Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Late Summer for Fairbanks

While Summer is probably just getting going and only getting hotter in far away places I'm envious of, Fairbanks is entering late summer. I tend to have high hopes of July because the garden is finally producing and I feel like we are just getting going. Inevitably mid July starts to cool off and get rainy, (sigh). We've had cool rainy weather for the last week straight, which is a sign that yes it is truly mid July. Of course this weather is all to familiar to locals, and has everyone panicking and grumbling about how summer is over, and the obvious; summers are too short here! As I drove around today I couldn't keep track of how many pick up trucks and trailers I saw loaded down with firewood. Yes, all it takes is a little cool crisp weather for reality to set in.

As the month progresses our chances of seeing any more eighty degree days is quickly diminishing. I remind myself that come late August and September we are going to have some lovely sunny golden afternoons, but they won't be humid and balmy, but rather crisp and, well, fall like. We've had some stormy windy weather and as a result I've been lighting a fire in the wood stove in the mornings. Fairbanks; where digging for winter hats and gloves in mid July is perfectly normal. Of course, our fair week, which is the first week of August, is rapidly approaching, and that tends to mark the end of summer and summer weather. Fair week is traditionally rainy and cool. The nights are growing dark by then, and the first yellow leaves are spotted.  All is still lush and green for a couple more weeks, now if we can just get some sun and heat to help ripen the heat loving crops.

The garden is looking almost picture perfect. I spent about eight hours on my new battery powered weed whacker last week, and a few hours pushing the push mower. So the rows of vegetables are more pronounced than the weeds this week. It is that time of year where I tend to come down from the garden with more than I can easily carry. Yesterday we pulled baby carrots, picked shelling peas, harvested a row of beets (beets that were not getting any bigger probably because the soil wasn't as good as I thought it was. I amended the soil and resowed beets, may be too late, but maybe not). We harvested three 4-5" heads of cauliflower, I wasn't too happy with the size, but it was the earliest, by the name of Charming, I believe. The first broccoli heads formed this past week, I have to dig for the label to see which were the earliest. We finally have begun to pick more strawberries than we can eat fresh. So, the kids and I made our first batch of strawberry jam of the year yesterday.

You can tell from looking at my garden what I'm most excited about, because those crops are doing well. Then there are things that aren't doing so well, and you'd think I'd be babying or coaxing them along (tomatoes and cucumbers), but I'm not, at this point they are going to do what they are going to do. I am most excited about my winter squash and pumpkins, of which I have several small squash forming. I am also ecstatic about my fifty-sixty feet of shelling peas which are just getting going. This is going to be my best pea, squash and strawberry year yet! And my worst tomato, cucumber year ever - surprisingly I'm not devastated...what can you do? Take notes - on the blog...if I forget you guys can kindly remind me in the spring to spend more time prepping my beds before planting!

This time of year already has me remembering my gardening weaknesses and repetitive mistakes. I get lazy about hauling compost and old manure up to the garden, and I'm usually broke at planting time and don't want to rely on commercial amendments anyway. As a result, I get to this time of year and wish I'd spent a little more time and effort on turning in compost before rushing to plant. I was so proud to have grown enough pickling cucumbers to get us through a year of pickles last year, the success not to be repeated this year. Likewise, I had so many tomatoes the last two years I started grumbling about how I was having to make sauce daily in the fall- not this year. I remind myself, every summer has it's triumphs, and there are always going to be things that don't grow according to plan.

I went to a friend's garden today, someone I view as a master gardener, and she is having a rough pea/ winter squash year. The rest of her garden looked awesome. I am always envious of her heated greenhouse with ceiling high tomatoes and english cucumbers. I couldn't believe how big her Brassica plants were. She had a broccoli head that was like a foot across, it's side shoots were the size of some of my broccoli heads. I asked her secret, she said composted chicken bedding. I knew it! I've got to get better about composting my animal bedding. My chief complaint; it is soooo much work to move wheelbarrows of animal bedding and compost up steep inclines. Especially when I have an almost four year old daughter who still wants me to carry her everywhere, and breaks down when I need both hands to do something, like push a wheelbarrow.

So, I'm curious, what is doing well in your garden and what is not? What do you wish you could go back and do differently? - cause next year is still just too far away to think about!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Midnight sun kids,chickens, garden.

 On nice nights, such as these, my kids accompany me for our evening chore walk. It includes shooing and herding chickens into their indoor coops and closing them in safe for the night. Our main predators are fox, lynx and ravens. If you've raised poultry in the Interior without bird netting, I'm guessing you've encountered ravens. They can massacre a large amount of small birds in a short amount of time. We've lost full sized male ducks to Ravens! Most chore rounds include my children chasing after and holding chickens. You can imagine how pleased the chickens are with this arrangement.

How does that Strawberry taste Noah? The strawberry patch is in full swing. This is only our second summer with perennial Toklat strawberry plants that we've dug up from friend's gardens and transplanted into our own. Last year, most didn't make it out of the garden. I managed to make one batch of strawberry rhubarb jam. This year is looking more promising. The kids and I are each eating about twenty daily in the garden, and my second bed which is lower down is a couple weeks behind my top bed. So, I'm thinking the strawberries are going to get more plentiful over the next couple weeks, and if we can take a break from snacking for a couple days, we'll be jam making.

                                               Avery, collecting weeds for the Cornish Cross.

This week we started picking shelling peas. Some even made it into the car for snacking on while in town. We also harvested the first broccoli and cauliflower heads. We've been enjoying small zucchini, scallions, radishes, lettuce, spinach and napa cabbage, in addition to herbs. I re-sowed cilantro, chinese cabbage, spinach, lettuce and beets this week. I've stopped planning meals ahead this week. Instead we make sure and take a basket up to the garden and whatever looks good is what we are cooking up. Happy me!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Summer chickens, garden and goats

 Everything grows so fast this time of year; the garden, weeds, chickens. I took these pictures about a week ago and already they seem outdated. The Cornish Cross, above, seem twice the size and have moved into a different pen, to make room for twenty some laying pullets who have taken over the larger, more secure coop and pen. The last two years we raised about twenty five Cornish Cross. This year I picked up twelve, and still have twelve. Without looking at my calendar, I'm thinking they are seven weeks or so. I'm feeding them one part organic chicken starter/grower and one part ground local barley. If I remember correctly the bags of chicken starter are $27 per fifty pounds ? or forty? and the barley is $9 or $10 dollars per fifty pounds. By mixing the two, my goal is to slow down their growth some as well as cut down on the cost to raise them. I have discovered in the past that they don't do well with a whole grains, at least until they are big enough to butcher. I'm also doing better at not overcrowding them, which in the past seems to have been the main cause for fatalities - and leads to gross living conditions which does not make me feel good about my husbandry practices.

Adult black sex linked layers and our handsome blue Welsummer Ameraucana cross Rooster. We've provided three tasty chicken meals this week for a nearby cross fox. And so, our chickens free range time has been drastically shortened. The fox managed to sneak in grab chickens and leave with them, without making enough noise to disturb our dog or ourselves while we were inside the house. Now, I let the chickens out when I'm in the garden or outside, and they get herded back in when I go inside. We are down to seven eight layers and they are beginning to taper off in egg production. Looks like I'll be hoarding eggs and not sharing till fall which is lame, as I love sending our farm helpers off with eggs along with other farm products.

Our cat, who rarely get's picture time. He found some catnip volunteers that came up by the chicken bedding pile.
 Here are our laying pullets who were overcrowded in this chicken tractor and are much happier now that they have a larger fenced area to roam. We have five each, Blue with red laced Wyandottes, Barred Rocks, Partridge Barred Rocks, and seven Speckled Sussex and one freebie Polish. I lost one sussex and a raven made a meal out of two one night when they escaped their confinement. An interesting note about these pullets, is that I've been feeding them our mixed grain ration from the beginning. I ground it up in the coffee grinder for the first five weeks or so and now they eat it whole. I started buying the organic chick grower for the meat birds and thought these ladies might benefit from a little of that mixed in with their grains. I was surprised to see that they did not relish the spendy high protein crumbles as I thought they would. They empty their feeder much slower with the crumbles in it. So, I'm back to feeding mostly whole grains with some fish meal. Of course they do a lot more foraging and weed eating as well.

The garden is looking good. My cucumber and watermelon beds are pretty pathetic, but those crops don't usually do well here, especially outside the greenhouse. Last year I grew enough pickling cucumbers to make enough dill pickles to get us through an entire year. Sadly, I don't think I'll be able to repeat that. Half my cucumbers died when I transplanted this year, so I direct seeded. Hopefully I'll get a small crop before the frost. I've pollinated a number of female winter squash and pumpkin flowers. The kids are so eager for carrots and peas. We picked the very first shelling peas today. Perhaps even more exciting, we picked a couple dozen ripe strawberries today, and there are so many more that are almost ripe. I'm wondering if some might actually make it down to the house this year. Do I dare hope to have enough for a couple batches of jam? I picked three small zucchini, pulled scallions and cut some swiss chard for dinner tonight. We had the veggies along with a roast chicken from the freezer. With the exception of the parmesan, butter and lemon, it was a lovely home raised meal.

The goats are doing well. I'm getting them out almost daily for a walk to browse on fresh willow, fireweed, birch, rose and raspberry bushes. I'm getting mentally prepared to tattoo and register some doelings, along with a possible clipping session. I trimmed hooves today. We've sold one doeling and I've got two more to sell. I am going to make my first attempt at showing a few milkers at our ADGA show this August. I'm looking forward to hearing what a judge has to say about their confirmation. Unfortunately, probably my two nicest does will stay home as one is due to kid and the other doesn't handle stress well.

Wherever you are at with your livestock, garden and homesteading adventures, I wish you well!