Sunday, November 23, 2008

Some good soil -- somewhat rocky

Spreading out -- the fences are done, or at least enough to let the birds into the new pasture. This is a view, from atop the roof, of the twelve main garden beds ( there are seven smaller ones, mostly along the house). Lower right, grapes. Far right, apples, plums, compost barrel. middle distance, haystack. Center, compost bin. Near street, more apples. These, and the haystack, are in the poultry pasture, though it may be hard to tell from the image. Their pasture wraps round the garden on two sides. Extreme left, reaching over the fence, a filbert.

There is a USGS brass cap by the maple stump where the street comes in, upper left. When the General Land Office surveyors, led by George Thurston, walked through here in 1853, they noted: "Some good soil -- somewhat rocky." That's a fair assessment; it's a heavy clay, shot through with round basalt stones that come up after each freeze. It should have been left to the Camas lilies, no doubt. Too late now. You can work with it, but not if you love running a tiller -- it never dries out enough to till, until the day it does -- and by that afternoon, it's too dry and cement-hard. Mulch and compost, compost and mulch, year in and year out, yields better results, it seems to us.

Veggies in this photo: Chard, celery, onions, garlic, rhubarb, beets, spinach, four kinds of lettuce, bok choi, broccoli, nasturtiums (it hasn't been very cold), Jerusalem artichoke (in ground). The broad beans planted a couple of weeks ago are up, as well. The reason some of these crops are clearly not in their beds is that the garden they were in was a circular garden, whose fence has been removed. Next year's beds were laid out right through there, and the plants in the "aisles" will be mostly harvested first.

This garden loves to grow beets. As I was spreading the new hay, I hefted a few leaves and peeked underneath; the roots are as big as softballs. Perhaps we're doing something right.

Next we'll draw an improved schematic of the nineteen beds and plan our campaign: apples, plums, pears, cherries, quince, apricot, peach, mulberries, figs, kiwis, grapes, blueberries, raspberries (the blackberries can jolly well stay where they are), wolfberries, and the like, the remainder of the space being divided among shade-tolerant and shade-intolerant veggies, and some kind of rotation. We may or may not put up permanent tee posts in all the main beds (as previously discussed) this year, or even plant them all, but the layout is done!

We've begun pulling things out of the freezer: tomatoes, peas and greens for soup (with our potatoes and dried beans), applesauce to have with yogurt, and pear sauce to spread on the spelt bread. Also to make room for a few things the kids will require for their Harvest Dinner next week....

A few days ago, as I laid out the new beds at last, I went without the customary string lines and just spread flattened corrugated boxes where the mulch would go. I hoped the lined-up boxes would warn me if I were getting too far left or right. I seem to have wandered about anyway, but after fussing with it a little, pushing and pulling boxes and squinting up toward the house, I gave it up and let the chips fall where they may. As long as we can get down the paths with a wheelbarrow, we're good. And the plants won't care.

One of the many things we found in the blackberry patches, when we got here, is an antique three-tined hay fork, the handle of which had broken off near the end. We sawed off the break, sawed a broken pruner handle down to about five inches long, bored through it, tapped this onto the end of the fork handle and soaked the the fork in the creek for a week or so, eventually remembered we had done that, fished it out, dried the surface, oiled the handle, wire brushed the tines, and put it back into service. It's been the best fork on the place for fifteen years and outlasted two store-bought ones.

I've cut open the remaining round bales of hay and whenever I have time, walk a few forkfuls into the garden and drop them on the beds. We'd like to finish off the haystack, as the chickens love to play "queen of the mountain" there and it could conceivably come into their heads to fly over into the garden. Also, we want their pasture to double as a driveway for getting vehicles up to the barn.

The chickens are all over the place all the time, and love to window-shop whatever I'm doing. The ducks and geese have more of a discernible routine. Three times a day, led by the gander, they troop, as one, down into the haystack area and eat grass, honking and quacking excitedly. Then they waddle, single file, back up the hill, take a bath in their kiddie pools, and retire to a sunny part of the old pasture for a nap. When the nap's over, repeat.

Not such a bad life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gardening 101

[posed by daughter]

I am feeling a bit more adventurous in matters of green things after reviving one of the few house plants that had survived the move from Beaverton. I had taken some fresh potting soil and replanted the cactus in a lidless teapot. It not only perked up, but the thing actually blossomed! I am fairly sure that this kind of success with plants is common among gardeners, however I am just as sure I have had no such success with a plant of my own. (Mad cackling in the background, "It's alive!)

I had thought that perhaps "green thumbs" were genes of the recessive type, and that I had been born with a brown thumb. It turns out that I'm really just a sore loser. Not long after I started dating, I realized that I have spent pretty much my entire life avoiding new things. After some thought I came to the conclusion that I like to be best. I like to be best so much that I would rather not even try for fear of failure.

I have failed at gardening before. It didn't get very far. I planted some seeds in a pot on the porch and the cat chose to use it as a litter box. (Sigh). However I have moved to a house with a yard and permission to spruce it up in whatever manner I would like-- and I would like to garden. But, being an inexperienced gardener I have some challenges to attend to:

I haven't the faintest idea how to start. I have a long strip of land with a fence at one end and a shed at the other. The chain link fence is propped up by an immense amount of blackberries which I have been told make great pies and also are a great work out in the Spring when a pair of shears are more than necessary to cut them back. The sun tends to spend most of its time on the left side of the yard with the fence casting a shadow over the ground. The side with the shed gets more sun throughout the day.

The cat has been sentenced to life inside the house due to the busy road we now live on and the danger of raccoons and coyotes! This means the garden will be safe from my cat but I'm curious if the other wildlife will prove to be a hassle. And then there are the holes there are a few of these in the yard and Mojo our little miniature Pinscher appears very interested in them. Any ideas Risa?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Color scheme

[posted by risa]

Two days of -- for this time of year, in my memory -- unparalleled glory. First, there was a slow-to-burn-off fog, under which I participated in Eugene's 400-strong response to Join the Impact, but I will admit I was anxious to finish the fencing. No more work could be done laying out veggie beds until that task was completed. It was daunting, too.

The new stuff is called "deer fence" but it's only six feet tall. Blacktails are lazy enough to respect that, but not if they get really hungry.

So when I took down last year's seven-foot welded wire, I rolled it up and dragged it down to the northeast corner, where they had jumped in most frequently this year, and laid it out along the sheep fence, now rusted and buried in invasive weeds and such, put up by our neighbors in days gone by.

The six-foot fencing I brought along the north boundary, by the street, and cut it off at the northeast corner to retain a kind of informal gate for vehicles, as that place has been, for decades, a kind of second driveway, and we might need it sometime.

In fact, four huge round bales of hay are sitting in the middle of it right now, and will need to be distributed on the new beds as soon as I've spread enough cardboard.

I put up the remainder of these two 185' rolls along most of the rest of the east boundary, past the spot where the fox jumped through last summer, until I ran out of it.

This deer/orchard fencing is heavy. I could unroll it only a few inches at a time. To stretch it before stitching it onto the fence posts you really need a tractor, which "I have not got"; so I was reduced to setting, at intervals, a come-along attached to a newly set post, with a cable puller on one hook, drawing along the bottom wire until it was a taut as it would go without lifting out the post, and then twisting wire to set the fencing on the previous three posts.

The results aren't the prettiest fence I've ever built, but it's a three-woman job with one woman to do it. Later, I'll come back and string tight wire along the top from post to post, to increase the height, but also to weave once through the fence between posts and do a "suspension-bridge" effect, which should help.

Next I started piecing old leftover welded wire onto the inner poultry fence to make it tall enough to convince the Araucanas not to clear themselves for takeoff.

Julia (banty)This involved making hundreds, perhaps over a thousand, cuts with the side-cutting pliers, which are fortunately a good brand over fifty years old, stout, heavy, and sharp. It also involved using up the old fencing that had been hoisted into place to keep the chickens out of the new pasture all week, when we found out how much they like to hop three-foot fencing.

I could then attach each piece to the end of the preceding one, weaving the snipped ends of wire into the top edge of the three-foot fence, and thereby create a four-and-a-half foot fence. Labor-intensive, but I place a premium on avoiding waste, and stood back and admired my work with some pride.

The birds discovered within seconds that a corner of Paradise had just opened for business and the land rush was on -- all except for one who kept banging against the fence around the corner, unable to fathom why she couldn't join the others. I had to chase her about ten feet, to get her clear of the obstruction.

Beloved walked up.

"Oh, my, you've gotten a lot done while I was at work."

"Thank you."

"So, are you going to do anything about that color scheme?"

"Color scheme?"

"Green fence below, silver above. Dogpatch."

"Hey! Well, yah, but waste not, want not. And the birds are happy."

"Still, come next summer, when we're sitting out here with a cup of tea ..."

"We'll need a pleasant place to rest our eyes!" We repeated this together, in unison, as it's a regular saying of hers. And both cracked up.

"Tell you what," I offered, "there's plenty of leftover green paint from the trim work; I can run a roller along here and it will look ready-made in the twinkling of an eye."

"That's the spirit."

The geese came over and looked us up and down from their new perspective: north of us instead of south. Behind them, Chanticleer, the rooster, scratched in the new ground underneath the fir trees, and stood back, in gentlemanly fashion, for the hens to inspect his findings. In the distance, the ducks hopped up and down, first one, and then another, catching flies that had alighted on the hay bales to warm themselves in the sun.

Now to begin laying out next year's veggie beds.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fresh woods, and pastures new

[posted by risa]

Wow, lots of rain. But it was time to hit the ground running, so we did, though trying not to slip in the mud too often.

The idea is to run deer fence around the whole northeast corner of the place, about a quarter of an acre, and poultry fence around the designated garden area, which is within that. The poultry get twice the pasture they have now, and the garden will quadruple over the one we had this summer.

Although we didn't get it all done, we let the birds explore the new ground and it seems we had their complete approval. It's interesting to see how the geese prefer the open air, and the chickens love to scratch underneath all the new trees. Forest critters were their ancestors. And the ducks are the most cautious; it took them an hour to work up the nerve to go see what everyone was talking about.

Hopefully by the end of next weekend, the fences will be all done, and the "raised" beds also will be well on their way to completion. But they say there is a very big storm coming in.

The almost glutinous rain was too much for me, even in rain gear, by the second day, so I took a noon break to start a couple of loaves of spelt bread. This time of year I like to gather thirty or so acorns from the English oaks on our campus quad, in front of the library where I work, shell them, and put them though the hand grinder for a "novelty" ingredient in our bread, just for a couple of loaves, just to be able to say we did. I understand about removing tannin and all that, but a few at a time don't seem to need this treatment. Anyway, we're not dead yet!

This bread is not as pretty as the whole wheat loaves I was making last year, as it rises kinda so-so, but it has a nutty, almost peanut-butter flavor that is especially great thinly sliced and toasted, and spread with butter and homemade jam. For two loaves, or you can double all ingredients for four (saves on baking energy):
30 acorns, shelled and ground
1/8 cup rye flour
1/8 cup buckwheat flour
1/8 to 1/4 cup oatmeal
1 good apple from your cold storage room, cored, chopped and/or ground (catch and add the juice)
32 oz. warm (not hot) water, veg stock, whey, or fruit juice (the more juice, the less sugar)
Two good dollops, from a wooden spoon, of honey, or 1/8 cup brown sugar
Tablespoon sea salt
1 pkg. or equiv. from loose pack, active dry bread yeast
Open your bag of (not stale) spelt or wheat flour and keep it handy, with a small bowl for scooping it out. Enough for the 2 or 4 loaves.
Dump in large mixing bowl all the above except the salt and the spelt, then add one bowl of spelt and mix liberally with a nice big wooden spatula, and set aside while you go do something else. Give the yeast time to think over how it's going to take over the world. Say twenty minutes.

Come back, throw in the salt, scoop a couple of bowlfuls of spelt into the middle of the mix, and start mixing in large circles, folding the dough from the outside in, and then keeping adding spelt till the dough "rises off the bowl" (forms a lump that can be kneaded by hand without sticking all over you). Cut in to 2 or 4 lumps as you intend to bake.

Grease your pans, baking sheets, what-have-you (I use large ironstone plates and make round loaves) and arrange your oven racks to your liking (I like to put both racks on the two lower slots, with a cookie sheet on the lower rack, to prevent the loaves' bottoms burning when the middles aren't done yet).

Shape your loaves (that's right, this is a quick bread, skipping the double rising. Modify the plan as you wish), give them the three cuts across the top if you like (I do), add some sesame seeds if you like (I sometimes do), and set them in the oven (cold for slow, or pre-warmed a bit for faster rising (especially in winter -- we don't have a thermostatically controlled environment).

Ya? So now get back into your raingear, build more fence, come back and see how it's going, and when the bread is close to the size you'll accept as a finished product, turn on the oven to 325-350 F, note the time, and go back to fence building for one hour. Get down in the mud and crank that come-along, dreaming of fresh bread.

Check your watch. Eeek, it's been fifty-five minutes arready. Come in, turn oven off, get out of the rain gear, change out of your wet socks, check your fire, make yourself some hot chocolate, open the oven door, turn out the bread onto a drying rack you've set on the counter, tear off a chunk, butter it, and go sit by the stove with your feet up on a stool.


When bread cools enough not to sweat when bagged, refrigerate or freeze, or put into a good clean bread box, as you wish.

Go back to the fire, bringing along your already-slightly tattered copy of Sharon's Depletion and Abundance, and pick up where you left off, as the wet and blustery darkness gathers outside.


Ooops. Suit up again! The birds have gathered themselves into the barn, and want their door shut upon the roving foxes. A mother's work is never done.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bag it

[posted by risa]

The other day, Beloved came home with a twenty-pound bag of rice -- "terrible food miles, I know -- but I couldn't resist the bag" -- neither could I.

It's burlap, something we don't see much of around here these days, but with a zipper sewn in and a carrying handle. Once you've removed the twenty pounds of rice, you can keep the bag as a purse, or a shopping bag. This is beyond clever! One of the nicest things I've seen -- why the stores are not full of such things is ... it's frustrating, this throwaway culture we have.

The bag stirred memories.

Way back in my twenties --we're talking early 1970s here -- eek, and all that -- I heard about a way that people in some places reuse burlap bags, and saw a drawing, and liked it, and made one as shown in the drawing, and liked it even better.

It was my shopping bag for a long, long time. I kept it patched until it was in tatters and in the end, mulched it. But then burlap seemed to disappear, and I haven't made another one since -- until now.

A short story: when I lived in Atlanta, which was when I had that bag, for several years, my bicycle was my only transportation.

I had a very young son, he was about three at the time, and he rode in the child seat on the bike. Which was fine, but we went to a concert at Piedmont Park, which is in a great bowl with hills around, and -- he was tired through and through and fell asleep, deeply asleep, and I couldn't put him in the child seat without waking him, which I was loath to do, so I rolled him into the shopping bag, suspended him from the handlebars, as I had seen Vietnamese do in documentaries on our black-and-white television, and walked the bike up the steep streets twelve blocks home. A very successful expedient -- he slept peacefully the whole way.

A local coffee shop has begun making burlap coffee sacks available, at first for a dollar each, and then fifty cents -- we thought they were a steal at a dollar, and might have paid two.

So we have been collecting them for various projects. Not buying coffee at the counter at all, just going in to get burlap bags, with our spare change, really.

So, with a fond remembrance from Oldest Son's childhood in mind I have attempted to resurrect this project. The results are not perfect but I will improve on it my next try, I'm sure.

Take your burlap bag and spread it out on the dining room table and cut a line around from the bag's waist to its shoulders, so to speak, and back down to its waist, about two inches or three away from the edge, through both sides of the bag, so that you've cut a big inverted letter "U".

Fold both flaps down. Take a sailmaker's needle and a skein of yarn, and work the edges of the cuts on both the "handle" (which you will stitch together, closing what had been the mouth of the bag) and the flaps, with a diagonal stitch.

You may need to shorten the strap by cutting six to eighteen inches out of it, so that the bag does not drag on your thigh (which unfortunately mine does -- I cut out six inches and should have cut out twelve -- will fix later).

That's it. Takes almost no time. To use, roll up the bag, put it in your shopping cart, and at the register, unroll it, open one flap, tuck in your ill-gotten gains, throw the flap over the other one, put the strap across your off shoulder, and go.

Being as it's half a sack now, it's good for -- oh, say fifty pounds -- if you are.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Well done

[posted by risa]

Beloved and Last Son are visiting my in-laws in California, and I'm lonesome. Keeping busy seems to work best for that.

Sometime during the week I wrenched my back, possibly by stepping off a curb in not the best way, and come Saturday morning I found myself moving very, very slowly. But I had made my mind up to finish the well project, and so dressed nice and went down to Jerry's -- our local competition to the out-of-town big-box stores -- and asked for a couple of rolls of one-and-a quarter inch PVC flexpipe and enough fittings to set up a pitcher pump on the kitchen sink -- someday. For now, we just want to be able to draw water at all -- and so the current project is confined to the greenhouse.

Went home, changed into stinky old farm clothes.

I stashed one roll by the woodshed and rolled the other up to the potting shed, behind the house. There, I installed the foot valve on one end of the roll with a fitting and a ring clamp, and snaked that end down the well until it thumped bottom, backed off about eight inches, then sawed off the pipe with a crosscut saw. I then installed the pipe clamp that came with the original jet-pump pipes, an antique thing that looks nineteenth century, and which has the job of not letting the sawn-off pipe slip down the well. Filled the pipe with water from a hose, to be sure the foot valve was holding water as it should. Yep. Good! Next, slipped on a ring clamp, then tapped in a fitting with a mallet, tightened the ring clamp, and threaded the pitcher pump onto the fitting.

Here I got into trouble! The pump being unwieldy, and my body uncooperative, I got the pump crooked on the first five soft plastic threads of the fitting and stripped them. So it was necessary to remove the pump, loosen the ring clamp, pull the fitting with a pipe wrench, and carry the fitting down to the garage to be sawn off behind the insulted threads. I could go get another one -- they cost only forty-nine cents each -- but I had done my budgeted driving for the day, and didn't feel like changing clothes again -- don't like being out in public dressed like Jolene the Plumber.

Back to the potting shed, tried again, got the pump right on the second try, and pulled the handle.


And then I reassembled the greenhouse windows, put away the tools, and went to bed early.

We'll have this water tested. If it's safe to drink, then next year I'll run a hole under the foundation of the house and run pipe the length of the place and then up into the kitchen. Meanwhile, having a pitcher pump beneath the greenhouse window has advantages.

It can't freeze, at least during the course of a normal winter. So we should be able to water the stock (and the house) in any kind of emergency involving a broken jet pump, frozen-broken pipes, or a power outage.

The kitchen pump would be about three feet higher than the one on the well. It would have the advantage of supplying water to the kitchen, but the potential disadvantage of exposure to freezing because of the additional 100 feet or so of pipe. So it would be nice to have the greenhouse pump as well. Two pitcher pumps on one line at different heights don't work out, though; not with an open line.

We discovered that problem at our old place in the Coast Range, where we had two buildings, each with its own pump on the line from the springhouse. We solved it by installing an inline valve under the lower pump. By shutting off the part of the line leading to that pump, we assured pressure for lifting with the higher pump. So that's what we plan to do with this well.