Posts Tagged With: Urban Gardening

The Hugelkultur Project

A while back, when we  decided to take on the project of cutting down our 70-foot tall (plus or minus) honey locust tree in the back yard, I began doing research on what in the world we’d do with all the wood.  As you may know, a lot of the smaller branches have become mulch for the garden.  But someone from the Take Back Urban-Homesteading(s) community on Facebook suggested to me to build a ‘hugelkultur.’  A hoogle-whater?  So, of course I Googled it.

I’ll try to save you some time.  A hugelkultur (pronounced “hoogle-culture” – I think), is basically a raised bed in which wood or other carbon-rich materials is buried.  Some people lay logs directly on the ground, use a tractor to dump a pile of dirt on it and then start planting on their new, hill-shaped bed.  (I like the info in this link).

The advantages of this method of gardening is that the wood, as it rots, acts as a sponge, making it so you don’t have to water much.  Additionally, it releases nutrients over time into the soil, making it so you don’t need to fertilize.  And, as it rots, it leaves plenty of air space in the soil, so you don’t need to till.  Basically, it is a no-maintenance, self-composting bed.  The first year or two, especially with green wood like ours, it will actually draw nitrogen from the soil in order to start decomposition.  But thereafter, it will supposedly do nothing but give back.

Sounds like a good plan to us!  So we decided to give it a try in the boys’ backyard garden bed.  We don’t have lots of spare topsoil just lying around everywhere, nor the desire to buy any, so we thought it would be a better use of what we do have to dig down into the ground and bury the wood with our own topsoil and subsoil.

We dug down a good 12-14 inches.  Then we laid in some of the branches that were too thick to go through the wood chipper.  Then we buried them.  This left us with basically an instant raised bed, as promised.  We used some of the bigger, straighter limbs from the tree to make an edging (not yet complete).  Otherwise the boys would truck that dirt all over the back yard before anything could be planted there.

After an afternoon of being (unnecessarily) compacted by a 22 month old in a Tonka truck pushed by a 4 year old.

Fortunately for us, we have plenty of nitrogen-rich compost, thanks to the chickens.  We mixed a bit of that in to compensate for the initial anticipated nitrogen loss/Tonka truck compaction.  Henry wants carrots, tomatoes and watermelon in his bed this year.  We’ll keep track and let you know how it goes!

Does anyone out there have experience with a hugelkultur?  What about deterrents for little boys and their ride-on toys?  😉

Categories: Garden, Hugelkultur, Simple Living, Sustainability, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

-Chipping Away at the To Do List

As you might have noticed, by my lack of blog posts last week, I have been busy around this place.  We’ve been working diligently at getting the tree in the back yard cut down, the branches chipped, and the gardens set up.  So much so that we’ve actually neglected a few other things around here.  Things like ordering a car seat for baby number three as well as our birth kit.  I’m in my third trimester now, and we have pretty much nothing set up for the baby yet.

Here’s what we have been doing though.  Rick and the neighbor, Doug, got the wood chipper working and made short work of nine of the eleven piles of branches in the yard.  The other two piles were too big to put through the chipper, so they’ll have to wait.

There’s still more of the tree to cut down, but the weather has been uncooperative (too windy) to take down the tallest parts.  Hopefully this week, before the tree leafs out!

After expressing how chicken wire works just fine to protect your flock from predators, we lost two hens to a fox.  Now to our… erm… credit?  shame?  it wasn’t a failure of the chicken wire, so much as a failure to close up the coop at night.  I confess to being a lazy chicken owner, and leaving the coop open much of the time.  The hens put themselves to bed, and Josie, our big mutt, used to really help in keeping predators away.  But this is the first spring we are without her, and I really wasn’t thinking much about it until I found a hen dead one morning last week.  She was headless and we’re pretty sure Rick scared the fox away when he was leaving for work.  Somehow, neither of us heard a commotion in the coop, but it was windy and Rick thought he had heard the kids’ tent blowing around.  Turns out it was probably a chicken scuffle.

We of course cleaned up the mess, and that evening, just around sunset, when Rick went out to close the coop, he found dead hen number two.  It had JUST happened.  The neighbor had scared the fox as they walked by.  We think that the fox might have been coming back for the first hen that it left, and since it was gone, it killed another.  Since we found this one fresh – very very fresh, Rick butchered her up (discarding the part where the fox bit her – just her back) and we made chicken and dumplings.  She was actually our oldest hen, and I don’t think any amount of stewing would have made her legs edible – think really tough chicken jerky.  But we tried at least, and her breast meat was ok, and she made tasty broth.

The good news on the chicken front is we’re pretty sure those were the two hens that were eating eggs, and the older hen really wasn’t laying much at all anymore, so the fox saved us some trouble of getting up the nerve to off them ourselves.  We’ve not had anymore broken or eaten eggs, and our egg numbers are still about what they were, since now we’re getting them all instead of racing to beat the hens.  AND the chicken wire is still doing it’s job, as long as we keep doing ours.

This weekend we spread the wood chips to mulch the garden paths.  Our neighbor watched over the fence.  I know he thinks we’re crazy for going to the effort to mulch the tree instead of just hauling it to the dump, but I’m happy it’s going to good use, and hopefully it’ll work at keeping weeds down between the beds.

Otherwise, we made a trip to the garden center to get our tomato and pepper plants.  I’m excited to try a couple varieties that we’ve not done before.  I spent some time spreading compost in my tomato bed and the plants are hardening off this week to get ready to go to the ground this weekend.  I’m chomping at t he bit to get the summer things in the ground.  Just waiting for the weather to get on board too.

So this week I plan to get a few more things outside organized, but I also am going to try to focus on a few inside projects as well.  Like laundry and getting the baby’s room emptied.  There needs to be a balance, I know. The to-do list seems never ending this spring.  But little by little we seem to be getting items crossed off.

What have you been up to?

Categories: Chickens, Food, Garden | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

20 Weeks: Seed Storage

This week in my 20 Week Organization Challenge, I decided to organize my seed storage, in celebration of Earth Day.

To the left here you can see the many, MANY packets of seeds shoved into a little tin bucket and a re-purposed recipe box, as well as two bags of seed potatoes and some onion sets.

My original seed storage was in that recipe box.  The seed packets were all alphabetized and filed in the box.  But seeds take up more space than recipe cards, so the box filled up quickly and was soon overflowing into paper bags, baskets and that little bucket there.  Many of the seeds we ordered this year came in packets that were a bit too big to fit in the box anyway.  And, with spring planting upon us I have been struggling to find everything I want to plant and I’ve even run across seeds that I bought last year that never made it in the ground because they had gotten lost in the shuffle.  I needed a new storage system, stat!

I wanted a storage container that can keep the seeds dry and dark, is well organized, and that all the packets can fit into easily.  I considered a basket, but I really wanted something with a lid.  In the end I settled for a photo storage box.  It’s paper board and I got it from Hobby Lobby for $4. It was supposed to come with twelve dividers, but there were only six, so I made a few more from some extra folders I had laying around.

Here’s what the seeds look like now.  I have a feeling this will get tweaked over time, but it’s much better than it was!


What have you organized this week?  Are you planning to do anything in the coming week?

This post is part of the Organizing Junkie blog party!  Check out here drawer organization this week.  I’m getting up the gumption to tackle my drawers soon.  Stay tuned!  To see what I’ve done in the last eight weeks, check out my other 20 Weeks posts!
Categories: 20 Weeks of Organizing, Garden | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

End of April Inventory

I’ve been meaning to do this for a few weeks now, but last week I officially came down with a case of S1F1.  It turns out that I’ve had the disease before, but this weekend it hit hard.  S1F1, or Spring Fever, symptoms include among other things: restlessness; incessant wandering from the back yard to the front yard, and then back again; lots of projects started but none completed; regular spurts of cleaning followed by periods of listlessness; planning without follow through; mood swings.  If you have any of these symptoms, make sure to get checked out for Spring Fever right away.

Here’s what’s going on at the ol’ homestead:

In the vegetable department we have:
-spinach for the taking
-lettuces (two kinds) up
-peas growing
-radishes thinned
-kale, chard and potatoes planted
-garlic about 10 inches tall
-leeks started inside

Fruit wise:
-raspberries are leafing out
-strawberries are looking promising (which would be a surprise, since they never seem to produce fruit).
-one grape vine that might be dead  😦
-no sign of the rhubarb I planted last year  😦

Herbs – unfortunately, not everything made it to the spring this year:
-four little basil plants are inside waiting for the danger of frost to pass
-mint is out and up and tasty
-the stray raspberry canes to be turned into raspberry leaf tea
-a bay leaf plant is on my counter and has been alive since Christmas – this is an accomplishment for me!

-the three pullets are growing and living in a bumper box in the garage.  They are pretty funny and good at chasing bugs so far.
-the five hens are ever-so-reluctantly using the new nest boxes.  Not sure why they are so unhappy with the change, but it’s made for lower egg numbers than usual.
-still have yet to identify the egg-eater.  I think I’ve narrowed it down to two possible suspects.  We may be offing them both if I can’t figure it out.
-the beehive is ready and waiting for a swarm so we can try again this spring

Free materials collected:
-pallets for compost bins
-stone for patio
-bricks for bed edging
-80 pounds +/- of compost
-we’ve also been promised a free yard of manure, but it hasn’t come yet

Completed spring projects:
-the nest boxes
-two compost bins built, one filled
-early spring planting
-garden layout done
-neighbor’s beds made and ready

Started but incomplete projects:
-painting the hen house
-cutting down the tree
-mulching tree branches with the wood chipper
-building permanent beds in the main garden (they are laid out with stakes and string and some have plants in them already though)
-more tomato cages
-edging the front beds with brick
-building the patio
-Henry & Emmett’s backyard veggie bed

There are some big things on the future to-do list as well, but a lot of them depend on other projects getting completed first.  The biggies for me this year will be getting the new fence up on the north side of our property so we can make an asparagus bed there and replacing the clothes line I lost when we started cutting down the tree.  We eventually want a pergola with grapes over the future patio, but I think the tree cutting, patio building and baby having will take up most of our attention this summer, meaning we will probably not see that until next summer.

This of course is just what’s going on outside.  I still have my crazy inside to-do list running.  Oy.  What is wrong with us??  😉

What is going on in your garden so far?

Categories: Garden | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Catching Up to Life!

I’ve been a bit behind this week, so here’s my attempt at catching the blog up to our lives!  The hens were not laying in the new nest box, so on Friday I reused some pieces of the old nest box and some left over plywood to modify the new box and make it bigger.  It’s now 11×17 and the hens are much happier.  We’ve been collecting eggs left and right again, which makes us all glad.  We do still suspect an egg eater – I’m pretty sure it’s one of the red heads, so we’re working out a way to figure out who is the culprit.  You may see a post about our first-ever adventure into home chicken processing soon.

Saturday  we finally planted the spuds that we ordered in the neighbor’s garden.

We’re all excited about this gardening thing this year – you know the thing where our neighbor is working together with us to grow this (in his newly made bed) and where we plan to share our crops.  He’s been getting as excited as me, and every time someone comes to our house, Rick jokes about me showing off my new vegetable bed as he motions over the fence.  😉

This is our first time with potatoes and we planted two varieties – La Ratte fingerlings and Dessire red potatoes.  There were some extras that didn’t fit into his bed, so I might try another potato growing system in our back yard as well.

We’ve been enjoying our spinach and I’m so happy about those volunteers that came up early, since we’ve been able to eat from the garden so much earlier this year.  I need to make sure to let the spinach go to seed from now on before we pull it for later crops!  Woohoo!

Sunday’s forecast last weekend was for snow, but there wasn’t any.  In fact it was pretty nice out.  Rick’s been chipping away at the tree project, hacking a limb off here, cutting a branch there.  We’re about to the point where we can no longer go at it alone and we’re going to have to bring in extra help to finish.

Our neighbor did get a chipper for us.  It wasn’t in working order, but he and Rick think they can fix it with just an inexpensive part.  It won’t do the bigger stuff, but most of the smaller branches can go through and it’ll be nice to have around to put the yard waste through before sending it to the compost bins.  And bonus, it was free!

We also visited two garden centers on Sunday.  We picked up seeds for the things we plan on direct seeding (the ones we didn’t order), got some onion sets, and I was a sucker for some savory and basil plants (three varieties!) that I plan on sneaking into our flower beds this year.

I was really tempted to pick up some tomato seedlings, but Rick convinced me to hold off a few weeks more.  I think he knows how good I am not at keeping plants alive indoors.  It’s so close to “when the danger of frost is past” planting, I can almost taste it.  We’re on our last bag of frozen tomatoes from last summer’s garden.  It can’t get here quick enough!

What have you been up to in these last few rainy April days?

On a side note, this here blog was just entered into the Circle of Moms Top 25 Eco-Friendly Mommy Blog contest.  There are only three days left to vote but you can vote everyday.  I’d love a vote from you!  CLICK HERE to vote!
Categories: Chickens, Garden, Independence Days | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gardening and Culture: Are Food Gardens Just for the Poor?

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about gardening and different cultures in America.  As you know, I’ve been reading City Farmer by Lorraine Johnson.  In chapter two of the book, Johnson talks a lot about gardens at the White House.  Not only the one planted by Michelle Obama in 2009 in response to the Eat the View petition, but the also the many various gardens planted there throughout the history of the White House, both for the pleasure of the first family and for patriotism.  Despite many people’s view that the Obama’s garden is just another exercise in “green-washing” (especially since the President seems to be alright with living in Monsanto’s back pocket), the first lady’s organic garden does seem to be having a positive effect.  People are asking how they can do it too.  It gives a little ammunition against HOA’s that prevent vegetable gardens, and inspires many people for whom garden would not otherwise be on their radar.

But why would home owners associations ban vegetable gardens to begin with?  I wonder that a lot.  A few years back as we were digging into our own earth, setting up our first compost bins, and telling people we had chickens in our back yard, we got a lot of funny looks.  Urban homesteading was still a relatively unknown concept around these parts (to my mind anyway), and although a lot of people thought what we were doing was cool, most people felt they couldn’t do it themselves.  One friend exclaimed “You can have a garden in the city?!”  It was our turn to be shocked.  Granted, this friend lived in a suburb with strict HOA regulations, and they might not have been allowed to do the same, but our response was, “Sure, you can grow food wherever there is dirt.” So with some people, particularly in our generation, possibly there is just a level of ignorance that is dissipating over time with this issue.

But another friend’s response made me wonder if there is more at work, keeping some people from getting that compost under their fingernails.  In the midst of all our learning a few years back I had a friend that would constantly tell me to my face how great she thought everything we were doing was, and even ask me for advice about things.  She even got to the point where she bought a huge, expensive composter and a couple cherry tomato plants for her back yard.  But I found out that all the while, she assumed that we did the things we did because we were “poor.”

This friend lived in a big, expensive house in a new sub-division on the outskirts of metro-civilazation.  She had a Starbucks allowance, a shiny new SUV, a son in Montessori school and her hair and nails were always done.  Erica at NWEdible would call her a YuppieHippie.  That’s just not the way I roll.  I get my hair done when I can no longer stand it anymore (maybe every 6 months?), our SUV is going on 12 years old, is used to haul compost and roadkill and just rolled 140k on the odometer.  And the house is small.  These are all the same for me now as they were when Rick and I had two incomes.  And we were gardening then too.  So I was shocked to say the least about her assumption.  Also, gardening and chicken coop building is not always cheap.  Our CSA share and buying whole, locally raised, organic hogs and beef certainly weren’t either.

I generally think of gardening and self-sustainability as something that informed and educated people do.  I think about cities in the Northwest with bike lanes and wind power and wish our state would catch up.  I think about solar panels and how much they cost and what they’d save.  I guess I viewed urban homesteading as something that you don’t do because you’re poor and have no other choice, but as something you do because you want to make a better choice.

Not that we were rolling in the dough.  Far from it.  There have been some pretty lean months in the last five years for us.  But… hadn’t my friend just bought that $400 compost bin?  Certainly she had to know this is not just for the poor, right?  This made me think.  Why would she assume we were poor (well besides the roadkill 😉 )?

Johnson addresses this in her book as well.  As many families immigrated to the U.S., they brought seeds and gardening knowledge with them.  They planted their gardens where they lived and kept up with the old ways, unaffected by social status and motivated to provide good, fresh food for their family.  But their children, who were likely looked at as poor, being recent immigrants, were quick to dump the old ways and buy their food from the supermarkets.  In many minds, growing your own food was a sign or symbol of not having the means to buy the same things.

I generally picture people immigrating in centuries past.  In Colorado, while we have plenty of immigrants from Mexico and other places, I tend to think about immigration in terms of Ellis Island and my husband’s great-grandparents from Slovakia.  His great-grandfather coming to America ten years before this great-grandmother, saving his hard-earned money to get her and their children here.  It would never occur to me to think of modern-day immigrants in this way.  But in some places, California for example, there are many hispanic families that have lived in the U.S. for generations as well as many recently immigrated Mexican families.  And their culture is extremely different.  My mom’s husband, though born in San Diego, is often mistaken for a Mexican, to the point where he carries his passport and all his i.d. when visiting his family in California, so he’s not taken for an immigrant or an illegal.

As I sat and thought about my friend’s view of our choices, I realized that she is from a state that is still flush with recent immigrants.  And it’s likely that she was brought up seeing the immigrant families planting gardens, while her family never did.  And the truth of the matter is that many immigrant families are poor when they get here.  Perhaps many of the HOAs in those new, expensive sub-divisions are set up just to keep the images of the poor, front yard veggie gardens separated from the green, water guzzling postage-stamp lawns that symbolize American success.

Have you experienced this?  Do you or did you view gardening and self-sustainability as a sign of status or culture?  Has anyone made assumptions about your choices based on their views?  Is gardening cultural?  Does your perception of the culture or status of gardening affect your own efforts towards sustainability?  What about HOAs – do you live where one restricts your ability to garden?  Should they have the right to do this?

Categories: Community, Garden, Recommended Reading, Sustainability | Tags: , , , | 21 Comments

New Nest Boxes

Lately we’ve been getting a lot of broken eggs in the nest box.  We have five hens sharing one box and I think it was just too crowded.  At least we hope that’s what’s going on and not that we have an egg eater.

We decided to build a new nest box for them.  It’s a free-standing box that holds three nests.  It took me most of Saturday to build with Rick’s help, but I think it turned out pretty well.

I started with a 1x3x8, a 4′ x 8′ piece of plywood that had an exterior finish on one side, some scrap lumber we had around the garage.

Rick was picking up more stone, so I drew the pieces I needed up on the plywood and cut them out with the jigsaw.  We miraculously got the camera to work, but no one was around to take pictures of me with the jigsaw.  My lines weren’t perfectly straight, but I figured the chickens wouldn’t notice.

I used some scrap pieces of 2×4 for the legs and attached them to the base.

By then the boys and I needed lunch and Rick came back with a load of stone, so I took a break.  After the stone was on the ground and everyone had been fed I went back to work cutting the pieces for the interior of the box.

I was glad to have Rick around for the assembly.  Some things would have been really difficult to manage by myself.  Here’s the basic construction nearly complete.  Just needs the last side and the roof.

I really tried hard not to over-engineer this project, as I tend to usually do.  When we took down the old nest box from the side of the coop, Rick commented that it was a virtual bomb shelter for the hens.  Haha.  Well, this one  is sturdy and I hope will be functional. See my sketch?  Not too over-engineered, right?

When we originally built the coop, we placed it next to the house.  And since our house is white with cream-colored trim, we left it cream-colored.  But since we were remodeling the coop a bit and it’s been moved to another part of the yard now, I really wanted to paint the nest box and the chicken coop some cute colors.

While I was painting the roof and in between coats on the nest box, Rick went after some too-long screws along the inside of the box with his Dremel tool.

After the roof was attached and the second coat of paint was drying, our neighbors came home.  They had left in the morning as I was setting out the plywood on the saw horses.  They were amazed that I had built the box!

We set the box in the chicken yard and immediately one of the hens took notice.  She tried to jump up and hit her head on the roof, which was overhanging a bit too far.  Rick trimmed it back a bit and then they were able to get in without much trouble.

We intentionally made it lower to the ground so the boys could help collect eggs. The chickens are getting used to it.  I was afraid at first that we’d have a revolt or that I made it entirely too small (the boxes are a cozy 11″ x 12″), but on Sunday they all hopped in (for some it took a couple tries) and took a turn.  We are probably going to locate it a bit differently than it is in the picture so they can have a bit more privacy, but so far so good.  Now I’m chomping at the bit to repaint the coop to match.

Did you complete any projects this weekend?


This post was part of the Food Soil Thread blog party!

Categories: Chickens, DIY | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

Sticks and Stones

What work!  Last weekend, after getting started on the tree, there was quite literally a yard full of limbs, branches and sticks.  So Saturday we went outside to tackle that before we could continue with any more tree removal.  We had also posted an ad on craigslist looking for free red flagstone for the patio we want, and someone responded saying if you come take it, it’s yours.  So Rick headed over there to check it out.  He returned three times with our neighbor’s truck with loads of awesome big, thick pieces of sandstone.  Perfect pieces.  And enough to do the patio!

Notice all these branches? They are now in 11 neat piles.

At the end of the day we estimate that Rick moved a ton and a half to two tons of stone, twice (once loading and once unloading), by himself.  And I had cut up all the branches and sticks into piles – eleven piles, all around the yard.  We’re only about a third of the way done with the tree yet.  Yow.  I so wanted a picture of all this to show you, but our camera, I think, is finally dead.  So it’s getting added to the list of things to buy before the new baby arrives.

Sunday, as you might guess, Rick and I were both stiff and sore – it was a lot of work.  Rick told Henry that he carried [the equivalent to] two elephants and Henry’s eyes turned into saucers and he was speechless.  Wow.  We decided to take it easier on Sunday.  No adding more branches tot he ground.  Instead, we scavenged the business park by Rick’s work for pallets, built a second compost bin and put the pedals back on Henry’s bike.

All in all, a great weekend.  Here’s the stats for the week…

Plant something – started some leeks inside, got seed potatoes in the mail, but not in the ground yet.

Harvest something – 21 eggs, a tiny bit of spinach.

Preserve something – nothing

Waste Not – compost and recycling, scraps to chickens, etc.  Rick also scavenged some parts for the grill.  We were driving through the industrial area by his work on Sunday and there was a grill out on the curb for the trash.  He looked inside and was able to take the ignition, burner, heat plate thingy and upper rack – all parts that had not been working properly or close to wearing out on our own grill.  He’d actually been to several stores last summer and searched online for the burner and the heat plate thing and was unable to find them… so score!

Want Not – Made a second compost bin out of scavenged pallets.  Also, after the bin was built, I peeked into the current (full) pile and found it to be HOT and doing it’s thing!  Yay!  And the stone of course.

Build Community Food Systems – Neighbor asked us about helping him build a smaller, barrel type compost bin.  He’s totally converting.  This makes me glad!  😉 Otherwise, arranged to sell some eggs.  That’s all.

Eat the Food – ate some black bean tortilla soup using ingredients from the freezer.  Elk twice this week too.  Lots of greens from the store though – I’m so ready for our own!

What did you do on your homestead?


This post was part of the Food Soil Thread blog party!
Categories: DIY, Garden, Independence Days | Tags: , ,

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