Monday, November 26, 2012

Off kilter

We're looking at some strange conditions here -- many trees refusing to turn color, let alone shed leaves. Bees flying, hummingbirds wintering over, mosquitoes everywhere, and many annuals and perennials sprouting or blooming as if it were spring. The highs here at this time of year should range 25 to 60F and we're within that range -- but more or less stuck between 50 and 59, at the high end. Not many records, but it's adding to the excess degree days that throw life on the planet farther and farther off-kilter. 

I don't remember a year with no killing frost before December. Not quite sure what to do in the garden, and I'm sure many others are scratching their heads as well. So I go ahead with the indoor projects I'd lined up for those cold days we didn't get.

This is the accumulated ham, bacon, turkey fats and drippings from assorted family offerings over the last week, mixed with some apple juice used to blend down some garlic, onions and spices. After it solidifies here in the freezer, the cubes will be dumped into bags and used in winter recipes involving beans, split peas, lentils, soups, rice, etc. A good way to keep off the stuff except in small quantities over time.

I keep the smaller pint and half pint Mason jars handy as they are emptied and whenever I have seven, I look around for what might go in them. Nothing growing this time of year, not even the mysteriously lingering tomatoes, has enough acid for water bath canning, but pickling is an option till we can find a gasket for the pressure canner.

We have a surplus on hand of root vegetables from the CSA our son belongs to, along with some Brussels sprouts. I've cubed all these -- beets, turnips and carrots mostly -- steamed them, then jarred them up and poured apple cider vinegar with honey, sea salt and spices (home grown and dehydrated) over them, with a little grape oil, and set the lot on the wood stove. The stove has to be managed with smallwood on these relatively warm days and so doesn't get hot enough to seal the lids safely, but after it has done its best I'll move the canner to the range to finish quickly.

Sorry about the blurred shot, but you can see the beets have made the whole "pickled vegetables" thing quite attractive. I had the leftovers with rice and I think it's a success.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Plant migrations

Awhile back I showed off, here, this picture of my small comfrey patch, which utilized the north side of the house.

Although comfrey is said to be twenty percent protein and chock full of nice vitamins and minerals, as well as excellent for stock feed, it has recently been deemed by the food and medical establishment as too toxic for regular human consumption. I'm not going to question this publicly, other than to note that the way things are going, the approved stuff, such as GMO corn and soy, seems to me likely to end up more toxic than comfrey ever was, if it isn't already.

So, since our poultry were ignoring any comfrey I brought them, I fell into the permaculturist's practice of using it as a sure fire compost starter. This entailed going after it with scythe or sickle, and I ran afoul of household aesthetics. The harvested patch did look pretty ragged for a couple of weeks after each cutting.

Fortunately the poultry changed their mind and began begging for the stuff, so a deal was negotiated. I could create a border along what's left of the (now-tiny) yard, next to the chicken moat, so that the birds could graze through the fence at will. There would be enough plants, multiplied through the magic of root propagation, that I could harvest all I would need from my side of the fence without creating that ragged-haircut look.

And, if starvation conditions ever set in, there would be yet another perennial crop to fall back on if need be, toxins or no toxins. As I have been known to say, my alien-attack meal plan is chips-and-dip anyway.

I once listened to a Chinese famine survivor who said she got by through the expedient of stripping leaves and bark from just about every tree in sight. She was in her nineties when she told this story, and looking pretty spry.

Comfrey roots are famous for their resprouting properties, and in fact the patch I'm moving has been in three other places (don't ask). Usually I've been able to easily start the entire patch in its new location by simply forking up one plant and dividing it with the shovel. This time I am using all eight.

They say that a very tiny piece will do but I try to use a more or less intact chunk of the crown if possible, with some intact side roots as shown. Facing the tree-planting shovel toward me (which I used in this manner as a professional reforester, years ago), I drive it about six inches deep, lever it away from me and then back, set the d-ring against my shoulder, and pull the soil up and toward me. This gets a nice hole just about right for a six-inch crown fragment to be buried up to its chin with a juducious tamp of the foot. It all goes very quickly, given that young tree planters sometimes set out more than a thousand seedlings in a day.

The birds are highly interested in the proceedings.

A couple of hours' work and I'd hopefully set out about seventy comfrey starts. If you look again at the mere eight plants in the first photo above you'll see that this is a huge amount, but for our style of gardening we really need all the green mulch/compost we can get -- we're a little heavy on the barn straw and brown leaves.

The old patch, which now belongs to a fuchsia (still in bloom in November) and two goumis, will of course sprout lots of comfrey from broken-off root tips so it will have to be mulched heavily with cardboard under straw and watched carefully. But there's plenty of room along the chicken moat for more strays. I hope to establish more goumi bushes through holes in the cardboard, as I did before when we were smothering the vinca that formerly occupied this spot.

If you can replace vinca you can replace anything.

You can also insert unwanted comfrey roots around the base of your apple trees for a nice companion planting, so I am told. Ours are in with the birds and we are stone-mulching them at present to prevent damage from the hens, but we could have left the wire cages and gone with comfrey and might yet.

It was hot out, 73F, and I stopped to water all the roots in, a good practice even in the rainy season (which this is supposed to be) as this helps the soil and roots snuggle together. Air pockets are injurious to roots.

After lunch I was still in the mood for more of this kind of thing, so I moved eight raspberry canes that had strayed into the path, divided one hops vine and set it around the corner of the house from the others, and dug up and moved a daughter fuchsia -- that last one for aesthetics, of course. ;)