Partly practical gardening (project Springtime, part 2)

Practicality is a helpful trait when gardening. What do you plant? How does it grow? Does it need full sun or partial shade? Will it require support? How much space between full grown plants will you need? How much space do you have? What will your family actually eat?

These are important questions to answer.

I have only had a few opportunities in my adult life to make a garden, but I’ve made the way-too-many-zucchini-plants mistake and the not-enough-kale mistake, and plenty of the I-bought-too-many-potted-plants mistakes. 

Here is what I come to this teeny garden with:

Cucumber, squash, and most tomato plants are prolific. I limited my cucumber seed variety to 1, Parisian pickling cucumbers, and only planted a couple of the seeds, and they’re by the tomato seeds because I plan to add a trellis to that section. We eat a lot of tomatoes; we enjoy them raw for snacking as well as cooked and in salads. I chose 3 varieties, a “Nebraska Wedding” orange midsize, a large red cherry, and a smaller red fig.  They’re all up at the front of the box where they’ll get good sun, it will be easier to add the trellis, and it will be easy to snack on them. There are only 2 squash varieties I included this time: yellow crookneck (a thin skinned small summer squash) and Guatemalan blue (a hardier, heartier, and much larger autumn/winter squash). This is one of a few impractical components in my garden, as I know they need a lot more space than I’m giving them. They could try to take over the boxes but my plan is not to let them by heavy pruning, and keeping only a single plant of each. They’re in the middle of one box, along with a slender tender (white queen?) okra. 

Snacking in the garden is important to us. At the front of the other box I have planted ground cherry, sunberry, and strawberry blite: unusual fruits. I have no idea how much they may try to spread. 

In the center of the second box I have 2 melon varieties: Saskatchewan watermelon (white flesh) and mother Mary’s pie melon (palm sized) and I plan to have a single plant of each and prune. Next to those I planted a few corn kernels. 

Taking up the most space is kale. I eat it nearly daily with my perfect breakfast, and when I have it growing outside I can hardly wait for the tender baby leaves to grow so I’ve never had a large kale plant even with a whole bed of kale. We will see if I can keep one growing and eat the rest of the baby kale to make a bit more space for the melons and corn. A couple of paprika pepper seeds went in on one side of the kale section, as I don’t need more than one pepper plant.

Rounding out the other box is a rotund and short French carrot, slender long radishes, and thyme. Chives were supposed to get into the corner too but the chive packet was empty, so that will have to be added later. 

I decided that the sunflowers and borage should go in the ground between the boxes and the sidewalk, but since it started raining (again!) while I was only partway through planting the beds and I hadn’t finished digging the front, those will go in later this week. 

That’s a lot of plants to cram into 2 small beds!

Thankfully, construction of the raised beds was a breeze. I’ve used 2″x12″x6′ cedar, cut into 2′ and 4′ long boards, connected with some 2.75″ exterior screws – 2 at each corner. I left the grass underneath as it was. They’re sturdy and I think they look pretty good. I filled them with organic black gold soil (2 bags each box) and some mountain blend of compost, which if I recall correctly was just a blend of different types of manure (1 bag each box). I may end up making a few more boxes for the other side of the front yard. If I do, I will likely have a kale bed, an herb bed, a melon bed, and a corn bed. 

Now we wait.

Project Springtime part 1.5: chick maintenance

Visions and reality are often a little different. 

I envisioned having three cute chicks whom I would carry around lovingly, let the kids hold, and generally become attached to. 

We are all attached to them, but we handle them a heck of a lot less than I expected. 

Yes, they’re also a lot of work. Here’s what we have done so far, after the brood box setup from my last post.

Daily: change the water and check/change food/grit. Move lamp if necessary. 

Weekly: change the pine shavings (bedding), clean off poo from various places. 

Monthly: (I’ve had them a month, so I mean just once so far) add bricks to lift food and water, add 1 rock and 2 sticks for general amusement/perching. 

Water is critical and needs to be checked on multiple times per day I have found, since the chicks are really enjoying jumping onto the water jar and then the side of the box (sometimes out of the box too). On a few occasions they knocked over the water, and often the water tray is full of shavings even when upright – sometimes poo too! Yuck. If it’s got wet shavings in it I dump it outside on the ground between hedges before bringing it in for a good cleaning. It needs to be cleaned (in my opinion) with hot soapy water every day. I like watching them drink the fresh cool water when I replace it. 

Like children they seem to go through growth spurts, eating more on some days than others. I was filling the tray without a bottle on top at first, then they started eating all the food in a day, so I added the bottle. They slowed down and I think the bottle was unnecessary (didn’t hold any extra feed, difficult to get on and off, hard to refill if there was still feed in the tray) so I removed it today. So far not much poo in with food, but when there is some I remove it.

The bedding, especially if an inch or two deep, should last all week without getting too stinky or yucky looking – depending on how many birds you have I suppose. When I see a lot of poo mid-week I scoop some out. Since I upgraded their box a couple weeks ago I am scooping the old litter into the old box, and will take the whole thing to compost as it gets more full. I’m using an old plastic container to scoop out, and removing the litter with the chicks still in the box. They don’t seem to like this process, but they dislike the addition of shavings even more. I usually grab a big handful at a time and toss it in to the section they are avoiding. I assume there is probably a better way to do this, maybe moving the chicks to a different box while changing litter but that seems like unnecessary mess. Tonight I also cleaned up a bunch of poo outside the box. I’m looking forward to the coop. 

Of course, as I’m doing all these things I have a baby strapped to my front, and she’s going nearly upside down as I bed forward to remove and replace shavings. Mostly, she is agreeable, especially if I pick up the chicks afterward so she can touch them. She is far gentler than I expected considering how rough she is with us humans. All day long she says “bok bok,” which is her way of asking to go see them. When we have to come back inside she screams. She loves them dearly. As does the dog, who thus far has been very well behaved around the chicks, but insistent upon going to visit the box as often as possible. 

I have acquired all the wood for the coop, and will be posting about that as I begin construction. So far vision and reality have not looked alike, but I am thoroughly enjoying having chicks and the adventures associated with them so far. 

Project Springtime Part 1: Making a home for baby chicks. 

I decided to make my cross-town move a little more complicated by adding baby chicks to it. I’m now the proud owner of a black Australorp, a buff Orpington, and an Ameracauna.  They’re nearly a month old and have been perching on the side and leaving the brooder on occasion. Luckily they have very effective alarm peeps and we have had no casualties. 

They’re sturdy birds; the dog, the baby, and the noises of the move were tolerated well from the start. 

I’m feeding them an organic, unmedicated chick feed with grit and occasional scrambled egg treats. I know, feeding them eggs is weird. They go bananas for them and show their true chickeny silliness when it is time for treats. 

So far all that has been necessary is to make the brooder, feed and water them. The brooder consists of 1 large plastic tub with high sides (2 feet) around 2.5-3 feet long, and a special red heat lamp with 2 metal arches around the bulb for protection. I filled the bottom with a layer of pine shavings, and bought both a plastic feeder and waterer, to which I attach glass mason jars. I had a flat thermometer stuck on the inner wall of the brooder for the first couple of weeks to monitor the temperature more closely and keep one corner of the brooder between 85 and 90 degrees F. 

My first brood box was too small. I upgraded to a larger box with higher sides a little over a week ago, and the birds are happier. I also added 2 bricks to elevate the feeder and waterer, and a couple of sticks in case they liked standing on them. They don’t seem to care. They do like perching on the side and leaving bird droppings outside the box. In the above image you can see the old and new brooders, with my ameracauna perched on the side of the new blue one. I have no need for the thermometer any longer, but I did have a burn/melt spot after a couple of days when the bulb was too close to the plastic. It smelled gross (plasticky) when I walked out there, which tipped me off. 

The Australorp seems to be experiencing the pecking order. Her neck feathers are sparse as though she is being picked on. 

Next up for the chickies is a coop. 

Another post about my baby getting over a cold

I know I just posted about how this homeopathic (some of you probably refer to these as “sugar pills”) made a big difference in my baby’s well being. 

That isn’t all that is helping her. I’m also REALLY fond of my Essential Oil diffuser. I’ve used many diffusers, and I like this one the best because the output is higher and it lasts all night. Typically I want the oils diffused during the night, and if it peters out after a couple hours that’s just not good enough. I do sometimes think the oils have all been diffused so I add more, but it’s hard to tell when I’m in the same room all night. I bet if I came in after being outside I would have a different experience. 

Which oils am I diffusing? I’m glad you asked. Mostly eucalyptus oil. I do sometimes add lavender but it hasn’t helped nearly as much as the eucalyptus. 

The first cold she had (this is only the third) lavender worked well. I also didn’t want to try much else. The last 2 have required eucalyptus for opening her sinuses. 

I use about 15-20 shakes of the oil bottle into about 400-500 mL of  water. I do not use the light function. 
The other day when she was more stuffed up I did have to wave the open bottle in front of her. But that gets tricky as she wants to grab everything. No EO on baby hands, too easy to get it in baby mouths or baby eyes. That would be bad. 

Warning: this post may be about sugar pills

Sugar is highly addictive, but you knew that already. That is not the reason I avoid it. 

I have cavities.

But that’s a better intro to a different post. Right now I want to talk about sugar pills. Specifically, homeopathic remedies, which are often in a sugar pill form. 

For the record I would prefer a different form, to avoid the sugar, because I over complicate my response but again, this is for a different post. 

Homeopathic remedies have a bad reputation, I have come to learn. Many people disregard them as worthless, or “no better than placebo.” Placebo does work 1/3 of the time though, right? I’d prefer better efficacy than that, but it’s not bad. And I don’t think the placebo effect works if you do not believe in the remedy whatsoever. 

I have also learned enough about homeopathics to know that I know very little about their use. I can adequately recommend 2 remedies: arnica for soft tissue injury/bruising, and phytolacca for mastitis. I’m able to research more about any particular remedy, just as I would an unfamiliar herb but I often go to others who are more educated about homeopathy and then read extensively before using it.

My baby had a fever up and down for 3 days. Babies, by the way, respond very well to homeopathic remedies. So I looked up the fever remedies, determined which of the 10 patterns fit best and called an experienced homeopath who echoed my recommendation. 

Within about 20 minutes of taking one little sugar pill homeopathic remedy, her mood brightened, her fever dropped and stayed normal the rest of the day. 

Hard to argue with success. Why bother?

Lemon flavored something or other (just don’t call them lemon bars).

My child had a birthday party and I wanted to make a dessert. I decided lemon bars would be just right, but of course nobody uses the ingredients I would use, so I substituted sprouted wheat flour for white flour and xylitol for sugar. 

They’re not bad, unless you think it’s going to be a lemon bar, because then you’ll have this outrageous expectation. It’s a healthy lemon flavored bar, ideologically correct, you might even say. 

It’s very very lemony. My 1 year old tried it and spit it out. 

Steak and mashed roots

I don’t like potatoes. So I mashed turnips and rutabagas instead. Have you ever eaten turnips and rutabagas? I think they get bad raps. They taste great. 

I like to multi-task, but not in the kitchen. This is probably a pretty quick meal to whip up but it took me a while because I prepared one thing at a time. 

Salad: mixed greens, sliced cherry tomatoes, avocado, and bleu cheese dressing. Easy. 

Mashed roots: for 2 adults I selected 8 roots, each was a little smaller than my fist. Cut off the ends, peel them, and chop them into  cubes. Then boil them with some smashed garlic cloves until they’re soft. I used 10, but it was still a very gentle garlic flavor because of the boiling. Drain the liquid, but keep it all in the pot, and smash it with a potato masher. Liquid will emerge! Turn the heat on low, and add some butter, salt, and thyme. Let the liquid cook off a bit, but don’t worry much about it. 


The steaks I chose were Grass-fed NY strip steaks. They were about an inch or so thick. I let them stay out of the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to get up to room temp, and then I dried them with a paper towel. Pre-heat the oven to 400F.

Season with salt and pepper, and don’t be shy! I under seasoned them this time. Drizzle them with oil, and place them into a HOT cast iron pan, and then don’t touch them. I like my steaks medium rare so I let them cook on the stove for 5 minutes and then turned off the flame. I topped them with chopped thyme and 1 Tbsp of Kerrygold butter each, and put the pan into the oven for another 5 minutes. 

After plating the steaks, let them rest a few minutes so they stay juicy. Pour a little of the pan drippings from the meat onto the mashed roots. 

Now I’m hungry!