Search This Blog


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Bricolage - The French Word For Something From Nothing

The French have a great word for small construction made from materials at hand: bricolage.  I've been wanting a chicken tractor for a long time for the girls.  Steve said a couple of weeks ago that Big Red, the most reticent of the them, rushed the door of the enclosure when he went in to give them their scratch trying to get at the succulent grass and weeds.  So it was time to get the chicken tractor made.  The problem was, I didn't want to spend any money building it.

So I didn't.

The trickiest part was the joints. Steve pulled down a couple of painted 2X2's from the overhead in the garage for me, and coupled with another used 2X2 I had on the floor, I had plenty of lumber.  But I didn't have any hardware for holding them together.  So I made some.  My dad used to make his own hardware when he couldn't find what he wanted, so I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

After drilling pilot holes in the 2X2's so I wouldn't split them when I nailed them, and then nailing in the biggest nails I own, I fashioned cleats from wire and nailed the joints together with fence staples.

Then for the ribs I drilled short pilot holes for more of those giant nails at the corners and every nineteen inches, and then looped funny pipe over them.

Then I covered the whole top in two thicknesses of bird netting, and then covered what I could in a plastic compost bin that wasn't cutting it for me.
Et voila! One dee-luxe chicken tractor, to which Buffy and Big Red took right away.

Once we get some solid sunshine (which will be in mid-July. Seriously.), I'll have the girls out there supplementing their own diets with whatever they can find.  This should keep the bugs and weeds down, reduce my feed costs, and make my eggs bright yellow.

Oh- and make for some happy hens.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Monday, March 17, 2014

Colcannon Mash

On this very festive day, March 17th, AKA St. Patrick's Day, my husband gets his annual meal of corned beef.  It's not that I don't like corned beef- I love corned beef- some of my favorite sandwiches are made with corned beef.  It's just that the corning process makes it something I can only enjoy every once in very great while.  Typically I give him corned beef and cabbage, and I was going to do that, but then I had a better idea for the cabbage, which is cabbage rolls (mmmm...). Which is just as well, because the Irish don't actually eat corned beef and cabbage.  Corned beef and cabbage is an Irish American thing.  The other name for corned beef and cabbage is New England Boiled Dinner, and if you don't believe me, Google it.

According to the very Irish priest at the last parish I attended, the Irish are more inclined to eat a Guiness-braised stew, and he made a great big batch of it every year for the St. Patrick's Day Party my church circle would throw to raise money for the church for projects like fixing the roof and what not.  I cannot for the life of me remember what his name was; I remember there was a Father Sullivan, but he was the American guy.  Then at St. Joseph's there was Father Walsh, who was also Irish, but that was a different parish. The best time to go to mass at St. Joseph's was at noon on Sunday which was Father Walsh's gig, and if you were lucky and there was a football game on at one, he would blast through the service in forty-five minutes so he could get back to the rectory in time for kick off. He earned himself the nickname Father Whoosh for that. But I digress.

What I really wanted to tell you about was what I served with this year's corned beef, because I'd forgotten about it and it's so good, I don't want to forget again.  Ever heard of Colcannon mash?

Colcannon mash is one of those dishes whose main ingredients don't sound like they should go together at all, but whose sum winds up tasting better than its two parts: potatoes and cabbage.  Except I like it better with other greens than cabbage.  One time I substituted a half bag of arugula that was threatening to go off- delish- tonight it was some mixed greens I have in the fridge.  I also tend to fry it up after mashing it, because that is the way I had it the first time.  But if you haven't tried it, you owe yourself, because it's really good.  If you can't justify it that way, think of it as a slightly lower calorie way of getting your mashed potatoes, or a sneaky but acceptable way of getting those deep greens you know you should be eating.  (By the way, I haven't tried gravy on Colcannon mash, but I bet it would be wonderful, if not entirely traditional. It would not be less fattening, however.)

And this is more just how to get it made rather than a recipe; I'm assuming that you know how to boil potatoes for mashing- just don't over boil them and get them water-logged.

Colcannon Mash

Potatoes (mealy ones for mashing)
greens (arugula, chard, young collards, kale spinach, or the original, cabbage)
green onions
buttermilk or sour cream or yogurt
salt and pepper

Boil your normal quantity of potatoes (by which I mean whatever quantity is normal for you) in salted water until they're almost cooked.  A few minutes before they're done, throw in several handfuls of greens, and some chopped green onions.  Cook the greens until they are wilted and cooked, but still bright green.  Turn off the heat and drain the spuds and greens in a colander until they are pretty thorough drained. If you can press out some of the water from the greens, so much the better, but take care you don't mash the spuds through the colander holes.

Return the whole thing back to the pan and turn the heat back on.  Mash the whole thing with a potato masher and add a little buttermilk, sour cream, or yogurt and a pat or two of butter. Season with salt and pepper, and either serve as is or, fry up in a hot skillet in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and butter.  Turn when browned and add a little more fat if you have to.   Serve it instead of the straight potatoes and cabbage with your corned beef.

Happy St. Patrick's Day.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Chicken Daddy

We're under about eight inches of snow this weekend, which is very unusual for the Portland, Oregon area, and it's been really cold during the day.

But the feathered females have nothing to fear because Chicken Daddy is keeping them in scratch, treats, and hot water.

Thank you Chicken Daddy!!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Last of The Fruits

Today we got seven of twelve grape vines into the ground, and my new stone fruits in as well.

First we had to move the three hazels to the back corner.  They've been in the ground since the winter of 2009, however, they were fairly easy to move because hazels have shallow roots.  Then we got started on the grapes.

The grapes are Marechal Foch, which are a hybrid (I know) that ripen early, are resistant to fungi, and do well in clay soil. They also have smaller berries, so I may have to fight off the birds as well. I had tried to buy them from Eastern Vine Supply, but after many weeks of having taken my money and not shipping my vines (at eight bucks apiece) I was finally able to get a response from them and found out that they couldn't ship to Oregon.  Ok, can I have my money back please?  That also took several weeks, to the point that I was ready to write the Attorney General for the state of Vermont, when a refund check finally arrived in the mail. This winter they had the audacity (stupidity?) to send me a catalog.
Luckily, I found a grower within driving distance of the house, and they only wanted two and a half dollars a vine, which they would have to propagate for me. That was in March of last year, and Steve and I drove down in January to get my grapes. They are tiny little things, and it's going to be a long time before they cover my pergola. They'll probably start fruiting after the pluots do.

Last September we were lucky enough to catch the pluots my brother-in-law brought to my mother.  He works for the grower, and frequently has fruit on him for tastings.  The variety at Mom's was Dapple Dandy, which is curiously dappled red and pale green and was just delicious.  I'm not a big fan of either plums or apricots, but I loved this fruit. Pluots are interspecific, and wind up being sweeter than either parent species.  So I'm very excited to finally have my pluots.  The second variety is called Flavor King, and he's only there to cross-pollinate the Dapple Dandy.

The third tree we got into the ground today was the Montmorency cherry, which is a pie cherry.  I was somewhat dismayed to discover that I'd bought a standard! Cherry trees get extremely tall, so I am hoping that summer pruning will keep its growth in check.  All I want is a few cherries for a pie. Steve doesn't like cherries, so all the cherries, including the sweet Lapins, are mine.

Tomorrow we'll get the last five grapes in, and then we'll be all done with establishing fruit in the backyard.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

This Year's Lineup

As promised in an earlier post I'm going to list my seed lineup for this year. It's going to seem like a lot (well, it is a lot), but there's a reason for that.  And no, it's not because I can't make up my mind.

It all boils down to diversity. Biodiversity is the best insurance for having enough to eat.  Carol Deppe writes in The Resilient Gardener that there were two things that saved humankind's bacon during the Little Ice Age, which started in the 1300's and lasted until about 1850: biodiversity and early varieties. Granted: I don't have a Little Ice Age with which to contend, but neither am I a battle-seasoned grower.  I want to succeed at growing most of our food, and a lot of different kinds of seed that are for the most part early varieties will go a long way to make that happen.

My original intention with the Franchi seeds which are sold by Seeds From Italy was to trial a few and see how they did. I've read in various places that the packets are generous and that the germination rate is high. I can't comment on the germination rate but I'm happy to report that the packets feel fat with seed. Really fat; given the amount of seed that appears to be in the packet and the price, I would hazard a guess that their seed is a really good value.  At any rate, I ordered a lot because once I got in there I couldn't help it.  I would have ordered more but restrained myself.

So here's the lineup:

The Italians (and some of them have impossibly long names):
Chicory Catalogna Puntarella Foglie Stretta- this was described as a salad chicory that can also be braised and is in demand by restaurant chefs all over Italy.
Radicchio Rossa di Treviso- this is a long, romaine-shaped radicchio I once had with a steak at Basta in NW Portland. It had been coated in olive oil and cooked on the grill next to my steak and it was incredible. Certainly an experience I'd like to enjoy again!
Arugula Ortlani Market Grower- I love, love, love arugula, especially fresh on top of a pizza.
Bean Vanguard Filet- for green beans my vote goes to the French Filet.  This was described as being the best of the best.
Cardoon Bianco Avorio- I've been wanting to try cardoons for years. They are in the artichoke family, and are grown for their ribs, which taste like artichokes. Under the right conditions (most likely not mine) they are perennial.
Celeriac Bianco del Veneto- it seems that all you can get stateside for celeriac seed is 'Brilliant' and I wasn't too impressed with it.  This is hopefully a good alternative.
Cima di Rapa Maceratese- I gotta admit that I just love saying this stuff out loud- this is a broccoli rabe that resists bolting, but the best way to prevent broccoli rabe from bolting is to direct seed it- transplanting it makes it bolt. I'm very fond of broccoli rabe in pasta.
Ramolaccio -Spanish Black Radish- this is a storage radish
Kale Galega de Folhas Lisas Smooth Green- its name says it all
Tomato San Marzano- doesn't need explaining
Tomato Red Pear- large, fleshy, few seeds. I hope I like this tomato.
Valerian d'Olanda - this is a mache, or corn salad for winter salads
Chard Verde de Taglio- of all the Italian seed I'm growing this year, I think this is the one in which I'm most interested, with the chicories a close second. When I was a kid, we had chard growing in the backyard, and chard's one virtue is its cut-and-come-again growing habit. But I didn't like chard, and consequently got charded to death as a kid. Even vinegar did not make it taste better. As an adult I find I like sauteed greens very well, so one year I tried chard to see if I've grown out of my dislike for it.  Chard is still a waste of garden space, in my book.  This particular variety of Italian chard is supposed to taste like spinach!
Basil Bolloso Italiano- for lots of pesto, which freezes well
Sclupit- an Italian herb; I'll report on this one later
Big Daddy onions- I bought plants for these.  This is supposed to be a good storage onion and they will ship them to me mid-March. However, onions, while they grow well here, are a tricky thing to grow successfully because the caprices in our spring weather can trick the onions into thinking they've survived a winter and now that it's warm again it's time to grow a flower stalk, which completely ruins the onion. So we'll see.

The seeds from Nichols Garden Nursery:
Costata Romanesco summer squash, because Carol Deppe says it's delicious dried cooked up in soup.
Sweet Meat Oregon Homestead winter squash - Sweet Meat is a Cucurbita maxima that was bred in Portland, Oregon by the Gill Brothers nearly a hundred years ago. Oregon Homestead has been bred back to be as close to the original as possible.  Sweet Meat stores well in a cool room and gets only sweeter and better as it ages.

The seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds:
Ailsa Craig Exhibition onion- hopefully my insurance against funky spring weather if we have it.  Supposed to be a good storage onion.
Lancer parsnip- an open-pollinated variety, Lancer is supposed to be better at resisting canker than Harris Early Model, and HEM was the variety I was going to plant this year. I am pretty sure HEM was the variety that I planted the first year I grew parsnip and it did really, really well.  Last year I grew Hollow Crown and I couldn't get them out of the ground. It was very disappointing, because I love parsnips.
Cucumber Marketmore 76 - just a good, all-around slicing cucumber.  I'm done with pickling them. I'm not as good at it as my neighbor Larry and he shares.
Helenor rutabaga- just because I wanted to try it; I didn't have any luck with the Laurentian, so this year I will trial them against each other.
Fenberg baby romaine- good resistance to bolting, sweet leaves

The seeds left over from previous years (by the way, check your seed against a viability list- don't just throw it out):
Boy, do I have a lot of carrot seed: Danvers Half Long, Nantes, Parisienne (those cute little round carrots) and my favorite, Caracas.
Boy, do I have a lot of cabbage: Mammoth Red Rock, Early Red Acre, Early Flat Dutch, Early Jersey Wakefield, Late Flat Dutch
Rainbow Lacninato kale
White Russian kale
Tango celery
Laurentian rutabaga- I did not have any luck with growing this variety, hence the purchase of Helenor from Johnny's, but I have enough to try this one again this year.
Italian Saladini Blend lettuce mix
Detroit Dark Red beet
Three Root Grex beet
Stowell's Evergreen white corn- this is for Steve, who specifically requested sweet corn this year.  I would have preferred to grow another stand of Painted Mountain flour corn, but can't risk cross-pollination from the Stowell's, so I'll wait until next year for the Painted Mountain.
Zefa Fino fennel
Tadorna leek
King Richard leek
Denver fancy filet bush beans
Early Black Egg eggplant
California Wonder Bell (saved seed)
Ethnic Sweet Italian pepper
Cherry Belle radish
Chinese Winter White radish
Mayfair shell pea
Siletz tomato

I also have some Kentucky Wonder pole beans in the freezer which I hope will grow. The packet said that you could grow Kentucky Wonder as all three bean types: green, shell, and dry.  I found that I didn't like them as green beans, possibly because I'm spoiled by the wonderfulness of French filet beans, but mostly because they get tough and stringy when they're a little long in the tooth.

But they are unsurpassed as a dry bean. They are delicious and very creamy when they are cooked up, and are a cinch to grow. Last year I grew three tripods of Kentucky Wonder, with four seeds sown per leg, so that's thirty-six seeds.  I don't believe they all came up, but I harvested two pounds of dry beans from that space. I think if you are growing beans for subsistence or don't have a lot of room you could do a lot worse than growing Kentucky Wonder.  They are wonderful.

Some of the seed I've ordered is for summer gardening, but probably most of it is for cool weather and fall and winter gardening. Summers are pretty short here. This winter we had a pretty serious freeze, and I am pretty sure I lost both citrus trees, even though I had them under wraps like last year and they survived well then.  This year they look pretty dead. The only thing in the garden that survived the freeze were the collards, so I'll grow collards again, but I forgot to order seed, so I'll have to let some of them go to seed so I can collect my own.

I am only slightly concerned that I will have space for all this; I'll have to succession sow and stay on top of when things will be ready.  I'm building yet another bed in the back corner of the yard, which is why I'm moving my blueberries and hazels around, but I'm doing it a little unconventionally. I'm building soil with straw bales, but that's a subject for another post.

This seems like a lot of food but it doesn't take into account all the soft fruits, fruit trees and edible plants I already have in the garden: asparagus (I expanded my bed this year and planted some volunteers, as my mother calls them), apples, Italian plums, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, and Boysenberries.  I'm planting new pluots and a Montmorency pie cherry once they get here as well.

So that's this year's lineup.  What are you planting?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Gardening in January

I must be truly wicked, because I have not been getting much rest lately.

I have some fruit trees on the way; two pluots- a Dapple Dandy and a Flavor King, and a new Montmorency cherry to replace the one I killed by planting it too close to the neighbor's fir tree.  So- I'm in the process of moving the dwarf blueberries from the backyard to the strip between the front walk and the garage so I have room in the back for the new trees.  But first I had to remove all of the black plastic that the previous owner left us. This is a roughly half of what was in the bed.  This guy didn't mess around- I don't know what the mil is but it's pretty thick plastic. It's all over the backyard, too.  I hate this guy.

Anyway, I got the bed prepped and three of seven dwarf blueberry plants moved.  I also got the Dublin Bay rose moved. The rose was easy, the blueberries were not.

I also replaced the grow light over the bench in the garage.  The ballast was gone on the old light fixture, and I was advised to go ahead and replace the fixture because ballasts are expensive and as much or more as a newer, cheaper fixture.  I opted for the Lithonia fixture from the local Big Box store, because it had spots for four tubes- four each thirty-two watt, four-foot T8 grow lights*. It was fifty, and the four tubes were roughly ten apiece, so ninety bucks later, I have a new grow light.

The last time I had a really kick-ass garden was the first year of my unemployment, when I had lots of time.  I don't have lots of time now, actually less of it these days, but the one thing that all that time allowed was to start my seeds early.  So lesson learned- I am starting my seeds indoors this year.

Speaking of seeds, my seeds came this week!! I wanted to get some of my seed from Franchi seeds which are sold by Seeds From Italy, but I wound up buying most of what I needed from them.   And some stuff I didn't need but wanted to try.  I'll leave the seed list for another post.   But I will tell you that the packets are fat with seed and Franchi's seeds have a high germination rate. But more about all that in another post.

I've also been working on a plant and harvest schedule, which is incredibly complicated, because I am incorporating the moon dates into it, and planting times for a winter garden as well. I am halfway through it and if I can figure out a way to post it, I will.

January is definitely not an idle time for gardening, that's for sure.

*If you've run across the whole T8, T5 thing before, it's how they describe fluorescent tubes.  It used to be all about how many eighths of an inch the tube was, so a T8 tube is one inch and a T5 tube is five-eighths of an inch.  Now it has more to do with how efficient the lamps are.  I won't bore you with the details; suffice to say that the light output of the T5 is commensurate with the extra expense, and that T8 tubes are just fine.  And that if you have a fixture with inch-and-a-half tubes in it, that's T12 and it's not as efficient as the T8.
PS- what I meant to write was that the light output of the T5 was not commensurate with the extra expense.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

It's a New Year, Alright

If there is anything I've learned since starting this blog, it's putting it out there does not necessarily ensure that I'll make it happen.

I indicated long ago that I don't do resolutions.  Resolving to do something or be something just does not work for someone as old as I am.  And listing goals doesn't work either, even if you do put it out where God and everybody can read them; life has a way of conspiring against you.

So what am I doing with my New Year?  I mean different with this new year?

Well, they say that it takes thirty days to develop a habit, so I am trying to develop good habits.  This month I am trying to: eat a piece of fruit with breakfast, drink a glass of water before every meal (drinking one afterward give me heartburn), and get more exercise.

So far, I've managed the fruit, although a lot of it is dried. (Note to Paula; get more fresh fruit- dry fruit is high in calories.)

Not as good on the water thing though, although I am getting more this way that I do usually, so I'm still winning on this one.

The hardest one, getting more exercise, is proving so far to be the easiest one to accomplish.  I am only working out every other day, being as old and as fat and as out of shape as I am. But I can feel it working, and I've very inspired by the woman leading the exercises because you can tell that while she is no spring chicken, she has a rockin' body, so of course, I think I can do it too. (Because that, my friends, is what inspiration does for you.)

All I gotta do is put in twenty-one years at it like she has.

So this is the new year's plan: new, good habits.

Let's not talk about my bad habits, though.  Some of them I cherish.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holiday Wishes

For the second year in a row, Steve and I have to forego our trip south to family because we are sick for Christmas.

But we are making the best of things: we have plenty to drink (in between the cold remedies) and Christmas eve's dinner is a pot of bean soup and Dampfknudeln. We've plenty of firewood and movies from the library, so at least we'll be cozy if not exactly merry.

Don't you worry- soon we'll be back on our feet and sledding with the foxes.*

Happy holidays everyone!

* Nothing says Christmas like anthropomorphized woodland animals, don't you think?

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sexy Machine

Remember how some while ago I was building a Bierstube in the dining room?  I've been working at it piecemeal and the only thing left besides the floor molding are the seats, which are kind of tricky because they have to fold up to reveal storage in the bench.

In late October I sent the same folks who built our bed the bench top dimensions and asked them to provide an estimate for three blanks out of their cheapest hardwood. The estimate came back at $568, on which I choked.  I thought to myself, for $568 I could buy the drill press I've always wanted and the materials to assemble them myself, and when I'm done I'll have the seats and still have the drill press I've always wanted.

So that's what I did.

Steve helped me put it together (the motor head alone weighed seventy-five pounds) and I couldn't help thinking as we built it that it was a sexy machine.

I am so excited to have it.  You just have no idea.