Mar 31, 2015

2015 Summer Garden

This year's garden is about 45' x 100'
Spring may have only started just over a week ago, but Cameron and I are fully involved with our SUMMER garden. We have been since mid-March. Almost everything is planted. All that is left to plant are the eggplants, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers and banana peppers. Though, technically, all the peppers are planted - just inside in a seed starter tray. The peppers haven't sprouted just yet, but I may just decide to plant them outside this coming weekend any how. Depends on how warm it is. This past weekend we had temps up in the mid-80s, but I hear a cool down is coming. The eggplant will get planted in two weeks.

Popcorn & Corn is growing well already
A few things have changed since last year's garden. For one, the location is new. We moved the garden from behind our house with a secondary pumpkin garden to the left of the house, to having everything together to the right side of our house, just in front of the chicken coop. The garden is now twice as big as it was last year too, although when you factor in all the space the secondary pumpkin garden took last year, it actually may be a tad bit smaller. We changed location mainly because we lost the pumpkin garden space to our orchard. 

So are the Sunflowers
And we decided having it all together would help when it comes to maintenance like watering and weeding. Right now, I'm watering every other day and weeding 2-3 times a week, and every weekend day on top of that. I have about 3 rows to do a major weed attack on and then it just becomes maintenance weeding. Luckily, if it does get out of control again, Cameron left enough space between almost every row that he can drive the tractor through with a rake. 

And just recently, the snow and snap peas sprouted up

Also new this year, is my semi-reliance on technology. I found a website called SmartGardener that helps you plan out your garden and tells you when to plant. It was definitely a big help in figuring out how to layout the garden as it will suggest one once you have added all the plants you intend to plant into your garden list. The only thing I didn't like is that it made you make "planter boxes" and restricted where you could put plants based on that. An option for field dimensions would have worked better, so I did spend a bit of time using the info I got from SmartGardener and laying out my own garden plan in Microsoft Excel. 

This is the plan SmartGardener suggested - it only used about 1/2 of the area I said I had available

Here's the plan I created based on SmartGardener's plan. We added a lot more corn, sunflower and popcorn
What I do like about SmartGardener is all the info the site provides on a plant - when to start seeds indoors, when to transplant out or even, when to just plant outdoors. It also tells you how many seeds to plant in how large a space. Last year we planted 1 corn kernel seed every foot. SmartGardener has you plant 4 in one square foot. Some of the beans had 9 seeds in 1 square foot.  The program even tells you how many plants you need to feed your family based on it's size. SmartGardener also tells you how much water you should be giving each plant each week. Last year, I think we didn't give some plants enough water early on. While I'm not following the recommendations to a T, I do think my habit of watering every other day is helping. Corn, sunflowers and popcorn are all coming up already. I even noticed some of my yellow wax beans breaking the surface while I was weeding on Sunday. 

Green beans & yellow beans are on their way

And based on the info I have already learned this year from SmartGardener, I've got everything prepped and ready to go for 2016! I swear we always feel behind on getting our summer garden going each year - and that's with us starting it earlier and earlier each year. Maybe next year we'll feel we're on top of it.

Our Atlantic Giant Pumpkins, Marina pumpkins and Jack-o-lantern Pumpkins also sprouted in the last two days

And I'm never alone when I'm out watering, weeding or planting. Sophie is loving all the time we are spending outdoors. Did I mention if she has a mouse/rat/vole in her mouth (still alive) she won't hesitate to run over and greet you hello then re-catch the wounded animal and proceed to eat it?

Mar 26, 2015

Chicken Coop Update

The last two weekends we have been working very hard on two projects. I've been working on planting our summer garden. More to come on that next week. Cameron has been working on the chicken coop. 

And we purchased our chickens last week. As mentioned, we'll be getting 6 Ameracaunas, aka Easter eggers on April 2. We'll also be getting two turkeys! Cameron's already named them Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

The coop is coming along quite well and will be close to being finished even before the chicks arrive home. The spare month we will have will be used to get the coop painted. 

Two weekends ago Cameron got the main frame against the pen created and some posts cut to support the rest of the coop. 

During the week he was able to complete the 3 main wall frames, which he got up this past weekend, along with the back wall frame and got the plywood up on the roof. Of course, just as he was ready to lay the flashing, tar paper and shingles, a storm came in, dropping temperatures and threatening rain, which killed the momentum on Sunday. 

Luckily, we have nothing scheduled this next weekend and weather permitting, he'll be able to get the roof completed, build the nesting box and complete the enclosure to ready it for siding.

Cameron's done an amazing job at getting this job going and on track. I hope the chickens will enjoy their new home (and turkeys too). 

Mar 24, 2015

A Lesson in Paint

After Painting By Hand

Cameron and I still have the arbor we purchased for our wedding and got married under. That's quite an accomplishment since we have moved twice since we got married and had lived in one house we thought we would be in for quite sometime. 

Painted with Spray Paint
With the front yard re-do, we decided it was finally time to put the arbor outside as a permanent feature, in the front yard, over the path we are installing. 

The only problem was the arbor was in it's natural state and looked a little more aged than we preferred. We decided to paint it white before installing it. We figured a couple cans of spray paint would cover it well and make quick work of this task. 


The wood on the arbor was very dry in some areas. After 6 cans of spray paint, it still looked like areas only had primer on it. Plus, windy days had delayed painting on more than one occasion. The thought of having to purchase more spray paint and dealing with wind delays wasn't something we wanted to deal with any more, as the delays were also delaying our progress on the front yard. 

And then I cleared the space up in the garage with the intent to put baby chicks in there, but we had time before they would come home. So we moved the arbor back into the garage. And I broke out some exterior white paint we had purchased to paint the trim on our shed (which still needs to be painted). It took two coats but the arbor looks so much better. Cameron remarked how much better it looked after just the first coat.

We have since learned that sometimes the quick fix isn't always so quick. Next time, I may just op for real paint from the start, depending on what it is we're painting. We could have had this done and installed so much sooner. But the good news is we hope to complete the path and install the arbor this week as our outdoor, week project. 

An up close of only the spray paint - just not a clean look
Close up on real paint - so much better!

Mar 19, 2015

The Year of the Tree

2015 will go down in our family history as the year of the tree. And yes, I know it's only March. But considering we have bought and planted 21 trees this year alone, I don't think even our eventual chickens can top that! Yes, 21 trees. At the end of January, I blogged about the first 9 trees, including the pomegranate we planted in the front yard as part of our front yard transformation.

And we thought we were done for the year after that. The bare-root tree stocks in stores were dwindling down. Then, Tractor Supply ran a special on potted trees. We ended up purchasing 7 trees there. Around the same time, Walmart had a good price on standard-size citrus trees, where we bought 4. The last tree was another citrus tree, a grapefruit, that Cameron found up at the Costco in Chico. 

These trees are part of the reason we have been delayed on building the chicken coop - we've been too busy planting trees! 

This has resulted in another project for Cameron - creating an irrigating system for all of these trees. Last summer we were carrying 5-gallon buckets of water to the 9 or 10 trees we planted last year. Cameron was the main person in charge of watering these trees in the heat of the summer, but he travels for work which meant I spent a few evenings doing the job by myself. 

Just the thought of having to carry these heavy buckets of water 3x the number I did last year in 105-degree heat, even at 7 PM, after a long day at work freaked me out. But, I think I can handle turning on a hose connected to a sprinkler system. Cameron just has to remember to remind me to do it when he's not around. I literally have to write it down on my to-do list for each night or I will forget. 

So here is the current layout with all the names of the tree types we now have: 

I can't wait until we start getting all the delicious fruit from these trees.

Mar 17, 2015

The Great Garage Clean Up of 2015

Usually I'm hands off when it comes to the garage, it's cleanliness and organization. I'll go out there to put things away and for a while there (the days after we moved in), bringing items in. And it seems that each time our garage has grown (we've gone from no garage, to a 1-car garage, to a 2-car, x3, to now a 3-car) so does the amount of stuff we store in there. 

And as we need items, bringing them in and out, they never get put back in the same spot, mainly because we've never organized the garage to a point where anything has a true "place", or by the time we go to return an item to it's "place", it's too hard to get to that place. Seriously, we shuffle things around constantly to get to one thing or another.  

Basically, it's become a disorganized mess with paths created so we can get from one end to the other. Sometimes, Cameron finds it easier to open a garage door to the outside to get something in front then to wade his way through from the door that goes into the house. 

Problem is, I like cleanliness and organization. Not always the process to get there, but the satisfaction once this level is achieved. It's a "disease" that I've noticed has increased with age. But, when it's come to the garage, I've done my best to be hands off - Cameron has always claimed the garage as his domain and I respect that. And he has organized on occasion, little spots here and there, but over time it just gets mixed up again, mainly due to shuffling. And I know the disorganization gets to him too. He'd love nothing more than to have a place set aside for all his tools so he can quickly access and FIND them when he needs them. 

BUT...back on the Sunday when it was just London and I, having just come to the realization that we would need to get baby chicks soon or not get them at all this year (which would be an absolute waste with all the money and time we are investing in building the coop), along with the need to house them somewhere inside, I decided to attack the main area of the garage just as you walk in from the house. 

This area tended to be the main gathering hole for excess trash, recycling, donation items and bins we had been looking for something out of. Not to mention paper grocery bags full of empty soda cans. 

So while London played in the driveway with sidewalk chalk and rode her bike around, I cleaned. My goal was to clear the space where the chickens will go. I have to admit, when I successfully cleared that area, and swept it, I walked away feeling quite accomplished and proud of myself.

And now every morning when I go into the garage to get my morning Diet Pepsi and Breakfast Protein Shake, I smile when I gaze upon this: 

I just try not to look toward the front of the 2-car part of the garage or over to the 1-car part of the garage, at all. 

Luckily, Cameron was happy with the progress I made and he wants to keep the momentum going. This last weekend we worked on half of the front of the 2-car part of the garage, which we knew housed a lot of items we wanted to donate to the Salvation Army. We logged and loaded our truck up Saturday morning. We then headed to the donation center before we headed to Costco later that morning. 

Honestly, I probably spent an hour the first time I went out there to clean. And I doubt Cameron and I spent more than 30 minutes (more likely only 20 minutes) this last weekend. We're finding it's better to consistently put in a little time, then try to set aside a ton of time all at once to get projects and cleaning done around our house. 

I'm hoping we can continue this momentum until the entire garage has been cleaned and organized. Only time will tell. And we have to remind ourselves to work on priority projects first, aka the Chicken Coop. Which, Cameron did start on Sunday while I began planting our summer garden. 

The other good thing is that our weekends aren't as busy, at least yet, as they have been in past years. And we're doing what we can to keep it that way until the majority of projects and work has been completed. We're also trying to use some time after work on Monday, Tuesdays and Thursdays working on these projects before picking the girls up from daycare. Wednesday and Friday we dedicate to the gym. In April, we hope to transition Tuesday from a project day to a gym day.

Mar 13, 2015

An Area to Play

Recently I shared with you the new-to-us swing set our friends were kind enough to gift us. And when Cameron and Pat installed the swing set, there were no weeds/grass to obstruct the girls fun here. But, as you saw in the pictures, the weeds/grass were quickly taking over. 

On President's Day, when the girls were playing and I was stomping down space for them to swing through, I thought back to the swing set I had growing up. And I remember that my parents had the area surrounded by gravel on top of a weed barrier to prevent exactly this from happening. So of course I mentioned this to Cameron. And he was right there with me in our need to do the same for our girls. Since we have some wood boards left over from when we had the dog pen patio poured, we thought we would repurpose these framing boards for the girls play area.

But first we had to remove the weeds, which were now about 2 1/2 feet tall, and thick! This past Sunday, I got the process started. Cameron was up in Chico most of the day and had taken Sydney to spend the day with her Grammi so it was just London and I. After London and I made our weekly journey to Costco and had a lunch date courtesy of her favorite place, McDonald's, I asked if she wanted to go play on the swing set. Of course she did - she asks almost daily if she can. 

While London played, I got down to business, clearing a good chunk of weeds for the space we planned to frame in and cover with gravel. 

After Monday, all that was left of the weeds was that pile of green in the back right corner.

Luckily, Cameron had shown me a great and easy way to rid the ground of weeds when we were out planting more trees in our growing orchard the day before. Basically, you use a shovel to scrape the first layer of dirt and weeds away. Instead of digging the shovel in deep to the ground, you tilt it to almost parallel to the ground and almost slide it across the surface, maybe getting the end of it a 1/2" to 1" below the surface. 

Obviously this won't fix the weed problem forever, since not all the roots are being pulled up, but this clears the ground long enough for us to get a tree in the ground or to get weed barrier paper down and gravel on top of that. 

Cameron and I continued the removal of weeds this week, working on it as soon as we got done with work Monday and Tuesday. The weed removal was completed Tuesday and Cameron was also able to complete the small trench he created using a pick ax on Tuesday as well. We sunk the wood boards into this trench for added support and so the gravel doesn't slip out below the wood frame. 

Yesterday, after work we were able to not only build the frame and lay down the weed barrier paper, but we were also able get most of the gravel into the frame, just before the sun went down. 

Can you tell the girls are enjoying their new play area? Now on to the Chicken Coop!

Mar 11, 2015

Countdown to Chickens

April 2 - that is our target date. For what? For when we will be bringing home chickens! We have been working off and on since the start of January building the chicken pen. And while the structure has been complete since late February, we have been stalled on enclosing it. 

We need to build the actual coop first. Our coop won't be small so we did take a little break to save the money we need for the materials. But now that we have an end date we need to reach, we are in the process of buying the materials we need to build it. We hope to begin construction this weekend. 

Luckily the chickens won't go straight into the pen and coop. They'll be only about a week old, maybe even days or a day old, when we get them, which means they need to be sheltered and heated for 4-5 weeks before being introduced to the outdoors. Can you tell I've been doing my research? I actually found a great, free eBook on the web site My Pet Chicken, if this is something that interests you. It's a quick read and provides further reading suggestions but seems perfect in helping you get started. 

We'll start the chicks out in our garage. Knowing this, I spent a good deal of time on Sunday cleaning up the main area as you first walk in from all the junk that had gathered there. Now the goal is to keep it clean, though the arbor is going to move in for a little while so I can properly paint it.

And I'm pretty sure we know what breed we're going to start out with - Ameracanas aka Easter Eggers since they tend to lay blue or green, large eggs. We're going to plan on getting six this year and will look at adding to the flock in a couple of years. We're also considering getting a couple turkeys. Cameron's even debating getting a pet duck.

We went to our local feed store Monday to look at what they currently had in stock and when the next shipment of chicks are coming in. We were informed that they had received 300 birds on Wednesday, 3/4 and they probably had under 40 birds left, most of which were Bantams, which are more for show than for egg laying. During other times we have spoken with the people of our feed store, we have learned that there are egg layers, one variety for meat purposes, and bantams, which are good for rearing chicks - they are the ones that like to sit on the eggs and brood. Bantams are also much smaller than standard chickens. 

And on Monday, we learned they are expecting a shipment on April 2, which will have a few Ameracanas in it. Plus, we can come in and pay for them in advance to ensure we get what we want. 

Our chicken pen is about 30 feet x 20 feet. But we plan to separate the egg layers from the eventual broilers we plan to get (meat-only birds), so down the middle, we plan to put a barrier, so the pen will be 30 x 10 feet. 

The race is on to get the coop built. Looks like we now have to have it done by the start of May.

Mar 3, 2015

The Fig Tree in Winter

I realize I have yet to share images of the fig tree I love so much in it's winter glory. It's mainly why I love the tree. You can see that there is both old and new growth. At some point, the original tree looks like it fell over. But it continues to grow leaves and figs each year. As does the new growth, that grew more like a giant bush. When it's full of leaves you can't tell it's two different lifespans - but in the winter you can. And, unfortunately, with our plans for the house, someday we will need to remove it as we will likely need to move our propane tank which is right next to this tree.

New growth is to the left - old to the right