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 another batch. They keep turning red.

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.