Friday, June 26, 2009

What Is Growing At Our Place

A lot of things are growing at our place! Its that time of year and the sun and rain have done their part. As always there are some plantings that are a dissappointment and some showing great promise. Unfortunately, the previous months were cold and wet, which slowed down the expected spring crop growth and seed germination. While the crops are growing now, some of them are a bit behind.

The luffahs I planted early indoors are gourds and, as such, like the heat. They don't grow well in the cooler weather. Here it is, late June already and they haven't even reached the first wire! I had visions of the luffahs growing all over the deck rail. Alas, I don't think its meant to be and I started them early on the windowsill too! If I can just get a few luffahs this year, I will be happy. Its the seeds I want, to try again next year, when I will start them even earlier. I have tried for a few years now to grow a good crop of luffahs, to go with our handmade soap, but have not been able to for various reasons. I had high hopes for these this year. I even dug in some chicken manure for them. There is still time. Maybe this will be the year! Then again, the plants are still so small...

I also planted colourful small gourds for fall decorating. I did not start them early, just stuck the seeds in the ground. They are up, but that's all I can say about them. This is a picture of what I hope they will look like.

I planted six different kinds of winter squash and Halloween pumpkins this year. I dug chicken manure in there too (Its great stuff!). Five of the squash types are up and doing well. The Hopi pale gray squash seeds have not sprouted yet and are probably not going to. I think the seed is too old. I have just received fresh seed for both Hopi pale gray squash and Hopi black squash to dry and plant for next year. I am hoping to add these two to my list of rare and specialty seeds produced on our farm.

Only two of the acorn squash seeds sprouted, but those two seem to be doing ok. They were slow to come up and are behind the other kinds but I expect to have a few acorn squash from those two plants. (These small acorn squash are delicious baked with dried cranberries, raisins and maple syrup!) It's ok, we will have lots of winter squash for this year! I also planted large blue hubbard (the kind you need an axe to open), baby blue hubbard, nutty delica, butternut and ambercup (a buttercup squash of a different colour). All are doing very well! I have not grown delica or butternut squash before. These will be new experiments for us!

The Halloween pumpkin plants are large and covered with flower buds! It is exciting to try new and usual things, even if it takes us a few years to get it right. (I don't know the meaning of the phrase "give up".) This is my second year trying Halloween pumpkins.

The zucchini has sprouted, barely. Last year I started them indoors early. I wish I had done that this year too. I think I had zucchini already at this time last year. Lesson learned.

I dug chicken manure into to the tomato soil before planting this year. They seem to be enjoying the heat now and have doubled in the past couple of days. Some have flowers! I planted only heritage tomato varieties this year that I started early indoors from seed. I am growing "Ailsa Craig", "San Marzano" and "Portugal" tomatoes, all from seed started early on the windowsill. I don't know the actual variety of the Portugal tomatoes. I received the seed from a contact whose ancestsors brought them over from Portugal a few generations ago. They are late, large and sweet so I'm assuming they will be beefsteak type tomatoes. We are just going to call them "Portugal" tomatoes. The San Marzano tomatoes are reputed to be the best paste and sauce tomatoes in the world. They are from Italy.

I have not previously grown any of these tomatoes and have high hopes for them, IF THE GROUNDHOG LEAVES THEM ALONE! They are right in his eating area. These are planted in the ground, even though I contemplated growing them in hanging buckets. Even now I wonder if I should have done that with at least a few of them (Google "growing tomatoes upside down"). Tomato plants are in the nightshade family and are very poisonous, so I am hoping he will leave them alone. So far, so good... Only the squash and tomatoes are in that bed. I think both are safe. The other, larger, veggie garden is far away and out of his area. I am thinking, right now, that I should put a fence around the tomato plants. I have fencing I can use for that. I think I will do that tomorrow. (I will be REALLY, REALLY frustrated if he eats all the tomato plants to the ground overnight tonight! I mean "losing it, screaming and chasing a groundhog with a pitchfork" frustrated!)

There is an entire family of groundhogs living under our shed. We will leave them alone if they leave us and our veggies alone. They ate all my nicotiana and four o'clocks last spring but have not touched the flowerbed this year. That is probably because I put huge rocks in the hole he had dug nearby and also because he has been busy eating the entire field of sunflowers I planted near the shed for winter chicken feed. Every single sunflower is gone. I had five 30' rows of sunflowers that were doing so well I had to thin them a couple of weeks ago. I also had four sunflower seedlings reputed to get 12'-15' tall. No longer! All have been eaten to the ground! I even surounded the bed with aluminum pie tins that blew in the breeze and banged together. (I can picture those groundhogs sitting around laughing at that one.) Even so, I am reluctant to do them any harm. They are beautiful and I like living near the wildlife. They eat only plants, not chickens, but will defend their home against other tunnelling critters that do eat chickens (and these are huge groundhogs with unbelievable claws!), so there are some pros to having them nearby. I just wish they'd leave my special plants alone!

We need a large, free ranging, outdoor dog to encourage them to live a little further away. Maybe a great pyr, when we can afford one. We do have a fourteen year old shi tzu - bichon, but I don't think you can call him a farm dog. This is his usual location.

All is not a dissappointment! The strawberries are responding to the heat by ripening. Here is a picture of today's pick. These are everbearing strawberries, so we will get more throughout the summer. We will soon have wild raspberries and rhubarb too!

The sugar snap peas are flowering! They love the cool weather! We have five 40' rows of them this year. They are the only peas we grow now. We tried a few snow peas, too, last year but the sugar snap peas are so much better!

Our yellow wax beans are up and growing! We don't grow a lot of green beans as we prefer the yellow variety. I did plant scarlet runner beans in the flowerbed and so we will have a few from those, but there are no green beans in the vegetable garden.

The asparagus was delicious, weeks ago! It is the very first thing we eat from our farm each spring. Here it is now. We also have about 40 baby asparagus plants in their second year this year. I hope to sell some of the plants. I grew them from seed planted last spring and had great success with germination.

I planted a small, early, heriloom cantaloupe variety this spring. A new kind for us to grow. I started them early indoors but they have not grown at all. They just sit there. I check on them every day and even talk to them, but they still just sit there and refuse to grow. They are planted near the acorn squash that didn't come up. Maybe there's something about that location... Its the same bed that I planted the sunflowers in and they grew very well. The groundhog doesn't seem interested in the cantaloupe or the cucumbers growing nearby.

Our "Dosaki" yellow cucumbers are up and growing. These are in our own kitchen bed near the house. There are more growing in the back field. We will soon have our own cukes again! We despise the cucumbers from the grocery store!

These "Dosaki" yellow cukes are the best ones we have found. They are fat, sweet and dry. The texture is more solid that other cucumbers, making them great for sandwiches. The fatter size makes larger slices for sandwiches too and the taste is unbelievable. They are delicious! This is an heriloom variety that is hard to find. We will be adding them to our rare specialty seed store when it is up and running. Once you eat these cucumbers, you will be dissappointed in the common grocery store variety.

I had great plans to grow my own chicken feed this year. I planted rows of sunflowers, poppies, amaranth and millet in the vegetable garden. So far the only one to come up are the sunflowers. (I have covered their demise, above.) The poppies, millet and amaranth that I planted in the flowerbed are up and doing well, so I will probably have seed from those for next year. The rows I planted in the vegetable garden have not shown their faces yet. That one is hard to figure out. The sun and care are the same. There are more weeds in the veggie garden now but they weren't there when the seeds were planted in the spring. I just don't know what happened to them and I am greatly dissappointed! I strung wire across the ceiling of the front porch to hang these things and the sunflowers to dry. I will miss them hanging there but will hang other flowers and herbs up there to dry anyway, and the grapevine wreaths I made last fall. I will finish them this year and hang them up there to be decorated for Christmas later.

The cold months affected our ornamental seed germination and plant growth. The specialty annuals and tender tropicals are just now starting to reach for the sun. The canna lilies have just last week begun to grow, even though I planted them in early May/late April. I have plain red ones from last year. I also have one yellow one and three dwarf white that I started this winter from seed. I had a "Tropicana Gold" canna last year but it didn't survive the winter, unfortunately. I know what I did wrong and won't make that mistake this winter.

The canna lilies have taken off in this heat and I am hoping for blooms this year. I read that they can bloom the first year from seed, if started early indoors. Starting canna lilies from seed is not an easy chore. A hole must be put in the seed coat for the water to penetrate before planting and they are very hard! I tried everything I could think of. I finally did it by using needle nose pliers to hold the seed against a rasp in the drill on high speed. Honestly, I used all manner of tools, even other things in the drill with no luck. A metal rasp in the drill is the only thing I found that would make a dent in the seed coat. I then soaked them in warm water for a week before planting them. I have some growing in the flowerbed now to attest to how well that method worked.

I also have some tiny calla lily seedlings that I am just now transplanting outside. They are not even 1" tall yet but are looking strong and healthy. It took a long time for the calla lily seeds to sprout. I had just about given up and planted something else in those pots on the window sill. I reuse seedling pots and dirt if the seeds don't sprout. It is possible that I may have several things growing in one pot if the slow starters decide to show their faces later. I love callas! I don't know what colour these will be. I believe the parent plant was yellow but the seeds will probably be a mix of the parent and other ancestors, especially if the parent was a hybred. That is acceptable as I like gardening surprises and variety. I am not a garden snob, "hung-up" on named varieties.

The elephant ears are not up yet, even now! They have been a great dissappointment. Next year I will start them very early indoors on a heating pad. This is my first year to grow these elephant ears. I got six bulbs in the mail in the winter and have waited anxiously to plant them in the spring, and they haven't even sprouted yet. I have read on the internet that they will not do so in this area until late June, when it gets hot. Well, its late June and hot now. Where are they? Come out, come out wherever you are? (Especially if you don't want to be left there all winter!)

The balsam impatiens are only 1" high but the nasturtiums are getting big. Nasturtium flowers and leaves are great in salads, as are violets, pansies and malva moschata, all of which we grow and eat through the summer. (A salad of flowers for lunch gets quite a few remarks at work.)

The hardy hibiscus plants I grew in the veggie garden are up again now and doing well. I planted them from seed last spring. I will have around 30 of them to sell later this summer when they bloom. I am going to keep one of each colour to go with the huge red one I have in the flowerbed. The seeds are a mix of red, pink and white-with-a-red-center, so I should have some of each colour. I hear that there is a blue one now - must find some of that seed!

The "Keri Blue" dahlia is up and doing well. Its not really blue, it just has some blue colouring in the center. Dahlias always start so easily indoors in the spring, unlike cannas and elephant ears.

In addition to the "Keri Blue" pictured here, I also have a yellow one and one that I bought from Home Depot in the fall last year. Both were end of the year specials for .50. They were not blooming and half dead, so I have no idea what they will look like. I know the yellow one is yellow because of the label. I'm looking forward to the surprise! I got a white dahlia in the fall for my white flower bed, but it did not survive the winter. In spite of the trouble these tender bulbs can be, I love growing them. I would like to have some fancy, colourful caladiums, too.

This year I am going to save the four o'clock bulbs and see if they will winter over in the basement to come back next year. I would have done this last summer if not for the goundhog. I would also like to try this with pelargoium "geraniums". I have read that their roots will winter over well in a basement and spring back to life in the summer. Maybe I will buy a few just to try. I usually stay away from the standard garden center annuals that everyone buys and sticks in their gardens in the spring - boring, but I may buy a few pelargoniums to try this. I know they make good houseplants if you have a place with some sun. I might try that too...

While we do grow the standard vegetables, like beans and corn, and ordinary flowers, we are most interested in the unusual, rare things. We lean more towards heirloom varieties of veggies and hard to find flowers, usually grown only from seed.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Painting A Farm Mural

With the onset of the huge farming conglomerates, the farm mural is becoming a thing of the past. Gone are the cows commonly seen painted on the side of a barn. Farmers used to take pride in their farms. It was their home as well as their livelihood.

Now that small farms are springing back to life, we are hoping to see more artwork and pride in the family farm and home. We have personalized our small farm with a colourful rooster mural on the side of the big chicken house.

Are you are interested in painting a cow, chicken or pig on your barn or buildings? Maybe this post will help you to get started.

The first thing you need to do is decide exactly what it is that you want and where you want to put it. Location is a big decision. Why hide a beautiful painting where only the cows can see it. You also need to keep it out of direct sun all day as this will fade the colours. You can use new paints specifically made to resist fading from the sun but they are more expensive and still only last a short time in direct sun. Our rooster mural is on the north side of the building and protected from direct rain by a small overhang, yet it faces the road - a perfect spot.

To help you decide what you want, try looking at the hundreds of murals on the interent. Just use Google Images and type in "barn mural". Study them, what it is about them that you like and so forth. Put together an image from these pictures that you would like on your building. It is much easier to use a mural already done by someone else as a general reference guide than it is to make one up from your own photographs.

Once you have the picture put together that you want, decide how you are going to transfer that outline to the building. All you need to start with is the general outline of the pictures.

Here is the rooster outline that started our mural. It was originally drawn in charcoal. When we were happy with it we used black paint to make it permanent. Needless to say, this has to be done on a dry day when you have time to draw the entire thing and make the drawing permanent before any rain falls. Even a heavy dew or wind will erase charcoal.

There are a few ways to transfer this outline to the building. An overhead projector makes is easy, if you have access to one. What I like to use is a grid. Draw a measured grid on the building and a corresponding one on the picture. Then draw only the lines that you see in each square of the grid. Ignoring the rest of the picture, draw only one grid at a time. Then erase the grid and and stand back to look at the drawing. Adjust it a little here and there until it is right.

Colour is the next consideration. What colours do you like? Do you want it to be bright and cheerful or soft? Do you want realistic or playful cartoon like? Colour theory can be a complicated subject but here are a few simple things to consider:

- Cool colours such as pastel purple and blue are better in the background and cause things to look like they recede.

- Using complimentary colours together will make the object stand out and the colour really "pop". Complimentary colours are opposite on the colour wheel. Examples are: blue and orange, purple and yellow or red and green. It is mostly the basic blue and orange combination in our rooster that make the colours stand out so.

- Use black and white to shadow and highlight. Mix each with a little of the colour your are putting it on to blend it in smoothly.

After drawing the animals and deciding on the colour, you then need to collect your paint. Latex or oil? - good question. Both have pros and cons. Oil has more durability outdoors and the colours stay brighter when dry. Latex colour tends to darken and soften just a little when it dries. Some new latex paints can be very durable, as well, and latex washes up with water. Oil takes much longer to dry. Since you will be painting in layers, that will mean that it can take days longer to complete than it would if you are using latex paint. If you decide to go with oil, don't invest in various expensive artist extenders, conditioners, etc. You won't need those for this project. We used mostly latex with bright colour highliting in oil. If the latex is very dry, you can put oil paint on top of it without a problem. You just cannot mix the two types of wet paint together.

Make sure you have every colour you will need on hand when you begin. Some shades you can mix yourself as you go. Any colour can be made from red, yellow and blue with black and white to lighten or darken. Small variations can be mixed as you go but you will need to buy at least a small can of the bright, single important shades. I like to put used paint into plastic jars or margine/yogurt type containers for storage after use. They don't keep well in the can. Large plastic mayo jars are perfect and have a large mouth for use with bigger brushes.

You don't need expensive artists brushes for a mural. You aren't going to be doing that much detail and the rough surface will ruin whatever brush you decide to use. I bought a few small, med and large brushes at the dollar store for this purpose. Use real brushes, not foam. Foam brushes just won't last long enough on a rough outdoor surface.

So, now you are all ready to start painting. All I can do is give you some general direction here. You will have to work out the details as you go along. To start off, keep it simple. You can fill in more and more details as you go, if you think it needs it. Don't expect to finish it all at once.

You are going to paint this mural in layers. If you have a background planned for your animals, paint it first. Then paint the animal on top of the background where it goes in the picture. To keep it from looking "pasted on" draw something from the picture, like blades of grass, over part of the animal, such as the feet. Another trick to keep it from looking pasted onto the background is to make part of the outline of the animal `blend completely into the background, such as an outside line of an ear or part of a leg.

The entire animal needs a base coat of paint, each section painted in its single base colour. This should be the colour that you want to shade the whole animal when it is done, as it will show through, just a little, in the overall picture, especially on a rough surface.

Here is our rooster with the base colours painted on. You can see the slight rusty look in the finished painting. I have already filled in some detail and highlighting on the head and tail feathers because I knew what I was doing and was up there on the stool anyway. (Climbing up and down is hard on the knees.) It also helps to put your paint on a table or raised surface so you don't have to keep squating to dip your brush each time.

So you fill in the base colour on each section of the figure, just like a child does in a colouring book. When that base colour is dry, you will then begin to shade it with the dark shadow colour. Go over the entire figure and shade it with the dark wherever there is shadow and darkness in the picture. Then use the light highlighting colour to do the highlights. Don't be afraid to paint the light. All lighted surfaces need to be highlighted.

After you have done this basic work you can begin to narrow your focus and fill in the details. So far you have been looking at the animal as a whole. Now you need to concentrate you efforts on one small part only and fill in the details of that one spot. Eyes are very important and a great deal of time should be spent in getting the details and highlighting done right. Concentrate on the reflection of light in the eye.

As you move over the various smaller sections of the animal, filling in the details of each, it will begin to take on life and look real. You don't need to do a great deal of tiny detailed work for a mural. This is not a portrait, it is just a mural, to be seen from afar.

When you have finished it and are happy with the result, take a picture of it and post it on the internet for your friends to