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.
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.