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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

I hope spring is here, finally.

I sure hope spring has sprung here. I got my seedlings started earlier this year. Had them all growing under flourescent lights in the summer kitchen till this past Saturday. We decided that instead of the added expense of covering our little greenhouse with some type of plastic we would just opt to use a cold frame for the seedlings as I am not starting near as many as I normally do. But still a plenty. So Rodger and Jason took off Friday evening after work and went to Lowes to pick up 1 sheet of the clear poly carbonate panels to cover the cold frame. Less chance of hail damage in the event we have that. And hoping we dont for sure.  So they got my cold frame built and put inside the fence in my herb garden to keep the dog out of it. She likes to carry off things she finds with our smell on it. She gave the guys a fit stealing their building material and tools Saturday. Poor Sasha had many new not so nice names that day. But they got er done. Then I got all the seed trays moved in and watered with compost tea. I do have some nice sturdy seedlings this year. yay me.

 Monday we had rain off and on all day so I spent my day going in and out of the house to take the top off, put the top on, repeat. This lil cold frame can heat up really quick with very little sunshine. This is so much easier to heat than trying to keep my little greenhouse warm enough for healthy plants. Tomatoes and peppers need warmer soil to sprout and grow than some other seeds. I did invest in a couple heat mats that are made just for the seed trays I use to supply some heat from the bottom to warm the soil and speed up the sprouting process of peppers and tomatoes. They worked just great. I had misplaced some of my bell pepper seeds and could only find the orange heirloom variety when I was starting the seeds. The next day I located the other pepper seeds and decided to start some of those as well. I used a deeper, about 6 inch deep, crate that I had to line with a feed bag, add soil and sow the seeds. The soil being deeper I could not use the heat mats under this crate. So needless to say I have tomatoes and peppers started one day using the heat mats that are several inches tall and a crate with pepper and some Amish paste tomato seeds that are just starting to sprout and come up where I wasn't able to use the heat mats. Heat made all the difference in how quickly the seeds came up. Also this year I have been using all natural fertilizer on my seedlings. I procured some composted goat manure from some friends and am making compost tea to use on the plants. In this compost tea I added some Lactobacilli serum to the bucket in which I have the manure for the tea. I have had no problem what so ever with damping off disease this year starting seeds. That in itself is a big plus for me trying to start seeds really early. Normally I just start my seeds in the greenhouse in early April no later than the second week. When we get cooler nights the soil cools even with the warmth of the sun during the day and I usually end up losing a lot of seedlings from damping off. In the greenhouse I could use about 3 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide to about 1 and half cups water in spray bottle and mist the soil where the seedling are and this will sometimes stop the damping off and save the plants. But dang who needs the extra hassle. Not had to use that this year at all. I am very thankful and happy with my little bit of success  with seed starts.

Saturday I got my herb garden weeded and all cleaned out of debris from last season and over the winter. Talk about hard on the damaged back and bad legs and knees. Oh mercy, Sunday was tough. Anyway, that bed is all ready to add more herbs seedlings to when danger of frost is past. Maybe late April or early May will be safe enough to plant them without protection. I still have the strawberry bed to weed and get mulched. I planted 25 new strawberry plants this year to replace some that were spent. I intend to use straw to mulch them in with from now on. I learned the hard way that wood mulch was just too coarse a material to allow the runners to reach the soil and make roots and renew the bed.  Some of us just have to learn things the hard way. Was nice to not have to spend much time at all weeding but dang in the long run cost me in having to replace some plants. Chalk that one up to a well learned lesson at the school of hard knocks. I seem to learn a lot of things at that school.

Last week on one of the warmer days I got the fruit trees sprayed for the second time. Most of the stone fruits and pears had already lost their blooms. Not sure if they were lost from the light snow and cold or just that they were done. But the other trees, apples and nut trees are in 1/4 inch green tip stage and time for a spray. Got the neem apray mixed and Jason put the spray tank in the bucket of the little tractor and hooked the pump to the battery and off we went to spray. We had to use the tractor as my 4 wheeler is out of commission for a bit till the guys get a chance to work on it. Got er done tho.. At this point it is just wait and see how much damage the cold snap did to the trees that had already bloomed. Seems most of them were in the "process" of blooming and not in full bloom. I have noticed the pears are still making blooms so I might get a bit of fruit after all. God willing and we dont get any more serious freezes. We will take what we can get and be thankful.

We have been looking around for an "estate rake" to use in the big section of yard and orchard. An estate rake is used to rake up grass clippings to take off the yard. Usually pulled behind a 4 wheeler or mower. My intention is to use the clippings to compost for organic matter to add to the garden and orchard.  In reading and researching holistic orchard maintenance a lot of focus is on soil microbes and helping keep healthy soil. One way to do this is using the grass clippings to mulch trees and then encouraging the clippings to decompose to supply nutrients to the trees. Lactobacilli is one culture that aids in this process. I found online a method for making the lactobacilli serum to treat the soil and compost with to speed up the process.  A very simple process all in all. It is started rather simply. I will post this info in another post very soon. This serum can also be used to spray chicken and livestock buildings to eliminate odor from manure. It helps to decompose the same manure when put in compost as well. Anyway I have a science lab in my kitchen most days. One of these days I will have a mess when an experiment goes amiss. Till then I keep trying stuff.

In the house I learned to make a new bread that we are now addicted to. It is focaccia bread. Its an artisan Mediterranean bread. The authentic version has olives in it but none of us like olives so I dont use those. It was odd to me at first to make a yeast bread and not use bread flour but recipe uses plain all purpose flour. I will share the version I make for us. I use my Kitchenaid mixer to make this as I cant use my hands long enough to knead bread anymore.

Focaccia Bread

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons of hot water in Kitchenaid bowl
2 tablespoons sugar
3 1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons yeast
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil

In mixer bowl with hot water add in sugar, and 1 cup of bread flour, add yeast on top of this flour. Add remaining flour and then the salt. With dough hook attached mix ingredients a bit, maybe 1 minute. Pour in olive oil and mix well and continue kneading for about 5 minutes. When dough is smooth and elastic, turn off mixer and cover bowl and let dough rise till nearly double in size.
Prep 2 cookie sheets by oiling them with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. When dough is ready turn on mixer and stir down dough. Divide in half. Press each half on the cookie sheets pressing with fingers till it is about 1/4 inch thick. Let sit for about 10 minutes. No need to try to be perfect, this is artisan style bread.
To prepare to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using fingers make indentions all over dough and drizzle with a good olive oil. Sprinkle on about half teaspoon dried rosemary over each pan with dough. A good sprinkle of parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and chopped sun dried tomatoes that have been preserved in oil. You can also drizzle a bit of the oil from the dried tomatoes over bread as well. Top with a light layer of shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese.  You can add on some chopped olives if you enjoy those as well. Put in oven and bake till light brown. Tear into pieces at serving or cut like bread sticks and serve with a marinara sauce. Enjoy!!
We can make a meal on this and a bowl of marinara sauce.  This is a bread that you can top any way you like really . If you love garlic cloves by all means slice some onto dough. A thin layer of pizza sauce would be yummy with your choice of pizza toppings. An easy bread that can be used many ways. Limited only by the imagination.

Not much else happening here on the homestead, so till next time, blessings from the McGuire homestead.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Yep, back again for another round

I started my lil blog several years ago to more or less document our successes and failures here and to share a little bit of knowledge from things we learned along the way. Then somehow I started slacking on keeping my blog updated. Now seems like I am about 5 months behind. And a lot can happen in 5 months around here. After my last post we got to drive to Arizona and see our kids and the grandbabies out there. I tell ya, nothing like 2 little boys to make a feller drive for days no matter how much it hurts the body. They are worth every pain tho just to see those happy little faces. Then November was hunting season and spent most of the month in west Ky at the lodge helping out there. Back home and then flew to Arizona to spend 3 weeks or so with the kids and those precious lil boys again thru the Christmas holiday and the littlest one, Zach's 2nd birthday. Got back to my homestead shortly after new years and here it is March already. Dang where did the time go?

We have decided that we want to get all our garden planted by mid April this year like we use to do several years ago. It was just what my dad always insisted on doing. He said if you plant early things sprout and start to come up and you get them in ahead of the spring rains and just do so much better. Never knew of a year when dad failed to have a productive garden. Last fall Rodger did manage to get our garden plot turned so it can be worked a bit earlier this year. So this gives me hope we will be able to plant earlier this season than in the past few years. I did start my transplant seeds early also. I already have cabbage up, although they are lil ones yet. I did suck it up and invest in 2 seed tray heat mats to use for the peppers and tomatoes this year. Both of those need a bit of heat to sprout well and come up. I have herbs started as well as the tomatoes, peppers and cabbage. In my herb garden it is just easier to transplant small clumps of herb plants than to try to keep ahead of the tiny weeds that tend to come up with them. As far as my experience I have less lost of seedlings and plants this way. Not to mention I know where I planted things so less chance of them being trampled when I am in there doing weeding and harvesting.

I have done a lot of research on orchards and fruit tree care this winter when it was too cold to get out and do projects outside. Well at least for me. I want to be a snow bird and go south in winter as I get older. Just no place like home tho. Anyway, we strive to use very little to no spray on things here. I am well aware that it kills the soil and depletes it over time to use pesticides. We use No weed or grass killer, herbicides, on or near any of our crops. We decided to try to go organic as far as how we care for the orchard. I did a great deal of research on Neem as a tree spray. On researching it I found that most places, big box stores and even local farm stores just sell "chemical" sprays, not really organic. But they do sell neem oil spray. Only problem with this is the neem they sell is only 1 or 2 components of true whole neem oil. So I found an online source for whole neem oil. I thought with shipping it was kinda pricey but after checking the price of the partial stuff sold at farm stores it was actually cheaper over all. If interested in any of this info visit the site on growing organic and for the pure neem oil. Finally this past weekend I did get the first round of neem on my fruit trees and grape vines. I sprayed with the neen and fish emulsion to give the trees a nutrient boost for leaf production. We had put fertilizer on the trees and grape vines prior to the spraying. I did find a few small branches on my peach and cherry trees with bloom. Not totally bloomed out so that was a plus. I am sure we will have some frost and cold weather before we actually get to spring so hopefully they will bloom and produce some fruit this year. The apple and nut trees are not even in green tip stage yet so they should do ok. It is strange in east Ky to have 70 plus degree weather in February so this was the problem with some early blooms. I had read a news article saying that lots of commercial orchards are having an issue with trees blooming too early and will likely suffer frost and freeze kills this year. Cant imagine the price of fruit this fall if you can purchase it at all. If news is saying lots of killed fruit it might be wise for all of us that use a lot of canned fruit, homegrown or otherwise, to stock up on canned fruit early ahead of the price increases. 

                                                       Before pruning sweet cherry trees.
                                                   After pruning sweet cherry trees.

                                 Northern side of our orchard after pruning and before clean up

Last spring I ordered some baby chicks to raise a new laying flock. I being the dummy ordered 25 Buff Orphington pullets. Love this breed. Very docile sweet hens. I had hopes of getting at least one rooster albeit by mistake but that didnt happen. So I had 25 hens. Gosh they all started laying and I was over run with eggs. It is near impossible to sell country eggs here when people can go to the store and use their food stamps and get them cheaper. So I ended up giving a friend half my young laying pullets. I kept 12 and still get too many eggs. Not that that is a bad thing. I do appreciate the effort the girls put in, but just how many chicken fruit can a house of 2 or 3 eat? Well not as many as they provide. But I have a couple people who do get eggs from us so that helps a lot. We plan to build a new run this spring for them so they can be outside a bit but as for now they have to stay inside. Too many predators and our lil girl Sasha is not old enough to know to protect them. She thinks they are for her entertainment right now. She is just a puppy at 10 months old but will outgrow that stage soon we hope.

Last spring a friend in Virginia sent me some thornless blackberry starts. Most people say blackberry shoots, I call these things trees. This is gonna be a learning curve for me for sure. She had told me to tie them upright to a stake or fence. So this I did to the side of the garden fence. Oh geez, I was tying plants all summer. Once you have them growing upright then clip the top to a manageable height. Then they send out limbs off that stem, clip those limbs to about 1 to 2 feet in length. Those limbs will make more lil limbs, clip them to about 1 to 2 feet. All the growth I got from the plants last summer will bloom and produce berries this season. God willing. But am thinking now I sure dont need 25 of those "blackberry trees" I will be picking berries till the cows come home. But thas ok, I will be thankful and consider my self very blessed. Not to mention the fact I ordered some thornless raspberry starts this spring from Starks. Speaking of which, we decided if we are gonna plant trees, and perirrenial plants we are best served to just pay a bit more and get good quality healthy starts. So I will be probably taking our a few of the blackberry plants that are smaller and putting in some raspberry plants on the end of the row on the same fence as the blackberries are now. I am pretty excited to have berries that dont leave me bleeding when I pick them. I also had to purchase some new strawberry plants. I had a good idea once but it didnt work as I planned. I had planted strawberry plants in holes in landscape fabric then mulched them. It worked great for keeping weeds down. BUT the strawberry runners were not able to take root thru the layer of mulch thus they did not live once the plant reproduced. So my strawberry bed was not able to renew itself and now it has scarcely any plants. So last fall I took out the landscape fabric and mulch, tilled the soil, added organic fertilizer and am ready to plant new plants. I am gonna attempt to find some saw dust to use as mulch this year or maybe collect pine needles. It should be much easier for the new runners to take root and keep the strawberry bed renewed very year or so.  You live and learn I reckon.

These are the blackberry bushes tied back to the garden fence. Not to mention this is November.
These things were still growing into December. When we pruned the fruit trees in early February I went by the outside of the garden fence and clipped off some blackberry limbs that were hanging way over the outside. I am sure the deer will help themselves to any plant material or berry that is hanging out of the garden. Or the crows will help themselves. I do have netting to put over small trees and fruiting berries to prevent crow lose this year I hope. They ate all the grapes on the grapevines that are to the left of the blackberries outside the fence. They are going to be trellised this spring with a T-top trellis for ease of covering with netting when the grapes start to ripen.

So now you have a little bit of a catch up post. I am certain I am missing filling you in on something important so maybe I will remember it next time. Till then, blessings from the McGuire homestead.