Growth is a double edged sword. Unchecked, growth can be cancerous and destructive. It is this type of ceaseless expansion that has put our society into the precarious environmental and financial positions in which we currently find ourselves. On the other hand, growth can be regenerative and life-giving. Following a forest fire or a bitter winter, the first green shoots to emerge from the earth bear witness to the earth's ability to restore life in the wake of disaster.

My goal for this blog is pretty simple and open-ended: I want to document and share with family and friends my efforts to incorporate an ever increasing degree of self sufficiency, voluntary simplicity, and environmentally-conscious design into my life as a would be urban homesteader.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Counting our Chickens (now that they've hatched)

Back in January, I noted that of all my goals for the coming year, acquiring more chickens was probably the least likely to happen. Life, however, has a quirky sense of humor. It started when the kindergarten teacher at the boys' school asked if my parents could get her some fertilized eggs for her class to hatch. When she also asked (knowing that we already have some chickens) if we would be willing to take the chicks when they were done with the project, Renee surprisingly said that would be ok.

Wow, that was easy.

This all was a little over a month ago. On Friday, we became the proud owners of 10 little chicks. I'll have to check with my parents to see what breed(s) of chickens they might be. I also have no idea about the sex of any of them. We employed the "Ok, who just tried crowing?" method of rooster identification last time around. Because we live in the city, all of the boys get shipped off to my parents' house once they get noisy. Statistically, we should wind up somewhere between 4-6 pullets.

Now for the important part, all of the chicks have been named. Identification for some of them is a little sketchy at this point. The roster is as follows:
Fireball - bright yellow with a sorta orange-ish head
Sunshine - bright yellow
Pikachu - also bright yellow
Mr.Peepers - bright yellow, but louder
Dot - bright yellow with a tiny grey dot on its head
Spot - dark grey with a large yellow spot on its head
Tuxedo - black with white/yellow marks on its chin and belly
Darth Vader - black with an orange face
Ashes - mottled grey
Bones - also mottled grey

I'll give a fabulous prize the the first person who can use those descriptions to correctly identify all of the chicks in picture below. Good luck.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sweet Potatoes

It has been a few years since I grew sweet potatoes in the garden, and since all 3 of the kids love them, I decided to give it a go again. You can purchase slips at the nursery, but I thought it would be a fun project to do with the kids to sprout them ourselves. I bought 8 at the grocery store a month or so ago. The kids poked toothpicks into them and we set them into jars of water. The jars have been sitting in the seedling window in our kitchen. After a couple of weeks, some of them started to send down roots in the water. A few days later, some of the sweet potatoes started to sprout buds on their top sides. We now have a germination rate of 80%-ish. Not too bad considering that tubers sold in the grocery store are usually treated with a substance that is designed to prevent them from sprouting. Given our success, I might buy some more this weekend since they are on sale for $.49 a pound.
Sweet Potatoes are originally a tropical plant, so they like plenty of warmth. I'm going to put down black weed barrier to help warm the soil. I also recall seeing a video on youtube once where a guy was growing them under a plastic tunnel to boost temperatures. I think St.Louis gets hot enough on its own during the middle of summer, but I might try it out early on.
Darius over at "Gardening Along the Creek" recently posted about trying to start sweet potato slips in potting soil instead of water. She's putting them on top of a heat pad to boost temperatures and promote sprouting. That's an idea I might try in the future. It would be interesting to see how the germination rates/speed varied with and without additional heat. Even if I don't try that, I'm curious to see how many pounds of tubers I get back from a $4.50 investment.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Weekend Work

The temperatures this past weekend were unseasonably warm (the bank sign said 93 today). I took advantage of the opportunity to get some work knocked out around the house. The raised beds that wrap around the Southeast corner of the house didn't amount to much last year. I had some peppers, carrots, lettuce, and herbs in there. The only thing that came out of it were two tough-assed basil plants that defied my repeated attempts to dehydrate them. These are the beds that I want to plant all of my peppers in this year, so I needed to get them in order. I added dirt and compost to fill them up. For the record, a '92 Toyota Tercel with a gimpy 4 cylinder engine and a loose clutch will NOT haul 650 pounds of topsoil and a 254 pound driver at one time. I also improved the chook/rabbit/child defenses with some chicken wire. The beds with the trellis will house some early cucumbers. Now my pepper seedlings just need to get growing.

I also managed to clean and organize my shed - a job that was way overdue. In doing so, I drug out a bunch of pots that were hiding in a corner. I filled them with some potting soil that was laying around, and viola! Instant patio herb garden. More to come on this later.

Lastly, the Grand Rapids and Winter Density lettuce that I planted in February are really starting to come in, so they needed to be thinned. Thinning out a lettuce bed is a lot like weeding, except that you get to eat what you pull up. So tonight's supper featured the first salad from the summer garden. It was a nice finish to a very productive two days.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring Beginnings

The best part about Spring is that you get to see all of the new things sprouting, budding, and taking shape after the frozen lull of Winter. Here are a few things coming up around the 'burbstead.

1. The peppers are up. Pepper plants can be incredibly pokey when it comes to sprouting, but they're finally here. Once they get big enough, I'm going to put them in a raised bed along the south-facing wall of our house with a tunnel over them. I'm hoping that the southern exposure and coverage (along with some solar gain from the brick wall) will let me get them in the ground by the beginning of May. The varieties of sweet pepper that I'm growing this year include: King of the North and Wisconsin Lakes (red bell peppers), Orange bell pepper, Veri's Sweet Italian, and Tolle's Sweet Italian. The hot peppers (my favorites) are: Orange Habanero, Tobago Seasoning pepper, Ancho, Black Hungarian, Jalapeno, and Paprika.

2. The first official harvest out of the garden. Tater was excited this past Sunday to discover some Cherry Belle radishes that were big enough to pick. They were some of the ones that we had planted under a low tunnel this past February. That's over 3 weeks sooner than last year! I didn't realize how much earlier that was then last year until I checked my 2010 garden journal. The lettuce and peas that were under cover are also way ahead of last year's crops. A handful of radishes is not something to get too excited about, but it's pretty cool to see what just a little bit of season extension can do. That brings us to...

3. I've finally gotten started on my trampoline frame hoop house. The final dimensions are going to be 14'x15', which is about 5' shorter than originally planned, but it will fit into the garden better this way. It will be about 7' tall in the center, and will have a 3' bed on each side and a 4' bed running down the center. I need to get the conduit or lumber (whichever I can scrounge up) for the runners and ridge pole. I won't put plastic over it until fall, but I'm going to get some stuff in the ground here soon, and I might try putting the low tunnel inside it to get a jump start on some of the Silver Fir Tree tomatoes. Long range, I'd like to be able to overwinter the chickens in there, along with growing food. In any case, it's nice to be making headway on on of my goals from New Years.