Saturday, March 28, 2009

Come in, change clothes, and make a hot switchel

Kale at left, broad beans at right. In the distance peas, brassicas, leeks, onions, rhubarb, chard, fruit trees. The pine we raised from a seed fished out from between the scales of a pine cone. Our street is very sedate, and people walk, jog, bike, and ride horses past us continually. Some of them stop, point out the "yarden" to each other and discuss what we're up too. They see me in the distance and wave. I wave back.

I like the horses. The sharp "clep, clep, clep" of their shoes on the pavement reminds me of when we lived among the Old Order Mennonites with their steel-wheeled tractors, giant white barns, and the ubiquitous black buggies, doing the "clep, clep, clep" thing along the highways.

Today I mostly made mulch and compost, as the grass is now growing apace, and spread it along the beds and around fruit trees. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a male yellow-crowned sparrow trapped in the greenhouse. I went in and collected him without too much trouble, showed him to Beloved, and then opened my hands. He flew, a disgruntled arrow, to the neighbor's lilacs. Rain was coming. I put on a broad-brimmed straw hat, and worked until the drops began running off the brim, a sign that more grass would be just too wet to cut. Time to come in, change clothes, and make a hot switchel.

Beloved has rearranged the barn and the Rosies (young Rhode Island Reds) have moved there, in separate quarters from the adult flock. They've calmed down quite a bit, as they can now see the other chickens, whose doings -- sit on nest, meditate, announce "brek-brek-bukrahh-brek" and saunter out the door -- they find fascinating.

Tomorrow, she's off up-valley to collect a flock of young Ancona ducklings. I will stay and make more mulch/compost, maybe put out a few seeds, clean house.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Stay right here

"Hello, world?"

Are you cold there by the window? I can go get a poly cover for you.

"Nahhh, we wanna seee!"

"So, can we, like, go in the ground yet?"

Maybe. You do know it's hailing out there, right? And that an hour or two ago there was a snow flurry?

"We'll be good, we prooooomise!"

Well ... let me go get my jacket. But you peppers and tomatoes had better stay right here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A little ahead of the curve

The Rhode Island Reds have been here three weeks

They had their first day of exercise in the yard yesterday, which was sunny. This drew the attention of the Barred Rocks and Araucanas in the pasture, but of course they can't be introduced for some time yet, when big enough to fend for themselves in the flock. They'll move in at night, when those with seniority are half asleep.

A 60-year-old homesteader who works in town learns to pace herself, and so there is not that much to report. Two years ago, my driving commute was 26 miles round trip. Last year, it was ten miles. This year, I have cut it down to three miles round trip! But there's a price. I found I could manage a bus route that passes within a mile and a half of us, but I'm on the bus a long time on weekdays, getting home at ten minutes after six. So, I'm tired ... and Saturday I'm relatively listless, proving much more ready to farm on Sunday, when I'm already behind schedule.

The park-and-ride I had been using had become a significantly more dangerous place for unattended cars over time, and it seemed best to relocate, and even though the new bus route is long and slow, the safer parking and the reduced carbon footprint/cheaper gas bill seem worthwhile, to say the least.

Each day, while in town for my job, I walk about on my breaks and keep an eye open for jugs that can be made into hotcaps, newspapers that can be made into mulch, or used for cleaning, or as fire-starter, or to wrap apples in, empty wine bottles for our winemaking (we are taking only green ones -- a matter of preference), and other recycling goodies, which I pack into a kraft carton the size that reams of copier paper come in, and carry home on the bus. These loads add up, and we now have quite a lot of materials for a variety of projects.

"You're turning into a bag lady," complains Beloved.

"We're all going to be bag ladies soon -- I'm just a little ahead of the curve."

Of the many things I would like to have done today, I held it down to taking the water sprouts off the apple trees, splitting the week's wood, dividing off three new rhubarb plants, dividing and replanting the chives, moving a rosemary, potting up a few lilacs, direct seeding a few beets, carrots, spinach, peas, chard, and lettuce, and transplanting some tomatoes from pots -- those with too many plants -- to failed pots, then heaping up new potting soil around their little green "ears."

Tiny tomatoes easily sprout roots on any portion of stem that is buried up to the first pair of leaves, and this gives them more strength than if they are allowed to get spindly or "leggy." If I have done this right, there should be 42 four-inch pots, each with one strong tomato plant growing in it. I had quite a bit of success with this over a decade ago but in recent years have lost the touch, and am trying to regain it.

The other flats, with peppers and eggplant, show no sign of seedling activity yet. I'm able to keep the area only warm enough for them part of the day -- not the best plan, but there it is -- one keeps one's fingers crossed and hopes for the best.

It was better when we could use the greenhouse -- plants grow less spindly there than in the west window -- but we have been fighting a plague of mice there. Retreating to the dining room with our flats was the "better part of valor." We'll be back -- but it's one thing at a time around here.


The Ideas of March

Big winter storm out there; great conditions for an indoor project. I'm working on creating a solar food dryer. I'm not really good enough at carpentry for this kind of thing, but since all the parts are from the scrap heap, no harm trying!

The back and the sides, top and bottom are 3/8 plywood on a frame of 2X2s. The top and bottom each have six holes bored in them, and screening is stapled over the holes on the interior to prevent fly traffic. The window had been cut out of a building somewhere with a power saw, so it had no sill flanges for attaching it to the box; but I drilled through the plywood into the frame and put screws through. It seems tight and steady. All there is left to do is make carrying handles for the sides. It's not pretty but it may just be serviceable.

I don't have the patience to fill such a thing with little shelves and such. The idea here is to slide the window open, fill the floor of the box with open egg cartons with fruit slices in them, close the window, and tip the box against the south side of the house at enough angle to get lots of sun but not enough to cause shifting of the egg cartons. Maybe with a hook and eye arrangement on the wall to prevent problems with wind gusts?

Today I ate the last stored apple from the cold room ...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Better than Shakespeare

It has been necessary to work around the weather this weekend, and chores have been tackled that are short duration, so that one can pick up and run inside as needed.

I did make it over to the reservoir for the first time this year. There was snow on the hills all round, and the water stood up grey and choppy with an east wind, which usually makes fish close-mouthed, but I had not been on the water five minutes before a nice trout came to the kayak to stay -- the only one of the day, however.

There were thousands of coots, another sign that winter has not yet left us, if I needed one.

The rowers have begun their season, and the water was populated with singles, doubles, fours, and a couple of eights, with shouting, red-faced coxswains. Rowing, for whatever reason, attracts a lot of women around here, and we outnumbered men on the lake five to one, easily.

Back at the house, I made two loaves of wholewheat/rye/buckwheat/oats/apple/kale bread, and, having soaked runner beans overnight, made a soup on the woodstove, as well.

My soups do not turn out as nicely as my breads, but they are not too bad over rice and this one will get me through the week, for lunches. Also on the stovetop I had potatoes and onions going in a saucepan, to have with duck eggs for the week's breakfasts. Lattkes are all well and good, but it is time to transition to the spring menu, snow squalls notwithstanding. And the bread will go nicely with whatever is for dinner -- if only to make apple sandwiches.

I have just carried the last of this year's wrapped apples from the storeroom. They have been a success, seeing as it's March and they are not the best storage varieties. Every fourth or fifth one I unwrap has gone brown, but the chickens and ducks love these, so they are not a complete loss; the rest I use in breads, pies, and cobblers, or sliced thin on the homemade bread with a little mayo, one of my last non-local food vices. And we have some crunchy peanut butter from the co-op, from an organic twenty-five pound batch bought last year, pre-salmonella-outbreak.

Beloved is not around; she works weekends. Fortunately we have the morning coffee; otherwise we might become strangers. Her chicks have taken over the living room, in a pen arranged on a tarp, and they are big enough now that they have reached that less-cute stage with the cigarettes and switchblades, and leap upon one another from the great height of a bucket full of straw. Better than Shakespeare, it really is.

Another clue that she has been here is the disarray in the cold room. She's bought several large galvanized trash cans, and has been freezing bags of grain for two weeks to kill any mealy bugs and then transferring the bags to the trash cans.

Between the spates of darkness with snow, none of which sticks, it's been sunny and quite warm so I've been able to plant a few peas under hotcaps, and fifteen more potatoes, and done some mowing. The bagged shredded leaves and grass I have divided between the compost drum and a thin layer on the beds. When I get started mowing across the creek, which is possible now with daylight savings, I'll make mulch around the new coppice trees, one by one.

In the garage, with a symphony by the Emperor Frederick I (the "too many notes, my dear Mozart" guy) playing on the radio, I sorted and repaired pop tents -- it's nice to have enough room to do this. Last Son gets the best one, as he uses tents the most. We get the one with the duct tape and baling twine, for any one-nighters we manage to work in on the shores of wilderness lakes -- age, home responsibilities, and the economy have taken a toll on our wanderings -- folded, wrapped and tagged, they are ready to go when we are. The third one has no poles but I think I can find those online, and Daughter can have that one if she does not yet have a better.

I thought I would go get a jump on the year's mowing across the creek, but I see a heavier than usual snow squall coming in. I think I will bring in some wood and sit by the fire, instead.

Yes, I think that is just what I will do.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Hope springs eternal

Tomato: Sun Gold Cherry, Aunt Ruby's German, Amish Paste, Yellow Brandywine (Beloved's favorite), Rutgers. Pepper: Jalapeno, Marconi Rosso. Eggplant: Diamond, Long PingTung. Out of room: bell peppers will have to wait.

In situ, under hotcaps: Sugar Snap peas, Detroit Dark Red beets, cylinder beets, chard, calabrese, Cherry Belle radish, red kale, red cabbage, Black Simpson lettuce. Also, red and Yukon Gold potatoes. Hotcaps are gallon milk jugs with bottom third cut off.

For dinner: chili from home grown Scarlet Runner beans, dried, with sun-dried tomatoes, chili peppers, elephant garlic. Maybe a little commercial chili powder. Not to be fanatical and a' that.