Sunday, June 17, 2012


Ashley and I have been talking for a while about getting chickens. If you look at our homestead plan, posted more than a year ago, we had even planned where they would be kept. There have been a few issues recently with raising chickens in the village, but they have mostly related to owners not keeping the coops clean and letting the chickens roam the neighborhood. We had not planned on getting the chickens for a few more years, but rumors about the possibility of losing that privilege from the village prompted us to go ahead and start the permit process now.

We had initially thought the permit would take several months to get, so we would but the chickens next year. When we talked to the village clerk, however, we found that the process was fairly short and that we might be able to get them as early as this summer. The first step in the process was to read the animal control regulations and submit an application, including drawings of the coop, which we dd a couple weeks ago. Part of the application was determining which neighbors lived within 300 feet of our property line, which we were able to do pretty easily in one evening with the help of Google. Next, the clerk would mail letters to those neighbors, and they would have two weeks to respond with objections. Then the animal control officer would inspect our property and submit a recommendation to the village board. At the next board meeting, they will decide whether to grant the permit.

Well, the two-week waiting period on the neighbors' concerns ended last Friday, with only one neighbor objecting (their objection related to odor concerns). The animal control officer visited on Saturday and we discussed with him our plan for getting rid of the waste to keep the smell down. Right now, we have a small compost pile that we will mix the waste into (chicken manure is the best compost material), and if the smell is too strong we can take the waste to a friend's farm to dispose of it. That satisfied the officer, so he will recommend that we get the permit! According to both the officer and the clerk, that pretty much guarantees we will get it!

Our application was for 12 chickens, but we only want 6 this year. We found a lot of great online resources, including the Backyard Chickens blog, which was very helpful (thanks Lisa!). We need a coop to house the chickens and a "run" to give them room outside of the coop. Because we are in the village, we wanted the run to be well-enclosed. There were lots of coops and coop kits online, but most of them were very expensive (upwards of $1,500) and didn't include an attached run. However, Ashley was able to find, and we bought a coop and attached run large enough for six chickens for only $750! We will buy a matching coop next year for the other six chickens.

Rhode Island RedBarred RockColumbian Wyandotte

After the animal control officer gave us the green light yesterday, we went to Meyer Hatchery, which sells chicks, fertilized eggs, and game birds, including ducks and pheasants! We purchased two each of Rhode Island Red, Barred Rock, and Columbian Wyandotte chicks. All three breeds are dual-purpose (meaning for eggs and meat) and lay brown eggs (brown layers are for cooler climates and white layers are foor warmer climates). All six are female, as roosters are not allowed by the permit. The chicks will hatch on Monday or Tuesday, and they will ship them overnight when the chicks are one day old, so we should receive them on Wednesday or Thursday! We already have a box with pine shavings and a heat lamp for when they arrive. Chicks need to be kept very warm, starting at 95°F for the first week and decreasing 5°F each week until they are 6–8 weeks old (when they get their feathers). The corners of the box have been rounded to keep the chicks from smothering each other when they huddle.

That's pretty much all I had to say this week. We will post pictures of the chicks when they arrive and will keep posting as they grow up. The garden is doing well; we trimmed back the blackberries last week (that's an entire post on its own) and thinned out the corn. Most of our beans got eaten by squirrels, so I will have to plant new seeds. Last weekend Ashley made a strawberry-rhubarb pie, with fresh strawberries and rhubarb from the garden! It was delicious, and blackberries won't be very far behind!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Garden Tour

Chile de Arbol:  Week 2
We have a squirrel problem! The squirrel has eaten almost all of our corn seeds, and has attacked many of the other plants. I put out some rat traps to try to catch it, but they failed. I now have an electronic trap out, so we will keep our fingers crossed. You can see some of the damage done in the pepper picture to the right. With our luck, we will catch this squirrel only to have it replaced by another!

This week we decided to post a video blog giving a tour of the garden. We hope you enjoy it!

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Flowering chives
Welcome to summer! Today is May 20, which it the last frost day for Greenwich! We actually "finished" planting the garden last weekend, after we saw there was no threat of frost in the forecast. The only plants we haven't yet planted are bush beans, which can't tolerate temperatures below 40°F, so we will plant them next weekend.

Most of the plants that we put out last weekend are still hardening off and haven't started growing yet. When the seeds are started indoors, the environment is ideal and there is no need for them to grow strong and hardy stems. Once they are placed outdoors, where the day and night temperatures vary drastically and there is wind and rain, they put all their energy into thickening their stems and strengthening their root systems for the first few weeks. Most of the seedlings are still in this stage right now.

Dwarf peach tree
The perennials that were planted last year are thriving. The chives started growing back in March and are magnificent now. The plants are about 24 inches tall, with large purple flowers. Last year, we planted the first of two dwarf peach trees (normal-sized fruit, small tree). It flowered back in March when we had the early spring (I think it almost hit 90°F!), but the frost killed the flower soon thereafter. We thought they didn't have enough time to get pollinated, but apparently they did! There are small, fuzzy peaches all over the tree now (they are kind of hard to see in the picture to the left, but they are there)! We don't expect they will be large enough to eat for a couple more years, but it is still exciting!

Kathy's pepper plant
One of my co-workers grows peppers in her garden that were given as a gift to her father many years ago. Her family has been saving the seeds and re-growing the peppers every year. She dries them and makes a potent seasoning. We weren't sure exactly what they were (tasted kind of like cayenne, but were smaller), until another co-worker discovered on the internet that they are chile de arbol peppers. She brought seedlings to the office last week and distributed them; we will see whose peppers grow the largest! Our plant from last week is shown to the right; kind of lame right now, but its still early!

Hopefully next week we will have more to show. The corn has started popping up, as have the radishes, beets, carrots, and some flowers.  We also planted some perennial flowers that we will show next week after they have recovered from their trauma. Most of the plants are still pretty small now, but within a month or so it will be almost too crowded to walk around the garden! Till next week...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The House

Here's the post you've all been waiting for....from yours truly, Ashley Watson. We bought our 1880 Folk Victorian home in September of 2008, and we knew from the beginning that this house was going to take work... a lot of, really... a LOT of work. We initially focused on the most important things first. Getting a roof that didn't leak, removing the black mold and asbestos, trashing the heinous shag carpeting and wood paneling from upstairs. Along the way we've had some great moments (like discovering the original wood floors were still underneath all of that carpeting), and some not so great moments (like when we discovered that the floor joists in the upstairs bathroom were so rotted that they actually bent under the weight of Aaron walking across them).

Last Summer I was determined to tackle painting the outside of the house. My parents came up from Houston for 3 weeks and we put in 8 hour days, 6 days a week. At the end of the 3 weeks, it was painfully obvious that I was not going to be able to do this all myself (unless I quit my job and became a painter, but unfortunately I am not fast enough, or good enough, to do that). So we bit the bullet and have hired professional painters. Which was not as easy as it seems. A few years back, New York State passed new restrictions about removing lead paint from homes, so finding somebody who was even willing to do our house was an experience in itself.  But alas, we finally found (and hired) Dave Godette and his team from Dave's Painting, and thus far they are well worth the time it took to find them.

Aaron and my goal is to restore this house to the glory of what it once was. We have a picture of the house from 1895 (see right), which is my inspiration for this. The picture obviously can't tell us what color the house was originally, but it does show us that the trim was darker than the body of the house. We scraped down some layers on the house to find the original colors and have matched them as closely as we could. We decided to go with Benjamin Moore paint, both for the high quality paint and because they have an historical colors section with all colors being appropriate to the late 1800's.
Bleeker BeigeAlexandria BeigeTownsend Harbor BrownAvon Green
The body of the house is going to be Bleeker Beige and the trim Alexandria Beige. The window sashes will be Townsend Harbor Brown. We will also use this color to accent some of the fancy woodwork that we have. The shutters will be an Avon Green. We believe that this will be a fairly accurate replica of what the house looked like when it was first built. Before Dave and his team can get to putting colors on the house, they first have to strip the paint off that we have. Using a paint shaver, and a lot of pure muscle, they have been able to get it down to the wood, and it looks amazing! In the coming weeks, they should be able to start painting the top coats. Future posts will discuss the shutters, windows, and progress of the house along the way. We are so excited to see the end results of painting the house (and even more excited to not be doing it ourselves). Stay tuned for more!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Week 9

Cabbage in the NICU
This was a pretty difficult week, both for the seedlings and for me.  I transplanted the cabbages on Sunday, even though a mild freeze was forecast.  Cabbage is a pretty hardy plant, preferring cool weather, and can take a mild freeze down to around 30°F or so.  But, these are seedlings that haven't been "hardened off" yet, so I was a bit worried.  Well, the low on Sunday night was 28°F, but when we left for work on Monday they still looked okay (maybe kind of wilted).  By the time we got home that evening, they had recovered completely and looked fine.  Unfortunately, the low that night was 25°F!  When we got up Tuesday morning, the cabbages did not look good at all!  One of them had its stem frozen off and was without hope.  The others were wilted severely.  But at that point there wasn't much I could do for them.  After work on Tuesday, I planted a couple seeds where the one cabbage had died, and hoped for the best.  The forecast for the rest of the week was good (rainy and warm), so I just left them alone.  They are still brown (for the most part), but their stems are stiff and have hardened, so we are hopeful!

Barely alive tomatoes
The other seedlings had a hard time as well.  When we got home Tuesday, they appeared to have suddenly given up the ghost, and I was baffled as to the reason.  I did recently change their watering schedule, but I don't know whether that was the reason.  The tomatoes had lost almost all their leaves, the celery appeared to be dead, and the cucumbers and squash were wilted.  But, I stuck to the watering schedule and crossed my fingers.  Only one celery has died (maybe), and the tomatoes still look pretty pathetic, but their stems are stiff and they have a few leaves that aren't wilted.  Hopefully, what doesn't kill them makes them stronger (and there's still the nursery if they do die)!

Promising melons 
On the bright side, the melons have germinated and look to be doing fine (so far).  I planted beets, radishes, and carrots in the garden today (they take a while to come up and are hardy, so its not too early), and planted my second set of lettuce.  We bought three varieties of lettuce (red, green, and buttercrunch), and each one takes about eight weeks from seed planting to maturity, so we plant two per week so that we will be able to harvest every week starting in early July!  Hopefully this week will go better and my problems will be resolved, both in the garden and otherwise.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Soil Preparation

This past week we prepped the soil for the gardening season.  The first step was to kill the grass that was growing there.  There are really three options for doing this: removal of the grass, smothering, and chemicals.

When we built the raised beds last year, we used the chemical approach, which involved spraying with Round-Up a few times.  This worked fine, and the Round-Up disintegrated within a few days.  A more "organic" approach is to smother the grass.  This can be done by laying a few layers of wet newspaper down, and covering with compost or topsoil.  After a few weeks, the newspaper will decompose and you can till the compost into the soil.  We haven't tried this yet.  The third method is to simply till the green grass under, which is what we did with the field behind the garden.  This works, but must be done several times, staring in the fall and through early spring.

Once the grass was dead, we needed to amend the soil with nutrients. We used the organic approach to this, which involved adding Plant-Tone, greensand, and rock phosphate.  Plant-Tone is an organic plant food made from compost and supplemented with microbials.  Greensand is derived from sandstone that has marine sediments in it, and is high in natural potassium.  Rock phosphate is a sedimentary rock that is high in phosphorus.  We added 5–10 pounds of each of these per 100 sq.ft. of garden.  We also added Osmocote (2 lbs. per 100 sq.ft.), which is a slow-release chemical plant food that releases over a four to six month period.
After we added the supplements, we topped with "Booth's Blend" (a mixture of compost and manure supplied by a local farmer) a couple of inches deep and tilled the entire mixture to a depth of about six inches.  Then we planted (or transplanted) and mulched with a couple more inches of the compost mixture.

Once the soil was prepped, we planted a few things (yes, already!).  It is now three weeks until last frost, so we transplanted the cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts.  We also planted lettuce and potatoes.  To plant potatoes, we dug a trench about a foot deep and planted the eyes of the seed potatoes in the trench.  We then topped with about three inches of soil; once the potatoes sprout, we will "hill" them by adding a few more inches of soil at a time until the sprouts are back to ground level.  We also transplanted leeks and onions.

I recently learned something interesting about cabbage.  I knew that cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts were closely related, but what I didn't know is that they are actually the same species.  They are all cultivars of Brassica oleracea, which is wild cabbage in its uncultivated form.  Other cultivars of B. oleracea include kale, collard greens, and kohlrabi.  

Well, that's all for this week.  I will end with some assorted pictures of the seedlings and the garden.  A few weeks ago we extended the split rail fence around the raised beds and added green netting around the wheat and the bed in the back of the garden.  We also placed chicken wire on the lower part of the fence to keep the dogs out of the garden!

Seedlings:  tomato (8 in. tall), cucumber, squash, celery

Seedlings:  cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, thyme, cilantro

Seedlings:  celery and leeks

Seedlings:  cucumber, squash, and celery

Seedlings:  cilantro and cabbage

Raised beds

Peach tree

Asparagus (almost four feet tall!)

Chives, garlic, and rhubarb

Onions and Brussels sprouts

Winter wheat

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Seedling Update

I haven't posted to the blog in the past couple of weeks.  We have been busy on the house and our "Broadway & BBQ" church event.  We have a painting crew at the house to scrape the entire exterior down to bare wood, and prime and paint the siding and trim.  Next week we will post pictures of the progress of the painters!

Two weeks ago, I transplanted a few of the seedlings into peat pots.  I use a custom mix of one part each of peat, vermiculite, and perlite for the potting "soil."  It is important for young seedlings to get plenty of light, water, and air (both to the leaves and the roots).  Peat is a great absorber of water, and is breaks into tiny pieces that enable to roots to efficiently absorb the water.  However, if you planted a seedling in pure peat, it would get too much water and no air, and would drown (think of the peat bogs in Scotland; not much grows there other than moss).  On the other hand, perlite (a volcanic glass) allows lots of air to reach the roots, but doesn't absorb any water so the seedlings would dehydrate.  In the middle of the spectrum is vermiculite (a naturally-occurring mineral).  It can absorb water (though not as much as peat) and create voids that allow air to reach the roots (though not as much as perlite).  I have found that a 1:1:1 mix of these three products creates an ideal germination medium.  I use the mix for transplanting seedlings from peat pellets (after the first true leaves appear), and for germinating larger plants, such as cucumber and squash.
I use 3" peat pots for my seedlings and "soil" mixture.  When the pots are sitting in the plant trays and exposed to air, they remain dry and contain the seedling and mixture.  Once the pots are planted directly into the ground (where the bottom lower sides remain moist), the plats roots will recognize the peat as soil and grow right through them.  So, the roots do not get disturbed when you transplant with peat pots.

I have transplanted the tomatoes, cabbage and relatives, and cilantro into peat pots.  I have also planted the cucumber and squash seeds.  The celery and leeks are ready to be transplanted, but I don't have enough pots right now, so they'll have to wait (the can still wait a few weeks).  As I transplanted each peat pellet, I pulled out the weaker seedlings, so there is only one seedling per pellet (I did the same with the leeks and celery even though I have not yet transplanted them).  The peat pots are on plant trays in the rack that has my plant lights.

There are no seeds scheduled to be planted this week.  We have "Booth's Blend" (a mixture of compost and cow manure sold by a member of our church) arriving during the week, so next week I will talk about soil preparation and post pictures of the garden.  We have put up some fencing to keep Mason (our 96-lb Chesapeake Bay retriever) out of the garden and wheat, and the peach tree and chives are blooming!