Monday, November 29, 2010

32 Degrees, Freeze

the only picture i could find to signify winter: dkitw circa 2008

Hey winter, it has been a while. Tomorrow the low in San Antonio is 29 degrees! What a novelty. Since our winters are cold for about half a second, you can cover your plants up for one night and extend the growing season for weeks. Here are our cold winter tips.

1. Do a really deep watering the day of the freeze.

2. If you want to cover your plants, do it during the daylight. This will trap the warmth in with your plants and keep them cozy during the freeze. You can do it after dark, it is better than nothing, but not as good as a little preplanned day wrap. Not to mention it is a lot easier to accomplish an effective wrap when you can see.

3. You can cover your plants in row cover, plastic, sheets, light blankets, whatever you got. People build quick hoop houses to keep a heavy, wet blanket from squashing their plants. But you can rig sticks or poles or containers to keep your cover from smashing down your plants.

4. When we wrap our orange tree, we fill an old gallon milk container or two with water and wrap it in there as well. The water will capture warmth during the day and keep the temperature more steady during the night.

5. Move any cold sensitive potted plants inside your home or garage.

6. Extra mulch around your plants will help protect them as well.

7. Make and then drink hot coco.

Baby its cold outside.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Compost Ladder

Trying to figure out how the other chickens got up there. *Not Noodles.

Fenced In

Since that last post was epic, you might think I said everything I needed to say about chickens, leaves and compost. Surprisingly, no. One last thing. We also have a small compost pile attached to our chicken yard. The compost pile is completely fenced in, even on the top, so the chickens can't fly out. There is a small ladder for the chickens to climb up into the compost pile and they go wacky when we put in veggie and fruit scraps from the kitchen.

Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount. -Clare Boothe Luce

Leaf Man in The Adventure of the Deep Mulch

Hardy Aka Pecker


We have kept chickens just about every way you can keep chickens. We started with a chicken tractor that we moved around the yard every few days. This is a highly recommended option. You don't have to clean out the coop, they chickens get fresh grass every day, and your lawn gets fertilized. This method may not be so good for people with dogs who want to eat the chickens. The dogs can spend all day jump on the tractor terrifying your chickens. Scared chickens won't lay as many eggs or any eggs at all.

Then we were letting our chickens free range all over the yard when there were no baby plants to eat and keeping them in their fenced chicken yard the rest of the time. Chickens can massacre a bed of sprouts in about 2 minutes. As our veggies garden has grown, our time without a bed of baby plants has shrunk.

Now we use the deep leaf litter method. We just dump excessive amounts of leaves into the chicken yard. It is mulched about 1 foot deep with fall leaves. The chickens can turn this down amazingly quickly. We keep adding in more bagged leaves every few days. This keeps away flies and keeps the chicken area smelling fresh. The chicks love when we dump new leaves into their yard. They dig for bugs, scratch around and seem to be playing in the leaves. This mulch also improves the spoil under the chickens considerably which brings more worms and bugs to the soil giving the chickens more protein snacks. Every day when I weed the garden, I put the pulled weeds into a bucket. This becomes their daily greens. Weeding is considerably more fun when you think about it as getting the chickens some treats.

There is one catch, finding enough leaves. We live (literally) on the wrong side of the tracks from a very nice neighborhood. The kind of neighborhood that employs a great many professional gardeners. On any given day, they are dozens of bags of leaves out on the curb. DHIW drives around in his pickup truck gathering as many as he can. When he runs into residents inquiring what he is doing with their "trash" he tells them that we use it in the garden and they are always really pleased. People are already starting to recognize him as the leaf man.

Since we also use leaves in our garden paths, we only have enough leaves for our immediate uses. Now we are working on a way to save enough to get us through the summer. DHIW made a leaf insulation around the chicken coop wall. This serves a double purpose of keep the chickens warmer on winter nights and giving us another place to store some leaves. Anyone have any ideas about storing a large quantity of leaves?

Regard it as just as desirable to build a chicken house as to build a cathedral. -Frank Lloyd Wright

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Succession Planting

We use succession planting in the garden. That is a big term that we use to mean, we plant the same thing, at later dates, to keep the harvest going. No one wants 30 purple cabbages at once. But most people could use a purple cabbage or so a week. We plant one group of purple cabbages at the beginning of purple cabbage season, then more a few weeks later down the row, then more a few more weeks down the row until we get to the end of cabbage season.

Here's another good trick when planting your veggie garden. We plant rows or sections of alternating crops. So here we have purple cabbage, then a row of peas in between. This keeps bugs from feasting on your whole bed of deliciousness all in one go. Let's say you get a bug infestation of bugs that love to eat cabbage. If you have a whole huge row of cabbage, they just stepped into an all you can eat bug buffet were they can gorge, met their future spouse and make lots more bugs who love to eat cabbage all in one place. If the bugs who love cabbage have to navigate through a few rows of peas, quite a few won't make it through the buffer zone. Nature does not put only one kind of plant in the woods, and neither should you. Keeps things interesting.

Hot Tip: Right now is the last chance to plant broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower from seed so you can harvest them before it gets too hot in the spring. (You still have more time if you want to plant transplants.)

Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education. -Mark Twain

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Monster How To Tour

Today we gave a little tour of our backyard farm to some lovely and engaging people. Now that I think about it, that might have been the best behaved group of kids I have ever come across. We expected some minor trampling of the garden but there was none. The only kid who sat smack dab in the baby sprouts was, of course, my own daughter and our dog. Naturally. I figured I would pull up a monster list of some of the more relevant how to's from the blog so readers could find them all in one place. Here goes:

How to Make A Rain Barrel

How To Make Dead Wood Swale

How to Buy Transplants

Making A New Bed

Worm Composting In An Old Nightstand

Ok So Now How Do I Separate My Worms From My Worm Compost?

How To Raise A Butterfly

Use Beneficial Nematodes to Get Rid of Fleas

Making A New Bed 2

Harvesting Grain

Frog House

Make Your Own Egg Dye

I also realized I wrote over three times as many posts last year as this year. Oops! Thanks for hanging in there with me guys. I am going to work on updating more for the rest of the year.

"I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma." ~Eartha Kitt

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Nom Nom Nom. It is fresh greens time. We are growing cut and go lettuce, butter lettuce, spinach, and kale. I love greens time because it means I never have to go lettuce less on a sandwich or hamburger in a pinch. I often make Kale salad for pot lucks. People are always asking for the recipe. This isn't much of a recipe but it is super delicious.

Massaged Kale Salad

Cut Kale into thin strips. Cut off the stalk part.
Pour oil onto kale and massage the oil into the kale with your hands, breaking up the texture.
In a small bowl, mix vinegar, mustard and agave. Sometimes soy sauce if I feel like it.
Dump it on the kale and toss.
Add a handful of sesame seeds on top.

Viola! You are eating Kale raw and this gives you some street cred in the vegan, raw foods world.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Preparing for the Orchard

This may look like yet another pile of leaves and food trash in our yard. Wrong! You have to look into its future potential; as our backyard orchard. We put down cardboard, tree clippings and compost to help kill off the grass underneath. Trees and grass do not mix. This will improve the soil for when we plant fruit trees this winter. Late fall through winter is the right time to plant trees in South Texas. They get a chance to put their roots in before the hot hot heat of summer. I think we are going for a mix of pomegranates, lemons, oranges and maybe a fig tree to be planted in December and January.

Since its been awhile, here's how the garden looks now.

We are growing: lettuce, chard, spinach, onions, garlic, cabbage, beets, kale, peppers, cucumbers, squash, green beans, artichokes, broccoli, and herbs.

Dirtiest Husband drives around the local neighborhoods picking up bags and bags of leaves in his truck. We use them to deep mulch the chicken yard and in between our garden rows as paths. These leaves keep weeds from growing in our paths. We spend the season stomping on them as we harvest and water our veggies, breaking them down and then the following season we rake them into the beds broken down and perfect for adding nutrients to the soil. There is nothing to dislike about turning trash into treasure.

A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible. ~Welsh Proverb