Is It Really Almost July?

I know–it’s been a mighty long time..but we haven’t been totally lolly-gagging:

Nine hens & 60,000+ honeybees!

We spent far longer than expected building the chicken coop, in part due to weather and in part because we were learning as we went along.  Linda’s honeybees were delayed by several weeks due to weather conditions in Georgia.  But this past Monday night, in time for the Summer Solstice, this was the scene.  Linda’s hives are active and thriving, cheerfully multicolored and buzzing with activity (seriously, you can hear the buzz and hum of all those bees hard at work).  After hours of research into chicken breeds, we ended up with 7 unidentified rescue chickens, at this time probably 15-16 weeks old based on the former owners’ recollection.  Tuesday night Linda procured two more 18 week old sex-link hens.  Based on their coloring, we think the two new ones AND five of the  rescue hens are golden comets, and we’re postulating that the white ones are a brand spanking new hybrid called tetra tints.  
Our wondrously kind and generous neighbors, whose own chickens–and eggs!–inspired this undertaking, provided housing and foster care for the seven for the last month.  Now they can put down roots in their palatial 8′x6′ sage green & cream coop with two BIG windows, a vent, a stylin’  pophole and 140 square feet of pen.  Over the course of Summer, we’ll be fencing in about half  an acre of grassy area, shrubby underbrush, and woods so that they’ll be able to roam and forage while not disturbing the neighbors on either side of us.  Already there’s a routine.  In the morning I go up and let them out of the coop into the pen, laughing as they seem to spill out of the pophole , add layer pellets to the feeder, make sure there’s plenty of water, and sometimes toss around treats like strawberry caps or snap pea trimmings (they LOVE the strawberry caps!).  If one of us is home, we check on them during the day, and I head up as soon as I get home.  And in the evening, one or both of us tucks them in for the night.

Comfy & snug...

It’s only been a few days, but they seem happy, and we love hearing their little murmurings.  And while it may be several weeks, or even another month or so before ALL are laying, Wednesday afternoon I got a marvelous surprise:

Happiness is a fresh egg!


To Market, To Market

Mixed baby greens--mere infants!

Hudson, NY has a new Indoor Spring Farmers’ Market! This is a great thing, and judging by the crowded church hall, wanted and needed.  Through March & April, 10:00am–1:00pm, located in Christ Church Episcopal, 431 Union St. in Hudson, this Market gives us front row center seats to the arrival and blooming of Spring.  From achingly new baby greens to cold storage apples, fresh-from-the-chicken eggs to pasture-fed meats, lush cheeses to crusty breads, herbed vinegars to sweet jams,  the abundance of the Hudson Valley is a nibble away, even while we still shiver and watch the sky after this week’s snow.


Dreams of Spring...

Berkshire Bakery...yum!


Cooped Up!

Spent the morning at Columbia County’s Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Spring Gardening Day, learning first about herb gardening and then receiving a crash course in chickens.  I’ve grown herbs, of course, but am relishing the idea of spicing things up around here with more homegrown herbs.  I came away with some exciting alternatives for planting an array of herbs, and thanks to this book, a desire to expand to some savory choices like, say, savory.  And nasturiums. Maybe even some chervil!  Granted, haven’t eaten chervil, but what the heck?  And can one beat fennel for sheer loveliness?

Onto the chickens…I’ll admit that between all the reading, and the list servs–like Hudson Valley Chickens and Hudson Valley Poultry, and the websites, and the magazines (okay, yes, I subscribed to Backyard Chickens, and was positively giddy when I found Hobby Farms’ Chickens issue)….I’m getting more scared of the little cluckers, rather than more confident.  Today’s workshop  gave me more information, and yet, didn’t necessarily alleviate those worries.  I just keep invoking our neighbors-across-the-road, whose chickens’ eggs are the raison d’etre for this newfound longing, and whose laidback approach is the only panacea for my chicken terrors.  Last weekend we began the coop!  It’ll be a simple affair, 6′ x 8′, with a couple of big windows (I was tickled pink today to discover that my geographic plans for windows and vents were exactly correct), the requisite pophole (just had to write that), a door we’ll pick up from Habitat for Humanity’s local Restore and jazz up in an appropriately country cottage kind of way. I’m planning on covered catboxes as nesting boxes (for easy cleaning).  We have to fence, out of respect for the neighbors, but the fenced area will be bigger than our current–sizeable–yard, and include grassy area, weedy, shrubby area, and wooded space. 


Birds & the bees....those are Linda's hives in the background.







Okay, so baby steps...




Ode to an Apple

Or…Why We Want to Try This Locavore Project:

In late October, I stocked up on apples.  We’re big fans of Honeycrisp; we discovered them in 2004 and were so blown away that they made it to the top of our planting list when we moved here.  Sadly, being in close proximity to cedar trees (not ours) and having a rocky, clay-filled yard that drains poorly, cedar rust and wet feet doomed our poor little Honeycrisp trees.  No matter—now they can be found at most orchards and are our hands-down favorite apple.  So quite a few found themselves stored in the fruit crisper in those Debbie Meyer Green Bags (some people scoff at those bags; we find them to work very well), and while they aren’t pretty and crisp, they’ve held on to their sweet juiciness. 

  I also stored up a variety I’d never heard of—Arkansas Black.  We found these at Eger Bros.’ farm stand in Hudson, NY.  I was struck by the heirloom apple’s  deep red color, and promise of good longevity.  Brought ‘em home, but  even sliced they were quite hard and not particularly tasty.  Research told me that the Arkansas Black, which dates back to the 1870s, would darken on the outside, and become softer and mellower on the inside, and by golly, it’s true!  What a magical thing, what a gift, to slice through the perfect—nary a wrinkle—deep, dark red skin, and taste the sweet-tangy juiciness of an apple picked some three months ago.  It truly has gotten better with age, yielding to a bite without a struggle—not giving in or giving up, but offering itself willingly with a red-stained sweet spiciness that tastes like a crisp late October day.  They didn’t come from a store; they were grown in sight of the mountains, a few minutes’ drive from our home, sister to the fruit that became apple butter another Fall day in our kitchen.  Months later, on a cold February day when Fall is only a memory—and a stack of crystal-faceted jars in our cupboard–one of those gorgeous apples became the perfect lunch.

It’s All in the Planning

The last of seeds and plants have been ordered.  The girls (the feline ones) will be giddy to know catnip made it to the final seed order.  While this year will see a little less focus on the pretty-pretties, and I promised not to buy even one echinacea, we’ve ordered hundreds of sunflower seeds.  Jung Seeds & Plants has marvelous, magical-sounding varieties like Earthwalker, Moonwalker and Moulin Rouge.  The birds and bees will love them, and we’ll plant some where they can even provide some shade for heat-weary cats. 

We pulled out the calendar, discussed and sorted…and have our categories–start indoors (and when); start outside in a cold frame (and when), and those most appreciated direct sow-after-last-frost seeds.  When all is said and done, March 20th is P-day (first planting day).  In the meantime, as we inventory and gather supplies, we have two books to read through and take notes from–Mini-Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 of an Acre, and The Backyard Homestead.  Lots of work ahead, but we’re starting to get a wee bit excited!

Winter Treasures

Although the farm markets don’t ramp up until late Spring/early Summer, there are quite a few Winter markets out there.  Root vegetables, some cold storage apples, meats, cheese and eggs are still available, along with wool, handicrafts and even baked goods.  We’ve shopped the Rhinebeck and Saugerties Winter markets, and haven’t once come home empty-handed.  At Saugerties you’ll even find the Hudson Valley Seed Library folks!  Click here to find a listing of numerous NY state Winter farm markets with their open dates.  Bundle up and head to the nearest one….and feel free to share your Winter Farm Market finds in our comments!

That First Tiny Seed

  Or more accurately, the first gazillion seeds….This past Sunday, as slow, lazy, gentle snowflakes drifted past the window, Linda and I curled up on the couch by the fire with seed and plant catalogs, a notepad, pens, sticky notes, steaming hot coffee and pumpkin bread made last Fall.  We spent hours discussing how to expand the garden to facilitate this local eating, growing & raising our own food project.  Thanks to the Hudson Valley Seed Library, our starting point was the 28 packets of seeds ordered last week.  Five types of tomatoes, two different beans, basils, cilantro, dill and more herbs, peas and zucchini, watermelon and ground cherries, chard, broccoli raab and lettuces, tatsoi and bok choy…the mouth waters and the spirit fidgets like a 4 year old, just itching to start planting and savoring such bounty!  We’re adding eight more grapes and two more blueberries, and at long last trying a couple of elderberries, too.  Having deemed Ozark strawberries rather lackluster in flavor, we’re moving on to June-bearing Honeoye and Mara de Bois everbearing varieties. We tried to limit ourselves a little bit for practicality.  Carrots can be easily obtained at the farm markets; the space they’d take up here is better used for vegetables that might not be so readily found, like parsnips, which I rarely see at the farm markets.
  Greedy as we are to plant, our heavily sloped, rock-and-clay filled yard only reluctantly opens its arms to such endeavors, so we need to revisit our landscaping.  Our three raised vegetable beds, built two summers ago, can’t possibly support our grandiose plans.  We’ll be doing some terracing to allow for two very long rows of tomatoes, building a fourth bed for parsnips, raab and Asian greens, and using assorted containers for beans and peas.  The garlic hasn’t found a home yet, but it will, because we’ve longed to grow our own for years.  Hard to believe in the aftermath of another 8″ snowfall, but within a very few weeks, some of these seeds–for the cool weather crops–need to be snuggled into some soil and allowed to begin the magic work ahead.
  I’ll admit, there are moments I find it daunting–28 seed packets, and that’s not nearly everything we’re planting.  That’s not even all of the edibles, let alone the pretty-pretties we plant to feed the eyes rather than the belly.  There’s a chicken coop to build–and I need to locate hens to inhabit it.  We need to get some serious rainbarrels set up, and start scrounging newspapers for mulching.  And really, we both know it’s time to begin composting, something we’ve avoided for years.  But daunting as it seems, I’m really looking forward to newfound intimacy with this land, and silly as it sounds, I can’t wait for a Summer evening supper of fresh eggs, salad and beans…a dinner whose main prep work is a walk in the yard!