Saturday, January 29, 2011

SkyWatch and Seedlings

Our weather this past week has been unseasonably wonderful: beautiful sunrises and sunsets, blue skies and with daytime temperatures of mid-50's to Thursday's high of 62 degrees (F). Spring is in the air, but much too early I fear.

Be sure to visit SkyWatch here
for beautiful skies around the world

Yesterday was the first day in nearly a week that I ventured outside; my enjoyment of our weather has been mostly from the confines of our home. It appears I developed a rather severe sinus infection, and subsequently a cough, but the battle is soon to be over (I pray), and I seem to be on the mend.

A word of caution: I had a similar experience last year during the seed starting period and while working with some organic fertilizers, so those are a possible suspect. Since we wear gloves and constantly wash our gloves and hands, I expect the next precaution is for me to wear a mask in the early stages.

Seedlings: Last week I transferred the little seedlings to their new home, the hoop house, and they all seem to be doing well: mesclun, butterhead lettuce, wild kale, spinach, broccoli, Nantes carrots, Early Golden Acres cabbage, Crapaudine beets... a few of this and that just to get started.

I hope you are all doing well.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Robins and An Eagle

Spring is coming
the robin said
he pecked and pulled
and nodded his head
marching forward in disarray
with fits and starts
in droves they came
making their presence known today
~ Diana

Spring is nature's way of saying, "Let's party!" ~Robin Williams

And today it seemed as such. The sun was bright, the sky blue,
and everywhere I looked the birds were joyous.
A distant motion, and discernible was a beautiful white head.
I ran to the window... two quick photos; circling, climbing, out of view.
Outside I ran and there he was, so far away, rising, heading south.
And then as if to say, that's all you get today.
Moments of a wonderful gift!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Red breasted Sapsucker

Many of our birch trees are riddled with holes. The woodpeckers and sapsuckers drill the bark, the sap flows, insects are trapped, and the birds return to feast upon both. This Red-breasted Sapsucker came to the beech outside my studio window this past week, as it does on occasion, but without doing much damage to the tree. Perhaps he is just coming to have his photo taken so he can be seen on the world wide web.

He/she (as they are difficult to distinguish) is outstanding looking with that red head and upper breast and complemented by the sporting black tails and designer tux and yellowish belly. this bird is a denizen of the coniferous forests of the northern Pacific Coast, usually found at middle or lower elevations, and there are two subspecies. The northern form, resident from Alaska to Oregon, is redder on the head and has less white on the back. The southern form, found in California, often shows the black and white face striping of the other sapsucker species, but all the facial feathers are tipped in red.

An interesting tidbit is that the Rufous Hummingbird associates itself with the Red-breasted Sapsucker; it nests near sap wells and may follow the woodpecker around during the day, feeding at the wells the sapsucker keeps flowing.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hoop House, High Tunnel, Polytunnel

Extend Your Growing Season

We love growing our own vegetables, and most important is that we control the quality of our food. Our soil, the organic and heirloom seeds, and chemical-free vegetables we harvest is what we are about.

After gathering and canning all the peppers from the plants last fall, I noticed at the end of October that buds were forming on several of the pepper plants. What a shame that Mr. Frost would soon take its toll on these. There was not much I could do at that point, but I could plan for next year! Our goal was to extend our spring and fall growing season, but do so economically.

Low tunnel, high tunnel, hoop house, polytunnel... are similar terms. It is a kind of greenhouse that can be made into various sizes, depending upon the space available, using some form of hoop, a plastic cover and whose source of heat and light is the sun. It is comprised of a frame, end walls, side walls, and a cover.

Much has been written and is available on the internet, from those made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) to ones using a steel metal frame. Here are plans for constructing a Simple PVC High Tunnel from Kansas and Missouri authors and this from the University of Kentucky on High Tunnels.

Our circumstances and considerations included:

Location and space (geography): limiting for us is level ground, coupled with a sunny southern exposure in an open area, so options were few and the decision was made rather quickly. Coincidentally, it was not far from our potting shed. The space would allow a maximum size, 12 feet x 20 feet, and we would have to bring in a yard or two of soil in order to make it slightly more level.
: for this project, the low tunnel was not an option since we wanted to walk upright.
Strength and durability: occasional winter storms bring high winds from the coast, and with our extremely rocky soil, we would anchor all metal stubs in cement before attaching the steel bows.
Planned usage: we decided upon in-ground plantings with two raised beds on the west side to include salad greens, spinach, kale, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower... On the opposite side would be a raised work table for seedlings and an area for planting a favorite heirloom tomato, 1 or 2 pepper plants, an eggplant, and anything else we might be able to squeeze in.
Affordability: a large beautiful greenhouse would be wonderful, but too expensive. Keeping within a budget is always a priority.

Neither my husband nor I have any background in construction or engineering, but we do possess common sense, logic, can read and follow directions (most of the time), and are patient (well, that is in degrees also... ). We have seen examples of hoop houses, and with all the information available from the internet, we knew we could do this. It might not be perfect, but it would serve our purpose.

We bought the steel anchoring stubs, the 17 gauge bent steel bows and greenhouse-grade polyethylene from a supplier, but everything else was purchased at our local lumber and hardware store.

The north end wall was done in plywood, but the south end was framed and covered in poly. I wanted to be sure we had as much light as possible from the southern exposure in order to compensate for our cloudy rainy days here in the Pacific Northwest.

Some adjustments will have to be made as temperatures begin to warm and stabilize. The fixed lower side walls will be undone and replaced with a roll-up device in order to ventilate and regulate the temperature of the summer months.

If you are considering constructing a hoop house of any kind, be sure to sit down and discuss your needs, make a plan, read and research before you begin.

We gardeners are an optimistic lot, always looking forward and preparing for the next spring, a new season of growth, and doing what is best for the health of our families.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

It's A New Day, A New Year

Another year to live!
To banish worry, doubt, and fear,
To love and laugh and give!

This bright new year is given me
To live each day with zest . . .
To daily grow and try to be
My highest and my best!

I have the opportunity
Once more to right some wrongs,
To pray for peace, to plant a tree,
And sing more joyful songs!”

~ William Arthur Ward

Visit SkyWatch here
for beautiful skies around the world

Where did it go... 2010 that is?

If your life is as ours, there never seems to be enough time in the day to accomplish all we thought we could. And although the body reminds... you really shouldn't be doing that, the mind takes over and says I'm anxious to go at it. Today is a new day, a new month, a new year, I am one year older, and it is another year to live!

We accomplished much last year: ordered our new organic heirloom seeds and made soil blocks for seed starting; enjoyed the spring flower garden and made a few more raised beds for vegetables; harvested our produce, canned salsa, pickles and pesto... ; heirloom tomatoes were frozen... we cooked, traveled a bit, enjoyed the many birds and wildlife in our garden. We continue to appreciate the fruits of our labor, love our time with family, friends and neighbors, and of course share our ideas here and appreciate learning from each of you, our friends around the world.

Now we look forward to this years gardening season. Can you believe I already ordered and received 5 new heirloom bean seeds? I don't know where I am going to plant them, but we will find a space.

Additionally, Pete and I have been extremely busy this past week trying to get our hoop house (high tunnel) completed in between rain drops and below freezing temperatures. If all goes well, we should have it pretty well under wrap this afternoon with sunny skies and 47 degrees F. Now how excited do you think I am about getting an early start on some lettuce, spinach, brassicas... and extending our growing season?