Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Learning from Crabapple Farm, wasps, squash, and new beds!

It's the time of year to harvest our meager squash harvest and enjoy it. The nice bowl of squash is the entire product of our 10 squash plants. I'm not quite sure how to feel about it, though I think I'm going to count it a success given that even professional farmers had squash problems this year. Yesterday when we went and saw Crabapple Farm in person we chatted a bit about squash, and despite the traditionally low yield on squash and the space they take the Lady of the House and I will probably be doing them again next year.
So we learned a LOT going to visit Crabapple Farm. We always learn a lot speaking with Rachel and Tevis, but going and seeing their facilities and their gorgeous hutch they made for the rabbits was excellent. I think cataloging what all we learned from going is more a list for me than interesting for everyone. However, we're going to note some of the things. 1: Straw=/= hay in that it's less prone to absorbing moisture due to the waxy coating on cereal stalks and may be good for rabbit nests due to that and the hollow stalks which are quite different from hay. 2: Given our concerns about rabbits jumping down from shelves and potentially hurting themselves of the babies they're carrying they put in a large flat stone near one of their shelves. Behaviorally it seems the rabbits actively prefer to land on that flat stone you can see Above Left which is of their nice hutch. 3: They've come up with a cool new feeder for greens and hay. Also in the same photo. 
The feeder idea is one we're going to be stealing to avoid the kind of piled mess you see Right and because they figured something interesting out. Namely that some of the best parts of greens and hay fall through and out onto the ground in a traditional wire feeder. Given that they created their new feeder which is a 2"x4" wire fencing hoop driven into a 2x4 or 2x6 piece of lumber. Then pile the greens in, and the rabbits can get at it easily, and it doesn't just automatically lose all of the small leaves and pieces of hay known as fines that are the rabbits favorite.  4: Most people just buy squash because it takes a lot of space per unit of production. Namely a 6'ish squash plant producing 3 winter squash is about right. 5: The idea I've kept having for a green house on the front of the house isn't terrible entirely, however there are better ways to do it. I'll probably do a whole post about that! Lots more, but effectively just remember to always look at other people's ideas and keep your mind open to other options. One of the things Tevis did that I really like on their hutch is a double walled outside on the sides to compensate for using boards that leave a bit of a gap. So, we gained a lot from going to see their set up.

Whew, I haven't even gotten to our rabbits yet! I'll get to them on Thursday I think. In other news on our property we figured out why we didn't have tomato horn worm problems this year! So, in the photo Left despite the way the phone camera focused my hand is basically just by that piece of wasp nest. In the big tree above the front yard, just over the tomato plants there are 3 basketball sized wasp nests that totally explain the lack of horn worms. I don't love being stung by wasps, but I no longer have the near pathological aversion to wasps that many city folk have. They do too many good things for our garden for me to really hate them!
Beyond all of that we were a little busy this weekend. To conserve heating costs we moved the Lady of the House's art studio into our unoccupied room since we haven't been able to find a boarder to fill it yet. That was part of Saturday. The other part of Saturday was getting started on making a lasagna bed/hugelkulture concept mashup raised bed. We only have so much time, so I'm not sure if we'll get all of them done that we have in mind this year. But if we don't get started none of them will get done. The basic idea is a 5ish layer raised bed put in before winter hits. Layer 1 as you see Right is a layer of paper. The traditional version of this uses news paper, but we've not been throwing away our feed bags so I went ahead and used those. This provides a layer to limit the amount of things that even have the potential to grow up through into the nutrients of the good part of the bed and be weeds in the garden in the spring. It also helps kill off the grass. Since it's paper in the long run it will decompose, and let the roots go deep into the soil below in the future.
That's long term though. The longest term layer is the second layer, and that's wood. We've sort of short cut how long term that is because instead of using fresh cut wood as is recommended in hugelkultur practice we're using what we already have lying around. Half rotten punky fire wood that's left over from our first year here when we had to buy pre split wood because of not having time to buck and split our own. Due to having not been able to stack all of it before the snows, there was a lot wasted. Instead of letting it be waste, we're having it be good useful plant nutrients that should help for years to come! Getting all of that down was a good bit of work, and by the fourth trip I wouldn't have been able to get the garden cart up the hill without the Lady of the House pushing from below. In the end we have a good 8"+ deep layer of punky wood, bark, and the dirt that's already formed in that pile. The next layer is leaves and yard clippings, mostly leaves. So anyone that has bags of raked leaves in the area let me know! I'll come take them. After that is bunny poop, compost, good solid dirt. In our case that's going to be a mix of poop and soiled hay. Over that is a thick layer of soiled hay as mulch. We're probably going to have to get our hands on more hay to do this properly even for just this bed. Even if I can just get this bed done it'll cut work, and give us more growing room next year. I'm going to be trying to double or triple this.

As a note, do the furthest bed first so you don't have to constantly go around when doing further beds in the future. Hind sight is 20/15, if it was 20/20 you'd have learned everything you could from it, and I'm not willing to make that judgment yet.
Finally for signing off today I want to put in a photo and thanks to a wonderful neighbor. Kathy Harrison, author of the Just In Case Book (and blog you can see right) had some extra walking onions she very kindly gave us. We planted them in front of the house and are very much looking forward to an invasion of them next spring! As with much of our homesteading a lot of our success and progress has come due to kindness, generosity, and the teaching of others.

Thursday we will re focus on our rabbits since we have a lot going on with them right now, and will hopefully have some good photos!

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