The cabbage are growing green and robust, in another week they will start going outside during the day and an occasional mild night. I am planning on having them out in the garden in the next three week. Their secondary leaves are coming and soon they will start to curve inward, the first makings of a cabbage head.
The tomatoes are also getting their secondary leaves, I am happy with their progress. The biggest trick with starting seedling in doors is making sure they have enough light so they don’t get “leggy” where the stem stretches long and thin, trying to reach enough light. It makes the plant weak. I keep the tomatoes under grow lights, the light hangs about an inch away from the seedlings, to prevent stretching. Within the next week I will set them out side in the full sun during the days and that too will help prevent stretching. The tomatoes have to be babied a little bit longer, they are a tender plant and can’t take any freezing. They will be safe in the garden about mid-May and I will wait until the first of May to start hardening them off, depending on night time temperatures.
I have a confession to make. I believe in fairies, and many other mythical creatures of the forest, desert, streams and lakes. I always have, I just didn’t ever dare say. I love the stories and folklore, the magic of it all and I often tell my kids about the fairies and other creatures that live among us. We have slowly named areas and landmarks on our land, some names are quite practical, for example: the chicken yard, the garden, the drive way, or the wood lot. Other names are a bit more magical (and I’m always thinking of new ones), we have: The Mother Tree, Little Tree, Orchard Meadow, Greenman, and the Shay. The Shay is a small area of land that we intend to keep wild, with very little modification, there is one Juniper tree that stands in the area, who is the guardian, he has yet to be named, and we plan on planting a few more (native of course). In the Shay we are very careful not to leave any trace we have been there, unless they are gifts to the fairies that make it their home. The kids have made small fairy houses out of bits of bark, moss and other natural materials and on occasion they will leave little bits of food, crusts of bread from a picnic or crumbs from a cake, to keep our fairy folk happy so they will bring us good luck.
This weekend a bit of whimsy washed over us and we decided to build us a fairy castle, of course made of the finest material available. We found a fairly flat area in The Shay, collected materials and went to work. (I got the idea here: http://www.hgtv.com/design/outdoor-design/landscaping-and-hardscaping/wildlife-wall)
In all practicality what we were creating was a habitat or home for beneficial insects and places for smaller mammals and birds to hide. A land that is teaming with life, from bug to human, is healthy, nourishing and giving. Just the thing we are working to create. When a land is sterile of all the little creatures it is dead, physically and spiritually, it cannot nourish.
Inviting the fairies invites life.
Guest Post by Emma Kieffer
I’m going to tell you about our dog Tippy. We got her from my great uncle Mark, he got her to herd cows but she was too afraid so he gave her to us. She is a very good dog.
Tippy is a great play mate, she is black with white on the tips of her toes. One of my favorite things to do with Tippy is play chase, we chase each other around. Another thing like to do is to take her on walks, sometimes we walk her on the road but usually we walk her around our property. Tippy is not very good at playing fetch but she is amazing to play fetch with when she wants to.
Tippy guards our farm. She looks after our farm animals by barking at predators. We put her by the rabbits and the chickens, so that she scares off predators. She warns us when a coyote or a raccoon are near our animals. The main predator she scares off is coyotes, she barks at them and that scares them away.
Tippy has trouble obeying us. She likes to chase after our cats. We are training her not to chase the cats. First we put her on a leash and we tell her to sit, second we put a cat in front of her, then we tell her to stay. If she stays she gets a treat.
I love Tippy so much, she is a great dog. She is one of the only dogs I’m comfortable around.
Every spring, when the snow has melted, finds me on the hunt for the first wild greens of the season, Dandelion is usually one of the very first wild edibles, but even before the Dandelion comes the quiet Common Mallow. She lies close to the ground with her delicate little flowers and unique leaves, she is usually called a weed and is sprayed and pulled, but she is much more. As kids we would eat the little flower buds and call them cheesies, little did we know the whole plant was edible and how incredibly nutritious our little “cheesies” were.
The common mallow is part of the large family of Malvaceae plants that include cotton, okra and hibiscus. It is an edible plant that has been used for medicinal care as well as food. The fruits are round and have cheese-like wedges which give the common mallow its nickname, cheese plant. Mallow stems are flexible and come from a central point, often lounging on the ground. This wild edible is used as herbal medicine in a variety of ways. It is an anti-inflammatory, diuretic, demulcent, emollient, laxative and an expectorant.
Distinguishing Features: Common mallow is a winter or summer annual or biennial, freely branching at the base, with a prostrate growth habit. It is a low growing weed, with a deep fleshy tap root. The seeds germinate through the summer and broken stems can also root. This plant has stems that originate from a deep tap root and are low spreading with branches that reach from a few centimeters to almost 60 centimeters long.
Flowers: The flowers are borne either singly or in clusters in the leaf axils blooming from June to late autumn. They have 5 petals and are white, pinkish or lilac flowers that measure on average, 1 to 1.5 cm across.
Leaves: Common mallow leaves are alternate, on long petioles, circular to kidney-shaped, toothed and shallowly 5-9 lobed, 2-6 cm wide. Short hairs present on upper and lower leaf surfaces, margins and petioles.
Height: This plant can grow anywhere from 10 to 60 cm in length.
Habitat: The common mallow likes to grow in lawns, gardens, roadsides, waste areas and cropland. It originated in Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa and is also in the Americas and Australia.
Edible parts: All parts of this plant are edible. The leaves can be added to a salad, the fruit can be a substitute for capers and the flowers can be tossed into a salad. When cooked, the leaves create a mucus very similar to okra and can be used as a thickener to soups and stews. The flavor of the leaves is mild. Dried leaves can be used for tea. Mallow roots release a thick mucus when boiled in water. The thick liquid that is created can be beaten to make a meringue-like substitute for egg whites. Common mallow leaves are rich in vitamins A and C as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and selenium.
Similar plants: Marshmallow.
I have never used Mallow medicinally, but this year I will, I have a large patch in my garden area and her little leaves are calling to me, I feel like there is a treasure waiting to be discovered in my little Mallow.
Mallow’s repute as a ‘cure-all’ medicine in the earlier times was owing to the fact that the herb, particularly its roots, encloses substantial quantity of mucilage (a glue-like substance secreted by some plants that are rich in protein and carbohydrates). Owing to the high presence of this jelly-like substance in mallow, rural herbal practitioners recommended the herb to heal digestive and urinary tract swellings and irritations (inflammations). However, mallow is more popular for its therapeutic qualities of relieving the mucous membranes lining the upper respiratory system, particularly when suffering from colds. In addition, the mucilage present in mallow also has the ability to control coughs set off by irritation or inflammation. Mallow is popular even today and is beneficial in healing several other ailments. For example, American Indians as well as modern herbal practitioners recommend using poultices (moist substances applied to injuries) prepared from the herb or its derivatives to alleviate pain or soreness from insect stings as well as swellings in the body.
I am a voracious user of medicinal herbs, I have dozens sitting on my pantry shelves, and I make and drink herbal infusions (and make my family) daily. It is exciting to me to find an herb, such as this, growing not only in my garden, but in abundance. I take it as a sign, that she is to be harvested, used and loved.
I usually don’t start seeds indoor, I find it tedious and I tend to forget them and I have a hard time finding a place with enough light. I think is much easier to just direct sow in the garden and that is what I do for 90% of my plants. There are a few exceptions, I do start tomatoes inside, because the need a longer growing season than we have, and cabbage. Cabbage can actually be sown directly into the garden in the early spring, even before the last frost date and I have done it many times. I have found over the years that the delicate seedling of the cabbage have a hard time withstanding the springtime winds that rip through here and I have much more success starting them indoors and protecting them until they are a bit stronger.
These little guys are our summertime meal of cabbage sautéed in butter, this autumn’s baked cabbage with sausage and next winter’s sauerkraut. We love our cabbage.
When we moved to Quail Run Farm, we inherited a lot of problems as well as a lot of awesome opportunities. One of those problems included the large amounts of trash, and random stuff left over the property and in the basement. When we moved in, we had a 40 yard dumpster delivered and were able to fill it just from the trash in the basement and some of the trash around the yard. And there is still a lot more to clean up. One of the big problems we had were a bunch of trees that the previous owner had dumped on the property. These trees are huge. The diameter of a couple of them is over four feet. So the question was raised what do we do with these huge trees? (you can see the kestrel box in the background)
We also burn wood for heat during the winter. I had harvested all of the wood that I could with the equipment I had. So we asked our wood guy (we buy our winter wood from him) if he would be willing to process the trees for us. Well, he said yes, we came up with a price and the work started.
With the help of his numerous different sized chain saws and his hydraulic wood splitter. John and Tommy were able to convert all of those trees to 12+ cords of wood. We still have probably 5 cords more of trees to process. The wood will be great for us over the next couple of winters, and the cost to have them process it was more than half the cost to have them haul in wood for the winter.
You can see the trees we still need to process in the right side of this picture. That one big piece, that is sticking up, that is still unprocessed is a burl. If it had not cracked, it would be worth close to 10K. But since it is cracked, it will be turned into BTUs instead of coffee tables.
Now we have to move it, stack it, and then protect it for the winter. But when the cold months hit, and we have heat from these logs, we will be glad that we had trees that we could process and turn into BTUs.
After a long dark winter the girls are laying again! Hens naturally stop laying as the daylight hours decrease, it is nature’s way of making sure the birds are using energy to keep warm and not on producing eggs that can’t be hatched or if they were to hatch would have a low survival rate in the winter. To keep hens producing through the winter months some producers and back yard chicken keepers will supplement with lighting and heat. Here at Quail Run Farm we don’t do that, we let the hens go through a period of rest, we believe this is healthier for our birds, keeping them in their natural rhythms as much as we can. It can be a little discouraging feeding birds all winter long and only getting a couple of eggs a day, but as stewards over these animals we take on the good and the bad that comes with each animal and give them the best care we can.
That being said, I did a cheer and fist pump when my little farm boy gathered his first dozen eggs this spring! We are now, again, producing enough eggs for our needs and will soon have enough to sell.
I have built and maintained compost pits and piles for many years now, when we bought our first home in 2002 one of the first things I did was mark out the garden plot and start a compost pile. I’ve long been a believer that we should use the things around us to their fullest capacity, while keeping in harmony with its order of creation. It never made sense to me to wrap kitchen scraps in plastic to rot in a landfill, or grind it up and send it down the drain. I feel that sending the leftovers of our fruits and vegetables back to the earth is honoring, and giving thanks to that which has been provided to us.
For a few years now I have flirted with the idea of composting in place. The idea is that you don’t create a compost pile that needs to be watered and turned over and then eventually moved, you actually add the material to be composted in the place that you will eventually need it. I’ve never done it, I didn’t want to attract vermin, I worried that it would look horrible and that the organic matter wouldn’t break down fast enough. This year I decided I would give it a try. It’s a grand experiment.
I collected about a days worth of kitchen scraps, onions peels, banana peels, eggs shells and herbs used in infusions. I didn’t add any meats or leftover cooked foods.
For the first layer I lay down old newspapers and old homework papers, some egg cartons and left over bits of cardboard. A lot of organic farmers and backyard hobbyists won’t use certain types of paper or cardboard in their garden, saying that the glues and dyes are bad for the enviroment. I don’t completely agree with that and I put all sorts of paper products in my garden and compost. I think, with a few exceptions, that the earth is entirely capable of cleansing itself. If you put concentrations of garbage and papers a central location, yes the ground will be poisoned, but that is not what I am doing, I am taking the bit that our family uses and facilitating the breakdown and cleansing. They will be processed by microorganisms and turned into beneficial nutrients for plants.
After the layer of newspaper I spread out all the kitchen scraps, gross……
And on top of that, straw, that will help absorb moisture and keep the mixture from getting too hot.
Then on top of that, aged horse manure.
I got about two feet done in a fifty foot row….this might take a while….
This past weekend we were able to get the first seeds of the season in the ground. As always the inaugural vegetable is our little lady The Pea. She is a fabulous little addition to the garden, her seeds can be planted very early and then they wait patiently for the right moment to germinate and send their crinkly green leaves into the early spring sunshine. She is happy to spread her roots in areas that aren’t the most fertile, creating green beauty, leaving more that she takes. Peas are a legume, they take nitrogen from the air and fix it into the soil, preparing the way for other, more delicate plants to make their home. Peas a great for crop rotation, they will travel the garden through the years making the ground better because of their presence. Because of the size of her seeds she is very easy for little fingers to sow. There is much excitement when the first blossoms and peas pods appear on her bushes, for the children know they had a part in their creation. In the warmer days of May, when the summer heat starts flirting on the backs of our necks, we will be out picking our peas, giving thanks for the bounty and sharing it with others.