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23 March 2008

Chook house and tomato seedlings

There will be more work done outside today. Hanno is enlarging the chicken coop, a project likely to take a couple of days, so I'll take over gardening duties why he's doing that. The production of food in our vegetable garden is vitally important, as is the well being of our growing family of chooks, so this requires a team approach to make sure all the required work gets done.

The first stage of the chook project got underway yesterday afternoon when Hanno climbed on top of the coop to clean off all the debris there. It doesn't look like much but it's already been standing for 10 years and in all that time, even with many local foxes, pythons and feral cats, we've only had one invader - a small dog that killed a few of our Rhode Island Reds.

In the photo below you can see the small cement slab running from the shed to the gate. This is the area we're enlarging. There will soon be a roof and walls surrounding the cement slab which will enable us to house about 20 chooks.

The coop is made up of a small shed where the girls sleep and lay their eggs. Just outside there is a fenced area that we're currently using as a pen to keep the older of the new chooks. This pen opens up to a larger run, just at the back of the vegetable garden, that is shaded by a fig tree, a lemon tree and a pecan. There is a lot of room for the girls to scratch and wander in the larger area but most days we open the gate and let them free range in the back yard. Often they'll wander through the fence and go down to the creek, or, during summer, they'll have their dust bath under the palm trees and then sit quietly in the shade.

We will keep the older new girls in this pen for two weeks. Then they'll know this yard is their home and even when they wander outside the confines of the fences, they'll know to come home at night. By then the four babies that we now have in a 200 litre plastic tub, will be big enough to go into the coop with their older sisters. They'll be kept in the pen for two weeks as well, to familiarise themselves with the other chickens while being separate from them, as well as seeing and feeling that this is their home. After their time in the outside pen, they'll be allowed out with the others. By then it will be time to bring our new Wyandotte babies home and they'll go through the same routine.

Yesterday afternoon, while Hanno worked on the roof, I was busy in the bush house, potting on the brandywine tomatoes. The photo above shows them a couple of weeks ago when the seedlings where starting to get their true leaves. I have found that tomatoes really benefit from special treatment before planting in the garden, so when I have the time, and when I want to make sure I get enough tomatoes to sink a ship, I go through the following procedure.

Each of the seeds is planted in a single long pot. I like these long pots as they encourage the roots to form and grow straight down. I do have two seeds in one pot above, but that's the result of my poor eyesight, or carelessness. After the seeds are planted they're put into a sheltered position that gets sun but no wind; I also put them into a container so they don't fall over.

A few weeks after planting the seeds, the seedlings will develop their true leaves and it's at this point I pot them on. I get a slightly bigger container, pick off the lower leaves and plant the seedling deep in the pot.

Tomatoes have the ability to produce more roots further up their stem, and to encourage them to develop those roots, I plant them deeper into the potting soil than I normally would with other vegetable seedlings. Bury the stem a good two inches lower than it was in the previous pot, firm the potting mix and water in with diluted weak seaweed mix. This helps the seedling cope with transplant stress. If there are any leaves touching the soil, pick them off, carefully.

The lower in you plant the seedling, the more roots will develop. The more roots you have on the plant, the bigger it will grow, giving you more tomatoes. I planted these on yesterday, next week I'll fertilise them with a week compost tea (you can use any weak nitrogen fertiliser) plus a pinch of sulphate of potash, then I'll wait for them to produce flowers. When I see the flowers, I'll plant them in the garden.

When I plant the seeds, they don't need sunlight. When the seedling emerge and put on leaves, they need sunlight, so they're left to grow in a sunny spot out of the wind. After potting on, they go back to their sunny position, and then to the garden.

Never let your seedlings dry out. There is a fine line to be drawn between too much, and too little, water. You'll develop the feeling for watering as you gain experience, but when you're unsure, feel the potting mix with your fingers and if it's dry, water, if it's moist, wait another day.

Later this morning I'll be planting more seeds and fertilising the seedlings already in the garden. Now is the time when there are a lot of small and fiddly jobs in the garden but I know that if I tend to them all they will make a big difference to our harvests later in the year.

I hope you are having a lovely Easter. Thank you for stopping by and reading. For all those folk who have emailed in the past week or two, I hope to reply this afternoon. Thank you for your patience. : - )


  1. Happy Easter Rhonda!

    It seems strange that you are starting tomato seedlings just as our crop is almost finished. We had a not-so-good tomato year this year, due mostly to lack of water, extreme temperature fluctuations, and tomato thieves (rats or possums).

    There have been plenty to eat fresh over the past few weeks, but not enough to preserve, unfortunately.

    I'll look forward to watching your garden grow.


  2. Oh I can't wait to start gardening! It is still too cold here in Nebraska but the days are getting longer and it is warming up a bit each day. I just don't feel "right" when I can't be out in the yard messing with my vegetables and flowers! We are going to order chicks next week for delivery the middle of April! It will be so good to have fresh eggs again! My husband has repaired our coop and hopefully the critters will stay out of it this time! Happy Easter to you and Hanno!


  3. Do you have 2 seasons there for planting or all year round planting? We are in the Northern Hemisphere and we are not in our spring yet for planting, unless you have a greenhouse, but you should be in your autumn but you are planting seeds ?

    I shall only start 'thinking' of sewing seeds in another 2-4 weeks-April.


  4. Happy Easter Kate. We get rats here too but usually only the insects mess with the plants.

    Kristina, I know that feeling of 'rightness' you're talking about. Happy Easter to you and your family.

    Hello Karen, we have year long planting here, except in a very hot summer. Our best planting season starts in Autumn and goes through to November. Then we access and if it's already humid, we know it will be a hot summer. Then we plant greens, eggplant, peppers, zuchinni, but no tomatoes. If it's a mild summer, like the last two, we continue our normal planting - which includes potatoes and hopefully enough pumpkins for the whole year.

  5. Rhonda,
    I really appreciate the how-to's you describe for planting - it is SO helpful. I've not done tomatoes from seed and may just give it a try.

    Any idea on where to find the items you mentioned (seaweed mix or how to make compost tea)?

    It's still quite cold in New England here and a long way from planting anything outside, but perhaps I can begin to think about starting seeds soon inside. Does one need special lighting for this or will direct sunlight do?

    Have a lovely Easter with your family!

  6. Hi Rhonda
    Happy Easter and a wonderful weekend to you and Hanno. Love your new chickens.
    We have been very busy in our garden, we have just harvested our potatoes, 3 builders wheelbarro loads. and the tomatoes, which are very late this year have just put on another 12 no.20 fowlers bottles of relish, so 38 bottles so far, then tomato sauce, green tomate pickes/chutney etc and bottled tomatoes in the next couple of weeks or until the frosts arrive usually early April,

  7. Hi Rhonda, and thanks for stopping by my blog! I am super excited - not only because I'm getting married (that's the number one reason of course!!), but also because my dear new husband and I will live in a rural area, which will enable us to have the sweet and simple life we both crave. I'm sure I will continue to look at you for inspiration. :)

  8. They say you learn something new everyday - I did not know that about planting tomato seedlings deeper = thank you Rhonda. I am about to pot ours up so has come at a great time. Your chickens are so cute - I keep going back to look at them. Enjoy your remaining Easter. Take care

  9. Happy Easter to you and Hanno, Rhonda. Hope it's been a lovely relaxing time for you.

    cheers Lenny

  10. I always enjoy reading your blog and I don't know if you would be interested in this tag that happened to me for the food porn meme

  11. I have only just heard that the old fashioned poultry, like Orpingtons, are better for vegetable gardeners because they have a smaller appetite!


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