Friday, May 20, 2011

Compost time is happy chicken time

Another project to cross off my to-do list: Digging out the completed compost and flipping the other two bins over. I've been wanting to do this for awhile, but have been waiting for Jeremy to build the raised bed in the boulevard. He's too busy with mushrooms, so I finally decided just to dump all the compost onto the beds in the back (which need to be dealt with too!)

After I dug all the compost from the middle box and dumped it in the far left box, I decided to treat two lucky chickens to the bugs and interesting bits left behind.


"What, me? I'm busy here!"

"nom, nom, nom"


Finally I put those chickens back and turned to face the last bin. Now, I have a warning here. If you are any kind of animal rights type person you should stop reading now. Just skip to the pretty all-finished picture at the end.
As I started pitch-forking the piles of old veggies, spent chicken bedding, leaves, and chicken poop out of the last bin, I remembered that I'd seen a mouse in the compost bins. I'd especially seen it in this bin. So I went sort of cautiously. About 6 inches to a foot down, I tossed a big pile into the middle bin and a little mouse went flying. She scrambled to the back of the compost bin and gave me a look. Sort of a, "What do you think you're doing!?" look. Hmm. I kept digging out, and another foot down, way in the back, I found a nest with about five brand new baby mice. I looked at it for about two seconds, then picked the whole thing up and deposited it in the chicken coop.

Oh yes, I did. Now you all know how sadistic I am! I ran for it back to the compost bin. I didn't have many qualms about what I'd done, but that didn't mean I wanted to watch the carnage. I figured I didn't want mice in the compost, or eating the chicken food, or in the house, or anywhere around so they had to go. And the chickens L-O-V-E-D the mice. Seriously, I was a major rockstar to them for the rest of the night. Every time I got near the coop they all came running, even more excited than they usually are.

I did feel bad about it when mother mouse came back and hung around for awhile, while I was still there finishing up, staring at me from a distance with a look as if to say, "What have you done!?" Sorry mama mouse. I think she's starting a new nest in the middle bin. Grr.

Anyway, here is the all cleaned up bin!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A day on the farm

Actually, several days on the farm. Jeremy has been doing a lot of set-up work at the farm since he moved his logs there a couple weeks ago.

First he had to build the shade structure. He's only built little ones in the yards he's been in and now he had to build a very big one. Looking at some of the methods out there, he went with a tensile structure. I think the architect in him is loving this.

He put in 10 4x4 posts and ran stainless steel cable all over the place, across, over, diagonal, down, etc. He used turnbuckles to tighten everything up. This is one sturdy structure.

He needed to start a pilot hole for some screws and there isn't easy access to electrical out there. Our cordless drill is crap, so Jeremy used his grandpa's "cordless" drill.

It worked pretty well and I think it's super cool.

Next step, attaching all the shade cloth together. It came in an enormous roll, all one piece, but Jeremy cut off pieces here and there to spread amongst all the yards. Now it's all in one spot and it needs to be in one piece again!

So I got to sew it together. By hand. With fishing line.

But I'm not complaining because Jeremy did a ton of the sewing himself. Truly the strangest sewing project I've had to date though.

It took a couple days to get the shade cloth up onto the structure. I wasn't there so I don't know how he did it. That stuff is incredibly heavy!

Look at all those happy mushroom-growing logs!

Those last pics were before he tightened everything up and secured the shade cloth. You can see it's just blowing in the wind.

The next step was putting up the fruiting structure. This is where Jeremy will soak and fruit the mushroom logs. Once the logs are fruiting, humidity and heat are good, but not water. If it rains on the fruiting mushrooms - well, you'll have wet mushrooms! Not so good if you're selling them.

So I got to clear this little area next to the shade structure which left me covered from head to foot in giant burrs.

Once that was cleared out a bit it was as simple as ONE



I love putting together stuff like this, so it was fun for me. Jeremy will be putting up walls around this at some point to keep out sun.
He has been bringing home piles of mushrooms every time he returns from the farm, so I imagine full-on mushroom season will be starting any time now.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


With all these glorious windows upstairs (and I look out of them while I'm sitting here typing) I can't help but notice all the birds. I've seen a few interesting ones that I couldn't help but try to identify. 

Starting back in the winter (no, we don't have snow the moment), I noticed the birds (and this ugly thing in particular) really going for the mountain ash berries. I knew they ate the berries, but this must have been a hard winter because it's the first year they stripped the tree clean.

The robins also went after the mountian ash:

Thankfully we have no shortage of cardinals all winter. It's nice to see that bit of bright color in all the whiteness.

Towards the end of January I started noticing this guy. It was very hard to get a good shot of him because he was always flitting about and energetic.

Mind you, all of these shots are through a layer of plastic on the back door, which isn't all the clean - so I'm amazed the pictures came out at all!

After pinning him down in a few photos, I am pretty sure this is a white-breasted nuthatch.

A few weeks ago while working on a project I kept noticing a bright something out of the corner of my eye. This guy (a pair of them actually) was just as flighty as the other and quite hard to pin down.

I'm almost certain this is a golden-winged warbler.

Last week we discovered we had a Veery on the premises - but only because it flew into our window so hard it killed itself. I assume that's what happened - we just found its body on the front porch.

There are apparently white-throated sparrows around too. At least that's what I think I've been hearing - I haven't actually seen them.

It's another sure sign of spring when there are so many glorious birds around and they're all chirping so happily. Which reminds me - each year a pair of sparrows of some sort build a nest on top of our power line at the back of the house. It never seems to last. According to our neighbor a crow attacks it each time to eat the eggs/babies. I'm not sure if that's typical crow behavior. I just know I've never seen it happend, but invariably I discover the happy couple dispersed and the nest in pieces on the ground. I just found the nest last week and looked through it to see if there were any signs of foul play. No eggs or shells or babies, so who knows what happened. But it was fascinating to see the make-up of this nest: grass, straw, gum wrappers, plastic, bits of cloth, and tons of chicken feathers! I'm not sure if they were from our girls or other chickens in the neighborhood.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Getting started

Remember my list of projects for this year? We had approximately two nice days in April of which I took full advantage.

On the 14th I got started digging up the boulevard. I decided to start with putting some big stepping stones along the edge so people would have a place to walk when they park along this area.

That patch of ground pretty much looks the same today. I'm at the point where I really want the raised bed to be put in so I have a place to put extra dirt and so I know what areas to dig up and what areas not to. But it's hard to tear Jeremy away from mushrooms at the moment...
The most fun part of this job? The dirt was full of these big creepy beetle-like creatures that I fed to the chickens. They went crazy, of course, every time I brougt a couple bugs back.

Approximately two weeks later we had another nice day so I started on the retaining wall project. Some work has already been done in this photo, namely digging up all the dirt and plants that were sticking out in the sidewalk about 6 inches.

I have a ways to go:

I removed the chain link fence, rolled it right up, had to dig out some trees and raspberries, and then got to work carving out a space for the blocks and then putting them in place. Getting the fence off and finishing this section took about three hours.

Now, I've been saying for ages "we have tons of these blocks." Stacks of them; mounds; piles; scads; probably too many...etc. Finishing this one-third of the wall took way more than I thought, and it really should be one layer higher.

I went around and counted the rest of the blocks and there were only enough left to do the second section!

Ah, Murphy's Law. I thought for sure we had tons of these things. Later on I was in the back and realized we did have enough. At one time. Jeremy used them to build a retaining wall of sorts in the back! And he buried some around the chicken fence to keep predators out. Hmm, what to do. Still haven't figured out how to solved this one. Maybe I'll put a piece of wood in the third section.

I'm not going to get too crazy about it, because this is only temporary anyway. ( in we have a plan to do something way better, but it will probably take another 10 years till we get around to it!). But in the mean time, I don't want all the plants and dirt drooling out over the sidewalk.

So, two projects in process. (Actually, three - but I haven't got a picture of that third one yet...)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Weekend Project

[Note: this was a weekend project in mid-April! I wrote this whole post and just discovered it never went live. Grr. Stupid Blogger - I'm sure I hit the publish button! In any case, though the event has passed, here's what I had meant to share!] 

I won't be home this weekend so my project won't be planting beds, tending to early spring activities, digging up grass, etc. I'm heading down to Kansas City for the 10th Annual Prairie Village Earth Fair. My MIL is organizing a section for green crafts, DIY type stuff, so I've filled up my suitcase with all the recycled things I've got (shopping bags from curtains, tie pillows, etc).

On the plane, and in other spare moments, I'll be quilting this:

Looks like they allow scissors on the plane now. That will make it easier!

[Note to self: unless you fly first-class, there will never be room in sardine-class to work on a quilt! But, I did manage to get a lot of work done on the quilt that weekend and finished it a couple days after returning home. Here it is all finished, washed up, and ready to go:

Ready to go where? To some friends of ours who just had their baby a week after we delivered this baby quilt. Congratulations C & J!)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The smallest garden beginnings ever

We've done less garden prep this year than any other year, even the year we bought this house and had the whole yard torn up for 6 months! (Okay, so we had started plants but they pretty much all died since we didn't have a place to put them.)

This year we decided not to start seeds indoors, just direct seed outside. I haven't even looked into that yet, when we should do it and what I'm going to plant. In the meantime, I'm taking advantage of dear friends that planted too much and they're giving away starts.

I picked up three lovely healthy looking tomato plants on Friday afternoon: a Brandywine (red), a Moonglow (orange), and a black tomato the name of which I can't remember. Throwing caution to the wind, I planted them outdoors immediately.

I know we haven't hit our last frost date, but I have nowhere to put these indoors and we don't have grow lights (since we lent them out). I was a little worried in case it got too cold at night for them (or if we have hail or something) so I needed to figure out how to protect them.

I thought of building a little green house of sorts around them, until I realized our extra glass windows are stacked around the chicken coop to make sure they have a dry area. Scratch that plan. My brain started running, thinking about what I could use to build some sort of structure, what see-through materials I had, and I struck on this idea:

I took some of that decorative green border fence stuff (we have gobs of it), cut a smallish piece and formed it into a tiny fence to go around each tomato. Then I pulled a clear plastic bag over the top and secured it on top with clothes pins. Do-it-yerself!

I'm pretty proud of myself.

So now we have in our garden a total of three tomato plants. Let the 2011 gardening season begin!

Monday, May 9, 2011

It might actually be spring

There has been an awful lot of whining lately about our tardy spring in the midwest. But after the third snowiest winter on record, we demand some warmth! We don't want snow on May 1st! (which we got anyway).

I realized there is an interesting difference between Jeremy and I. He gets depressed and sad if it's cloudy and grey a lot. He needs the sun. I get depressed and sad (and lately a little angry!) if it's cold for too long. I need warmth! I don't mind if it's grey and cloudy for 6 months in a row as long as it isn't 30 degrees (or 40...or even 50).

Anyway, with that said, and despite the lingering cold, plants have been waking up all over the place and things are getting greener.

My tulipa tarda, one of the earliest blooming flowers I have, bloomed last week.

Violets are taking over the yard and starting to flower. I love all my violets!

My regular tulips have taken so long to bloom, I think our yard is in some sort of month-long lag behind every other spot in the city.
These finally bloomed a couple days ago...

But the ones in the front yard still haven't bloomed!

I think these are the only tulips in the US that haven't bloomed yet.

I was starting to worry that our cherry tree wasn't going to bloom at all but I just noticed the beginning of blossoms on Saturday. On the same day, I was at a friends' house whose cherry tree had totally blossomed! At least we'll probably get blossoms, and cherries, but not as many as last year. Notice anything about this tree?

No? Look a little closer:

Notice how some branches have leaves and buds and some don't? Those that don't are all on the same tree. The bigger of the two parts of the tree is totally dead. Jeremy will be cutting that down soon. If you look very closely in that first photo you can see a little sucker growing up between the two trunks. It's probably 3 feet high. We cut back all the rest and we'll let that one grow to replace the one we're taking down. It probably seems weird, but after all, those two big trunks were just suckers on the original tree which came down years and years ago. Perhaps the whole thing will utterly fail some day, but as long as it's producing I can't bear to cut it down!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Moving day(s) (or daze?)

We aren't the ones moving; the entire mushroom operation is moving! Or at least, it has mostly all moved now.

Some of you know about our troubles with the city last summer, getting cited for the mushroom logs in our yard etc. Jeremy has been keeping logs in various undisclosed yards in the neighborhood which has sort of worked out. Imagine having your garden spread out in 5 different friends' yards, up to 10 blocks away. You have to go to every yard on a regular basis and weed, water, tend, etc. What if you have row covers on and they blow off and you don't find out till you go over and find everything scorched or frozen? It's kind of like that sometimes. A little stressful. The worst part though is the expectation that eventually we'll get cited again.

Our next-door-neighbor is moving away, but keeping the house, so he offered Jeremy use of his backyard. Excellent! It seemed so perfect because Jeremy could keep an eye on things right next door and it would be easier to get to than something 10 blocks away. So he cleared out an area, set up a big shade structure, and started inoculating some logs in there. It only took two weeks for the city to find out (or at least for the mysterious complainer to complain) and we got the dreaded citation. That meant Jeremy had to take everything apart and find another yard (more likely two or three) to hold everything that was going to go in this yard.

Aaargghhh! That's enough!!

Jeremy started looking around for anyone with a bunch of land so he could have the whole operation in one spot, and in an area where he could do it without worry about having to move the whole thing. He found a great location with a group of farmers a little ways from here. He signed an agreement to rent a space of land that was a little less useable for them (too much shade I think) and he started setting up last week.

He gets the spot that runs along the tree line:

(bees nearby!)

He had to move that big pile of brush first and rake out a lot of debris:

Wednesday was the big moving day. He had a couple helpers throughout the day, but it was a long day!

Here he is with one volunteer moving the totem logs. Totem is one way of innoculating logs - you slice up enormous logs into three or four sections and spread the mushroom spawn in between the slices (like a multi-layer ice cream sandwich). The whole thing gets wrapped in a plastic bag (ours are biodegradable!) and sits for a few months as the mycelium spreads. Then you take the bags off, water them, and big, beautiful oyster mushrooms grow out the sides (at least in the case of these ones). In any case, these logs/inoculated logs are huge and very heavy. One log per hand truck.

Jeremy rented a big moving truck for the day so he could move as many logs as possible.

Then he drove out to the farm and re-stacked everything in the new area.

He only ended up making two trips with the truck during the day. It took so long to load everything up and then to unload it all (often only one log at a time because they were so heavy). And I think he only ever had one other helper at a time. (Where's a big crop mob when you need one!?)

He was still loading up the truck for the second trip around 8pm on Wednesday night, so I volunteered to help out, even though I'm a total wimp and can hardly lift any of these things! Okay, so there are some lighter ones I can lift, and I'm pretty good at using leverage and whatever else I can think of to move huge logs without too much effort. Jeremy and a friend and I finally got the last log out of the truck close to midnight. Oh we were tired and sore!

Jeremy had to return the truck so he's been making smaller trips with a friends' van. I think almost everything has been moved now. Jeremy has also been working on constructing an awesome shade structure and that will probably be done within the week.

We are grateful that Jeremy found a place to accommodate him, that it's not too horribly far away, and that everything is in one place instead of spread out all over.

But on the other hand, I am ashamed of our city and the fact that I feel like Jeremy was chased out. It's not like he's growing pot or funny mushrooms or something! But you'd think so with the craziness this has induced. I really hope Minneapolis get its act together and that Jeremy can move back closer to home in the years to come.

Although, at this point I can't imagine hefting all those logs all over again!