Thursday, March 15, 2012

For Hadley (AKA How I Came to Have Chickens Named Angel, Fluffy & Princess)

Left to right: Princess, Fluffy and Angel, in the house where
they'll stay at night until they're old enough to stay outside.
Just the other day I was thinking how nice it would be to have chickens again.  I've always had chickens.  I love to sit and watch them walk around, bobbing their heads, pecking the ground, then taking off to chase down a grasshopper.  It's comforting to be in the garden, on my knees weeding, and have company walk up, coo that interested chicken noise, and look at me as if to say, "Whatcha' doin'?"  I miss them.

The very next day at work, Anne asked George if I wanted chickens.  It seems some people were needing to find a home for three little hens since they were moving and couldn't take them with them.  Quite serendipitous.

The next day after that, Anne called over the radio that they were here.  I rushed up to meet my new pets and got to meet Hadley as well.  She was the girl who had raised these little cuties from tiny babies, and one look at her told me this was not easy for her.  She couldn't look at me, just down at the chicks, her eyes ringed with eyelashes wet from crying.  I wanted to tell her how glad I was to have them, what a good home they would have on my farm, living in my garden, locked up safe at night and free ranging during the day while being protected by my dogs who know chickens are not snacks but just funny looking pack members.  Chicken heaven.

But even as I was trying to say these things to comfort her, I knew it wouldn't help.  Hadley didn't want to hear how I would take care of her babies.  She wanted to do it.  She wanted to be the one to watch them grow up, to let them run around during the day and lock them up safe at night.  She'd had plans and dreams for these girls, and now none of that would be happening.  Everything she'd been thinking and hoping since she got them would change.

Clockwise from the bottom: Princess, Fluffy and Angel,
outside on a warm day.
Not everything, I thought.  I asked her their names.  As she petted each one in turn she told me, and I carefully wrote them down.

As Hadley and her mother were about to leave, she quietly told her mother, "Tell her about the eating thing."  Her mother smiled at me and said, "We wanted to make sure that whoever got them wouldn't eat them."  I looked at Hadley even though she couldn't look at me and quickly told her, "Oh, no, honey.  I won't eat them.  I want eggs."  I wish I would have had the presence of mind to say, "And company in the garden."  I wish I could have said something to make her feel better, to let her know that these chickens are really going to be my company, my pets.

So, Hadley, I hope you're reading this.  I want you to know that your babies aren't just going to be egg factories.  I saw clearly when I met you that they were more than that to you.  And when I got them home, I saw that even more clearly still.  You obviously spent a lot of time with them, holding them, taming them.  They aren't afraid of me.  They seem to like being picked up for a cuddle, or at least grudgingly accept it (since I'm me and not you).  And when I have the grate on the top of their bin in the evening, they don't like that and let me know, so I take it off and they fly up on the couch arm next to George.  They're very sociable, wanting to be next to us.  I like that.

Thank you for spending so much time taking such good care of them.  And thank you for giving them to me.  I promise I'll take good care of them, just like you did.

Friday, March 9, 2012

My First Sweater!

I just finished my first sweater and I LOVE IT!  I started it at the end of January and finished it just the other day.  I'd been working on it in fits and spurts, having to rip things out, fix mistakes, stop 'til I could get into town to buy the right size needles, etc.

Then one day last week I got sick.  I knew what was coming, so stayed home from work that Monday, cleaned the house so I could be sick in peace, drank a lot of water, and took a lot of vitamin C in the hopes it wouldn't be too bad.

It was actually quite nice the whole week, believe it or not.  Yeah, there was the usual crappy feelings, aches and pains, sneezing and coughing.  But it was actually quite peaceful, rainy all week, so I got to sit on the couch and knit the entire time and not feel guilty for not being outside doing something.  I love it when it rains.  Makes me feel all cozy being inside.  I know all that peacefulness and lack of guilt made it easier for me to get well.

And easier to finish the sweater!  It's made of superwash wool, so it's machine washable.  I do have to use the delicate cycle, but at least I don't have to do it by hand.  I used DK weight yarn, so it was quick, but not bulky.  And to break up the monotony of that expanse of boring, plain stockinette, I decided to dress it up with a cable detail of Xs and Os.  It's my Hugs & Kisses Sweater.

I learned how to do it from a book called The Sweater Workshop by Jacqueline Fee.  It's a great book for learning how to design your own sweater using your own choice of yarn, needles and size.  Most patterns give you a gauge (stitches per inch count) and supposedly, if you try out many needles and yarns until you knit the right number, the sweater will come out the right size once you knit the pattern according to the instructions.

This is all fine and well in theory, but doesn't always work in practice.  And, many times, even though the sweater looked great on the model in the pattern, it won't look good on you, only you can't try it on to see until you knit it.  So you just have to step off that ledge and trust and hope that it will, knowing that it just might not, spending hours and hours of time making the thing, knitting up fifty bucks plus worth of yarn (and that's cheap yarn), only to finally find out that it looks awful on you.  Doesn't make for very enjoyable knitting in my opinion.

To avoid this, I wanted to learn to design my own sweaters, custom fit to me.  I wanted to learn about yarn drape, how to make the sweater pull in at the right places, pooch out at others, and look good.  This book was perfect for that.  There's a short foreword/intro, then it jumps right in to instructions on how to knit a "sampler", a piece of knitting that is smaller and less daunting than an entire sweater, but that teaches you each skill needed in knitting sweaters ~ different ribbings, how to attach a new skein of yarn, how to widen certain stretches, how to decrease certain areas, how to change colors for stripes and such, and much more, even how to do buttonholes.

The sampler did something else for me ~ gave me the confidence to jump right in to making a sweater.  I figured if I knit the sampler, I now possessed the knowledge to knit an entire sweater.  So I joyfully and with no hesitation did just that.  The book gives you a simple formula for calculating how to do that, laying it all out for you on the Gauge Page where you just fill in the blanks.  You simply measure the chest of a favorite, well-fitting sweater you already own and use that to calculate percentages for every other part of the sweater you'll knit.  And it comes out right!  It's amazing.

I did screw up a bit in not increasing the amount of stitches after knitting the original ribbing.  When I realized that, I was about 3/4 of the way through ~ too far to rip it back and redo it, but not far enough that I would quickly get to the end to find out if it was okay.  But all was well ~ since it's knitted from the bottom up, I was able to try it on and found out though a bit snug, it fit.  I had to do some fancy calculating and adjusting to get it to decrease correctly up to the neck.  Since the book was giving directions on the number of stitches I should have had, and I had less than that, it took a while to figure it out.

But I did it!  And it wasn't that hard, thanks to the skills I'd learned in the sampler.  That's what doing the sampler did ~ taught me to knit fearlessly.  Yes, there was some cussing involved when I found out about my screwup (okay, there was a LOT of cussing involved...).  But I wasn't really afraid.  I knew I could do it.  And I did.

And now I have a rather boobalicious sweater to show for it.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Pictures from the Garden

Artichokes and new garden area behind.  We'll intensively cover crop the green expanse on the other side of the fence this year and plant tomatoes and such next spring.  I measured it today: 5400 square feet of plantable area.  Ooof.  We're going to be busy.

Elephant garlic amidst spinach and cilantro.  Jerusalem artichokes are planted at the far end of this row
and should pop up soon.

Garlic in foreground, artichokes in back, future new garden area on the other side of the fence.

Mama Love sunning herself on the mulch I laid down a couple days ago.

Pansies, onion chives, and Heritage Raspberries in foreground.

La Ratte potatoes popping up.

Red la Soda potatoes sprouting next to a snapdragon.

Shallots growing next to the old chicken coop.  We'll be tearing that down soon
and tilling this entire area for more wide-row beds.

My new sitting spot with parsley going to town and gladiolas to their right.

Tomatoes planted and tucked in for the cool nights.

The colored Swiss Chard was gorgeous this year.  Even the Fordhook Giant on the right was beautiful.

Another shot of the tomatoes with the Christmas lights peeking through.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Got the tomatoes planted

I planted 32 tomatoes today.  Here's the list:

Canners/Paste tomatoes ~ in two beds
San Marzano (5 plants)
Cour di Bue
Amish Paste
And I'll plant four Romas this coming week in a separate bed

Drying tomatoes ~ all in one bed
Red Fig (3)
Principe Borghese (5)

Hybrid Challenge Bed ~ trying to find that tomato that is as good as or better than Celebrity and Early Girl
Early Girl
Super Fantastic
Red Brandywine
Trucker's Favorite
Arkansas Traveler

Other heirlooms ~ the red and pink ones will are also in the hybrid challenge
Snow White
Black Cherry
Dinner Plate
Paul Robeson
Henderson's Pink Ponderosa
Golden Jubilee
Mortgage Lifter

Plants planted two weeks ago
I already had eight plants planted two weeks ago and they're already over a foot tall.  They are:
The Black Giant from last year
A mystery potato leaf that I suspect is Brandywine
Black Krim
Hillbilly Potato Leaf
Cherokee Purple
Brandywine Black
Japanese Black Triefele
Ukrainian Purple
Isis Candy Cherry

I also planted some Tronchuda Beira (aka Portuguese Kale) and more Georgia Southern collards today, in the first row with the Red Russian Kale and Swiss Chard.  They're kind of a test ~ it might be too hot for them soon, if not already.  We'll see.

Yesterday, to get ready for today, I pulled out the bok choy and Georgia Southern collards because they were bolting.  I processed the boy choy and froze it, and will do the collards later.  I moved the three Flash collard plants over to the row with the Swiss Chard, along with a pretty rocket snapdragon plant.  I hope it blooms soon ~ it looked like it was going to, and I hope the transplanting doesn't set it back.  I also pulled out the purple sprouting broccoli, brussels sprouts and a couple other things that were in the way.  I then turned in an inch or two of compost along with some minerals plus and flower power, raked it smooth, set out cages, counted them up and realized I have room for fifty tomatoes and 24 to 27 peppers (depending on whether eight or nine can fit in each row)! Yay!

And because I'm a nerd, here's the garden map:

It updates as I change it in Google Documents, so it'll probably be different by the time you see this.

Some other happenings in the garden:

Asparagus is up!

The overwintered Black Giant is blooming and setting fruit.

While turning the compost into the beds, I kept finding TONS of MONSTROUS earthworms!

Ever wonder why brambles are so hard to get rid of?  When we got the bare root in at work, I noticed some little sprouts on some of the roots.  Between the roots that fell off and the ones we trimmed off to make them fit in the buckets, I had quite the piles to take home.  I planted them in pots and, lo and behold, I now have two baby bramble patches.  Looks like I'll be having to pick out a spot to plant the patches soon.  I'd better choose wisely, since once they're there, they're there.

Heritage Raspberries, with a self-sown snapdragon

Brazos Blackberries, in an old ammo box

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Corn Gluten Update

Looks like it works!  I put corn gluten on the onions when I planted them January 8th.  Here's what they looked like a couple weeks later:

Here's what those same beds looked like today:

I'd say corn gluten really works.  But take note: put it on regularly.  It's recommended every four to six weeks, but I pushed it to about seven and I have little weed seedlings up out there.  Just a few, but enough to be a pita.  So I'd say shoot for every month and you'll be okay if you are a week late on your schedule.  

If I remember, I'm going to try this again on the tomatoes to see if it works as well in the warm season.  I certainly hope so!
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