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Branch Borders

I just trimmed my redwood dogwoods to get basket making supplies and decided to use the larger branches to make a border for a flower and herb bed.

Bed without border.

Bed without border.

 

Cut all the branches to the same length with ends angled to a point.

Cut all the branches to the same length with ends angled to a point.

 

Push one end into the ground and arc the other end over.  Push the ends as deeply as they will go so they don't pop out.

Push one end into the ground and arc the other end over. Push the ends as deeply as they will go so they don’t pop out.

 

I added compost but you can also add bark or just neaten things up.

I added compost but you can also add bark or just neaten things up.

 

 

 

Time to Plant Onions!

I like to plant when the crocuses are blooming.

I like to plant when the crocuses are blooming.

Why grow onions when they are pretty cheap at the store?  Because they taste better!

There are many different shapes, sizes and even colors of onions and most can be pulled young as green onions.

I like to plant my onions when the crocuses are blooming; they are a cool season crop and do best when planted early.  You can grow onions from transplants, sets, or seeds. Transplants are seedlings started in the current growing season and sold in bunches,   sets are immature bulbs grown the previous year and are the easiest to plant, the earliest to harvest, and the least susceptible to diseases. Growing onions from seed offers a wide choice in cultivars but it’s hard to start seeds here as we have such a short growing season.  You will need to start your onion seedlings indoors.

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Plant with the pointy side up.

If you are using sets then plant them two inches apart, 2-3 inches deep with the pointy side up.  I like to lay them out on the bed before planting as I lose track what I’ve planted where.

I like to lay the onions out ahead of time.

I like to lay the onions out ahead of time.

There are short and long day onions.  Short day onions form bulbs when the days reach 10 to 12 hours long and are better for southern latitudes.  Long day cultivars need 13 to 16 hours and are the ones best suited for our area.

Once I have planted onions I cover them with Reemay less to provide heat than to protect them from the ravenous crows who view my yard as their private pantry.

Using large binder clips keeps the Reemay from blowing away.

Using large binder clips keeps the Reemay from blowing away.

With well prepared soil no fertilizing should be needed.  If onions are in soil that has a lot of nitrogen then you will get great tops but small bulbs.  Onion do like to be watered regularly but are a good crop if you are going to be on short vacations this summer as they will tolerate some gaps in watering.

Harvest onions when the tops turn yellow.  Pull and hang in a dry place until thoroughly dry.  If you harvest them too early or don’t let them dry enough they will rot.  If well dried they will last 6 months to a year.  If you don’t eat them all before then!

Onions are in, peas are next!

Onions are in, peas are next!

February in the Garden

Pre-cleanup

Pre-cleanup

I knew it was time for a change when looking in the backyard all I could think was “a field of poo”.  Leo is a prodigious producer and the chickens were cranking out the smelly stuff at an alarming rate.  I would be skinned alive if a hair on the dog’s beloved head was touched but the birds?  I put an ad on my neighborhood Facebook page and by night the girls were out the door and on their way to a new loving home.

A bit more scrubbing then on to its new life.

A bit more scrubbing then on to its new life.

Over 20 years with chickens was great but no matter what I did I just couldn’t keep the flies and rats under control.  I tried wasps to kill larvae, treadle feeders to flummox rats and obsessive coop cleaning but all to no avail.  Short of completely rebuilding the coop I could think of nothing left to try so off they went.

Post cleanup

Post cleanup

With renewed interest I cleaned up the overgrown backyard, blasted out the empty coop and did spring plantings.

There still is plenty of Leo poop but if he’s walked regularly he much prefers doing his business then.  I’m looking forward to a summer of sweetly scented air wafting in from the backyard and picnics amongst sunflowers.  I’ll keep you posted on how this goes!

Rhubarb pushing up through the soil.

Rhubarb pushing up through the soil.

Flowering quince

Flowering quince

Budding raspberry canes

Budding raspberry canes

Crocuses

Crocuses

Daffodils

Daffodils

Chickens!

I'm still top chicken, don't even think about putting me in the pot.

I’m still top chicken, don’t even think about putting me in the pot.

“Yum!  Fresh eggs are here again!” said my daughter with joy.  When the hens start laying spring is just around the corner.

If you’ve ever thought of getting chickens now is a good time to get ready.  With a little preparation they are very easy to raise and the eggs and manure are great to have.  Starting with chicks from the feed store is a good way to go.

For chicken success you need:

  • A dry place for them to perch, lay eggs and sleep
  • An area for exercise and scratching
  • Protection from predators.  I have lost quite a few chickens to racoons; they are very good at pulling up fences, digging and even going so far as to pull boards off of coops.  Hawks have carried off a few chicks.
  • Access to clean water and food.  Food needs to be protected from rats or you can have a huge pest problem.
  • A good source of calcium for shell development.  This can be in the food or as a supplement such as ground up shells.

 

New eggs!

New eggs!

 

Chicken manure mixed with wood chips needs to compost for at least six months.

Chicken manure mixed with wood chips needs to compost for at least six months.

 

Using a treadle feeder like this one cuts down on problems with rats as they aren't heavy enough to trip it open.

Using a treadle feeder like this one cuts down on problems with rats as they aren’t heavy enough to trip it open.

 

Here's another style treadle feeder for a bigger flock.  This one is more robust.

Here’s another style treadle feeder for a bigger flock. This one is more robust.

 

There is a fenced outside run with bird netting on top mainly to keep out hawks.

There is a fenced outside run with bird netting on top mainly to keep out hawks.

 

Inside the former goat shed the girls have dry perches and boxes for laying.

Inside the former goat shed the girls have dry perches and boxes for laying.

 

Sometimes I use hay for bedding but often use cedar chips instead.

Sometimes I use hay for bedding but often use cedar chips instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

For seeds to grow there needs to be the right combination of light, soil temperature, nutrients and moisture.  Here in our cool Northwest climate one of the main things is waiting until the soil is really warm enough for germination to occur. Spring crops need soil temperatures in the 50’s to 60’s while summer crops need temperatures in the high 60’s.  You can raise the soil temperature some by using cloches or other methods to trap heat and warm the soil.

Seasons can vary year to year but a rough guide to use is planting by the holidays:

  • Peas by President’s Day
  • Potatoes by St. Patrick’s Day, (this one is easy to remember)
  • Corn and beans by Mother’s Day
  • Tomatoes, squash and cucumbers by Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday.  (Ok, this one is a bit esoteric – it’s June 8th.)

To get more detailed planting information a great resource is Seattle Tilth’s Maritime Northwest Garden Guide.

More Baskets!

Here’s how to make another type of basket!

Starting

Starting

  • First cut slits in four of the spokes in the center of the spoke.
  • Next make a slant cut on the ends of the non-slitted spokes so it is sharp and pointed.
  • Slide the cut end spokes through the slits in the other spokes.
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This basket has dogwood for spokes and reeds for weaving.

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Next steps

  • Take a long reed, double it in half and loop it around four of the spokes.
  • Line the two ends of the reed up and put the reed on the left over the reed on the right and behind the four spokes.
  • Go around once then divide the spokes into sets of two and go around in a circle always putting the reed on the left over the right reed and behind the next set of two spokes.
  • Do this 3 or 4 times.
  • Next pull the spokes so they are one apart
  • Continue going around in the same fashion.
  • When you run out of reed you can either weave in an over under pattern with one length or double it and continue twisting as you did in the beginning.
Doing the sides.

Doing the sides.

  • When it’s time to bend the spokes use pliers and crimp the spoke lightly as each spot you want it to bend.
  • For the top loop each spoke behind the next one then trim the excess.
This basket has willow, dogwood and reeds.

This basket has weeping willow, dogwood and reeds.

I used some palm and seagrass for variety and texture.

I used some palm and seagrass for variety and texture.

Sides can be straight or flare out.

Sides can be straight or flare out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Imbolc!

009Imbolc is on February 2nd this year.  It is an ancient holiday that falls half-way between the winter solstice  and the spring equinox and you may know it better as St Brigid’s Day, Groundhog’s Day or Candlemas.  This is one of my favorite days as it is noticeably lighter and you truly can start to feel spring in the air; early blooming flowers begin and chickens start to lay again.

I like to make honey cakes, cook a big dinner, that includes whatever greens I can find in the garden and if we have enough eggs, make a nice herbed omelet.  Ordering seeds, planning new garden beds and dreaming of hot summer days are other great Imbolc activities!

 

Grapevine Wreaths

It’s a wee bit early to be pruning grapes but I wanted to neaten up the front yard so trimmed off the long, ropy vines.

Using these vines to make wreaths is easy and they turn out great.

First choose the vines you want to use and trim off the side twigs.  For a more rustic look, leave the tendrils on.

First choose the vines you want to use and trim off the side twigs. For a more rustic look, leave the tendrils on.

These are my favorite pruners.

These are my favorite pruners.

Wrap the vines around and twist in the ends.  Trim off anything that sticks out.

Wrap the vines around and twist in the ends. Trim off anything that sticks out.

Here are three finished wreath.  You can use these as is or as a base for baskets.

Here are three finished wreath. You can use these as is or as a base for baskets.

Great activity for a frosty, sunny day!

Great activity for a frosty, sunny day!

 

 

 

 

Time to Make Orange Marmalade

Oranges are in season right now and staying inside on a cold, rainy day to make marmalade is a great way to pass the time.  Your whole house will smell wonderful!

Peel the oranges by scoring the orange and carefully peeling off the skin.

Peel the oranges.

Peel off the white pithy part of the orange and save this.

Remove the pith and save it.

Stack removed peels and cut into as narrow strips.

Slice into thin strips.

Slice into thin strips.

Collect up the white pith and put it into a cheesecloth bag.  Put into a pot:

  • Bagged pith,
  • Cut up oranges
  • Thinly sliced peels

Fill the pot until the orange mixture is half covered with water and juice.  Soak for 12 hours.

Soaking for 12 hours.

Take out the bag of pith, remove large pieces of orange membranes and any extra pith that might have snuck in and add one cup of sugar for each cup of oranges.  Cook until mixture thickens.  Make sure to stir continuously or this mixture will burn.

It can take a few days for the marmalade to set. Be sure to cook until it thickens or it will be runny.

Ladle into sterile jars then water bath for 10 minutes.  This tastes great on a slice of rye bread or other hearty bread.  If you want to make a quick marmalade here’s a recipe with pectin that does not need to soak.

The Portage Bay Grange

One of the lovely resident birds.

One of the lovely resident birds.

The Portage Bay Grange on Roosevelt in the University District, is a great place to learn skills, pick up high quality feed, get new chicks and meet great people interested in urban farming.

Here’s an interview with owner and founder Kevin Scott-Vandenberge.

UFH – What path led you to opening the Grange?

My wife-partner Kirsten and I, with her background in human development, and my experience having had several other small business ventures, talked for hours on end about putting our partnership into a more meaningful endeavor together, and what that would ideally look like.  We both thought that what is missing in our “frayed” society is rewarding daily experiences. We had chickens already, because we wanted that “layer” of life for our other three children. After two years of some small steps, which included site design, building coops and gardens, and selling feed out of a moving truck, we opened up this store. That has been 4 years now! Around the same time we had a baby, Berkeley, and now being able to reflect, the parallel process of parenting and growing this business has been full of joy and discovery.

There's a full range of bee keeping supplies.

Interested in bees?  The Grange is your place!

UFH – What do you like most about your business?

This is a tough question to answer, as there are many elements that I like. Personally, we created my dream job! My wife would not necessarily say the same thing. She is the only person really behind the scenes. She has to do all the hard stuff! She does the accounting, the web site, and social media. All of this has taken her from doing her real passion and that’s her music. She is, however, able to do what she does love and that’s raising ‘Bee’ (Berkeley). I love the people and the community that has evolved. I love the team that we work with. I really enjoy the interactions and the conversations that ensue. And this job allows me to be creative and physically active constantly.

Urban farmer clothing comes in a range of colors and sizes.

Urban farmer clothing comes in a range of colors and sizes.

UFH – What is your biggest success?

Growing a business from the seed of an idea to where we are now is probably the biggest success. In addition to the 4 year-old, we have a 14 year-old daughter Peyton, a 17 year-old son Kellen, and Max who is in his first year in college. When we first started talking about this dream the kids were really skeptical about how it would work out and the location. Over the years they’ve been a huge part of the operations and we’ve watched them take pride in the work they’ve done in growing this family business. I think it’s been really good for them to see this go from an idea to a real business.

I also love seeing people change their philosophy around what life is really about. Gardening, cooking and raising animals brings them back to that enriched daily experience.

Chicks are available now!

Chicks are available now!

UFH – What’s your biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge is educating people and making sure our staff is all on the same page with health issues. We all come with our own opinions; and in this business, a great part of knowledge comes from experience. We’re always available with valuable resources to help that process as well.

Beautiful housewares can be found.

Beautiful housewares can be found.

UFH – Do you have classes?

We have a great situation with the Portage Bay Café next door and we are able to have classes in a very comfortable spot. Coming soon is our Chick Raising class, our spring Bee Series, and some new fermenting classes too.

UFH – What are some exciting things coming up this year?

We are really excited because we just hired a great operations manager Jessica, and have a fantastic crew, Charlie (who’s our feed manager), Eric, and Meredith. We are getting into some really neat stuff that you don’t see that often:

  • We’re moving into more into hydroponics and aquaponics.
  • This year we’ll have even more seed varieties and starts.
  • We’re also working on an express pick-up so people can text in an order and pull up to the back door to easily pick it up.
  • We’re going to keep expanding our feed too. Our local chicken feed is off the charts when it comes to nutrition. 50 pounds is around 28 dollars a bag. We have great organic feeds that come to a little more about 37 dollars with tax. (UFH – This is a great price on high quality feed.)
Come visit the resident ducks and chickens.

Come visit the resident ducks and chickens.

Kevin can be reached at kevin@portagebaygrange.