My last post was November 25. As we moved into winter my growing activities were largely shelved.
In November/December I cleared and weeded some beds and planted out, closely spaced, several 100 garlic cloves. They are all descended from 3 varieties of garlic I purchased from California 4 years ago. After harvesting last year I strung them together and hung them from joists in the carport. Fewer rotted compared with previous years where I had stored them in laundry bags hung in the basement. So this is the way for me to go in the future.
Although I was not actively growing, there was always something to harvest. Initially the radishes did well but as cold weather and rains set in, most became soft and lost their taste. The daikon radish also held up well and then deteriorated with the cold weather (below 15 degrees F). When my family visited over Thanksgiving, I dug up this specimen to show off.
While we enjoyed eating the small daikon radish we found the big guy above indigestible. What we should have done is pickled or fermented it, but it was Thanksgiving and it went to compost. This year I would like to do fermenting and will be planting out more cabbage for sauer kraut, and more daikon.
Apart from some large carrots I unearthed, the main winter crop was purple top turnips which survived the weather well. Plus, in the leafy greens area, turnip greens, mustard, kale and collard. I planted out the spinach too late in the season but they and lettuce are holding on and should do well in the next few weeks.
In the orchard I have tried new pruning techniques and used wires to train the branches horizontal or downward so the fruit will be easier to reach. There is a theory that when the branches are horizontal or downward sloping, the tree concentrates more on fruit production than vegetative growth.
Past few years I lost my young fig trees to cold weather (below say 12 deg F). Actually I lost only the above ground parts because after each winter the roots, which survived, produced new growth. This year for the few days when it was really cold, I pruned the trees to a few ft and enclosed them in commercial grade large trash bags weighted down with stones at the bottom. I hope the trees survived.
My chicken, 10 hens and a rooster, are all still around. The two oldest require special attention. Gimpie has a bad hip and she struggles out to the paddock in the morning with the others and in the evening she waits for me to carry her back. The Ameracauna, who used to be assertive is now timorous when it comes to eating and so I have a routine where I enclose the others in one section of the coop and allow her to eat undisturbed in the other section until she is done. I think part of the problem is the rooster, who acts aggressively to her, and she often goes into a nest box to avoid him when they are locked up for the night.
I built the coop a couple years ago and it is robust and immune from drafts. However on the colder nights, of which there were only a few, I treated them to a heat lamp and a water heater.
The heat lamp is on a timer to operate only in the night. The water heater is on continuously during the cold spells. The summer ventilator has an external cover to prevent drafts and you can see I have raised the feed dispenser fairly high off the ground which reduces the flicking of feed onto the ground. During winter I supplement the pellets with scratch.
Two of the hens (Wanda and Randa) are fliers and each day they fly over the fence and go everywhere and I will often see them hard at work on the compost heap. I was very happy to see they now visit the base of the fruit trees and dig up the overwintering pests which despoil and then drop off the fruit in the summer, hibernate over the winter in the ground and climb the trunk early spring for the next summer’s feast. I must figure a reliable way to get all the chicken out there.
Egg production is recommencing. Apart from the occasional use of the heat lamp I do not use artificial lighting so egg production shuts down for the short days. From the occasional 1 egg a day we are now up to 4 or 5 and I have now begun supplementing their feed with oyster shells.
I spent much time during the winter months working my way through an electronics course provided by Georgia Tech on the Coursera MOOC, which was excellent. In January I began a second course with Georgia Tech and also one on simple robot building offered by Berkeley on Edx. Since I do not have a background in these areas they require much work and focus. And the endgame? I have plans for microprocessors for various of my growing activities. The first one will be using an arduino controller to keep a tally on the chicken during the day so it will know when they have all returned in the evening and will then lower the coop door. Presently, the coop door opens on a timer in the morning and must be human lowered in the evening. Other applications for the future, in addition to enhancing security routines, will be sensors to monitor humidity, temperatures and maybe ph as well. To my mind, all part of becoming more self sufficient and using electrons to simplify daily tasks.
I forgot to mention what transitioned the end of my hibernation. Last week I seeded a germination tray and now a few days later the kale, lettuce and beet have germinated and I needed to get outside and prepare the 2″ soil blocks for the vegetables to continue growing in the greenhouse.
So making the soil blocks has galvanized me back into the growing mode. Here I mixed my compost with soil, peat, building sand and, because I had no lime, ash from the wood stove. You can see the mold for making the 2″ blocks of which 36 fit in each tray. I bought more seed at the big DIY stores and specialty/glamor/fancy looking vegetable seed from Johnny’s. So I am now switched on and looking forward to spring.