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Sunday, February 28, 2021

2020 Homestead Recap

Lists!  I'm a list maker!  So here, in no particular order, is my recap and lessons learned for 2020 and dreams and opportunities for 2021.

Built a Greenhouse!
It is a Texas Prepper 2 hoop style greenhouse.   During the summer I had the south side wall rolled up and the frame covered in tule fabric to keep out bugs.  The tulle allowed a lovely breeze to keep the greenhouse cool during those hot, humid, Southern days and worked for keeping out most of the mosquitos.  During the winter I double layered the plastic and during the worst nights, hung old sheets inside and ran a small space heater.  Pricey on the electricity, but on a 12*F night, it kept it just above 40*F.  I didn't build real doors - just roll up the plastic on the ends.  I love this baby.  
  • Built it all myself!
  • Had to have help moving the bottom frame into place - could not build the frame in place because I did not design my little orchard to have space for a greenhouse - Permaculture Type One Error - Although I would not trade this little lovely greenhouse - if I had planned for the possibility 5 years ago, what a better setup I would have.  Still, my little space is the jungle is wonderful.
  • 200 feet of heavy outdoor contractor extension cord was the best thing I did.  And the second best thing I did after it got run over by our bush hog... repaired the original, but no longer feel comfortable leaving it outside in our temperate rain forest and mud climate.


Firsts
Firsts are usually done on a small scale for fun and exploration.  The goal is to usually spend $25 or less on a project.  If I can do it for less than $5, even better.  The nutrients for the Kraty were kind of pricey, but the other projects cost me $5 or less and used stuff I already had, so I figured it averaged out and splurged.  And the pH meter and PPM meter were things I was going to buy anyway.  Or so my story goes.
  • Overwintered lettuce and mixed greens. Fresh salad greens for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  And the bok choi survived the February snow and ice storm.


  • Made microgreen bowls in old Panera Bread salad bowls for winter cut and come again lettuces under grow lights during early spring 2020 - the fall outdoor lettuce were way less work and produced more food - but the bowls were fun.  Bring to the kitchen to harvest and put them back out the next morning.  I mean, even less than 5 minutes from harvest to tummy.
  • Tried the Kratky method for growing some herbs - the containers that I used were generally too small, and with the heat of summer, the plants just sucked up the nutrients - they grew well, but I killed the herbs through neglect and evaporation.  The cuttings I took from tomato plants are sitting on my kitchen counter right now just waiting for the sun to return.


  • Growing ginger - started a few rhizomes from the store.  Currently living a kraty-ish hydroponic life.  May plant some in pots outdoors.  We have winters way too cold for ginger.  Can I overwinter enough of them to continuously have my own starts for the summer?  In 5 months of heat and humidity, can they produce enough for me to use each year?
  • Grew enough flowers to have flowers in the house all summer - I've never been one to grow my own flowers - but with working from home, I wanted to bring some of the outside inside.

The Good
The good things are either things that were wildly successful (to me, anyway), or brought me a special joy.
  • Greenhouse - built a greenhouse on the cheap using the Texas Prepper 2 method, and I love it!  Extended my season and even though I brought the plants indoors before I went on a month long trip in mid-January, it allowed me to overwinter some tomato plant cuttings.  Of course, I didn't label them, so I will have a bed of "Surprise!" tomatoes this year.
  • Tenacity - a number of small disasters happened, and there was some sad and unexpected loss of chicken life - but I am resilient and we made it through
  • First Luna moth sighting - sitting on my greenhouse screen door.  I had heard that we were in their territory, but in nearly a decade here, this was the first one I had seen.


  • Chickens - proved I can raise up chickens and have mama chickens raise up chickens, even in winter.  Winter is a brutal time to raise babies.  My preference is to not.


  • COVID work from home gave me 10-14 hours a week back in my life to hang out and enjoy the homestead (although I miss driving 90 MPH down the highway).
  • Tea in the garden before work!  Hot chocolate in the greenhouse at night! Fresh blackberries and raspberries to graze on any time I was in the garden.  These little 4 inch sticks from Stark Bros. that I planted out two years before had found their stride.  Berry heaven!  I am in the process of lining all of my garden fencing with bramble berries!  Sweet wonderfulness!
  • Temporary electricity to the greenhouse for heating - and for my lovely little string of decorative lights.  I hope they survived the deep freeze.
  • Pumpkins - in spite of squash bugs gallor, both the Rouge Vif D'Etampes and the Musquee de Provance pumpkins thrived, each one producing 3 - 4 medium sized pumpkins.  I didn't cure them well, though, so while some made it as puree into the freezer, most went to the chickens when they started to go soft.  C. moschata and C. maxima - so they should not have crossbred.  The only two squash I grew.  Got more than 100 seeds of each.  Will see if they come true to seed this year.
  • Ordered my 2021 season seeds early in January - a little late for me - but still got most all that was on my list.  Who knew that by late February most of my faves would be sold out.  


The Bad
Things that didn't turn out so well.  Mostly due to my fault.  Some of which I seem to keep repeating over the years.  But the list is short, because how much bad can their be when you get to live in a little slice of heaven? 
  • Spent too much money on seeds that I didn't plant.  Did not improve this for the 2021 season.
  • Wasted time on things other than the homestead garden and chickens
  • Procrastinated a lot - and Procrastination Kills Plants
  • Cold Spring and late Last Frost caused some plants to die.  Especially since I wasn't Johnny-on-the-spot with frost blankets.
  • Finishing my Masters during the early growing season really cut into the time I spent caring for chickens and plants
  • Lost the two tomato plants from seed that I got from my sister from another mother's mom due to weather and mostly neglect.  I have a few more seeds.  Going to try again.
  • Did not react fast enough to predator issues with chickens and lost all of my old birds and some of my very young birds (thus having to raise babies in winter).
Surprises from 2018
The debacle of the winter sowing experiment of 2018 yielded some puny scrawny salvia, hyssop and rudbeckia plants.  They kind of limped along in 2019.  And in 2020 they found their stride and went bananas!


Keep Doing This
  • Trying new things
  • Going outside every day, even if the weather is cruddy and outside is sitting on the back porch for 5 minutes
  • Growing things
Stop Doing That
  • Spending time and money on people and things I don't love and care about
  • Acquiring stuff for stuff's sake
Opportunities for 2021
  • Spring plant sale - can I sell 1000 tomato plants, 500 pepper plants and 500 herb plants?  That is 2000 plants in addition to the starts that I will start for myself.  Oh, and cuttings.  Can I grow some weeping willow, variegated willow, hybrid poplar and dogwood cuttings?
  • Repair garden fencing
  • Provide mobile fencing for chickens and maybe tractors to get them out on the land more
  • Improve perimeter fencing to keep dogs from wandering
  • Farm Stand - eggs, tomatoes, other produce, sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos and "canning jar bouquets"
  • Enough berries to make a jar of jam?
  • Small scale canning - ordered an electric pressure canner - do I sell my loverly All American?
  • Set up to have baby sex-linked chicks for next Spring
  • Sunflower seeds, pumpkins and such for chickens, deer, song birds and other wild life - can I grow pumpkin and sunflowers in the field under the power wires?
  • Can I make $1000 in revenue from my homestead?  If I make $3000 I might actually make a profit?

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Introducing New Chickens to the Flock

Gardening in Middle Tennessee
Generally speaking, I prefer to raise chicks up in the late spring and early summer so that they are ready to integrate into the flock while the weather is still warm. There are a number of advantages to growing out chicks during this time. One is that they can come out of the brooder sooner, both in terms of permanantly being out of the brooder and for enjoying short excursions outside of the brooder. Another is that they will likely skip their first autumn molt. The important one for me, however, is that they will come into lay during winter and all of those young chicken hormones will keep them laying right through the dark of winter. The chicks in this video were born in October and I can say from experience that it takes more feed and more time to raise up babies during that time. And due to cold weather, the babies could only be outside to hang out acroos the fence from their future flock-mates for only a few hours or so during the heat of the day.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Chicks for 2021

Homesteading in Middle Tennessee
I will be offering day-old (few days old) and "out of the brooder" age chickens for sale again in 2021.  Here is a photo shoot video of some of the Class of 2017.  If you are interested in the Spring Class of 2021, please email me at Karla.Upton@yahoo.com

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Journal Entries & Combining Blogs

I've been keeping a hand-written journal of my gardening and homesteading activities for over 10 years. I had started a separate blog to post those thousands and thousands of entries; however, managing more than one blog, playing with chickens and working at a full-time corporate job just wasn't cutting it. So, now I'm in the progress of moving these journal entries to The Little Biddy Henhouse. Most of them won't be nearly as elaborate as an actual blogpost, and probably there won't be many photos to accompany them; however, if you want a peek into what gardening was like in the Nevada High Desert and how it is here in Middle Tennessee, they might do that. In addition, as I move the entries, I've had some time to reflect and/or comment on those thoughts from years past.  Have a wonderful Holiday Season. Looking forward to the Winter Solstice when the days begin lengthening.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Sleeping Promise from Spring




I've inventoried my seed collection, faced once again with the thought that I may have a problem with hoarding.  Over 400 varieties.  Some seeds so old that germination may be iffy.  Some seeds arriving just in time for the Winter Solstice.  A resolution to plant at least 70% of the varieties out.  A resolution always broken.  But, at least some go into the ground to get their chance at being. Perhaps what I have is not too much hoarding, but an abundance of optimism? Each sleeping seed a promise that Spring will come.

Southern Pea (cowpea): Colossus. 
Nikon D5100
F/6.3
1/20 sec
ISO 800
+2
36mm/35 mm eq 54mm
Max aperture 4.7
Metering Mode Center-weighted Average

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Backyard Bird Photographs

I should probably name these, but in the interest of actually getting the photos edited and posted, I'm just going to toss them on here.  I'll name the ones I know... (Click the picture for larger image.)

Male Cardinal

Baby it's cold out here!

But yes, cracked corn!
Lady Cardinal

Why hello!

Woodpecker

Same one?

A different woodpecker.

In a more natural setting

Chickadee-dee-dee!

Look who got the prize!

Titmouse
High in a tree with poor lighting

Unknown, but maybe male & female of the same?
Lots of action going on

Who am I?
Cuckoo Marans Rooster Crowing about the day
(short tail feathers due to recent molt)

Spring Bulb Raised Beds

The bounty of next Summer starts with preparations in Winter.  Got most of my Spring Bulbs planted out - Beds #1 and #2 for 2018.  Plant once, never plant again.  These varieties should come back year after year.  In fact, they should multiply and I should have many more to plant out within a few to several more years.  For the last two seasons I have been gardening in raised beds that were essentially mounds of dirt.  Well, the crab grass pretty much took over last summer as I gallivanted around the country for work. I have always wanted "real" raised beds with wooden sides so I could turn them into cold frames if desired.  So, this is the year that I start.  I made my beds almost 3 foot by almost 6 foot due to material size and the fact that I am short.  Many people make their beds 4 foot wide; however, 3 feet works better for me - and saves on materials.

Materials:
  • 6 Cedar or Pressure Treated fence boards
  • 1 4" x 4" x 6' Pressure Treated fence post
  • Nails
  • 10 cu ft dirt (12 cu ft would have been better)
  • Lots of mulch
I am fortunate that my husband is a man who can build anything and who collects tools like I collect seeds and plants.  His nail gun and chop saw made quick work. Sorry no instructions, but hopefully the photos will give you a good enough idea.

I set the raised beds over two layers of cardboard (I love Amazon; I hoard cardboard.) right over the dried weeds from last year.  Eventually the cardboard will decompose; however, the theory is that those weed seeds will be covered by 6-10 inches of soil at that point that they will not have a chance to germinate until I am long dead and decomposing myself.  The white plastic looking stuff are dog and chicken food bags cut open and inside up.  They will get covered by cardboard, too.  And then mulch. They will become the isles between the beds. 


I threw a thin layer of mulch all over the top of the cardboard inside of the bed.  The theory being that it would help hold water and also inoculate the bed with fungi at some point. The mixed wood mulch is free for the hauling from the city. Yay!

Here is some detail to show what the sides and corner of the bed looks like.  The posts are flush on the top, but because a 6 foot post is not exactly 6 foot, the bottoms are not. Don't forget to click on any of the photos to see full-sized.


10 Cubic Feet of purchased garden soil. Compost not done, and don't want to add more weed seeds than will just blow in from around the dead weed filled garden and surroundings.  I probably should have used more dirt so that the roots could go down further, but I didn't.  I did top off with more mulch after planting.



Daffodils from Brent and Becky's bulbs were large and many were "double-nosed."  Means more blooms, healthy plants, and a high probability that they will come back year after year and "go forth and multiply."  8 Dutch Irises (Blue Magic) surrounded by Daffodils.  Early, Mid-, and Late seasoned Daffodils - there should be spring color for more than a month from these beds.  Thinking of over-seeding with creeping herbs, such as Oregano and Thyme for summer production.  


Here is a view of the bed and what will become the path - all covered in mulch for a good Winter's nap. A thin layer over the dirt in the bed, and a thicker layer in the pathways.  I'd like to get 6 inches in the pathways, but have to get the brakes fixed on my truck before I can get another load of mulch from the city.


This is the planting schemes for the two beds.  At some point I plan on painting the beds white and then stenciling inspirational sayings and such.  Ok, yeah, right.  In reality, I'll be doing good to stencil the bed numbers on them. But, gardens are for dreaming, so I'll say that it could happen.



Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Next Season is Always The Best

Male Cardinal enjoying some cracked corn.
(Click to view larger)

I am ambitious and optimistic, if nothing else!  (And made of unlimited amounts of cash, it would seem.) I did my raised beds without sides the last few years, and the crab grass just took over.  The few beds that had sides and thick mulch in the rows did much better.  So the plan is to convert all the beds this winter... hahahaha!

Regular Beds - 3 x 6 x 2 boards high

  1. Spring Bulbs over planted with herbs - 2017 - built - Planted
  2. Spring Bulbs over planted with herbs - 2017 - built
  3. Bush green beans - mixed - for eating
  4. Bush shelling beans - mixed - for eating
  5. Bush beans & Cow peas - for seed saving - BB/CP/BB
  6.  Planted away from other beans/cow peas, I could save a total of 3 varieties of each total
  7. Bush beans & Cow peas - for seed saving - CP/BB/CP
  8.  Planted away from other beans/cow peas, I could save a total of 3 varieties of each total
  9. Cow Peas - mixed for eating
  10. Soy Beans 
  11. Sunflowers - small varieties for succession planting & cutting
  12. Sunflowers - large headed - for eating - Build wire sides for containment
  13. Onions
  14. Lettuce/Greens/Spinach - with Cukes on a flat trellis
  15. Lettuce/Greens/Spinach - with Cukes on a flat trellis
  16. Tomatoes
  17. Tomatoes
  18. Roma Tomatoes
  19. Blue Herbs - Hyssop & Sages & Lupines
  20. Prairie - Cone Flowers, Lupines, Poppies, Bunnie Tails, Sunflowers, Monarda, Ornamental
  21. Sages
  22. Prairie - Cone Flowers, Lupines, Poppies, Bunnie Tails, Sunflowers, Monarda, Ornamental
  23. Sages
  24. Herbs
  25. Ornamental Sages
  26. Ornamental Asgaches


Deep Bed 3 x 6 x 3 boards

  1.  Baby Tree Nursery


Mound Beds Tall - 3 x 3 x 3 boards high

    Mound up with more soil and mulch as time goes on
  1. Sweet potatoes
  2. Potatoes
  3. Peanuts


Mound Beds Short - 3 x 3 x 2 boards high

Deep mulch over thick cardboard where vines will grow
  1. Pumpkin
  2. Pumpkin
  3. Watermelon
  4. Cantaloupe
  5. Honeydew
  6. Pole Bean Tent
  7. Peas followed by Pole Bean Tent
  8. Peas followed by Pole Bean Tent

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

An afternoon walk

Summer can be hot, humid, and somewhat oppressive; however, with a hammock and the sounds of birds, it can also be a slice of heaven.  Most of the little woods is still wild and full of vines choking trees.  Sr. has be hard at work to turn some of it into a park.  For my and my hammock's benefit, for sure, but also to take down the vines that are trying to kill the trees.  Where the vines have been removed, the trees are definitely showing signs of improved growth.
Trees in the wild parts being engulfed by vines.

Wild parts that are mostly impassable to people and filled with ticks!
Park-like area where I can hang with my hammock and the dogs.
Leaving some of it wild, however, provides food and cover for the rabbits that like to taunt the dogs.  Also provides cover and browse for the deer that like to visit.  Alas, it also provides habitat for the adorable but stinky skunks.

Flowers are starting to really come into their own this time of year.  Little yellow Rudbeckias are beginning to bloom around the edges of the woods.  Passion flowers are blooming among the weeds.  Queen Ann's Lace is starting to set seed.  And a few Honey Suckle blooms can be spotted here and there. 

Passion Flower.

Grows everywhere.

Queen Ann's Lace going to seed.

Unknown weed similar to Queen Ann's lace in flower form,
but much smaller and with different leaves.

Comfrey - hey, I actually planted this one!

Blooms about 1 1/2 inches across -
going to be an explosion of yellow under the trees soon.

Some say that the power lines are an eye-sore, but I have come to see them as protection from suburbia coming too close.  The tree line on the left is 75 feet from the middle of the power lines - the closest they can build on the neighboring property.  Our fence line on the right is 75 feed from the middle of the power lines - the closest we can have trees or other structures.  That means that, should the wild acres next door to us be sold, the closes they can build houses to us is 150 feet.    I'm hoping that is enough buffer to protect our little bit of paradise.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Drying Tomatoes

Years ago someone gave me a few slices of (store bought) sun dried tomatoes.  I instantly fell in love - until I saw the price - over $20 a pound.  For someone who can eat dried tomatoes like candy - well, that was going to be a pretty expensive habit!  Tomatoes are prolific here, and even when mine drown or get stepped on by large puppies, they are abundant at the weekly summer farmers market.  Turns out, I can make my own for pennies on the dollar.

While in theory one could solar dry tomatoes in The South, the amount of rain that we normally get here in Middle TN combined with this years exceptional rain production means that solar is not a practical solution - it's warm enough, but too humid.  Even so, I wasn't too keen on spending several hundred dollars on a large dehydrator - what if this dried tomato thing was just a passing craze?

After much research, I found an under $100 version that had both temperature control and an integrated timer.  Both being particularly useful if you will not always be home during drying time.  Turns out that I really like that it tells me what temperature to use right on the lid - I know evernote and google would tell me - but just having it there is pretty nice.


Not the best photos, but you get the idea.

So this batch started off as 3 pounds of Roma Tomatoes and a few slices from a tomato used for BLTs. Some of the tomatoes had a pretty dense core, so I cut the centers out of those.  But for ones that had softer cores, I just left them.  I hand sliced about 1/4 in thick - but some were thicker and some were thinner.  Being more consistent in slicing thickness probably would have improved the overall quality of the batch, but, well, even though some tomatoes got a little over done (turned black), they were still tasty.  No burn flavor at all.  And they were kinda crunchy instead of chewy.  

Some of the cored toms in the front and non-cored ones in the back.
Didn't think to take "before" photos.  This tray was edge to edge tomato rings with the tomatoes barely separated from each other.  They dried down to less than half size.  They will last nearly forever in the freezer. 

They will last nearly forever in the freezer.
My tomatoes have pretty much succumbed to Early Blight; however, it is only the beginning of tomato season at the Farmers Market!   And now, to go dry Serano hot peppers.  I dry the tomatoes in the house to capture that yummy tomatoes aroma.  I dry hot peppers outside so as not to burn my eyes from the "fumes!"