversations. We have farmers market customers that try our vegetables and recipes even though the vegetables and recipes might seem weird, and those that buy our fabulous pork. Thank you for being a part of this crazy adventure!

There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me.
~Thomas Jefferson~

Peas, Favas and Garbanzo’s

26 Mar

Spring is here!

The Eastern Redbud and Dogwood flowers are blooming, reminding us (nagging us prettily) that it is time to plant crops!

Here in Middle Tennessee the change of the seasons is so dramatic and definitive I’m awed and humbled each time it happens and in every unique season.  Spring must be my favorite where the bleak brown/gray landscape pops verdant green seemingly overnight.  Of course this has everything to do with the warmer temps, longer days and frequent rains.

Jewelweed, good for that poison ivy outbreak that also comes with spring!

Phenology is the art of observing seasonal changes in a manner that provides clues, reminders or nudges; multiple road signs along the annual gardening loop with hints of what to do and what’s to come.  Though Mother Nature is brilliant, you know she’s also facetious because a killing frost does surprise the too early to flower fruit tree as well as those overzealous, impatient gardeners.  I would know.

Old timers around here might tell you to heed the calendar instead of planting by the moon or using methods of phenology.  Plant peas when the buttercups bloom certainly sounds great, but I would have had a little problem had I heeded that advice this year.

Old timers keep records and journals of the planting seasons for reference and future planning that go several years out.  This blog is my record, so for now, spring means planting around the thunderstorms and hoping seedlings don’t get washed away or rot in the ground.  Getting the crops in around the weeds and the bugs is a challenge and to do so immediately following the last frost is more luck than art, forget science (we’ll leave the science in the soil for now).

Phenology is interesting and valuable in that it reminds me to pay attention to the details provided by nature.  Phenology hints that I should feel the rhythm of the anticipated within an awareness of the unanticipated.  It’s a dance to a familiar tune performed by unknown musicians.  I just want to get the moves right, ya know?

This is a fava bean flower.  We grow favas in the spring and the fall (if I’m organized enough and the weather cooperates).  I am also attempting garbanzo beans (for the first time) and peas of the shelling, snow and snap varieties, a few of the exciting crops here this spring.  Driven by the longing for tantalizingly fresh produce, I envision grilled favas, hummus dip and fresh from the vine peas savoring these flavors even before the seeds have germinated.  No doubt, a passion for the best ingredients drives my efforts in the dirt.  And these dreams do sometimes disappoint with such lofty expectations prior to harvest!

Anything can go wrong.  Every year is different; luckily something always seems to do well to compensate for what doesn’t.  Growing multiple crops in rotation through four seasons and taking precautions with some (transplants) while sowing other seeds with abandon is the best way to guarantee food production on our small farm.  Tomatoes and green beans didn’t do very well last year but our peppers and eggplants were amazing.  Who knows what this year will bring?  Hopefully gorgeous tomatoes!

Cousin Itt? Nah, just onion seedlings.

16 Jan

Farm seedlings for January: Onions

I went a little crazy with the onions this year. I’m told that onion seeds lose a large percentage of viability after the first year so I gathered up all of my old (and new seeds) and planted them. They all germinated! Now the challenge is to figure out where to put them all when spring planting time comes.

I believe that all great meals start with something from the allium genus. Good for companion planting with cabbages and in helping to deter rabbits, onions are a must in any garden.

Here’s a little preview of what we’re growing this year at Pinkguitarfarm.

Rear, left to right:
Scotland Leeks – an heirloom variety from Scotland this leek is described as “hardy, short-shanked, (with) excellent flavor and texture.” Seeds of Change. I bought this because it is a good variety to overwinter or keep in the greenhouse. I immediately envision a creamy potato leek soup when I see the picture on the package. However, this spring I’ll be indulging in some roasted baby leeks with an herb marinade and baby leeks with fennel braised in cream, hmmm, I wonder if they will all make it to winter.

Shimonita Negi – Japanese Bunching Onion Single Stalk Type. From the packet: “(365 days) King of the Negi, this single stalk Japanese bunching onion is worth the wait in seed to harvest time. It doesn’t get better than this for flavor which only gets sweeter with cooking! The short and fat white root makes the Shimonita Negi look more like a leek than a scallion. The chunky shape means this variety does not need deep soil mulching and a lot of extra work around harvest time. From the sowing to harvest (typically December)this is a one-year crop….The Shimonita Negi is popular throughout Japan, but particularly so in its place of origin, Shimonita Town, famous for its produce. Tourists are advised not to miss a particular Shimonita rest stop where the onions are sold during their season.” Kitazawa Seed Co. I’m a sucker for this kind of marketing, what can I say? Hope it’s worth an entire year of raised-bed real estate!

Mini Purplette Bunching Onion. From the packet: “The first purple red-skinned mini onion. Early maturing with delicate, mild flavor. Attractive either topped or bunched and can be harvested very young as baby bunching onions with purple pearl ends. Turns pastel pink when cooked or pickled”. Seeds of Change. Mmmm pickled!

Ed’s Red Shallot. From the packet: “Red skin with red interior. One bulb will produce up to 30 bulbs. Unique flavor is great for flavoring soups, salad dressings, vegetables and grain dishes”. Seeds of change. Cool! No more buying shallots at the grocery store…

Garlic chives. From the packet: “Heirloom, medicinal…Popular in 16th century European gardens for adding garlicky flavor to soups and salads. Hung inside homes to ward off malevolent spirits. Green seeds impart rich flavor to cooking oils. Leaves and flowers add spice. Also used in Chinese medicine to warm the kidneys and treat lower back and knee pain”. Seeds of Change. This one is indispensable for the garden, kitchen, household and body! Don’t you love the word “garlicky”?

Center, left to right:
Red Beard – Japanese Red Bunching Onion Splitting Type. From the packet: “This popular specialty red-stalked bunching onion has a mild pungent flavor and tender leaves…The red color is stimulated by cold temperatures. Mature plants can reach 26” tall. Used in stir-fries, salads and as a garnish. Red Beard makes an unusual and attractive addition to the garden”. Kitazawa Seed Co. Hmm. Wonder if it will be a big seller at the local farmers market, I may have to bring some recipes with this one. Can’t wait to see how it looks at maturity.

Texas Early Grano. From the web-site: “Texas heirloom, ‘The Mother of All Sweet Onions’ This Vidalia-type onion is a good choice for the Mid-Atlantic and the South. Best started in the fall or winter and transplanted in early spring. Large top-shaped bulbs, thin skin, soft white flesh, with sweet mild flavor. Good resistance to splitting. Short keeper”. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Sweet onions are my fave, French onion soup anyone?

Japanese Bunching Onion Splitting Type – Menegi. From the packet: “This delicate white green onion is a young shoot of the wakegi scallion. Specially cultivated to produce young shoots that are used as a sashimi and sushi garnish. Menegi are harvested very soon after planting when the scallion has grown to a height of only 3”-4”. Because they are harvested when they are young and thin, Menegi need heavy planting”. Got the garnish, need the sashimi! Oishii desu ne!

Front, left to right:
More Scotland Leeks, see description above.

Cipolla/Long of Florence. From web-site: “Long (4 inch) narrow red onion. Wider in middle than the ends. Mild sweet taste. Beautiful. Medium/long day type. Mid season harvest. Use in salads but stunning grilled or on skewers”. GrowItalian.com I LOVE, love, love ALL my Franchi seeds!

More Cipolla/Long of Florence, see directly above.

More Texas Early Grano, see above.

Bunching, Deep purple. From the web-site: “A new development in bunching onions. This reddish-purple variety develops and retains its color throughout its growth period and through high and low temperatures”. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I like purple.

Here’s to a great year of onions! Onions are easy to start and grow. From quickie chives to large bulbs there are enough varieties to keep you in onions year round in your own garden, so people, please start your onions!

Planting seeds – an act of faith

24 Jun

Amazing in size and function, the seed is capable of fantastic feats. Given water and a little room to grow, some good soil and sun, a little unsuspecting nugget can transform into a surprisingly beautiful, unique organism. An organism that exhibits its own evolved characteristics for survival – as in thistle, poison ivy, stinging nettle all of which we might try to avoid. Or, to our epicurean delight – watermelon, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant broccoli, basil, beets, alpine strawberries, lettuce, kale, chard and too many other tasty edible plants to mention.

To read the seed catalogs, dream of the garden, purchase the seed, hold the packets, is all about pure creative intention and maybe some planning. A beautiful place for the mind and body to dwell, in the sway of imaginative bounty and abundance if, like me, you are OCD about seeds.

But the needle skids the record when the shovel hits the dirt. If you’ve been gardening for a while and have planted seeds, you’ll know… this is where you let go – in that moment you have the opportunity to concentrate on the transition between what you dream of and what you have. How wide is that void?

So there it is, dirt and the newly planted seed, you can’t see it anymore but it’s in there and it is supposed to become something.

My daughter loves strawberries. Most strawberries are not planted as seed but are cultivated by cutting off smaller plants along rooting stems or by root divisions. Alpine strawberries, the tiny little fruits that burst with flavor and can be found in woodland areas in the Northern Hemisphere, may be grown from seed. The seeds are microscopic (in my opinion). When planting, there is no way they can be singled out. One must simply scatter hundreds of seeds in a flat and observe what shoots up. The seed must be kept in the dark until the seedlings sprout (according to the directions on the seed package). My daughter who is ten, made the strawberry project her own. She propelled herself into this, dreaming not of lush berry plants with nodding flowers composed of delicate white petals and smiling yellow centers but of things further down the road. Strawberries and vanilla ice cream, strawberry shortcake, strawberry pie and even strawberries right off the plant… without the cream and sugar.

The seedlings came up surprisingly fast, if these were the right seedlings, I wasn’t sure, this was my first time growing these seeds. I peered at them and wondered if the bed had been “contaminated” with other seeds, weed seeds? They were tiny, and didn’t do anything. They sat there in the flat, petite and undemanding. Not looking for transplant, not really caring about much except being a stem with a teeny tiny leaf or two. After a month of seedling “Wu Wei”, we decided to put them in the raised bed outside. Carefully picked apart and inserted into pencil size holes they were swallowed up by the soil. Still, they sat idle as another month went by. This was late April and every time we got a downpour I wondered if this was the rainstorm that would wash them away. While nothing was happening on the surface, much must have been taking place underground. The roots were winding their way about the soil seeking moisture and nutrients. Once the weather got consistently warmer additional tiny leaves appeared.

My daughter’s faith in these baby berry plants never wavered. She talked to, and tended her little plants several times a week, weeding and watering with true focus and commitment.

By May, the plants were sending up sprigs that would fan out into cute saw-toothed leaves. Yet the Alpine Strawberry plants were dwarfed by their regular sized cousins (also in the same raised bed) so they still looked ineffective and weak.

And then we got a little flower! My daughter watched the flower morph into a tiny yellow/green berry that eventually started to blush pink. With patience she waited until the next day to pick the berry, knowing that flavor comes with peak ripeness.

That next evening, she headed out to the raised beds to pick her first strawberry of the season. Unfortunately, something else had gotten there first. The tiny fruit was gone, chewed off of the stem, red bits still attached to its green base, leaving little doubt about what had happened. My daughter has been by my side gardening with me since she was a toddler. She knows the ups and downs of planting a crop. She knows there will be more berries. She still has plenty of faith in her little strawberry plants. She stands undeterred, vanilla ice cream at the ready.Alpine Strawberry

Sowing seeds is about beginnings. Faith. A goal. For me, it starts with a seed and the goal is to be a farmer. Turning a hobby into a job is quite a task. One I would not have taken on without faith in my seeds and myself and to be honest – no forthcoming job interviews out in the real world. What to do? Learn from my daughter and plant seeds! Stay tuned…

%d bloggers like this: