KW Homestead

Pasture Raised Poultry from Our Family to Yours

Tag: garden (page 1 of 3)

What’s Happening in the Garden…

We planted some more today, and checked on a lot of our little plants. Here’s what’s growing around here… 


Provider greenbeans (first planting of three so far)


Baby pepper plants: bell peppers, cayennes, jalapenos, and aji.



Jason harvesting some greens for the chicken soup!


Baby paste tomato plants and their friend, basil!


Oregano and thyme that came back strong from last year’s planting.


Spearmint… What a wonderful smelling intruder!


Beans round 2.


The tomatillos are looking great!





Our little garden pond, beloved by fish, frogs, and our flowering comfrey plant.



This year we’re growing our Irish potatoes in straw instead of in the groind… Should be easier to harvest!



Our cilantro went to seed very early this year!



Thyme in a tire… What a perfect planter!



A bed of snow peas, green onions, and carrots.


snow peas

Snow peas!


A beautiful, volunteer chia plant. What symmetry!


Cabbage = Yummy Sauerkraut!

This week we transplanted our two cabbage varieties from their pans and into the ground. The great thing about cabbages is that they are cold hardy, which means that during the early spring when there is still a risk of frosty weather they generally do just fine. A true freeze can harm them, of course, but cabbages usually do really well starting their growing journey in the early spring!


Cabbages in their pans!

In addition to transplanting the cabbages (we chose the best 50 or 60 plants to put in the beds), we also started some other seeds, like:

  • slicing and paste tomatoes
  • spicy and slicing peppers
  • lettuces
  • herbs like basil, oregano, thyme, and many others
  • tomatillos
  • and more!

This year we haven’t yet gotten behind with planting (like we did last year because of all the wedding planning), which is encouraging news for us. For now, we await the cabbages and the delicious and nutritious sauerkraut this will result!


Cabbages transplanted in their beds.


Pseudo Straw Bale Potato Gardening

Last year we grew 9 different varieties of Irish Potatoes in our garden. We also grew sunchokes and sweet potatoes, and while there’s nothing quite like a fried potato, this year we decided to focus less on Irish potatoes, and more on other tuber crops.

Still, we figured we would try a low risk garden experiment this season by planting our seed potatoes in raised straw beds. Some advantages to this approach are that as the potatoes grow, instead of hilling them up with soil, we simply add more and more straw to cover the stems and encourage more tuber development. Because the potatoes grow in straw instead of soil, harvesting is easier and the tubers come out cleaner.

creative wedding seats

the first function of our wedding strawbales…. photo by Jenny Tenney Photography

Last fall, after our homestead wedding, where we used straw bales benches, we strategically stacked the leftover bales in our garden area along the same contour layout of our raised beds. The thought was to simultaneously kill off the weeds and grasses underneath the bales and prepare the soil for new beds while conditioning the bales for planting.

We ended up going in a different direction though when spring came around, deciding to instead raise potatoes above the ground, and constantly add layers of straw to the growing stems.

straw mulch garden

well muclhed and weed free

First, I had to move the strawbales into a big pile next to the planting area. This exposed the nicely prepared and weed free “bed”. Hopefully this new pile will smother any weeds under it and allow us to expand this experiment in a few weeks.   I then added a sprinkling of organic fertilizers and compost. I used a mixture of bone, blood, alfalfa, kelp and greensand, and then covered it with a nice layer of decomposing straw.

potatoes straw bale

Densely planted for high yields of tasty potatoes!

This is when I added the seed potatoes. I laid them out in multiple staggered rows, about 1 foot apart. I then went through and liberally gave each seed potato a handful of compost, and another pinch of fertilizer.

purple majesty seed potato

purple majesty seed potato

On top of this went a big layer of straw, probably 4-6 inches high, and then another light dusting of compost of fertilizer.

straw bale gardening potatoes

the compost and organic fertilizer should help break down the straw into humus and keep our potatoes healthy

I am fertilizing this patch heavier than I would normally because the straw is high in carbon, and will require some extra nitrogen to fully breakdown. The end result should be a beautifully composted soil, and a nice harvest of potatoes as a bonus.

This kind of planting will need a little extra attention in the beginning, especially during dry spells, because the upper layers of straw have a tendency to dry out. Once the straw is 18 or so inches high I don’t think it will be problem anymore. If the potatoes seem to do okay, we may just try some sweet potatoes this way as well. I can’t believe that it’s almost time to start sweet potatoes slips again!

The First Signs of Spring… Seed Catalogs!

As Christmas and New Year’s pass and the days start to get longer as we get further and further away from the winter solstice, slowly, Spring is coming.

One of the things that particularly reminds me of this is the sudden, and almost incessant arrival of seed, plant, and gardening supply catalogs.Starting around Mid December, seed companies large and small start to send out their beautiful and eloquent descriptions of cultivars and varieties.

Spring Garden Planning

Some of our favorite places to find new seeds

From vegetables to fruit trees, the catalogs pour in with old heirloom favorites like Cherokee Purple Tomatoes, to newly rediscovered varieties from across the ocean like anchote. Anchote, or Coccinia abyssinica, caught my eye the other day as I perused J.l. Hudson’s new availability. Its an ancient tuber crop from Ethiopia related to cucumbers. Pretty cool, and supposedly tasty too.

These catalogs are full of interesting varieties like that, and make for great winter reading by the fire as we contemplate Spring, a new Year, and the taste of those first vegetables from the garden. There’s a lot that still needs to be done before then, but for me at least, these catalogs are the first sign that Spring is coming.

frosted plants and crunchy leaves

a sure sign that fall is here and winter is coming… frost! we had our first frost of the year on november 1st, which was close in date to first frosts of other years. luckily, we were proactive; we watched the weather and were poised to harvest the crops before the frost came in. among the things that we harvested:


  • jalapeño peppers
  • aji peppers
  • sweet bell peppers
  • cayenne peppers

sweet potatoes (these we harvested after the frost because jason cut off all of the greenery and covered them up with sheets to protect the tubers for a little while longer)

  • red porto rican
  • yellow porto rican (see jason’s post to learn why their name is spelled this way!)
  • korean purple



and a good thing  we did, too! check out how frosted (and killed and blackened) the peppers became…

frosted peppers

the aji pepper plants after the frost!


frosted peppers

the bell pepper plants after the frost!

some crops do well with a light frost, though. kale is one of them, and the frost even makes the leaves sweeter. our kale is still going strong and we ca’t wait to eat some!

baby kale

baby kale, oh baby!

jason also just put some garlic in the ground, which withstands even the coldest winters like a champ. our oca tubers are still in the ground, too, and they won’t get harvested until after winter is winding down.

i’ve also noticed the lovely trees and leaves on the ground (and since we don’t rake or leaf-blow them around, i get to enjoy their crunch for a while to come (even though they’ve piled up in the carport too!)!

maple tee losing leaves

topless tree… our front yard maple.


oak tree

our front yard oak

leaves in yard

my pile of leaves!!!


Sweet Potato Harvest 2014

Today was a great day to harvest sweet potatoes. The slips we planted months ago have done okay in the garden and it was time to dig them up and see how they made.

geese  sweet potatoes

The goose troop making sure I didn’t miss any sweet potatoes

In preparation for our first frost the other night we cut off the tops off of the sweet potato plants because frost damage enters the tubers from the vine part, and by cutting off the top and leaving the potatoes in the warm ground, we can delay the harvest a few days until it’s more convenient.To add a little bit of extra protection, I covered the sweet potato beds with old bed sheets to keep in a little extra warmth. It definitely worked, and there are no signs of any frost damage.

covering sweet potatoes

cutting the vines off and then covering with a bed sheet can give you a few extra days to harvest your sweet potatoes

We planted 3 different varieties; 1 red porto rican sweet potato (I know, it should be Puerto Rican, but that’s what they call it), 1 yellow porto rican, and 1 korean purple. The porto ricans we grew last year with great success, and the purples were started from tubers from Super G, and international grocery store in Greensboro. They were planted in 4 different locations in the garden. About 1/4 went into one of our new hugelkulture beds, where they were inter-planted with sorghum and cowpeas as a southern style 3 sisters garden. These did the best.

sweet potato varieties

red porto rican, yellow porto rican, and korean purple sweet potatoes

Overall, the yields were not as great as last year, but still okay. We planted them much later than last year, and the fertility in many of the plots were on the low side. Still, we should have plenty of sweet potatoes to last us through the winter and into next year. This means plenty of sweet potato ginger soup! Yes!!

When is the Best Time to Harvest Chia Seed?

When is the best time to harvest chia (salvia hispanica) seed?  

After the flowers have dropped, and the seed pods have turned brown. You can pinch a few of the pods and smush them between your fingers to see if the seeds are black and fully ripe.

when to harvest chia

chia is a great homestead crop.It even grows well inter-planted among the sweet potatoes!

Last year we snipped off individual stalks of seed pods, there are anywhere from 1-20 on a plant depending on vigor, but this took a bit of time. Because the seeds seem to stay in the pods fairly well and not shatter and fall off when the plant is disturbed, I think this year we will just snip the chia off at the base with pruners and then shake the seeds out in one go.

harvesting chia seed

the pods on the stalks turn brown when the chia seed is ripe

These plants are all volunteers form last year and have done fairly well. Chia,  which is related to sage, is an ancient crop from central Mexico, with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and other micro-nutrients.  It is said that 1 tablespoon of chia seeds could supply a long distance Aztec runner with all the nutrition he needed for a days journey. We add the seeds to water, where the germinate into gooey globs of goodness that take the edge off of an empty stomach and just make the water taste better. Chia!

Kale! The Superstar of the Fall and Winter Garden

As the leaves start to turn and the acorns start to drop, the summer garden is ready to be put to bed. This is a time for mulching and cover-cropping, but it’s also a great time to grow a fall/winter garden. In reality, fall garden planning starts in the summer, but our homestead wedding took most of our energy and attention during that period of time. Still, we will not be going without fresh garden produce entirely. We can thank kale for this. The wonderful, green, nutritious, and delicious superstar of the fall and winter garden.

fall gardening

sweet potatoes and chia are some of the last crops of the summer garden

We planted  a whole bunch about 2 weekends ago, in the empty garden spots vacated by our potatoes, and it has germinated and is off to the races. Our mild weather is helping it to establish itself before it truly gets cold, but even then, kale loves a frost, which just makes the leaves sweeter.

saved kale seed germinting

saving kale seeds was easy, and our germination was great!

We have 3 varieties in the ground, Vates (heat /cold resistant and tasty too), Lacinato (Italian heirloom from Tuscany also known as Dinosaur Kale), and our Siberian Kale seeds that we saved from last year. This should keep us well stocked with kale, and give us plenty of chances to make our famous kale soup with Neese’s sausage and homegrown potatoes!

Compost! A Gardener’s Best Friend

One surefire way to improve soil health, life and fertility is with compost. Compost is essentially human created humus, decomposed organic matter teeming with beneficial microbial activity. The recipe for compost involves acquiring enough organic material to start a heap, maintaining a good moisture content, and then turning it to add air to the equation. Compost not only provides nutrients like Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphate, but it also provides a healthy dose of the bacteria and fungi that help plants utilize and acquire what they need from the soil.

Homesteading Compost

Our compost pile, the perfect soil conditioner for the homestead or garden.

I started a compost pile the other day when I had a surplus of bagged plant material laying around from work,in addition to fresh grass clippings from our wedding preparations.These count as greens in the composting world, or things that are high in nitrogen. Other greens would be animal manures, legume hay, blood meal,  and food scraps. The ratio I was shooting for was 1/3 greens to 2/3 browns. Browns are anything high in carbon, like paper, wood, sawdust, straw, or bagged leaves from fall cleanups. The key to good composting is waiting until you have enough material to make a pile that is at least 1 cubic yard in volume. This insulates the pile, helping to maintain the high temperatures needed to break down your organic material while minimizing losses to off gassing.

I layered my browns and greens, and added water after each layer. I wanted to have the pile wet, but not dripping or soaked. Roughly around the moisture content of a sponge you just squeezed the water out of. This aids the microbial breakdown, while keeping the pile from getting too anaerobic. After I had a pile that was up to my shoulders, I let it sit for 4 days. After 4 days,it was time for the first turn, and I grabbed my pitch fork and fluffed layers from the pile to an open space right next to it, adding water if it seemed too dry.  It was nice and steamy, which let me know that the process was working!

Today, 3 days later, I turned it once more and added some leftover stale beer to feed the microbes a little more. From this point on I’ll turn it every 2 days, and after 2-3 weeks, we should have roughly a cubic yard of black gold,ready for the garden or for a wonderfully complex brew of compost tea!

Homemade Homestead Pizza!

In my post about some of the differences between living in the country vs the city (which include thinking that anywhere other than rural Stokes county = the city), I mentioned that it took us a whole year before we  found a pizza place that would deliver to our house. While delivery pizza is great for nights you just don’t feel like cooking, nothing beats a homemade pie crisp and fresh from the oven.While we haven’t yet made our own pizza dough, we do use either frozen pizza doughs from the store, or more often, tortillas.

homemade pizza garden

a fresh tortilla, with sliced cherokee purple tomatoes and california wonder peppers is a great base for garden pizza

But the best part about homemade pizza is that you get complete control over your toppings. No having to split, or compromise with friends or significant others about meat lovers vs. veggie supreme. This especially holds true with tortilla, “personal pan” pizzas, where each person gets their own pizza to create and eat.

garden pizza

add some jalepenos…

garden pizza homemade

and some onions and chorizo…

Some of our favorite toppings are the ones we pick fresh from the garden. Tomatoes, basil, bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, and jalepenos all make great pizza toppings. Add some sausage, or chorizo, and some garlic olive oil, and your in for a fun night.

homemade pizza from the garden

add some olive oil, cheese, and salt and pepper to taste, than bake until golden brown at 375

We use thick slices of homegrown cherokee purple tomatoes instead of tomato sauce, and a light sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. A little salt, and a drizzle of oil really brings it all together, and makes it all but impossible for any leftovers to survive.

garden pizza


Garden pizza! A delicious way to save some some money and get a full helping of nutrient dense veggies form the garden! No, the chickens won’t be eating any of this pizza!


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