Our 2023 garden: onions update

Not a lot of garden related stuff going on, but I thought it was time to post another picture of how our onion seedlings are going.

They are really coming up well! So many, they’re actually lifting up the surface soil on one of the trays.

If anyone is wondering why I’m starting onions so densely like this, it’s based on how MI Gardener now does it.

We did this last year, and they did just fine!

I’m looking at the trays, though, and thinking…

We don’t have enough onions! 😄

As for the luffa, no sign of germination, yet. It might be a while for those, still.

The Re-Farmer

Cold, but beautiful, and a vet trip booked

The temperatures dropped quite a lot overnight, and it was still -22C/-8C when I headed out this morning. It was, however, a bright and sunny morning, with no wind, making it quite pleasant out!

And quite beautiful!

Tomorrow, we’re expected to have one last “warm” day, with a high of -10C/14F. A brief respite on the day my husband and I are going for our doctor appointments – if we don’t get rescheduled again! – before we start getting hit with a cold streak. Depending on where I look, we’ll have about a week with highs colder than -20C/-4F before things start warming up again. Which is still warmer than it has been, the past couple of winters, so I’m not complaining! The cats and cattens are certainly using the sun room more often again. I counted 24 this morning. 😊

It is an inside cat that we are concerned about right now. Our grandma cat, who moved out here with us, is behaving strangely. At first, we thought she had something stuck in the back of her throat. She would make glakking noises and paw at her face. Then she stopped doing it, so I figured whatever was bugging her had worked itself loose and she was fine.

Except, it turns out she’s still be doing it. I just haven’t been around her to hear it.

Last night, my husband called me over because she was sounding really bad while in his room, but had just run off. I found her and tried to take a look – and found blood on one of her front paws! With the help of a daughter, I was able to wash her paw – she did NOT want to be held for this! – but there was no injury on her paw. We tried looking into her mouth, but she didn’t like that, either. Still, from what we could see, there was no injury or blood there, either.

So this morning, I called the vet, hoping to get her booked for Saturday. My husband’s smaller CPP Disability comes in on Friday, so I’ll be in the city for a much needed Costco trip. They were fully booked on Saturday, but we were able to get a Sunday appointment – for 8:30am. Thank goodness this vet is relatively close! After I described what was going on, they did offer us an appointment for tonight, but we just don’t have the extra funds for a vet trip until disability comes in. To be honest, now that we’re going to start making “car payments” so we can get a replacement vehicle before next winter, we really can’t afford any vet trips, but we’ll manage. I’m hoping it’s something relatively minor – something stuck in her throat that can be pulled out and she’ll be fine. Worst case scenario… well. Plan for the worst, hope for the best.

Since bringing in Butterscotch and Beep Beep from outside, we’ve got three grandmas in the house. Unfortunately, that means we can probably expect more health problems to crop up.

We’ll just deal with things as they come, and do the best we can.

The Re-Farmer

Waiting for breakfast

This is what I have to wade through, in the mornings!

The one using the empty heated water bowl as a butt warmer is hilarious!

Also, they’ve done quite a job of knocking things out of the shelves and off the counter. We’ll have to wait until the ground is dry before we can move things out to pick it all up. Until then, we need to watch our step for all little stuff that got knocked out of their various containers!

The Re-Farmer

Home made butter

Last night, I finally got around to making some butter, using whipping cream. It’s been ages since I’ve made butter! I decided to try it again when I was picking up butter at the local grocery store, and the cheap, house brand butter had gone up in price so much, it was actually more expensive than whipping cream.

Making butter is easy and relatively fast when using an electric mixer. It can also be made by putting the cream in a well sealed jar and shaking it. Hopefully, with someone that can take turns shaking it with you!

To make butter with an electric mixer, a fairly large bowl is needed, since it will be in the fluffy, whipped cream stage for quite a while. It feels like it’s taking so long, whipping and scraping the sides and whipping and scraping and whipping and scraping some more, when then suddenly it “breaks” and you’ve got butter!

Also, even with a deep bowl, you’ll get cream splattering all over! You are forewarned! 😄

One thing about using a mixer is that the churned butter’s initial texture is very different. You don’t get a lump of butter. Instead, you get this.

The beaters keep the butter from forming larger pieces, so you get lots of very little pieces, instead. This photo was taken after the butter had been drained of buttermilk, then rinsed with cold running water. The smaller pieces made it easier to gently turn it while it drained, being very careful not to push the butter through the sieve.

Once drained through the sieve, there’s still water in the butter than needs to be removed as much as possible. That’s actually the part I find most difficult. It might be easier if we had one of those old style butter presses, but I just had my flat wooden spatula to squeeze and mash the butter in a bowl. I’d press it, drain the liquid, press it again, drain the liquid, and when I thought I was done, I’d press it a bit more and get even more liquid out! Finally, I got to the point where I could mix in a bit of salt to taste. Then, I pressed the butter into a small bowl with a lid, and put it in the fridge to sit until we use it today.

In the end, I estimate I got about 1 3/4 cups of butter, and about the same volume of buttermilk. A pound of butter is 2 cups, so there’s less butter from 1L of whipping cream, but we also got two products out of it. That buttermilk will be very nice in baking!

Whether or not it’s worth making butter with whipping cream is debateable. At least if price is your measurement. Whether it’s the cream or the butter that’s more expensive seems to change rather quickly. About a year ago, I remember whipping cream selling for over $8 for 1L, while butter was still under $4 a pound. The next time I went shopping, the price of whipping cream had gone down again, though still higher than butter was at the time. If you consider being able to control the amount of salt, the flavour, and getting buttermilk as well, the benefits do add up.

If the price of butter keeps going up, while the price of whipping cream remains more stable, it may well become the most cost effective way to get butter!

The Re-Farmer

Our 2023 garden: That was fast!!! and planning ahead

We had a light snowfall last night, making everything all white and fluffy this morning.

The outside cats didn’t mind it at all!

I counted 21 this morning.

Meanwhile, indoors, we have our first signs of spring.

When I checked the trays this morning, three out of four of them had onions sprouting. When I came back about an hour later, there were sprouts in the fourth tray!

I’m absolutely amazed by two things. One is, how quickly they started to germinate.

The other is, how much cat hair there is, all over the soil surface. These trays had lids on them. Where did all that cat hair come from? I mean, Beep Beep practically lives on top of the lights. She naps on them, rolls around on them, and even hugs them, so yeah… I can see some of her fur drifting down… but getting under the lids?

Yesterday, I marked on our communal calendar, two sets of dates. One was the number of weeks counted back from our last average frost date, June 2. This way, we can see at a glance that something that needs to be started 10 weeks before last frost, needs to be started around March 24, while something that needs only 4 weeks can wait until May 5th.

The other dates I marked was number of days counted back from our average first frost date, which is Sept. 10. We have exactly 100 days between our average last spring and first fall frosts. That’s the growing season we can mostly count on for frost sensitive plants.

For things that have really long days to maturity, it’s that “days before first frost” that we need to consider. If, for example, I have a gourd that requires 110 days to maturity, that’s May 23. If it needs 7-10 days to germinate, I would start them at least a week before that.

If I have something than need 90 days to maturity, that falls on June 12 and, by then, I could get away with direct sowing, instead.

One of the really useful tools I’ve found is the Farmer’s Almanac planting calendar. Most planting calendars just give number of weeks before first frost, because they’re meant to be generic. I can get that information from the seed packet. Farmer’s Almanac, however, lets you input your area code (or zip code, if you’re in the US). You can even put in your city (ha!) and province/state. It will find the climate station nearest you, then give you the calendar dates for starting indoors and transplanting, or seeding outdoors. It even gives you the choice of dates based on frost date, or on moon dates. Oh, and I discovered something very handy when I hit the print button on the web page. It allows you to remove things from the list that you aren’t growing, which greatly reduced the number of pages that got printed out!

It’s still a bit generic, of course, but the date range is pretty wide. For example, it tells me bell peppers should be started between March 24 and April 7. We have five varieties of bell peppers, and four of them are early varieties, so we could use the information on the seed packet to figure out which ones need to be started in March, and which can wait until April.

Of course, they can’t cover everything, so we still need to make adjustments. For example, their calendar says to start winter squash outdoors between June 16 and July 14. With some varieties, we could do that, but we’ve got some large varieties of winter squash that need more time to fully mature, so we would be better off starting them indoors. If we use the biodegradable pots that can be buried, that would reduce transplant shock.

We have always started summer squash indoors. I think, this year, we might direct seed them. The calendar says zucchini can be planted anywhere between June 16 and July 14, which is when we can expect the soil to finally be warm enough.

As for the things we’ll need to start the earliest, the herbs (except dill, which is direct sown) will need to be started at the same time as bell peppers; in March. The eggplants and tomatoes can be started in early April, melons can be started in early May, while pumpkins and watermelon can be started in mid May.

The direct sowing dates are pretty interesting for some things. If we decide to try growing radishes again, they can be direct seeded in early April – at the same time we’d be starting eggplant and tomatoes indoors. Carrots can be planted in late April, early May, which would be about the same time we’d be starting melons indoors.

All of which needs to be taken with a grain of salt. For example, the calendar says to start onion seeds outdoors in early May. Sets, sure, but seeds? Nope. There’s a reason people out here start their onion seeds indoors in January! Also, it has dates to start lettuce and chard indoors, but none for direct seeding. Who starts lettuce and chard indoors? I mean, sure, you can grow them indoors, but for transplant?

As it stands now, though, we won’t need to start anything else indoors until March 24, at the earliest.

That gives us February and most of March to get the materials we need and build a removeable door and frame, to keep the cats out of the living room, and out of the seedlings!

We’ll also need to build a barrier to block an opening in the shelf to the left of the door in the image.

It’s a shrimp!

Nosencrantz may turn into a ball of anxiety around the other cats, but she’s completely different, with me!

She has completely adopted me as her own, personal human. Incredibly affectionate. This is her napping after a hard session of “pet my face! Now!” 😄

She has the softest fur of all the cats.

Does it make up for her habit of crapping in all the wrong places? I gotta admit, when I had crawl on my hands and busted up knees to clean up another mess in the shelf behind my night stand at 2am, I certainly didn’t think so!

I’ve blocked off the space now. She has lost one of her hidey holes for when she runs away from the other cats.

After I cleaned everything up, blocked it off, and went back to bed, the little bugger came over and began snuggling me.

*sigh*

I’m such a sucker for the cats.

The Re-Farmer

Frosty garden plans

We had fog roll in yesterday, so by morning, we were back to looking like a winter wonderland!

Nothing like seeing frost to get me thinking about the garden! 😄😄😄

One of my goals for today is to mark out on our calendar, when we need to start different seeds indoors. We will also need to figure out how to build a barrier to keep the cats out of the living room, as we need to migrate trays out of the aquarium greenhouses and over to the rest of the room. Last year’s set up had serious issues when it came to protection from cats determined to get at the pots. The problem there comes down to funds. The “unallocated funds” of our budget we would use for projects like this are now allocated to make “car payments” into savings, so that we’ll have a down payment for a replacement vehicle before next winter. That’s not going to leave much wiggle room for other things.

Still, it will need to be done! We’ll figure it out.

With the ground still frozen and covered with snow, I’m thinking about where things will be planted, and when. The old kitchen garden is getting to the point where we can start making it into an actual “kitchen garden” – the place to plant those things that we would be wanting to harvest casually and continually, as needed for our cooking. It is also a good place to plant things that will need more protection and warmth.

The waffle weave bed is done and ready. The contents will, of course, sink as time goes by, but I deliberately filled it higher than I wanted it, so that won’t be too much of a problem. With the woven walls, I do want the top of the soil to be lower than the top of the bed by a fair bit, so it’s less likely to fall through the gaps. That bed gets full sun on the long, narrow side, while the short side that gets wider at the end gets quite a bit more shade.

The rectangular bed will be built up a bit higher on the sides, plus an even higher “wall” to hold back the pink rose bush, so that won’t take much to finish. The hard part on that one will be trying to pull up all those mint roots again!

The small raised bed along the south side of the garden is ready, and the strip in front of it has bulbs planted. The area right against the bed, covered with grass clippings in the photo, has bulbils from the single walking onion that keeps coming back, planted. Last year was the first time since we’ve been here that it didn’t get broken by something before the bulbils formed! We’ll see if they survived the winter. It would be nice to have perennial onions in here. This garden would be a good place to grow bunching onions, too, though those failed completely, last year.

There’s a section by the laundry platform that is overgrown with mint that needs to be cleaned up. That could be another bed for some flowers, perhaps – my younger daughter really wants to have a flower garden in here. There’s a bed along the retaining wall blocks that needs some work – it got very compacted last year, and I finally gave up trying to keep it weeded. That bed is where the bunching onions died. 😄

This garden would be a good place to start our herb garden. We transplanted mint into alternating blocks of the retaining wall, and they did survive and grow last summer. I don’t know what variety they are, but we now have spearmint seeds. We could plant the spearmint in the remaining blocks, so we can keep it under control.

I like having a retaining wall that doubles as planters!

Other herbs seeds we have now that can go in here are the thyme (two types), chamomile and oregano. I do not want to plant the dill here, as I want to plant that somewhere it can grow freely and self seed, without taking over a bed from everything else. The lemon grass, of course, will be going into a pot and set into a microclimate against the house.

I’m thinking this garden would be a good place for the Little Finger Eggplant, as well as at least some of the peppers. The free seeds for Jebousek lettuce we got would probably do well in the shadier beds, and I’d love to try the Hedou Tiny bok choy in here.

It sounds like a lot, but I think we’ll have enough space for all of this. For things like the peppers, we’re looking to have just a few plants of each variety, as we see how well they grow here, and which ones are enjoyed the most, so they shouldn’t take up excessive amounts of space. As for the herbs, we’ll only need a couple of plants each to meet our needs, so they won’t take up a lot of space, either.

Hopefully, with raising the beds higher, we’ll have less of a battle with all those invasive flowers my mother had in here, taking things over! The raised beds should also make it easier to have protective covers we can more easily move aside, to access underneath. That was one of the biggest problems I had with tending this garden last year. We had netting to protect the plants from critters, but it had to be fixed so thoroughly, it kept us out, too!

The corner around the honeysuckle and white roses really turned into a jungle of periwinkle and purple bellflower last year. I’d like to keep fighting those off as much as we can, so my daughter can start planting new – non invasive! – flowers to eventually out grow the invaders. The purple bellflower even buried other flowers – lilies, if I remember correctly – to the point that they never bloomed. That patch needs to be divided, so we could take advantage of that and perhaps use them to create a border. I am considering transplanting the rhubarb out of there completely. They are not doing as well as they could, right under the ornamental apple trees as they are. Though, to be honest, I’d like to get rid of those apple trees, They’re creating too much shade and preventing other things from thriving. They’re so beautiful, though, and they do provide food for the birds, so I’ve no plans to do that until we have something to replace them with – somewhere else!

It will be good to have more effective use of this garden. Having a small garden so close to the house should be very convenient, if we plan things right.

The Re-Farmer

It’s a Potato!

We’ve got ourselves a Potato Beetle for your daily cuteness!

Yes, it looks like the Potato has become one of the elect few that the ladies will allow in my office/bedroom without much issue. Which is good, since Butterscotch is his mother! Not that she wants anything to do with him, any more than she wants anything to do with any other cat!

Potato Beetle has had a couple of battles. He doesn’t start them. Leyendecker went after him hard recently, and Potato stood his ground. Not sure if they worked out their pecking order issues, but I haven’t seen them go at it, since.

The Potato, however, is perfectly content to just wander around the house, eat, sleep, and commandeer my husband for love and naps. If all the other cats left him be, as most of them do, he’d leave them be, too!

Pretty easy transition for an outside cat, that’s for sure!

The Re-Farmer