Starting Again With Ducks

Every since we lost most of our flock to a bobcat, we’ve been wanting to get ducks again. They are so much fun to watch and act very differently from chickens. Weather doesn’t really phase them and they mostly forage for food when there isn’t snow on the ground. Plus you get eggs, although our last group was fairly sporadic.

It’s difficult when you only have room for a small flock as most hatcheries like to ship at least six or seven and we don’t have room for that many. However, we found that Metzer Farms will ship fewer, but there are extra shipping costs for a heat bag and some other things. It’s pretty pricey, so we went back and forth for awhile. Ultimately decided it was worth it since we wanted to choose the breed and the expense over time really isn’t that bad if they all survive.

We now have the fenced-in pasture, so we think they will fare better against predation this time around. Unfortunately the little mini-pond we created is outside the fence boundaries, but maybe we’ll dig that out again and let them free-range a bit in the summer. The field that is fenced also gets pretty wet in the spring, so perhaps there is an opportunity to create a swale or small ditch as well.

Given the recent troubles with the post office, we were a bit concerned about delays. The ducks ship from California. However, they actually arrived sooner than expected, shipped on a Monday and arrived early Wednesday morning. They were in great shape and very active in the shipping container. They all look great so far and are growing like crazy. We’ve already had to take them out of the initial brooder (a stock tank) and put them in our old chicken tractor inside the garage. They still need a bit of heat, but I think even that won’t last much longer. It has been a bit cooler at night here going into fall, so they still need a bit of help to stay warm. They seem to find cuddling together works most of the time though.

Spring 2020 Homestead Preview – Back Garden

I wanted to complete this series of videos by showing progress in the back garden. Almost getting into summer at this point, but we’re still getting things planted here and there. Still have a handful of seedlings in the greenhouse finishing up that aren’t quite ready to plant out.

It’s been really hot here, the better part of last week saw highs in the upper 80s and 90s. It may have even cleared 100 one day. Kristin is saying we moved to a place that is too hot. All joking aside, the typical Vermont year sees about 4 days over 90 and we’ve already had 6 or 7. To compound things, we’ve gotten almost no rain as this high pressure system is very strong and persistent. Typically you would get thunderstorms when it’s this hot, but other than a bit of messing around on Saturday afternoon, even that hasn’t happened. This week doesn’t look much better until next weekend, at least as far as rain. I’ve been having to water something every day. At least the tomatoes and peppers like it.

Spring 2020 Homestead Preview – Orchard

This will mainly be a short post to point to the video I made for this, but a couple of notes. I was looking at some photos from the very first planting (2014) and it was a bit surreal to see how empty this space was at the time. We planted a lot of trees the first three years and then slowed down a bit. We’ve lost a few. Figured out the lower end of the slope is just too wet for apple trees to thrive, so going to discontinue using those spots. I’ve tried a few trees there, none of them are happy. This year I moved up to the top of the slope and out towards the swale a bit more. I think those will do better.

We’re also trying cold-hardy peach and apricot this year, as I probably mentioned elsewhere. These are not in the orchard, but on the northwest side of the house where there is a lot of shade in spring and the ground warms slowly.

Also, this year I bought some root stock and I’m going to try to graft a few trees myself. If that doesn’t end up too terribly, I’ll try to show some pictures of that at some point.

Spring 2020 Homestead Preview – Stone Wall Progress

I’ve mentioned before we have been working on a dry stone wall to run along the back of our garden. This is a landscape element I’ve long been fascinated with, mostly due to its relative permanence, the history attached to it and the almost zen aspect of building them. I have a mason friend who has been helping us who has a lot more experience and training than me, but I have been able to put what I’ve learned so far to use. It’s one of those skills where learning the basic techniques is simple, but mastery can take a lifetime.

We made good progress last year and should be able to finish off this portion by mid-year or so. The hardest part is getting the right selection of rock without breaking the bank. We got a load of quarry rock delivered last year, but many of those rocks are too large to easily move without equipment. One more reason to finally buy that tractor. Still, there is a lot of good stone there and it was relatively cheap.

I was happy to see the wall barely moved all winter and so far it’s been good with all the rain this spring. So I think the foundation is working reasonably well.

Spring 2020 Homestead Preview – Windbreak

Here is the second video showing the windbreak area we’ve been trying to establish on the northwest to north side of our house. It’s probably going to end up being a visual or noise break more than a windbreak. It won’t quite be tight enough to completely break up the wind, but hopefully will at least disrupt it a bit. The wind on this side of the house hits our bedroom directly and there are always some nights every year where it is so loud it is hard to sleep. In addition, we actually get a lot of road noise from the main road running not too far from our house. So trying to break that up a bit as well.

Initially, we planted a few evergreens and those are the oldest trees. A few years ago, we worked with a local agro-forestry expert to come up with more of a plan. The result of that is the two lines of trees you’ll see in the video.

We’re also hoping to start to fill in some of the space between the house and the windbreak with edible landscape plants. Hoping the shelter of the trees starts to create a bit more of a micro-climate, with some wind protection and temperature moderation. I’m also still on a quest to reduce the amount of lawn on the property and replace it with more diversity. Gradually moving towards a more permaculture way of approaching the landscape.

Spring 2020 Homestead Preview – Front Garden

As we start to make progress on transforming our property, I thought it might be interesting to video the state of things here at the start of spring. I’m planning to do several of these videos focused on different parts of the property.

This first one is showing what is going on out in front of our house. The front garden has been problematic, although we’ve been able to do some good things with it. It generally ends up overtaken by weeds by the end of the summer. Because this used to be pasture, there are well established rhizomic grasses that like to run about 6-12 inches under the soil. The grass shoots then pop up everywhere and unless you get rid of the roots, it just comes back. I’ve tried doing major digging and weeding to pull out roots, but it’s a bit of a fool’s errand.

There is also some sort of low ground-cover weed that probably came in on wood chips originally. It also has a rhizome growth habit. Between these two weeds and the heavy clay soil, it’s been frustrating. I should’ve listened to my wife and cover-cropped it for a few seasons before trying to plant there. Although with all the grasses underground, it wouldn’t have completely solved the problem. I just purchased an EGO edger, mainly for our flower beds and other beds in the lawn. But it might help here as well if we can cut off the traveling roots.

As I mention in the video, we’re going to use this more for perennial food bushes, possibly growing tree starts and then try to use raised beds and hugel for anything seasonal we grow. I also think the hardscape around much of the boundary of the garden will help keep the lawn from encroaching quite so much.

Kicking off 2020

Well, just a note to say I haven’t disappeared. I had a very busy 2019 with work that involved more travel than usual. As a result, I barely had time to keep up with the garden, much less blog. Still had a pretty good year as we continue to move toward a more permaculture and less structured approach.

What that meant for this past year was more hugelcultur, which we continue to see good success with. We’ll probably add some more mounds this year. Also additional raised beds. At this point, we are doing very little traditional row gardening at all.

The other thing I started working on last year was basically putting hardscape around the beds and edges of the garden. Not fully done yet, but got a good start going. I didn’t want to do this for a long time as it involves basically giving up on any exposed soil that we don’t have things planted in. However, the reality is we spend way too much time weeding garden paths, the edges of the garden where the lawn encroaches and other areas mainly used for plant access and not for actually growing anything. That’s not the part of gardening I enjoy. I would rather spend time weeding just around actual plants, harvesting, amending the soil and so on. Practically, what I mean by hardscape is landscape fabric/weed barrier covered with stone. This has the added advantage of looking nice, keeping surrounding lawn from moving in and also may act as a heat sink to keep the overall garden micro-climate a bit warmer. Not sure on that last one, but seems reasonable.

I also finally started working on a dry stone wall last year and will continue this spring. I took a class a few years ago, so I know the basics. Don’t have much practical experience though, so I have a more experienced stone mason helping out. It’s been slow, but rewarding. The first wall is running along the back of our rear garden. Pictures to come as we start working on it again. We should have the first run of about 25 feet done this spring. It’s fairly short, about 30-36 inches tall. Looking very cool already.

Last weekend I did my first round of seed starting, so the 2020 growing year has begun. Hope to provide more updates this year than last.

How Does the Garden Grow–July 2018 Edition

Well, as usually I’ve gotten crazy busy this summer (even work has taken a turn recently) and haven’t blogged about progress as much as I wanted. To set the stage, we’ve had a super dry and hot summer here in Vermont. Almost the polar (or should that be solar) opposite of last year. As is the nature of all gardening, you adapt from the previous year and get a different year. The good news is hugelcultur and permaculture are built for adaptation. The raised beds on the other hand can get a bit dicey if there isn’t enough moisture. We’ve definitely had to do some irrigating.

I’ve added some soaker hoses into the mix in addition to our overhead sprinklers. Ideally I would love to just do drip-style watering, but it’s a big pain to get set up and particularly with our winters, trying to do anything permanent is probably going to just lead to frustration. Even if you attempt to blow out and drain everything. That being said, soaker hoses are cheap enough that I’m experimenting with laying them down once and just leaving them in place. This seems to work particularly well if I run a hose along the top of a hugelcultur mound, so I’m going to keep experimenting.

Anyway, the main point of this post is I want to show the crazy growth on our main hugelcultur mound with some before and after pictures.

Here is the main mound on the 4th of July.

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Here is the mound as of this morning. The crazy growth in the back consists of a couple of tomato plants, some tomatillos, basil, beans and maybe a pepper plant.

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Here is a closer view

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And here is a view from the side

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In other news, here is what happens when you plan too much stuff in a raised bed with stuff that likes to grow up and everything starts getting happy together.

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If you want to see additional unedited pictures of our garden this year, hop over to this gallery.

Completing garden prep

For those of you waiting on bated breath to hear how we are progressing on our garden changes, I have an update for you. We are nearly done building the new raised beds and the hugelcultur mounds are now covered with dirt and ready to use.

Here is the latest mound partially covered in dirt. We really like how it turned out. It’s a U shape, so definitely looks very organic and naturalistic. Not a typical vegetable garden look.

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We have already started planting a few things in them. As it is the first year, we aren’t sure what kinds of plants are actually going to do well so we are experimenting as always. We do have the mound we started last fall that is already breaking down nicely. We are going to try some melons and squash in that one. It’s back away from the garden in a corner, so if any of those plants decide to travel around we can just see what happens.

Here you can see more raised beds filling in the rest of the open spaces in the garden.

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And one more view to give you more of a full picture.

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There are still a few spots that are a bit wide for a walking space and we are putting a few more typical rows. These are trenches filled with rotted cow manure and covered with good garden soil. We are also doing a similar wide row at the end of one of the mounds except that one has a layer of wood chips underneath. So we’ll try and see what happens.

On a side note, we planted a bunch more bulbs last fall in front of our house and it has been absolutely beautiful the last few weeks. Here are some samples:

 

Hyacinths

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The Property is Waking Up

We just got back from a lovely family trip to San Diego. It was just finally starting to feel like spring and warming up when we left. I went for a walk around the property this morning and it’s just so fun to see everything responding. Here’s the short list:

  • Daffodils giving way to tulips and grape hyacinths
  • Peas poking up that we planted shortly before leaving
  • Lots of green growth and leaves on the raspberries. Little raspberry plants popping up in the grass all around as well.
  • Hops starting to put feelers out
  • All our fruit trees are budding, including the 5 we just planted. Good sign!
  • A broody duck and a broody chicken
  • Mint is back
  • Asparagus is finally up