Getting Started

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Despite the 10 – 20 degrees below our normal temps around here and the recent snow, I’m itching to get things growing. With the running back and forth between the two properties, I can’t focus too much effort in the annual vegetable growing department these days, but I am trying to grow as many perennial shrubs, trees and vines from cuttings and seeds as I can at home to take out to the farm. We have a lot of space at the farm and it would be too costly to buy all of the plants needed to get things going.

Last year I grew rhubarb, oregano, sages, alpine strawberries and rosemary from cuttings off of plants here at the house and planted them out at the farm with the fruit and nut trees (which were purchased bare root). I also grew Osage Orange, Mosu Chiko Bamboo and Paulownia from purchased seed last summer and will be planting those out at the farm this spring along with the white Concord grapes, Hebe, Hardy Fuschia and Golden Hops I grew from from cuttings.

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Red Cedar, Hemlock, Douglas Fir and Alder self seed all over my yard and I’ve been digging the little starts up and growing them out in my unused vegetable raised beds until they are big enough to transplant safely out in the woodlot at the farm.

Self seeded Cedars under a Hardy Fuschia.  There are at least 15 seedlings in here.

Self seeded Cedars under a Hardy Fuschia. There are at least 15 seedlings in here waiting for me to dig up.

Bed of Cedar seedlings I dug up from under the Hardy Fuschia last year and transplanted to a nursery bed

Cedar seedlings I dug up from under the Hardy Fuschia last year and transplanted to a nursery bed. I’ll be digging these up shortly to plant out at the farm.

I also have a zillion Copper Sedge plants that self-seeded everywhere from a potted one up on deck. I keep digging them up and putting them in plastic pots.  Hopefully I’ll find a good use for them somewhere at the farm as I’ve also saved a lot of the seed.

I just started Black Locust and Saucer Magnolia from seeds I collected, as well as Sea Buckthorn, Blue Elderberry, Asparagus, Comfrey, more Osage Orange and Szechuan Pepper from purchased seed. I also have a wide variety of saved and purchased perennial herb and flower seeds I will start in another month.

The Saucer Magnolia is an anomaly. We have one here in the yard and I saved a couple of seed pods to experiment with. The rest of the plants were selected for particular reasons (nitrogen fixing, edible, mulch maker, medicinal, chicken forage, etc.).  The Magnolia is purely an ornamental, but I suppose one needs to feed the eyes as well.  I guess it could also be considered a mulch maker, so maybe it’s not such a poor choice from the permaculturists’ point of view.

magnolia

My daylight basement mudroom was converted into a propagation room several years ago for my vegetable seed starting. We have a deep freeze in there too and it keeps the room at around 55 – 60 degrees in the winter.

My propagation room (older pic)

Potted up tomato and pepper plants. An older pic – I’m not even going to think about growing tomatoes or peppers this year.

I also grow forage strips for my chickens to get them through the winter. It’s a mix of annual ryegrass, common vetch, winter peas, flax, cereal ryegrain, crimson clover and buckwheat. They take about two weeks to grow to this size so I keep about dozen or so trays in continuous production so they have access to fresh forage when pickins’ are slim in the yard or they are confined to the coop because we are down at the farm.

Chicken Strips growing in the propagation room

Chicken Strips growing in the propagation room

Just peel them out of the trays and toss to the chickens

Just peel them out of the trays and toss to the chickens

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This year is going to be tricky with all of the perennial trees and shrubs I’m trying to start as they will be taking up more room here shortly when I starting potting them up. Construction of the greenhouse at the farm is still a little ways off, so I’ll just have to make due the best I can between the two places until then.

M bought me a couple of soil blockers (a mini and a 2″) for Christmas one year. I use Eliot Coleman’s recipe for the soil mix. The mini blocker is great for the asparagus seed as they take up very little space allowing me to put all 200 of them on one my heating mats. After they germinate, I just pot them on to a 2″ block, and then I can plant the blocks out at the farm when things warm up a little. For the rest of the seed I start with the 2″ blocker and will pot the trees up into special tree pots I found on Peaceful Valley’s website.

mini blocks

This standard plant tray holds 60 mini blocks and is about half the size of the one pictured below

two inch blocks (the mini's will fit into these come time for potting up)

This is a repurposed pizza dough tray which will hold 60 – 2″ blocks.  The mini blocks also fit into these come time for potting up

I have an 8′ x 4′ raised bed in the back yard that M enclosed in polycarbonate. I call it my greenhouse bed. I use it to harden plants off in early spring and [used to] use it for planting out my peppers and cukes or tomatoes when it was warm enough to put them in the ground.

Greenhouse Bed

Greenhouse Bed being used to harden off tomato plants from a previous year.  They were started in 2″ soil blocks and then potted up to 8″ pots.

The house where we live now is in a very shaded wooded area and we just don’t get very much sun – it has to be pretty high in the sky to peek over our trees and shine on my vegetable plants – but I get enough to ripen some varieties. The bulk of my tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers are grown in very large pots on my southern facing deck.  This is where I get the most sun at home so I really have to work it to squeeze every bit of sunshine I can. We will have to wait until I get out to the farm full time before I attempt to grow anymore peppers and tomatoes. Too fussy for now.

tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers

tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers

tomatoes

tomatoes

I have loads of unused annual vegetable seeds from the past couple of years and think I’ll experiment with them on the hugels we just built. We will see if the buried wood soaked up enough water to get the veg through the dry summer as irrigating is a chore in and of itself with hauling water. Although we just built the hugels last November/December, the trees and stumps sat out in the field over a year before that, so hoping there was a jumpstart on the biological activity.

I would like to get a bunch of berries started as well, but the budget is tight with the barn using up most of our reserves. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for a good deal. That reminds me I have several Mulberry and Fig trees I got for next to nothing at a fall plant sale in pots on the deck I need to take out to plant in the area we will be housing our laying flock. Time to get off of the computer and back to seeding!

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About La Femme Farmer

Starting up a small farm is the goal for the second half of my life. It's a late start I know, but better late than NEVER! Growing food, cooking and eating are my passions and now I get to do it full-time (and then some). and yes, that's a tomato from my garden!
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6 Responses to Getting Started

  1. mashazager says:

    I’m inspired! Especially love the chicken strips.

    • I got the idea originally from the fodder systems Farmtek sells, but don’t need to do it on that scale (nor can I afford it!), so I took the drip trays from some old plastic planter boxes, toss a small bit of soil and compost in them, sprinkle the seed on top and water. They sit under my propagation lights in the winter. In early spring I can grow them outdoors, but the local birds eat a lot of the seed, so I start them in the propagation room and then put them out to finish off. I buy a basic green manure/cover crop mix and add the flax to it. The chickens go wild for them.

  2. DM says:

    I am impressed! Just the number of different plants you just listed off. A lot of them I’ve never heard of. I bought a mini green house from Northern tool for my fodder growing station. it’s still in the box, (chickens went down the road a couple of days ago, and the rabbit supplier never got back to me in December) plus with everything in flux It may be a little bit before I can start raising rabbits for meat. Farmtek’s national warehouse is about 30 minutes from us…i too thought there has got to be a less expensive way of growing fodder than purchasing their set up. Hearing about your fodder set up is one of my favorite parts of this update. Well, the dinner bell just rang. DM

  3. The Farmtek system doesn’t use soil, but I think using some along with my compost provides the chickens with extra minerals and nutrients. I only spread enough to cover the bottom of the tray – maybe a 1/4″. The root bits that they don’t end up eating go back into the compost pile. It’s all good.
    I’ve also grown the forage in the black plastic garden trays – you can repurpose just about anything. Drainage is not an issue because of the soil holding the moisture, which makes it easy for my indoor growing set up.

  4. Bill says:

    I love this post. Just seeing all the stuff you’re doing gets my gardening adrenalin flowing!

    My wife grows pea shoots and sunflower sprouts in trays like your “chicken strips.” We eat the tops in salads then peel them out (as you do) and feed the rest to the chickens, who do love them.

    Your place is going to be bursting with life!

    • It’s funny, my husband asked me the other day to pick up some sprouts at the store for his lunch salads and although I’ve been growing sprouts for my chickens for three years now (let alone growing a veg garden for longer!), it never occurred to me to grow some for us! The store is charging $3.99 for a small pack of them and they are in a plastic box to boot. I told him sorry – they are just too expensive. It took me another day to realize I could just grow them myself.
      Instead of calling that an “Aha” moment, I think I may have to call it a “Doh” moment…

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