Seed Swap Stories + Germination Progress

Now that we have some things planted I thought I’d share another template that we use to keep records. This form is for taking notes on seed germination.

So far most of the tomatoes have emerged, but we’re still waiting on most of the tomatillos and all of the peppers and eggplant.  The seeds that have performed the best and germinated fastest – Aunt Ruby’s, Cherokee Purple, Marglobe Supreme, & San Marzano – are all ones that my friend saved from the fruit of extra plant starts I shared with her in 2014.  In 2015 and 2016 she continued to save seeds from the strongest plants of each variety.  She lives about three hours away in Western NY, so our hope is that her seed-saving efforts in a nearby region with the same hardiness zone will have the best results yet.

We swap seeds and extra seedlings with one another every year.  For this season, I shared seeds from Katanya watermelon, Kansas melon, and du 18 Jours radish.  Last year we swapped beans (Good Mother Stallard, Snow Cap, Vaquero), sunflower (Mammoth Grey), and winter squash (Hubbard True Green Improved, Galeux D’Eysines).  It’s a little nerdy but it’s a great excuse to get together and gab about our plans and dreams over a cup of coffee.

Anyway, back to our note-taking.  You certainly don’t need to be so formal but we find it’s helpful.  Each winter we can review this information and, combined with crop yield records and notes about quality/flavor, it helps us decide what varieties to continue to grow and which to replace.

For example, last year we grew two different kinds of eggplant: Beatrice F1 and Fingerling.  I sowed 8 blocks of each, two seeds per block, and only two of the Fingerling blocks germinated compared to seven Beatrice F1.  In this case the Fingerling seeds were ones that my father-in-law purchased from a smaller local seed company and the Beatrice F1 were from a much bigger one.  While I would typically be wary of the company itself I also had almost 100% germination on various kinds of broccoli, turnip, kohlrabi, and radish.  So for now, no more Fingerling eggplant on our farm!

And this year, just from germination thus far I’m feeling excited about the 3rd generation home-saved seeds.  Time will tell if the plant growth and fruit quality match up.


Homestead Updates

1. The month of musicals has finally come to a close and I have my husband back. Phew!  He has had a hard time with his career this month, as he often left just as the baby was getting up to eat and got home after she was put to bed at night.  I waited up for him if he was able to get home before 10:00, and although it’s been tiring I’m glad that I did.  Being a stay-at-home parent to a young baby can be isolating, and if not for our quick chats over a glass of wine each night I’m sure I would have felt more lonely.

He has missed out on so many baby milestones and doesn’t even feel fulfilled by the work he is doing, so the long hours in a suit and tie don’t seem worth it to him anymore. I know plenty of people who think we’re crazy for it but we would do anything to work side by side each day!  It motivates me to work more diligently on our farm.  Maybe someday we can grow our operation enough so he can join in full time.

2. I made a giant batch of pastured pork trotter stock. This stuff is liquid gold!  It is so gelatinous. Maybe that’s not an appetizing word, but it’s the right one. It is so rich, buttery, and satisfying. Tonight for dinner I used it as a base for one of our family favorite meals, build-your-own noodle bowls.  I also froze five more quarts.  We’ve got happy, warm bellies.

3. I got a head start on our stash of baby food since that adventure will be happening in a month or so.  Right now I have apple, Asian pear, sweet potato, parsnip, and carrot, all of which were storage crops purchased in bulk from local farmers.  (Did you know that you can’t give home-canned fruits and vegetables to babies?  I am so thankful for our year-round market so we have access to these products even in the cold months!)  I froze them in ice cube trays, then transferred them to freezer bags.  Each cube is roughly one tablespoon in size.  I can easily use them in soups and smoothies, too!

IMG_20170327_080759_1634. Good stuff going on with the nightshades we started a week ago.  So far almost all of the tomatoes have germinated, but we are still waiting on peppers, tomatillos, and eggp
lant. I started more than I originally planned so I can have more seedlings to share with my parents.  Later this week I will share more specific germination notes.

5. The fruit trees have been pruned, and now we are just waiting on the four new additions. They were originally scheduled to arrive yesterday but sudden below-freezing temperatures (14°F) delayed them. Right now it’s looking like April 1st is the day.

A busy weekend but a good one nonetheless.  I hope everyone’s week is off to a great start!

Disappointing Email + Reworking the Orchard

Well, I’m bummed.  I just got an email that the pear trees we placed an order for back in January are no longer available this year and won’t be again until spring 2018.  I know my husband was looking forward to getting the orchard completed this year, somewhat because he’s excited about homegrown fruit but mostly because he wants to be done digging holes in the yard.  But regardless, I took to my notepad and sketched a new plan that would make for easy expansion next year.  Here’s what I’m going with:


Last year we planted three semi-dwarf cherry (1 each Montmorency, Hardy Giant, Black Tartarian) and six semi-dwarf apple (2 Cox’s Orange Pippin, 1 each Northern Spy, Spitzenburg, Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious).  This year we’re adding three dwarf peach (Elberta Queen, July Elberta, Early White Giant) and one dwarf plum (Stanley Prune).  Next year we’ll finish with three dwarf pear (Beurre Bosc, Bartlett, Anjou) and one more dwarf plum (hopefully Green Gage!).

But here’s the silver lining!  I was $9 away from free shipping, and shipping was going to be $20, so I decided to use those $20 more wisely and pick more plants!  Needless to say we’ll be getting two honeyberry plants with our fruit tree order.  Don’t ask me where they’re going to be planted, though.  I’ll figure it out before they get here this weekend.

Starting Seeds Indoors: Nightshades

Every year we get to the first planting day of the season and I wonder where the time has gone.  Just a few years ago, around this same time, we were planting a hodgepodge of things in plastic cups for our tiny balcony garden.  Now we’re starting our second season at our farm property and we’re gearing up to grow many of our daughter’s first solid foods.  Time flies too fast, but it feels good to be so connected to the changing seasons.


If you had the chance to look at our small garden plans for this year, you’ll notice that almost everything can be directly sown in place.  The only exceptions are nightshade crops, like tomatoes and peppers.  In typical seasons we start spring brassicas (like broccoli and kale) indoors, but I’ll just be direct sowing them to save space inside.  We also usually grow eggplant, but because space is limited in the garden and we don’t get comparable yields we’ve decided to purchase these from other farms this year.  We’ll just be growing tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos for transplanting.

My rule of thumb is to seed roughly an extra 33% of each transplanted.  For example, if I’m planning on planting tomatoes in the field, I’ll start by multiplying six by 1.33.  This equals 7.98, so I’ll seed eight paste tomatoes.  This accounts for any seeds that may not germinate and allows us to choose the best plants.  (I could sell the extra plants, but usually I just bring them to my parents for their “empty nester” garden.  It saves them some hassle, and they get a much wider variety than what they’d find at the nursery!)

So with that in mind, here’s what we’re sowing indoors today:

nightshade amounts.JPG

And I will also note that I usually grow in soil blocks, but because I’m seeding so few transplants I’ve decided to keep the equipment clean, save myself some time, and just grow in plug flats such as these.  I’m keeping the mix the same, which is based on Eliot Coleman’s soil block formula, as it has yielded strong results in the past:

  • 3 quarts compost (I use my father-in-law’s homemade vermicompost)
  • 3 quarts coconut coir
  • 1 quart vermiculite
  • 6 tbsp fertilizer (such as this blend)

I can’t wait to see those little sprouts over the next few weeks.  Hopefully it’ll hold me off until warmer spring weather arrives.

Happy planting!

2017 Planting Schedule + Template

I love to organize, especially when it comes to our farm plans.  Excel is my best friend.  Because our family’s food supply is so reliant on our own growing, it’s crucial that we put a lot of thought and care into our plans not only so we can have a successful growing season but also so we can make future plans based on the year’s experiences.

Now that we have our mini-garden layout finalized I thought I’d share a tool I made for keeping track of the season’s planting schedule.  Here’s an image of this year’s:

2017 planting schedule sample.jpg

I’m a very visual person, so I’ve found it helpful to create a schedule like this (instead of a list or calendar) so I can imagine the whole season from start to finish.  In our area, the last frost date in spring will be around April 30th (highlighted in green) and the first fall frost will be around October 15th (highlighted in red).  As you can see, I’ve chosen Sunday as my planting day of the week because it works best around my husband’s schedule.  I used the formula tool in Excel to make it easy to estimate the maturity date for each crop based on the planting date and days to maturity that I input.  There are separate colors for sowing indoors, direct seeding, and transplanting so I can keep track easily.  And finally, you can see my notes on the right about succession rates, harvest notes, and planting directions.

This tool has worked really well for our family for the past two years, so I thought I’d offer a blank template for anyone who’s interested!  Let me know if you check it out!  And as always, feel free to change it to fit your family’s needs.

Click here to download the Visual Planting Schedule template.

Baby Humans and Baby Chickens

Today, my husband went out to run errands before his show this afternoon.  He told me he was going to swing into Tractor Supply Company to see what chicks they had this weekend.  Last weekend, they had unsexed assorted Bantams and Leghorns.  But this time they had unsexed Rhode Island Reds and ISA Brown pullets.  So after some reading, despite having my heart set on the Australorps, I decided to go with the ISA Browns because their description fit the bill and we don’t want males.  My husband came home with six of these little cutie pies.  I think they’re adjusting to their brooder box well.  Thanks to The Cape Coop for these DIY brooder box plans!

ISA Brown chickens are a hybrid, bred to be extremely productive layers of large brown eggs.  I’m certain that we’ll get our Australorps eventually, but these seem like good first backyard chickens.  They’re apparently very quiet, docile, and friendly, plus they lay eggs sooner than other breeds.  Or so I read!  Time will tell.

Now, when I first wrote that I thought I was up to the task of raising baby chicks for the first time, my baby was being a rock star sleeper.  She had just wrapped up a growth spurt and was back to a few long naps and was sleeping 9-9.5 hours straight during the night (and yes, I did have a glass of red wine after I was certain she had fallen asleep!).  However, last night was atrocious, and today hasn’t been much better.  Hey, I have off days, too!  I figured if things were going so beautifully sleep-wise I was owed a curveball.  My sister said there is a 4 month sleep regression.  Is that a thing?  Anyway, now my husband has set up a space for these precious little creatures and I’m sitting here typing this and hoping I didn’t bite off more than I can chew.

“Every day is a new day.”  That’s my new motto.

Raised Bed Plans

Recently I wrote about my plans to utilize companion planting and vertical growing methods to maximize the space in our small garden this year.  I was asked to post my plans for these 4×8 wood-framed beds, so here they are!  These are packed tightly, as it’s an experiment to see just how intensively I can plant.  The books I used to come up with the spacing parameters can be found at the bottom of this post.

Note: “SP” stands for succession plantings.  Green lines indicate trellis.  Areas in red will be sown with my 4-row seeder.  Areas in yellow will be planted using homemade seed mats.  (Click here for more information on how I make hexagonal spaced seed mats for direct-seeded crops.)

Bed 1: 8 half-sheets of parsnip, two 8-foot hormanova trellises with 8 pruned indeterminate tomatoes each spaced at 12″, 4 sheets of SP lettuce, 4 sheets of SP chard, various herbs (will be purchased from the local nursery)


Bed 2: two basketweave trellises with 6 plants each (6 determinate tomatoes, 2 determinate tomatoes + 4 tomatillo) spaced 18″, 8 pepper spaced 12″, 8 watermelon spaced 18″x24″Nightshade 2.jpg

Bed 3: 8 melons spaced 12″ along hormanova trellis, 31 cucumbers spaced 3″ along hormanova trellis, 12 summer squash spaced 18″, 6 okra spaced 18″ or 8 okra spaced 12″ (will be planted at 6″ and then I’ll decide when I thin them)


Bed 4: 12 winter squash spaced 18″x24″, two 8-foot hormanova trellises with 31 pole beans per side spaced 3″ (total: 124)


Bed 5: 8 kale spaced 12″ (spring/fall), 12 cabbage spaced 12″ (spring/fall), 8 half-sheets SP carrot, 8 half-sheets SP beet, 8 half-sheets SP radish, 4 whole + 4 half-sheets SP kohlrabi (spring: fresh, fall: storage)


Bed 6: 9 broccoli spaced 12″x18″, 9 cauliflower spaced 12″x18″, 6 Brussels sprouts spaced 12″x18″, 8-ft SP mesclun with 4-row seeder, 4 half-sheets beet (spring), 4 half-sheets carrot (spring), 4 half-sheets turnip (fall), 4 half-sheets rutabaga (fall)



Fava Beans + Mama Thoughts

img_20170304_135717_405Over our cold weekend I got a row of fava beans planted.  Half are Broad Windsor and half are Extra Precoce a Grano Violetto, both of which happen to be heirlooms.  They’re tolerant of the cold so they’re a good choice for us northern growers.  For others who are finishing up their winter, it might be nice to see that some of us are already getting seeds in the soil.  I have a sandy patch where a shed used to be, and the clear soil has been nice for random root and legume crops here and there.  Last fall it was radishes, turnips, and carrots.  Now it’s favas.  It was so good to get out and breathe that crisp air, even if I thought my fingers and toes were going to fall off in the process!

I’m taking a break from all the gardening talk to write about motherhood.  I should preface this with the fact that March is school musical season, and as my husband is a music teacher, he doesn’t have any free days or nights or weekends until March 27th.  Needless to say I have a lot of free time to think (read: talk to myself).

Today, our baby girl is four months old.  Someday I’ll write on here about my birth experience and the first two months of her life, as we didn’t have the easiest time and I think other new moms might feel better knowing they’re not alone when it doesn’t go as perfectly as they had hoped.  But today, seeing how she’s grown, I’m just looking forward.

It’s amazing to see babies develop their personalities.  She’s such a social little creature and loves to watch people have conversations, try to communicate back and forth, and smile.  She’s been able to roll from tummy to back for a while now, but when we play on her mat she has recently started to do bridge and downward-facing dog, and it makes me want to get back into yoga so we can share that with each other as she gets older.  I never could have imagined the love I have for her.  The hardest thing for me right now is not having family nearby.  It’s been especially hard that my mom is far away.  Although I love playing and reading and singing with her all day, I’ve got a bad case of cabin fever and it can get a little bit lonesome.  I know the warm weather will make a difference.  The prospect of setting her next to me on the grass while I tend to our garden makes me itch for spring and summer.  The teacher in me is just dying to help her explore and appreciate nature.

She will be starting solids in about two months.  I’m admittedly way too hyped to make her baby food.  Thinking about it and planning it has given me a new perspective about farming and homesteading.  As parents we feel such responsibility to provide the very best in life for our children, and as food is such a central part of our lives here, we feel inspired to provide her with the best and most natural foods from the start.  So to be able to grow many of her early foods (peas, carrots, broccoli, beets, kohlrabi) right here in our soil is incredible.  Even those vegetables and fruits that won’t be ready yet on our property (sweet potato, potato, apple, pear) are at the weekly market right now because they’re storage crops, which means I can plan ahead and fill the freezer with purees for her.  By June our strawberries will be ready to harvest, and I can’t wait to see her taste them for the first time.  And when she’s ready for animal products, we’ll offer her full-fat Jersey cow yogurt and cheese from our local dairy as well as grass-fed lamb and beef from rotational grazing farms.  Lately I’ve been reading books about natural baby food and I’m getting so excited for that stage.  (Don’t worry; I’m loving this stage, too!)

Is this extreme?  Probably, but it’s such a big part of our livelihood and our values that I can’t imagine doing it any other way.  I hope she loves growing up here as much as we love raising her here.

Frigid Morning + Chicken Talk

It is 12 degrees outside and the wind is crazy.  Let’s hope that the baby will sleep through the wind gusts and that the tulips, daffodils, and fiddleheads that have emerged early will survive this bitter cold.

Shout out to my best friend and her husband (who is my husband’s childhood best friend) on getting their meat rabbit operation started this week!  They’ve got one Silver Fox buck, three Silver Fox does, and one New Zealand White doe.  The New Zealand lady is pregnant and they’re going to breed one of the Silver Fox girls today.  This is so exciting because they dream of operating a grass farm and this is their first step in the right direction.  They even have a restaurant lined up to purchase the meat rabbits, and of course my husband and I will be overjoyed to be patrons to their business.

I saw that our local Tractor Supply Company is getting chicks this Monday.  And with our best friends getting their first farm animals, and with my baby being a relatively consistent napper, I’m feeling tempted to jump in the deep end because I feel that I may feasibly have the time to dedicate to it.

We plan on raising Black Australorps because they are a cold hardy and relatively calm bird.  Some of my husband’s coworkers have already expressed interest in purchasing eggs from us when the time comes, but even so I’m thinking that three hens is a good start.  (I’m always trying to remind myself to start small.)  When they start laying that’ll be plenty for two adults and eventually one little one.  Some websites have a minimum order size bigger than what we hope to start with, so if TSC offers this breed in store I may consider buying there.  I may not even do it this year, but I’m thinking about it.

Here is the plan for a coop and run that I’ve been looking at for a few years now.  I like that it’s designed to be easy to clean and with easy egg access.  If you have your own backyard chickens, I’d love your input.  What do you wish you knew when you first got your operation set up?  What features would you add to this coop?  Is it worth it to build your own, or do you recommend a ready-to-build kit?

Winter Planning, pt. 3

Despite the snowy day on Sunday, it’s been unseasonably mild again this week.  In fact, it was 56 degrees out when I was feeding the baby at 2:00 this morning!  That’s unbelievable for the first day of March, especially when it’s dark out.

Anyway, the good thing about the mild weather is that it gives me a chance to step out for some fresh air with the baby during the day.  I’ve been keeping an eye out for the first signs of rhubarb so we can locate the crowns and divide them.  I hoped to get to it this year but with the order of fruit trees coming in two weeks and my husband in the heat of school musical season I’m thinking we’ll have to push it off until 2018.  But in the meantime we can work on clearing the wild grape and blackberry from the area so that it’ll at least be easier to access the rhubarb for this year’s harvest.

As a side note, I’m off my game lately.  I’ve got a baby here who’s going through a growth spurt.  Phew!  We are all extremely tired.  I feel like I’ve got a newborn again – we went from a six-hour stretch of sleep (and for almost a week, an eight-hour stretch!!) to getting up every 2 hours all night long.  Luckily she’s still taking naps during the day, so although I’m trying to spend at least one of them catching up on my sleep I’m also able to continue plugging along with our garden plans.  Let me catch you up on that.

In order to maximize the square footage of our raised bed garden, we will be growing vertically and companion planting.  I first compared online and text resources to figure out crops that grow well together, then made pairings that (1) combined one crop that can be trellised with another that can stay low to the ground and (2) would not repeat a crop family two years in a row (i.e. no nightshades following nightshades).  So from all of that reading I’ve come up with long term plans that we will utilize as we expand the garden as well as a modified plan for this year’s mini-garden.  I hope this may be useful for other growers who are trying to maximize their space!

Now that I’ve got this figured out, I’ll soon be posting the sketches for our 4×8 beds.  Stay tuned!

2017 Companion Planting Plan:

  • Bed 1: indeterminate tomatoes (string trellis), lettuce, chard, bush beans, dill, parsley, basil
  • Bed 2: determinate tomatoes, tomatillo, pepper, watermelon
  • Bed 3: cucumber (hormanova trellis), melons (hormanova trellis), summer squash (bush), okra
  • Bed 4: winter squash, pole beans (hormanova trellis)
  • Bed 5: kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, carrot, beet, spinach, radish
  • Bed 6: broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels, mesclun, carrots and beets (spring) –> turnips and rutabaga (fall)

Long Term Companion Planting Guide:

  • indeterminate tomatoes (string trellis) –> basil, parsley, dill
  • determinate tomatoes (basketweave trellis) –> winter squash
  • tomatillo and ground cherry –> watermelon
  • pepper –> calendula
  • eggplant –> nasturtium (hormanova trellis)
  • broccoli –> beet (succession)
  • Brussels sprouts –> lettuce
  • cauliflower –> carrot (succession)
  • collards –> mesclun mix (succession)
  • cabbage –> carrot (succession)
  • kale –> spinach (succession)
  • melon (hormanova trellis) –> bush beans (succession)
  • summer squash (bush) –> pole beans (string trellis)
  • cucumber (hormanova trellis) –> mesclun (succession)
  • winter squash –> pole beans (string trellis)
  • watermelon –> pole beans (string trellis)