Friday, February 27, 2009

Warm days ahead

This happens to be my 100th post, I wish it would have coincided with something earth-shattering, like me inventing some easy and safe way to rid your yard of bermuda grass forever... oh well. Our weather has been unseasonably warm and next week we're looking at a couple of days where the temps will be approaching 90. Luckily, I've gotten everything in the ground already with the exception of a couple of tomato plants and one butternut squash. When all is said and done, I will have planted 50 tomato/tomatillo plants! For most people that would mean 500-2500 pounds of tomatoes, I'm shooting for 100 pounds, 250 would be fantastic. Many of these are planted in pots, some are more cool weather varieties and there's several other reasons why I'm fully expecting some casualties early on. There are somewhere around 25 varieties mostly heirlooms, and this was the real reason there are so many. I just couldn't say no to the seed catalog. Thankfully the tiny farm is paying for itself through selling eggs, seedlings, sometimes baby poultry and teaching classes. It's somewhere between a hobby and a job, but since it has it's own bank account (by bank account I mean small envelope with about $30 in it at any given time) no one bothers me about going overboard with seed buying.

Our mild winter means the eggplants and peppers from last season are still doing just fine, they're starting to put on new growth and are just starting to flower.
An eggplant flowering... in February
These should hold me over until my new varieties of pepper and eggplants begin fruiting. I can't wait!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ollas and the neighborhood community

I tried candling the duck eggs last night and they're still just a little early along for me to see anything definite. I'll give it another go this weekend, and show you pictures.
So what else have I been doing? Well, this morning I had my very first root canal. I was sick with terror about it. My doctor prescribed me some sort of anti anxiety pill to take before I went in, that helped a little, then the happy gas came,which helped more and after the shots it was really nothing at all. I couldn't believe it, after all this talk about root canals. It really didn't even hurt. YAY! So Since I was so good, I decided to get myself a special prize. I was still loopy from all the drugs, but I had my neighbor drive me over to Southwest Gardener and I picked up these babies!

My new Ollas

Southwest gardener has a 25% off coupon if you get their mailers, after the discount these four set me back $73.10 total. I had received two as a thank you gift for chick-sitting awhile back and I have loved them and am so happy to be getting more. They will go in my front yard native bed which has no drip system. A way better reward than a trip to the pizza place.

On a somewhat unrelated topic, I feel so grateful to live in the neighborhood I do. Today I came home from the dentist to a hand-written note from a guy down the street, that I had only met once in passing, wanting to learn about chickens. Still loopy from the drugs, I ran (crookedly) to his house and we talked about chickens, I told him I would help him get set-up for them and gave him some squash seeds and a tomato plant for his garden. He is a bike mechanic and volunteered to fix up an old bike we got at a garage sale to return the favor. Awesome. Over the past few weeks there's been a lot of bartering/sharing talk in the neighborhood. I'm sure some of it's because of the economy, but some of it is just people wanting to deal with individuals and business on a smaller and friendlier scale. Off the top of my head I can think of some trading around that's been going on here: food for seedlings, seeds for seeds, tool sharing for fixing tools, fixing things for seeds. This isn't officially bartered, it's more like I fixed a neighbor's sewing machine and a giant bag of oranges magically appeared at our house. It's just a bunch of folks helping out some other folks.

It's a little funny in a central phoenix neighborhood to have 5 people with chickens all on the same street and at least that many with some sort of garden plan and a bunch of us are also experimenting with home-made solar and in all other regards, we couldn't be more different. It's encouraging.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Home-made olive taste test

For those of you that have been reading the blog for awhile, you may remember that I decided to brine my own olives. I picked olives from a neighbor's tree and followed directions I found on the internet. Here's the original post if you care to read it, the olive part along with a promising photo are near the middle/bottom.

How did it go??

Terrible. Yuck. Awful.

I ended up making 5 jars total. 3 of the 5 had mold on the tops, so they were out straight away. I tried one from one of the non-moldy jars and it tasted like salty poison. Poison-y taste aside (perhaps they needed more curing) the salt is so overwhelming that you can't even begin to taste anything remotely olive-like. I think I'm going to find some local folks who have had success making olives before and find out what went wrong. As a side note, my neighbor that tried this experiment at the same time had similar results.

It's disappointing, but at least I didn't NEED these olives. It's always best to practice when you can afford to fail.

Today is day 8 on the Muscovy eggs in the incubator. Tonight I will be candling them to check for fertility. I will do my best to get pictures of anything I see and post them soon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Free Tomato Seeds, YAY!

Thanks to Susy at Chiot's Run for linking the Free Tomato Seeds offer from WinterSown and enabling me to acquire more tomato seeds, and feed my addiction. They are a non-profit seed-sharing group, to whom I will be donating seed to at the end of this season. If you didn't see it at Susy's blog, here's a link to it. Basically you send an SASE and a list of 6 choices, plus 4 alternates. The varieties are listed as all OP varieties, though I saw one or two that I'm pretty sure are hybrids.
They sent my 6 tomato requests, plus most of my alternates as well as a bonus pack of Field Pumpkin seeds. Basically, it feels like my birthday.

Here's what I got:
Egg Yolk
Cherokee Purple
Sub-Arctic Plenty
Russian Persimmon
Green Pineapple
Field Pumpkin

The Sub-Arctic Plenty and the Stupice are both 50-60 day varieties, and will be added to my year round tomato experiment.

I don't have a picture of my free seeds, so I will leave you with a gratuitous picture of Sparkle, my silver-laced wyandotte, as well as a reminder that I'll be teaching the "Raising Chickens in Your Backyard" class for the Phoenix Permaculture Guild at the farmer's market this weekend for any Phoenicians that might be interested.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chickens, ducks and someone else's lambs

I'm doing a bit of house/animal sitting about 2 hours away from home for a week. Even though both my husband and I work from home, he couldn't come up, because someone had to stay home and take care of our animals and seedlings. He's not thrilled about being on animal and plant duty, but he's a very nice and patient person, so he's doing it without complaining (the tiny farm is called "Rachel's Tiny Farm" not "Rachel and Wes' Tiny farm", for a reason).

Of course the day after I leave we get the first egg from this round of hens, They are 23 weeks old tomorrow, so it's about time. I'm hoping the others follow the Australorp's shining example. I don't think I'll be getting anymore chicks in the fall. Since I don't artificially light my birds, I think they're taking a little longer to start laying because of the short day lengths, but also, they will probably all molt this next winter and I'll get fewer eggs out of them. It seems like when you get your chicks in the spring and they start laying in summer/fall they often skip that first molt and you get a lot more eggs in the winter. That's my observation anyway.

The ducks should also lay soon. During our recent storms the ducks discovered the chicken coop and decided that they prefer sleeping in there instead of the middle of the yard, which I'm happy about. I'm hoping they'll lay in the coop where I can easily find the eggs rather than go off hiding them somewhere. There's more good duck news-- the people whom I got the ducks from are moving and don't want to deal with a new round of ducklings so I am picking up a clutch of Muscovy eggs on my way back into Phoenix next week to incubate. If everything goes well I should have muscovy ducklings available in mid-late March, let me know if you're in the Phoenix area and are interested.
Daphne heading into the coop

The people next to where I'm house-sitting have sheep and it's lambing season, the first day I was here I saw two black lambs that are a couple weeks old and this morning there were some tiny lambs that were about 36 hours old. They are a pretty tame bunch of sheep and they let me get pretty close, unfortunately I didn't bring a camera, so I just got a picture off google to illustrate. ;)

Imagine this times two, and then two more little black lambs

Now I'm scheming as to how I could get myself some sheep... there are a lot of empty houses because of the markets, maybe they could provide grazing rotation.... okay, so sheep are probably out for now. Do any of you have sheep?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Seedling progress, tomato list

There hasn't been a lot to post about around here, I've been mostly busy painting getting ready for a show I have in May. We've been getting the same weather roller coaster as most of the rest of the country, it was in the 80's last week, lots of trees started blooming and now we're getting tons of rain and frosts. It's times like this that I'm glad that I don't have to depend on my plants as my only source of food.

My seedlings are growing like crazy, I had started them anticipating being able to put them in the ground in late February, but the weather has been so nuts I'm not sure what I'm going to do. Here's a photo of their progress so far. Sorry about it being a horrible blown-out image. It was so bright I couldn't see the display on my camera to know I needed to take a better picture. ;)

There are 150+ seedlings there, mostly tomatoes... here's a full list of the tomatoes I have planted this year:

Tomatillo (not really a tomato... I know)
Besser Tomato
Bicolor cherry tomato
Bloody Butcher tomato
Brown Cherry tomato
Golden Nugget tomato
Green Grape cherry tomato
Green Zebra tomato (this was from saved seed, don't know if it will grow true)
Ivory Egg tomato
Paul Robeson Tomato
Roma Rio Grande tomato
Russian Black Tomato
Siberian tomato
Sugar Lump, AKA Gardener's Delight
Sundrop cherry tomato
Sungold cherry tomato (Hybrid)
Super Sioux tomato
Super Snow White Cherry tomato
Super Sweet 100 (Hybrid)
Sweet Gold Cherry tomato (Hybrid)
Tumbler tomato
White Queen tomato
Yellow Pear tomato

Yikes, that's about 20 more varieties than I planned on planting. :)
I'm still working on the list of varieties I want to try next year, or even this fall for the fast-maturing varieties. I'll post it soon and maybe we can swap!