I knew, from the rate at which el nino was growing, we would have a very late frost. The first one, such as it was, arrived a few days ago -- touching only the roof of the house and the cucumber vines. The tomatoes and zukes slept through it all and missed it.
That's all well and good, but we have to get crackin' on next year's prep. This is a no-till garden, which one might think means no-work, but it's, in its own way, as much work or more than clearing off, burning residues, and tilling.
The point of burning residues, which is much practiced around here, is to kill the eggs of plant predators and the various diseases that can build up. We've adopted the alternative of having the poultry go through for the bugs and then cutting everything up small and burying it in leaves and straw -- so that beneficial organisms can get ahead of the inclement ones. We even use cut-up twigs in the mix, on the theory that more variety in the organic matter means more variety on the garden's plate.
Like, umm, nature.
Things left to rot down must have time to rot -- so we're interrupting the summer garden's eleventh inning rally in order to start the process for next spring. Everything needs to be as near the soil as possible. I'm hoping to get a broadfork, maybe this year, and open the soil underneath a bit, which does much of the work done by tilling, but without disturbing soil structure nearly as much.
Anecdotally we can say that while our produce -- open pollinated, grown on perpetual mulch/compost, and widely interplanted -- does not outperform row gardening in poundage, it seems to us remarkably bug- and disease-free. We do have a squirrel problem this year, plus we had to erect that gigantic deer fence -- the sort of thing that can happen to anybody who sets out a feast in the yard -- but, apart from aphids here and there, things have been quiet. Fewer hornworms, fewer cabbage loopers, fewer cucumber beetles, almost no blossom end rot, no cutworms that I could see, and the slugs and snails have backed way off -- no doubt that part has to do with running the poultry around the perimeter, as a kind of moat filled with inquisitive beaks and bills.
This week we are taking down fence posts and wires and supports, cutting up stems as we go, and finding gleanings for ourselves and the chickens, ducks, and geese. The chickens are turning up heaps of potatoes that I'd missed, and their assaults on the beet greens and cabbages turned out to be mostly about aphid eggs.
There are surprises. I had thought everyone would be all about grapes, which are a favorite when tossed over the fence. Instead, they have all ignored them. Protein is the order of the day -- chickens are exposing ant nests and picking up the eggs, ducks are inveigling their bills into the depths of the beds for buried slugs and slug eggs. I think of slugs as something that comes with rain, but I suppose they must hide somewhere, even in a drought. The paths are too tough for the ducks' built-in shovels, but the beds are loose enough to be sifted, so that is where the action is.
The Annies (Ancona ducks) don't get to be part of all this, because they have separate pasture. Their guy, Andrew, is permanent persona non grata to Sylvester, the gander, and also we want the Annies to breed. So I have to continue bringing them things. Unlike the Deloreses (Khaki Campbells), they take no interest in corn -- this may be because Sylvester and Susannah break up the kernels for them -- but bean vines are very welcome. Also, they are very pleased with cooked-up immature winter squash, which we have in plenty this year.
Becuase there is a nip in the air in the early mornings and late evenings, we have been building small fires in the woodstove -- just hot enough to do the squash. So it's an evening chore to these up and put them on in a saucepan of water, and in the morning I drain the water (for use in soups and bread) and dump the squash over the fence. The Annies are very shy and hide under the willow coppice while I'm doing this. But I know it's appreciated; when next I pass by, the ground there is squeaky clean -- not a scrap remains.
The week in review: frost touched the cuke vines but not the tomatoes or zukes. Transplanted red chard, kale, and bok choi into the polytunnel.
Harvested tomatillos, mustard, lettuce, arugula, beans, potatoes, winter squash, pumpkins, grapes, sweet corn, tomatoes, eggplant, kale, yellow zucchini, green zucchini, chard, chicken eggs, duck eggs.
Canned tomato puree, cooked up and froze beans. Blanching won't do, as they are a bit mature and when we need them, we'll want them faster than the blanched. We can alternate with blanched-and-frozen when we have the time. If I can find those in the freezer!
Scored some windows and a large plywood cabinet on Craigslist's free box. Tearing down bean poles and corn stalks. Converting garden waste and grape-wine must into in-bed compost and chicken, duck, and goose smiles. Reorganized canning jars. It appears I've used about a third of them this year. I'd run out of wide lids and was searching for small-mouth quarts -- they were in the back of the cabinet, of course. About half are Mason, half Kerr -- and two are three are an off size labeled Atlas. I like those the best. Very homey looking.
Sold chicken eggs and gave away the last of the giveaway summer veggies.
100 foot diet: from frozen: chicken broth and blackberries and plum sauce. From home canned: tomato soup, plum sauce and blackberry jam. From the land: apples, duck and chicken eggs, turnip greens, zucchini, elephant garlic, onions, basil, chives, cucumbers, eggplant, tomatillos, tomatoes, corn. 100 mile diet: Tillamook cheddar, local wines. 1000+ mile diet: Whole wheat noodles -- who knows where they are from -- it's clear they have neared the end of their shelf life and so it's spaghetti all week. I make the sauce -- but I feel I have to add tomato paste from cans (never enough Romas ripening) and haven't found a convenient local source. Oh, and party goodies. More than fifty people came to my retirement send-off!