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Blog: My Little Farm in Town

Living a rich country life in a small Midwestern town.

Showing 12 posts from April 2010 for this blog.
My Latest Find: Cold Frame No. 2
Friday, April 30, 2010

It was the big weekend--Village Wide Garage Sale! One of my best finds of the weekend turned out to be FREE! I was walking up the driveway to a sale, and there they were—the major components of cold frame no. 2—a nice big window and a matching screen to keep out varmints.

It seems that the neighbor was remodeling and replacing all the windows in a four-season porch and asked to park them where people would see them and haul them away. While I was loading my screen and window, another woman was taking a pile of screens to use in her perpetual barn sale as displays for jewelry and other small or hanging items.

This growing season, I have other plans for the space that the second cold frame will occupy. I will stash the components behind the wood and garden box for now. In the fall, I will harvest the bed and prepare it to receive the second cold frame.  Begonia               


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My Little Cold Frame 6: Toasted!
Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to show you the results of forgetting .  .  . to open  your cold frame when it gets sunny and 60°F! I was preoccupied with garage saling for a couple of days. I came home, collected eggs, dug some greens for the chicks, grabbed a bite to eat, and out I’d go again! There were maybe a hundred sales going on in a one mile radius of my home—potent stuff.

The radishes seemed most affected. There was also some burn and wilting in the greens. I opened the frame and gave them all a good watering.  I’m hoping that there is no lasting harm. If things bolt (go to seed), I’ll know the cause, chalk it up to experience, and replant.

I know there are automatic gizmos that will raise and lower vents in greenhouses and the lids of cold frames, but they are pretty pricey—well beyond what I can afford.  It’s not a big problem since I am home most days. It also gives me an opportunity to watch everything grow! Begonia



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My Little Cold Frame 5: Harvest
Monday, April 26, 2010

I harvested my first salad from the frame. I used a kitchen scissors to cut the mesclun mix. I also did my final thinning of the radishes and my pitiful spinach. I used the greens from my radishes in a stir fry that night for supper.  Radish greens are very good added to a stir fry in the last few minutes of cooking so that they wilt. They are very scratchy, so I don’t use them raw in salad. (I also slice and stir fry the roots when I have them.)

The second planting of mesclun mix on the right side of the frame is coming on nicely and should be ready by the time the left side begins to bolt and is fed to the hens. I’ll then use that space to harden off tomatoes and peppers. Begonia



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A New Use for Old Blinds
Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spring is in full swing here in the Midwest! I’ve been doing a lot of potting and planting this past week.  I’ve been repurposing a lot of old blinds or slats taken out of new blinds when shortening them.  They make great plant labels and row markers!

I prefer to use metal rather than plastic or wooden blinds because wood rots and plastic becomes brittle and doesn’t hold permanent marker or graphite pencil markings through a whole season. The metal also lasts more than one season, and because it is painted, doesn’t rust.

The metal blinds cut easily with a kitchen scissors. (This kind of cutting can dull scissors, so don’t use your best pair!) I label with an indelible marker in a dark color on one side of the cut-to-size blind. If I want to use it over again with a different plant next year, I just wash in warm soapy water or wipe with a damp cloth and label on the other end.

I hope this tip comes in handy for you while you garden this Spring. Begonia



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Frugal Family Fun: Canoeing!
Wednesday, April 21, 2010

We threw the canoe on top of the van and visited a local park with a shallow lake and lots of fish and wildlife late Sunday afternoon. The lake is in a county park with prairie, woods, and lots of hiking trails within a 20-minute drive of our town.

We haven’t had the canoe for long. Both my husband and I have had childhood and young adult experience with canoeing—nothing extensive, just dabbling in paddling (I know—groan!). I started watching for an affordable aluminum canoe at garage sales in my area a couple of years ago. We decided that we didn’t want to pay more than $300. I ran across 3 or 4 canoes a year, but they were always too beat, too cheaply made (plastic!!!!), too expensive, or too SOLD.  I finally found a craft that fit all our criteria last fall at the end of the garage saling season. We took it out once, and then it spent the winter perched upside down on our wood and garden storage box.

Many parks in Wisconsin feature water. We have been to almost every park in our area and hiked all the trails, but we’ve only been able to stand on the shore and squint through binoculars at the life on or across the water. We now have 20-50% more park to explore! The canoe allows us to see a new side to these familiar parks: different sights, sounds, plants, and animals. For example, Turtles—I’ve seen them sunning themselves on logs or slipping back into the water from shore. During our last outing, we could see them in mid-lake sticking just their pointy striped snouts up above the water to take a breath and look us over. We were also able to get a closer look at the water birds: Canadian geese, mallard ducks, and even an osprey fishing.

We will be vacationing close to home this year as we continue to pay down debt. We have a lot to appreciate locally for just the price of gas and a snack in most cases. We don’t have the expense of eating out or finding someone to take care of the “livestock.” We are usually home in plenty of time to close up the chicken coop and make supper! Begonia


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Spring Tonic for Your Chickens: Dandelions!
Monday, April 19, 2010

My five Dominique hens (aka, the Girls) are enjoying all this wonderful spring weather. They are clamoring to get out of the coop almost as soon as the sun rises. They zoom through the pop door when I open it like feathered bullets!

While I am cleaning under the roost, clearing the litter from their oyster shell floor feeder, and tipping the stale water and waterlogged feed crumbs out of the font, I can hear them complaining out in their yard. They are calling for the scratch to be scattered. They are, like all of us, creatures of habit. They know what is coming next— a few handfuls of cracked corn and oats.

I open the door to their yard and a few girls squirt out and begin grazing on the new green grass. They would gladly eat it rather than the scratch, especially at this time of year after a long winter of making do with cabbage leaves, kitchen scraps, and the occasional pumpkin. They yearn, as we all do, for a nice green salad.

Fortunately, I have plenty of what they crave in the lawn: the chicken (and human) super food, dandelions! I keep a hand trowel and container handy and dig them a little every day from the lawn.  When I garden, I keep the dishpan handy and throw the dandelions in as I weed vegetable and flower garden beds.  It doesn’t take long to fill the container.

The girls watch as I dig and make encouraging singing noises. They know what is coming next: crops full of greens filled with the vitamins and nutrients they need after a long winter. I also know what is coming next: busy, contented chickens and eggs with dark orange yolks that taste like butter! Begonia


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Adventures in Coffee Roasting
Saturday, April 17, 2010

I started roasting some of the pounds of coffee that we consume last year after reading an article in one of my self-sufficiency magazines and then doing some further research on the web. I ended up picking up a Poppery II hot air popper at a garage sale for a couple of bucks to do my roasting. (My son tells me that the older, heavier duty models like mine were selling on e-bay for $60+ last year! He got his at a resale shop for under $10.)

My eldest son used to work for Starbucks and Caribou and has a father-in-law who invested in a home- size coffee roaster, so he had knowledge of coffee and had done some roasting. We roasted the first batch together. I had already read about the first and second crack and what the beans would look like for a light, medium, and dark roast. It still was good to have the support of someone else when doing something new.

The hot air popcorn popper is a fluid bed roaster like the big ones commercial roasters use only on a mini scale. (Mmmm—sounds like a lot of other things we do here on My Little Farm in Town.) The (1/2 cup) beans are cooked on currents of superhot (about 400°F) air inside the popper. The machine blows off the chaff (outer skin of the green bean) during the first part of the cooking time at and around “first crack” and the nibs during the second part at “second crack” (if you are going for a darker roast). The first crack sounds like popcorn popping. The second crack sounds more like Rice Crispy breakfast cereal after you put the milk on it!

We like a really dark roast, so I usually cook my beans for about 10 minutes. (You would cook them less for lighter roasts.) The beans deepen in color as they roast. A dark roast gets very brown and shinier as the oils start to emerge.  The cooking beans smell like toast that is on the burned side. There will be some smoke—so roast outside or under a cooktop hood. Some people rig elaborate exhaust systems out windows or roast in or in front of their fireplaces with fans blowing the smoke in the correct direction.

Air temperature and humidity vary the roasting times. I’ve learned the hard way that a hot air popper can’t generate enough heat for a dark roast when the air temperature outside is 41°F with a wind blowing! (I had to finish that batch indoors!) Another thing I’ve learned from an expert is that is that you will want to let the machine cool a little between multiple batches so you can wipe it out with a dry paper towel or you WILL eventually have a fire!

You should let your beans “age” for at least 24 hours after roasting (if you can resist that long) because there is enzyme action that takes that long for full flavor development. Happy brewing! Begonia.


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Spring Cleaning and My Free Potting Bench
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I love spring cleaning. Especially when other people are doing it!  Someone was cleaning out their back yard and placed this beauty on the curb. I was on my way to visit a friend across town when I spotted it. I dig and pot an increasing number of perennials each year on My Little Farm in Town, as well as do an increasing amount of container gardening. A raised area to divide and pot is getting more important each year. It is much easier on the back as well!

My husband has offered to build me a potting bench. He happens to be the handy one around here as far as tools and wood goes. He has a lot of other projects going that I would like to see him spending his time on. (For example, I’d rather he made me that Whizbang Garden Cart for Mother’s Day than toil over a potting bench.)

You might be asking yourself—“How does a woman with a bad back get something like that home?” Rule #1 of curbside reclamation is “Grab It Now Because It Won’t Be There When You Come Back!” Out of necessity, I have become an expert at positioning my van so that I can tip unwieldy things onto the tailgate and shove them in! Unloading at home requires the help of my husband or any other burly individual I can draft for the job.

Space is at a premium around here, so I actually will have to do some spring cleaning myself to fit my find onto the concrete apron by the rear door of my garage. I think it will be worth the effort. Begonia


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Spring Has Sprung!
Monday, April 12, 2010

We are having some nice warm weather after almost 2 inches of rain. The temperatures are in the 60°s F. Everything is growing, and a lot of the early bulbs and flowering bushes are blooming. The birds are back—we’ve been watching Sandhill cranes, great blue herons, lots of raptors, and even one kingfisher. Today, I want to share some of what we are enjoying on My Little Farm in Town after a cold, snowy winter.  Begonia



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Economical Alternatives to Throwaways
Thursday, April 08, 2010

At one time my family used a lot of paper plates and towels.  Talk about literally throwing away money! Paper towels were being used to wipe counters and paper plates routinely replaced real dishes and dish washing.  If you are serious about saving money, paying down debt, or just being more responsible about what you send to the landfill, there comes a time when you need to wash some dishes and do a little extra laundry.

This household economy didn’t grow out of environmental self-righteousness or plain old cheapness. It grew out of just not having money! I had to pick between food and stuff.  

Here are some of the easy and simple things I did that saved our family money in the area of disposables:

·         Switched from disposable to real dishes and silverware

·         Switched from paper towels to rags and newspaper (for cleaning glass and mirrors)

·         Switched from paper to cloth napkins

You may be thinking that this is all a “no brainer,” and maybe it is to most of you, but not everyone knows the difference between what is a need and what is a want anymore. We have become such a throwaway society from the cradle that a lot of us don’t know there is another way.

Do I ever use paper towels? Yes, for draining fried food (I still don’t feel good about using newspaper for that!) but not for cleaning the counter or floor! Do I ever use paper plates and plastic silverware? Yes, but only when I get the stuff free or at a garage sale (and my sisters insist that we not wash any dishes that day).

 I hope this has helped you save some money that could be put to better use. Begonia


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Free Mulch!
Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Every spring some part of my yard needs the wood chip mulch renewed. Our village used to deliver the wood chips they made from the trees they had trimmed and the brush and tree limbs that people put out on the street for them to pick up. (Yes, I know that not many cities even pick up your brush much less bring you the chips just because you are a tax payer anymore!) We still have access to them at the village compost site—it just means shoveling chips twice rather than once. My back isn’t that great, and my husband has other chores to do, so I’ve had to think of a new strategy for getting the chips that I need.

When I noticed a tree service truck pass my house and heard a big chainsaw working down the street, I put on my shoes and tracked the sound to its source.  I noted the partially loaded truck box and carefully approached the people working to cut up the last of a very large cottonwood.  I waited for them to notice me and then asked if they would be willing to drop their partial load of chips in my driveway rather than hauling them 25 miles back to their dump site. I also pointed out that they would probably get better mileage home if they gave them to me!

They laughed and said, “Sure!” 

So I have a nice manageably sized pile of wood chips to renew the surface of my north side yard—for  free.  Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need—especially if you are creating a win-win situation! Begonia

Note: Be sure to enquire if the load contains black walnut or anything diseased.


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My Little Cold Frame 4
Friday, April 02, 2010

The weather has warmed and most of the seeds I planted earlier in the month have germinated and are growing well. My spinach and radishes were getting crowded, so I thinned them and will add the thinnings to my next salad! One area did not germinate at all. I have no idea what caused the failure—I just replanted. The result will be another batch of greens that will be ready for harvest while the plants in the other side of the frame recover. All’s well that ends well.

I opened the frame yesterday because we had a fairly warm day (50°F). When I went out to uncover the frame this morning, I found that we’d had a visitor the day before (MR. SQUIRREL). Fortunately, he hadn’t dug up any of the planted areas. I imagine he was looking for the black walnut I unearthed while planting the box!

I placed my repurposed plastic-coated wire screen over the frame after replanting and watering, and I’ll leave it in place. It will be no problem to water through the wire, and the window of the frame will stack neatly on top of it.

I’m looking forward to more warm days and maybe some rain. Soon it will be time to hook up the rain barrels to the house gutters again. The plants do so much better with rain water.  Begonia


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