Gardening for me is therapeutic, zen for body and soul. Something about getting dirty and working the earth. Planting, growth and reaping the rewards or lack thereof, I’ve had those too! I’d like to share with you my garden adventures here. Building stone walls, putting in new flower gardens and tending to my kitchen potager. I’ll share my tips on gardening and welcome your feedback as well.
After a few very hot months paired unfortunately, with a serious drought, the gardens have finally begun to thrive. And true to form the tomatoes always seem to come at once. This year I experimented with a few heirloom varieties and they are a success! Large and juicy. I’m also growing scallions for the first time and they seem to be doing well. Along with various herbs, beets, cherry tomatoes of mixed variety and peppers, the potager is producing nicely.
My grape vines have finally matured and this year I actually have a crop to do something with. I experimented with a grape jelly a few weeks back and the results were so good, I’ve decided to make some more. So the bowl-ful above will be jars of jelly in a few days.
Unfortunately this summer, I lost one of my sweet hens to, I believe, a hawk. After scouring the area for days, I had to face the fact that my little hen was gone. Last year they free-ranged happily without much danger. Now I was terrified to let them out without supervision. I hated to keep them penned up all day, despite their new home with the ‘run’. They so enjoy pecking around in the lawn, and yes, the gardens. So I looked to the web for advise and many suggested a rooster, for various reasons. First they are larger and therefore present a bit more of a challenge to predators who may think twice. Secondly, they are protective of their brood and tend to watch for signs of danger and kluk quite loudly when alarmed which in turns alarms the girls. Well I was willing to try and found a handsome boy up the road that needed a home. I am still gun-shy as to letting them out completely on their own, and usually make sure they are checked on frequently.
The time had come to move my girls into a new home. They had out-grown their previous coop and since they all lay eggs, also needed nesting boxes in which to lay them. I also wanted to provide them with outdoor space or a ‘run’ for times when we are not around so they have the opportunity to go outside and scratch, take dust baths, and do the things that chickens like to do. It had to be very secure, since their primary predators – raccoons and weasels are very crafty and in the case of the weasel, can squeeze into very small openings. After a little convincing that they had out-grown the playhouse, my daughters reluctantly handed over the keys to the new owners – my hens. I cut a hole into the side so as they can access the outdoor pen. Made a door with a latch so they can be closed in at night when needed. The outdoor pen or ‘run’ as they are usually called, is constructed of very sturdy metal stakes driven into the ground. Then we wrapped a very strong metal mesh securely around and over the top. I hung nesting boxes and a perch inside the coop. Their food and water containers are suspended from hooks to keep them clean. There are many complexities to keeping chickens if you have their best interests in mind. I’m not a pro – still learning as I go along, but I have some key points to share I will list below for basic chicken keeping. My girls are very happy in their new home. It is said that happy chickens lay eggs…….I have 6 hens and get 6 eggs every day and apparently someone is exceptionally happy because sometimes I get seven!
Some basics for chicken keeping:
Keep their food and water suspended off the ground and away from where they roost, otherwise it will quickly become full of dirt, coop shavings and poop (yes, I said it and it happens – a lot!).
Chickens like to roost at night, so be sure to provide them something to perch upon up off the ground.
This is a good one….as for bedding or coop floor cover, mix very dry leaves and cedar shavings together. Don’t ask me why, but I read this and it works. Somehow that coop stays amazingly clean and virtually odor free. Just add more as needed to what is already there. No need to clean – ever!
If your chickens don’t free-range, be sure to add some chicken scratch to their run. This is a mixture of seeds, small rocks and such that gives them a variety to eat plus the rocks aid in their digestion as they do not have teeth.
If they do free-range, I’ll warn you here. First be aware of predators: hawks, fox, neighbors dogs. Secondly, if you love your flower beds, so will your chickens.
After a testy May, now that it is June, the vegetable garden has been planted. Here in the Northeast the rule is to generally wait until after Memorial Day. Sometimes I get a little itchy and want to get a jump on the planting and can usually get away with it. However, this year we had some real cold snaps and Memorial Day was truly the indicator that the threat of frost would be over. As I’ve mentioned before, I just have a small kitchen potager, so in went tomatoes of many varieties, beets and some beans. I’ve also planted various flowers throughout the gardens. Geraniums, Impatiens, Zinnia’s, etc. I have come to love Zinnias for their variety of heights, various blooms, and hardiness. They produce the entire summer and don’t seem to mind hot, dry spells. Plus their color is vibrant and add real interest.
It’s only March, I know, but the air is tinged with that certain smell that tells spring is on it’s way. Time to make plans for the garden. Early spring is the best time to plant if you are replacing or planting any new shrubbery. If the snow is gone and the ground is soft enough to dig, take advantage of that very early spring weather. Very early spring is second best to fall for planting hardy plants. If your starting seeds, now is the time. In an earlier post I have included a chart of when to plant according to your zone. Also, if your feeling ambitious to try to grow something new in the flower or vegetable garden, now is the time to visit your seed suppliers, since many varietals can be sold out early. If you have over-wintered your geraniums, bring them up and place them in a sunny window. Cut back any of the long-stringy growth to where there are small green ‘buds’. Water and fertilize and they will start to flourish.
Well winter will soon be here and my little hens will be moving to a friends barn until spring. My coop is just too small and would quite literally be buried by the amount of snowfall I get around here! They have grown into some serious egg layers (I get 6 every day) and their antics are fun to watch, never mind that they are terrorists in the garden! I still find them very charming and will miss them.
Spirea is a versatile bush, and comes in so many varieties. They are very hardy and can really add great color to the garden. I have spirea planted alongside my driveway where the snow plow always pushes the piles – so youcan imagine anything planted there has to be able to take a beating. In comes Spirea! I cut them back to the ground each fall and each year they come back (after that mountain of snow has melted) bigger, more beautiful and very full. Without cutting back you will eventually be left with a very woody unshaply bush. So get out there and hack those spirea to the ground (also makes for easier fall clean-up).
The growing season has definitely ended. I am still harvesting the last of my tomatoes, some of which will become fried green tomatoes. I have, however finished the cherry tomatoes and have gotten that bed prepared for the winter. After pulling up the plants, I like to turn over the soil. Be sure to pull out any root clusters so that the soil is easily loosed. I then top the bed with a good layer of compost. This helps to replenish any nutrients that have been stripped from the soil. Rake it out a bit and say so long until next spring!
Here is something I love to do with my abundant summer herbs. I save (or you can purchase) decorative bottles, fill them with fresh herb combinations and extra virgin olive oil. By the time the holidays roll around you have delicious seasoned oils to give as gifts. Attach some raffia and a cardboard tag and you have a wonderful gift from your garden.
Here are some ideas for seasonings –
Rosemary, Thyme, Winter Savory (some of the more hardy herb varieties).
Pepper corns (plain or colorful), garlic cloves, juniper berries
Bay leaves, or any dried herb works well also.