Insect love…

It’s rather distressing to read about the loss of insects. Like David Attenborough said, the planet can manage without humans but without insects, we’re toast.

In a small way, I see this in my greenhouse, in which I take an annual survey of paper wasps the third week of August. The reason is that if there are too many nests and too much activity I take out a few hives to make it a little safer for guests. The paper wasps are good neighbors but the one time I was stung I think she landed on me my accident and didn’t like being brushed off.

But the last few years have been low paper wasp. It’s got me worried. I rely on them to deal with caterpillars and they are good with aphids, too.

One thing that I may be doing is treating the peppers with Neem. While tomato and basil are very easy to grow, come late spring it’s an ongoing struggle to keep aphids off of the peppers and eggplants. Since you can’t sell plants with bugs, and hand-picking is an endless task, I’ve been using a bit of Neem, which is about as gentle as you can get. But I’ve seen the ladies looking for aphids on the peppers and I worry. So…

I’m going to give up trying to sell pepper and eggplant starts. The peppers have always been a headache since seed life and germination is so unpredicatable, I get so worried about their chills, and I just don’t find all that much excitement in pepper varieties. And perhaps the greenhouse can be an insect sanctuary. I stopped treating the scale since the times I had whitefly was after I used some kind of oil treatment on the citrus. In the small scale of a greenhouse the delicate balance of nature is more visible and throwing some chemicals in just has unforeseen and usually not great consequences.

Cold hardiness, as seen in late winter

The grass has started growing and the crocus are almost but not quite blooming, which means it’s late winter, even though we are technically just starting the middle third of winter.

We had a particularly low cold snap (18 degrees) in November, and most of the brasicas froze out. The Gigante Kohlrabi seems to be the hardiest, even more so than the regular kale; we have one ultra-tough kale (both texture and resilience) that has done fine, though, and cilantro is not bothered. An interesting and unusual green, Sculpit, looks better now than it did in the summer, it apparently loves the cold damp weather and adds welcome green. Sorrel also would be doing fine except for the chickens. Carrots were sadly damaged by the frost, the parsnips are fine, and we haven’t ventured a beet lately.

The Muna peppers (Mucho Nacho dehybridization/cold-tolerant pepper project) in the unheated greenhouse are looking rough, but it didn’t get as cold as last year, so there are green (if ratty-looking) leaves, and new peppers are showing. The senior (full blood) Mucho Nacho will be four years old in a few months. The impressive survival was the Great Cold Snap of ’13, when it got down to zero degrees here. I did run the small heater in the greenhouse, but there still light frost inside; the peppers died back to sticks, but they respouted come spring.

In the greenhouse, the holy basil has some green leaves left on it; that would never happen with real basil.

An a couple of trays of lettuce, brassicas and onions are starting to get their first real leaves.

Sheep death

Sad day Friday – we found the body of one of our sheep, lying in the stream.  It looked like she might have tangled her foot in her fleece and lost her balance, and fell into the water and couldn’t get out; probably on Thursday, a day of heavy rain.

This is our first large-animal death (well, other than being butchered for meat… which is different, somehow).  So it goes.  The unreasonable joy of lambs in the spring is balanced by cold dreary death in winter.

Lambs in happier days

Lambs in their younger, happier days of Spring

Happy Earth Day!

We observe Earth Day by planting trees. This year: a standard apple and american persimmon, a gingko, elderberry, oregon grape, and willow down by the stream, and the Mirabelle plum in the flowering border. Also planted the mystery tree up by the street, where the fig didn’t make it. The mystery tree came north with us but I have NO idea what it is… though the buds do look like those on the linden.

Today was very warm and sunny (and humid… after weeks of rain) so planting trees was mostly endurance. Especially the ones in the far pasture, since we have to ford the stream and cross soggy pasture with the wheelbarrows of dirt.

But when not planting trees in the hot sun, what a beautiful day! The bees are buzzing in the cherry tree,s maples, and kale (two of the three hives made it through the winter), birds are chirping and carrying on, everything is budding or blooming or growing.

The garden paths are built or cleared, and all are mulched. Planted potatoes, and mulched onions and other early plantings… the broccoli/cabbage was looking droopy but responded well to watering. Jay’s working on a second door to the duck room, which will be used for the meat chickens that are now in the brooder (after the ducks move into the old coop). He’s also working on fencing for the north-side pasture, but the grass is over knee-high so we’ll have to get it mowed before sheep can deal with it. They will move out there sometime after the other two sheep give birth, which could be any day now.

The project that ate winter

I’ve been working on a Garden Resource Guide for East Linn County.  This is stuff I love – collecting information and spreading it around – but boy, I didn’t realize how much time it would take.  But I’m very happy with the results.  I just hope that this information will be helpful for people!

We haven’t started looking for a permanent online home for this – since it’s done under TRFW, presumably their site, but since their website is kind of a blog I don’t know how I’d integrate it.  But I put in on the farm site to stake a place.

Meanwhile, while working with the rest of the TRFWEL group to get the information collecting, fact-checking and reviewing done, I’ve been using dropbox.  I don’t get a kickback from them, but I really, really like it – such an easy way to share large files on the internet and between computers.

Now, back to the sadly-neglected spring garden work!  Over the last months or so we did get a bunch of trees, shrubs and groundcovers planted – probably two dozen; prepped and/or dug two garden beds, topped off with dirt and planted about 3/4 bed’s worth (seeded roots and a few starts), and started 2 trays of cabbage family and lettuces.  But we are behind in garden prep and orchard attention, and the tomato and peppers will begin starting this week, eek!

Is it spring?

We’ve had some warmer weather the last couple of days, the frogs are making a lot of noise and the grass is starting to grow.  This afternoon I checked on the beehives, and all three hives had bees coming in and out, enjoying some sunshine.  Then this evening when I went out after dark to pick some kale for dinner…. the garden is full of… slugs!  And cutworms and even a few earwigs.  So I did the first slug pick of the year, into a jar to dispose of by duck in the morning.  Not many huge brown slugs, it was mostly the striped ones that don’t get as big, but they were full size, many an inch and some two-inchers. The cutworms were fat and healthy looking.  In Portland the cutworms were a problem, but I saw more cutworms tonight than I’ve seen in the last decade.  But it really seems to early to have to deal with this, it’s January.

For dinner: meatballs made of lamb heart, cooked with onions and garlic and kale and served over spaghetti squash.  That’s the last of our “offal” from the sheep butchering, we ate liver and kidneys over the weekend, I think I’ve figured out how to cook these parts so they are pleasant in texture and flavor. The squashes are starting to go, at least the large ones have some spots, so we have to cut out bits before cooking.  The delicatas in the garage seem to keep better, maybe it’s too cold in the “root cellar”  The onions are keeping well, but the garlic is getting dry, and the kale is at an awkward stage (as well having to inspect for slugs).  The onion and lettuce starts are spending their first night in the greenhouse tonight.  It does seem to be rolling along for spring.

What, exactly, do I do with a lot of turmeric? Or, I love the greenhouse

So our greenhouse is wonderful, but it’s not heated.  The “tropicals” I’ve been growing are mostly happy, but not all of them.

Both basil are dead, as is the tomato.

There are 5 citrus which are all doing very well, insofar as I have been able to keep the scale and aphids under control.

Of the 10 peppers that started into fall, 6 are alive.  There were 5 jalapenos, of which only one died (two of these jalapenos overwintered last winter too), and at least one is making baby peppers.  The anaheims are both dead, but the Yankee Bell, while fruitless and ratty looking, is alive, and the Nardello keeps ripening but not making more peppers.  Since we have lots of hot sauce, I’m not sure what to do with all the jalapenos.

The coffee tree is very unhappy; I brought it into the house but I think it’s too late to save it. Too bad, it was looking really good and probably 4 years old.  It did fine in the garage the last two winters.

The turmeric – well, I’m impressed.  The leaves all died down so I harvested the tubers, and there’s almost two pounds of pretty good looking roots!  That’s from a 2-3 gallon pot, after repotting 3 smaller plants, although it was 2 years in the pot since I thought it was all dead last winter. I don’t know what to do with it all!  I can see that it should have been harvested earlier, there’s some browning.   Tumeric is a beautiful plant, with big, tropical banana leaves.  I put the pot inside a larger pot with no holes, elevated on some rocks.  So it usually had water under the roots, which helped when the greenhouse gets so warm in the summer.

The aloe and scented geranium are doing fine with this degree of chill.  The vietnamese coriander is okay (better than the spearming and peppermint, actually).  The unknown variety of banana plant that Don gave me seems unphased by the cold, although it’s not actually growing.

After a week of cold but sunny weather, today was a mix of snow with cold and some sun and some gray.  Winter in Oregon…  I’ve got most of my seeds orders done, started onion seeds already, and some arugula and lettuce… but it’s time to work on the greenhouse floor, rather than play with seeds.  We worked on the duckhouse floor and foundation yesterday, so we’ve got the really heavy work done for that.

Winter is almost here

It’s that damp cold outside, but with Christmas sort of under control, we might go out and move some rock or put up some tree protection anyway. The two sheep appear to have eaten all the grass, and when the ladies come back from their visit with the ram, we’ll need to put them on the upper pasture. And since at least one will go into the freezer soon, we want them to be eating…

Last week there was a low of 19 degrees, so the garden is a bit sad looking. There’s still a lot growing; kale, lots of parsnips, turnips, beets, fennel, and carrots (for seed), plus parlsey and some odds and ends. Some of the lettuce doesn’t look bad but when you get it in there’s frost damage. But making dinner is much more work when you have to dig, scrub and peel roots. We have been enjoying the spaghetti squash very much. My expectations weren’t high, but put some sauce on and it’s actually quite good, and surprisingly satisfying. This was an excellent addition to our diet. This year I also starting making squash spoon-bread, which encourages us to eat squash, and oven-roasted tomato sauce, which is what we’ve been putting on the spaghetti squash.

The greenhouse is again really doing well. The floor isn’t done, but I’ll start back working on that… one of these days. With that cold spell, it did not give total protection; the basil and one pepper plant seems to be suffering from cold. But there must be 4 or 5 jalapeno plants (two from 2010 that overwintered last year) that are doing fine and covered with peppers, the bell has a pepper, the nardellos appear to be ripening, and even the tomato plant, although suffering, doesn’t seem to have given up. The ripe yuzus are hanging on and the one orange is sloooowly starting to turn orange.

Any day now I want to start some onions, since it seems like the more time they have to grow the better. I got some shallot seed so we’ll give that a try too. I keep forgetting about the daffodil bulbs (I don’t think it’s quite too late…) and it’s high time to order fruit/nut trees. Once the river rock is removed from the area in front of the house I’ll put in low-growing fruiting groundcovers, kinnikinnick and salal and wintergreen and wild blueberry.

Garden Report 2011

We are winding down the summer garden – they are expecting rain the next few days, which is often the transition from a happy late-summer garden to an unpleasnt mess. The various roots and kales will be happy, though, and slugs will come out to be collected and fed to the ducks. So while it’s not the end of the garden, really, it’s coming on the end of the glamor part of the garden.

This was really a bumper year in the garden; possibly the best ever, although it was a slow start so maybe I’m getting the wrong impression from this late bounty.

The tomatoes were 2-3 weeks late, but I’ve NEVER had such perfect, beautiful specimens of the large heirlooms. Even on the last day of September there’s hardly any cracked or rotten fruit. Chickens lose out… And we’ve been canning and canning and drying and drying and the freezer is full of giant bags of tomatoes.

We have been overwhelmed with melons. We had two hills of Haogen and one of Chanterais, and they are producing dozens and dozens of small melons. Most I’ve had before in a year was about 6, and that only in greenhouses! They are a bit watery, I think, but sweet and fragrant.

The cucumbers were very prolific, but the powdery mildew has pretty much stopped them at this point. The chickens did win out with cucumbers, there was no way to even hope to keep up. The Poona keera wasn’t that great, and even Mideast Peace wasn’t as delicious as I recall.

While the tomatillos did okay, the were particularly badly located between the rather aggressive melons and the peppers. So I haven’t been paying much attention to them. Still short on good recipes to use them.

We are still picking green beans, in spite of more in the freezer than I had targetted. While I still love Rattlesnake the best, the other ones – I don’t recall, Oregon Blue lake and/or Kentucky Wonder – were considerably more productive. A lesson: even when you think you have reached perfection, in bean variety or whatever, you still might be wrong.

The storage onions were a reasonable crop, although smaller than I’d like to see, but there was less bolting than usual. They went out late, but were really affected by slugs early on.
Sweet onions did very poorly; I tried a new ways of starting the seeds that did not work well, and they didn’t recover.

I planted four types of potatoes; Yukon Gold (our old fav), Carola, German Butterball and a purple potatoe. While I did do some early harvesting, it looks like the yields from the yukon gold are so much lower than carola and butterball, and butterball seems to have yielded better than carola. The butterball was the latest, though, the vines weren’t entirely dead when I dug the patch. I just don’t know if Yukon Gold is really what I should be planting, except for new potatoes.

Corn did pretty well, the second planting was not nearly as good as the first. Not sure why. Possibly the giant borage plant was siphoning off the N. The bees sure loved the borage. We had to ripe it out so Sophie could get the vole that ate one of the squashes.

The winter squash plants seems to have done very well – we haven’t eaten any yet – but there are a lot of squashes out there. The butternut started fruiting very late so I’m not sure if all of them are ripe. Several of the plants have pretty much succumbed to the powderly mildew. I damaged an unripe tetsukabuto so we harvested and prepared it as a summer squash and it was very nice, much more flavorful than zucchini. Been meaning to pick off the small butternuts and try… but there’s too many tomoatoes.

We grew Costata Romanesco and Magda summer squashes, reputed to be delicious, but they were just another blah zucchini. I’ve never seem as large leaves on a squash as on the Costata, though. I had to hack it back to save some carrots.

A dud year for cilantro – nothing that didn’t bolt immediately. But I’ve never got a good crop of cilantro in summer, so my aspirations are low.

The one area that feel really short was peppers. I think the cool weather – it was a very cool summer well into August – stunted them. And the slugs were serious problems, eating off the tops of several plants as well as ruining more peppers than we’ve been able to harvest.
The King of the North seems to be making a late play for a good crop, and the Cuneo that were under remay for seed saving are large. But otherwise it’s been thin; no green chile relish this year. I did have enough green Jalapenos to figure out a jalapeno hot pepper sauce like the Tabasco one we love. I hope I can collect another pound of jalapenos to make anoth

Paths and garden growing

One question I don’t really see asked is how wide paths should be between raised beds. I don’t actually have an answer. I like to use a 3′ wide path, but once the plants start growing there is no path left. And this is just potatoes and kohlrabi. A 4′ wide main path is wide enough for walking now (the zucchini only takes up about half the space), but that’s partly since onions are well behaved and beets don’t stick out more than a foot or so. In the tomato area, I left 5′ between rows, and there’s just about enough space to walk; at least half the plants have stuck branches several feet out into the path. I’ve done hard pruning of the tomatoes at the ends where there’s a 3′ path, so I can walk, but a couple of days later there’s another branch in my face.

The squash of course have eaten the path, and are invading everywhere. All that plenty-of-space was nothing like enough. The cucumbers are invading the onions, the melons are overwhelming the tomatatillos, which are leaning over to menace the peppers; those poor peppers that have a 5′ high wall of squash vines massing on their border.

But I’m happy that all the plants are happy, and we can eat as much zucchini as we want, the potatoes are ready, there’s cucumbers, beans, beets, onions and all sort of good things to eat.