Archive for the ‘Mistakes’ Category

There really isn’t much to winter in the garden, except the muddly slog to the coop and back to bring in the eggs. Luckily my hens are responding well to having a light in the coop and I’m getting almost 3 eggs a day, daily from my 3 hens.

I haven’t posted in forever, and the hens producing now reminds me of the horrible luck I had last year. My coop was all done and ready to be inhabited, and I’d hatched 5 chickens out of 18 (pretty low hatching rate, but it was my first go). 2 were roosters so I was down to 3 hens. Wanting to get my flock up in numbers I went to a farm in the valley where a lady was selling some lovely lavender orpingtons. I knew there was a risk buying adult birds, but her farm and animals looked good and healthy and I bought 3 birds to bring home. Almost immediately 1 of my birds got a goopy eye. The next day one of her birds died suddenly, and another of mine had a goopy eye. Then both were coughing. The next day all my birds were coughing. Sadly I learned they had a chronic, incurable and highly contagious respiratory virus. There was nothing I could do to help them, and with such a contagious and virulent disease I couldn’t visit any house with chickens and go in their yard. I worried I would spread the disease throughout my neighbourhood. In the end the only thing I could do was cull the entire flock. It was a horrible learning experience.

Since then I have cleaned out and bleached the entire coop and run, and left it without a flock for 3 months. I worked with a neighbourhood kid down the road to incubate 10 more eggs (hatching 50% this time) and now have 3 happy, healthy hens. I can’t add to my flock with adult birds, I’ve learned that lesson the hard way, so I’ll be incubating more eggs with the preschool soon. That way I can have another bird, as can my parents who lost a bird to a predator last week.

Anyway, that was 6 months ago and now the only thing on my winter plate is the odd beet here and there, as I was so sad about the chickens I didn’t plant a winter garden. I’m shaking it off and thinking now about….

Seeds. Yup, I won’t bore you with another LONG, LONG list of seeds this time. I’m working away in my mind though, and have plans to:

Start some seeds in the next couple of weeks
Set up a new, more resilient greenhouse (those stupid plastic mini-greenhouses are worse than useless!)
Move the raspberries AGAIN

I did a couple of things last summer that worked well for me. I planted some thistle-y, thorny berries in the back planters against our fence to keep the marauders out. They are thriving (surprise surprise). I also hired a friend’s teenage son to help me with the weeding and hauling and coop-cleaning. He was fantastic to have around, very useful and I felt good about teaching him the basics of being a good employee (be confident, come up with ideas, work hard but take a break for water, ha!). I highly recommend hiring a teenager, it’s a good community builder.

Anyways, I hoping to keep the good ideas and toss the bad. I may even just toss these raspberries honestly, the berries are small, the harvests are small and they aren’t ever where I want them to be…

How are your plans coming along?


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Photo documentation of my failures….


Compost Jelly, post-straining


Gooseberry Jam Stewing. Post harvest and top & tail failure.

Yes I know I can’t store the jam on the right, too much space. Not enough berries to make two small jars. Unfortunately we’ll just have to eat it right away. It’s so hard being a homesteader.

The marmalade, perfectly stewing, *right* before I “had” to go deal with naptime and it “had” to get burned.

Better luck with your first jams of the season, don’t make my mistakes!

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I promised you I’m full of mistakes, here’s some more proof!

By Sunday I had a case of overripe mangoes, a bag of lemons, an overladen gooseberry bush and an overfull freezer. Something had to be done. I decided on a mango marmalade to use up the mangoes and lemons, gooseberry jam for the bush, and to make the compost heap jelly I’d been planning on since filling up my freezer with apple cores and lemon peels. The compost heap jelly recipe/idea is from the River Cottage Preserves book – which I highly recommend.

I decided to make them all at once to be more efficient. I went out to pick the gooseberries and ran into mistake number one. Plan a lot of time for harvest when you’re working with berries. Especially berries with thorns. Ugh.

Mistake number two was preparing the berries. Make sure you have the right tools for the job! I also got the gooseberry jam recipe from the River Cottage book, and she recommends using scissors to top and tail goosegogs (as my mum calls them). If someone who has been making jam for 20 years or more tells you to use scissors – use scissors. I started off with a knife because I was too lazy to search for scissors after breaking my last pair (a good two months ago – apparently I’m also too lazy to go get more too). Luckily the man intervened and fetched a pair but I wasted even more time. The consequence was that the actual jam making was going to have to happen right at naptime. And naptime is a bad time – because, and I say this without any blame or judgement, apparently the man cannot enforce the nap. At all.

So, I started making the three jams at once, which really was more efficient, and I *will* do that again. Then the naptime meltdown started. The gooseberry jam was hurriedly thrown in jars and processed, and I’m lucky that it set at all. I wasn’t able to check the setting point for any of them. I usually throw a saucer or plate (or in this case 6) in the fridge before I start making the jam. Then you drop a little jam on the cold plate, wait a minute and if it wrinkles when you touch it the jam is good to go. I didn’t have time for that with the caterwauling from the other room. So, I finished off the gooseberry jam, yelled instructions for the mango marmalade – add mangoes at this time – and ran off to deal with naptime. I forgot to say “AND WATCH THE BOTTOM OF THE PAN FOR BURNING”. So, I now have some nice “blackened” mango marmalade. I’m thinking BBQ sauce for that one. Sigh.

Mistake number three – the compost heap jelly. Actually I think this one is numbers 3-5. One. Don’t freeze this stuff hoping to cut down on waste if you only have a fridge freezer. It takes up too much room. I should have waited until we got our chest freezer. I had to clear it out on Sunday because I knew I was coming home that night with 20 pounds of pork from my Butchering class – see my next post for info on that – and got stuck with the choice of throwing it all out or making the jelly. Two, pay attention to your ratios. You want more apple than anything else, as it provides your pectin. Apple cores are PERFECT for this jelly, and I think they should make up 60-80% of your ingredients, to make sure you have enough pectin. I think I had 30% apple and I got a thick syrup. Not quite good enough. Three, if you’re making this jelly and want to process it with other jams you are making, boil the scraps the night before. As with all jellies, straining the fruit for 24 hours helps keep the jelly clear. Strain in a cheesecloth. You’ll be adding the sugar the next day, but you’ll still need to cover it. I boiled it on the same day as the others, but my syrup didn’t end up too cloudy. If it had set though, I’d be complaining about the cloudiness. In the end it made a fantastic glaze for the pork shank I brought home. I don’t think I’ll have a problem finding a use for the other 3 jars either – it’s great for dressings, drinks and marinades. In fact, a little part of me is happy it’s not jelly as I don’t eat a ton of jam. I know, HERESY!

Other mistakes this weekend? I still haven’t planted my winter garden. I’m late!

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Continuing the mistakes series: I just drenched myself trying to “fix” the sprinkler. It’s still in one piece, I’m pretty proud of my restraint.

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I think everyone started their tomatoes a LOT earlier than I did. They have only just started sprouting, and everyone’s blogs are sporting pretty pictures of large plants. ACK! I’m going to go and plant a bunch more tonight, but am I doomed?

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So I thought it may be useful to do an official series on all the times I screw up. I think I did a pretty good job laughing at my own yoghurt mistakes. My husband thinks I wasn’t entirely forthcoming about my gingerbread urban homestead collapse (it was Christmas! Think of the children!).

The first in what will probably be a long, fruitful and popular series is my to-date messups with seeds. Here is my list of “learn from my mistakes” moments with starting plants from seeds:

1. Don’t go bonkers and buy 4000 packages of seeds

I don’t *really* regret this, because I know that in my first year I am probably not going to be that successful with the seeding, then the transplanting, and then the maintenance. I am trying to be realistic about survival rates here. That said, I ordered WAY more seeds than I have room for plants in my garden. It has been an interesting balance of not wanting to waste the money I paid for the seeds, not wanting to waste the seeds, and not wanting to entirely kill myself building more space to plant stuff.

2. You don’t have to plant all the seeds in a package

Um yeah. The 21 spaghetti squash plants were overkill. It never occurred to me that they would all do SO well. Also, I’m trying out so many varieties of tomatoes that I don’t need 20 seedlings of each. I guess I was worried the seeds wouldn’t last, but really I should have used half and saved the other half of the package. I ended up putting some of my squash in ridiculous places just to see if they would survive. With the mesclun it almost worked out because the seedlings are dying off like crazy! If the cauliflower and cabbages survive though – well I’ll be looking to make sauerkraut, that’s for sure. ¬†And kimchi. And soup. Also, I should be able to barter with veggies this summer. HA!

3. Don’t plant your seeds too deep

RIP strawberries. These were my first attempt at seeding, and they failed. Never came up. I *know* it’s because I planted them way too deep. They are TINY seeds. Tiny seeds (I think) should be just put on the top of the dirt and have more dirt lightly sprinkled over them. I planted my peppers at the same time and they didn’t come up either. I went down 4 weeks later and just mussed up the soil and now three pepper seeds sprouted – since they were closer up.

4. Keep your seeds organised by planting dates

I am finding it really stressful keeping track of what needs to be planted by when and prioritising my messy shoebox full of seed packets. You could use something like this, which organises them by month. I would prefer to make something, but something more visual. I was thinking plastic sleeves that broke the ¬†months down into 4 (1 week per month) so that I could be super on top of things. I really should be starting something almost every week. Also, it would be nice to have some sort of identifier for those starting indoors versus direct-sown. When I make it I’ll post instructions with photos… Some day!

5. Set up lights before getting started

My seedlings get leggy, and stop growing. I now know that I definitely need lights. It’s harder to get up above them and deal with that with them all in the way. Just assume you will need lights. I’m going to try just regular lights first, work lights, and see if they do the job.

6. Just because they don’t seem to be drinking that much water day to day doesn’t mean you should leave them for two days.

Because all of a sudden they will drink themselves dry and you will kill them. I think that’s fairly basic. Check them every day in case this is the day when in fact they become greedy and somewhat suicidal.

7. Seedlings take a lot of room

You will need a good place to put them. Don’t just think light, think will I need to get into this corner to rip out the insulation and do some plumbing? Will I be putting a 5′ tall pile of lumber, nail guns and caulking right in front of them making it impossible to check on them easily? Will the cat think this is an awesome place to wreak havoc?

8. Don’t get attached. Or cocky.

Even if your seeds sprout beautifully, and don’t become too leggy, and get watered perfectly, and are well protected from your cats – you may still loose the little buggers when they go outside. Yes, harden them off. Yes, watch their water outside. Know you are doing a good job, but don’t be surprised when they still turn into a pile of lifeless mesclun. Glad I started with mesclun, because I don’t even really love it that much. Still pretty bummed they’re not thriving. They may still make it, but I would probably convert if they did. A miracle!


Tell me about your seeding mistakes, please. Please. Make me feel better about myself.

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