What’s Going On Here and What is This Blog About!?

When I first started Budgie Makes Three, I think I intended it to be a sort of “mommy blog”, only the creature I was “mothering” was a white budgie named Giacomo. I thought I’d write about marriage, life with birds, my faith, and maybe share a couple of recipes. It didn’t take long before I ran out of material… and interest. Not long after, Giacomo passed away and our household was down to two humans with no budgie to make it “three”.

My interest in the blog was renewed when we brought home Robin and Tuck. I had a bit more to write about, having the two birds, but I once again lost steam. Then Willow came into our lives, and I thought I’d have plenty to write about sharing life with an African grey.

But somehow that didn’t last long either, and while life with Willow and Robin continues to be an amazing blessing full of joyful hilarity (I am writing this sitting on the bathroom floor as Willow does a bit of exploring, the same location I’ve written a few other blog posts), I find myself wanting more and more to write about the other great blessing Jesus has brought into my life: gardening.

The truth of the matter is I’m a homesteader wannabe living in a lovely city condo. Someday Mr. Awesome and I want to, Lord willing, acquire a few acres and move to the country. That could happen this year. It could happen in five years. We don’t know. Part of me is very happy and content where we are. The other part of me thinks that I’m not getting any younger, and setting up a large garden, orchard, etc. takes time. I keep praying that God will let us know when the time is right to make such a move.

And part of me is deliciously happy seeing just how far I can push the homesteading concept here at the condo. Can I grow enough fresh produce in containers on our deck to make a large contribution to our diets? What DIY skills can I acquire that will help us save money? I’ll never get the condo association to approve chickens, but I did string a clothesline in our basement and learned to do embroidery. And if embroidery doesn’t sound like a useful skill to you, two words: Christmas presents.

I started blogging again at the beginning of the year because I very much wanted to write, and not just for myself. For a long time journaling had satisfied the itch, but as time went on it felt less and less like enough. I was diving deeper into the whole gardening thing, and I wanted to share what I was doing. Perhaps someone might benefit from it. And of course, I hope and pray God is honored through all of this somehow.

But now that I’ve rambled on and on, I find myself back at the title of this post: what’s going on here and what is this blog about? I had considered starting another blog that was garden specific, but I’ve scattered so many blogs across the blogosphere and subsequently abandoned them that it’s positively embarrassing, and I’ve found pigeon holing one’s self too strictly is a surefire way to get blog burnout. Besides, God has given us two lovely psittacids who really should have their photos posted from time to time.

Perhaps one day I will change the name of the blog, or the address, or even stop being so cheap and shell out a bit of cash to actually purchase a WordPress plan. I still haven’t found a look for Budgie I’m super in love with either. I suppose this post is a bit of a warning that gardening will very likely become an increasingly prevalent subject here, with a couple of feathered miscreants thrown in, and you’ll probably see aesthetic changes from time to time. I appreciate all of you who take the time to read and like my posts. I hope you wont be disappointed in what the future holds for Budgie Makes Three.

God bless!

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New Cold Frames

As I mentioned in my last post, Ye Olde Deck Farm has been keeping me busy this week. The last couple of weeks we’ve been blessed with a few mild days (thank You Jesus for the chance to get outside in January!), and the Cherry Belle radishes I planted a while ago, along with some of the cold hardy greens I started in a flat, were beginning to poke their little heads up. After assessing the options of how to proceed, it was clear it was time to finally build the cold frames I had purchased supplies for several weeks before.

I should warn you that this post isn’t going to be a step-by-step tutorial on how to assemble a cold frame. To be honest, I was too concerned with getting the things made to take the time to take photos every single step of the way. But that’s the great thing about this particular cold frame design. It’s pretty straight forward.

I want to say up front that this style of cold frame was not my idea. As I so often do when I need an idea for the Deck Farm, I turn to Pinterest or an internet search to help out. If I was going to add cold frames to the Deck Farm, they were going to have to fit a few requirements:

1. They had to be fairly cheap. Mr. Awesome and I are in a season of our lives where we need to be extra smart in our spending. If I was going to rationalize using money, it would be a whole lot easier if it wasn’t, well, very much of it.

2. It had to be something I could build myself and put together with the limited number of tools we have. Basically, if it couldn’t be easily assembled with a jig saw and a power driver, it probably wasn’t going to happen, and making precise angle cuts wasn’t going to happen either.

3. It needed to be tall enough to accommodate containers. Most cold frames sit directly on the ground the plants are planted in. Obviously containers would elevate the plants several inches, something that would need to be provided for.

4. They had to look decent. We live in a condo with condo by-laws and such, and the very sweet lady who lives next door has a couple of windows that look out directly onto our deck, so straw bales and plastic drop cloths were out of the question.

With the above requirements swirling around my subconscious, I went hunting, and praise God, came across a pin that led me to the little pitter patter blog, where the author made a cold frame out of a couple of boards, a door hinge, and two window well covers.

Window well covers?????? Of course! Why not?? They’re ready made greenhouses! Obviously I would need to use wider boards to raise them up high enough to put containers in, but that was the only real modification I could see that would be required. I added up the cost of the materials I would need and it looked like I could throw one of them together for $35 or less, a cost that my garden mania would have little trouble in rationalizing.

I went out and bought what I would need to make one cold frame, assembled it, and put it to use protecting a few plants that I started in the fall (though, as it turned out, much too late to provide a winter harvest. Yeah, I’m new to this). Since I was so pleased with how the frame was working, I used a Christmas gift to pick up what I needed to make three more frames. For each frame I used:

  • Two window well covers ($7.99/ea. = $15.98)
  • Two 1″ x 12″ x 6′ untreated pine boards ($6.89/each = $13.78)
  • One cheap door hinge ($1.29)
  • Various screws to hold everything together (mostly used what I had, but bought a box of small screws, probably less than $2)

Total cost: $33.05 + tax

Tools required to assemble the cold frame:

  • Jig saw (you could really use any appropriate power saw)
  • Power driver/drill
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil

A few assembly tips:

  • Write down your measurements so you will have them in the future in case you want to make extra frames.
  • Building them in batches is pretty easy, so you might want to consider doing a few at a time.
  • Save yourself the heartache and drill your holes before screwing the boards together to keep them from splitting. The only times I didn’t find this to be a benefit was when I was using smaller screws to attach the well covers to the tops of the frames, and when I was putting in the hinge.
  • When attaching the well covers to the wooden frame, begin by doing one screw on each end first and work from there. This will make sure things stay lined up fairly well.
  • Build both halves of the frame, but only attach the hinge to one side before you get the cold frame in place. Each half is pretty light weight and easy to carry around. Not so when it is fully assembled.

One of the best things about these cold frames is how easy they are to vent. With the hinge, you just swing them open as far as you want. Boom! Quick and easy! They’re also super easy to clean snow off of, which is another *BIG* bonus.

And I believe they look quite smart. I thought at first I might try to paint them, but I eventually decided against it. They will hopefully weather gracefully as time goes by.

Now, one of the biggest hurdles of having cold frames placed up off of the ground and filled with relatively small containers of soil is going to be heat retention. With a traditional cold frame, the earth provides this to keep what’s planted inside it a bit warmer and provide protection. The wood decking will do some of this, but I’m not sure how much. This is something I’m still working on and need some time to experiment with. For the first frame I made, I lined the bottom with a layer of paving bricks in hopes that they would absorb heat during the day and radiate it back at night.

There are also other options I’m considering for the future: sheets of foam insulation, rolls of reflective insulation, bottles of water, bubble wrap, etc. Adding extra heat retention is obviously most important when trying to overwinter plants in the frames. I’m not certain, but I think it will be less of an issue when using the frames to start plants in early spring. Again, it’s all experimental for me right now.

Another area I want to look into is providing a second layer of cover somehow within the frames. Eliot Coleman accomplishes this by using row covers in greenhouses, and 19th century French market gardeners used to throw mats over their cloches. Since we live in a condo, neither of these are options for us, but it seems to me that there should be a way of making a second layer within the frame either with agricultural fabric or clear plastic that will provide an extra layer of protection during really cold spells, sort of a miniaturized version of Coleman’s setup.

We did get some really low temps earlier in the season, but fortunately it snowed quite a bit before hand. I got outside and banked snow up around the sides of the one cold frame I had at the time, and covered it in a nice pile of snow as well. This seemed to work perfectly, and the plants came through the cold snap fairly ok, though I think I uncovered them too soon and they suffered for it. Either that or I didn’t air the frame on a sunny day when I should have.

I’m really pleased with these cold frames, and so thankful to have four of them now! I can’t wait to see how well they work for starting plants in the spring. If I missed anything or you have any questions, please leave a comment below. Have a blessed weekend!

Celebrating the End of Solar Winter

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

– Genesis 1:14-15 KJV

My apologies for no “Robin Tuesday” or “Willow Wednesday” posts this week, but the past few days have been full of illness and body aches, and the Deck Farm has preoccupied a good bit of my time. Mr. Awesome came down with a nasty stomach bug Monday and spent Tuesday and Wednesday recuperating. I’ve either been having a touch of the flu myself or a wicked Fibromyalgia flare. But enough of what has been going wrong. Today is a special day in my new gardening year, the end of Solar Winter in our area!

Solar what?

In Four-Season Harvest, author Eliot Coleman refers to the period of the year when there are ten hours or less of daylight as “Solar Winter”, or the “Persephone Days”. This is the period of the year when plants grow the least, even under cover. After doing a web search it was fairly easy to determine that in our area, Solar Winter lasts from around November 8 to January 31. That means today is a new beginning!

Now, as Coleman is quick to point out, there is a big difference between Solar Winter and what the thermometer says. In our area, February is traditionally one of our worst months for low temps and generally nasty weather (not to mention illness), and that can often last well into April. Looking at the weather forecast, we aren’t supposed to get above freezing for the foreseeable future, so I’m not going to be starting my tomatoes and cukes any day soon. But I do have the majority of my cold hardy crops and annuals started, and Lord willing, between the garage setup and cold frames, they will survive to see more pleasant weather (one of the great perks of container gardening, you can haul your crops inside if you really want to!).

I have to say, this has been one of the most pleasant winters I’ve had. The Garden Antsies haven’t been nearly so bad this year, thanks to Coleman’s book and what I’ve tried to implement into my gardening program after reading it. I haven’t had much by way of Garden Withdrawal, praise God. I’ve done a lot of reading, and I’m learning a lot. I’ve been able to add a number of things to the Deck Farm that make me more excited for this year than any of those past. Jesus has been good to us, and I feel incredibly blessed.

So what now? Having done so much for the Deck Farm in January, I’ll admit that February is looking rather dull. But I can read. And blog. I can sow a few more things, and above all keep an eye on what I’ve started to see if it was worth it to start it all so early, and pray that God will give us the best garden yet.

The day is thine, the night also is thine: though hast prepared the light and the sun.

– Psalm 74:16 KJV

 


Image Credit:

Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library. “An analemma, shewing by inspection, the time of sun rising and sun setting, the lengths of days and nights, the beginning and end of twilight …” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1786. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/f2b72690-857c-0132-40ce-58d385a7b928

How I Start My Seeds… Well, Sometimes…

Please forgive the title, but it would be silly of me to state that I start my seeds one way and one way only. Sometimes one way or another isn’t efficient for what one wants to grow, or necessity makes its own demands. Still, I’ve managed to come across a method that works fairly well for my situation and needs.

I hoard toilet paper rolls. Don’t throw these wonderful little things away, as they can, at the very least, be composted and added to your pile of “browns”. I like to accumulate a nice large stash for seed starting season to… well… start my seeds in. This is hardly anything new, as the concept makes the rounds on Pinterest regularly and that is most likely where I got the idea from. Here’s my particular way of doing it:

First you need to get ahold of some sort of tray or shallow storage bin and punch a few holes in the bottom for drainage. I mostly use the standard black plastic seed starting trays that usually have those plastic cells in them (take the cells out), but you could use small storage containers, aluminum baking pans, etc., anything that isn’t toxic and you can punch holes in. You get the idea.

This year I finally got smart and lined the bottom of the tray with a single sheet of newspaper to keep seed starting mix from escaping from the massive holes I made in the bottom of my trays.

Next, I fold the toilete paper tube flat

If I’m sowing a regular seed flat, I cut the tube in half at this point (sorry, no pic). Once it’s cut, I fold each piece in the other direction, creasing it on the other two sides.

Now when you open your TP tubes back up, they will be square(ish) and fit more efficiently into the flat.

***NOTE: I DO NOT cut and fold up the bottom of the new little cubes. Not only is this time consuming, I’ve found that it really isn’t necessary so long as your growing medium is damp when you transplant your seedlings. This also takes care of a problem that I’ve heard some people have with starting seeds in the TP tubes, that the cardboard doesn’t break down quick enough and the seedling’s roots aren’t able to penetrate. This way, roots can just go straight out the bottom.

Next, I fill the flat with TP cubes. I’ve found that I can get anywhere from 72 to 78 cubes in a flat, depending on the size of the TP rolls.

Next is the time consuming part, filling each little cube. What I like to do is fill a big bowl with my favorite seed starting mix and get it good and damp.

Then I take a spoon and just spoon the seed starting mix into each TP cube cell, making sure to firm each one in so there aren’t any air pockets. You don’t want your seed starting mix soggy, but do take into account that the TP cubes will absorb some of the moisture. If you don’t think it’s damp enough you can always wet it down after the tray is filled.

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say each tray of TP cubes takes six or seven quarts of seed starting mix to fill it, more than you might think just by looking at it.

One of the reasons I like this method so well is because you can plant multiple varieties in each flat and not worry about getting them mixed up. Having a small growing space, I don’t usually want an entire flat of any one type of seedling. For simplicity’s sake, I do sow each row with the same variety, and make a name marker for each row. If I want more than one row (six plants) of something, I just mark the first row it’s planted in and then leave the rest unmarked. I know that any un-named rows to the right of a marked row have the same variety in it.

This method also makes transplanting incredibly easy. It’s the garden equivalent of break-n-bake cookies, just make sure the flat is nice and damp before transplanting so the growing mix doesn’t fall right out the bottom of your TP cubes.

Though I haven’t had much experience trying this, I would imagine that this would be a good method to try for starting anything that doesn’t appreciate being transplanted. If you want to be good and careful or need your seedlings to get a bit bigger than what half a TP tube would allow, you can always leave the tube whole to give the seedling more room and growing medium, as I did for the pansies I recently sowed.

I’m hoping to start Sugar Snap peas, sweet peas, cucumbers, and sunflowers this way later in the season. I have a different method for my tomatoes, but that’s for another blog post 😉

I have used this method the past two years for winter sowing, and it has worked fairly well, though you need to keep an eye on the flats as they are prone to drying out quickly, especially around the edges, especially in early spring when you are taking the clear plastic lids off during the day.

Well, that’s about it. If you have any questions, just leave them below and I will try to answer them. Have a safe and blessed Friday!

Ad Hoc Cake Mix Bash

I find I enjoy cooking and baking the most when it’s on the fly. I’d rather open the pantry, see what I have to work with, and try to make do than follow a recipe. It’s exploratory cooking, and I find it extremely satisfying.

That’s exactly what happened yesterday. I had a name brand, boxed yellow cake mix in the pantry. When I bought it for $1 I assumed I would just make some homemade chocolate frosting to smear on it, but I wasn’t feeling “that sort” of cake at the moment, and I also remembered we had these (please excuse the lousy photography. Our kitchen has no natural light, and I was doing this on a whim):

Mr. Awesome’s uncle has a small farm and orchard. After a trip visiting family, Mr. Awesome brought back a jar of apple sauce and juice from his very generous uncle. To be honest, I had no idea what I would do with them when Mr. Awesome presented them to me, but looking at the box of cake mix yesterday, it all came together.

So I grabbed the cake mix, the two jars you saw above, and some raisins and dried cranberries (one cup of each). You can substitute oil in baking recipes with an equal amount of apple sauce, so that’s what I did. Instead of the water the box called for, I used an equal amount of the apple juice. I also threw in four eggs instead of the three the box called for.

I mixed it as the box said to, two minutes.

I stirred in the dried fruit and divided the batter between two 8 in round pans. I would have preferred a bunt pan, but we don’t have one that’s bird friendly.

Into the oven they went and I baked them as the box directed.

Since it will just be Mr. Awesome and I eating on this thing, I decided to freeze one of the cake layers for later. It tasted great, praise God, and Mr. Awesome was pleased. It may not look like much, but you could spiff it up with some powdered sugar, a simple glaze made with powdered sugar and lemon juice, or maybe even go for the “naked cake” look and throw something between the layers. And, big bonus, you can add whatever you want to to this: nuts, coconut, dates, chocolate chips, etc.

Happy cake mix bashing!