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Yesterday was the Spring Equinox, and this year it actually feels like spring! The snow finished melting a few days ago, and the weather has consistently been above freezing during the day. Blue skies and a shining sun are doing a lot to pick up my mood lately. Oh, spring! How I’ve missed you!

The chickens and guineas are enjoying the warmer weather. Their run is finally solidified instead of being a mud wallow. Every morning I go out and toss some scratch for them. Pretty soon their coop will be thawed enough for me to clean out a winter worth of poop and straw. Not even kidding – it’s about 3′ deep in spots. My garden is going to love all the nutrients from the litter.

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And we’re getting eggs once again. Look at the beautiful little presents I find every morning! We’re getting 8-10 a day… and it’s warm enough outside that the eggs aren’t freezing and cracking within minutes of being laid. Yahoo! You’ll notice a ping pong ball next to the eggs. That is there to entice the hens to lay in the nesting boxes instead of on the floor. Seems to work, though sometimes they toss it out and kick it into the corner by the door, where they like to lay. I move it back whenever they do that. Stubborn, sassy birds.

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My seedlings are doing swell. I’m finished with peppers, and have now started on some brassicas, flowers, and more herbs. Here are some picture updates on them:

Borage in the windowsill. Almost enough to make a salad.

Borage in the windowsill. Almost enough to make a salad.

Basil. Mmm. I love rubbing my hands over the leaves - the smell that's released is amazing!

Basil. Mmm. I love rubbing my hands over the leaves – the smell that’s released is amazing!

Peppers. I'll probably have around 500 when all is said and done. Their sales are going to help build a greenhouse, I hope. :)

Peppers. I’ll probably have around 500 when all is said and done. Their sales are going to help build a greenhouse, I hope. 🙂

Onions got their first haircut and were transplanted into larger flats. You should see the massive roots on these things. Most of them are on their fourth leaf, which means the onions themselves have four layers each. Hopefully this means I'll actually get decent sized bulbs this fall.

Onions got their first haircut and were transplanted into larger flats. You should see the massive roots on these things. Most of them are on their fourth leaf, which means the onions themselves have four layers each. Hopefully this means I’ll actually get decent sized bulbs this fall.

This last picture isn’t really homesteading related, but it’s beautiful to me so I’m going to post it anyway. This is our butcher block island in the kitchen after I cleared it off and oiled it up. Every time I oil it, it gets darker, richer, and so much more gorgeous. I love our island, and highly suggest this material to anyone thinking of remodeling a kitchen. Oh my. I just noticed in the picture how dusty our light is. I guess when the oil soaks in I’ll be climbing up onto the island to clean the lights. These lights – they’re amazing, but a lot of maintenance.

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I am spending a couple hours every few days transplanting peppers to their second homes in plastic cups. So far it’s taken me about 6 hours to transplant 147. It seems like a lot of effort to put into some silly little plants, but they appreciate it and will give me strong roots and stalks as a result. In case you missed my post about transplanting seedlings last year, here is how I do it.

First I get my cups ready. I’m doing a bit of experimenting this year since I’ve found that the clear plastic cups are even cheaper than Solo cups on sale. So I’m using up some old stock I stashed from last year, and also some new cups I bought this year. The solo cups are too wide for my use, so I cut off the top inch or so. It doesn’t have to be pretty – the plants don’t care. Cutting off the top lets me stack 18 cups per flat, 21 if I really squeeze them in. Then I cut three holes around the bottom edge of each cup for drainage. Again, nothing fancy – they just need a way to access the water in the tray during watering times.

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Then I mix up sterile potting mix with peat moss and perlite. I run it under the faucet for a few seconds to moisten it, then use a big mixing spoon to stir it up evenly. When the mixture is wet enough to clump when I make a fist around it, but not so wet that water drips from my fist, then I gently scoop it into each cup, leaving the mixture loose and aerated. I don’t press it down at all at this point, but I do stick my index finger into the middle of each cup to create a planting hole for the seedling.

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This year I’m transplanting as soon as the cotyledons (seed leaves) are up and spread, but last year I waited until the first set of true leaves were out. Doesn’t really make a difference when you do it, so long as you take your time and are gentle with the fragile little roots and stems. Squeeze the bottom of each cell to loosen the seed starting mix around the roots. Then ever so gently pinch the base of the tiny stem and pull each seedling out. Immediately tuck them into the hole in the transplant cup, then gently press the mix around the base of the stem.

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Once all of the cups in a tray are filled, planted, and labeled clearly, they go upstairs to the grow racks I made. They’re simple structures. So easy, a caveman could make them. They’re just shelves between four supports, leveled and screwed in place. Cheap shop lights hang from screwed-in J hooks and chains. This makes them adjustable, which is necessary because the light should always be 1-2″ above the top of the plants to prevent legginess. No, you don’t need the expensive grow lights. I’ve used the cheapest bulbs I can find and had sturdy, healthy plants.

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Pardon the mess. We’re in the process of finishing the loft, where the grow shelves will reside until spring planting. I can’t imagine why, but my husband doesn’t seem fond of the idea of 8′ tall grow shelves in the living room this year. Who knows? Maybe he actually wants to watch movies on his new tv in the corner. Maybe he wants to be able to walk through the living room without having to shimmy around grow shelves. Husbands… they’re so picky. 😛

Other than the peppers, the onions and herbs are doing splendidly. The onions are just about ready for their first haircut and a bit of straightening up.

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This is the first year out of several that I have planted rosemary and actually had some results! I don’t know if you can see it in the top left of the second picture, but there are two tiny rosemary seedlings. I had three, but one bit the dust. I’ve started taking some of the herbs, especially the basil you see on the bottom of the bottom picture, and putting them into assorted pots for sale. They smell sooo good when I play with them! I can’t wait to have fresh basil again.

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These pots shown above each have three different types of basil – Italian, cinnamon, and opal purple. I bought some plain little self-watering pots so people can grow them on a patio or in a windowsill. The plants trying to overshadow them are my indoor spider plant and goldfish plant. Can you see the little, goldfish-shaped, orange flowers on the right? The whole plant is about ready to be loaded with them. It blooms constantly. I originally got the plant from my aunt, but in my ignorance I left it outside over winter. I thought it would just come back like a perennial. Nope. Thankfully, my mom saw my mistake and took a cutting before it was too late. She propagated her own, and gave me a cutting of it when I complimented hers. It’s so neat to see a little plant trimming take off into a full grown plant in its own right. Nature is awesome.

Not much else going on on our little homestead. The snow is nearly all gone, and the ground is nearly thawed completely. Crazy what a week can do. Last week it was -23… this week it’s in the 40’s. I’m still crossing my fingers for an early spring. I’d love to get the garden planted before mid-June this year! I’m behind on my seed starting thanks to the peppers hogging the heat mats, but hopefully I’ll get back on track this week. I still have to start eggplants, broccoli, cauliflower, marigolds, a few more herbs, and some other flowers. Then in April, I’ll start the tomatoes, melons, squash, and another round of herbs.

What are you starting? How’s it going?

 

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