Sometimes There are Disappointments

IMG_20141011_190339283_HDRI have said a number of times that our life here at Big Sky Acres is a living experiment. Everything we try is new and we have no experience to draw upon when it comes to bees or this land we are growing veggies in. We learn continually and sometimes those learnings coming with high fives and laughter. Sometimes they come with sorrow.

After a wonderful weekend away at the wood show and Lake Monroe we decided to take a walk around our property and check out the low tunnels, cold frames and bees. It was a beautiful day- 50 degrees and sunny.  We knew however that this 50 degree day had come after a string of frigid temperatures. We had wondered if things had survived and with hopeful hearts we wandered on back.

As we approached the one end of one of the tunnels was collapsed; not always a bad sign as sometimes the wind that runs across here will do that, but it felt like a red flag. As we peeked in we saw that all of our beautiful green babies had frozen and died. The cabbages and brocolini that looked so beautiful a month ago just could not handle the below 0 temps.

I ask myself, should I have added plastic or another layer of frost cloth? Probably one of those should have been done. More reading on year around gardening will give me the answer I suppose.  Since we are doing things before we read all the books sometimes the chapter you need is the next one and you make a mistake or miss something. You try again with some tweaks and hope for different results.

I also think that I planted too late. I was really close to the Persephone (less than 10 hours of light) when I planted. I have had a nagging feeling that would have an effect, but still wanted to try. That is how it is when you are a living experiment! Reading and tweaking is a constant here so I am in hopes that our wonderful low tunnels will supply us with produce in the spring when we try it again. So we say farewell to these for a few weeks…

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On a positive note, the cold frames seem to be doing well.  The arugula and lettuce are growing. They have a ways to go before harvesting and eating, but they are hanging in there. I am in hopes that the garlic that is under the straw is also preparing for it’s growth spurt in several weeks.

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We headed to the bees.  We have been concerned about our one hive, Green but we felt that Trudeau was well.  (yes we name our hives after airports).

On this 50 degree day we did not see any bees making their cleansing flights and only saw one bee in the sugar candy. We heard no buzzing in either hive. We feel they are lost too. We will get more bees and do it all again, but losing both hives is sad. We can’t really point a finger at anything here. When we last saw them there was buzzing and activity in both. We made sugar candy and put that and a pollen patty in there. They were used hives… could something have been lurking there? I have since read to NOT purchase used hives, so when we get our bees in the spring, I think we will trash these and get new hives. “Once burned, shame on you, twice burned shame on me.” I just feel to do the same exact thing again is not the right way to go. So sadly we say goodbye to our little bees and feel sorrow that they did not make it this winter.

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Life if full of experiences, isnt’ it? Some happy and some sad. I am blessed because the happy far outweigh the sad. I can be sad about these losses while at the same time look forward to the successes that will occur. Regardless of success or failure they are just that… learnings.

What about you? What are some tough lessons you have learned on your homestead? Do you have any tips for me, our bees or tunnels?

Happy Unleashing in your successes and failures!
FGU

Low Tunnel Update

IMG_20141011_190339283_HDRThis weekend the snow was gone and it peaked 50 degrees.  The soil in the cold frames was warmed up a bit (55 degrees from 40) so I planted some lettuce, claytonia, spinach and kale in there (winter varieties).

The low tunnels have been secured since we put them in. They have carried a load of snow and withheld some wicked winds. I was dying to know how things were doing in there. Plus it was sunny and warm with a bit of rain in the forecast for the afternoon so it was perfect timing to open them up for the day.

Here is what I saw!

Brocolini & broccoli, collards and brussel sprouts…

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Cabbages…purple, green and pok choi

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Every one looks happy and growing except the cauliflowers. They are growing, but their leaves are turning white– not yellow but white. Hopefully a little research will tell me what they are lacking and experiencing.

They all enjoyed the warmth and the gentle rain in the afternoon. We covered them back up to protect them from the 40 + MPH winds we are expecting today. I am happy to see they are doing well. It was fun to peak for a bit!

Happy Unleashing!

FGU

Cold Frames

IMG_20141116_130552859_HDRWe have lots of stuff her to recycle and reuse since we have been remodeling. Storm doors and lots of left over wood.  Sounds perfect to build some simple cold frames, right?

In school I have been reading about cold frames, low and high tunnels, and greenhouses. I have visions of picking lettuce from cold frames in the winter. Last year we successfully planted spinach, arugula and kale; we kept them under frost clothes and even under the weight of the snow they kept producing. I am assuming that a cold frame will be even better.

If you don’t know what a cold frame is, basically it is a box with a window on the top. You can build the frame with bales of straw even; they don’t have to be fancy. Just be sure you don’t use treated wood or railroad ties. Your soil can leach the chemicals from these. Also, old windows can be an issue if they have lead paint. Make sure your materials are “clean” and the building is simple.

Measure the window and start cutting your wood. Ours are flat boxes. Some make them slanted, which is really nice; I was in a better done than perfect mood, so I took the simple route.

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After your pieces are cut, start laying them out and screw the piece together in the corners. Screws are better for this than nails for holding power. I used deck screws because they are made for exterior, and we had bunches of those left over too!

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We then lined the boxes with black plastic. This will warm the soil up a bit over the next 7 days. We had worked the soil the day before so it is ready for planting after the plastic comes up.

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I cleaned up the windows a bit. They had old sawdust, drywall dust, critters and who knows what else on them!

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We simply laid the windows on the top. We did not hinge them although that would be nice and something we will probably do at a later date. It was 30 degrees and mist was coming down before the change over to the snow, so we were playing “beat the elements!” The ability to open these up is necessary because on sunny days, the boxes need to vent; otherwise you might cook your vegetables. For now I will lift the windows and put blocks of wood in each corner or simple slide off.

Jasmine joined us in our building adventure. I think she wondered if we were building lots of doggie houses out there.

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I really love our low tunnels (which are full of veggies right now!) and our cold frames.  These will get used early in the spring as well. I will share some planting pics next week.IMG_20141116_151104940

Do you use any of these things (or others) to extend your season?

Happy Unleashing!

FGU

Here Comes the Fall Garden!

As promised, I began my transition into fall yesterday on Oct. 1.  I am not 100% official yet, but have made some necessary moves in the right direction.  This morning for example, I am drinking hot apple cider tea. It is wonderfully “fallish”.

I do still have tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, yellow squash, beets and peppers… BUT the pumpkins are looking good and they are prepping for their appearance in a pie on Thanksgiving. AND we have begun to prep our fall garden!

Hubby has spent the last couple days clearing a new area at BSA (Big Sky Acres) for our fall and winter growing.  This area is closer to our house and will allow us easier access in the snow. Last year it was quite a trek to the gardens once the snow and ice hit. This bed he is prepping is 75 x 45. We are going to use low tunnels for the first time! Another Farmgirl Passage for me! I am SO excited.

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Each tunnel will house a 3 ft. x 20 ft. area of plants. There will be approximately 4 ft. between beds. We will use electrical conduit and frost cloth held down by bricks to enclose the spaces. Last year I used the same frost cloth in our garden for spinach, arugula and kale. It worked great in our area and we were still harvesting in January in the snow. It was incredible to eat so fresh in the dead of winter (even when we were snowed in!)

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We are really thrilled about expanding and using hoops to build low tunnels. I am hoping that I can grow broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower in the tunnels along with spinach and greens. In the spring (March) I will use the tunnels to get an early start on spring veggies. I have not done that before either. I have started summer crops in the pole barn and then planted in June, but planting in the ground in March and harvesting some greens, brussel sprouts and peas in May sounds really exciting! My ultimate goal is to be gardening year around. (can you tell that Eliot Coleman is my hero and who I want to be when I grow up?)

I have been hardening off our fall green babies and they are ready to hit the dirt! (literally) They are so cute…

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Seeds are selected for other things that will be growing like spinach, kale, lettuce, fava beans and a sundry of other yummy veggies!

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It was really fun out there last evening and watching my hubby prep this area. He is so good at prepping my gardens and he gets so happy working outside! Jasmine is enjoying hanging out in our new area also.You can see the first strip I will be planting later today. Isn’t it so pretty? (and hubby is not bad either :-))

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I will keep you posted as these get built out and hopefully down the road I will share some pictures of veggies getting picked in the snow!

Do any of you use low tunnels and garden all four seasons? Advice or tips are appreciated! (and begged for actually).

Happy Unleashing,

FGU