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Friday Favorite: Growing Onions from Seed

February 28th, 2014

I love onions, love love love them. I’m fairly certain not a day goes by that I don’t include onions in my diet. As a result I grow lots of onions. After being disappointed in the varieties of onions available in plant/set, I began starting my onions from seed.
starting onion seeds 1
This year I’m trying a few open pollinated varieties and would like to try producing some of my own seed for the future. That’s one reason I chose to grow ‘Clear Dawn’, which is a stabilized open pollinated version of ‘Copra’ a popular long-storing onion.
starting onion seeds 3
My ‘Redwing’ onions from last year are storing like champs, which is very rare for red onions. I’m growing them again along with ‘Red Bull’ which is supposed to be an open pollinated long storing red onion. I’ll compare how it stores alongside the ‘Redwing’ onions.
starting onion seeds 4
starting onion seeds 5
‘Red Weathersfield’ is considered to be one of the healthiest onions, it contains high levels of antioxidants and other goodness. It’s also supposed to store well, we shall see how it stacks up to the other two red varieties above.
starting onion seeds 6
I’m also starting a few varieties of leeks, they are great when you don’t want too much oniony flavor and they are great for augmenting the onions in the winter since they’re so cold tolerant.
starting onion seeds 2
This is the first year I’ve been able to grow enough onions for my kitchen. My onion harvest is still storing well and I have a good number in the pantry. When the garden thaws I’ll have a few overwintered leeks as well to help make them last until the 2014 harvest comes in.

What’s your favorite vegetable to start from seed?

Keys Everywhere

February 27th, 2014

When we purchased this house we inherited a bunch of keys.  There are some hanging in the kitchen, there are others upstairs sitting on the stair railing.  We have no idea what they go to, but we keep them around just in case we discover a lock somewhere that they might open.
I’m planning on putting them all in jar in a cabinet somewhere, but them I’m afraid I’ll forget where the jar in. You know how it goes, as soon as we put them away and forget where they are we’ll discover one of the locks they open!

Did you inherit anything you were afraid to throw away with a home?

New Fancy Light

February 26th, 2014

After years of dealing with insufficient lighting for my seedlings I finally purchased a BIG metal halide light.  I grow my own seedlings to have the healthiest plants and I finally decided it was time to take the plunge. I wanted to future proof my investment, so I got a 1000W one. The nice this is that the ballast I got allows me to dim the light to 400W and 600W for when I have fewer seedlings underneath.
metal halide lights 2
Fluorescents were never my favorite when it came to seedlings, I felt that unless the bulbs were replaced every couple years the seedlings suffered.  The constant moving of the lights was also a huge pain since I didn’t have a real light shelf.  It’s not as big of an issue if you only have one or two lights, but I need around 10 or 15 lights for the number of seed flats I have.   There was also the need for more grow lights this year because of my bigger garden and my old grow lights were in need of new bulbs. I was tired of never having enough space and having to swap out seed flats for 12 hour shifts under the lights.   I could keep limping along and spending more money on a system I didn’t like, or I could invest in something that would give me better results at a cheaper price.  I decided it was time and invested my money in a new fixture.
You may wonder why I chose this particular light. For one, it’s made in the USA (check out SunlightSupply for more info). Another benefit is that it’s actually more efficient for me to use this light than to use fluorescent lights for 20-30 seed flats. How can this be? Because metal halide grow lights produce more lumens per watt than fluorescent lights do. This intense light will also produce shorter, sturdier growth in my seedlings. Another benefit is that this light creates much less waste and environmental impact that fluorescent lights would. The bulb in this fixture needs replaced only every 6000 hours. That means that I can use one bulb for four or five years and when it needs changed it’s only one bulb instead of 30 or 40 bulbs that I would have to replace in fluorescent fixtures. It’s also much more economical for me since each bulb costs around $70. The fixture itself is also much cheaper for the number of seedlings I can grow under it. I can fit 32 flats of seedlings under this light and other plants that need less light around the edges (my citrus trees will be happy in this spot).
metal halide lights 1
This past weekend Mr Chiots and I set up the light in the basement. Eventually it will reside in the potting room up in the garage and hopefully a greenhouse someday, but the ducks live there now, so the basement it is for seedlings this year. I already have a pot of greens germinating under the lights along with planters of cilantro and other herbs.

Do you use grow lights for your seedlings? What kind do you use?

Blooming Again!

February 25th, 2014

My mom has had the same amaryllis bulbs for years, they bloom year after year. Four years ago I purchase a few bulbs hoping I’d be able to do the same.
Amaryllis bulbs
Luckily, they have bloomed every year since, I guess I got my mom’s green thumb when it comes to amaryllises. These however are not at all like my mother’s amaryllises. Hers are always in shades of pink, coral, white and red with big showy blossoms. She loves a colorful bloom and rolled her eyes when I gave her bulbs for a few green ones. Here’s a shot of her dining nook one year.
moms amaryllises 3
I don’t like those normal colors and always opt for something a little out of the ordinary. Mine are all various shades of green. This particular one is the ‘Evergreen’. It’s funny because my mom hates green flowers, though I gave her a bulb for each variety.
Amaryllis 1
Amaryllis 2
I have a few more that are in the bud stage, they’ll be green too. One is ‘Green Dragon’ and I forget what the other one is.

Do you have any flowering bulbs blooming indoors?

Cultivate Simple 66: Here Chook, Chook, Chook

February 24th, 2014

This week on the podcast we talk about chickens, how to care for them and why you should have them.

I’ve had lots of requests to talk about keeping a small flock of chickens. Before we moved to Maine I’d been longing to have a flock of my own chickens. I love having animals around, and chickens seemed like a valuable addition to our life. Not only do you get eggs, but you also get manure, insect control and scratching.
Chickens 1
I think everyone should have chickens or rabbits, they are a great way to increase your food independence and produce some of your own protein as well as valuable fertilizer for your garden. Whenever you can close the loop you’re better off and you’ll have great, healthy food for your table.
chickens in apple tree 3
How much time to they take? Chickens really don’t take that much time each day, especially if you’re feeding chicken feed. I mix and ferment my own chicken feed and it takes me about 10 min per day preparing their feed and gathering eggs. Since I practice the deep litter method I only clean the coop once or twice a year, usually in spring and sometimes in the fall if I need fertilizer.
New Chickens 9
How much do they cost? That depends entirely on what kind of chickens you get and what you decide to feed them. Mine are very inexpensive to keep around because I buy grain from local farms and mix my own feed. Even if you’re buying organic feed you will still come out ahead if you’re buying organic, free range eggs. Keep in mind that you’re also getting fertilizer and insect control from your chickens.
New Chickens 2 (1)
What are their requirements? Chickens really need very little. A place out of the elements, with shade from the sun, protection from the wind and rain. They will also need protected from predation.

Most important thing is protection from predators. These depend on where you live. This also depends on your flock, how you want to manage them. Do you want to risk losses for free ranging?
chickens and clarington forge
Where do I start? Look for a spot in your yard where they can reside. Somewhere convenient to your house is best since you’ll be heading out every day. Decide if you want them to free range around your yard or be contained to a specific area. They will scratch in your flowerbeds and eat your plant, especially your garden plants.
chicken coop 1
Do they smell? No – a properly managed chicken yard doesn’t smell – I recommend the deep litter method. So far there have been no smells in my chicken coop. Just keep adding litter. The same thing can be done in their run.

What kind of coop do I need? It depends on how many chickens you’re going to have and how much time they will spend in their coop. Also consider the size of the run if you have it. Consider building the coop above with a run area below. This will keep it dry and give them an area to get out of the rain/weather. Chickens don’t care what their coop looks like, they’re happy as long as it’s dry and draft free. Biggest consideration is ventilation to keep the humidity down. I have a board on Pinterest full of coop ideas and other chicken information.
chicken coop 3
What breed of chicken do I get? Find a local breeder or find someone who has barnyard mix – the “mutt” of the chicken world. If you live in the South you want a heat tolerant breed and if you live in the North a cold tolerant breed is best. This is why it’s a good idea to get them from a local breeder/farmer. You know their chickens will do well in your area. Don’t trust chickens from Craigslist, most of the time they’re not the greatest and can be diseased. You want chickens from a reputable place.
What about diseases? A well managed flock won’t really have issues with diseases. The deep litter method also helps with this. As with anything, making sure you’re feeding them well so they’re healthy is your best way of controlling diseases.
chicken love 1
What else should I consider? How you will manage your flock. Willl you make them your pets or are you going to take a hands off approach. Consider that you will have to deal with death and possible have to put down a chicken in case of injury or illness.

What do I feed them? you can go with chicken feed, but you’re probably better off mixing your own feed.
fermented chicken feed
If you’re on the fence, do it. I really don’t think you’ll regret it, you’re more likely going to wish you had done it sooner.

Think about maybe sharing a flock with a friend or neighbor, split costs and work. Then you have someone to watch them while you’re gone. Though many people are more than happy to check in on your chickens in exchange for free eggs.


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.