Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bird Netting Tower, Seedling Set-Up

First let me say thanks to the birds for the pecans. Normally the wild birds in our yard are takers. They take my plants, fruit and chicken feed. Today in a rare turn of events a couple of birds gave me pecans. I will explain. Our neighbor has a giant pecan tree in his backyard, which the birds mainly use as a place to rest and poop on his boat while waiting to steal from me. This time of year, they are also picking the pecans, hiding them and occasionally eating them. I don't know if they drop them on purpose as a means to break them open, or if they are just clumsy sometimes, but either way, some birds seem to have taken to grabbing pecans from the neighbor's tree and then eating them (or at least dropping them) from a palm tree in my front yard and the ground around the palm tree is littered with unpecked and unopened pecans. Thank you. This post is for the other birds that just steal.

Here is the tower I built around the newest 4'X 4' garden bed. We have some very sneaky birds around here, and I'm tired of the peas/tomatoes etc getting tangled in the bird netting. I built an 8' tall support around the bed which has bird netting draped over it. (The power lines are really not very close, it just looks that way in the picture.) This should give vines plenty of room to grow without growing through the netting. It looks a little ridiculous now that it's empty but I'm hoping to fill it up soon! It was partially inspired by Paul's trellis support system over at a posse ad esse, which is worth looking at.
The ridiculous tower of birdnetting will hopefully look less ridiculous when it's filled with unpecked produce.

Also, here's a quick picture of the seedling set up. First, the seeds are planted and sprouted in small containers of potting soil on a seedling heat mat on top of the dryer (I set up a fluorescent light fixture up there, just for that purpose). Once they sprout they are transplanted to their own 4" pot and moved to the garage/studio building in the backyard that has more lights set up. This picture is from one of the two and soon to be three light set ups out there. The plastic bags you see are lining those square mesh trays that hold flats of seedlings, they are always leftover at nurseries. It's an easy way to make a very cheap, perfectly-sized, waterproof container so I can water from the bottom rather than splash water all over my delicate new seedlings.

Some new tomatoes and peppers

And finally a random picture of the new ducks, Daphne and Delilah taking a bath.

Now I'm off to design quail cages! ;)

Quick random updates

The new ducks got mixed in with the chickens today, it's interesting how differently it went than when we had the khaki campbells. The muscovies were a little hesitant to come out at first, but after they did they showed the 7 younger chickens who was boss, but were still bested by the older 3 hens. By mid-afternoon, the ducks were in charge. It's a little funny to watch those older hens that were giving the younger ones a hard time for the past few weeks be on the short end of the stick. Ahh payback.

After we integrated the chickens a few weeks ago, one of our older layers stopped laying, this isn't unusual, if you stir up the world of a chicken it will often keep them from laying for about 2 weeks. Now I'm afraid that I'm going to delay her even longer. We have some new egg customers now and we need all the eggs we can get! I'm very seriously considering getting some quail. I know of someone who will be selling some baby Pharoah quail for $1 each in a couple weeks, can anyone think of a reason NOT to get them? My plan was to tractor them and eat the eggs. Possibly for meat too, but we'll have to wait and see on that.

I have done a little trading and have now planted over 20 varieties of tomatoes, 3 kinds of peppers, 2 kinds of melons and 2 kinds of cucumbers. These are all under fluorescent lights and I'm pretty sure it looks like we're growing drugs. There are currently around 100 seedlings, which means I should have 50 or so extras to sell at the farmer's market in about a month. Tomorrow I will begin planting the 4 varieties of squash and 2 kinds of okra.

Stay tuned, tomorrow I'll post about the new 'tower of bird netting' I built today as well as post some pictures.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tomato planting and more tomato planting

Well, since I think I've finally accepted the fact that the tiny farm is just too tiny to have room for goats, I've moved on to the next best thing. Tomatoes. I will have pet tomatoes. I don't think it's out of spite (my husband, who was the most adamant about pointing out our lack of room for goat-housing, does not like tomatoes). I think it's because there are SO many varieties-- tiny, huge, citrus-y, tangy, sweet, juicy, gloppy, tomato-y etc. Not to mention that they come in so many different colors.
If you need more convincing go read through Hanna's (extensive) tomato reviews at thisgardenisillegal. (Even if you already love tomatoes, she reviews them with more attention than Consumer Reports).

Here is a list of the tomato seeds that I've started so far (all heirloom):
1. Besser- I got this one 2 years ago because the name was close to my last name, it turned out to be a prolific producer of cherry tomatoes, so I keep growing it.
2. Bloody Butcher- Early heirloom variety I'm replacing hybrids like Early Girl with.
3. Roma Rio Grande- Supposed to be like a Roma, but more heat tolerant.
4. Ivory Egg- "White" tomato shaped like an egg... mostly for novelty.
5. White Queen- Another white tomato, more pale and more taste than Ivory Egg
6. Yellow Pear- Prolific producer
7. Brown Berry- Supposed to be a very good tasting cherry with a complex flavor
8. Golden Nugget- Very early tasty yellow cherry tomato
9. Siberian- 48 days to maturity, I'm experimenting with super short season varieties with exceptional heat/cold tolerance to try and get ripe tomatoes year round. I've read this one will set fruit in temps as low as the upper 30's (!)
10. Sugar Lump- Sugar sweet tomatoes
11. Super Sioux- Another heat tolerant tomato, not a sweet variety.
12. Tumbler- For container gardening, which is great because my garden is full
13. Tomatillo- Ok, not a tomato, but close enough.

The first sprouting tomato seeds of 2009

I've found that old standards like Brandywine just don't do too well at my house, I think because the weather is so hot and dry and they take too long to mature (or maybe I'm just not good at it). I'd love to hear your favorite varieties of tomatoes since I'm already starting my list of varieties I want to try next year. :)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

DUCKS! Muscovy ducks for the tiny farm.

I've been missing my khaki campbells ever since I had to rehome them. The noise was just too much; all the neighbors could hear them. With 10 hens this year I'm anticipating a couple of flies in the chicken area, so it was obvious that I had to have some muscovy ducks. (They can eat hundreds of flies a day and don't quack.) Money is really really tight around here so I didn't think it was going to happen, but then through the magic of craig's list and two five dollar bills, I got these two!

They were sold to me as females that are about 4 or 5 months old. The ducks don't have names yet but I bet they will by the end of the weekend. Maybe Daphne and Delilah? We'll see.

They were bred from a white female and a very nice black drake who likes to be pet. Hopefully the friendliness got passed to these two. When I was a (very young) kid I thought that people with lots of freckles were the child of one black parent and one white one so they came out spotted, apparently in ducks that really is how it works!

I am so happy to have ducks again, I think a dozen is a great number of birds to have so we'll stop here for now....

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

My seeds are here!!!

Well, most of them. I got the ones from Baker Creek, which was the one I was looking forward to the most, both because it was the largest order and because I couldn't wait to see what the surprise seeds were. Drumroll...... Evening Primrose. What?? Not to be ungrateful, but I had just assumed since I was ordering food seeds, the surprise would be a food seed too, or at least a flower seed from my climate. Al Gore's internet tells me that the evening primrose is found east of the Rockies. Last I checked Phoenix was noticeably WEST of the Rockies. However, upon further investigation it seems that it will grow in my area (and the rest of the United States), maybe that Rockies thing was a red herring. It seems that it's edible and has some medicinal properties as well, okay Baker Creek, you're redeemed. I'm going to give it a shot.

You guessed it, the evening primrose

Now it's not as exciting as my white tomatoes or Tigger Melons, but I do like that it reseeds itself. Maybe it will be like all of the California Poppies that show up in my front yard in the spring... that could be exciting. Three cheers for the evening primrose!

Monday, January 5, 2009

The rest of the ax... forcefully self-sufficient

Well, today we got the news that I was afraid would be coming, my husband is officially laid off. I, being self-employed as a painter (art not houses) am also having a very slow income time because the people that usually would buy art are either broke, or hoarding all their money so they don't become broke too. So what better opportunity to put my self-sufficiency skills to work. Mind you they won't pay the hospital bill, the mortgage, our car payment etc, but they might 'pay' the food bill, the clothing bill and lower some other bills like electricity.

Of course we are both going to be looking for some paycheck work and hopefully our small savings will tide us over this rough patch. We realize that the economy sucks and we're likely going to be taking jobs our college educations will go unused at, but maybe being forced to be very productive in our gardening etc. will be rewarding enough to make up for that.

Luckily, I have all those great heirloom seeds coming in the mail. That gives me something to look forward to, and I don't feel guilty about having bought them since they'll be put to very good use. For those of you that are in the Phoenix area and don't feel like starting your own seeds indoors in January, I expect to have a few extra seedlings of interesting and productive varieties of tomato, peppers and eggplants mostly. You can contact me here and/or also I'll bring them down to the Saturday downtown farmers market at the Permaculture booth in a few weeks when it's transplant time. They will be cheap, and if you happen to represent my bank, they will be available for mortgage bartering.

I don't mean for this to be a downer post. My mom is encouraging me to view this as a great opportunity. I think opportunity would be a word more suited for an occasion where you are given 2 weeks and a hundred dollars to make a fantastic present for a friend. This is more of fear-based initiative, where the car's going to blow up so I better figure out how to utilize my gum, ball point pen and paperclip to avoid catastrophe. Although, I suppose that's a sort of opportunity too...

Friday, January 2, 2009

Hello 2009, more seeds!

My husband and I spent New Years day up in snowy Flagstaff, AZ. Living in Phoenix, snow is a very novel thing so we pulled over by the side of the highway as soon as we could, made a sled out of a stiff sunshade for the car and had a great time. It was a clear 55 degree day though my husband was wearing enough gear to get him through a Yukon winter. After sledding and snowball fights we went into town and I stumbled on a used copy of Rodale's encyclopedia of organic gardening for $8 (which I bought with store credit), I found two dimes, then we ate pizza, and bought some carmel on the way back, so it was an all around awesome day.

I am still waiting to receive my seed order from Baker Creek, It seems like it's been forever, though it's only been 4 mail days since I ordered it. I just can't wait to find out what free seed packet they send and get started planting everything. I'll be using my seedling heat mat that I got off ebay for $20 (including shipping) so I can really get an early edge on those tomatoes. All right Christmas money!

Every year gets a general heirloom seed order and a native heirloom order. When I read the rest-of-the-country catalogs where it says that a certain something produces well in the heat, I always have to stop myself from getting excited and realize that they probably mean 88 degrees, not 115+. Sometimes I try anyway. I wish they had a separate zone system for the upper limits of what solar beatdowns plants can take, the closest I get to this is my native heirloom order. We're fortunate to have a place like Native Seed Search in the state that caters to our 'specialized' climate. Nothing as exciting as white tomatoes, tigger melons and ground cherries, but I did order some nice varieties of beans, squash, okra, pollinator-attracting flowers and a few other experimental things. I would show pictures, but I think you all know what black beans look like.

I'm looking forward to 2009 on the tiny farm. We will soon have all 10 chickens laying, over 50 heirloom varieties of fruits/vegetables along with about 30 fruit and nut trees. Most everyone will be pinching pennies this year, but at least urban farming is a fun way to do it.