Friday, February 16, 2018

Homestead Update 2/16/18: Lead, Seed Swaps, and Order Forms

The chickies are fascinated by bins. Maybe it reminds them of their chickhood.

Now that we’re already two weeks into February (!), Zach and I are officially scrambling to get in gear for this year’s garden. Although I was able to harvest some kale and a few accidental sweet potatoes from my fall garden last year, I haven’t done a full season of gardening since 2016, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much I have learned in that span of time.

Seriously, I think about the way I was gardening back then and want to laugh and cry at the same time. I planted cucumbers in front of a south-facing black-painted wall in high summer. I tried to grow watermelon in what turned out to be four inches of soil over a hidden concrete patio. I made two raspberries make do with less than two cubic feet of soil, then planted them into straight clay and didn’t water them all summer. And yet— despite all my failings and ignorance— I still grew a lot of food. I just now finished up the kale that I had frozen from the 2016 season, and I harvested some stellar carrots, peas, and jalapenos that year. Square Foot Gardening was a huge help in getting me started: aside from interference from critters or downright negligence, it’s pretty dummy-proof.

In short, I’m happy to start a new gardening year knowing two things:

1. I have a much better idea of what I’m doing; I’ve learned so much.

2. Later, I will look back on this year and groan about my mistakes, but it won’t matter because I will still have food and experience to show for it. If I plant enough things, something will grow!

Here are the projects we’ve been working on in the last month.

Testing our soil for lead

I’ve known for literal years that we need to get our soil tested for heavy metals, since we have an old house that was undoubtedly covered with lead paint at some point. However, I dragged my feet for ages, and chased a few false starts (the Missouri extension service will do it for you, but it was more than we wanted to pay). Zach finally found a laboratory at the University of Delaware for a reasonable price. 

As soon as the ground had thawed just the tiniest bit, we spent a frigid day digging up bits of our yard: the garage foundation, the house foundation, and the edges of our yard. We separated the soils into bowls and let them dry out into little pebbles of clay, then packaged them up in bags the university had sent us, and mailed them. Last week we received the results, and found that while our soil does have some lead, it’s within the safe limits as long as we’re careful about root vegetables— what a relief! 

Attending a seed swap

One of the most exciting events this month was a seed swap that I attended, hosted by the St. Louis Seed Savers Exchange. I brought some marigold and zinnia seeds that my mom had saved, then stood in line for my chance to race through the folding tables in a heated tent, where we were allowed to shuffle through dozens of seed packets. Some packets were 2017 stock, donated by various companies like Ferry-Morse and High-Mowing Organic Seeds; others were seeds that people had saved from their gardens. I grabbed “mystery tomato” seeds, packets of arugula, radish, carrot, pepper, butternut squash and more, and I even managed to snag a hops rhizome (the person who had brought it told me, “It’s more like a pet than a plant”) and a sunchoke (Jerusalem artichoke)! It was an awesome experience!

Ordering seeds and trees

Their seed catalog is gorgeous!
Even with the seed swap, we still had more to buy. I ordered the last few seeds from a company right here in Missouri, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The owners travel the world in search of rare seeds— all open-pollinated— and encourage people to save the seeds and preserve the genetic diversity of our food supply. I received the packets of borage, vining pea, and others a couple days ago.

Trees were next on the line-up to order. Zach bought a glut of elderberries and false indigo from the Missouri Department of Conservation, which will ship the second week of March. We also made a big order to Stark Brothers Nursery for several fruit and nut trees. I foresee much hole-digging in my future!

Murdering our lawn

This was our biggest project, and the one I’m most proud of. But that deserves a blog post in and of itself. Stay tuned...

Covering our lawn with leaves was only the beginning!

I’m happy about the steps we’ve taken to get this growing season off to a strong start. I know there will be a lot of failures, but a lot of triumphs, too. I can’t wait to see what this year will bring!



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    and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Humble
    Tx! Just wanted to tell you keep up the good job!

    1. Aw, thanks— you made my day! Glad you're enjoying this corner of the Internet. :) Have a great day!