Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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Gatlinburg Trip & Farm Updates

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It appears that spring has finally sprung in Southwest Michigan! There’s still a cool nip in the windy air, but the sun is shining and temperatures are reaching up into the sixties at midday. It’s a welcome sight!

I’m so glad that things have warmed up around here because after returning from a trip to sunny, spring-has-sprung Tennessee, I don’t think my heart could have handled super-cold and snow. We had a fabulous time on our family vacation to Gatlinburg and the highlight was our time spent enjoying nature at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We hiked a couple of relatively easy trails (with an eight-year-old and two-year-old in tow) to see some gorgeous waterfalls and scenic forests. I’ve been studying permaculture a lot lately so I couldn’t help but make observations about the climates and microclimates we encountered. (Did I just hear you snore? Hang in there, I’m not going to get too scientific on you!) It was a pleasure to be there just at the cusp of spring because we were able to watch buds and leaves and flowers unfold as the week went on.

I felt like I had a front-row seat to watching the mountains wake up from a winter nap. What a joy to watch the ground go from nothing but moss and leaves to a sea dotted with opening spring flowers. And to see trees transform from barren sticks to branches of blossoms and tiny green, budding leaves. The intermittent rain showers came at just the right time so as to avoid ruining our plans while simultaneously stocking up the mountain streams for fantastic, fast-flowing water shows. I loved it!

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Another thing I enjoyed was encountering familiar or edible plants in the wild. I guess it’s a nerdy gardener thing, but it was fun for me to find a plant and know just by looking at it that it must be related to a strawberry, or a carrot or a sweet violet. I wished I’d remembered to take pictures of all these sightings, but here are a couple I did manage to snap.

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What a bright, sunny dandelion growing amidst the rocks!
Did you know that all parts of the dandelion are edible?

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We saw lots of wild onions throughout the forest.

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These were some of the largest onions I saw. I hope my leeks can rival these!

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I don’t know if these are violets or if they are edible, but they were so beautiful and they reminded me of the sweet violets that should be popping up at our farm sometime soon!

We enjoyed several of the area attractions, including Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, the Guinness World Records Museum, Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze, the shops in downtown Gatlinburg, Wild Bear Falls Waterpark, Forbidden Caverns and the Arts & Crafts District near Gatlinburg. Even with all there was to do in the area, one of our favorite experiences was simply relaxing at our very private cabin.

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Staying here was an enlightening experience for us. It inspired us to live more simply. To be more specific, we realized that we could thoroughly enjoy ourselves with minimal “stuff.” Packing a Toyota Camry with everything four people need for a week (including a toddler’s stroller, pack-n-play and other bulky items) meant being nominal and creative about what we brought along. Our cabin had everything we needed, plus a few extras (like board games). We didn’t and don’t need the gobs of “stuff” we have at our home. Maybe this seems strange or like a common sense revelation I should have had years ago, but it was liberating to not have to pick up mountains of toys or wash billions of dishes or sort bundles of magazines and papers. On our first full day back from the trip, we started purging. I can’t wait to share that journey with you as it unfolds.

Meanwhile, Back at the Farm

Despite our absence, the farm chugged along. Fortunately our micro-farm means micro-sized-farm-sitter-duties. I’m so thankful that Papa (my father-in-law) was able and willing to feed our chickens, gather eggs, care for our bunny, gather our maple sap, take care of our dogs and miscellaneous other things while we were gone.

Maple Syrup Update

By the time we returned, our maple sap count had risen to just under 60 gallons. That’s about half of what I was hoping for… apparently my hopes were set a bit high. That makes sense since 20 gallons per tree in a season is pushing the upper end of the scale and we only have four trees. With all of the tiny-thaw/long-freeze weather we had this March, there were very few days where sap was actually running at our house. Oh well… I may not have a ton of maple syrup, but I’m still pleased to be producing my own!

The current plan is to utilize Papa’s evaporator early this next week to process our liquid gold pronto. The weather is warming up and since sap can spoil at warm temperatures, I need to get to it as soon as possible. Unfortunately I don’t have space to refrigerate 12 five-gallon buckets, so they’re hanging out in the shady, cool garage for now. Because I love a good experiment, and I want some insurance against spoiled sap, I am also considering an experiment: Freezing the sap. There’s a generally held principle that the water in sap freezes but the sugar content does not. When you freeze a container of sap, supposedly the ice can be discarded because it has no (or minimal) sugar content and would just have to be boiled off in the evaporation process anyway. If this is true, freezing sap, discarding the ice and then boiling what’s left should significantly reduce the amount of fuel and time needed to make syrup. I’m going to give it a whirl – but only with a portion of our supply. I love a good experiment, but I love maple syrup more!

Seedlings Update

While we were gone I also did a hands-off experiment. The moon-favorable time to plant many of our seeds (such as broccoli, kale, lettuce and chard) would have expired by the time we returned home from vacation. I didn’t want to wait a full month before starting these seeds so I started them the night before we left. Most seeds take 3-5 days to germinate any way so I knew my seedlings would be very small by the time I returned, if they existed at all. I planted my seeds in trays of garden soil and made sure they were very (very) moist. Then in each tray I created a make-shift olla using a small clay pot. I placed the pot down into the soil and filled it with water. Because the soil around it was already saturated, the pot did not leak water from the hole or the sides. Like with real ollas, the idea here is that as the moisture level in the surrounding soil is reduced, the moisture inside the terra cotta pot (or through the hole in the bottom in this case) will be wicked out by the soil and used by the plants. I used ollas both for my newly-planted seedlings and for existing green babies that needed to survive a week without me.

I’m pleased to report that everything survived! A couple of newly planted seeds had not yet germinated by the time we arrived home. Hopefully they will emerge soon and are just slow (perhaps not enough warmth?) and not drowned.

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This tiny clay pot worked perfectly as a mini olla to keep our seedlings watered while we were on vacation.

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The mini-olla also worked to water emerging seedlings that were germinating while we were away.

I was also pleased to see that our gingerroot also decided to start sprouting while we were away!

Chitting (Sprouting) Potatoes

The last little update I want to share with you has to do with our potato seeds. While we were away I laid the seed potatoes out in trays beneath a semi-sunny window. (I was fearful that if I left them in some of the sunniest locations the dogs would eat them. This window was in a closed bedroom.) The ideas behind chitting potatoes is that exposure to sunlight causes them to begin sprouting and that pre-planting sprouting results in a faster harvest. I had a good success with the process last year.

Here’s what he potatoes looked like when we left. (Pardon the poor lighting… it was very early in the morning).

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Here are our seed potatoes at the beginning of the chitting (sprouting) process.

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We left them near a sunny window while we were gone on vacation.

And here’s what they looked like when we returned.

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These are Desiree Red seed potatoes from Seed Savers Exchange.

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These red (new) potatoes didn’t sprout as much as I’d hoped, but they did better than the yellow potatoes.

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These German Butterball seed potatoes from Seed Savers Exchange hardly sprouted at all while we were gone!

They didn’t progress along as far as I was hoping, but this is still good. I gave them a couple more days of sunlight before planting them.

Now that we’re home and the weather is warm, I’m up to my eyeballs in chores and impending projects. There’s so much to share, but I’ve already blathered on enough for one post. Stay tuned – there’s more coming soon!

 
 

Black Friday Black Gold


I hope you all had a fabulous Thanksgiving holiday! We enjoyed ours and know that we have much to be thankful for.

Many of you probably also ‘celebrated’ Black Friday by standing in unbelievably long lines early in the cold morning to get great deals on Christmas gifts. Although I did do some shopping online, I didn’t dare venture out into the mob of wild shoppers. Instead of heading toward the retail district, we headed the other direction into the country to take advantage of an awesome (FREE!) deal: Horse manure! That’s right – on Black Friday we went out to a local farm and picked up some ‘black gold.’

To be honest, we didn’t really get ‘black gold.’ Black Gold is a term used to describe compost because of its extreme value in creating healthy gardens. Composted (aged) manure contains lots of nutrients and is a great addition to any garden! This manure is far from composted but it will bring value to our garden by warming our hotbeds as it decomposes. And as the gardening season progresses next spring and summer, it will indeed become ‘black gold.’ Even if this hotbed experiment doesn’t work, I’m excited that in the spring I’ll have raised beds that are essentially 3 feet deep and full of very rich soil!

My original plan for winter growing was to convert six of our4’ (wide) x 12’ (long) x 1’ (deep) raised beds into hotbeds. The conversion process involves removing the 12 inches of garden soil, digging a pit in the bottom of the bed that is 1.5 to 2 feet deep, filling the pit with manure (horse and goat so far) and hay/leaves/grass clippings, adding 6 inches of soil back on top and then topping the bed with a plastic row cover on PVC hoops. Here’s a quick update on the process.

Bed #1 was converted to a hotbed a month or longer now. It has peas and lettuce (transplanted from the greenhouse last week) growing in it and they’re coming along beautifully!

Hotbed raised garden bed with plastic row cover

Hotbed #1 with peas and lettuce growing in it

Hotbed #1 with peas and lettuce growing in it. At the time I took this picture it was 85* inside the row cover and about 35* outside.

Peas growing in Hotbed #1.

Peas growing in Hotbed #1.

Lettuce seedling in Hotbed #1

Lettuce seedling in Hotbed #1

Bed #2 was converted to a hotbed last week except that it still needs a plastic row cover. I’m hoping to cut plastic for this today (I have a roll of plastic in the garage… somewhere…). The bed currently has kale growing the middle; that portion of the bed has not been converted because I transferred the kale there this fall from other parts of the garden. The hotbed ends are ready for cabbage and cauliflower transplants. The cabbage and cauliflower seedlings are in the greenhouse right now and should be ready within a week to be transplanted.

Kale in a raised hotbed

Kale is growing in the center portion of this bed. The ends have been converted for hotbeds (there’s horse manure underneath). All we need now is a row cover!

Bed #3 was converted to a hotbed this past weekend. All it needs is a plastic row cover. Unfortunately I don’t think the plastic I have in the garage will be large enough for more than one cover so I need to buy more ASAP. (It currently has a “roof” of plastic sheeting that isn’t quite big enough to cover the whole thing.) The middle of the bed is occupied by carrots that I transplanted from another bed. (Yes, I transplanted carrots. I’ve done it before and they’ll be fine.) Next week the ends of the bed will be receiving leeks which are currently in the greenhouse.

Remember that these beds start with 10-12 inches of garden soil in them but I’m only returning 6 inches of soil back. That’s because I discovered last month that the manure can heat 6 inches of soil but 12 inches is too much. So where do the other six inches go? I’ve been topping off other beds in the garden that have lost soil or compacted slightly. In fact as I went to fill this bed back in, I was running low on garden soil and decided to add compost from our summer compost pile. It’s hard to believe that the rich, dark dirt I shoveled in was carrot peels, onion tops and grass clippings just a couple of months ago.

Hotbed #3 with partial plastic row cover

This is hotbed #3. Soon it will have a row cover that also covers the ends.

Transplanted carrots inside a hotbed

These are the carrots I transplanted last weekend. They look pretty sad right now, but they’ll perk up soon. :)

Bed #4 currently has turnips growing in one third of it (on the end). I have to say that they are holding on just fine but are showing no progress in their growth. I left them undisturbed while I dug up the remaining 2/3 of the bed. Currently there’s a 2 foot hole there waiting for manure. There wasn’t enough horse manure to fill all the beds so I’m hoping to get enough goat manure this week to fill at least this bed. I’ll also need to get plastic for a row cover. Once its complete, I’ll be transplanting lettuce and broccoli into it from the greenhouse.

Hotbed #4 with turnips and lettuce seedlings

This is hotbed #4. There are currently turnip and lettuce seedlings growing here. I’ll be converted the other side into a hotbed this week.

Bed #5 is all tucked in for the winter. Because it was around 70% full of existing, frost-tolerant plants (chard, beets, radishes) I decided not to convert it to a hotbed. Instead I planted spinach in the remaining 30% of the bed and gave it a row cover. So far the established plants look great in there but the spinach is taking its sweet time germinating. It will be interesting to see how this bed fares during the winter compared to its hotbed counterparts.

Raised bed with winter row cover

This bed already had many frost-tolerant plants growing in it so I decided not to convert it to a hotbed. Instead, I planted some spinach in the remaining space (which doesn’t seem to be germinating). We’ll see how this bed fares through the winter without any manure beneath it.

Radishes, Beets and Chard

Radishes, Beets and Chard

Bed #6 had carrots still growing in it until this weekend when I transplanted them into Bed #3. Why did I transplant them? For several reasons. One is that I needed to move some plants around to stage the garden for my new crop rotation plan. (What I grow in each bed this winter will impact what I can grow there this coming spring and summer.) Also, the carrots were spread throughout the entire bed (carrots that were too small to harvest during our CSA season but have grown since then). I decided to put them all in one concentrated place to make better use of the bed. At any rate, this bed still needs a lot of work. I need to remove all of the garden soil, dig the 2 foot pit (before the ground freezes!) and then fill it up with compost. I’m starting to think I won’t have enough manure to fill both this bed and bed #4, so I’m going to experiment by using non-manure compost here. I’ll be using table scraps, lots of leaves, and if I can manage to mow the lawn one last time before sticking snow, grass clippings. Once this bed is converted, it will be home to lettuce (in the greenhouse). I was also hoping to direct seed radishes into this bed… but I thought I would be doing that several weeks ago. We’ll see if the bed gets/stays warm enough for the seeds to germinate.

Raised Bed

This raised bed has a long way to go to become a hotbed! It will feature plant-based compost instead of manure.

Other garden areas are mostly being ‘winterized’. I’m halfway through the process of mulching the Fenceline Garden with leaves. Three of the beds in the Main Garden have received seeds that will overwinter and grow in the spring. Crops include scallions (no growth seen), parsnips (growth observed), carrots (germination observed) and asparagus (no growth seen). These beds will be mulched with shredded leaves this week. Dormant beds will be mulched with either leaves (likely un-shredded because of time constraints) or maple wood chips. And last but not least, one of the small beds at the front of the Main Garden was supposed to overwinter spinach, but the seedlings are coming along so well that I think we’ll be eating from it this winter instead of harvesting from it in the spring! That will mess up my crop rotation a little bit, but my excitement over hopefully having fresh spinach in January is overshadowing that conundrum for now.

Raised garden bed with winter row cover

This garden bed is half as wide as the others and is NOT a hotbed (no manure below). Spinach is growing inside… we’ll see how long it lasts!

Spinach seedlings in raisede bed under row cover

Spinach Seedling

Spinach Seedling

So that’s what’s happening around here regarding winter growing. We have some exciting developments happening regarding expansion of the garden for next season, and I can’t wait to share that with you next week. Stay tuned!

 
 
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