As of October 6, 2015 this blog contains 990 posts. Posting (in Blogger) has become unwieldy.
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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Waiting for rain

All of us are waiting for rain. A friend's well has gone dry and we are being careful of our water from ours. Here is a tiny fall garden consisting of a few marigolds and beet greens.

On the night of the full moon, I stepped out and looked for the eclipse. The moon was rising already almost at totality, so it took me time to locate it. I dutifully snapped at it with the little cheap camera, and got no result (such as it was) until late in the show:

But it was certainly a show worth watching. I felt thousands of years old, or even millions, witnessing this. 

There was a similar eclipse in May of 1975. I watched that one with many people of my own age, on a farm that had no electricity, not long after my first arrival alone in Oregon. We drank Oly and Rainier and stood around a fire and chatted and howled and danced, and I spent the night in a tipi. None of my four children is as young as I was then.

I'm getting off the farm more, now that the orchard is done and the garden, or most of it, is in fallow. Much of the time is spent hiking nearby trails, of which there are plenty, with the little dog. He can only go so far at his age.

But that's true for me too.

Monday, September 28, 2015

In-between times

The Cowboy kindly escorted me on a fourth journey to the place of my parents' ashes, which is near this stone. I placed an offering of leaves from nearby shrubbery on the stone and bowed three times, then cried a little.

It was much more difficult to get up there than previous years. The hikes I had done to prepare me for this were insufficient. On the other hand, we had all day, and my kind companion had made five good sandwiches.

I am pulling tomato vines and hanging them up to see about ripening stragglers. At the base of one of them, in a large pot by the door, I had planted a basil, to wrap cherry tomatoes in basil leaves for snacks as I stepped out. This I brought in and hung in the mudroom, something that always cheers me. When the leaves are dry I will crumble them and add them to the seasoning jar.

I'm done with apple rings for family and friends for the year, but there are still apples so I'm making a batch of apple wedges for my own use. These are for hiking. Also there were some Stupice tomatoes left over and there is a tray of those as well, cut in quarters, for soups and such in the winter.

I am gathering sticks left over from the summer's firewooding and cutting them with long-handled pruners into firewood lengths. These can be used to extend the fall sunshine, so to speak, warming the house a little without dipping into the real winter wood.

It feels like vacation, almost, after such a strenuous summer. It is like that with in-between times.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Another batch of apple butter

Normally I have done these annual videos in November or even January; this year the garden grew old in August and is dying of old age on the first day of fall.

Things are not as they should be, and if we are honest with ourselves we know this. 2015 will clearly be the hottest year in the record (meaning since 1880) for Stony Run, for Oregon, for the Northwest, and for the world.

More about that here, here, and, in a way, here.

Stony Run runs on a well in a shallow water table above a substrate of impermeable basalt. The well is driven in hard clay and round stones, of basalt and andesite. We are absolutely dependent on rain, and so far this year we've had twelve and a half of our forty inches. The well cannot support the farm with a few more years like this.

Also, I'm sixty-six and Beloved is right behind me. We had hoped to avoid more decrepitude than we actually have, and walk like the fragile old eggs that we are. Even with a return of the rains and delay of the anticipated chaos, we cannot maintain Stony Run as the kind of project it has been for the last twenty-two years. We were never really able to provide for all our needs, and were dependent upon first work (we both found jobs that met our criteria for Right Livelihood) and then pensions to pull off our partial dream. "Helen and Helen" Nearing we were not! :)

The idea was to be able to supply a provisioned haven in case of disaster, but the young people have been able to make other and preferred arrangements. So what we have been doing here, while perhaps exemplary to some, is rapidly becoming (other things being equal) superfluous.

We realize it would be unfair to the children for us to try to keep on forever here. They've committed to our care (wow!) but indicated we should live near them, rather than any of them here. This move may be a ways off yet -- we hope so -- but we should begin our preparations soon, if not sooner. We're not city girls by breeding or inclination but we will know how to behave ...

So, enjoy the video. In it you can see that a garden can subsist on less than half the water it's used to, at least for the first year (the drought actually reached us in 2014). We broadforked, mulched, composted, mulched, and mulched again. We germinated all the seeds in the potting shed/greenhouse and hardened them off before transplanting. We utilized shade. We soaker-hosed and spot watered.

We, and the plants, endured a record number of days above 90F, some above 100F, and the lowest humidity we had ever seen. We packed the truck, with its shell on, with everything we might need in order to evacuate quickly -- a fire would have spread rapidly, as we saw throughout the region.

Harvests were reduced, but they were lovely. All the more so, as we detect the signs that we will plant fewer things next year, and fewer the year after that. After all, what one does when one's vitality begins to fade is not so very different day to day -- where one did a hundred things in a week, now one does ninety-five.

Ninety five things is all good. A blessing. __()__

I'm boiling down another batch of apple butter as I write.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A job which it does very well

Our hops vines grow along the west side of the house, with the intent that they add shade during the hot summer. The west side is the creek side, so the foundation is at its tallest here, adding sufficient height to lean fourteen foot poles and train the vines on them.

When it's time to harvest the blossoms, I cut off the vines about thigh high, pull the poles away from the house, harvest the flowers from the poles, unwind the cleaned vines from the poles, cut them up, and return them to the ground along the foundation to assist in feeding the hungry hops roots in future.

I tie the poles up in a bundle and stack them where the other poles are stacked, then carry the blossoms to the dehydrator. The dried flowers can be packed in jars as they are or dry blended so they will pack tighter.

We have been known to make decent beer but other people are better at it and we don't drink a lot of it, so mostly this will be for making a bedtime tea, a job which it does very well.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

September in the kitchen

This is about apple rings. First, I must apologize for the little camera; it is much the same model as others I have had, but cannot handle ambient indoor lighting as well. But I think you will get the idea.


I use a Victorio corer-peeler. Left to myself I would leave the peels on, but others have expressed interest in doing without them. These are fairly large Honeycrisp apples, from our next to last tree. Any of them will do for rings. Ours progress through the season thus: Gravenstein, Egremont Russet, MacIntosh, Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Granny Smith. The Gravensteins make the best apple butter and we like the Honeycrisp for rings. We usually run out of steam by the time the Grannies roll around, and end up calling friends to come pick them.

I inspect each spiraled apple for browned wormholes and such (they are unsprayed, so we expect casualties) and cut these out. One slice down through the apple on one side separates the rings.

Here I'm dipping the spiraled apple in water with salt, cinnamon, veggie leaf powder, and ginger. It takes about 36 to 40 Honeycrisps to fill a nine-tray dehydrator.

Each tray goes straight to the Excaliber Economy, which is turned on as soon as the first tray is in, to forestall exposure browning.

They say to cut out all bruises, but I've yet to spot a problem with our apples, which are a bit sweeter if allowed to drop. YMMV. Next year I hope to rig up a tarp to catch them and roll them into a basket, for more even results.

The dryer is in the potting shed. No need to be heating up the kitchen with it as we approach 90F outside today. (!!) The house is buttoned up with night air in it and the curtains are drawn. In cooler weather I will bring the dryer in and let it help warm the house.

We often store our rings in oven canned half gallon mason jars. We serve them from a repurposed Adams peanut butter jar. These are some Granny Smiths from last year. I think. You can see that they shrivel a bit and are brown and chewy compared to sulfured dried apples, but they work just fine as snacks or in baked goods. You can quite easily make far more dried apples than you are likely to use. We do it anyway, as they are decent prepper rations. Any holdovers that are over two years old may be a bit of a Spartan exercise to enjoy, so we give them to the compost.

The leftover peels and cores may be regarded as a kind of pomace. They make pretty good vinegar, but we have lots of that. So these are headed out to the chicken moat, where they will attract bugs that will be snapped up by the hens, who will then eat the cores and peels later for dessert.

After this job, I'll head out to round up the winter squash, which need to season a bit before being stashed near the wood stove. A couple of them have been chewed by gophers, so I'll steam those this week and stuff them with some rice, tofu, beet greens and tomatoes.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

And a weather eye

We are somewhat underwhelmed by the predicted and overdue "storm" so far. There have been only traces of rain.

What we are getting is plenty of wind, as we can see from various upturned leaves and trees leaning eastward.

Still hoping. It now smells like full-blown Fall.

Today, I chopped the last of the cornstalks, and selected an ear to keep for seed, but it is backup. We'll be looking for another variety of sweet corn.

Canning some pickled beets and apples and some tomato sauce while dehydrating kale, beet greens, squash blossoms, dandelion and false dandelion greens, and baking a deep dish frittata.

For those interested: take one green and one yellow zuke, grated; one large mangel beet leaf including its stem, chopped; one Stupice tomato, chopped; half a dozen duck and hen eggs, a small handful of dehydrated greens, powdered; a bit of olive oil. Salt to taste.

Stir/fold all together and pour into a baking dish. Cover with grated parmesan and local cheddar cheese. Bake at about 350 until it looks done -- I think this, which is rather a smallish dish, went around forty minutes.

Serve. Beloved likes it, which is a good sign, as I'm an on-again, off-again cook.

The runner beans are shelled and the pods went to the compost heap. Ordinarily I just throw them right on the garden but the heap looked hungry. Both the Jenny green beans and the runners were hard hit by drought but they made enough to save about a third for seed and the rest can go into baked beans.

I have taken down the burlap shades on the outside of south, east and west windows. The house looks odd with so much light. Buildings are shifting around a bit and I need to trim the bottom off one of the doors.

Birds are in the grapes in large numbers; competition is up because everything is dried out. Leaves are curling on the kale, heralding the arrival, later than usual, of aphids. Heavily infested leaves are particularly popular with the hens. Lightly infested leaves do no harm in your meals, but perhaps you should not tell anyone. If, like some, you're not into any aphids at all, switch to the beet or chard greens -- the kale serves as a catch crop for them.

Hopefully we'll be back to juicing tomorrow, which is heavier work and needs more of a block of open time. When one lives by the seasons, one lives a bit like a sailor. Hammock time, deck time, and a weather eye.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Apples enow

In the improved air I am back at work and beginning apple cidering a few weeks early as the apples are ready.

Using multiple varieties creates a more complex flavor and your constituency will prefer the results.

I grind ours with a dedicated electric shredder (it's not good for much else) into a bucket and then pour the pulp (about five buckets full) in a clean cloth sack (a large pillowcase will do) and suspend the sack (I use a four block rope pulley and a tree branch) over a suitable container. It's cleaner than it looks, but wash everything before and after and be vigilant.

The tub in the kiddie wagon collects the gravity-pressed juice. The sieve over the tub helps keep yellow jackets (valuable allies!) from drowning. They gather around what I'm doing but I move deliberately and calmly, knowing they're not after me.

The juice that runs from the sack may be dipped and strained into quart jars and canned. This setup works for pears, blackberries, grapes and other fruits as well. I add anything that takes my fancy to the cider -- this one has a few pears and also quince. I think I'll throw some mint into the hopper as well.

We make cider two quarts at a time all winter, boosting with a little bit of honey and wine yeast.

Or if we prefer the juice flat, that's good too.

This method is not efficient, but it is resilient. Leftover pomace can be used to make vinegar and then dumped at the foot of various orchard trees for mulch and soil amendment; poultry love to pick through the pomace as well.

Be sure to wassail the trees with your cider at the solstice:
Old apple tree, old apple tree; 
We've come to wassail thee; 
To bear and to bow apples enow; 
Hats full, caps full, three bushel bags full; 
Barn floors full and a little heap under the stairs!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Levels of irony

At Stony Run, we are no strangers to wildfire. I fought fires in the early eighties, and one of those got up close and personal. We've seen fires occur near here, such as those around Oakridge in the nineties and more recently, and especially the Clark Fire on Fall Creek, five thousand acres, which brewed up a very nuclear looking smoke and steam cloud some twelve miles from here.

2015 is a major fire year in the Northwest, but oddly enough, though we are as dry as a desert nothing of note has (knock on wood) happened in our area.

Well, almost. What has happened is a major smoke event. We spent a little over two days hosting what was once Washington and eastern Oregon's forests and grasslands, in the form of tiny particulates at a density of AQI 230. We sheltered in place with the house buttoned up.

View across the garden to the far hills, a visibility of about 1.5 miles.

View to the south with no sign of the hills in that direction, visibility of about .5 mile!

Jasper Mountain, one mile, fading away at about three in the afternoon.

Sun at ten o'clock the next morning.

On the third day, the smoke began rolling away to the east, giving me a chance to run a few errands.

Not that the mask was much help, but the carbon-belching car was. Talk about nested levels of irony.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Runner beans

Observe and interact -- after you have pulled up the vines, watch and then harvest when about 80% of the pods have turned brown; otherwise many will split and spill before you get there. Store in a sunny window where rain cannot get to them until all turn brown; provide air circulation.

Catch and store energy -- The beans have made nutrients for you and saved seed for next year; the vines are chopped and dropped for sheet composting.

Obtain a yield -- Runners are not our most prolific crop in the garden but they are attractive to us and to pollinators, especially the hummingbirds, help provide partial shade, and we use them as a dry bean.

Apply self-regulation and accept feedback -- "Did you water those beans enough, honey?" "I thought I did, but now I'm not so sure."

Use and value renewable resources and services -- Drying the beans in the pod, and not planting other runner beans nearby, assures us of saved seed and a productive landrace.

Produce no waste -- vines are returned to the soil, beanpoles are gathered up for next year, pods will be returned to the soil.

Design from patterns to details -- the trellis provides sunlight and air circulation. The drying rack provides sunlight and air circulation.

Integrate rather than segregate -- the beanpoles were grown on the premises. Willow poles that sprout in the garden (none this year) are planted to make shade and predator protection for fowl, firewood, more poles, and willow water for plant growth hormones. Bark can also be used medically. Other poles (knotweed, maple, hazel) will be inspected for brittleness and the rejects will either become kindling or be returned to the soil. Tie bundles at each end to prevent warping.

Use small and slow solutions -- It takes a little time to grow establish a bed with a broadfork and compost, grow and cut poles, create a seed-saved landrace along with a supply of dry beans, but you can do it.

Use and value diversity -- the poles are not all one kind of wood. The beds are rotated and polyculture is included in the rotation. Grow many kinds of crops.

Use edges and value the marginal -- The knotweed, hazel, maple and willow, along with much of the vegetation gathered for compost, grow along fence lines or the creek/dry wash.

Creatively use and respond to change -- We used to grow bush beans but we like the way trellised beans help provide relief for other beds from the relentless sun in the ongoing drought. Water is becoming an issue as we are on a well and dependent on the annual rains, so it's time to put in rain barrels.

When you are done for the day, go have dinner.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Creatively use and respond to change

Here is one of twelve collages on The Permaculture Principles and how they might be applied, especially in the maritime Pacific Northwest. Concepts from David Holmgren's Essence of Permaculture.


"Creatively use and respond to change."

Four stages. 1. Broadfork 2. Mulch. 3. Drip irrigate. 4. Harvest.

The current situation here is drought. More drought now, in August, than we had last year at any stage, which was more than we've ever seen at this site. So the plants are doing as well as they are, I think, because we broadforked the beds and are spot-watering a lot of the plants at their bases. Those that start to wilt get immediate attention.

It is very difficult to garden right now in Pleasant Hill, Oregon.

Yes, I know guilds are supposed to be helpful. For reasons I won't go into, this particular garden must be kept tree free. But I have done what I can around the edges. Also we are trellising in every other bed in the far back, which really seems to help with partially shading the beds in between. The summer squash bed and the winter squash bed I don't worry about -- they have formed a solid canopy.

Change is the basic fact of the universe. Roll with it. __()__


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