Thursday, April 30, 2015

We're none the less here

April was much chillier than "winter" here and growth of some, though not all, things has been slowed. The lettuce and other greens seemed chuffed about the cold, which is irritating about them as they also complain when it gets hot. The broadbeans, elephant garlic, and rhubarb however are going gangbusters, but they always do.

I've walked around some and I think we will have decent raspberries, cherries, pears (lots) and Granny Smith apples. The Gravenstein will do poorly, if anything. Most of the other apples I haven't checked. There will be some Jonagolds. The blueberries will be so-so. Still no mulberries, figs or peaches, after years of waiting. Don't know about the plums or the blackberries yet. A lot of the hops and sunchokes have mysteriously vanished. Do gophers eat hops roots?

I have mixed the greens and onions with the broadbeans, hoping the partial shade of the beans will help the lettuce and spinach, etc. not bolt too soon.

By the front door are several columbines, children of one that appeared there a decade back. It's only a squiggle in a drawing by a friend from a few years ago, but its presence was noted. We are all only squiggles, in the end, but we're none the less here. At least until we're not.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Not all about you

There was this table of onion sets at the Youth Farm plant sale fundraiser, and they appeared to all be marked "Walla Walla," so I took one. But now that it's home I see I managed to find the only Red Globe hidden among them. Oh, well. As I'm alone in the family in my antipathy to Reds, these should make a nice offering to -- everyone else. Even your tiniest farm is not all about you.

A couple of stray Red Russian kales are up in the Chioggia beet flat. I've planted a lot of kale but I'm sure I can find a place for them. Good thing as I am not gopher-free at the moment and gophers target beets but not kale. Never a dull moment.

Corn, beans and squash are making their appearance. These are Yellow Zukes, always a favorite.

After checking the plants, letting out the birds, and uncovering the tomatoes, I took the little dog for his morning hike. His shadow was red, and I looked up and discovered the whole valley to my east was covered with a pall of smoke. We have had plenty of rain and there are no incidents reported, so I wonder if this is from Siberia, where the thawed tundra is on fire.

It is a very small world, and getting smaller.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

They are taking a chance

Winter arrived in April after being conspicuously missing November to March, and the "cool weather" plants are shell-shocked. There's been maybe two inches growth on most things, if that. And two freezes have set back the potatoes.

Of the lettuces, Red Sails is doing best. There are broadbeans down the middle of the greens beds, to provide a little nitrogen and, later, partial shade. Not to mention early foliage and then early beans. Onions and leeks are interspersed throughout.

I like Red Russian kale for its hardiness but the young people have requested Lacinato. It is aloso popular with aphids so I will have to keep an eye out. 

These three beds are a polyculture of broadbeans, French Breakfast radishes, Chioggia beets, turnips, Chinese cabbage, assorted kales, walking onions, leeks, chard, and whatever I will throw at gaps as the beds develop.

I got into a frenzy of transplanting yesterday morning to take advantage of the quarter inch of rain that was predicted, and which we got. This morning is very dark, but we are supposed to get a week in the 70s (F).

Here on the left are some of half a dozen Stupice tomatoes. They are a little more hardy than the long season heirlooms, so they are taking a chance. I got these, and some other plants, at the most recent Food for Lane County Youth Farm plant sale held at Grassroots Garden. I like to start things from seed, but I'm not well equipped to do tomatoes in a timely manner, (i.e. they all died again) and I like to support the food bank and its young farm trainees.

There is room for six more tomatoes behind them, and six more in the greenhouse. Eighteen should be enough. At one time I had seventy-two.

I have been working on the ancient bathroom (major to-the-walls update, with some big senior grab bars) and had the water off, then back on, so when I came out in the morning to let out the birds, I found a hose nozzle going full blast -- irrigating in the rain. Oops. Senior in so many ways.

Right after a rainstorm is no time to till, but you can broadfork.

Do not mind if your beds are not exactly straight, as you are not The Mother Earth News.

The violets in the strawberry planter have grown quite a lot, and Jiz┼Ź has relocated closer to the gate, to greet visitors as it opens. His new location is a work in progress -- it needs a few more stones and a few less weeds.

If you like, you may leave him a flower, or leaf, or (he especially likes this) water his moss, and put palms together to greet/take leave of him. He's just a bit of rock, but you may find him very calming.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb

Beloved is in charge of the rhubarb; we have seven plants, six of which are descended from the first, which is over fifteen years old. One digs in the fall or winter to expose the root mass, split it in two, then dig out one of the halves as best one can. It's a muddy job usually, but one is rewarded by the sight of the exposed interior of the taproot, a very unwintry bright orange. We make a point of giving away some halves from time to time and many of our friends have clones of Stony Run rhubarb, which might be related to Victoria, we aren't sure. It's very sweet and makes successful pies and crisps, popular at potlucks. 

Rhubarb leaves are poisonous, so they become compost or mulch. The stems are picked, de-leaved, and brought in after they reach a suitable size, chopped, double bagged, and frozen. Seven mature plants can give you about forty to forty-five square feet of three-inch deep rhubarb crisp.

Beloved pays particular attention to the water, light, and nutritional needs of these plants, which are heavy feeders, and from time to time buys a gallon of fish emulsion for them -- almost our only bought-in fertilizer. I have been known to pour a dollop into a watering can now and then to boost other plants when they are stalling, but lately I'm feeling more confident about my brews of duck poo and blender-macerated willow and comfrey.

Today it has been raining off and on, including a brief thunderstorm with hail, so it's nice to hide inside and process pie plant, instead of having to do outside chores in the rain.

There are farms that specialize in rhubarb, and it's said that you can sit among the plants (in forcing houses in Yorkshire, anyway) at night in spring and hear them growing -- making a kind of creaky crowd noise. I find it serendipitous that theatrical people use the word when they want to represent a murmuring crowd, all together saying, almost under their breath, "rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb."

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Way back when

I am reaching the age where everything that seems to matter much to me is a memory. This little video gathers together some murky snapshots (we had poor cameras, and later a poor scanner) from the era during which the poems and the garden journal were being written.

I thought then that the 70s were the good old days. Now I look upon the 90s with an equal sense of nostalgia.

It's not all nostalgia. These days it appears the nation in which I live has leaped off the fascism cliff. Along with that the weather was more reliable then, and so one could actually garden!

Things around the world are much more dangerous than many of my neighbors think. They're concerned that certain people (of whom, maybe they don't make the connection, I am one) are a moral blight, even though it would make more Biblical sense to refuse me service for Gluttony (a listed deadly sin) than for being who I am, which is my own business and not theirs. And they're concerned about ISIS, which is a symptom of social/environmental disaster rather than the primary cause. Put a million farmers out of work, and violence may be the result.

No, the danger might best be expressed in a series of graphs.

This one shows what has happened to our numbers, especially since we discovered 1) hygiene, 2) coal and oil, and 3) standardization of parts.
The curve does not show the destruction wrought by the Black Death, but I suppose it would on a different scale.

This one shows how, in addition to our own numbers, we have replaced the wild things of the earth with our own biomass and that of our slave animals, principally cows. Where we have placed cows especially, we have deforested, and all of the animals in captivity, as on industrial farms, must receive feed from offsite -- this from industrial feedstock farms that are systematically destroying soil.
On top of this, our equipment made from standardized parts exhales from over five billion tailpipes, in the air, on land, and at sea, mining, refining, shaping, using, moving about, and throwing "away."

The gases exhaled hold more heat in the surfaces and atmosphere of the geosphere than they allow to escape, via infrared radiation, into space, destabilizing weather and promoting sea level rise, among other effects.

All this tells me that, while I, at 66, may have "dodged the bullet" from the situation of which I have been a part, the children may not be so lucky.

As I watch this video of old photos, I feel a certain (perhaps illusory, but so what) sense that we made a life, and a relatively, as such things go, low-impact one. But I also feel "Time's winged chariot hurrying near" -- not just for me and mine, which was the poet's point, but for everyone and everything.

Hug your loved ones, 'K?

Thursday, April 02, 2015

One must continue one's practice

Finally, on April Fools, after a winterless winter, I saw my breath as I went the barnyard rounds, and inches -- actual inches -- of snow fell on the mountains to my east. I confined myself to the potting house and doggedly planted seeds in flats that may find soil too cool when they're ready to plant out.

But I'm almost past caring. Who knows what weather will do any more? It might be so hot in May as to bolt the greens, so I might as well start the beans and corn.

Perhaps some great storm will come and level the garden -- or even the house. One must continue one's practice, and mine is to cover seeds.

At this time of the garden year, which has been historically called the hungry time, there's little in the way of food in the garden itself, but one has still some potatoes in storage, and dried foods and canned fruits and so on -- and one can forage.

I go out with scissors and basket, and take what takes my fancy. Today we have maple flowers, lilac flowers, broadbean leaves, dandelion, cat's ear, bedstraw (cleavers), and deadnettle. I can't really make a cold salad with these as I digest fresh greens poorly, so I typically start rice or potatoes in a bowl in the steamer, then add the greens in the last seven minutes, and perhaps an egg. Maybe a little oil and salt to taste. Good with curry or brewer's yeast or both.

Monday, March 30, 2015

We see what we see

The broadbeans and peas are putting on a little height, and the pear trees are in bloom. Three more flats of the stunted greens -- collards, cabbage, turnips, kale, bok choi, chard and lettuce -- are added to the three beds. The beds are wider than they look here because the paths have slopped over onto them. So I'm comfortable with planting right next to the paths.

Slugs have been absent, oddly enough, though this is the kind of environment that thrills them. But I am getting some damage from escargot-sized snails. I go back and plug a new plant into each gap.

Starlings have been building a nest in the soffit above our garage entrance and a few days ago, I excluded them with a bit of plywood and four screws. They have not yet elected to go elsewhere and sit on the power lines above me, calling me names all day. Sorry, kids, it's a rough neighborhood.

Gaps in the weather have allowed me to paint the long wall by the creek, where the house tries hardest to mold. I include some of our homemade vinegar in the paint, with some salt and that seems to help.

I mowed half the pasture yesterday and hope to mow the other half today. At this time of the year, it's full of clover and not seedy so I'm bagging it all and hauling it to the compost heap, where the pile is already tall, green, and steaming.

Later in the year I'll chop-and-drop the going-to-seed pasture to maintain its fertility, mulch it against moisture loss, and discourage blackberries. I put the mower on its tallest setting, allowing the cut grass (it's really more of a meadow) to continue shading its own roots, preserving the green cast of spring well into summer. This year, though, we think we will go brown early.

The neighbors all tend to cut low, and their grass browns early. They bag and toss. I'd ask for the clippings, but I think they may contain weed-and-feed. Instead I take over a dozen eggs and chat. If hard times come, I want to be referenced as generous-natured.

Moths, which are sprouting from grubs in the pasture ground, sense the approach of the mower and rise into the sky ahead of me. These are the survivors of feasts wherein flocks of birds, usually the starlings, have gone over the ground grub-hunting.

Along our road, there are "swipes" on the edges of the ditches, where a bear or bears have turned over patches of sod looking for these grubs.

I don't think any of the neighbors have noticed about the bears -- or anyway they have not mentioned it. It's always what nice weather, what a cute dog, are you retired, we like your ducks. And I respond in kind: how do you like your new car, my the kids have grown, lovely daffodils you have this year.

I keep the bear to myself.

We do what we do, and we see what we see.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Its own reward

Waiting through dry spells to set out transplants in wet spells; waiting through wet spells to paint and mow.

The potted seedlings are growing slowly this year in spite of their heat and sun lamps. It takes eighteen flats of seedlings to fill the three spring-garden beds. I choose three at a time. I know I'm rushing it, but there has been so little frost that one wants to try. I'm afraid the heat will come suddenly and the spring things will want to bolt.

The green stripe you can see down the middle of each bed is broadbeans, the best eating size of favas. Their job here, aside from creating the beans, some edible foliage, and some soil nitrogen, is to shade the greens a bit and help stave off the anticipated intense summer sun.

Broadbeans are not as favored in these parts as in Europe. Americans have the idea each one must be peeled. Not so, but you want to get to them quickly after picking and shelling. Fresh is key. Frozen too, but again frozen fresh after a thorough blanching to stop the outer shell from armoring up. Good alone or in savory soups. You may also use the tender young leaves as a salad ingredient or in stir fries.

Again, this year, we have largely held off buying seeds as we have so many. I combine most of the year-old to three-years-old greens-and-roots seeds into a mixed lot in a shaker and shake out some over a flat of potting soil, then add a bit more soil, then water and light and warmth. anything that gets big enough is pricked out and put into its ow three-inch pot. Flats going out to the garden, a few weeks later, have eighteen plants each, which I randomize in the beds. In each hole there may go a Russian kale, a collard, a Red Sails lettuce, a Black Seeded Simpson lettuce, a Forellenschluss lettuce, a turnip, a green cabbage, a red cabbage, a Bok Choi, a borage plant, a calendula, a beet, a radish, a mangel, a Fordhook Giant chard, or a spinach. That seems to be the current mix. Carrots don't seem to perform well in this environment, so I have reserved them for their own setting, deep planters that are currently in the greenhouse.

The three inch pots and their flats are plastic, yes. We don't buy them intentionally; they show up -- mostly with nursery plants. I get about ten years out of them.

The tool shown here is a modified (bent) cheap trowel as recommended by Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm. It works very well. This one was lost in the garden three years ago, was recently turned up by the broadfork, and has been put back in service, none the worse for wear. Simplicity in tools, as with so many things, is its own reward.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Going vertical

Jizo is looking a little less lonely in his nest of violets.

We had a spate of rain and I took advantage of the changed conditions to see about getting some greens out to the garden.

These will be in the beds nearest the house in true kitchen garden fashion. Also they are vulnerable to slugs so they want to be inspected frequently.

Trellises have been in these upper beds for the last two years so it is time to have them in the lower garden. I have already set up the one for Sugar Snap peas (planted last week) and green beans (not yet!). I also need one for scarlet runners and cucumbers, maybe also some vining squash, and have gathered the necessary materials and set them out.

We have fifty foot beds, so it's three tee posts per trellis, 25 feet apart, and about 40-48 poles. I select poles from the coppice and cut them near the ground. If they're too tall for the job, which should be ten feet for scarlet runners, eight for everything else, I just firewood the stump end until they're the right height. This year's new poles are about 2/3 hazel and 1/3 bigleaf maple.

Garden authors tell you that going vertical like this saves space, but a thing I like about it is it cuts back on the sunshine on the adjacent beds, cooling the earth in July through September and reducing sunburn on the crops. That's getting to be a consideration here.

Not until the poles are up do I bother limbing them, and even then I only cut the branches that reach into the path, mostly so as not to put an eye out. The others might as well stay and provide the climbers all that much more choice in climbing. Plants like to be catered to as much as anybody.

One might point out to me that the hazels shown here are so tall I won't be able to reach the beanpods. I would then reply that I'll be able to reach about half during the eating harvest. The ones "out of reach" are for seed -- for next year.

God willin' an' th' crick don't rise.


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