The Grovestead

Farm, Family, Fun.

Month: June 2014 (page 1 of 3)

Training the strawberries

Strawberry runners growing after the fruiting stage

This year is our second attempt at growing strawberries and we’ve made some modifications. We planted  them into a raised bed with fresh compost, mulched heavily with wood chips, and the piece de resistance: a plastic owl to scare off hungry birds.

And I must say, our improvements have worked! Last year I hardly tasted a single strawberry due to birds and slugs. The weeds completely took over, stunting the meager growth. This year, we’ve enjoyed strawberries every day since mid-June. I don’t think a single berry has been lost to pests. And the weeds are practically non-existent. The ones that do spring up are easy to pull.

Now the plants are finishing their fruiting stage and have started sending out runners. Runners are how strawberries propagate themselves. It’s pretty fascinating to see how prolific these little plants are. Its not unusual to see five or more runners growing out of each plant. And these things grow like crazy — up to 5 inches per day!

Strawberry runners grow at an amazing pace

Because of the wood mulch its important to help the runners get established in good soil. These will be the fruit-bearing plants for next year. So for the past few weeks I’ve been pulling back the mulch in strategic places and pinning down the runners into the soil.

Strawberry runners planted into good soil

Within a few days the roots have set and leaves begin forming. The strawberries will continue to spread this way, year after year.

Planted strawberry runner taking root

Cleaning out the coop

Our chicken coop, ready for cleaning

One of the steps in making my no-till garden plot earlier this Spring called for organic fertilizer over fresh compost. So I found myself in the fertilizer aisle of the garden center comparing options …. fish emulsion, kelp, buffalo loam. One option looked like an incredible value: only $8 for a 25 lb bag. And then I caught a whiff and I knew why it was “priced to move”. Chickety Doo Doo, it was called. If the name left any doubt, the smell certainly didn’t. Oh, I know that smell! I’ve got plenty of this at home.

So I headed home to clean out the chicken coop and harvest all the free fertilizer I could. I built a little contraption to separate the wood shavings from the good stuff (funny how farming changes your perspective about what constitutes “good stuff”).

Cleaning out the coop

It’s usually at this point of retelling a story of what I’m up to on the farm to her friends that Becca will get the question: “And what does Rory do?” I do in fact, have a job. I just have the luxury of working from home with very flexible hours so I can do things like clean a chicken coop at 2pm on a Tuesday.

Taking a business call

I still answer the phone when a client calls, though it can be a bit awkward when a rooster crows in the background.

Our rooster keeps an eye on things

Chicken coop is all clean with fresh bedding.

After I rake out the old wood chips, I spray down the insides with a disinfectant. Then I put down clean pine shavings and refill the nest boxes for the hens.

Laying hen settling in to a clean nest box

Chickens are truly one of the easiest animals to care for. I tell people they’re easier than goldfish. I only clean the coop two or three times a year and refill their feeder every few days. We give them all our left over food scraps which they recycle into delicious eggs. For that minimal input we get 4-5 eggs per day, free fertilizer for our garden, and daily entertainment.


HoneyFest was a gathering to learn about beekeeping

Earlier this year when planning our summer calendar we thought it would be fun to have a beekeeping party along the same lines as our maple syrup tree tapping party. With our recent acquisition of two bee colonies, we started planning a summer gathering for friends to learn about beekeeping. We dubbed it “HoneyFest” to attract more people — because bees sound scary but everyone likes honey.

Becca posted a full write-up on her blog, so I’ll just link to it and post a few pictures.

HoneyFest mascot

Making candles with beeswax

Adam give beekeeping talk

Hosts of HoneyFest

Building raised bed gardens, step-by-step

Selecting lumber for your raised bed gardens

I normally wouldn’t detail how to build a raised bed garden–its just a box, after all. But when a friend of mine who is starting his own backyard garden asked for blueprints I thought it might be a good idea to throw a few pictures together.

There’s no wrong way to build a raised bed, this is just my preferred approach after a few years of trial and error.

What you will need:

  • Lumber:  
    • 4 pieces of 2″x10″ untreated boards in whatever dimension you want your garden
    • 4 pieces of 2″x2″ (buy one 8′ 2″x2″ and cut it into 12″ lengths)
  • Tools:
    • Miter saw (hand saw would work fine too)
    • Socket wrench (probably 7/16″ head, depending on the bolt)
    • Drill with 5/16″ bit
    • 2 Clamps
  • Hardware (for each bed):
    • 16 qty 1/4″ x 3 1/2″ bolts (hexagonal head)
    • 32 qty 1/4″ washers
    • 16 qty 1/4″ nuts

Hardware used for building the raised beds

Step 1: How big?

The first step is to decide how big you want your bed. This is a purely personal preference and depends on where you will situate your bed on your property. In my case, I have a huge space to fill, so my beds are very large, 12′ by 3′ each.

A couple of tips:

  • Unless you are planting shade-tolerant plants, you will need at least 6 hours per day of sunlight for your garden to thrive, the more the better.
  • Don’t make the ends of your beds wider than 3 feet, or it becomes difficult to work in the middle when you need to.

Step 2: Buy, measure, and cut your lumber

After you know the dimensions, go buy the lumber from your favorite hardware chain. I recommend untreated lumber for the sides and ends. Treated lumber isn’t made with arsenic anymore, but just to be safe I’d rather err on the side of rotting wood than seeping chemicals. One caveat, I use treated lumber for the stakes holding the edges together because the wood is so much stronger and the exposure is minimal.

The lumber for an 8′ x 3′-sized box should run you around $25-30.

Tip: When picking out lumber pick the straightest boards you can find. You may have to pick through 3 or 4 warped boards (or 7 or 8 or 18) to find a straight one, but you will save yourself a lot of time and frustration later.

Cut the sides and ends to your desired dimensions and cut the 2×2’s just longer than the height of the boards (e.g., 12″ if you have 10″ boards). This extra edge will help hold the bed in place when set into position.

Step 3: Drill the holes

This is the most difficult and time consuming part of the project. If you have access to a drill press I would highly recommend using one. Basically, what you need to do is drill two holes through the end of each board and the stakes that hold them together. Because the holes need to line up perfectly, and hand-drilling is always imperfect, this will only work if you clamp the stakes to the boards and drill through them together.

Align one stake with the edge of the end boards. The stake should align evenly with one side and overhang 2″ on the other.

Clamps hold wood together while drilling

Make sure to mark which stake matches which board-end, otherwise your slightly imperfect angles will make it impossible to slide the bolts through later. Also make sure to mark the “top” of the stake and board (the top will be the evenly-aligned side, the bottom will have the 2″ overhang).

Holes drilled through stakes and boards

Repeat this hole-drilling until all ends of the boards and stakes have been drilled. Note that holes in the side boards will need to be inset an extra 1.5″ to allow for the end boards to fit properly.

Clear as mud? It’s not really that bad. Temporarily assemble joints as you go and it will be obvious where you need to drill.

A drill press would greatly simplify this step by allowing you to drill perfectly straight holes in all pieces without the need to clamp and mark everything.

Step 4: Assemble the box

If all your holes are drilled correctly, this is the easy part. Line up your stakes with the end boards, place a washer on both ends and slide the bold through and fasten.

Stake and board of raised bed bolted together

Stand up the side board against the end board and repeat the process. Now your raised bed is taking shape!

Assembling walls of raised bed

I used a socket bit with my drill to speed up the assembly. Its a good idea to assemble the bolts loosely at first, then go around and tighten when all the boards are in place.

Finished assembly of raised bed

You’re finished building the raised bed!

Step 5: Start gardening!

Carry the bed into place. If you have uneven terrain, you might need to dig a little sod out to make a level base. If you are setting directly over lawn, place a biodegradable paper mulch (like newspaper) down first to suppress the grass.

Next, fill with good garden soil. Pre-mixed store soils can be awfully expensive, so if you have access to a community compost site, use it! If you are starting from scratch, a cheap and simple soil mix would be 50% compost, 50% peat moss (coarse vermiculate is a great ingredient too, but very expensive).

Raised bed garden filled and growing

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