Woodhaven Place

Your Neighborhood Farm

Month: October 2015

For the Love of Carrots!

Every year I look through seed catalogs trying to find the best fruit and vegetable varieties for our climate and needs. One of my favorite vegetables to choose are carrots. There are so many fun varieties and home grown carrots taste absolutely fantastic!  There are five basic types of Carrots.

  • Chantenay develop stocky roots that become sweeter as the soil cools in the fall.
  • Danvers make great juice and the sturdy roots store well.
  • Imperator are long and need deep, sandy soil to thrive.
  • Iniature have small, shallow roots that are often quite sweet and are good for heavy clay soil.
  • Nantes are fast and easy to grow, and adapt to a range of climates and soils.

This spring I am going to plant three different varieties from Baker Creek.

carrot-cosmic-purpleCosmic Purple – 80 days germination. These Carrots have bright purple skin and flesh that comes in shades of yellow and orange. This is a spicy and sweet-tasting root. These carrots are not only pretty, but purple carrots also are higher in antioxidants than orange carrots and they contain anti-inflammatory properties.

carrot-danvers-126Danver Half Long – 70 days germination. The original Danvers Half Long dates back to the 1870s. This is the old standard American carrot that is adaptable, dependable, and productive. Thick 7” roots have good flavor. I grow this carrot for its smaller size and ability to grow in harder soil.

11117St. Valery – 70 days germination. The Vilmorins of France mentioned this variety in 1885 and said it had been grown a “long time.”A large carrot with bright red-orange roots that are sweet and tender. St. Valery is smooth, 10”-12” long, and 2”-3” in diameter. This is a rare variety and will be a new Heirloom for us this year. It is a traditional carrot that receives great reviews.

We live in Zone 6a where carrots can be grown in the spring and fall. Using a greenhouse or hoop house will mean a third crop can be harvested though the winter.  To plant, begin sowing seeds directly in the garden three weeks before the last expected frost; plant again every 2 to 3 weeks after that. Most cultivars take 70 to 80 days to mature, so sow the last planting 2 to 3 months before the first expected fall frost. Sow seeds about a quarter inch deep and 2 inches apart, in rows spaced at least 10 inches apart; carrots do well in double or triple rows. Thin seedlings to 4 to 6 inches apart, depending on the variety’s mature size. Carrot seeds are very small so they can take some time to plant. They also take longer to germinate than other vegetables so do not worry if they take awhile to come up.

For Zone 6a, the frost free date is April 14th so you should plant carrot seeds around March 24th.The reality is that in our area, there is usually a frost right before Mother’s Day. I do not put out any of my starts until after Mother’s Day for that reason. However, because carrots are stared from seed and are quite cold hearty, I feel comfortable planting these in late March is ok.

Greenhouses

One of the projects we will be starting this fall is a greenhouse. When we first started researching greenhouses, I thought it would be a simple straight forward plan. We just needed to figure out where on the property to build it, right? I was very wrong. There are many options for a greenhouse and, as I have come to learn, a greenhouse can be so much more than I thought.

There’s an ancient Persian proverb that says, “When you understand how to do a thing, the doing is easy; if you find it difficult, you do not understand it.” “There are of course numerous homestead activities where a basic understanding can make the difference, between making a thing simple or difficult and between a gratifying success or disheartening failure. Nowhere on the homestead is this dichotomy more evident than when one attempts to modify plant environment by the use of a forcing structure.” I read that quote while I was buried in greenhouse research and though it extremely fitting for our current predicament.

We have narrowed our choices down to four different types of greenhouses.design-four-largeAttached Greenhouse or a Lean-to – A lean-to greenhouse is a half greenhouse, split along the peak of the roof, or ridge line. This greenhouse would be attached to our barn. There are a lot of advantages to this type; it conserves space, less greenhouse material cost, easy access to water and electricity and ease of construction. Some cons for this type are that it will need to be heated for year round gardening, and sun exposure will be more limited than with a free standing structure.image_11821Traditional Freestanding Structures – Freestanding greenhouses are separate structures; they can be set apart from other buildings for more sun exposure and can be made as large or small as desired. This greenhouse will be a prefab kit. The pros include easy assembly, low cost, and the ability to move it if we really needed to.  A big con for this option is that year round gardening will not be possible with the kit that we are able to afford.gd45_fulldomeGeodesic Dome Greenhouse – This type of greenhouse has a dome shape which makes good use of small spaces. This structure uses the minimum materials for construction and gives maximum usable space. This type of greenhouse is very energy efficient. Cons include material cost and the need for heat to garden year-round.underground greenhouse manualPit Greenhouse or Walipini – A Pit greenhouse is exactly what it sounds like, a 6-8 foot deep pit with a greenhouse top.  A pit greenhouse makes use of the naturally stable temperature and heat-sink capacity of the soil to keep greenhouse temperature stable.  The environment will be 20 degrees warmer than the outside low temperature without supplemental heat.  The pit greenhouse would give us the ability to grow food year round without additional heat and has the least construction cost of all the options.  Cons for this type of greenhouse are all in the logistics, there is a lot of math and planning involved in digging the pit and installing drainage.

A little greenhouse research reveals the fact that, although George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both had greenhouses, the oldest reported greenhouse in the U.S. was not a greenhouse as we know it today. It was, rather, a pit covered with glass on the south side, and earth insulation on the north. This pit greenhouse was built into the side of a Waltham, Massachusetts hill around1800.  Although this seems like the most radical options, it is in fact quite traditional outside of US garden circles.

Out of the four options, we are leaning towards the lean-to greenhouse.  We will do a long post on the greenhouse when we build it.  What would your dream greenhouse be?

Pallet Fence

My husband and I joke that free and effective should be the mantra of our homestead. We are starting this process with a very limited budget so we are always looking for DIY solutions using free materials. I started researching pallet fences a couple of years 20130519_112026ago and thought the idea could work for us and the best part most of the materials would be free!

We started looking for resources that could provide us with free pallets, and we were blessed with not only a great pallet resource, but the pallets are plastic not wood. I was somewhat skeptical until I saw them 20130519_111952-editedand realized that these would do just want we wanted and would never rot! Also, they were not open along the bottom like the wood ones, so we did not have to worry about chicken wire around the bottom.

To put up the fence we stretched out a guideline where we wanted the fence to be, and then put the first corner together so we had something to anker to. The fence is held together with T-posts and Zip ties.

Each corner has a 6 foot heavy T-post sunk into the 20130519_115143-editedground then the pallet is slipped over the top of the T-post. We zip tied the pallet to the T-post to make sure it would not wiggle around. We then put another pallet right next to the one on the T-post and zip tied them together. We continued to build the fence like this all the way around. One pallet secured with a T-post then one attached with Zip ties, the next one would have a T-post and so on. We did a T-post every other pallet because of cost and also because the fence was very sturdy, and we thought a T-post in each pallet would be overkill.

The fence is very effective for small animals but useless for Deer. We will be adding electric fencing along the top of the fence this spring. So far we have had two trees fall on the fence, one was our fault and one because of weather. Both times the fence
20130519_170025-editedsnapped apart, and we only needed to repair a few pallets and not the whole thing. We also have had to take sections down and move them as the garden has expanded. It has been nice working with a fence that can come apart and be moved around relatively easily.

If you have a small to medium sized garden, I would definitely recommend this type of fencing. If you can only find the wood pallets add some chicken wire to the bottom, and it should work just fine. Our garden is becoming quite large, and we have run out of pallets to use so we will be adding in some traditional fencing also. Pallets are a great resource for any homesteader and if you can find the plastic ones grab them!

A Simple Chicken Door

For the past several weeks, we have had the older chickens living in the new coop. The coop consists of an eight foot by eight foot plastic shed that we bought from Home Depot. The shed has worked great. We have made many additions, but we will cover those later. This weekend we finally finished the chickens run, and that meant it was time to make a door in the back of the coop so they could access the run.

We decided to keep it as simple as possible, we have grand plans of installing an automatic chicken door opener later this year. From what we have researched it is important that the door be just big enough for the chickens to get in and out. In addition, the door needs to pass the bottom of the hole leading to the outside when it is closed or little-handed critters such as raccoons will pry it open.

Chicken Door  Chicken Door 2

We were lucky and as usual we were able to scrounge most of the materials from around the homestead. We started with a piece of plastic wall sheeting. It is the stuff they panel bathtub surrounds with. Our hope is that this will keep everything dry, and it will not require painting. The sheeting is nothing more than heavy plastic, so we backed it with a piece of half-inch plywood. We used some small brass nails that came out of a weather stripping kit, to attach the plastic to the plywood. As you can see from the pictures, the plastic is wider than the plywood. The idea behind this was to create a slide on each side of the door that can ride in a wooden track.

Door Rails  Door On Rails
Next we used the table saw to create a one-quarter inch deep by an inch and a half wide shelf along our side pieces. These will act as our rails for the door to slide up and down along. The rails are four inches longer than twice the height of the door. Our doors dimensions ended up being eighteen inches tall by ten inches wide. The plastic is very smooth.  With the pressure treated lumber on one side, and the plastic wall of the shed on the other the door slides very easily.

Door In PlaceAfter we had cut the hole in the back of the barn, we mounted our rails. To mount the rails, we simply used some exterior wood screws with some washers. We made sure the rails were plum and parallel and drove the screws in from the outside of the barn. This made a very easy and sturdy track system for the door to ride in. The last step to complete the door was to add an eye bolt to the top for our rope to attach to.

We were quite proud of the pulley setup. Using some small pulleys from the hardware store and some four inch by one-quarter inch bolts we were able to create a mounting point that is held far enough from the wall that nothing rubs. Next we simply had to run the rope up the wall across the ceiling and out a small hole in the front of the barn. Another pulley was set up to redirect the rope down to a height where one of the little helpers could operate the door. The door is very simple to operate. There are two loops in the rope. The loop at the end of the rope lowers the door to the closed position and the second loop up fully opens the door. It was convenient that the handle on the barn doubles as a place to loop the rope around.

Pully System Pully System 2 Pully System 3 Rope Handle
We have lots of plans for our little chicken house and would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. We hope you enjoyed reading about our little chicken house as much as we enjoyed working on it.

Seed Catalogs

I love Seed catalogs! They begin arriving right as the garden season for the year is wrapping up. I put all the catalogs to the side and then, when the cold of December

gets to Ohio, I pull out the gems and start dreaming of next year. I try to support small Heirloom seed companies and they seem to have the best catalogs. My favorite companies are:

Baker Creek HeirloomSeeds

High Mowing OrganicSeeds

Johnny’s SelectedSeeds

Seed Savers Exchange

Jung Seeds and Plants (This is company is not all organic however does have special verities of perennials that are valuable)

Dixondale Farm (Onions only)

Mountain Rose Herbs (Herbs only)

All of these companies have free seed catalogs, just sign up online. Right now is the best time to go sign up so you do not miss any of the catalogs coming out for next year’s garden! Click the links above which should take you to the correct sign up section of the company. I buy the big catalog from Baker Creek because it has fantastic pictures and great articles.

The first time I look through each catalog, I circle all of the seeds I am interested in planting for the next year. Then I sit down with all of the books and cross reference prices and volumes. I recommend looking at how many seeds come in each packet because this impacts the true cost. There is a wide verity of packet sizes depending on the company. Some seeds I buy in bulk and others I get the standard small packet just to try them out. I order 90% of my seeds from Baker Creek and High Mowing however sometimes I find something to try in one of the other catalogs. Do you order seeds each year, save seeds, or buy from a local store?

Rugged Wear Gloves Review

This past weekend we had a perfect opportunity to review some work gloves.  On the homestead, we often wear gloves during chores.  This past weekend Clint was setting fence posts for the new chicken area, and setting up some cattle panels to keep pesky ducks our of the garden.

While at Menards we picked up a pair of Rugged Wear Grain Pigskin gloves.  At $4.99 the price was right for a light weight pair of gloves.  They appeared to be Glove Logobreathable leather palmed gloves.  Normally items we get from Menards are great, but these have to be the worst leather gloves I have ever used.  We prefer deerskin gloves and have been using them for years, these are usually $15 a pair.  In my opinion leather gloves just work better.  They form to your hands and typically last a long time, but they do not always breathe well.

Glove PalmMenards carries an entire line of Rugged Wear gloves.   The style we bought were mechanic style gloves.  We have used this type of gloves before, but the fingers and palm always wear out fast.  We had hoped that the leather palm on a mechanic style glove would fix both the breathing and durability problems.  These Rugged Wear gloves from Menards did not last 6 hours.  The palms both had developed holes before the day was over.

The description for these gloves labels them as heavy-duty, in our opinion simple hand tools do not qualify as heavy-duty tasks.  We would rate these as worthless unless your heavy duty tasks include making beds or folding laundry.  Those are the only heavy-duty tasks these gloves are suited for.

School House Table

20150531_152802We try to reuse things around the homestead as often as possible.  This past summer we acquired a new dining room table.  This was a blessing as the top of the old one was worn out, and the support for one end had broken.  The old table was a nice table it just needed a little TLC.  We tried to get rid of it on craigslist but had no luck.  This posed a problem.  How do you get rid of an old table?  It felt wasteful just to sit it out at the curb for the trash collector.  Like with many other things on the homestead this one problem turned into a solution for another.

Candie has wanted a long narrow table to put behind the couch for some time.  The table would serve two purposes.  She wants a space to do school work with Devin, and it would prevent kids from climbing over the back of the couch.  We have been working on a design, but the legs have been a design problem.  We had to disassemble the old dining room table to get it out of the house, and like most tables it broke down into a top and two sets of legs.  This was a borderline eureka moment.  We needed legs for the new table, and we had a perfectly serviceable pair available from the old table.

20150531_152917Once we had the leg issue resolved building the table was relatively easy.  We made a trip to Menards to look for wood for a table top.  We like Menards, and they have a lot of options when it comes to lumber.  I had originally envisioned having to glue up a large slab of boards to create the table top, but Menards caries 1’’ X 24’’ pre-glued and sanded table tops.  Menards even had one that was seven feet long!

The next step in building our table top is to create a frame for the top to attach to.  This will make it sturdy and give us something to attach the legs to.  For this, I took some 1’’ X 6’’ pine and ripped it down into 1’’ X 3’’ pieces.  We created a simple box that was 4’’ smaller than the table top was wide and long.  This gave us a nice 2’’ overhang all the way around the table.  We used my Kreg pocket hole jig to make pocket holes to attach the top of the table to the frame.  This made very fast work of this step.  My Kreg jig has gotten a lot of use over the past few years and is one of my favorite tools.

Now that the top was attached to the frame 20150808_120349it was time to mount the legs to the frame.  Each set of legs has a 1’’ X 8’’ piece of wood across the top of each pillar.  We were keeping it simple with this project and simply attached this piece directly to the frame from underneath with 3’’ wood screws.  The end result was a nice sturdy table that is perfect for behind the couch.

20150808_120238Once the table was assembled, I wanted to put a nice rounded edge on the top.  To do this, I used my plunge router with a round over bit and just ran the router along the edge of the table.  The final step before finishing was sanding.   This was the most time-consuming part of the project.  We used an orbital sander with 220 grit sandpaper to sand everything.  A good thing to remember when sanding wood is if you can feel a rough spot you will see it when it is stained.  So I have found it is better to feel for rough spots instead of just trying to look for them.

After everything had been sanded, we used an air gun and tack cloths to remove all the20150809_102220 dust from the surfaces.  We applied a Minwax stain that also seals the wood.  When applying stain, the goal is to keep the surface wet with stain.  The longer you let the stain sit on the wood, the darker the surface will be.  Once we reached the desired color, we wiped off all the excess stain.  After the stain had dried for eight hours, we applied one coat of satin sheen polyurethane.  We are very happy with our new table, and it works perfectly for what it was designed.

Tromboncino Squash

My family really enjoys squash and zucchini; even our 5 year old does not complain when it is brought to the table. I have some problems with growing these vegetables. Squash bore can take out up to ½ of a crop. When the vegetables are ready to pick, keeping up with the harvest can become a challenge. If they are not killed by the squash bore most plants will contract powdery mildew and die before the season is over. Every year I plant over two dozen summer squash and zucchini plants knowing that I need to compensate for the challenges. This year I grew a (new to me) variety of squash that fixes all of the issues!
squash-rampicante
Tromboncino Squash, also known as Zucchino Rampicante Squash, is an Italian heirloom vining zucchini and winter squash. It is October, the end of the growing season here, and the plants do not have any squash bore damage or mildew. Tromboncino is a sprawling thick-vined plant that curls if left to grow on the ground. Trellising helps the squash grow straighter and if you have a small space, this is one plant you should trellis, (my vines are over 12 feet long!). The curling gives the squash good character however makes it a little harder to prepare in the kitchen.

Green Stage

Green Stage

The squash takes about 70 days to mature to the green stage; at this point the squash can be picked and used as a green zucchini. If left to grow longer, the squash will get up to 3 feet long and be used as a winter squash. There is no way to pick this squash too late; if you miss the green stage, just let it go until you have a winter squash.

The neck of each squash is seedless. This makes preparing it very easy and each squash gives you pounds of seedless flesh to roast, grill, or bake. The bottom bulb of each squash contains the seeds which are very useful. The seeds are easy to scoop out (like you do with a butternut) and can be saved as seeds for next year’s garden or roasted and eaten like pumpkin seeds.When eaten in the green stage, the squash tastes like a cross between a zucchini and mild asparagus.

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on the vine

If you let the squash ripen on the vine the flesh turns orange and tastes like a cross between a butternut squash and a sweet potato. Our favorite way to prepare this or any other squash is roasted with a little salt and pepper.
Recipe

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This is from two different stages of maturity, the green zucchini stage and the orange winter squash stage. These where cut from the neck of the squash.

Roasted Squash and Zucchini
Ingredients
6 cups zucchini cut into large chunks
6 cups yellow squash cut into large chunks
2 tbsp olive oil* plus extra for greasing pan
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
Preparation
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Grease roasting pan with olive oil
Chop zucchini and yellow squash and put into a large bowl.
Drizzle olive oil over squash. Mix with a large spoon until squash is evenly coated.
Sprinkle salt, and pepper over squash. Mix with a large spoon until squash is evenly coated.
Pour squash onto roasting pan and spread it out until it evenly covers the pan.
Bake 30-45 minutes stirring once until cooked through and lightly brown.

*you can also use coconut oil or avocado oil

Woodhaven Place Product Review

We must be very selective when it comes to buying products that we use on the farm. We do not have much expendable income so when we buy something we research products as much as possible. There are a few things that we look for in a product, regardless of what it is.

  1. Durability – Products must last. We will spend a little bit more on something that will last 10 or 20 years instead of needing replaced every season.
  2. Cost – Products must be affordable. There are products we would love to try however they just will not fit in the budget. We must find that special mix of quality and affordability.
  3. Availability – Shipping can be a problem with farm equipment and we do not live in an area that carries some of the specialty equipment that we need. Sometime we must buy online and when we do, it needs to be from a company that will work with us if the product breaks or does not work the way we need it to.  We buy local whenever possible and buy from family owned businesses when we can.
  4. Function – We rarely buy something that only serves one function. Our equipment needs to perform multiple functions or it had better be a darn good product.
  5. Comfort – Products must be durable and useful. Overalls need to fit well; gloves cannot give blisters, handles need to comfortably fit into our hands, and seats should not make our rear-end fall asleep.

There are a few things we use on a daily bases the we love, some products that work very well with some modifications, and others that (even with a lot of research) have ended up as duds. We are going to be posting reviews of things that we love, like, and even the ones that did not work out for us.  When you have a limited budget, knowing what works well and how to make something work well with a few tweaks can be invaluable. Stay tuned for our reviews!

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