Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mix & match

Back in the summer, our beans looked like this:

Right foreground, your basic green bean. We forget the variety, they were planted from last year's crop. Kind of a Blue Lake thingy. Center, farther away, are the runner beans, which shot up ten foot poles and doubled back, coming after us like triffids. But we stood our ground and ate a lot of them. Last year there were two kinds: Scarlet, and Hungarian. We knew what they had done, behind our backs, but we were kind of curious to see how it would turn out. So we planted the two kinds again this year, knowing they had become more or less one kind that would yield multiple characteristics.

Here's what we have saved for seed. Sure enough, the runners had melded. In the three jars at left, the dark blue came out like Scarlets, and the cream with brown spots look like Hungarians. But the violet ones are trying to look like both. Over on the right you have the Blue Lake thingies. They don't cross with the runners.

We'll plant these next year and see what comes of all this. These new runners are not as pretty as either the Scarlets or the Hungarians, but they taste about the same. Over time maybe we'll come up with our own variety. Mendelian mix & match.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Food club

Okay, you're out beyond the city limits, the garden is put to bed, the bean pot's simmering, the cat's asleep on your chair, you don't feel like prepping next year's spud bed in this much wind, and you know you're not quite ready to pull everything out of the bedroom so you can paint.

And maybe you're not prepared to envision yourself running a fruit stand or CSA and spending time with agricultural regulators of one kind or another. Yet, anyway.

What to do?

Well, you can get to know your local organic wholesaler and see if they do food clubs.

Our wholesaler requires your club to buy a minimum of $150 a month. That's really all. You murmur among yourselves as to who wants what when where and how, then a call is placed or email sent, and the next day your representative appears at the dock with a check and heads home to the scales (you'll need scales) to do any splitting of orders (most things are in 25 or 50 pound bags). Then typically either everyone comes over for a distribution party or you head out with the prepped load and meet folks at a prearranged location.

We've tended to do this the latter way as I am out in the sticks and my friends all still work in town. Benefits include: I get to see them once in a while, I get kudos, my friends and I get wholesale prices on bulk items that are organically grown, wholesome and nutritious, we get to educate ourselves on where our eats come from and what it takes to move food around, and we get to support a burgeoning local bean-and-grain farming and supply chain.

The food club can be about as informal as you want. With a full-blown co-op, you can do more, and for more people, but it's more complex and there are more opportunities for some of those involved to burn out on the inevitable stress. You need not invest so much of yourself in the food club that when it starts to go down, and they can do so for many reasons, just like a co-op or business, your heart and soul need not go down with it.

And should the need arise, you can always start it up again. Assuming there are still farmers, wholesalers and trucks when that time comes.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Temp fence up, birds in

About this time every year, we open up the potager (kitchen garden) for a month-long bill and beak treatment. This helps some with slugs and insect pests as well as weeds, weed seeds, and out-of-season volunteer plants. It also stirs the sheet-composted layer throughout and adds manure.

To do this, we run a section of used welded-wire fence around from one corner to the other, near the house, in such a way that the birds invest the garden with mucking up our walkways. We still have access through a gate we have by the driveway, the usual use of which is to import bales of straw and wheelbarrow loads of grass clippings and straw.

We also set up a five-gallon bucket of water, as ducks can die of asphyxiation from mud-encrusted beaks if they can't snortle in water from time to time, and it's a long way back to the barn from here.

When everything is ready, the gate from the garden to the far end of the "chicken moat" is thrown open. The waterfowl and the "wild bunch" chickens (Australorps) can be counted on to find this expansive opportunity first thing in the morning. The more sedate Araucanas and the rooster, however, must be driven at least once or they'll miss the whole show.

a) House b) garage c) wellhouse d) garden shed e) barn/poultry house f) garden beds  g) fruit trees  h) chicken moat i) optional goats/sheep j) truck access k) walkway l) shade trees such as mature cherry or walnut. Not shown: plantings of tea, spices, berries, grapes, lavender, etc. m) place for humans to zone out.

Here is a crude drawing of the sort of thing we're trying to do, though it does not represent our actual layout. The homestead (or least the part of it on the house's side of the creek) is surrounded at the perimeter by a tall deer fence, on which we are encouraging blackberries, grapes and such. Ten to twenty feet in is the poultry fence, forming in effect a moat -- the birds' pasture is the outer ring of the property. This keeps them active, as they have a large enough territory but it's long and narrow. Our home, yard, and garden have the "interior lines" -- thus we don't have to spend all our time thinking about chicken poop underfoot or tracking into the house.

The round things inside the chicken moat are the majority of the orchard trees. Apples and such that drop and are not retrieved by us are the traditional transition zone for some fruit pests -- but the birds get them, as well as the fruit. The birds also interdict slugs and snails that are migrating toward the garden. Those that get past -- well, we hope the birds can find them in November and December, when they are our guests in the inner sanctum.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Winter squash routines begin

Snow on the hills again, a little lower.

I've been processing squash for the poultry -- about one fruit every two to three days. There's plenty of winter squash as well as pumpkins this year, unlike last year -- our worst garden summer ever here -- but also we have a lot of zuke-kins.

These are crossbred seeds saved from 2010 or 2011 that resulted in large green or yellow blimps a la zucchini, on zucchini-type vines, but yellow fleshed and hard like pumpkin. Some weigh over twenty pounds. They don't store very well, so we are using them up first.

Here you can see the zuke-kins peeping out from under the winter collection.

There is a stock pot dedicated to life atop our wood heat stove, which resides in the dining area. Sometimes it's heating dishwashing water; sometimes it's processing squash or pumpkin. I cut up a squash and put the pieces in the hot water overnight, and the next day I drain the rich water into the "wet" compost, cool the squash, and toss it over the poultry fence.

Yes, it makes a mess, but that's why we live a little ways out past the suburbs. In this picture a piece of new squash is at center, the peeling left over from the last one is at lower left, and the stripped greens are the remnants of whole kale and chard tossed over last month.

The birds appreciate this menu. The chickens quickly clean up the seeds and the ducks and goose go for the softened flesh. Then the chickens entertain themselves with the rind until it's cleaned to the "bone."

Sometimes the squash is so big the pieces don't all fit in the pot. I could wait and do half now and half later, but sometimes you want to make a pie or a squash soup. Around here, one doesn't try to do that too often, especially the pies. This family maxes out on "pumpkin" quickly, even if you throw a lot of nutmeg and sugar at them. The soup seems a little more sophisticated, and I for one can eat it quite often.

When I'm doing this I like to set aside some seed from our share of the squash for salting and roasting. We have a veggie processing sink in the laundry room with a short bit of hose and a brass nozzle, and the seeds can sit in a colander and have their pulp blasted away. Drain, bring into the kitchen, add some grapeseed oil and salt (I also add veggie seasoning [dehydrated leaf vegs, crumbled] as I do to everything), move the seeds to a small iron skillet, and set that on the stove along with everything else. Below, at left, you see the soup sections of the squash simmering, the stockpot of poultry feed is simmering in the middle, and a light lunch of salted "pumpkin" seeds is roasting at right.

Yes, the stovetop is a bit stained. If you're going to do this kind of thing, it's going to get that "lived-in" (in this case, "lived-on") look. But the heat's radiating to the house anyway -- so why not use it?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Snow job

The hills around us are white today, but we've only gotten the one flurry so far -- bit of a "snow job." But because we expect a relatively severe freeze, I'm moving smallish fall-garden plants to the greenhouse. There's room to do this because while I was away, the greenhouse was necessarily unattended, a heat spell came through, and the place exploded with cabbage worms, who wiped out the kale, leaving behind some bedraggled chard, beets, onions, peas, and surprisingly enough, cabbage.

They've died down now. I've covered the path with burlap and shored up the plastic where it was pooling rain, and we're back in business. Outside temperature is 38F, greenhouse is a balmy 54.

Indoors, I'm making some pre-mixed cereal for quick hot meals.

Contains wheat, rye, barley, oats, quinoa, TVP, veggie crumble, powdered milk, salt, stevia. If you're gluten-sensitive maybe leave out the wheat or substitute what you like. One cup to 1 1/2 cup water in a bowl, or as you like it. Being incredibly lazy and not fond of cleaning wheat-glued pots, I zap for 99 seconds at 1K watts, with some dried apple slices or apple butter, and it's ready to eat. YMMV, we just don't hang out too close to the zapper.

When I have more patience, I use the wood stove. There's a bit of a trick to this. We have a couple of nice large trivets and a small one. Pots of water move from stove top to trivet as needed, which is the usual use for these; but you can pop the little one into a flat-bottomed Dutch oven and set your cereal bowl on top of that. No trivets? Canning jar rings work well.

Cover with the iron lid and fuggeddabout it while you're transplanting in the potting shed. Come back a couple of hours later and you have cereal or soup or whatever. You can even bake bread in the bowl, if you like. Takes a long time on a heating stove, though. This is another reason, if there are two or more of you, to at least try to find a way to have someone at home full time. This kind of work adds value and isn't taxed to death.

Pour yourself some tea water from the teakettle while you're about it; if your tea is homegrown like much of ours, I can't think of much cheaper eats. If you can move out past the suburbs a bit, and grow your own fuel, all the better. Now, have your hearty lunch and look out the window.

There. Isn't this better than TV?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tea for two

Planted two camellia sinensis (tea). These are a Russian cultivar, supposed to be able to handle our winters, should be delivering green tea within two to five years.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A gathering in

The mulberry trees are transplanted, the pickled beets are canned and spuds lifted. The tea (camellia sinensis) bushes, raspberry canes, replacement kiwis, and red grape vines haven't arrived. What's a girl to do?

Winter storms have begun passing over Stony Run, and Risa finds herself sitting in her corner with a lap blanket more, and digging in the mud less, as the days diminish and the nights lengthen. She knows it's the other way round in, say, New Zealand at the moment, but for her, November is a time for appreciating the things that have been gathered in -- apple juice, pickled beets, tomato sauce -- and reading and thinking, as well as making lists and planning. One hopes for another spring, and the resources with which to honor its potential.

Pictured here is the reference section in the dining room, across from the wood stove. It's a rotating collection -- John Seymour is on the beside table, for instance -- but you can generally count on certain things staying put until wanted, such as the Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening (here's why we like our older edition).

It's worth noting that most of the books shown were found, over time, in the free box at a local used book store. They've discontinued that service, Risa mourns its demise.

John Michael Greer is the current exponent, in blogland, of things Seventies, and, looking over her collection, Risa must admit she's cut from the same cloth. Yes, there were things we didn't know then, but the rough-and-ready experimentalism of the time -- how much heat can you trap in a used hot-water heater if you peel its insulation back, paint it black, and park it in its own "cold" frame? -- was useful then, is useful now, and does not wait for the attention of venture capitalists and the mercy of  the 1%. The answer to the above question, for example, is "quite a lot" -- you can lower your electric bill by making such a thing out of scraps -- though you might not want to discuss it with your county code enforcers in some areas, if it's hooked up to the house for that purpose.

Right next to the reference collection are the white boards, with the homestead map and the year's planned activities, with assigned beds -- mismatched gardening styles dictate this. There's a dance among the reference section, the boards, the seed catalogs, the teapot on the wood stove, and the gathered-in things.

In other words, just because we homesteaders are sitting in our corners under lap blankets at the moment doesn't mean we're not farming ...

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A particularly sunny smile

When you want to serve pickled beets for dinner and there are beets in the garden, one thing can lead to another.

Risa went out and picked about half the year's beets, a mixed lot of Chioggia and Detroit Dark Red, and "strangled" them, i.e. wrung off the leaves, which she tossed over the fence to the chickens, and brought the roots in to wash.

She's finally got a saucepan, a really big one that kind of resembles a wok, which she knows will make seven pints of canning contents if filled to within an inch or so of the top.

So she cut up the beets, along with an onion, and threw in some honey and some homemade vinegar and spices, right up to the rim of the pot almost, and set it all to simmer while lifting more potatoes and weeding in the greenhouse. Later, she got out the smaller of the two water-bath canners and swapped it onto the burner that was cooking the beets, then filled seven jars from the pot, lidded, ringed and labeled them (she just writes on the lid -- "BEETS 11/11" in this case), set them in the water bath, and there in the bottom of the pot were the pickled beets she wanted to serve with dinner.

She'll rinse the pan, pour out the rinse into the compost bucket, and set it aside to wash, then take the jars off the boil, set them out to cool, and use the hot water from the canner to wash some dishes. Oh, and stop to take a portrait of the jars: pickled beets have a particularly sunny smile, she finds.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A lot to offer

Would love to just sit inside and sip cider while contemplating the fall foliage and the newly put-to-bed beds:

... but there are things to do.

One is to hunt down stray potatoes. Risa had to go away for eight weeks, leaving a number of things undone, including spud lifting. The main patch grew over in weeds very quickly:

But that doesn't mean there's nothing there. With her ho-mi and kneeling bench, Risa pokes about underneath the grass roots:

These are Yukon, German Butterball, and Red. Reds are down in production this year, but yellows -- both kinds -- are up. You never know. Risa's maintaining three patches in rotation, so as to get away with using her own potatoes for seed ... what with the price of seed potatoes these days.

She doesn't neglect the smaller spuds, down to about marble size, as they can be planted as seed spuds and the results seem to be just fine.

She'll sort these into two categories: 1) large, without solanine (green patches) for eating this winter, and 2) everything else, for planting. Five wheelbarrow loads should just about do it, y'think? Imagine how well this would go if she'd hill them up and water and weed them like she's supposed to! Spuds,well, for the lazy or absentee farmer, they have a lot to offer, it seems.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Everywhere at once

So, it is time to get caught up a bit.

Frost hit the garden while Risa was away:

There's still plenty to eat out there, so she picks the remaining tomatoes and squash -- 

-- harvests the sunflower stems for kindling --

-- sets them out to dry in the sunny part of the woodshed --

-- and stores the squash and pumpkins indoors. She'll make tomato sauce later, after harvesting a few onions.

At the rate we're going, it will be next week or even later before the potatoes are lifted. But who can be everywhere at once?