Getting back into the swing of things…

The last few weeks have been crazy!

First I had finals week.  Let me just say that going back to school as an adult feels very odd.  It’s one thing to have finals week when you’re 18, but when you’re 28 it feels strange to say it.  Regardless, finals went well.  Straight As in all my classes!

Then came Spring Break (another oddity), which I was expecting to use to get caught up on blogging, gardening, organizing my house, etc.  Unfortunately nature had other plans for me inasmuch as I caught the PLAGUE.  I very rarely get sick but when I do it hits me like a ton of bricks.  This time was no exception.  In all of this, I was also working 3 days a week, so blogging kind of fell by the wayside.

I did manage to accomplish some projects, though!

First up, to continue the UFH challenge theme for the month, I made chevre (that’s pepper on the top, in case you’re wondering):

On the gardening front, I got two of our beds tilled and amended with compost (aka chicken poop!) and gypsum.  The chickens had a field day out there with me looking for worms.  My husband moved a lot of our shrubs to other spots in the yard to make room for the vegetables I want to plant.  We also put in some raspberry bushes that we still need to trellis.  I’m a little nervous about putting in berries, since we have an entire hill of blackberries behind our house that we have to attack every year with machetes, but he really wanted them.  Hopefully with the trellising they won’t get too out of control.  More on the yard in another post.  Speaking of the chickens, though, look at the gorgeous eggs they’ve been laying!

Also, I finally managed to get my seeds started for the year!

My set up is certainly not state of the art (unless you consider old paint cans state ofart), but it works.  I already have some sprouts coming up: peas, kale, and onions!

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They wormed their way into my heart.

Wiggly Field is a go!

We are officially vermicomposting!  My sister brought over the bins this morning and helped me get set up.  The system we’re using is the Worm Factory 3 Tray Composter.  The idea is that you add food scraps to the top tray while the worms munch in the tray below.  As you fill up the trays, you add more on top and as the worms finish eating they climb up into the next tray and you can remove the bottom one and use it as compost.  Additionally, it has a spigot in the bottom to collect so called “Worm Tea” that you can spray directly on your plants.

Here’s what the empty composter looks like

We started off by tearing up a paper bag and dampening it, then mixing it with some soil from our garden and a little bit of potting soil.  This provides the worms with some bedding.  We probably could have shredded the paper a little finer–in the future we’ll probably use a paper shredder–but this should work for now.

Next up was getting the worms!  I called this morning and arranged to pick up half a pound of red wigglers from Pistils Nursery and they harvested them for me from their own worm bin.

These went into the bin on top of the bedding along with the soil they came in.

On top of them, I added about a pound of food scraps that we had from our kitchen.  I put them through the food processor before adding them, since worms like to eat things that are a little smaller.  I also tore up the newspaper that they were transported in for some fiber.  Again, probably should have shredded it, but oh well.

From there, I put the top on and let the worms go to work!  The whole project took about an hour and I’m looking forward to getting some great compost and worm tea from these guys in the coming months.

Mission Compostable

This month’s Urban Farm Handbook Challenge theme is soil building. As I mentioned, I jumped on the bandwagon a little late (hey, there were still two days left in February!), but this is something I’ve been thinking about anyhow, so it was actually perfect timing.

Soil Challenge #1: Plan for Compost

The first part of the challenge was straight up composting. In the past I have always been pretty lax about composting.  I think I mentioned that our city has an urban food scraps composting program, so we do that.  Other than that we do a lot of “throwing soiled chicken bedding in a pile and ignoring it”.  This is the current state of said pile:

Note that this is not so much a compost pile as a pile of chicken…well, you get the idea.  There are other issues with this pile as well.  The location, while out of the way, is a pain in the patootie to get to, since it’s uphill (and up-terracing) from the chicken coop.  You do not want to be wrestling a bunch of this stuff up the hill in our crappy plastic wheelbarrow when it’s raining, which it does a lot of in the Pacific Northwest.  It’s also become a location where we end up throwing a lot of green waste before we have a chance to take it to our local green waste disposal area, as can be seen here.  Note the remarkably still green Christmas tree, considering that I took this this morning.

Another problem with it being on the hill is that as it actually turns to compost, the rain washes most of the good stuff immediately washes back down the hill to the chicken coop, which you can see in the corner of the above photo and in the photo below.  Not great.

Putting together an actual composting bin seems like it would solve a lot of these problems, but many of the ones out there seem to be too small or too expensive.  Urban farm challenge to the rescue!  They suggested constructing a bin out of wooden pallets, which many people are offering for cheap or free on craigslist.  I have an email in to one of these people and hopefully by this weekend I will have my very own two-bin composting system in place and a better place to throw the chicken droppings and all those leaves (although that means we’ll actually have to get around to raking…no plan is perfect.)

 Soil Building Challenge #2: Buy fertilizer in bulk or make it from scratch.

I have a confession: I didn’t realize that fertilizer was different from compost.  My husband has always been more of the gardener in the family, so I am learning a lot of this stuff as I go.  I know about soil amendments as they relate to viticulture, but not so much with the home gardening.  Nevertheless, I was really excited that the UFH people posted a recipe for making your own fertilizer designed for soil here in the PNW.  I’m not sure if I’m ambitious enough to make that much fertilizer on my own yet, but we’ll see how I feel when I get to the feed store.

Soil Building Challenge #3:  Build a Worm Bin

This is the part of the challenge that was really kismet.  My sister had a tray-style worm compost system set up that she had to take apart when she moved into her current apartment a few months ago.  A few days ago I asked her if she was using it and she offered to bring it over and help me set it up.  She’s bringing it over today and I am picking up half a pound of red wrigglers this afternoon.  More on that later!

2012 Urban Farm Handbook Challenge

UFHChallenge

So I am not the best blogger, or really the best gardener. I do, however, LOVE food, especially really great vegetables. So with that in mind, I am getting on my workboots and getting out in the dirt! I’ve decided to participate in the Urban Farm Handbook Challenge this year to keep me motivated and on track, both for blogging and for gardening.

Month 1 is February, which yes, ends tomorrow. Luckily, before I even found out about the challenge, I was working on it! The challenge for this month is soil building and we have some things in the works.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we are blessed to have some really fertile soil. However, composting and providing nutrients to the plants you’re growing is still really important. Currently we have a sort of haphazard compost pile that is really more just a spot for us to pile chicken droppings. I think we can probably do better. I am liking the idea of building a couple of compost bins that we can put over by the chicken coop and throw yard waste into.

Also, on Wednesday we’re picking up some red worms so that we can start worm composting most of our kitchen scraps. We have the set of trays to put them in and we certainly go through enough stuff in the kitchen! I am super excited about that. Our city does residential food scrap composting, but I think between giving scraps to the chickens and the worms, we should be minimizing our output.

Speaking of the chickens, we had quite the scare this week! On Sunday night one of our hens, Lady Cluckerpants, didn’t come back to the coop. I spent an hour searching for her and when she didn’t come home yesterday morning, either, I thought she was gone for good. Amazingly, one of our neighbors found her on the other side of our hill, lost and thirsty. She took her to one of our other neighbor’s houses since she knew they had layers. Our neighbors knew we were missing one and now Lady Cluckerpants is home safe with the rest of the flock. I am so grateful to everyone involved!

And finally, the sauerkraut I posted about the other week is coming out awesome! We had a bowl of it a couple of days ago and it is tasting delicious. Yum!