Welcome to our farm

“I think gardening is nearer to godliness than theology. True gardeners are both iconographers and theologians insofar as these activities are the fruit of prayer ‘without ceasing.’ Likewise, true gardeners never cease to garden, not even in their sleep, because gardening is not just something they do. It is how they live.”

– Vigen Guroian
from The Fragrance of God

Angie and I both grew up in the rural Midwest and neither of us imagined we’d end up living in a large city like Champaign-Urbana.  Yet here we are.  Over time our rural, farming community backgrounds began to get the best of us, and one section of our lawn after another was turned into fruit and vegetable plots.  Soon, even our flower gardens began to be replaced with vegetables.  Today we have 10 permanent edible garden beds growing everything from Asparagus to Zucchini, along with a couple mounds growing herbs.  We also have three new apple trees, a pear tree, and beneficial flowering shrubs and flower beds scattered about.  We’re creating this blog to share stories from our garden and kitchen.  Please take time to leave a comment if a particular experience strikes a chord with you or if you have ideas on how we can improve our practices.

Cheers!

Angie and Martin

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Garden update March 9, 2016

Last week I did some research that led me to realize I’ve been taking the wrong approach to early seed planting outdoors in two ways.

  1. I left mulch on the raised beds. While this acts as a blanket to keep the soil a little warmer over winter, it slows the soil from further warming as quickly in the spring. Last weekend I pulled the mulch off several beds and will leave it off until the heat and dry of summer.
  2. Using low hoop tunnels warms the air above the soil, important for transplants. But it doesn’t do as much to warm the soil. Putting the clear plastic directly on the soil is better at warming the soil, important for seed germination.

After just two days, one with some sun and 72 degrees, one cloudy and 64 degrees, the soil under the plastic is 60, 8 degrees warmer than the untouched raised bed immediately adjacent. This evening I planted snow and snap peas, watered lightly, and put the plastic back over the soil. With luck, 60 days from now we’ll be enjoying glorious peas!

20160309_185922_25631375796_oIn other news, Monday I started hardening off plants started indoors a couple weeks back, including: spinach, lettuce, leeks, chard, kale, parsley, thyme, beets, and turnips. These will go under a low hoop tunnel this weekend. We’re having an unusual warm spell that’s letting me get a jump start on these plants, and with luck we’ll have fresh salad for April Fools Day!

20160309_185806_25564845901_oI’m trying a new approach to hardening off the plants. We have a few extra bails of straw awaiting use with the chickens and rabbits, and so I’ve fashioned them and a little clear plastic into a temporary cold frame under our backyard patio roof. I move the plastic off in the morning and put it back over in the evening. The plants get a bit of sun early in the day which is the best early in the hardening off process, and are better protected from the wind, which has gusted over 35 miles per hour, during the day. Best of all, I don’t have to move them in each evening and out each morning, which is wonderful!

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A Day of Celebration — The 10 Hour Light Day

Today in Champaign-Urbana is the first day of the year when the sun sets over 10 hours after it rises!! And with that, plants can get enough light to really begin growing on their own under cover. Granted, there are many variables at play here, and so this is rather an arbitrary statement, but I choose to celebrate anyway!

15780092671_45cc2aa089_oLast fall I tried out a new pipe bending tool from Johnny Seeds so that I could use EMT metal pipe instead of PVC to make my low hoop houses. And I used a greenhouse plastic for the cover instead of off-the-shelf plastic. They are holding up well to the cold and wind. Carrots are starting to green up again, and I’ve seen signs of maybe one or two lettuce plants waking up inside the one. I expect the spinach, kale and arugula are also starting to perk up a bit on warmer days. With luck, now that we’re crossing over 10 hours of light per day, we’ll have fresh greens again within a month.  16172029828_38bdb49e79_oAnd in the other low hoop house, the Brussels sprouts continue to develop from last fall.

The low hoop houses are all passive — no added heat or light. And yet, they provide that little extra bit of protection so that we can extend the growing season a fair bit. I won’t know for a year or so what the full ramifications will be to my ecosystem. For instance, how is the balance of minerals and nutrients being affected, and how will the microorganisms and fungi react? That is, what impact do these actions by me as a part of the community have on the health of the whole? I will need to listen carefully to the other parts of my community!

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Seasonal Outlooks for Illinois

As you prepare your seed orders for this year, here’s the Climate Prediction Center’s take on temperatures and precipitation for the coming year. While taking it with a grain of salt, as all such predictions are calculated guesswork, I think there’s reason to expect we won’t be seeing the cool summer of last year.

Illinois State Climatologist

Last week, the Climate Prediction Center released their outlooks for February and beyond. There is nothing exciting to report for Illinois. Both the outlook for February and the 3-month outlook for February-April have us in “EC” or equal chances of above, below, and near-average temperature and precipitation. See map below (click to enlarge). That’s not bad news – it means there are no increased risks of a colder than average winter. 

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2014 – 4th Coldest Year on Record for Illinois

For those of us in Central Illinois for whom the beans and tomatoes seemed to struggle this past growing season, it seems we just experienced an anomalous cold 12 months. And it sounds like as we prepare for next year, trends predict we shouldn’t expect another similar cold summer.

Illinois State Climatologist

Annual temperature in Illinois

Based on preliminary numbers, 2014 was the 4th coldest year on record for Illinois. The statewide average temperature was 49.4° F and 2.9° F below average. It was tied with 1912 and 1979 for fourth place. The statewide records go back to 1895. Here is the breakdown for the four coldest:

  1. 1917:  48.3° F
  2. 1904:  48.9° F
  3. 1924:  49.2° F
  4. 1912, 1979, and 2014:  49.4° F

What happened to global warming?

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November/December 2014 Harvest

We continue to benefit from the bounty of our little urban farm, not just from eggs and rabbit meat, but also occasional vegetables. Our last lettuce, radish, and turnip harvests occurred mid-November in spite of the cold temps that month. And we probably have a couple pounds of brussels sprouts and leeks still out there to be harvested! Here’s the total for the two months (totals for 2012 in parentheses):

  • Carrots: 0 lb. 2 oz. (0 lb. 0 oz.)
  • Swiss Chard: 1 lb. 13 oz. (0 lb. 10 oz.)
  • Eggs: 23 lb. 10 oz. (0 lb. 0 oz.)
  • Kale: 0 lb. 9 oz. (5 lb. 1 oz.)
  • Leeks: 2 lb. 4 oz. (0 lb. 0 oz.)
  • Lettuce: 3 lb. 5 oz. (0 lb. 4 oz.)
  • Rabbit: 17 lb. 6 oz. (0 lb. 0 oz.)
  • Radishes: 0 lb. 15 oz. (0 lb. 0 oz.)
  • Spinach: 0 lb. 0 oz. (0 lb. 9 oz.)
  • Brussels Sprouts: 1 lb. 10 oz. (1 lb. 8 oz.)
  • Turnips: 0 lb. 1 oz. (0 lb. 0 oz.)

Total: 51 lb. 5 oz. (8 lb. 0 oz.)

The harvest total for 2014 ended up at 594 lb. 13 oz. In 2012, our total was 249 lb. 15 oz. And now, it’s time to begin the dreaming for 2015!

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Hearing from another homestead rabbit journey

15463333793_fa8ed16689_o 15463333123_b75265f447_o 15896906739_a36b2f9be7_oI just came across this new blog post by a fellow homesteader just starting out with rabbits. We’ve just crossed our first year of raising rabbits and since the first litter was born in February, we’ve had litters of 9, 8, 7, 6, and 8 rabbits this year, producing around 114 pounds of meat. As Amy Fewell points out in her blog, there’s little work involved compared to even the relatively small amount of caring for chickens, which share the same run. And they’re loads of fun to watch run around and interact, something we get to enjoy because of the colony approach we’ve chosen for our herd (Pictures are of our latest litter, who at just over 3 weeks are starting to make their first appearance in the outside run.)


 

Here’s Amy Fewell’s story as she writes on Mother Earth News Blog:

http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/homestead-rabbit-journey-zbcz1412.aspx

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November Finished Cold, Dry in Illinois

The permaculture principles of “observe and interact” and “slow and small” are good ones to keep in mind as we reflect on this past year’s gardening season. For many of us, some things did better than expected and others did quite poorly. For instance, for many the tomato harvest was smaller and shorter this year. So observationally, it’s good to consider the exceptional climate year we’ve experienced. And as such, we should be slow to make significant changes based on this past year’s results, and whatever we do change should be relatively small.

Illinois State Climatologist

November finished both colder and drier than average for Illinois. The statewide average temperature for November 2014 in Illinois was 34.3 degrees, 8.2 degrees below average and the fourth coldest November on record. November 1976 was the coldest at 33.4 degrees.

The cold November was not confined to Illinois. November was colder than average for most states from the Rockies eastward (greens and blues in the map below). Just like the winter of 2013-14, the Midwest saw the largest departures from average. Meanwhile, warmer than average conditions prevailed in California and the Southwest.  I discussed the cold central US from January through October in 2014 and how it does not match the rest of the world here. It will be interesting to see the global results for November.

nov-temp-us

January – November Temperature

The average temperature for January through November 2014 was 50.9 degrees, 3.5 degrees below average. It was the second…

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