Saturday, July 30, 2011

The shade of the maple

There is certainly enough to do. The young people are here helping, and the kitchen is gradually sinking under the weight of the detritus from snack, coffee breaks, juicing and the like.

Old people don't firewood very fast when there are so many other things to do, like moving straw bales and hoses, planting a fall garden, or harvesting garlic. None of this stops wild geese from flying south, which they have been doing since mid-July (!!). The woodpile has fallen farther and farther behind in the schedule, and now if Risa cuts any more green stuff it will still be green by the time we need it, say, in February. 

Consequently we got onto Craigslist and found a nice man who is clearing a woodlot behind his house in town: good straight clear second-growth Douglas fir, some of which had died on the stump and seasoned itself. He brought us two cords for a decent price. Risa keeps a radio going, on a good old-time country station (think Jimmy Rogers and Patsy Cline) and walks back and forth, bringing two sticks at a time. The day is warming up, so the youngsters plan to take on the evening shift, after the shade of the maple falls over the woodpile.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

That's why they call it elephant garlic

Risa has a variety of pleasant tasks in hand and a little bit of help for a change: Last Son is home the next week or month or so, between apartments. He's watering fruit trees with duck pond  water, a job that's getting tough for his sixty-two-year-old mom, while she plants fall peas, pulls garlic, firewoods a coppiced willow, and moves hoses.

This year, mirabile dictu, Risa remembered to behead the garlics, which helps the bulb plump out and make cloves. We're not that into scapes, but love the tiny little flowers, so we "plant" the scapes and, while they don't root like tomato branches or such, they stay alive long enough to bloom. Meanwhile the elephant garlic grows to softball size, or even bigger --but then, that's why they call it elephant garlic, neh? And when the leaves begin to brown, she forks them out to lie in the sun and dry for a few days.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Egging ourselves on

Risa noticed it was time to do goose eggs again, an annual event. Since she needed a new bicycle pump, she picked one up and also a new basketball needle to go with it, as this is her tool of choice for blowing goose eggs. There were thirty-eight this year; Susannah is getting older. Here is a repost of how we do this:

Every year I have to learn all over again -- the margin of error, with the high-speed grinder and the basketball pump, is relatively small. I'm sure there are better ways to go about this, but this is what we do:

We gather up containers for the freezer, and a Sharpie for writing on the container, spread out some newspaper, find a round toothpick, an old-fashioned milk bottle or a glass carafe, the basketball pump, the high-speed Dremel-style tool (ours is a Craftsman), and a bowl of soapy, salty water.

With the little cone-shaped grindstone, we zip off a bit of shell at each end, about as big as the head on a six-penny box nail, and punch through the membrane with the toothpick, stirring up the yolk, then place the egg on top of a suitably wide-mouthed bottle and gently pressurize the contents with the basketball needle. You can just barely see a small rubber gasket here, cut from a flat rubber band, to seal the contact between egg and needle.

Every second egg we pour off the eggs into a freezer container, so that if we get into a bad egg (never has happened) we won't waste a lot. Mark the container "Goose '10 '11." Wash the eggshell inside and out (draw some soapy salt water into the shell and shake vigorously, then blow out). Repeat. Freeze containers, sun-dry shells.

In a few days they are ready to decorate or sell to Pisanki painters ... whatever suits ya. I like to just sit by the table and look at them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The naked trellis

Mid-July in the main garden; the beans are reaching for the sky but the peas (4th try) stopped and made peas at about eighteen inches in height -- same kind as grew six feet in prior years -- so their trellis remains naked. Corn and squash dominate the foreground, with lots of volunteer potatoes, garlic, and nasturtium. Grapes, apples, compost heaps and "chicken moat" glimpsed at upper left.

Risa has been reducing the last of the "craigslist wood" (eleven free truckloads in 2009), the knottiest rounds, by notching with the electric chainsaw before putting in a wedge. Some rounds she has simply sliced through the middle and then assaulted with the maul. This results in some interesting stacking.

The saw is a relic from, apparently, about 1963. A Skilsaw, made in USA. It was given to her as scrap, but it's the gift that keeps on giving. You can't get such a saw made nowadays. You could tape the trigger closed and let it run all day and it will not overheat, apparently.

Finished! The smallwood tucked around the pine is from maples, ashes and willows planted and coppiced on the premises. Nothing, maybe, gives a sense of perspective like firewooding a tree you planted yourself. Sad and joyful all mixed together.

The dehydrators are kept going constantly at this time of year. Foliage that would otherwise go to waste -- side leaves and bolted heads of lettuce, chard, kale, choi, spinach, broccoli, collards, cabbage, and turnip greens -- even radish tops -- along with your choice of herbs -- don't forget the dandelions -- are crisped by the sun and hand crumbled, with the stems picked out and tossed. A bushel of greens will make a quart of veggie crumble, good in breads, soups, green drinks, main dishes, side dishes, and salads. You could live on potatoes and veggie crumble if you had to, using any colcannon recipe -- we prefer fresh kale, but ... y'know ... think survival foods ...

Thursday, July 07, 2011

You've earned it

Everything happening at once: paint south exterior wall of barn white to increase fall and spring radiance in the polytunnel/greenhouse. Spread straw in the projected path between the beds. Fork over the beds. Break up forked clogs with seldom-seen-out-of-storage but nifty electric Mantis. Go mowing in a patch of clover across the creek. Spread grass clippings on beds. Plant out, with kneeler and ho-mi, the things that actually came up in the three-inch pots in the flats: kale, collards, chard, and some summer squash (later, peas and favas -- say, late August). Water. Wait and see how it all turns out -- meanwhile, take a nap -- you've earned it.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Next year in Jerusalem

Risa knows it's actually hot in some places -- Phoenix had 118F recently -- but to her, after being one of the Earth's cold spots since about November, the air in her vicinity is wilting her at 83F. A spot of shade in the late afternoon, creeping over the tomatoes and the star-gazing bed, looks good to her, and so she falls into the star-gazing bed and takes a nap.

Later, it's time for another wheelbarrow load. What has happened, is there was a war between Stony Run Farm and a raccoon whose superpower is climbing up the pen netting, unwinding enough chicken wire to slip in, and taking three bites from a chicken. Ten dead chickens later, none of our old tricks have availed, and it has become necessary to abandon the pen in favor of shutting everyone -- ducks, chickens, goose -- into the barn.

All ten victims were so little chewed that they have been salvaged, and there is a whole lot more broth and such in the freezer than we had anticipated.

The barn's back door is nailed shut, and the front door has been extensively rebuilt. Welded wire fencing has been wrapped round the barn and buried in the earth several inches. So far so good. Nobody died over the last four days.

This leaves us with the question what to do with the pen, which is an L-shaped enclosure wrapped around the southeast corner of the barn, and which looks ... a lot ... like ... a polytunnel/greenhouse!

We had one before, but it suffered from inadequate bracing in today's stronger winds, and from an explosion of veggie-snacking slugs. The one on the back of the barn, though, would have chickens and ducks all around it every day, which might help. Worth a try.

Risa has opened a doorway into the space (which had been cut off from its only previous door) from the potting shed:

Now she's removing most of an eight-inch-deep layer of straw bedding mixed with duck poo, to get access to some actual soil:

Yes, we know, but you can't always muck out when you should, and we were guilty of just throwing new on top of old for a long time. We're much better in the barn. All this is heading for the compost heap. We like to sheet compost and skip the heap, but we've already set up the garden's nutrition for this year and this stuff would burn the plants. Risa's added an extra bin to handle the overflow:

What was the question in the far back? Oh, the mailbox. Yes, well, that's got hand tools in it. Where to grab a ho-mi or a nozzle on the way out to the beds.

So, anyway, the plan is to lay out a path in the polytunnel, fork over the goop that's in there to aerate it a bit, and start a fall garden. Then put the plastic on. Then next year, try it for tomatoes and peppers. If we like what happens, maybe gather materials to switch to a glass house. "Next year in Jerusalem," as they say.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Very impatient

The July photo-op for the garden shows there has been some growth, especially among the grape vines. Squashes are showing some willingness, and the corn may actually happen. Our fourth try with peas appears to show promise, and there will, by the look of things be some decent beans and runner beans. The brassicas are hearty, and the tomatoes have lush foliage, though not as many blossoms, perhaps, as we would like to see.

You may remember the potato patch Risa laid out awhile back by simply spreading newspaper on the ground, putting down seed spuds, and throwing straw over them:

Looks like this now: (peek over the blackberries):

Not too bad. The plastic at left is next year's patch. You can see from the already-brown slope above the riparian green line that some of the "pasture" is very poor -- all cat's ears and queen-anne's lace. If you dig down an inch up there it's all small round stones, egg-size or larger, all packed together with no appreciable soil. That's why the spud patches are in the flood zone. At least there's something there for them to eat.

At this time of the year everything has to be done all at once. This morning, Risa is in the pie cherry tree. She'll get about a gallon, all her ladder can reach. The rest will go to the mated pair of varied thrushes, who are very impatient for her to go away!