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.

More on ducks and slugs

What a year it has been for slugs! Wow, they are big and everywhere. Not just us, either, almost everyone I’ve talked to says this is one of the worst years. I even lost a tomato plant to slugs – this was shocking; I didn’t even know that would be a problem, earwigs never bother tomato plants. And tiny slugs were eating off the onions and corn seedlings, too (as well as everything else).

But there is a solution. Our ducks are 6 weeks old now. From day 1 (well, day 3) they have been eating slugs – I have to pick them off the plants for them, but they do the hard part. Even tiny little ducklings a few days old will tackle any size slug, although I worried a lot about choking when they were smaller. They can eat an awful lot of slugs and are always ready for more. I can’t wait until they can start harvesting their own.

It would have been a very discouraging spring without the ducks… at least there is some up-side to the slug invasion. Picking slugs has some advantages over earwigs… low-tech, no vacuum needed; slugs don’t run very fast; and they often come out before dark.

Other than that, we are up to 4 sheep, who are not keeping up with the grass at all; chickens are laying, meat chickens ready to go to the butcher; the garden is in and growing, and the slugs are really not too much trouble any more. Things really are beautiful and bounteous here!

PENTAX Image

Ancona ducks, from Boondockers farm, south of Eugene. From the left; Duckie, Bill, Donald, Cenk, Ping, and Ryan, and the 7th, Quacky, is not apparently in the photo. (unless I have mixed up Quacky and Ryan)

Ducks, cold and rain and slugs

Some years ago in southern oregon we tried raising ducks (it was during the period where Jay had to limit me to one new species per month). We got 3 Khaki Campbells and raised them in the master shower in the mobile home. They were very stinky. They were nervous and high-strung. They got moved to the orchard, where they messed up the tree mulch. Their wading pool water was always filthy. One lost to a hawk, one disappeared, so we got 3 Indian Runners. They were even more nervous, and at least two of them were males resulting in some inapproproiate behavior :-). Finally we gave them away to someone with a pond. It was Not A Success.

So, moving ahead 8 years and 200 miles, to the Willamette valley. I’m reading Deppe’s book, “the resiliant gardener”. She’s in Corvallis, less then 30 miles from me, so her observations are more relevant to me than they used to be. She points out that ducks eat slugs. Hey, we have lots of slugs here, all over the greens! She notes ducks like rainy weather. Well, we have that in spades now! It won’t stop raining! She claims not all ducks are nervous and unfriendly – well, we’ll wait and see, but perhaps I’ve been unfair to duckdom. Hey, you can eat ducks! Last go round, I was still pretty much vegetarian; but now we’ve learned how to smoke poultry, which makes even fatty meat like turkey legs delicious.

Our ducks used to hide their eggs in the grass and they were always filthy, so I’m not that enthusiastic about duck eggs, but they are a bonus.

Jay has always liked ducks, and I guess he’s on duty to change their water. Ducks do have the ability to hang out and be happy in a way chickens never are. I think ducks are type B personalities, while chickens are type As and are only happy when they have projects to work on. Perhaps I identify too much with the chickens…

Record keeping (and some rambling)

We have very bad records for this year. Record keeping is one of the unsung but important things in food production – and it’s hard to keep good records in your head. But without knowing what you did, what worked and what didn’t work, you won’t be able to reproduce success or avoid doing repeating something that didn’t work.

Some things are burned into my mind; like the tomato ripening issues. While we hope that this year, with it’s late cold wet spring and early wet fall, is not typical and we’ll have decent tomatoes in future years, I still need to plant the tomatoes in a sunnier spot, with more space between them. I’m used to so much hot sun and no shade at all, it’s not been easy to consider that factor.

But when we planted things and when they were ripe – like the existing apple tree here, down by the creek. It’s an early type, the apples were ripe a while back, but now that it’s been some time (in the time warp of September), I don’t remember exactly when we noticed they were ripe…

Other than that… the turkeys are going to the processor this week, we just got the last of the first planting of corn in the freezer, there are lots of peppers to deal with, I have another round of tomatoes to can (sad though our yield is this year) before vacation. We planted a fig, a hazelnut, all three potted grapes, and moved the pawpaw, and finally got the big old Japanese Raisin in the ground – and all deer protected. We are hoping to get the bees dealt with in the next few days, that will be an adventure.

This past weekend was full of social events, a potluck at Seed Ambassadors (fascinating place! They have a seed company and a seed saving organization) on Saturday, and on Sunday, an event for the online farmer’s market (Willamette Local Foods) that was cancelled but we didn’t know so we had a delightful potluck anyway. So we didn’t get as much done as we might, but we met lots of wonderful folks.

Quick Update

We’re coming up on living here a year, and often think about what a lot we’ve got done. It’s too much to catalog now, but some updates, so I don’t forget when we got the first green beans, the way I’ve forgotten just when the first blueberries showed up.

I’m enjoying the greenhouse very much; though ceiling painting is no fun (heat rises!). The plants are thriving in the greenhouse, I’ll be happen when painting is done and they can move into the final locations. I found a tiny little tree frog at eye level in the melon plant, which was a treat. Alas, spider mites on the kiwi.

Of the two roosters that showed up in place of the pullets we ordered, one leaked out of a fence, found by Sophie, and died a week later from the injuries. We gave the other to the Hess’s (who gave us in return some very delicious blueberries). 12 cornish cross went to Scio for butchering, which went smoothly. We have six cornish left, which we’ll butcher ourselves with the Hess’s. The 5 turkeys have a ways to go yet. These guys are stuck in the barn stall until we get fencing…. which had to wait until the leftover construction dirt pile was moved… which just happened. So, progress, but unhappy poultry meanwhile. I bring them dandelions and sow thistles, since they’ve gone through the kale and collard bolts.

We had our first pickings of green beans this week, they have been delicious. I’ve only seen two cucumber beetles so far, but the second one got away so we’re doommed :-). I check tomatoes frequently but nothing has ripened yet. The peppers look small but we do have some eating size jalapenos. Potatoes have started to die back, they potatoes look great. The cucumbers, squash, and melon plants look good. The corn has just barely started to tassle up. We made a second planting of corn, a bit late on July 20, but we will see. Onions are finally getting large. The garlic, which all sprouted in the ground in spring, has been depressing and I’ve tried to ignore it. Starting to feel the pressure to get ready for the fall/winter garden; need dirt. We haven’t had rain for some weeks, the ground surface is pretty dry, the grass is still green. Keeping things watered has been easy (well, with the irrigiation in…). We haven’t yet watered the orchard, though I exect to soon; all the black plastic over the grass must be helping a lot.

The new kittens, Greta and Sundance, are starting to adjust. Greta is much braver and will stick around when we are outside, but we rarely glimpse Sundance. Greta actually came up behind the barn yesterday where we were watching turkey TV, in spite of Sophie being with us. Greta followed Buddy and sat down in the dirt along with the other cats and dog. I think she was hungry. Buddy likes the kittens (Greta, anyway), but KitCat has not been himself since they arrived; he’s stayed away for long periods and is grumpy when he’s around. He hisses at the kittens, if you pick him up, or sometimes when just walking along. But sometimes he comes and sits on your lap, so we hope he’ll eventually adjust. Sophie thinks Greta is a squirrel and behaves accordingly. The kittens are very, very cute (well, the hostile expression always on Sundance’s face isn’t that cute).

Moving gap

It’s been a long time since I posted. We moved! 200 miles north, to the cool, moist Willamette valley. Moving a farm is a horrific task, though we sold off the stock and only took a few chickens (besides the dog and cats). But we did bring hayfeeders, rolls of fencing, water tanks, and a small greenhouse with us, we didn’t exactly move light.

Starting over again in a new place is not easy; there was nothing here, we’ve had to put in a garden, fruit trees, and build a barn, and still have some fencing to do. Relying on store-bought food has been challenging. Eating your own food is a pipeline, where you start things at one point, tend them for a while, and eat them much later. But I didn’t realize just how long the pipeline is. Some things you get pretty soon – we’ve had kale and eggs from an early point of living here, plus this place has oaks and acorns to experiment with. But it’s been over eight months now, the carrots, parnips and potatoes we brought with us are long ago eaten, we just ran out of onions, and there isn’t much to replace it. We’re buying most of our food, and the freezer looks bare and empty.

The soil here is pretty good, so we’ve managed to put in pretty extensive beds and should have more to harvest starting maybe in a month or so. Chicks and Poults are growing fast now in the barn, so some meat’s in the pipeline, but we won’t be harvesting any lamb until next year the earliest. Unexpectedly we might have a couple of cherry-producing cherry trees (there are any number of fruitless flowering cherries, so sad).

This land can certainly be abundant, the grass is shoulder high and the weeds are lush. So some future point we’ve have food again. Then we’ll have to wean ourselves off bananas and barbecued salmon 🙂

Late in the non-lull of summer

Usually I have a lull in summer, between the time the garden is in and the tomatoes start to ripen. This year that didn’t happen; I think knowing there’s a lull it gets overcommitted before it starts.

It’s mostly been animal activities that took up the slack. We had a batch of meat chickens, scheduled to be full size in the early august part of the summer lull. And they were. We’re getting better at butchering, but it’s still a lot of work and energy, never mind trying to cram them into the freezer. We were didn’t feed them too much, so they ran out and had to wait for morning and evening feed; perhaps as a result, they grew large without any deaths, coming out in the 5.5+ pound range. There are still three left, along with the poor turkey.

We also acquired a ram from Eagle Point, three sheep from Phoenix, and a young buck from another place in Phoenix. Then one of the sheep and the ram turned up with health issues we had to deal with. Calla’s been dropping off milk production, worryingly, but Lily did turn out to be pregnant and produced a kid a few days ago.

It was such a late wet spring and cool summer that the tomatoes are still not ripening; usually by this time we’re up to our eyeballs… but we just get an occasional one. Very worrying. The peppers also look good but aren’t ripe yet. It has been a stellar year for green beans, though; and the spring planted kale is nice looking, which is something I’m not used to in August. The basil that looked so bad in spring is looking fine now… the secret is to plant a lot, since only about a third of the plants survived. I’ve been better than most years about starting seeds in flats for fall crops; but it’s been difficult to find time to plant the seedlings. And the cabbage worms really are hard on tiny little seedlings.

The yellow plums were late, but we got too busy (camping trip!) and missed most of them (the chickens liked them). There are more plums to come, and the apple trees are loaded. The peaches are just gone by, not as many as last year, but Jay and Lindsey enjoyed them a lot (I can’t abide the fuzz, myself).

Bountifulness

Hummus might not be what most people want for Sunday dinner, but I didn’t have enough energy after a full day moving greenhouses, etc. to make falafel, my orginal plan (I’m haven’t got a good recipe or techinque, but I keep trying). But to go along with it I made a salad, a kind of spring-variant greek salad, and it was something special about going out and harvesting for this.

There’s fresh garlic (chinese pink, a very early garlic) for the hummus, but most of the rest of that was purchased. I did soak the chickpeas and cook them in the sun oven.

For the salad, I picked snap peas, broccoli, a few carrots, a walla walla onion and some romaine type lettuce. It was a special pleasure to walk around the garden and put this and that into the harvest bucket! After so long when it seems like more goes in than comes out… although we did just eat the last of last year’s potatoes for lunch today, so I guess I shouldn’t complain. For the salad, the harder vegetables got steamed a bit, and then some cider vinger and olive oil. We stuffed all in homemade pitas, and the flavors really were wonderful.

There’s bounty all year in the garden or from the garden, if you plan ahead and accept the differences that the seasons bring. There’s a special sense of bountifulness in fall, when the vegetables are root cellared, or dried, frozen, canned; or waiting patiently in the garden for harvest. And even in early spring, the bounty of salad greens and delectable green shoots and leaves. But the bounty of summer, the abunance of plants growing passionately with the all the different varieties of textures and flavors and shapes, well, it’s hard to beat. For me as well, this is a time where the abundance does not come with directly-related pressure. We eat peas, broccoli, and sweet onions only fresh, lettuce we don’t save, and carrots and garlic can wait much longer before being dealt with – there’s no looming chore of putting-by, just picking and eating.

Not that I’m not hugely busy – trying to save the squash and beans from the quintuple threat of striped cucumber beetles, earwigs, slugs, spotted cucumber beetles and squash bugs. But more on that later.

Weather

The weather has been very weird this year. We had an unusually cold spell in spring (20 degrees in late March), and unusally hot spell in mid-May (broke 100). And this week totally unexpected heavy rain – the official tallies are too far away to apply, but we’ve had at least 2″ of rain in the past week. We probably had half an inch today only – never thought I’d be digging drainage ditches on May 31.

Usually I have good luck with Feburary or March planted carrots, but I checked today and many of them are bolting. Well, who can blame them – it’s been cold and hot enough to fool a vegetables (I’m confused too). There were a couple of ones almost big enough to eat – there is nothing like fresh garden carrots!

The reason for the ditches is for the tomatoes – tomatoes can get root rot in waterlogged soil. A few plants aren’t looking very good after a week of downpour. Hopefully the new ditches will let the soil water level sink fast enough that they can recover. And a few dry days would help a lot.

Sitting inside (it was raining too hard even for gore-tex) I found a great site,
http://organictobe.org/. Who knew that Gene Logsdon had a blog? He wrote the Gardener’s Guide to soil that my Dad gave me so many years ago, and the Small Scale Grains book (and many other books). And Roselind Creasy and several others who’s names I’m not familar with.

Back to the garden – it’s almost all planted now, the peppers went in today in between the rain showers, under shade cloth to keep them warmer. We got more of the flimsy little tomato cages – while silly for tomatoes, they work great for peppers, and support the shade cloth. The only starts left to plant are a two more tomatatillos, a couple of squash (maybe one’s a cucumber), and a bunch of basils. And the upper beds got de-grassed and sheetmulched borders, so the invading grasses should be easier to eliminate. I might have time to move the broody hens to another coop, rig some nest boxes, and see if they can set some eggs decently. They are doing a very poor job in the regular coop.

Earth Day

Our Local Earth Day event is a big deal for the permaculture group. It’s a fair held on the saturday closest to Earth Day. The permaculture group has a table and passes out brochures and we talk to lots of people about permaculture, and it’s fun to see lots of people we know, there’s an especially get to see a lot of people we know from other sustainability groups. Unfortunately, many years it’s cold, windy and miserable outside and a exercise in endurance to spend the entire day there. This year was predicted to be worse than ever, colder and rainier; but as it turned out, the sun was out and wind wasn’t too bad, although it was rather chilly. The predicted storm held off until just after the event; by 5:30 it was snowing fairly hard (for late April, even a little snow counts as extremely hard), and we woke up to a snowy view on Sunday.

The local seed saver’s exchange idea is getting more and more concrete. Everyone I’ve talked to thinks it’s a great idea… I got a domain (they were on sale for 8.95) so the draft is up at www.seedsave78.org. There are still a few people I’d like to talk to about it, and I need to do some legwork to collect information. Once spring is a little less intense, this should come together and we’ll have a kickoff party.

On the real Earth Day (the 22nd, Tuesday), I traditionally plant a tree. There are at least a dozen trees in pots behind the greenhouse… I wonder if they will ever all get planted. It’s like those odd items in the bottom of the laundry bin that never seem to get washed.