Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tractor Work in Town

 Last season, we decided to expand our "operation" to include a lot more planting area, AND reduce the area that needed to be mowed and trimmed etc.  Luckily, when your husband is a equipment/diesel mechanic, you have access to people who are willing to let you use their small tractors (with a tiller attachment in this case!).

Now, part of the reason that we put raised beds in in the first place was because our lots' soil is incredibly compacted, has a fair amount of rock, and not much top soil (top soil being a loose term, ours is in the "improving" stages, coming up from outright junk in some areas of the lot).

Below are the before and after photos we took in early spring.  May I say now that using something that flings dirt and rocks a bit is kind of scary with so many windows close by.  No windows were broken in the making of these beds however!  One more bit of proof that miracles happen all the time.

(Note:  Those red hoops in the bed?  PEX tubing - salvaged from the dump - {normally used for water lines under houses}, makes great hoops for covering your beds with plastic to extend the season.)
Front bed - we tilled up a 12' long section on the left end of it.

For my "kitchen garden" behind the house.  It grew tomatoes, cabbage and monster sunflowers.

Richard then decided to add fine shavings since the soil is very, very poor and clay-ish.  Not sure it did a ton of favors since it draws nitrogen out, but we'll know better this season.

Tilling the winter dog pen, to grow wheat and eventually food.

View of the wheat patch and (in the foreground) our potato plot.

Potato plot (7 kinds of them - they were amazing!).  Sorry about the dog butt, if I knew how to edit photos I would happily have spared you all!

The small plot right out our back door.  Grew nasturtiums, chiles, calendula, a zucchini plant, and a few sunflowers here.

The finished "kitchen garden."  This soil behind our house is the worst on the place, but it will get better through the years.  It did grow some fantastic Winningstadt cabbage though.

The front strip of our house.  We figure we pay taxes on it, may as well try to use it!  Wheat attempted to grow here last summer, but 5 apple trees will be going in this spring!

We are currently planning on pulling our cold frame and old wood shed down before the planting season gets here.  Not only will it give us more room, but it will clean up the look of our lot as well.  We will be planting directly in hoop-covered beds this year, instead of starting seeds in the cold frame.  Last season, we found that errant seeds leftover in the soil from the previous season sprouted later, matured earlier, and produced equally to those seeds that were nurtured early in the cold frame.  Planting experimentation never ceases.  I'll let you know how it pans out.  In the meantime, I'm collecting efficient space usage ideas like crazy, and considering asking the city to let us have 5 chickens - as in a permit, since everything but dogs and cats seem to be banned in town.  We'll see what gets done before the hurry of the season is upon us!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Of Peace and Weeds

Brace yourselves - this may come as a shock...

all this grow-your-own-food stuff takes a lot of work.

Here's the thing though:  it's not often work work.  As in, not sitting depressed working on some official paper kind of work.  No cranky customers (this only applies to when I work during nap time).
Nothing but me 'n the weeds and the hose right now.  Which brings me to my newest weeding rule:

"Get 'em before they go to seed!!!"

That's it.  I don't worry about getting them the second they poke their first leaves out, or even when they're a couple inches tall...I just get them when I can.  Way easier than trying to pull off the Weed Nazi.  I don't really have that kind of time, there's a LOT of weeds out there.  I am entirely outnumbered.  Usually, I know which areas need attention and when, but ultimately, until our soil has been consistently weeded (no matter how you do it, spray, hoe or pull) for a few years I'm going to be seeing a lot of weeds.  Hopefully not their seed-heads empty.

The new rule has brought me a lot of peace.  Yeah, those weeds are there, but I'll get 'em before they go forth and multiply.

Anyways, it's nice to work outside and to make things produce and flourish.  I love seeing the rhythm in things, always assuring me that life goes on and that faith in a seed has some beautiful payoffs in the end.  Sometimes I kill plants accidentally.  Occasionally, I knowingly kill a plant...muahhahaha.  Okay, so it's usually a weed but occasionally I just let them go if they're overly high-maintenance and aren't pulling their weight in the food supply or pretty field.

Since I've learned about and am starting to use mulch for weed control, gardening makes me much happier.  I mulch with newspaper covered in a couple inches of grass clippings; right after I weed an area if it works out that way.  Awesome results.  I water way less, the weeds are suppressed and have very happy plants (especially those heavy nitrogen feeders: tomatoes, corn, potatoes...  ).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Using Greens & Enjoying It

I've heard there are people out there who love greens (as in chard, spinach, kale...the heartier, more bitter ones) just raw, or steamed with a bit of this or that.

I am NOT one of them.  Neither are the kids.  Slathered in gravy is about the only way steamed greens get eaten in large portions usually.


A month or so ago I bought Alice Waters' "The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution".  There is a ton of good info in it for both the budding and the experienced home cook.

Lots of amazing, fairly simple recipes too!

So.  Chard and spinach are coming on strong around here.  I harvest the chard when it's smaller than my hand (now, since I've learned that those big ol' leaves aren't that tasty) and the spinach small also.  They just taste better that way - those little baby leaves.  Muahhahaha.

Sorry.  Anyways, I had a whole colander of greens and upon reading the recipe for a Chard Fritatta I went back out and pulled 3 young, volunteer onions that needed to be culled anyways (they don't get along with peas that climb - I read this about companion planting, and cannot remember why they aren't compatible, sorry, no science quote).

Here is the recipe (at AARP of all places): Chard Fritatta

 Please ignore my stack of clean (!) dishes and pretend you're just here for the food part.

 Eggs from my mom's hens.

Voila!  Fritatta.  

Some day I'm going to have a saute pan that these babies can just sliiiiide out of...but then there may be much less laughter involved!

We grated a little cheddar on top, and everyone ate as much as they could!  No bitter green taste, just a clean, delicious, nutrient-dense dish.  Perfect.

All of these photos were taken with my cell phone - sorry!!  My mom went on vacation...with my camera.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Coming up!

Wow, my early seed planting has paid off.  I am now watching seeds (sown earlier this spring) come up just like they're supposed to - right when they're ready!  They've waited for the perfect time and temperatures for themselves, and here they are:

Bush peas
Bush beans
Blue Jade Corn
Nasturtiums (trailing and climbing - they're Richard's favorite, therefore I planted a ton)
ALL 5 (!!) kinds of potatoes here (2 varieties at my mom's)
Sweet Peas
Miner's Lettuce
Chard (ready to harvest)
Spinach (almost ready to harvest)
Snap Dragons
5 kinds of onions

I moved these out of the cold frame last weekend - before the rains:

Velvet Queen Sunflowers
Winningstadt Cabbage (18 of them!)
Bachelors Buttons
Black Beauty Zucchini (only one, hail and snow are common this month and are not easy on broadleaved plants)

Somehow, planting early (seeds) makes me have an easier spring as well as a more neurotic one.  I am constantly wondering where the seedlings are, did the seeds rot, what's taking them so long...*sigh* it is hard work fretting over plants.  So I've stopped a bit, but it's still very exciting to see them come up!

We have new beds in the back of our lot, on the ground - not raised - and they are composed of some very crummy soil.  So, we've underseeded it in crimson clover (nitrogen-depositing legume and great for creating root paths because they have a vast, deep root system) and have spread soil with a very low pH over it to help stabilize the acidity since it's sky high.  When planting seeds, we dig a hole, plant the seed, and cover it with this better soil then mulch with grass clippings.  We'll see how they act through the season, but it seems to be helping.  The soil we are adding is from underneath a conifer (pine, spruce, cedar, redwood etc) and it is a simple, free (labor excluded obviously), organic way to help lower the pH in your soil.  Results should show within two weeks on existing plants.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Processing Rhubarb! Lots of it.

 We have a lot of rhubarb.  Think 8 or 9 plants.  They make for a busy spring figuring out what to do with them...and this year I can actually process most of it! 

So far I've made (in two canning sessions):
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Filling (10 pints)
Rhubarb Compote (8 half-pints)
Sliced, frozen rhubarb.

I am a fan of rhubarb for a couple reasons, but mostly it's that it is fresh and edible in early May!  Here, in Montana.  I've eaten strawberry rhubarb cheesecake before, but have never really considered what can be done with it before this season.  This year I'm going to can all that I can! 

Rhubarb Compote

Chopped oranges and lemon (I wish my camera would do close-ups well), I love the colors and the citrus smells;  They go so well with rhubarb.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Cows, Milking-Sub, Rhubarb and Seasonally Neglected House

The cows are officially in next to the barn for us to work them!  I'm excited.  Well, maybe not excited about hopping around the pen halter-breaking calves (and teaching Carrara - who's 2 1/2 - to lead, not just tie), but excited just the same.  I'll be gentling a molly-faced black heifer too, she's Opal's best pal and the farmer & co. want her to be the replacement for her aged mama is the mellow cow of the herd (mama was a bottle baby, but is now an old cow).  She was born the same month as Opal, so they've been the two little heifers of the herd and have consistently stuck with each other from pasture to pasture.  They eat, sleep and play together.  Pretty sweet.  Even sweeter is that the farmer who owns her and the land (and the herd) was concerned that they would be separated.  I am not milking her too.  Just for the record.  She's apparently just going to be a best pal of Opal's for the foreseeable future.

Today the kids and I fed the girls, then went in and haltered & tied Ruby, then brushed her spring-shedding-hair off.  She is almost completely slick and shiny now.  My favorite way for a cow to be! 

I went shopping for a couple rope halters for the little girls to wear/drag/get worked in, but only found tricky-looking ones that have all kinds of buckles and chains...not the dragging, comfy-ish type.  So I bought 10 ft of nylon rope and will be making my own.  Or just attempting to.  Maybe just letting the kids "rope" each other with a severly mangled and melted, 10 ft section of rope.  I'll keep you posted, but will hopefully be putting up a "how-to" for making them soon!

Both Ruby and Carrara were artificially inseminated (AI'd) a week or so ago, so we'll find out around the 27th if they took or not.  Hoping, hoping, hoping that they did and they the calves don't come out until next year.  I've watched "The Princess and The Frog" too many times, I just had a flash of the little blonde one asking the Evening Star: "please, PLEASE, PLEEEEAAAASE?!!!!!" and felt that it was a perfect example of how much I want calves next year.

In the meantime, I've been milking my friend Letha's Jersey a couple times a week so that she gets a break and we get fresh milk.  It makes me so happy to milk, and I love that it's a cow that's got a few seasons of milking under her um....udder?  I don't know if it's because I've only milked Ruby - who was new to it entirely - or because she's a very nice girl for me, but it is so so much mellower milking Nova.  So much.  She's a nice girl.  I think that I'll try milking Ruby just tied up and hobbled (I just tie Nova up, she hasn't made me want hobbles yet - thank the Lord!) after she eats her grain; that she may like that more than the stanchion.  Lots of time to think about that.

We got our wheat and clover planted early yesterday morning, and can hardly wait to see how it works out.  I'm fairly certain that the children, the short dogs (we have a Bassett/Bordercollie with short legs and a Chihuahua/Terrier/ghetto dog), and the cats will have a ball running through it this summer.  There may be little tunnels everywhere, and I'll love it.  How fun!  We're hoping that the wheat produced on the previously-a-dog-pen section will help feed my mom's chickens, and that it and the clover will improve the soil.  The wheat that's grown up front (between the sidewalk and the street) will be consumed by us.  Clover is a nitrogen-depositing plant that has lovely, deep roots to help aerate the soil for whatever grows after it.  We have some pretty heavy soil in a couple places so I'm hoping it really works!

My house is clean but covered in randomly-placed shoes and jackets and seed-packets.  I guess that'd be clean but not neat.  I don't know, it's driving me crazy whatever it is, but it's much more important to plant right now than anything.  Plus, it's not like the stuff is going anywhere - it'll be waiting for me when I have a moment!  I've been painting a bit too, priming trim and wainscoting, painting the wainscoting finally, and am thrilled with the results!  I didn't realize how much the rental-looking paint jobs in our house bothered me until now, so I'm resisting the urge to go on a rampage and do the whole house at once.  There's cleaning to do, and planting.  I just paint for a half hour a day or so and it's coming along well, and I'm not going crazy because I want it all done now.  This is new thinking, and I like it most of the time.

I've started harvesting rhubarb, then just slicing it up and freezing it for now.  I need to can it as conserve and pie filling, but haven't had a chance this week.  I have all the stuff though, so soon!!  It is wonderful to be harvesting from the garden again, even if it is rhubarb.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Gardener's Seed of Faith

My tomatoes have come up en masse!  This warm sunshine has brought both the seeds planted on the 12th and the 20th up. 

Nature knows what it's doing.  It is willing to wait...often unlike myself. Sometimes it takes weeks for a plant to emerge, maybe more than a month.  Still, that tender stem will emerge and those soft first leaves will unfurl, slowly pushing the weight of the soil off to reach for the sun.  

Gardening from seed - I've learned - takes a faithful, trusting heart.  It is much easier to skip the hard part, let someone else be potentially disappointed by a dud seed or marauding ants carrying your seed away.  Each year I garden I become more patient.  The winters are so long here that, come spring, we are famished for fresh anything.  We wait and wait for the first edible fruit of our labor to mature enough to be savored. 

To be directly nourished by my labor is about the sweetest return I can imagine; whether it's milk, eggs, meat, or produce.  It makes me immensely thankful for a strong body and a willingness to try, to learn.

I can tell you that some people have no desire to grow things, and I get that...I just love to eat and cook so it's a natural fit for me!  Our place is the land of seedlings at the moment.  We have seven kinds of potatoes in: French Fingerling, Amisk Ranger, Alpine Russet, Dark Red Norland, Yukon Gold, German Butterball and All Blue.  I am oddly thrilled about taste-testing them this fall, but of course, until I'd tasted anything but the .37/lb store potatoes I wouldn't have known to be excited.  We have bush peas (Sugar Daddy and Amish Snap) in & up all over, carrots (Dragon and Scarlet Nantes), five plantings of all kinds of onions, two different kinds of chard, Chiogga beets (finally coming up a month later!), a few kinds of lettuce, some flowers here an there (tons of sweet peas, hollyhocks and sunflowers are going in this year), and the cold frame has masses of vegetables and herbs sprouting by the day (today our Cheyanne Pumpkin and Jade Blue Corn came up along with more tomatoes).  When we get back from our 5 day trip, I'll be planting many more seeds outside because we should be close enough to frost-free that by the time the seeds germinate it'll be past our last spring frost.  This is a gardeners hope anyways. 

May nature treat your seedlings well this spring...I have read so many reports of farmers having trouble in the "corn belt" and they're saying that it will cause food prices to rise if they are in any way attached to corn products (meat, cereal, soda, etc...pretty much 90% of the store is my guess - woohoo).  Not a bad time to test your faith in a seed.