DIY

Verdant Vermont: The Growing Season Begins!

It's been a little over a month since our last blog post and things have been happening fast around here! As we mentioned, we have started our own little fruit orchard in one of our fields. So far we have 5 Peach trees and 4 Pear trees planted, and we have 2 Plum trees sitting in the driveway waiting for the yard to dry out a little so we can drive over it without making a mess of the lawn. Eventually we will get a 3rd Plum tree to make the orchard a little more symmetrical, but that may wait until next year. Hopefully if all goes well in the next few years we will be whipping up some peach cobbler or plum preserves... or perhaps some Perry? (Pear Cider.) We are excited to add new fruits to the breakfast menu at our B&B and serve local fruits that we have grown on the property! Food is better when it's so fresh you can still taste the sunshine!

Our new plum trees, making their way to the orchard!

Our new plum trees, making their way to the orchard!

Seedlings, safe and warm inside!

Seedlings, safe and warm inside!

The little seedlings we started a few months ago are itching to get into the garden. Admittedly, I started them too early. Last year, by this time, things were dry and pretty warm. This year things are still a little too soggy, and the nighttime temperatures are still dipping a little too low to get them out. (Chilly nights make for great sleeping weather!) But that's OK, they are perfectly cozy in the little greenhouse with all of their friends. Eventually the peppers and tomatoes will be placed in the garden under the gardening hoops you can see in the picture below. Then a white fabric gets stretched over the hoops and secured. This will keep the plants warm, and protected from the elements while they get settled in and grow roots. 

The greenhouse plays a key role in keeping our plants safe and warm in the early season!

The greenhouse plays a key role in keeping our plants safe and warm in the early season!



While we grow 100% of our vegetables from seed, space in the house, as well as time commitments on the part of yours truly, prevents us from growing everything from seed. While we still grow a fair amount of flowers from seed, including zinnias, sunflowers, and petunias; and divide and overwinter our dahlias every year, there are some things we rely on local greenhouses to provide. This last weekend we were visiting family down in the Lebanon, NH area and stopped by one of our favorite nurseries, Edgewater Farm. We picked up some basil and mint for the wonderful breakfasts we will be serving up, and we also picked up some impatients for the flower pots on the front porch. I also snuck some creeping phlox and delphinium into the shopping cart for around the pond.  I can't resist flowers!

We prepare the soil with compost, then overlay it with ground cover to keep the weeds down without using chemicals. The hoops are covered with fabric to provide shelter to young plants in the early season.

We prepare the soil with compost, then overlay it with ground cover to keep the weeds down without using chemicals. The hoops are covered with fabric to provide shelter to young plants in the early season.

Over the next few weeks all of this will be going into the ground and the property will start showing it's true colors. I can't wait!

-Luke McCarthy

B&B Winter Projects: Preparing for Summer Flowers

We love to grow flowers to put on the breakfast table or in our B&B's guest rooms. Even in the dead of Vermont winter, we are starting seeds or planning the flowers to plant in the seasonal garden beds. It takes some love and care to keep the gardens in line.

During our last post we mentioned that our Dahlia tubers that we placed into storage this winter began to mold a little and were generally not doing well. We are going to devote an entire post to Dahlias because not only do they add a huge burst of color to the Bed and Breakfast property every summer, but this flower in particular holds a special place in our hearts. 

Dahlias run the gambit from small, 1 inch diameter flowers on short stems; to flowers the size of dinner plates on massive stalks that need stakes driven into the ground in order to support their weighty heads. Whichever type of Dahlia you choose, they run the rainbow spectrum in color and eye popping appeal. This is why they line the banks of our pond and adorn the nightstands of our guestrooms when they are in season. Dahlias do, however, have one major drawback for Vermont growers. 

Native to Mexico, Dahlias are closely related to the Zinnia and Sunflower. Needless to say, they are a very tender annual and do not handle cold very well. While Zinnias and Sunflowers are easy to grow from seed each year, the Dahlia's root system is a group of meaty tubers that take time to become established. Therefore it isn't as easy as throwing a bunch of seeds in the ground each spring. Dahlia tubers can be purchased from any mail order seed catalogue, or even purchased at your local hardware store; but if you live in a climate such as ours, and you want to save your favorite Dahlia plants from one year to the next, certain precautions need to be taken so they can thrive in a Vermont garden.

At the first signs of frost their hearty stalks turn black with winter chill and they begin to die off. Before that frost reaches the ground, we snip off the blackened stalk and use a pitchfork to loosen up the soil around the mass of tubers. Once we can extract the tubers from the ground we rinse the mass off with water and set them out to dry for several days. The reason we had some mold popping up on our crop this year was twofold: I was impatient and didn't let them dry enough before putting the tubers into storage; and the storage container I placed them in did not have enough ventilation holes. 

Dahlia tubers, being prepared for winter storage

Dahlia tubers, being prepared for winter storage

Dahlias adorn the Blue Spruce Room bedside table.

Dahlias adorn the Blue Spruce Room bedside table.

Since there is a good 6-7 month stretch from killing frost to spring planting, these Dahlia tubers actually spend most of their life in storage, which means we need to be very careful about how and where they are stored. In years past I've placed them all in a cardboard box, separated by thin layers of newspaper, and placed them in the basement. This works well for many but here at the B&B our basement stays a little too warm. Ideally, they should be in storage conditions similar to a root cellar. Chilly, but never frosty. To meet these special conditions, our Dahlia tubers get stored in our garage for winter. I wanted to upgrade from the cardboard box to something more substantial this year, so we went out and got two large plastic totes to store everything in. Since Dahlias need to breathe, I drilled a few holes around the sides and top of the totes, and stored them just like I always had: with just a few pieces of newspaper in between them. 

Dahlia storage

Dahlia storage

After two weeks I went to check on them and lo and behold: MOLD! I knew right away what had happened. In the short time that they had been in storage, the extra moisture in the tubers came out and the few holes and sparse packing material were not enough to wick away the moisture. We were able to save them just in time! They all came out, got sprayed with 1:10 bleach solution, sat under a fan for a week, and we re-packed them for a long winter’s nap. This time I drilled many more holes in the containers and used a bag of pine shavings to pack in between the tubers. You want your packing material to pull extra moisture away from the tubers, but not pull TOO much moisture away from them. So now they sit in our garage. I make a point of checking them every other week to make sure they are still doing well; and waiting for their chance to be planted and enjoyed by our guests for another season.

-Luke McCarthy

Serving up Fresh VT Maple Syrup from the B&B: Small Batch DIY Production

A quick trip into town yesterday made one thing blatantly obvious: Spring is coming and sugaring season is upon us! On the way to Bristol, it seemed like every other pickup truck had a 300 gallon tank in the back with Vermont Maple sap sloshing around as they shuttled the sweet stuff from the tree stands to their boiling location. The mountains around us have a faint fog of wood smoke mixed with the sweet aroma of sap steam as it reduces to Maple syrup.

Making sap while the sun shines!

The more intense producers around here have 2,000+ gallon sap tanks sitting at the bottom of their hillside tree stands and will come around daily with their transport vehicles and ferry the sap off to be produced. Then again, when you run 13,000 taps as one producer near us does, you need fairly large storage tanks! As humble beginners, we run a few less than that. 

Vermont has an interesting history of cultivation of its forests and farmland that we see hints of even today. When white settlers first arrived, the land was mostly heavily forested. Land clearing proceeded and sheep herding and wool production became the mainstay of Vermont settlers. By the 1840’s, Addison County (where we have our Bed and Breakfast) was the leading wool producing area in the United States (Agriculture in Vermont). Many of the towns nearby still show their history, with mill buildings set along the river ways that once powered their fabric production. During the second half of the 19th century, sheep farming began to decline and was gradually eclipsed by the dairy industry. (What Ceres Might Say) For the places that aren't farm land, the northern climate and abundance of Maple trees makes Vermont a perfect location for syrup production.

 

As recently as 20 years ago, our property and all the acreage around us was used primarily for farm land. The land was clear cut and used to graze dairy cows and support other farm operations, which opened up beautiful views to the mountains along all sides of our Bed and Breakfast. Since the farmers sold their cows, the trees and forests have started to fill in but we still have an amazing view of the Green Mountains.

As a Vermont Bed and Breakfast, we serve up a lot of Maple syrup to our guests. A weekend getaway in Vermont isn't complete without a breakfast menu item with that maple sweetness cultivated across the hills of Vermont. We’re now in the process of planning and cultivating our land to support our goals for the future and for our BandB. We would like to make all of our own sap but given the fact that it takes 30 years for a Sugar Maple tree to be old enough to tap, the pickins are slim for working the trees. We have planted some new saplings and hope to be producing more and more over the years.

Our Mobile Sap Collector

This year we have about 15 taps going which, as of yesterday, have given us about 15 gallons of sap. We have the capacity for about 30 more taps but because of the historical land clearing, our maple trees are so spread out we really haven’t discovered a good way of collecting the sap yet. (Don't worry, I've been looking at ATV's and Tractors... that problem will be fixed soon!) So for now, we are perfectly content sticking with tapping just the couple of trees close to the house and using our little 50 gallon mobile collection tank set up. 

Reducing the sap to syrup!


Given the fact that it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup, the 7 gallons of sap I boiled last night yielded just a few cups. We’ll need to make some time over the next few days to boil all 15 gallons. Boiling 7 gallons from last night took the better part of 6 hours to reduce in our little turkey fryer. We’re still learning and perfecting our set up. If everyone around us is working with thousands of gallons, and we are only working with tens of gallons, does that make our Syrup artisan? I like to think so... It just tastes better local!

DIY Small Batch Maple Syrup

-Luke McCarthy

Planning for Happy Hens & Fresh Eggs

Spring is coming, which means it's almost time for the baby birds to arrive at our local hardware store!  We are excited to be raising a roost, so we put our order in early. We picked out some of the best layers they had to offer. They will arrive just after hatching and we'll raise them by hand and heat lamp until they are ready to go outside and move into their new coop! 

Here's a desciption of the hens (and ducks) who will be living on the farm and contributing to the fresh breakfast menu items we offer at the B&B!

Rhode Island Reds - This is one of the most famous and all time popular breeds of truly American chickens. Developed in the early part of this century in the state of the same name, they have maintained their reputation as a dual purpose fowl through the years. Outstanding for production qualities, they have led the contests for brown egg layers time after time. No other heavy breed lays more or better eggs than the Rhode Island Reds. Our "production" strain is keeping up the fine reputation of this old favorite. Baby chicks are a rusty red color and the mature birds are a variety of mahogany red. (Murray McMurray Hatchery, The World’s Rare Breed Poultry Headquarters)

Golden Laced Wyandottes - The “ancestors” of Golden Laced Wyandottes originated in Wisconsin and were called Winnebagoes. By 1880 they received their present-day name. This variety is a beautiful combination of rich golden bay laced with lustrous greenish black. The general feather pattern is very similar to the Silver Laced Wyandottes. A beautiful bird for exhibition. (Murray McMurray Hatchery, The World’s Rare Breed Poultry Headquarters)

Silver Laced Wyandottes - The Silver Laced is the original Wyandotte and the other varieties were developed from it later with crosses on other breeds. It is an outstanding example of American poultry breeding ingenuity and is one of the most beautiful breeds we offer. It is colorful, hardy, and productive. The broad feathered, smooth fitting plumage is sharply marked. The general appearance is silvery white and lustrous greenish black as each feather is edged in a contrasting color. The close-fitting rose comb and good body size are valuable assets for winter laying. Cold weather doesn't seem to bother them at all as their hardiness and vigor keep them laying straight through the winter. They lay a nicely shaped, good sized egg, varying from light to rich brown and will set some. This is another excellent variety for exhibition. Baby chicks vary from almost black to light silvery gray and many have contrasting light and dark stripes on the back. (Murray McMurray Hatchery, The World’s Rare Breed Poultry Headquarters)

Araucanas - This unusual breed gets in name from the Indian tribe of Chile where they were first discovered.  Our chicks have some Araucana and some Ameraucana blood mixed and consequently are not for show but are beautiful chickens known for their ability to lay colored eggs of shades varying from turquoise to deep olive to shades of brown.  Each bird will typically lay a different shade of colored egg that will amaze your friends and make a wonderful "show and tell" type project for school.  Adults are of medium size with pea combs and our breeding stock are selected for their ability to produce colored eggs.  They exhibit a wonderful combination of colors and color patterns and 10 or 20 of these birds will make an absolutely beautiful laying flock that is extremely hardy and will be the talk of the town.  Baby chicks come in all colors, plain and fancy, just like the adults.  This is a unique breed and great fun to have when the colored eggs start coming.  (Murray McMurray Hatchery, The World’s Rare Breed Poultry Headquarters)

Golden Cornets - The Comet has been widely acclaimed in all areas of the world where brown eggs are preferred. The reason is simple. The Comet pullet is easily one of the finest brown egg layers available today. They mature early and lay eggs of excellent size and quality. She is an extremely quiet bird, that seems to be able to withstand the colder, non-insulated, laying houses of the small flock owner, better than most breeds. The Comet is a buff sex-link strain. The chicks may be sexed by color, pullets red-roosters white. When mature, the  Comet pullet is golden red in color, but has some white showing through in her neck and back. (Mt. Healthy Hatcheries)

Pekin Ducks - Originating in China in ancient times, White Pekins were brought to the Western World in the middle 1800’s. Their fine meat quality and egg laying ability quickly made them the first choice of American duck growers. Both the male and female are creamy white in color, yellow skinned, and very large breasted. The males carry a fall weight of 10 to 11 pounds and the females weigh 8 to 9 pounds. They are the easiest domestic ducks to pick and prepare for eating. (Murray McMurray Hatchery, The World’s Rare Breed Poultry Headquarters)

We look forward to sharing updates about our little brood's progress. We expect them to arrive in early May. It will take a little while for them to adjust and be ready to lay fresh eggs but we'll be happy to prepare some new breakfast recipes with eggs to keep the farm flavors fresh and local. 

- Luke & Carin McCarthy

Vermont: Always a Good Bet...

Timing our sap collection and starting seeds in a bit of a gamble. We think we're lucky, win or lose!

There’s a lot to see and do in Vermont during the late winter months. From cheese tours, to breweries, visiting covered bridges and museums, or touring (and sampling) maple syrup production, there is something for all adventurers to taste and enjoy. So, don’t despair if you’ve planned your trip and the snow isn’t cooperating. We have lots of ideas about how to explore and enjoy the best of Vermont in this season. It’s a beautiful place in any season, and we feel lucky to live here and share it with guests who want to have a real getaway.

Cooking Up Some Projects on the Farm!

After a successful summer and fall season here at the B&B we've realized something: we go through a ton of eggs! We had always wanted to get a small flock of chickens but after going through so many eggs this year our plans have been moved up a little. While our new flock of baby chicks wont be here until early May, there is no time like the present to build them a nice and cozy home to live out their days. 

Read about the DIY build project and design.