Getting the Gooseberries in the Ground

Gooseberries are one of the first fruits to leaf out in the Spring, so when Nourse Farms asked me when I’d like my Hinnomaki Red gooseberries shipped, of course, I said, “As early as possible!”

As early as possible meant they arrived this week.  I stuffed all 10 plants in the crisper drawers of the refrigerator, then went outside to prepare the ground.

No matter how early a fruit plant is, there is always a weed (or several!) that leaf out even earlier.  Although we’d plowed and cover cropped the Gooseberry Area in 2015, perennial weeds still poked through.  The ground was probably too damp to plow or till and even if we did, all it would do is chop up those perennial roots so that each piece would re-root as a whole new weed!   As growers who use organic techniques, we couldn’t spray anything, but we could yank all those weeds up and then feed them to the chickens as seen below:

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As you can see, our chickens LOVE weeds and what they don’t eat, they will rip apart and toss around so that not even a piece of perennial weed root has a chance to grow into another plant.  This was also the week I was collected chicken eggs to place in the incubator for baby chicks — giving the hens these weeds means that they had access to extra vitamins so that they would have stronger and healthier baby chicks.
After the weeds were removed, we planted the gooseberry plants, then surrounded each plant with newspaper held down with wood chips.  The gooseberry plant is in the center – it’s not easy to see as the leaf buds have swollen, but the leaves have not yet come out.

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We placed heavy cardboard between each section of newspaper and held it down with more wood chips.  Normally, this would be enough for gooseberry plants, but with the snow and heavy frost coming on Saturday night, we covered the entire Gooseberry Area with straw like this:

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There really are gooseberry plants under all that straw!  (The poles are marking where the pawpaw fruits were planted last year) While the straw will protect the plants from a light frost (such as we’ll be getting tonight), we’ll have to cover the entire area with tarps to trap a few degrees of heat on Saturday night when it’s supposed to get into the low 20s.

Sometimes in farming, you don’t have good choices.  The gooseberries were breaking dormancy and needed to get in the ground.  The rains from yesterday and next week will help them get over transplant shock.  However, this means they must be protected from the deep freeze that will happen on Saturday night.  We’re doing the best we can for these plants so that in 2017, we’ll be able to offer these very tasty (and very pretty) Finnish dessert gooseberries for sale.

In happier news, we’ll finish collecting chicken eggs from our hens on Saturday and will put them all in the incubator later that day.  21 days later, we should have baby chicks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easter is Coming: Need Eggs?

With the longer days and a drier barnyard, the chickens are laying plenty of eggs!

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As we have a mixed flock, we have three different egg colors.  The Leghorns​ lay white eggs, the Rhode Island Reds​ lay brown eggs and Pilgrim, our Barred Rock, lays beige eggs.​

Email us if you’d like to purchase eggs for Easter or other times during the year.  Our flock lives in a converted horse stall in the barn, has a large barnyard to roam and scratch in and eats a varied diet.  The chickens love visitors, especially, those bearing mealworms, so if you’d like to see how the chickens that produce your eggs are living, just email to set up a time to see them.

​No one has “gone broody” (that is, decided to sit on their eggs and hatch out some baby chicks), but Londo has been doing his job, so if I can borrow a friend’s incubator, baby chicks are possible.  Here’s Londo:

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Unlike the laying hens, Londo is an Ameraucana chicken.  Hopefully, he will pass along a blue egg laying gene to his daughers.

Pilgrim, our Lead Hen, was not too fond of Londo when he first came here in November.  However, they seem to have ironed out their differences and are spending quality time together.  Once I have my friend’s incubuator, there won’t be very many beige eggs for sale until I have some Londo daughters!  Here is a photo of Pilgrim:

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We’re looking forward to having several egg-based dishes for Easter this year.  If you’d like Pilgrim and her friends to supply you with eggs, let us know soon — there will be a lull when I put eggs in the incubator, but having little baby chicks will be fun for everyone!​

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Precoce d’Argenteuil Asparagus: 1st Repotting!

When last we left the Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus seedlings, they were ferning out in their Jiffy-7 pellets like this:

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It was time to take them downstairs and put them in newspaper pots so that their roots would have room to branch out.   Here are what they looked like as I repotted them in my basement potting room:​

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It’s too cold in the basement for the seedlings, so I lug the trays back up to the guest room where they are placed under lights.  We adapted the African Violet table I purchased at the local auction for $25 in the late 80s so that we could move the lights up as the plants grow.  So far, they are ferming out, rather than getting taller, so I haven’t moved the lights up yet.

With seedlings, one should always keep the lights just above the top of the plant so that the plant puts its effort into growing a sturdy stem and a robust root system, rather than putting all its energy into growing the stem to reach the light and becoming “leggy.”  A “leggy” plant will have a weak stem that can be blown over in the wind when transplanted outside.
Right now we have 5 trays of asparagus seedlings in newspaper pots, 2 trays in pellets and 1/2 tray still on the heat mat.  Since there is room on the heat mat, I added onion and leek seeds which haven’t germinated yet.  When all the asparagus seeds are off the heat mat, I’ll put this year’s hot and sweet pepper seed on it.

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We are well onto our goal of having 200 Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus ​plants to transplant into the asparagus field in May.  With the heat mat going 24/7 and the African Violet table on 16 hours a day, plus the Eastern sun exposure from the windows, the guest room is warm and comfy — the dogs come running to enjoy napping in the heat when I open the door to work on my computer.

 

 

Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus: Take 2!

All but 17 of the original 156 Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus have germinated and are under the lights.
As we need 200 plants to put in the field in May (and our first pass worked!), today I planted 102 seeds in the pellets and put them on the heat mat.
Take 1 had an 88% germination rate when the packet said to expect a 70% rate.  Hopefully, Take 2, using the same techniques, will achieve a similar outcome.
Here are all the seeds, sitting on the heat mat (no room for Galen, now!)

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Once a good number of these pellets have germinated and are placed under the lights, it will be time to germinate leeks and onions on the heat mat.  Planting season is here!

 

 

Galen Discovers The Heat Mat

We started out with 2 trays of 156 Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus on the heat mat.  However, with germination, we now have 1 tray on the heat mat and 2 trays under the lights.
This means that there is extra space on the heat mat until next week when I start the next round of Precoce D’Argenteuil asparagus.
Well, there used to be space on the heat mat. . .

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Last night, Galen discovered that the spot next to the computer is WARM and like most cats in winter, decided that WARM is GOOD.  He’s left the area only to eat (he may only be 8 pounds, but he’s a big eater!).
Meanwhile, here’s what the Precoce D’Argenteuil asparagus seedlings look like after a week or so under the lights:

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These seedlings are healthy, but tiny.  One can see why it’s suggested to start asparagus seed in January so that one has decent sized plants to put out in May.
For the first round of trays, the seedlings took about 14 days to germinate.  The packet suggested a 70% germination rate and so far, we have an 81% germination rate.  Next week’s trays should put us at about 225 seedlings for a goal of 200 seedlings to plant after frost in May.
Galen has the weekend to enjoy the heat mat — Monday, the next round of aparagus seeded trays go on the heat mat and there won’t be room for him!​

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Precoce d’Argenteuil Asparagus Planted!

Asparagus is one of our primary crops, so we’re always thinking about varieties to add.

Precoce d’Argenteuil is a French heirloom asparagus from the 1700s that gets rave reviews on the Internet (just google it!).  It’s pretty (green spears with lavender buds), early bearing and produces thick, delicious spears that taste wonderful steamed.  Since it’s not as productive as the “all male” modern hybrids, it’s only available as seeds, not crowns, which means 3 years, rather than 2 years to a harvestable yield.

Being a farm that showcases heirlooms, I decided to give in to the Internet hype and give this variety a try.  I ordered my seed from here,as most of the reputable US seed companies said their seed was from Italy.

Growing asparagus from seed takes patience (up to 3 weeks to germinate!) and space.  Rather than start the seeds in flats, as I usually do, I instead ordered Jiffy 7 Peat Pellets so that I could place one seed in each pellet, then when that pellet germinated, put it under the grow lights while the other seeds could slumber until they were ready to germinate.  It would also prevent the roots from each seed from entangling with each other.

Here’s how the pellets look when purchased:

 

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Asparagus seed has a hard seed coat so recommendations range from a soak of two hours to 2 days in water before planting.  I gave mine at least two hours to soak while I readied the pellets for planting.  Use enough water to generously cover the seed.

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As a child, I loved Jiffy 7 Peat Pellets because it was so much fun to soak them in water and watch them plump up.  It’s not cost-effective to use them on a large scale unless you are planting perennials with delicate root systems that could be damaged while trying to untangle them, so I hadn’t used the pellets in years.  A friend advised me to use hot water which swells up the pellets in minutes.  (Don’t use cold water — that bucket took 2 1/2 hours to swell up to a usable size!)

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After two hours, both asparagus seed and pellets were ready for planting.  I borrowed my dogs’ tick removal tweezers (which has the handy magnifying glass for finding tick mouth parts embedded in one’s dog) to pluck out an asparagus seed from the cup and plant it about 1/2 an inch into the rehydrated pellet.

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78 pellets fit in a standard plant tray, which I then put on the heat mat.

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I covered the tray with plastic wrap (like most seed savers, most of the household plastic wrap is used for seed germination, rather than food storage!)  I have two trays for a total of 156 aparagus seeds planted

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Now we wait for germination!  I keep my germinating trays next to my computer so I can keep an eye on them during the day and add water or place baby plants under lights as needed.  With bottom heat, the asparagus seeds could germinate in as little as 5 days or as long as 3 weeks.  I’d like to have 200 plants to set out in the Spring, so if this techinque works,  I’ll add another tray once these trays begin germinating.
In just 3 years, we’ll have an interesting (and tasty!) asparagus variety for sale!  Stay tuned to watch these plants grow!