Olla Pots…

IMG_0840A couple of years ago, a friend gave me a ton of clay. Literally, a ton of clay. We know that because as Herb was unloading it out of the truck, he was doing a calculation in his head and it was more than we should’ve carried in our little truck. The repair bill later was proof of that. But the clay is piled up under a tarp in the back of our lot and I need to start working through the pile and using this clay.

Last year, I went through the clay and made an inventory of what was there and now, looking at the list, there is a low fire terra cotta. It fires to cone 2, which is low for what I normally work in. So, I was looking at a video this morning from a homesteading family. The Dervaes Family in California who are harvesting 3 tons of food on 1/10th of an acre of land. It is pretty amazing what they have done. So, it occurred to me that I could make some irrigation pots like these from that terra cotta clay. They are called Olla pots and they are a way to conserve water, which I am all about.

Olla pots have been in use for many centuries and are buried in the garden. The idea is that the terra cotta clay weeps the water into the ground and allows the plants to take in the water that they need, at the roots, where they need it the most. According to Wikipedia, it is a very efficient method because very little water is lost to evaporation because the water is stored underground. You can also see how to make your own Olla pots here at this awesome site Global Buckets whose goal is about growing food in 5 gallon buckets. Another good site that shows how they are used is Walden Labs. And here is a great illustration of how the pot works in the ground at this Permaculture link.Old-Pot-Technology.slideshow

This will be a way to use up the clay and give me a new item to make and to help with the Community garden

This is what an Olla Pot looks like...

This is what an Olla Pot looks like…

or my own garden with water usage during times of drought.

Now to find the clay in the pile of clay and get some water added to it so that I can start the process of making a batch of these pots.

Fairy Garden Redo III…

now and then

now and then

The Fairy Garden that I built 4 years ago now is starting to show some age. I don’t take it in in the winter, like I should so the freeze this past winter has broadened the cracks that are in it. So, with Blandy Farm Mother’s Day Garden Fair coming up, I need to investigate what to do with it.

Each year I have replanted it. The first year it got small evergreens. The second year boxwoods. Last year, I used lavender and wood violets as you can see in the photo below.

The cracks had gotten so big recently that I decided to use a silicon calk to try and glue and seal them together. The clothesline rope is to hold it together and I am not sure if that will come off or not. I will have to see how the silicon holds and how the weight of the soil going back in helps to keep it together.

This image has been viewed thousands of times on the web. It is one of the gardens that shows up if you do a google search for fairy gardens in broken planters and many people have posted it, without my permission, as an example of how to build a fairy garden in broken planters. I have reached a point that when I come across one of these links on Pinterst or on Facebook, I just thank them for the free advertising and put a link to my Etsy shop. Currently, I don’t have enough of the items to put the kit as a listing but I will have enough soon.

deadcypress

This was the second year with part of the evergreens and a boxwood off to the side.

10271504_612999448792091_2626740026966404519_n

Then last year, I added some small lavender and a much larger house.

So, now I am at this stage of rebuilding.

What will the fairy garden look like in a few weeks? You will just have to wait and see. I wish I could get my hands on miniature lettuces and onions. I may have to make a batch of ceramic vegetables and put in a mini garden for the summer.

Polyface Farm, a quick tour

Claudia and myself at Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley, VA

Claudia and myself at Polyface Farm in the Shenandoah Valley, VA

 

Claudia came to visit me this week from New Hampshire and recently, she had read a book by Joel Salatin called, “Folks, This Ain’t Normal”. I remember reading about Polyface Farm in Michael Pollan’s book Omnivores Dilemma. So, when Claudia wanted to try and go and visit this farm, I was excited to take her there. We got up early and headed south on I 81 to Staunton and followed the directions that took us way out into beautiful valley farmland. It was incredibly picturesque and the farms were large and connected by beautiful fields of green, some of them dotted with hay rolls, some of them clearly growing corn, probably for Monsanto and some of them had housing that was probably full of hens and chickens that would be trucked to a processing plant nearby. When we arrived at Polyface, however, you quickly got a very different picture as to how farming is all about a balance of lots of processes and not just one specific crop.

On some days, Joel or his son are available to talk about how they run their farm and you can have some personal time with him to ask questions. But the farm is open every day and that if they aren’t available,  you are welcome to come and walk around the property and see everything they are doing on your own. When we drove up, as luck would have it, Joel was giving an interview on the picnic table with a film crew in the front of the house and he motioned us to come on around. We found a place to park and walked around the property and didn’t want to interrupt their interview.

As we traveled down I-81, I told Claudia that I hoped that we wouldn’t get there and it be the day that they are slaughtering the chickens because I wasn’t sure I could watch them do that. I truly believe that if more of us were to SEE how our food is processed, we would all change our minds about some of the items that we eat. Also, as luck would have it, they WERE slaughtering chickens and that is the first thing we saw and heard when we got out of the car. I did manage to get my nerve up and take some photos so beware when you look, you may want to skip over those in the photo album that I am attaching.

greenhouse with tomatoes

greenhouse with tomatoes

Beside the place we parked the car were some greenhouses full of lettuces and tomato plants. The first thing that struck me was the fact that there were rabbit hutches in the greenhouse lining one of the walls. Clearly, the rabbits were adding the fertilizer to the greenhouse floor and this could easily be racked from underneath over to the plants so they could benefit from this nutrient. The second thing that I noticed was the fact that they were heating this greenhouse with a wood heater. I’m not sure how this actually worked but it was situated in the corner and had a chimney coming out the front of the greenhouse. The tomatoes were tied to the ceiling of the greenhouse and were just beautiful!

wood heater in the greenhouse

wood heater in the greenhouse

The second greenhouse was full of lettuces and greens. Again, it had the empty rabbit hutches lining one of the walls for fertilizer. This one wasn’t heated and I’m sure that, just like my cold frames, these lettuces did fine for them in the cold. The lettuces were close to bolting but were still very much edible.

Next, we walked to a chicken house that had some baby chickens that were about 2-3 weeks old. The chickens on the farm are clearly at different stages of development and, if you have read Omnivores Delimma, then you are aware of Joel’s technique of moving the animals around on the farm so as to get the full use of the animal while it is in connection with the land. These chicks were big enough to be graduating to the next stage and we were able to see them load them up into crates so that they could be taken up onto another part of the farm where they would live for another phase of their lives, fertilizing the land underneath their feet and getting fattened up on the natural elements that are inside their cages.

2-3 week old chickens

2-3 week old chickens

2013-06-25 10.08.28

Claudia in front of the chicken coups

As we walked up the hill we encountered that next phase with larger chickens out in a field. The coups were scattered about on the hillside and as you walk you can see the squares where, clearly, the coups had been in the previous days. In addition to seeing the vegetation that had been fertilized with the chicken manure, you can see that recently there had been cattle in the same area because there was the occasional dried cow pattie that the chickens had been eating the grubs out of, essentially eating what, if left alone, would hatch out as large black flies that would be a serious nuisance. The chickens love the grubs and at the same time they are eliminating something that would make the cows very unhappy and possibly sick.

chickens in the coup on the hill

chickens in the coup on the hill

 

So, we continued our walk on up the hill and found the turkeys. They had their own pen and had a turkey tractor so they could also be moved after they had done their bit in making that section of the farm fertile. They also have a roosting shelter.  This pen also has an electric fence to protect them at night so that foxes or other predators don’t come in and get them.

turkeys

turkeys

 

Back down at the farm, we looked in the barn that the laying hens were in and that is where the rabbits are housed in the summer months. The hens were busy in the roosting boxes laying their eggs. The rabbits were in the hutches above the hens

rabbits and hens

rabbits and hens

and according to Claudia, in Joel’s new book, he says he hasn’t really figured out how to add the rabbits into the field scenario but they do have them for their meat.

So before we left, we went in to the shop that they have on the property, where you can purchase the meats that are grown on the farm and Claudia bought us one of the hens from the freezer case and some of the sausages. She bought a souvenir shirt for her hubby and while we were in the shop, Joel came in and she was able to meet him, ask him a few questions and tell him that she had read his latest book. While she was checking out, I managed to get my courage up and go around the side of the building where they were still slaughtering the hens and take a few photos.

I think we had a great day at the farm and got to see some of the techniques that I’m sure, as Joel leaves his farm and drives out to civilization, he wishes he could stop along the way and teach the farmers that he passes, how to better care for the land that they are tending and to better care for our planet as a whole.

 

 

September in New England…

Many of you know my long time friend Claudia Altemus, from Berea College. She was my maid of honor in my wedding and we have reconnected. Sometimes, we  feel as if we were connected at the hip because we share so many things in common. Claudia is an avid gardener, both by necessity and also, just because she loves it and feels that more of us should be making the effort to make ourselves more sustainable and use our own resources rather than rely so heavily on mass production of foods and products. I share these views and asked Claudia if she would contribute a segment to my blog. She agreed, but only if she could write it as if she were writing me a letter. What a lovely idea, don’t you think? So I dressed the wording up to make it even more special and am happy to share the first in a series of posts by Claudia for you to read today. We want to make this a regular sharing of ideas about nature, environmental issues and homesteading but, today her letter is about the asters and the butterflies in her garden as Fall is arriving in New England.

Enjoy and Thank You, Claudia, for a wonderful addition to the blog.

Do You Save Your Seeds?

Last week I received my seeds from Johnny’s Select Seeds for the winter greens that I have planted in my cold frames for the past 2 years. I only spent about $20 for the seeds that I purchased for this year. With money a bit tight, I ordered a few of the varieties that I have gotten in the past, but I have also learned that I only really need a few packs to get the frames planted for the winter season so I probably had been wasting money in the past.

A few weeks ago, I started prepping the cold frame beds. Herb turned our compost bin and we put our sifter, which is a stand we built out of scrap wood that has carpenter’s cloth wire screen on top of it, and sifted compost into the empty beds. I turned to soil in each bed and mixed in the fresh compost. This added some fresh nutrients and red worms to the beds so that the plants will have a good start with soft soil.

The zinnias that I used for the flower arrangements at John and Erin’s wedding in July were in these garden beds and were just beautiful but I needed the space for my winter greens. I decided to save those zinnia seeds so that next year I don’t have to purchase those seeds. I pulled out the plants and cut the blossoms and put them in a box to allow them to dry out for a week or two. In the past, when I have saved seeds, I use an office sized envelope, lick and seal the flap and then cut it in half. This gives you a packet for your seeds. Often, a charity will send me a “free gift” of address labels to get me to send a donation to them and I save those labels and found those to be a perfect way to seal the envelopes filled with the seeds and then I use a sharpie and label the pack with the seed name and the date. The seeds are then stored in a cool place ready for next year.

Some additional great resources for you to get info from:

Fairy Garden Redo

dead plant in back

 

Being extremely busy with trying to get ready to the Ol Time Edinburg Festival and being away for a week in Seattle, I didn’t give my fairy garden the water that it needed and so one of the larger plants died. I also think there may have been an air pocket in that back corner of the planter where the plant wasn’t getting the water that it needed when I did water it.

SO, I wanted to get it ready to take to the Festival in Edinburg this past weekend and I didn’t really have the funds to go and purchase a new plant so I thought I would share how I went about redoing the planter, at least from the planting perspective so that you can see my approach to a new look and a refresh of items in the planter.

removed all plant materials

I took out all the ceramic decorative items first and put them aside. Then I took out all the plant material.

So now, with a fresh canvas to work on and I can decide the new direction for the planter using plant materials that I still have and add some from my yard. My first thought is to take the boxwood and make it the feature plant and center it in the planter with the smaller plants on either side. At this point I haven’t scouted out the yard for something to add.

Scouting out plant material is something that I do often for many projects and you can certainly do the same. For this project, I was looking for something that would look forest like, would fill some of the space and would scale to the planter. I came across my sedum,

Boxwood centered

Autumn Joy, and thought that would give me some forest like stems but would also add some color for the festival. I have several planters of this in the yard in addition to having them in some of the flower beds so I had plenty to spare.

I divided the sedum and took some and put in the planter. At this point, the boxwood needed to move to the right of center and the sedum goes on the left. The smaller cypress that I still had could then become a small tree in the yard area between the houses.

 

 

sedum "Autumn Joy"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sedum and Cypress in place

 

 

Then I put all the elements in place and stepped back to take a look. I didn’t like it. It looked too much like the old version. I wanted it to have a different flavor, the sedum just wasn’t working for me and it was a bit too floppy in the back. So I took it all out and started again.

 

 

 

 

artemisia as trees

 

Hens, chick, pumpkins and curly que vines

 

Instead of trying to add a new plant, I decided to showcase some miniature pumpkins that I had made for Fall and thought it would be fun to add a small pumpkin patch between the houses.  This also meant that I needed to move the smaller cypress toward the back to allow for the garden space. I also found that I had some artemisia in a concrete planter in the front of the house that I could use as filler behind the small house to cover that back wall, give it a better scale than the sedum and add a new feel to the small house. 

 

finished redo of the Fairy Garden for Fall

This now works for me and I could add a few of the ghosts that I made to compliment the fall Halloween theme. I moved some of the hens and chicks both from this planter and from some in the backyard to plant with the pumpkins and they look like mini cabbages or heads of lettuces. I tried to plant them in rows, much like a garden would look. The mini pumpkins have small curly pieces of clay to mimic the vines that they grow on so that added the look and the hens and chicks filled in the space. I like this!

Now to just put everything else in to finish it up.

If you look closely, you can see that I put a fairy garden sign in the seam that is in the lower front of the planter. The blue butterfly chair is just a leftover that will go away, and I took some stepping stones to add to the seams on the left to add some interest where my hens and chicks haven’t filled in yet.

So, enjoy the redo of my fairy garden and don’t forget to water yours or you will be doing yours over too. I think it is fun to remake it for the different times of the year, but I don’t really want to kill the plants to do that. Changing the elements is certainly easier than a replant to get a new look, but you may still need to trim the plants or take them out if they get too big. The key to them getting too big though is to add water, which I seem to forget to do. Maybe I need to hire a new fairy to take care of that for me.