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Thursday, July 19, 2018

What the Extension Service Said

In my last post I reported something funky going on with my Boysenberries, and that I'd turned to OSU's agricultural extension service for help.

Turns out it's something called white drupelet, and it's caused by those aforementioned vagaries of our spring temperatures. Actually, it's not really the weather that causes it- it's ultraviolet radiation that causes it, but it's the weather that makes that possible. Which means, no it's not a virus so I won't have destroy my canes (Yay!) but it also means, no, I can't really do anything about it (Waaah!), unless I want to spray a shit ton of water on them in the afternoon, which I don't.  

The good news is that for the berries where only one or five drupelets are white, it doesn't really affect anything but the appearance of the fruit, so since I'm freezing them anyway for use later in jam or syrup or pie or something, I can use the weirdish ones. The one at left here is no good for anything.

Except maybe throwing it to the hens, who will eat just about darn anything.

Here is an article from UC Davis that the extension service referenced regarding white drupelet.

Is this affecting anybody else's berries?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Update July 17, 2018

The weather has been wicked hot lately- reminds me of California a lot. Upper nineties and super dry. Not as dry as Arizona, thank goodness, but dry.  Right now I'm just trying to keep carrot seedlings damp by going out there three times (at least) a day with a watering can. 

Tomorrow it's supposed to be a much more reasonable 82F, so I want to do a lot of transplanting, chiefly the collards and kale. To that end, I finished prepping the bed where they'll go, which consisted of erecting a shade over the bed and watering it deeply so that there is already some moisture in it.  This bed had the garlic in it, which didn't get watered for months, so it's pretty darn dry.

The kale is True Siberian from Adaptive Seeds. I grew it for the first time last year and I really like it. It cropped pretty well as kale, over-wintered just fine, and then in late winter/early spring it kept making great raab and we ate a lot of it, because it kept on coming. I almost think that's where this kale really shines. (It's next to the red watering can.)

Today I potted on my Brunswick cabbages for autumn. It will be a little while before I try planting them in the ground- I sure don't want them to bolt.  There were only a few four inch pots of them but I split them up and now I have twelve of them. These were a freebie seed pack from Baker Creek Heirloom and are supposed to be very cold hardy, which is what I want. I have not had the best luck, or even very good luck, with January King, so it was time to try something else. Free seed was a good incentive to try it.

I also have sixteen Beka Santoh (far left in the wood box) plants and I'm not at all sure where I'm going to put those- probably in the hoop house.  I can't seem to find any information on how cold hardy they are so I won't take a chance. Well, maybe one to see how it does. Then I also have a dozen red cabbages started- eight Red Acre and four Red Express (that's just how it worked out), and then finally four or so Earliana cabbages in the longer, middle tray.  To the right of the cabbage are two more flats- one is full of Lutz Winterkeeper beets and the other is a mixture of Blauerspeck (which translates literally as 'blue bacon') and Superschmelz (super melter) kohlrabis, both of which are supposed to get to huge sizes without getting woody. I love kohlrabi in a slaw, but I'll admit that it's not the easiest thing to grow. Not as hard as cauliflower, though.

Things are growing in other parts of the yard. The left box has a variety of different peppers in it; the box on the right has Violetta Lunga and Tonda di Bianca eggplant in it. I fear I've over planted the eggplant, but I'll slice, smoke, and can it for sandwiches and Baba Ganoush. In between both the peppers and the eggplant I have carrots for this winter planted, along with Stuttgarter onion sets.  I also have carrots started over by my tomatoes.  The carrots are Flakkee, Berlicum, and Jaune du Doubs.  They are all Franchi seed from Seeds From Italy because I find their seed to be really reliable and they are generous with it, which is more important with plants that will make one item from a seed, like a carrot, as opposed to a tomato.  The Berlicum is a pretty large carrot- I've grown it before, and the Flakkee is also supposed to be pretty big, so I am growing them side by side to see which one is bigger.  The Jaune du Doubs I'm growing because it's a yellow carrot and is pretty reliable. Not as big as the Berlicum, but it's good carrot, in my view.

This next one is all Amanda's fault.  She and I made a deal that she would throw me a bunch of bowls (she's a ceramicist on top of all her other accomplishments) and I would start her a bunch of vegetable plants. Except that she wanted beans for Leather Britches beans, hereinafter referred to as LBB.  Well, that got me started down the LBB rabbit hole.  I dug out my old Foxfire books, which got me on an Appalachian kick again. I don't know why I have such an affinity for Appalachia, but I do. Maybe it's because my mother's people were from Pittsburgh PA which is solidly in the northern end of the region. Or maybe I spent an earlier life there (which would have been a tougher life and probably a short one). I don't know, but I like the place. Anyway, much digging around later, I decided that if we were going to do LBB we would do the whole three sisters thing, and it would probably be a good idea to use the recommended Appalachian varieties while we were at it. In for a penny, in for a pound.  Amanda chose to grow a couple of popcorn varieties, because that's what she likes for corn, and she also chose a pumpkin for her squash.  What she got for LBB were NT Half Runner, Cherokee Greasy beans, and Kentucky Wonder.  The greasy beans are called that because the bean pods don't have all the velvety hairs on them that normal Phaseolus vulgaris have- they are shiny because of that so they look 'greasy'.  For the rest of my 'sisters', I chose Neal's Paymaster and Cherokee White corn, and my squash is Northern Georgia Candy Roaster. Not sure I'll get anything out of the whole shebang, because I was late getting it in, again because of the up and down vagaries of the weather and temperatures. Crazy variability seems to be the new normal for spring around here and I haven't figured out how to deal with it yet.  Winter gardening I have down now- try to have most everything started by the end of July and keep it all covered and cool as possible. That's how you winter garden. But spring is really confusing for me anymore. So yeah- three sisters.

The boysenberries are really covered this year.  This is the back side of the plants- there are a lot more berries on the other side.  Plant size and robustness-wise, they are doing a lot better than last year.  They seem to really like the fact that I dug up all their weeds, boxed them in, and then filled the box with hard wood chips from the back yard. 

The only thing is, they are doing the same thing they've done for a few years now and that is illustrated to the right here.  I can't seem to find the same issue elsewhere on the interwebs, so I fired off a question with picture to the good folks at the Oregon State University Agricultural Extension Service to ask them what it is. I'm hoping that it's a simple deficiency of some kind that is easily remedied, and not some funky, exotic fungus or virus that's going to require me to yank and destroy the plants. Because that would make me cry. The boysenberries are one crop on which we can count every year.  I haven't heard back from the Extension Service yet, but I'll report what I learn. Keeping my fingers crossed in the meantime.

Last but not least, I'm just waiting for my garlic to finish curing so that I can clean up the bulbs and get them braided, although I may just bag them. It's been a couple of years since I last grew garlic and I seem to remember that they do better if kept in the dark, which is easier to do in a bag stuffed under the hearth in the kitchen, rather than hanging up somewhere.  Plus, it would save me from having to braid them.  That's it- I talked myself into it- bag it is.

So that's what's been keeping me off the streets and out of the pool halls these days. (Although a nice, cool, pool hall and a cold beer sound pretty good right now...)

Monday, June 4, 2018

Monsanto Is No More, But Now Watch Out for Bayer

NPR reports that now that the merger between Bayer and Monsanto is complete, Bayer is dropping the much hated Monsanto name.   This is the same company who has been fighting the EU over the use of neonicotinoids, which the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has determined pose a danger to wild bees. 

I've known for some time that Bayer is another Monsanto.  But once the merger has been accomplished on June 7, it will combine the world's largest pesticide maker with the world's largest seed company, to become, you guessed it, the world's largest seed and pesticide company. Farmer associations and groups oppose the merger, as it will concentrate twenty-five percent of the world's seed business with Bayer. It also makes it the world's largest herbicide maker and world's largest owner of patents for GMOs.

According to The Washington Post, Bayer will sell off its seed and herbicide companies to BASF in order to meet the merger requirements set out by the US Justice Department.  But BASF is also headquartered in Germany; what will keep BASF and Bayer from merging in the future?

I haven't purchased Bayer products in years for the same reasons I don't purchase Monsanto products.  I even research seed companies I do purchase from to ensure that they are not not buying Monsanto seeds.  

I think it makes buying seed from small, independent seed growers all the more vital to the future of food. It also makes seed saving at home a really good idea.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

That European Cookie Thing

Blogger says they put the notice on for European visitors but I can't see it, so I'll tell you now that I don't use cookies and I don't collect data. Blogger might be doing it, but I don't.

I'm not that smart.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Homesteading Update, May 21, 2018

As ever, click on the pictures to see them clearly.

You might think that because I haven't written in a long time that I'm not doing anything. Granted, I'm not always working on things related to homesteading- I do spend time looking for work (still) and researching various topics. But homesteading-wise, I've been busy, and things are starting to look better. I even got a start on re-landscaping the front yard, which is in pretty sorry shape. I did get most of the ground covered in wood chips, but not enough- I smothered the grass alright, but they weren't thick enough to prevent dandelions from popping up all over the place, so I need to remedy that. Plus, we had foundation plants that hadn't been clipped in so long they were half-way up the windows. When you keep getting offers in the mail for a cash buy out of your home, you know it's time to do something.  I'll post more on that later when I actually have something to show for it.

But I do have something to show for the work we've been getting done in the backyard.

 This is box number one of four that I'll build here in the area just off the deck. Last year's gardening efforts in this are were soooo pathetic that I had to really think about why that could be, and then I remembered that 1) the deck used to go out halfway into this area (it was a truly ridiculously large deck- I could have had a cotillion out there) and it's all rock underneath it, and 2) the best garden I've had so far was the first one that I planted in large planter boxes I made out of those leftover plastic decking pieces that I had when I tore down half the deck. I was going to build a new compost area over the almond trees (those are coming out) and build new veg boxes next to the deck, but it occurred to me that since I swore after the last load of imported soil which was so full of construction debris that I'd never import soil again, I would save a lot of time and effort if I just composted in situ.  So I'll keep throwing compostables in on top of this box and when it finally looks like soil, I'll build the next box and do it all over again. And once I have four boxes full of compost, I'll finally get around to building a compost area. This way I'll space out the cost of the boxes and compost bins as well. In the rest of the area for this year at least, I'm going to try (try being the operative word here) to grow an Appalachian three sisters. My friend Amanda got me started down the leather britches beans path and I decided to go all out with the right variety of beans. And if I was going to go that far, I may as well get Appalachian corn and Appalachian squash while I was at it. So I'm planting Cherokee White Flour corn, Neal's Paymaster corn, Cherokee Greasy beans, NT Half-Runner beans, and North Georgia Candy Roaster squash. A word about the 'greasy' beans: they're only called that because they don't have the fuzzy hairs on the pods like other green beans. They are smooth and shiny, hence they look greasy. Leather britches beans are harvested green and strung up together and dried while green, and from everything I've read about them, they are supposed to taste like meat when you cook them up later. Drying them while green does something for the flavor.  As that ground is pretty poor, I am really hoping that the beans are enough to fertilize the corn, but I may have to supplement. Not sure how I'm going to do that, so more on that later as I figure things out.

 This January our nephew came and dug out six apple trees that I was giving him for his five acre homestead. I would have given him the Bramleys as well, but they were just too big to move.  All eight apple trees went into the ground at the same time, but my friend Jennifer Montero over at Milkweed & Thistle, who is a horticulturist by training, told me that Bramleys are triploid, where most apples are diploid, which means that they have three sets of chromosomes, as opposed to the usual two. It also means that they are incredibly vigorous growers.  It also turns out that they tend to blossom and grow fruit at the ends of their branches, and are not really suited well to espaliering. So I'll let the top grow the way it wants to and leave the lower horizontal branches where they are because they'll make a natural ladder for getting up into the tree.  But I'm digressing from the picture here.  What I wanted to relate is that I was going to build new veg boxes here as well but I couldn't get the damn uprights out, so I changed plans- I decide to try raspberries again.  I planted six Heritage raspberry plants and transplanted three thornless boysenberries, which are pretty wonderful, by the way.  So what you see here are the new boxes for keeping in the hardwood chip mulch, for which I signed up this morning on   I still have to wire up the uprights (this is a great reuse of the whole area) but I have some time yet as they raspberries are still pretty small. One even still looks like a stick. But when they are all grown up, they should look like the below.
 We're trying spuds again, this time in a combination of old feed bags (they got one seed spud each) and old soil bags, which got two seed spuds each. They are going gang busters- I can't believe they need hilling up again so soon.  I don't know if we're going to save any money on them or not, but this way they'll be really nice potatoes, and we'll use the soil again after first carefully screening it for tiny potatoes.  You've read it here before on this blog: potatoes are the gift that keeps on giving!

 This weekend we got the trellises up.  We had to go get more EMT (like 170 feet more) because we only had eight pieces from last year and you need five minimum per trellis the way I wanted to configure them, and I needed five trellises, so that was another expense. But trust me, they can be reused over and over again, and we already have a rack in the garage for winter storage. I'll plant my tomatoes, yard-long beans (which I'll process for frozen green beans) and cucumbers up these trellises.

 This morning I got my tomatoes into the ground.  When we get the plants strung up, I'll post more on that so you can see how it all works.

 This is just a pretty view of the yard from next to the hen house, AKA Hens Deep.

And there are the girls, who are firing on all cylinders.  Which is kind of amazing really, considering that one of them is three years old and two of them are four years old. But they are all laying mostly every day, and I think that is a combination of giving them the winter off, and keeping them happy in a sunshiny pasture.  They sure seem happy, anyway!

*Sorry about the photo quality- they are fine coming off my phone and when you click on them. Don't know what Blogger's issue is.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Potting Bench Love

Modern life confuses me.

Growing up, the twenty-first of March was always the first day of spring. Now it appears to be the twentieth of March.  I'm not sure how this happened, but it has left me somewhat confused, because I feel like an idiot getting all excited about the first day of spring on March 21, only to realize that I missed it because it was yesterday.

At any rate, the weather around these parts got the memo and it was just beautiful yesterday.  I spent a large chunk of it in my hoop house, which gives me goose bumps because it's pretty awesome now.

I now have two eight-foot potting benches completed, which is sixteen feet of seed starting space. Actually, I have thirty-two feet if you count the bottom shelves of the benches, but I don't think I'll need them. Maybe if I were to do this as a side hustle (hmmmm, note to self....) I could use thirty-two feet, but sixteen is pretty luxurious for right now.

I already have a batch of lettuces and greens, onions and brassicas hardening off in one of the cold frame beds that I started several weeks ago.  Yesterday I started nightshades and artichokes, herbs, and brassicas, and flowers.  It's too early yet to start beans, by a couple of months.  It would be too early for nightshades as well, but those are sitting on a heating mat. I might have jumped the gun a bit because the night time temps are going to be in the upper thirties for the next week, but I've got lots of seed, so if these don't take, I'll just start over.

But I think maybe I should buy more flower seed.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Hensdeep Mystery

Some while ago (I'd be more specific if I could, but I think it was over two winters ago), I changed the girls' watering system from a mounted length of PVC pipe, nipple waterers, and a five gallon bucket to a set of cup waterers in a larger tank.

Everything chicken water related for the past two years has been great and easy to take care of until this morning when Steve when out to "scratch the girls" and discovered that the tank was empty.  So we dragged a hose out there and started to refill the tank while I walked around it looking for where the leak was, because we'd filled it right before we left for Christmas and it was obvious there was a leak somewhere.

I found the leak alright; one of the cups was missing! Not only the orange cup itself, but the black insert piece that goes into the tank was gone and the only thing left was the hole that I'd drilled into the tank to install the cup. 

So now I'm scratching my head, trying to figure out what they did to knock it out, and more importantly, where the hell it went. You'd think a fiery-orange cup waterer would be an easy thing to spot, but it was nowhere to be found. I even started kicking over the bedding to see if they'd managed to bury it, but still couldn't locate it.  I guess I'll find it next spring when I muck out Hensdeep.

Unless they ate it, of course.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Cold Frames

Lettuces this end, beets on
the other end
Monday night's low was predicted to be 37F, with Tuesday night's low being 32F, so Monday afternoon I got the covers for the cold frames (called 'lights') covered in greenhouse plastic and Steve helped me get them onto the cold frames themselves.

I'm really glad I got that done, because Monday night wound up being 31F,  and Tuesday was 34; last night we finally had our first frost of the season.  This means that the kale and parsnips will now be sweeter, and it means that I won't lose my beets, because they're covered!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Putting the Squirrels on Notice!

I got the garlic planted on October 25, and felt pretty smug about it, which was a mistake.  Some few weeks later I noticed a squirrel roaming around the garlic bed, and then the next day, saw regular little divots where the little fucker had dug up all my cloves.

And I know he got all of them because they should have been up by now and not a one came up.

So this week, I got them planted again, only this time I put in the squirrel-deterrent, otherwise known as half a compost plastic with a trellis planted over it. And a brick, for good measure.

I'm putting all the squirrels on notice that I've just learned how to easily kill a bunch of them, and from what I've read, squirrel is delicious; somewhat nutty and sweeter than chicken.

I wonder how it tastes with garlic.

Friday, December 1, 2017

We Fired Our ISP and Here's Why

We were Comcast customers up until yesterday, but their rates had gone up.  Again.  

We were already on the lowest tier for services, being the frugal people that we are (our internet and cable were bundled together), but somehow just having the bill go up again and not getting anything extra for it really irritated me. Then I happened to see a click bait ad that said, "Fire your cable company- get an antenna!", which got me to thinking.

We really needed to look into replacing what we had with a cheaper option, so I pitched it to Steve.  Couldn't we make it work? There weren't that many broadcast shows that we watch. We mainly use other services for most of our entertainment, including borrowing a lot of movies for free from our very good public library.

Steve already has a different ISP for working from home for which his employer is paying. So he looked into the antenna and he looked into getting another line run to his office.  The antenna was around $50, and a separate, dedicated line for our internet would cost us $45 a month, plus the incidental, egregiously unwarranted surcharges, so say $52 a month when all is said and done. For life. No more rate increases.  Now granted, we'll be stuck at the speed for which we signed up, but we can always change later if that's what we decide we need to do.  So I reckon we'll be saving fifty-eight dollars a month, which is $696 a year, or, if you think like Mr. Money Mustache does, $6,960 over the course of ten years.

That's a lot of money.

From everything I've read about canceling your service with Comcast, the way to avoid a long, tedious, frustrating, and ultimately un-successful conversation with one of their customer retention employees is to tell them you are moving out of the country.  If you tell them you're moving in with someone with internet service, they'll evidently ask you who the service is with and then they'll verify it. If you tell them you're moving to an area that doesn't have Comcast coverage, they'll ask you where and then verify that it doesn't. If you tell them you're moving, they'll ask if there will be anyone else staying there that would need internet service.  We had our story straight- we were moving to Germany and if Steve got any flak, he could 'lose it' in German in their office for added believability.  He never did get the expected blow-back, and I can't account for it. Maybe the customer retention dude wasn't in that day...I dunno.  But we were relieved to be let off so easily, after reading item after item about what a nightmare canceling your service with Comcast is.  We have the receipt for returning the cable box scanned and saved, and Steve received an acknowledgment for its return in his email, which is also parked in a safe place.  And prior to going into the office, he took our account off automatic payment, so we can expect a pro-rated bill toward the end of the month, according to the Comcast employee Steve talked to.  It won't be just for the six or so days since the start of the billing period because there is a base rate, but it should be around $25 or so.

We've been using the new ISP and antenna since Monday, and so far everything seems to be okay (although there have been a couple of times that Steve has cried,"what have you done to us woman?").  There are admittedly a couple of adjustments we'll have to make, and I'll have to learn the new remote, but I figure that these are small prices to pay for the savings we'll be reaping over the course of, oh, the rest of our lives, but in the long run, any bumps we hit now will be quickly forgotten.

I can't but help wish that we'd done this a long time ago.