I suppose an update is long overdue! It’s been a busy year. I started full time at the little art gallery/event center I work at and that has kept me very busy. Fortunately, I love what I do! Some things have taken a back seat during the transition though: most notably, my garden. 😦 I was really disappointed to have to let that go, but it’s just too difficult to find the time and motivation and with so many awesome farmer’s markets in the area, it’s easy enough to find locally grown fruits and vegetables. I still like to spend plenty of time outside, I just don’t want to be doing back breaking work while I’m enjoying it! That said, there are a few things I’m not giving up: my trusty bed of garlic and right next to it one for zinnias, that robust producer that gives me fresh flowers from July to the first frost. Of course I still also have my medicinal and culinary herb bed just outside the kitchen and a couple of ornamental beds in the courtyard, but that’s enough for the time being! The orchard is in a sad state; it’s pruned but never produces anything at all. The blueberries and blackberries are the only thing that sometime spit out a few handfuls of fruit, but the apple and pear trees… nada. Instead of toiling in the soil, I’ll be enjoying a little reading time in the hammock or painting in the shade of a tree.
Speaking of which… painting! About a year ago, sifting through some piles of rubble in my office, I came across all my old sketchbooks and started going through them. It rekindled my love of art and I’ve been doing some form of sketching, painting, or pottery creating every day. I have enjoying it so much and have improved immensely with daily practice. Expect to see a good amount of that on the blog from now on– you were warned. I’ll start with this little watercolor sketch of one or our Buff Orpington hens, the aptly named Buffy. (Sadly, Willow and Cordelia are no longer with us. 😦 )
Feasting on Halloween.
I ended November with finally getting around to winter prep for the chicken coop. Aside from squeaky clean roosts, nesting boxes and feeders, the girls now have a nice thick bed of shredded leaves in the run. Much frolicking is to be had rifling through the leaves when I throw a handful of sunflower seed or cracked corn in there. I also took the remaining pumpkins from the porch and cracked them open in the run… the girls love pumpkin seeds! With that done, now it’s time for evergreens, holly, warm wool mittens and snow. Fa la la!
It looks like the Earth is finally shaking off the last vestiges of winter. In the past week, buds have started forming on the trees, the crocuses are in full bloom, the daffodils are about to burst, and the warblers and thrushes have shown up at the feeder. The neglect of winter has taken its toll on the property, especially since we didn’t do leaves in the fall, and I’ve been itching to get out there and clear up the mess. After several rainy days off– which are nice in their own way– I finally had a day off today with perfect work-outside weather. It felt so good to be out toiling in the sunshine, though my weary bones are feeling it now. Happy Spring!
Raked out annual bed.
The herb bed off the kitchen porch– all raked out!
Making way for Peony shoots.
It's still early in the season in these parts, but I've been enjoying lettuce (as well as wild foods– dandelion, chickweed, and violets) for a while now at least. Now, at last, I'm starting to get some of the really good stuff! This is a photo of one morning's worth of strawberries, organically grown and freshly picked. We had the best strawberry harvest we've every had this year. I even got to make a little jam!
Could be a very good year for fruit in general… this is the first year that I have fruit on my dwarf trees that survived the "June drop." I have little pears and apples, though none of my nectarines made it (it's only in it's first year, so that is to be expected). Of course the giant old apple and cherry are producing like mad, as always. The blueberries aren't quite ripe yet, but we have lots of fruit this year for such small trees (they're only in their third year). I think we'll have enough for pancakes and smoothies, but probably not enough for pie… we'll see.
At the moment we have a steady stream of peas, which we like to eat straight off the vine. I keep a bowl on the kitchen table for snacking but it never stays full very long. I look forward to seeing what will be debuting next!
Our chicks arrived on Mother's Day. I am so excited about our new arrivals! I ordered a couple of Rhode Island Reds to replace the ones we've lost over the years. They are just the best winter layers; we have never had a winter without eggs, and I don't use an artificial heat source. This winter we were down to one Red ("Mrs. Cluck", as she was named by a 7 year old Peep #2) and felt the pinch. We never had to actually purchase store-bought eggs (gasp–the horror!) But there was a time there, especially around the holiday baking rush, where I felt a little panicky. LOL
So anyway, I also ordered a few Buff Orpingtons, because they are supposed to be sweet, friendly, and good brooders. It would be nice if in the future I could just get some fertilized eggs and let a hen do the work of chick-rearing for me. I also got, at loooooong last, my blue egg layers! I've been wanting these for so long and it just never worked out. (Once the hatchery was out of stock, and another time a lady was giving some away and then changed her mind.) These Ameraucanas are beautiful and it's going to be an exciting moment the first time I find a blue egg in one of the nesting boxes! (These are good times on the homestead, people. You know, we don't have any cows to tip over.)
Meanwhile, all of my seed starting is done. I have flats in various stages set around the property. Out in the garden and ready for planting this week are my tomatoes, peppers, calendula, and sage. In the hardening off stage outside the greenhouse are the nasturtium, beets, and radishes. Under the lights inside the greenhouse, just to give them a head start, are pumpkins, squash (acorn and butternut), cucumbers, and zucchini. I also am starting a few more nasturtium and trying some Chinese lantern flowers this year. The last bit to do will be to direct sow the corn and sunflowers, which I hope to get to this weekend.
I was so excited to see little fruit on my fruit trees this year! I've had a terrible time getting my fledgling orchard started up. Fortunately I have the established apple trees to fall back on, but I really want the ones I've planted to get going! This year my fig, nectarine, pears, and dwarf apples all have little fruit! If they only survive the June drop I will be ecstatic. And, the blueberry bushes just get bigger and better every year. I long for the day when I pick a big colander full … but I am still a ways off from that. Finally, the strawberries are taking over my vegetable garden. I hate to move them though, because they are really thriving there. The trick is to keep the chickens, birds, and chipmunks away so that the humans can actually enjoy a decent crop. I'll have to rig some sort of MacGyver-esque contraption to suit that purpose.
This week I split my hive and re-queened. I had mixed feelings about that. Most beekeepers re-queen every other year. Mine is in her third year and I didn't want to get rid of her. You know, there just is something wrong about getting rid of an old queen to replace her with a new young one, KWIM?? And, of all the hives that my mentor manages, mine was the only to survive this year's winter. They are just going gangbusters and the population had exploded. So, reluctantly, I split the hive and gave the existing queen to a friend to start their own hive. (At least it wasn't, off with her head!!) My "old" queen and a small band of her subjects have been exiled to the Fair Lands of the North where hopefully they will prosper with a new colony. A few days later my "new" queen was introduced and so far all is well. And that is that. Like the bees we are busy busy this time of year, and are really looking forward to being able to put the books down for a while so we can be outside! (Just a few more weeks left!) More on school in my next post…
Herbs are amazing; they just keeping giving and giving! I still have
most of my culinary herbs going strong in the herb bed just outside the
kitchen (most of the medicinal herbs are located out in the garden,
which is a bit of a walk). So, yesterday I gathered a bunch of oregano
and white ceremonial sage. I've been hearing so much about the
wonders of oregano oil, especially as it pertains to flu, so I decided
to make a batch for myself. The white sage I've been growing for a while with the intent
of making my own sage smudges. I finally decided to get around to it!
It was pretty easy, and the result was pretty cool. It's hanging from
a kitchen beam at the moment; I can't wait to be able to use it!