Monday, June 28, 2010

Back to the Blogosphere! Here comes the garden!

Hello Blogosphere!  It has been a long time since my last post, but I do have a very good excuse.  My parents visited from Canada for two delightful weeks and I was a busy little bee the whole time.  Then of course there was a week of playing catch-up at work because two weeks of work was sitting there waiting for me upon my return.  It's the only bad thing about taking time off!  Now I'm finally finding a bit of time for a blog.  I have much to blog about, but one topic at a let's start with the garden.

So, you may recall that I posted here about the plans for my raised bed garden.  Well, today's post is mostly about the absolutely INCREDIBLE effort my parents put in to help me realize a huge portion of that plan.  We completed the entire top quarter section consisting of 14 raised beds!!  This would have taken months of work without their effort, and there is just no way for me to fully express my gratitude for their time and effort.

The area that we began to work in was thick and high with weeds.  I don't just mean a few dandelions here and there.  I mean a full on assault of weeds.  The majority of it was prickly lettuce and lamb's quarters, along with a lot of daisies, some sort of bindweed, loads of grassy weeds, and some enormous sorrel plants thrown in for good measure.  Most of it was between 18 inches and 3 feet tall.  It was very dense and difficult to walk through in some areas.  Here's a picture showing some cleared area in the foreground and uncleared behind it.  All weeds.  All of it.  (except the grapevines on the far right).  It was dreadful challenging.

After some major sessions removing weeds and feeding them to the goats and sheep, my Dad and I took careful measurements.  He had been building some 8 by 4 foot beds that were 10 inches deep.  I'd purchased the lumber before they arrived and since the weather had been somewhat uncooperative (i.e. raging thunderstorms), he'd spent time assembling these beds.

After we measured, we placed the first set of beds.  My Mom then helped us lay cardboard flat inside them to block the remaining weeds at the bottoms, and then we began to fill them with layers of composted manure, decomposing straw, and a topsoil/compost mix.  The cardboard is at the bottom and will decompose over time while preventing the weeds from coming up.

Throughout their visit, whenever the weather was clear for a while (and believe me, that was a bit of a challenge), we would all go out and work on the garden.  The progress was steady and before long, it was really starting to look good!

Superman My Dad also made some lower height raised beds which I plan to use for perennials like rhubarb and strawberries.  At the moment, all the raised beds are being used for annual crops because it's a bad time to be moving perennials.  When things begin to go dormant in the fall, I will be moving the rhubarb up to the raised beds into a more permanent home.  I also hope to start an asparagus bed next spring.

Here you can see that the front beds have already been seeded, and then had a generous sprinkling of llama poop beans.  Excellent fertilizer.

The next phase of the botanical masterpiece kitchen garden will be the addition of raised beds for the black currants, red currants, white currants and gooseberries.  Those will also be lower height raised beds because the currant shrubs will be worked into the existing soil.

Here you can see Superwoman my mother and I hard at work seeding the raised beds.  Even though the humidity was beastly and the sweat was pouring off me like a waterfall the temperature was high, we kept diligently working away.  You can also see the shallower raised bed frames are currently sitting on top of some of the deeper beds just as a "resting place" until they are in their correct location.  We also put in a few tomato transplants that Kelly got from work, and a sage plant.

Raised beds are soooo much easier for weeding and seeding than working in the concrete heavy clay soil that I have here in Iowa.  The soil here is very dense and heavy and so full of weed seeds.  The weed pressure is tremendous, and the roots are hard to pull because of the soil type.  The soil in the raised beds is much easier to work and will allow me to weed quickly and easily.

Here's a rather dramatic looking picture that my Dad took showing a retreating storm in the distance and the raised beds in the foreground.  That sky isn't dark blue - it's the deep grey-blue of an Iowa thunderstorm,b ut the greens are bright because the sun is beginning to emerge from the opposite direction (i.e. behind the photographer).  We saw this view almost daily, it seemed.  But, it was great for seeds!
Before my parents' visit ended, the seeds we had planted were already coming up.  In the next few shots you can see radishes, beans, melons, zucchini, beets, carrots, and other delights beginning to emerge.

I know it's a bit late this year and I may not have great harvests of some things, but next year I'll be way ahead.  In any event, most of what we sowed is less than 75 days to maturity, so keep your fingers crossed for late first frosts!!

And THANK YOU to my fabulous parents, without whom none of this would be in place.  Seriously, I have the best parents anyone could dream of, and I love them dearly for who they are and all they do.

Garden bliss is mine!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Dye, Fiber and Fun

I'm ever so excited about my parents' impending visit - they arrive on Tuesday.  It will be such a delight to have them here and just to spend time with them.  Their visit this year is a little later than in previous years, which means it will be rather warmer than usual for them.  Fortunately the house has good air conditioning, so at least it will be comfortable indoors even when it's muggy and thick outdoors.

One of the activities I'd like to do with my mother is to play with dyeing some yarn and fiber.  In preparation for that little artistic endeavour, I made 1% dye stocks today in 14 different colours.
Making the dye stock solutions means that we can either use them full strength or dilute them a little for different shades of the colour.  I learned how to make the dye stock solutions at the Harveyville Yarn School event last fall, and I learned that they will store almost indefinitely that way.  I recycled Gatorade bottles by washing them out and keeping the lids.  They make a nice size for the stock solutions and if one were to fall off a shelf, it's less likely to be as much of a disaster as, say, using a glass bottle!

The Iowa Sheep and Wool Festival is also happening during the visit, so we will see if there are any other colours we just can't live without, and perhaps make a few more stock solutions.  Then, we'll get down to business with some of the wonderful yarn that my processor, High Prairie Fibers, spun up for me.  This yarn is from an East Friesian-Polypay cross fleece that I purchased at the Wisconsin Sheep Festival last year.
This yarn, which begs to be overdyed for a lovely heathered look, is spun from a Cotswold-Corriedale cross fleece that I also purchased at the Wisconsin show.
Of course, if we run out of yarn to dye, there's always a little bit of fiber around...
...and about....

Now that school is finished for a little while, I've been doing a bit of spinning.  I spun up a 50% bamboo, 50% superwash merino yarn, 2 ply, using some roving from Fiber Optic Yarns on Etsy.  I wound it onto one of the most beautiful niddy noddies you have ever seen!   Isn't she lovely?!
My father made her for me from mahogany wood.  I just love the way it handles the yarn - the finish is soooo smooth!  It feels special to be able to use a tool in my hobby that came from my Dad's hands, even though they live so far away.
Unfortunately for all my spinning friends, I don't think he's going to go into full time production of these!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Proper Project Planning

The only thing that is currently in the ground in my vegetable garden is the garlic, which I planted last fall.  It looks quite good, and is developing scapes.  Excellent!  There are two areas of garlic in my garden.  One area is planted in the ground.  It is 8 rows worth of different varieties and it has been so overgrown with weeds that the garlic is beginning to disappear.  It has taken several hours to clear the first four rows of weeds.  Keep in mind, I'm working in very heavy Iowa clay soil - not an easy task!!  When you couple that with the fact that I live in the country, where weed seeds are as prevalent as oxygen, it's a losing battle unless you want to use a lot of herbicide, or unless you have a LOT more time than I do for weeding.  The second area is planted in two raised beds.  The garlic and shallots growing in the raised beds are doing so with remarkable vigour.  I have spent maybe 20 minutes in weeding those two raised beds, if that.  I just have to scrabble the surface a bit with a hand held small hoe.  It's nothing.  Tickling the soil is about as accurate a description as I can give.

So, what do I prefer?  Hours of weeding in clay soil where only half the weeds come up with roots intact, or a few minutes of absent-minded hoeing?  Ding-ding-ding-ding-ding!!!  You're a winner if you picked option number two!!!  What, then, is a busy gardener to do?  Well, plan a project of course!

I'm a planner when it comes to large scale projects.  Actually, I'm a planner for any sort of project.  I'm one of those detail-oriented people who likes to have all the little things addressed and accounted for ahead of time.  This personality quirk has served me well in my life - not only in the workplace, but also at home.  While I admit to not being a model housekeeper, nor being a particularly spectacular cook, I can make a great list of what "should be done" in order to host a dinner party and can organize all the fine details and ensure the whole thing goes off without a hitch.  Just don't assign me to the housekeeping or cooking role!  

Lately, the lack of organization in my vegetable garden has been irritating me.  I don't like willy-nilly plantings and a lack of structure.  Things must "Be. Just. So."  I used to have 8 lovely raised beds at my previous suburban home in which I grew tomatoes, melons (vertically), potatoes, all sorts of root crops like carrots and parsnips, as well as some herbs and peppers.  That was in a small suburban backyard.  Now, here I am in a rural lifestyle, I can do oh-so-much more!  

So, here's the plan (you can click to "biggify" it).  The garden area is already fenced.  My plan is to delineate the raised beds that will be built.  Some will be perennials, like the strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb, currant bushes, and perhaps something else (I've left a perennial bed unmarked).  The remaining green and lime coloured beds are for annuals.  There will be plenty of space for crop rotation so that the beds don't get re-used and insect populations don't build up in the soil for that type of crop.

The beds are being built of 2 x 10 lumber, and some will have a 2 x 6 riser on top to make them deeper.  This will depend on which crop is going into them.  The strawberries, for example, will be fine with the 10 inch depth.  They don't need 16 inches.  Carrots and parsnips, on the other hand, will need a deeper bed.  The lumber is regular construction lumber but it will be lined with cut open plastic feed bags to keep the soil from touching the wood.  This will make it last a little longer.  Cedar 2 x 10 boards are...well...not in my price range!

The currants will be moved this fall from a different area of the farm where they are currently located.  They'll be put into the raised beds when they have gone dormant.  I have white currants, red currants, black currants, pink currants, and also gooseberries in that area.  I really like the small fruits.  As you can see, I also have the grapevines and brambles (raspberries & blackberries) marked out.  They are also already there.  In addition, I have some hardy kiwi vines to be planted.

In the centre of the overall design, I have a plan for a sculptural element or perhaps a fountain.  This will be one of those things that I will know when I see it.  There's no rush for me to find it yet.  You can also see that I've allocated space for a 10 x 10 coop next to the compost pile.  I will rotate some chickens into the coop for the summer and fall.  They will turn over the compost and keep it well aerated.  I'm thinking that it might be the ideal location for some of my bantams.  

The beds at the bottom that are "L" shaped will be offset slightly from the plan so that they will be centered with the rest of the garden path.  I haven't quite decided what I'll do with the lower right corner yet.  There is always room for a small shed to contain the primary gardening tools.  

Now that I have this plan, I feel better about the garden, even though the plan is not yet in progress.  This is a large plan and will take some time - I figure about 2 years, to get completed.  At the completion though, I will have a clear, organized garden that is MUCH easier to weed and manage than the current situation.  I will also have a place to put a lot of that free manure from the sheep!  So when does all this start?  My parents arrive for a visit next week and they enjoy helping with projects when they visit.  I have all the materials for the top quarter section of beds (the perennials section).  If the weather behaves, hopefully we can get some of that part completed and I can actually get a few late crops into the ground for fall harvesting.  Stay tuned - I'll give progress reports as this project moves ahead!