Plangarden and Gimp are handy tools for moving things around in the garden without too much back ache. This is a preliminary map for the Spring 2010 Garden – not the veggies yet, but at least the structures.

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  1. The hoop house will be moved from its present position (light blue) over beds 8, 9 (still to be dug), 11 and 12 as soon as the cold weather veggies in those beds can do without it. If need be I’ll put cold frames over those beds.
  2. The hoop house will move over beds 2, 3, 4 and 5, destined for hot house tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, so the soil there can start warming up early.
  3. I framed in pale green those beds that still need to be dug.
  4. I am still debating on whether to create raised beds or field rows in the south-western part of the garden (bright green). I will use the soil from last year’s potato towers there – these beds will hold lettuce and shade crops, so no fear of blight.
  5. The old potato towers will become a large compost system.
  6. I’m not sure if the north-west corner will become home to a small shed yet. It might be a good place for either the chicken coop (opening into the fenced off garden to the north, not to the veg garden, of course) or the beehive (would that be too close to human activity?).
  7. The bright blue circles indicate rain barrels. The two barrels up front will overflow into pipes (blue lines) leading down to a  brook/wetland that will drain into a fish pond at the bottom of the front garden.


After two weeks of virtually no blogging, it’s lists like these that can get me going again. Yesterday I listed this week’s goals, today I’m looking at the Big Homesteading Plans for 2010. There is some sort of order here, but don’t ask me which.

  1. Chicken coop (cob? attached to greenhouse? moat?) and 6 (?) chickens
  2. Bee school and beehive
  3. New patio and garden path, and small lawn in the back
  4. Remove asbestos tiles in basement and create root cellar there
  5. Plant bushes and small fruit and nut trees
  6. Better fence around veg garden, and gates
  7. Better, bigger compost system
  8. Small garden/storage shed in veg garden
  9. Start on permaculture flower garden up front
  10. Front drainage and filtration “creek” ending in wetland/pond
  11. Solar thermal collector/glass greenhouse (attached to front balcony)
  12. Woodworking shop/pottery studio: this is a big one because it means demolishing our rotting shed, pouring concrete over a larger footprint, and putting up a frame. In our town we are not allowed to do those things ourselves. Also, it would cost a lot of money (this problem could possibly be solved by no. 17)
  13. Earth oven for baking bread, pizza and drying firewood
  14. Pottery wheel from the engine of our old dryer
  15. Double our food self-sufficiency
  16. Get serious about our emergency supplies
  17. Finish novel, find agent, get published
  18. Get serious about Transition in my town


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To do this week:

  1. plan Spring and Summer garden
  2. inventorize left-over and saved seeds
  3. read all the gorgeous seed catalogs that arrived while we were gone
  4. order new seeds
  5. figure out a better seedling “hotbox” – buy seed mats?
  6. enroll in bee school, chicken class, and pottery

The plants under row cover in the hoop house have stopped growing, but they are all alive and well, just waiting it out. I am planning to get some fresh horse manure from my neighbor and creating a small “hotbed” in the hoop house for some early spinach. It would be interesting to compare the growth of those plants to the ones under the row cover, and to what extent the decomposing horse manure heats up the hoop house.

I am out there twice a day to clear the snow off and away from the hoop house so light can penetrate and the structure isn’t too stressed. I am happy to report that the hoop house has withstood heaps of snow and  gusts of wind, so our reinforcement of the top connectors seems to be working.

I managed to finish both volumes of Edible Forest Gardens when I was in Belgium and my first project will be to thoroughly re-assess our property. Digging holes and staking out areas will have to wait until the two-foot-thick blanket of snow has gone, but I will have to eyeball some of it and decide on some bushes and small trees.

It’s great to see the juncos play in the fluffy snow and vie for a place at the feeder with the cardinals and the passerines.


A few weeks ago I used up all my compost. I had two full Earth Machines and one pile overflowing its chicken wire container. Not all of this compost was done yet, but after mixing it all up and adding straw, it was just the right mix of finished and unfinished for my purposes: mulching the unused beds for winter.

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The Earth Machine closest to the kitchen door is the one that receives all our kitchen scraps. It was thus the one that held the most nutritionally balanced compost. This bin had been turned and fired up several times, so it was also the most done. Also qua composition it was the most varied:

  1. at the bottom a ten inch band of dark, fluffy soil at 65 F.
  2. a fat middle layer of compost still at it at a steamy 120 F.
  3. at the top another ten inch layer of slushy, browning organic matter, much of it still recognizable, at 80 F.

75 degrees is the perfect temperature for vermiculture, and for sure, this top layer was riddled with thousands upon thousands of Red Wigglers (Eisenia fetida).  These worms do not live in soil and many people have to buy them by the pound. I did not buy mine and I have no idea how they got to be there, but they are welcome.

This is what the bin looked like when I opened it (picture from Wikipedia – I forgot to take one of my own):

eisenia foetida (c) Toby Hudson, 2009
eisenia foetida (c) Toby Hudson, 2009

It’s only when you hold in your hand a squirming ball of hundreds of worms that you realize that soil doesn’t “break down,” but that it is broken down. The realization is not simply grammatical. In all layers of compost macro and micro-organisms are busy breaking down the organic material:

  1. The bottom layer was being consumed by psychrophiles – both bacteria and fungi, which latter never like it hot.
  2. The middle layer was colonized by thermophilic (heat-loving) bacteria.
  3. The top layer was being consumed by psychrophilic and mesophilic bacteria and fungi, as well as some flies, some larger invertebrates, and mostly the worms.

All these organisms break the pile down into carbon dioxide, water and humus by using the nitrogen (N, greens, protein) in it to consume the carbon (C, browns, carbohydrates). I always imagine this process as an angry mob of angry villagers setting fire to the wooden house. Only they set the fire inside their guts. A mouthful of carbon, a nibble of  nitrogen (with an average C:N ratio of 30:1) and whoosh! The same happens when the larger organisms eat the smaller ones.

It is their body heat – the oxidation of the carbon – that the compost thermometer registers. The heat-lovers, burning the hottest and being the most numerous, consume the fastest. The Wigglers, who don’t like it above 80 F, take their time.

I was sad to have to break up this veritable worm bin. Some of them ended up in the beds and others I transferred to the new (uninsulated) bin, which will collect our kitchen scraps over the Winter and Spring. None of them  will survive the cold temperatures, since unlike the earthworms they cannot migrate deep down into the ground when the surface starts freezing up. I hope they will as miraculously show up in my compost next year.