Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Homestead Update: March 31

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

We have been very busy this month! The green house is starting to fill up with seedlings!

The broccoli is popping up. I got these started kind of late, so I hope they do well.

Tomatoes are starting strong.

I finally had some peppers sprout! I feel like these take forever!

I moved the ollas and placed bricks over them to keep less moisture from evaporating and to hopefully protect them from the elements like hail. I need a lot more pots to make enough ollas for this bed, but that will have to wait until next year. I don't have the time to wait and needed to get this bed planted. Little Buddy and I planted Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Collards, and Kale today. For some reason when I tried to start these in pots, they wouldn't sprout. I thought my seeds were too old so I put them in some moist paper towels and they went crazy! So, I planted the sprouted seeds to see if they will make it. I've never done that before so it will be interesting to see if that works. We used some of my rusty canning rings to mark where the plants are. This will be a big help when it comes to weeding, especially since I am already seeing some pop up. Also, this is where the majority of my cinder blocks went. I still need to fill those in with soil. I will plant Nasturtiums, Marigolds, and Hyssop in them to help with pest control. Also, I am starting Thyme seeds so I can plant them through out the bed.

We also planted the root veggie bed today. I don't anticipate they will do very well since I didn't really do anything to work the ground here. Plus it won't be until next year that we can fill this in with soil. But, I like using root veggies to break ground, so to speak. Even if they don't grow well, they will help break up the soil and start adding nutrients. Little buddy and I planted beets, carrots, parsnips, spinach, kohlrabi, and lettuce here. All the time I spent making seed tape was well worth it! This went incredibly fast! Little Buddy also dotted some radishes in there somewhere. All the seedlings are marked except for them, so that ought to be interesting! I found birds and cats digging around in this bed, so I decided to cover them with screens to prevent them from digging up and/or eating the seeds. Especially since they are so close to the surface. When we got new windows several years ago, I got some laughs when I wanted to keep these, but they have been useful for all kinds of things! Plus, since they are the old-school screens, they are real metal instead of that fabric-type stuff they have now.

Random picture of an onion. I'm not sure where it came from...maybe the compost pile...but while we were setting up the root veggie bed last week, I found this little guy. I kind of just threw him in here and went back to work. I was surprised to see he seems to have revived a bit! Now I guess I should move him to a bigger spot.

I'm still waiting on my winter potatoes to make an appearance. They may not make it. I planted Yukon Gold here last fall from a tip I read. But they used Russets I think, so this kind may not make it. You never know if you don't try, right?

Little Buddy is giving our garlic bed a drink. These are doing so well! It's a joy to be able to watch something grow so soon! They've had their tops poking out since before Christmas and I'm amazed they have survived the winter. I covered them with chopped leaves after planting and covering in compost, then I added more leaves to the top over the winter. I can't wait to see how they turn out! I really didn't think they'd do this well and planted them too close together expecting several to die out.

This is a walkway I put chamomile seeds in. So far all I have sprouting are dandelions and plantain. No problem! Both very useful plants and I'll let them grow!

If you look close, you can see my potatoes breaking ground! Potato plants are fun to watch grow! In the cupboard, you see these frail, white, snaky sprouts, but once they are put in the ground, you see dark green, full, lush leaves pop through the soil! I have a feeling we'll have our best potato crop yet!

I have been working hard on the chicken pen panels. Here is one framed in and a first coat of paint. I hope this all works out how I planned it in my head. So far, I have spent $47 on this project. I need 5 more boards, and a couple hinges and latches. I think that's it. I have everything else. We'll see if I can keep Mr. Fox out with this!

I took down my old compost piles, painted the outsides of the pallets, and made a nicer looking pile. I hope the neighbors like this one better! No one has ever complained, but I know our backyard isn't very aesthetically pleasing.

I'm excited to get into April! I have a whole lot more seeds to get started and lots of planting to do! Plus I hope to have the chicken pen up and running by the end of the month as well as a new home for a few new baby chicks! Ah, Spring, how wonderful you are!

What have you been up to as the weather warms up?
Happy Gardening!

Jen Hen

Friday, March 27, 2015

Making the Old New: A Shelf Story

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

I love re-purposing items and giving old things a new life! I have had this shelf for quite some time. With the ongoing renovations, things like this have just collected dust waiting for the day where they get a chance to shine. Well, my wall hung coat rack broke last week and now we have coats and purses and bags (oh my!) scattered everywhere again and it's driving me batty! I looked into buying a new one or buying the hooks and making my own. But the pre-made ones seem flimsy and the hooks were high dollar! I ended up finding this as I was rummaging for something else and thought I'd give it a try. I'd prefer that it had more hooks, but it seems sturdy enough to hold a lot of weight. So here's the before pic. (I really love before and afters!)

I carefully removed the hooks and sanded the shelf to help the new paint stick.

The paint I used is actually from the hazardous waste facility. They take in old paint, filter it and sort by type and color, then mix it together to form a new color. The paint is free and they give it out in 5 gallon buckets for a $5 deposit for the bucket. You get the $5 back if you bring back the bucket. Not a bad deal! Anyway, we had gotten this paint for something else, but there is plenty. It seemed the perfect color to paint the living room. This shelf will go on the blue accent wall.

I let it dry then added another coat.

And another. I wanted full coverage!

I spray painted several coats of white paint on the hooks, carefully reattached them and...TA DA!!! A whole new item for our home!

Before and After...

Not too shabby! Now it waits for it's new home to be painted so it can be hung up. Do you like to re-purpose, up cycle, and give things a new life? What have you been working on?

Happy painting!

Jen Hen

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Planting Potatoes

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

Are you growing potatoes this year? I love growing potatoes! Since you can't watch them producing, it's sort of like opening a gift...you never know what you are going to get! I have tried a variety of potato growing methods: in-ground, in tires, a potato tower, and in milk crates. Milk crates have been my favorite so far.

I place newspaper, packing paper, or paper bags in the bottom to help hold the soil in place initially. It will decompose as the season goes along, but by then, the roots will help hold the soil in place. I also like doing this because the roots won't get container bound...as the newspaper decomposes, the roots find their way through into the ground but the growing potatoes will stay in the container so you don't have to dig them up come harvest time.

Then find a couple of helpers that love playing in the dirt!

We put a few inches of soil in the bottom.

Then placed a few potatoes on top.

Then topped it off with a couple more inches of soil.

As the plants grow, I will fill in the crates with mulch. Here is some dried grass and chopped leaves we are going to use. In the past I have used plain leaves and straw and both worked great.

Now we watch and wait! Potatoes are heavy feeders and this is the first year I am using homemade potting soil to grow them. I hope for my best yield yet! Do you grow potatoes? What is your favorite method?

Happy gardening!

Jen Hen

Shared on The Home Acre Hop 114

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Homestead Update: March 2015

Hello Fellow Homesteaders! 

Things are changing almost daily around here so this update is almost obsolete already! But here's what I have been up to...

I am always on the lookout for free or cheap materials. I scored this nice pile of cinder blocks and bricks for free!

My mini hugulkulture pile is steadily growing. It will be ready for melons or squash when the weather heats up. If you look closely through my crib rail fence, you can see garlic growing.

I piled some chicken poo on my straw bales last fall and have watered them regularly, so they should be prepared and ready for planting when the weather is warm enough. I haven't completely decided what to plant here, but I'm thinking I may experiment with the 3 sisters: corn, squash, and beans. The leafy area behind the bales is where I planted yukon gold potatoes last fall in an experiment to see if they sprout. Since the weather was so mild, A couple of them already grew some before the first real freezes hit, so these may be a loss. I will plant other things there if so.

My A-frame for the mellons and squash is ready to go. On the right side I will put those cinder blocks to make a mini garden bed instead of hills. This part of the yard gets standing water and erosion so I am trying to adapt to that. The pallet underneath is where I will plant leafy greens in the heat of the summer when the vines have covered the top. It will be full of soil by then.

My old compost piles are going to be moved soon and I will turn this into a garden bed. I already have the lumber ready to go, just need to get the piles moved. This will be for my root vegetables so I need to get a move on as they will need to be planted soon!

I put up curtains for my chickens. Since their rooster, General Tso, died, they have been at each others throats! This has helped somewhat.

When turning my log bed, I ended up prying up a huge chunk of tree trunk! What I found was really encouraging...the roots from last years plants were wrapped all around it! This shows me how fruitful hugelkulture can really be! The plants were obviously getting nutrients and moisture from it. Unfortunately, it was also covered in rollie pollies, so I threw it in the chicken pen. As you can see, they enjoyed their buffet. They nearly hollowed it out going after the little critters!

As far as the chickens go, our favorites have changed over time. I think this sweet girl has stolen our hearts! Poor girl's name is Dirty Snow, but we just call her Snow, named for the black flecks on her white feathers. As you can see, she is very calm and loves to be held. She was quietly clucking at Little Buddy while he held her.

I gave all my potted plants new soil, some got new pots, and started a few more new plants in pots. I am going to need a more efficient shelving unit in this space!

Here is the garden bed my tomatoes, peppers, and their companions will go. I still need to put some blocks by the foundation.

I placed homemade ollas in my brassicas bed. I realized later they are too far apart, so I will fix them.

This will be my Three Sisters bed: corn, beans, and squash/melons. I'm still trying to get the soaker hose placed. It's very stiff from being in storage, but the sun will warm it up and make it a bit more pliable. I am wondering if the flat soaker hoses would be easier to work with? I'm temped to buy one this year to try it out.

I am sort of proud of my setup for the edge of the bed. I discovered last year that the cinder blocks need to be watered frequently so I hope this helps.

In the gutter I am going to plant strawberries and the pathway will have Roman Chamomile since it is the creeping ground cover type. I read that German chamomile grows taller and is better for harvesting the flowers for tea, but you can use the flowers from the Roman variety as well.

Here I have potatoes. Russets on the left row and red on the right. I have had the best yield with milk crates over the tires or in-ground.

I have also been working to improve the appearance of my teeny homestead. I finally got the coop all painted. It still needs some finishing touches, but I'm sure the neighbors are happy to not have to look at the bare wood anymore.

I also have my brassicas seeds among other things started in my new little greenhouse. Some have sprouted. I am not holding my breath for my brassicas to grow well since it is already so warm, but I have to try. I will also try a fall garden. I will be starting other seeds soon also. I am behind!

It is a busy time of year for gardeners! Do you have a garden? What are you growing this year?

Happy Spring!

Jen Hen

Friday, March 20, 2015

Making a Laundry Soap Container

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

I'm sure you have seen many different laundry detergent/soap recipes. I have tried many of them myself. I used to use the liquid kind and store it in vinegar jugs since they are a bit more sturdy than milk jugs. But as our family has grown, I have found it's harder to devote time to make liquid detergent, so I started trying out the powdered kind. We do use more of it, but it's worth it for my time. Be prudent and decide what's best for your time and budget. I use an incredibly simple recipe: equal parts borax and washing soda and 1/4 part Oxi-Clean. I always buy store brand if it's available, but this time it wasn't. I mix this all in my old food processor just to make it more uniform and get rid of chunks, but you don't have to. Plus if you use soap shavings in it, that will help break them up even more.

So, no problem. Homemade laundry soap is easy to make. But what do you put it in? Here's my sweet gem of a container, but it doesn't last long. I decided I needed a bigger container, so while I was at it, might as well make one that looks prettier than this one. You can see I didn't even take the time to fully remove the old label! This year I am trying to make my homemade things look a bit nicer.

I got rid of the majority of my plastic container stash, but fortunately we just emptied this one. I thought it would work great. Now to make it look a bit more pretty.

I looked through my fabric stash and found this. I have quite a bit of it and really love it. So I made some rough measurements and cut out a piece.

I even took the time to iron it and make a pretty top seam! Then I took some spray glue and sprayed the entire back of the fabric. Well, when the glue says it's workable for 30 seconds, they don't mean a second more! I thought about spraying the container, but it was easier to spray the fabric since it was on a flat surface. (I put craft paper under it so I didn't spray my ironing board.) If I were to do this again, I would spray the fabric in sections as I placed it on the container. But, you live and learn.

I didn't even think of ironing a seam on the side, so I used the manufactured edge of the fabric instead. I figured, hey, I love this pattern enough, no harm in making a small tribute to the designer! (That's my story and I'm sticking to it!)

Then I just folded the fabric over on itself. I had to respray this part and I sprayed it pretty thoroughly to ensure it stays in place. Then I placed the whole container upside down to let it dry.

Then I needed to label it somehow. I came up with all sorts of time-consuming ideas in my head, looked at my three children age 4 and under and decided a sharpie would do just fine.

Those are flowers next to the instructions. Well, not everyone can be an artist! ;)

There you have it! It's certainly not perfect with the fabric puckering and the wonky writing, but it still looks better than the old container! No one may ever see this but me, but it helps brighten things up a bit.

Do you use homemade laundry soap? What do you store it in?

Happy Washing!

Jen Hen

Shared on The Homeacre Hop 113.