Saturday, February 21, 2009

Worm tower & my worm friends

Worms (reddish, pink) in the worm bin tray. You can also see some squash rind and some shredded paper in this picture.

This is a worm in the lid.

This is the tray. I'm able to get worm tea from the tapper.

I love this worm set-up. Its got different layers of trays so I can feed my worms on several layers at a time. I've been really careful about not feeding them too much - which I hear is the most common mistake in new bins. For the first two months, I have only fed once a week (although probably 2+ lbs of scraps, which is a lot) and then didn't open the bin until the following week. It seems to have worked well as they seem to be multiplying.
We started this in Dec 08. We've always been composters, but composting in the city is difficult (mostly b/c of rodents). Plus, in the winter you are essentially just tossing your scraps into the pile and they freeze. I don't have a manure or straw component to my outdoor bin so its doesn't run hot like a lot of outdoor compost piles. My indoor worm bin allows us to compost year round and I'm able to use the castings as seed starter. I'm experimenting with different "recipes" for seed starting (i.e. more or less castings, etc.).
Plus - I think they are neat.
One thing that I don't like: its plastic.

Soil Block Makers - Part II

Here is my opinion. The larger one is better. Don't bother with the 'mini' - they don't press together very well, they are very small (I guess the term mini should have been my clue), and it seems like they will dry out fast. The step up from the mini - the larger one pictured above - creates blocks that are just shy of 1.5" square with a little dimple in the top for the seed. I love this item!! I was able to make 110 blocks in no time flat this morning (not even an hour). They are easy to plant and water. (I had to replant my onions; the first batch of seeds were really old and I had tried them in the mini blocks, I wasn't happy - no sprouting and the little blocks were already falling apart.)

This morning I started 60 Australian Brown Onions, 20 Yellow of Parma Onions, 20 Blue Solaize Leeks, 5 Nutri-bud Broccoli, and 5 Long Island Brussels Sprouts. And another little tray of arugula.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Soil block makers

I received my soil block makers for seed starting.

No more plastic! No more attempts to try to disinfect those little plastic trays from year to year. I am on a mission to eliminate plastic from my life (impossible, I know - but one can try, right?)

The past several years I have been making pots out of newspaper. Those are great, except, there is only one size and you can't really transplant or move up in size in newspaper. Things like tomatoes fairly quickly outgrow their little pot. Plus, after 6 to 8 weeks, the newspaper pot tends to get a little wilty.

So, I caved and purchased some soil block makers. I did find some instructions for making your own online, but Bill doesn't have time so I broke down and bought them from Seeds of Change (love that company, although my jury is still out on their new seed packaging).

I'll take a picture soon, but I planted up 60 onions a few nights ago. I also have arugula going in an old cookie sheet (its an experiment - for eating now - I don't know if it needs more soil depth).

So far, I think the blockers will work out great. I got a whole tray of finished vermicompost last night to add to my mixture. I'm also going to try that straight as a seed starting medium.

I'll also do a post soon on my worms and my worm tower.

Monday, February 16, 2009

February melt

While working at the farm on Feb 7th, the seasonal creek started running. There are not words to describe the experience, but I'll try. We had just arrived and Bill was driving the tractor home (from purchasing it - only 2 miles away). We were trying to use the bucket to clear some snow from the driveway when I heard a noise... it was water running. Like the sound that a rapidly flowing creek makes - you know, the gurgling. I thought to myself, how strange that I've been here for 15 minutes and hadn't realized that the water was running. I looked to where the water noise was coming from and wow, if I didn't see the water starting to flow that very moment. The creekbed was perfectly white snow and rushing downcreek was a flow of water. The sun and warm must have reached a critical moment and something melted upstream and the water started flowing. It was kind of biblical. The creek runs under the driveway, but our culvert is a bit damaged and the flow of this water was so intense that it quickly overflowed over the driveway, exactly where we were working. Its helpful when these things happen while we are there so we can see the problem areas firsthand and know what we need to address.

It was wonderful to have the creek running while we were there. I look forward to the day that we live there and can open a house or bedroom window to hear the creek at night.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Craig's list - I gave away a bathroom!

Just to clarify my post of yesterday (cleaning the barn), I want to stress that Bill and I love to reuse material. We are often finding excellent items in the alleyways and construction dumpsters of Chicago. All of the stuff that I cleaned out of the barn had been sitting too long and was beyond attempts at reuse.

We will be completely remodeling the farmhouse in the most environmentally friendly way possible (that is financially feasible). As such, we are moving bathroom location(s) (while attempting to recreate the traditional 'T' farmhouse of the past ) and my bathroom taste runs a little more towards cast iron clawfoot tubs and historic fixtures - i.e. old farmhouse style. However, in the interest of reuse, I posted an add in the FREE section of Dubuque Craig's List. The Dubuque site is fairly new - the traffic is pretty light. However, I had about 7 responses to my listing and I was able to find a new home for some lightly used bathroom fixtures which include the sink, vanity, a storage cabinet, mirrored medicine cabinet and a tub with jets. The new owners of this ready made bathroom will be removing (that's the hook on free, they have to do the removal!) in mid March.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cleaning up the barn

I celebrated a milestone birthday this past weekend. Yep, 40. When asked what I wanted to do for my birthday - of course, I said, clean out the stalls in the barn. I guess the majority of women might not say that.

So clean it up we did. Actually I did most of it. Bill repaired the shed for the new tractor (who we promptly named Sparky).

The previous owner of our farm was... well, let's just say it was a dump. Literally. There are garbage piles all over. Several of the stalls were filled with debris. His previous home had burnt down and in the interest of saving money and items, he had claimed a lot of non-burnt items and brought them to this farm where he promptly deposited them in piles around the home and barn and did absolutely nothing with them. When we visited this farm while it was for sale, there were broken down trucks, trailers, farm equipment and piles and piles of debris. Now we are all about saving things for reuse, but in this instance, it was merely left outside exposed to the weather and essentially became trash.

Getting back to the barn. I spent a day and a half cleaning out trash from several of the stalls. I brought out 8 tires (several large, heavy tractor tires) and an entire stall that was filled with insulation. Yes, the pink kind that goes in your wall. This insulation had been thrown onto the stall floor and just piled there for years. It was wet, dirty, full of mice and other assorted garbage (shampoo bottles, lamp fixtures, plastic bags). The stall that all of this was 'stored' in is near a back wall of the barn that leaks. Now.... not just any leak. This is a full-on leak during the spring thaw (yes, fixing this leak is #1 on our list - will post about it when we start it this spring). So, everything I cleaned out was muddy and soaking

Above is the pile of debris that I got from the barn. I feel like I really know the barn and its crannies now. Next step is to get a dumpster and dispose of this garbage properly.

New Tractor

Actually its an old tractor, but its new to us.

Its a Ford 195_ (4? 5? 6?).
We have big plans! Large planting beds! Rent a dumpster and fill it up with the rubbish that I removed from the barn stalls this past weekend.

We also rebuilt the small shed behind the barn as the home for the tractor.
This was a big step for us. Having proper equipment to assist with driveway clearing, planting bed prep, cleanup and remodeling will make a big difference. We are happy to be tractor owners.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Farm images from last spring.

The seasonal creek is over the bank.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Poem by Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Cornbread sans the cornmeal

I made up this recipe. Well, not really, but I experimented.
Don't buy that Jiffy blue box cornbread. ick, ick, ick.
I made this cornbread with a combination of buckwheat flour, ww pastry flour and some white flour. If you have fresh baking powder to give cornbread its rise, you can mix any kind of flours, an egg, some oil and some buttermilk.
Also, be sure to heat up your cast iron pan (yes, must have cast iron!!) before adding the mixture. Cornbread doesn't have to be with corn. So, I guess this is Buckwheat bread instead.