Thursday, March 21, 2013

Winter Sowing: my first attempt

Last year I built a grow light shelf with my dad.  Well, perhaps more honestly, my dad built a grow light shelf while I chatted at him, watched him, took Instagram photos and did some sanding.  Anyway, I didn't have the best of luck with starting seeds under lights.  I'm not sure if the light bulbs weren't the right wavelength, or if it was too cold in my basement, or if the light was suspended too far from the seedlings, or the if the growing medium was too shallow, or what exactly the problem was--but most of my seedlings were leggy and those that did germinate and survive to the transplant stage didn't do well in the garden.  I'm going to give it another try this year, but I also want to try something else.

Winter sowing.

I had no idea what it even was, until I saw this fascinating post.  In a nutshell, you turn a four-litre milk jug into a mini greenhouse by punching holes in the bottom, and cutting almost all the way around the jug, approximately halfway up, leaving a little bit uncut to act as a "hinge".  Then you put potting soil in it, plant some seeds, close it up, tape it, label it, and put it outside.

In the winter.  "I beg your pardon?" you say?  Yes.  When it is snowing and cold and very un-spring-like.  Then you just let nature take its course.  You leave the cover off the jug, so that moisture in the form of rain, snow, sleet, or ice pellets can make its way in, and you wait.  Apparently, when it gets properly warm enough, your precious seeds will wake up and bid hello to the new season of growth, and you'll have vigorous seedlings that are already more or less acclimatized to the conditions.  How amazing does that sound?  I can't offer any proof yet as to its success, but in the post above the gardener mentioned that his winter-sown seedlings were stronger and more successful than his light-shelf-grown seedlings.

So I'm giving it a try!

I started with some milk jugs, some that I have saved, or some that came from a very handy source--the coffee house that I worked as a cook in last summer.  I punched holes in the bottom with a tiny little screwdriver (be careful you don't stab yourself in the hand), and I cut around with a rather dull knife (again, caution should be exercised in this step!).




I have a hard time printing neatly on the jugs...  I so don't have teacher handwriting yet!

My reliable gardening helper scooped soil, moistened it, and started planting!!  Here, a yellow bean seed.

We both think that swiss chard seeds are pretty cool.

Blurry (sorry!) but he was just so interested in how his seeds were planted, I couldn't not post a picture of him examining his work!

My darling boy also taped the jugs shut for me.

Ready to go outside!
All lined up on a bench on the back deck, waiting far more patiently than I for spring.
A few pointers:

1)  Winter sow your seeds approximately when you would plant them indoors under a grow light.  Meaning, have a look at how many weeks before the last frost date they should be planted indoors, and put them in the jug and put them outside.  So you would plant the more cold-hardy varieties first and the more tender annuals later on (I'm waiting till April to plant the tomatoes and basil, but I could be planting lots more now!).

2) Keep an eye out for seeds that sprout during warm spells when you know it is going to get cold again.  Perennial seedlings or plants that are cold hardy to your zone should be fine, but the tender ones will need to be covered up with a blanket or something at night or during cold spells to protect them from freezing.

3)  Once they do sprout, make sure they have enough water in there if it hasn't been raining for  a bit.  It gets hotter in their little "greenhouse" so you don't want them to dry out!

4)   Once it is properly spring (and not just on the calendar but you can actually enjoy the weather and the plants will do well in it!) then you can open up your greenhouses during the day.  I'll post pictures of my little plant friends when they start coming up later on this year!

5)  The gardener who inspired me to do this has this other post that explains when to plant what.  He very conveniently lives in a zone 5b area, like I do, so it was super helpful!  You could adjust it to your own plant hardiness zone.

And because it is hard on all of us to see the fruits of our labour (well, on Susannah, James and me at least, I'm not sure that Craig is waiting with baited breath), the three of us have been planting marigolds indoors.  This crop went out to fellow education students, but James and I just filled two more egg cartons with marigold seeds yesterday morning and Susannah and I planted some grapefruit seeds yesterday afternoon--I hope those come up!  I'd love even an unproductive grapefruit tree in our home. :)

Baby marigolds :)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Seed order came today!

I was so excited to arrive home from the university today to see a little parcel in our mailbox--my seed order!  I absolutely can't wait to get planting, but as nature would have it we've had storm after storm recently.  It will be awhile, but there is a lot of planning to be done and even just holding the pretty little seed packets sends my heart soaring.

I can't really decide which ones to be the most excited about--it's a tie I think between Amish paste tomatoes, calendula, and buckwheat. 

How cute is the personalized message on the outside of the envelope?
There's no use being impatient, so I'll settle in for the remainder of February and March to draw veggie garden plot plans, put more effort into the community garden planning, and enjoy the second part of my practicum for school.  Spring will be here soon enough, and with it the poetry and beauty of new life unfurling all around us.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Homestead goal review: one year later

Last year when I started blogging, I started out following Jill Winger's "Your Custom Homestead" e-book.  I sort of fell off that little wagon about a week in, but I did enjoy setting objectives for my homestead life over a number of different time periods.  Well, with my one-year mark of developing a homestead here in Summerside approaching its anniversary, what exactly have I accomplished?  Here's what I outlined in that post:

"Within one year, I hope to:


  • Get (at least) the support, funding, and basic infrastructure in place for the Lefurgey Community Garden and Food Pantry (think of a snazzier name for it too!)
  • Submit my complete application and gain council approval for my permit to have laying hens
  • Build a comfy coop and roomy pen for laying hens
  • Acquire said laying hens
  • Grow an awesome bumper crop of tomatoes (and do well with my other veggies!)
  • Increase my stock of preserves, particularly jam
  • Learn to make soft cheese
  • Attend at least one meeting of the PEI Beekeepers' Association"

So how did I do?

Well, I did (with a lot of help) get the community garden up and running.  We got permission and in-kind support from the City of Summerside, who gave us the use of a portion of a local park, paid to have the initial bed sites tilled, lent us a truck and a few pairs of hands to shovel and haul horse manure to enrich the beds, and installed an exterior tap on a nearby building so that we could have access to water.  

Our plot, just after planting.
I also very excitedly found out that after a number of steps, I did gain permit approval from the city to get four laying hens in our backyard.  I didn't get them last year, due to a few unforeseen events that temporarily turned our world upside-down, but a very wonderful person built me a coop.  It's beautiful, and I'll post more detailed pictures of it soon, but here it is in the winter:

The lonely, cold coop awaiting some fluffy feathered ladies to bring a little life and spark to the old abode (pen still needs to be built).

I planted SO many tomatoes that I couldn't help but get lots of them for eating, but due to a sad battle with blossom end rot, I didn't harvest enough to preserve my own (I did buy 65 pounds of locally grown tomatoes to can).  We had a super hot, dry summer so even though there was ample calcium available in the form of crushed eggshells, the scorching sun and my intermittent watering meant that there wasn't enough water for the plants to take it up.  I'm sorry, darling tomatoes.  I'll do better this year!

Some of the tomatoes that made it through the plague...
I made TONNES of jam this year though.  Loads of raspberry, strawberry, peach, spiced peach, peach marmalade, and blueberry.  I also canned tomatoes.  I bought a pressure canner and am hoping to up the ante a little this year, and preserve broths for soup.  

Spiced peach, yum!  I'll maybe post the recipe this coming summer. 

And, as the year drew to a close, I made my first ever batch of homemade soft cheese, an Italian soft cheese called stracchino that I can't find to eat here.  It turned out pretty well, too!  But I need to work on my cheesemaking repertoire--hopefully when the academic year is over I'll have more time to work at this. I also started making homemade yogurt, does that count as an extra point?


Stracchino on homemade bread, with a pear in the background to make it look classy.
 I did not attend a PEI Beekeepers Association meeting.  Something to put on the books for this year perhaps!  But have eaten lots of local honey!

It's exciting to look through my goals, some of which sounded a bit lofty at the time, and know that I have actually attained a lot of them (and lots more than weren't on the list).  Every choice I make now in terms of food, particularly, but also homemaking in general, is coloured by the homesteading life I hope to obtain.  And I've become pretty content with my little house in the suburbs, although I definitely still dream of a country property.

Shared with Simple Living Wednesdays


Monday, January 28, 2013

A Reason for Writing

I want to gingerly step back into blogging again.  I am a little unique, to say the least, among my friends in terms of my interests, and so it is a way to connect with like-minded people, even if we never meet face-to-face, to ask questions and learn and share experiences and express desires for a life that is more connected to the natural world we are so privileged to have access to.  When I started blogging, I think that I became a little dazzled by the crazy amount of knowledge out there, by the quasi-professional blogs that have tonnes of readers and loads of information and a kind of authority that took a simple dream of mine and turned it into an enormous reality right before my eyes--a reality that I realized I knew very little about!

I started trying to write more often, filled with enthusiasm and an excitement for everything that I was learning, but I think that along the way I started to feel a certain amount of pressure to compare to some of these other blogs.  A comparison really wasn't possible, but I started to want to impress people rather than just share who I was and how honestly inexperienced I am in this area.  I think I was pretty straight about my lack of experience, but I was trying to be interesting at the same time.  In some ways, it was a good thing, because it nudged me into trying things that I had thus far only been daydreaming about.  However, I think it became a little overwhelming.

I am, after all, not a homesteader extraordinaire.  I'm a "hopeful homesteader".  I am just taking the first baby steps on a journey to a lifestyle that is much more in sync with the earth that I love and that was so lovingly created.  So I'm scaling back.  I'm going to be brutally honest and I'm not going to feel that I have to live up to any other homesteading blogs out there.  I'm not making money from this, I don't have classes to teach, I am most certainly not an avid photographer, and if what I write isn't earth-shattering to a lot of people, it might spark a conversation with one or two or inspire another newbie, like me.

So here I am, the lowly and humble but very much hopeful homesteader.  I hope you'll be back for a visit soon.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Still living, still hopefully homesteading, not writing a whole lot...

So if there is still anyone out there interested in this neglected little old blog, I'm back.  I was so enjoying blogging last year and then, as is quite apparent, I took about a 6 month hiatus.  Not at all due to lack of interest, but rather, lack of time.  So as a quick recap of where I've been and what I've been doing:

Harvesting, cooking with, and enjoying veggies from our community plot.
Introducing my darlings to some friendly livestock, since we live in town and don't regularly get chances to visit with our ruminant friends.

A beautiful weekend away in Cape Breton with my love for the wedding of a much cherished and adored friend.

Spending as much time as possible outdoors with my family before the start of the university year!

Processing tomatoes...

And canning them in my new pressure canner!

Apple picking with my gorgeous girl...

and my beautiful boy!

Doing a lot of reading, writing, and...

other projects for my BEd degree (in French, in case you hadn't noticed--this makes it a little more challenging)

Taking our precious bean to the children's hospital in Halifax for an MRI (she is perfectly fine, but we were concerned).

Loving our Acadian forest during the most gorgeous (and unseasonably, worryingly warm) autumn that I have ever experienced.

Enhancing our Acadian forest with my sensitive little tree hugger, by planting hemlocks (a response to the horrible project outlined here).
Enjoying Christmas with loved ones.

Having fun in the long-awaited snow.  There's something about frigid air that makes me feel relieved, actually.  Especially after a crazily warm fall.


This is such a small fraction of how enormously busy my fall/early winter has been.  I took more than a full course load last semester, was working part time, commuting two hours a day, involved in three volunteer boards, and then having the true priorities of family and home life.  It was a bit much, but I enjoyed it.

I'm hoping to come back now to blogging, at least one post a week.  I have some figuring out to do about how I want to go about this, and what my motivations are.  But I hope there are still a few of you that would like to come along and have a read once in a while!


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Look What I Just Got!!

Yaaaaaay!!
I have been horribly neglecting this blog lately (too many beach days, probably!) and will post soon but had to share my exciting new belonging--I just picked it up about 20 minutes ago after the hardware store called me to let me know my order had come in!!

I can't wait to get started on canned soup stocks, beans, and tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Problems (and Pests) in Paradise

I've been meaning to get to my garden since it rained on Tuesday, and it's now Saturday and I finally made it (for a little while, James was with me and had to rush back home to get ready for his soccer jamboree--I'll need to return this afternoon).  What greeted me was joy at seeing my lovely garden after a busy week, and then feeling my heart fall as I realised that this beautiful plot is no longer immune to gardening problems and its level of perfection has definitely plummeted.

I knew that this had started:



But didn't know that it had spread so much.  Actually, I was hoping that it hadn't spread so much. It's powdery mildew, and is caused by overly wet conditions (what?!) or high humidity.  It has been humid here this summer but nowhere near as humid as usual, and it certainly hasn't been wet.  So a little surprised and not so happy to find this little problem in my garden.  It especially affects squash plants, and none of my zucchini, pumpkin, and two precious butternut squash plants escaped unscathed.  So I pulled off the most affected leaves.  I left some of the others because I didn't want to take away all of the plants' photosynthetic ability, but I am worried it will spread.  I put the diseased leaves that I removed into a plastic bag and brought them home to our waste bin.  I pulled off extra leaves around the base of the plant where they were pretty bushy to increase air circulation, and I tried one organic-gardening-friendly home remedy:  I sprayed them with a 50% water 50% milk solution.  I used this solution on both affected and unaffected leaves, and I think I'll have to do it every few days, but I am hoping it will help.  I have also heard that a baking soda solution is helpful too--and if I need to do that, I will as well.  I'm only watering the base of the plants, and only early in the day so they have time to dry.  If you have other suggestions regarding powdery mildew and how I can fight it without using anything toxic in the garden, I'd be very grateful.

My ever ready and willing garden helper sprays the leaves too.

So now those leaves that aren't turning grey have white drips all over them. :)
Next on the list of troubles:  Colorado potato beetles.

I knew it was only a matter of time before they found my eggplants, but I thought that I would discover them as adults and get rid of them before they could reproduce in my precious patch of veggies.  Unfortunately, that was not the case:

Yuck.

Get off there, you!
I found them in voraciously-feeding-squishy-gross larval stage.  I didn't notice any egg masses, so I would be thrilled if the ones I found were the extent of it, but I'm sure that would be dreaming.  I picked off every little goober that I found and threw it (provided I didn't accidentally squish it) into the same plastic bag as the mildew-y pumpkin and squash leaves.  Next time I'll bring a mason jar with soapy water in it to collect them, I wasn't expecting to encounter these dastardly little leaf-chomping demons today.  Thank goodness for gardening gloves, is all I can say.  Yes, I'm a biologist, and yes (Johanna!) I am a little squeamish about bugs.  Not all bugs, just certain ones, but I still don't like touching most of them with bare skin.  It's my first year vegetable gardening, so I imagine I'll get over it.  Not yet, though.  Of additional concern are the following:

  • I naively planted my peppers, eggplant and tomatoes all together.  Well, there is a little buffer between the eggplant and tomatoes in the form of cucumbers and a couple of barely producing peas. But I found a little guy in the cucumbers and I am sure they will discover the tomatoes later on.  I really hope that they don't take to them, my prized crop!
  • The guys sharing the plot next to mine have a LOT of potatoes planted.  I saw the horrid little creatures in there too, and plan to email them to warn them about it.  I really don't want them to decide to relocate to my plot!
I know that Colorado potato beetles have a strong preference for eggplant, so I am hoping that at worst the vast majority of them will be drawn to those plants and I will have to fight the good fight in that part of the garden.  Even if I lose, if it keeps them away from the tomatoes, which I am just crossing my fingers hoping they don't enjoy nearly as much, it will be worth it.  I've mentioned before that I have only eaten eggplant once, so as disappointed as I would be, I think I could handle it.

In other, more exciting and happy news, James and I discovered this little friend rapidly crawling around in the pepper plants:

Welcome!
It's a lady bug larva.  And although it would be rare to hear me refer to any insect larval form as cute, I think this little dude is seriously cute.  Especially when I saw how fast he/she/it could go.  Not only do they turn into pretty ladybugs, which are a favourite of all small children and most people in general and are considered good luck by many, but it will eat aphids.  Lots of aphids.  AND, I discovered today upon my return from the garden, they eat Colorado potato beetle egg masses.  Wahoo!  So I hope that this little friend has a big clan just hiding out in the leaves ready to bring destruction on the pest population of my garden.  But even just one is pretty nice to find. :)

Shared with the Garden Life Link-UpLHITS Friday Link-Up, and Homestead Barn Hop #72 at Homestead Revival.