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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.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Color Red

I am pretty sure I've lost my winter garden to this freezing weather we're having.   Actually, it's below freezing; tonight's low is forecast at 9.  We are actually going to experience single digit weather up here in the so-called temperate Pacific North West.

It has been so cold for so long, I've been concerned about the chickens.  Steve took over letting the girls out in the morning once the days got shorter; they are just plain not ready to roll off the roost at five-thirty in the morning when I leave the house for work.  So he's managing watering the girls by using the old dog dish because my automatic chicken waterer is frozen over.

I'm not really worried about them getting really cold because they are covered in feathers, after all, but I am worried about their combs getting frostbitten, which is a very real possibility.  Last night's low was going to be in the low teens, so when I got home from work yesterday, Steve helped me run an outdoor extension cord out to the coop and I hung up the chick light under the center cross piece. I went out later and stuck my hand through the pop hole to make sure it wasn't getting too hot in there, which I wasn't really worried about, but I still wanted to, you know, make sure I wasn't going to burn the coop down by accident.

Whether the girls were going to like it or not didn't really concern me, but tonight when I went to go lock them up I noticed that one of the Orpingtons was up front and center underneath the infrared lamp.  I know what you're thinking; I'm probably going overboard but the way I look at it is this: I'm sparing myself the self-reproach for letting the girls suffer from my negligence.

Besides, the color red suits them.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Frost Protection

I sure can waste time.

Maybe it's because I work long hard hours to bring home the bacon, but I can really chill and do a lot of nothing at all when I know there's work to be done on the weekends.  Yesterday I wanted to get outside and start getting stuff covered up before the frost hits, Friday being the average first frost date for my area.  We are having a mild autumn so far, but I don't want to push my luck.

So when I finally got outside, I managed to get some lettuce seedlings moved and the hoop house up for them.  This bed is approximately four feet across, so the hoops are only maybe three and a half feet high.  The ends were cut to fit and clipped on with PVC clips, and then the top floats.  I should have one more board across the top just to make it easier to manage the sides when I'm working the box, but it'll hold for now.

I never did get to the hardware store, though; I'll have to do that on the way home from work tomorrow.

As a note, the latest issue (December 2013/January2014) of The Mother Earth News has an article by Barbara Damrosch and Eliot Coleman on building a movable hoop house that looks the biz; check it out (instructions here).

Saturday, November 16, 2013

New Varmint

Tomorrow I have a trip to the hardware store planned.  I have to get some two-by-fours and fence hangers to prop up the roof on Hensdeep anyway but at one point today I was coming back from giving the girls some lovely tidbits (slugs, I think) and I saw something crawling back under the fence from the herbs and hops bed. It moved very slowly because it was seriously s-q-u-e-e-e-e-e-zing itself back under the fence so I had time to notice its brindled coat, its long, rat-like tail, and its very bizarre hind foot.  It was pretty darn big, too. We've had problems with rats (Steve's executed six so far and has the trap set for tonight as well) but this was the size of a small dog. It was heftier than a cat. I stood there a minute and thought about it.  It wasn't an opossum; wrong color. It wasn't a beaver; wrong tail.  It wasn't a raccoon; wrong tail again. Definitely not a skunk.  I couldn't see over the fence, so I ran around to Larry's yard and looked over his back fence into our neighbor's yard.  I got a good look at it but nope; I definitely didn't know what it was.  So later when I looked it up (I love Google Images) this is what I discovered:

Credit: Conservation Management Institute
It was a nutria.  So, naturally I had to go look into nutria, because I don't know anything about them, other than their fur makes a good lining for a rain coat.  Nutria are from South America and were imported into Louisiana for fur farming in the 1930s, where naturally, they got out.  According to the USGS, this is where they live now:

How they got out of wet Louisiana and all the way up to the wet Pacific North West without really getting as established anywhere else is a good mystery.

According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, nutria are really bad about burrowing into hillsides which can damage roadbeds if they're dug in the right place.  I was unhappy to read that the next destructive habit listed is crop depredation, and they'll go after corn, sugar and table beets, wheat, oats, barley, melons, and a whole bunch of different garden vegetables.  I don't need lose any of my winter veg, but the next thing that I read is that nutria will girdle fruit, nut, deciduous and forest trees, and ornamental shrubs. They'll pretty much girdle indiscriminately.  But guess what? According to ODFW, nutria are unprotected!  In fact, they are an invasive species and are classified as an unprotected Non-game Wildlife and may be shot or trapped, but not relocated.  No license is needed for a landowner to control nutria on her property, and since I have numerous fruit and nut trees I don't want girdled, I am also buying a trap.  A gun would be a lot faster but I don't have a gun, and I couldn't shoot it within the city limits anyway.  So trap it is.

Not exactly what I planned on doing with my Sunday, but you do what you gotta do.  For all the wildlife we get in our back yard, we may as well be living in the country.  I paid the property tax bill this week as well, and between the uncontrolled wildlife and our uncontrollable city council, living in the country is looking better and better all the time.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Householding Update, 10 November 2013

We had an egg laid today.  This would be unremarkable save for the fact that we haven't had a egg laid since the middle of September when the girls started their molt. In fact, just yesterday we rigged something to keep the girls out of the nest box. Well, just one of the girls- Tommie. She stopped spending her days in the nest box when the days grew cooler, but she was still nesting at night in it, which means that she was fouling it.  Pretty badly, actually.  I was considering stewing her, but decided that it would probably make more sense to just figure out how to keep her out of the nest box.  She has no idea how close she came. 

At any rate, today while we were making the last of the new beds by the deck Steve noticed Her Ladyship (Buffy is definitely Gallina Numero Uno) moving sedately up the ramp.  We watched her for a few moments and wondered aloud if she were thinking about laying an egg.  Steve went over to the coop and put his ear down by the box and was able to hear her moving about.  Then we remembered that he'd removed all the soiled hay from the box and there was nothing to cushion an egg if there was one.  I ran to the garage for several handfuls of hay and then ran back to the coop and stuffed them into the box once she got up after we opened the door on her.  We went back to our chore and maybe fifteen minutes later we were rewarded with an I-just-laid-an-egg cackle and song. So yeah!! We're back in home grown eggs.  Since we don't believe in providing artificial light, we'll have to be happy with what we get- we're not eating eggs for breakfast- Steve has taken to eating canned chili for breakfast, and I'm eating oatmeal.  Eggs in the winter are ingredients for other things.

 Among other things we managed to get done this weekend was wrapping up the citrus.  I pruned them first- the lemon has a great many fruits on it, but I'm not holding my breath again.  The last time we had fruits on the lemon all they did was fall off the tree prematurely. The lime has one solitary lime on it the size of almost a lime, but it's one more lime than we got last year, so it was wrapped up with the tree.  When I planted them in their pots I drove a large stake through the center of the root ball along the stem.  I'll never tie the tree to it-- the stake is strictly for clamping a goodish length of Agribon around the tree to keep off the frost and freezes.  I kept them this way last winter and they fared very well.  The last thing we did was drag them as close to the house as we could to help keep them as warm as possible.

This is the last of the three beds that I wanted to create from the five beds that were here.  I needed more space between them so instead of five three-foot wide beds with a two-foot path between them, I have three odd-sized beds with three-foot paths between them.  I have to find soil to finish filling in the last bed, which I think I'm going to scavenge from other beds in the yard, one of which is the compost pile.  Those beds are going away anyway because I want to site the outdoor oven there.

 This is my winter bed for this year.  It's doing well so far.  I have my own kale variety at the far end.  I'm looking forward to the first frost to see how well it handles it.  Next to that is the red cabbage I started late this summer; then a row of Caracas carrots (I just love this variety) then I've a row of pak choi seedlings; then two rows of collards which are small but doing great; then in the corner you can't see are lettuce seedlings.  Between this bed and the frozen green beans I put up, we are pretty well set for veg this winter.  We'll see how well it lasts.   We've been doing pretty well lately for getting more of our meals from the yard.  Yesterday morning for breakfast we had zucchini/potato latkes, applesauce, and sausage for breakfast: the zucchini, garlic, and applesauce came from the yard.  Last night we had bean soup and corn bread: the dried beans, onions and garlic came from the yard- the hambone was leftover from last year's holiday ham from work.  This morning was leftover cornbread, applesauce and bacon; this evening was New England boiled dinner: the leek and carrots came from my yard, the cabbage from my neighbor's. I told Steve that starting this January, I want to keep detailed records of what we're eating so that I can get a sense of how many pounds of what types of things we're eating.  I just know that with concerted effort, I could be getting a larger percentage of food from the garden; I just have to get better at planning and staying on top of succession sowing, as well as harvesting.

And speaking of harvesting, to go with tonight's corned beef, I pulled a couple of small chunks of horseradish out of the ground and grated them up. I've read that horseradish is at its most potent straight out of the ground and that the longer it languishes in the refrigerator, the less sharp it will be. I think I can attest to its pungency, alright. After peeling it, I first grated it on the Japanese horseradish grater that I've had for years, but on which I've never grated horseradish.  It is the bomb for grating garlic and ginger, however, and that's what I've been using it for to date. I think its floundery little face is pretty cute, but it's too cute for putting much of a dent in a chunk of horseradish.  So I got out the box grater, and finally used a side of the box grater that so far has not seen a lot of action, as in any.  I've seriously never used that side of the grater before.  But now I know what it's for.  Grating horseradish is a lot like grating a particularly pungent onion, which is to say that it hurts. A lot.  But it's worth it. Once it was grated all I needed to do was add a pinch of salt and some white vinegar and the next thing you know I have a pungent condiment.  It is just as creamy as the commercial stuff and a lot hotter.  A lot hotter.

So that's what we've been up to, among other, not-so homesteady, householdy things.  What have you been up to?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Householding Update 13 October 2013

Today I got a start on the epic, sweeping changes I have planned for the garden this winter.  I am turning the five beds just off the deck into three beds.  I've discovered that I prefer working in a larger bed, so rather than five three-foot beds and four two-foot walkways, I'll have three five-feet-two-inch beds and two three-foot walkways.  It is much easier to get a wheelbarrow down a three-foot walk way than a two=foot walkway.

These are the five beds, destined to become three beds.

Here are one-year old homegrown asparagus crown that are moving into the expanded first bed.  (So much for buying all male plants.)

The tops of the crowns got lopped off and then they were set at the bottom of the new side of the bed. This is the first 'course'.

And here we are all done with the first enlarged bed.

I still have the other two beds to move as well, but they can wait.

Other plans for this winter include moving the hive stand to the back of the yard, moving the dwarf blueberries (I haven't figured out where, though), and then moving around a bunch of fruit trees once they go dormant.  (I also want to try a pluot from Peaceful Valley, but that's another post.) And then last but not least is prepare a bed in the back for more subsistence crops.

But not potatoes.

Sure as Shootin'

Another great Saturday.

On Saturday Steve and I went to a trap shooting event sponsored by my employer.  My goal for the day was to successfully fire a gun with out hurting anyone (my goals are sometimes fairly restrained)- if I got a target, that would just be gravy.

Well, I got three targets and didn't hurt anyone (other than myself) so I consider it a great accomplishment, for me, anyway.  I started with a brand new Winchester twelve gauge that belonged to our company president.  No one tells you how heavy shotguns are- they just wave them arounds like bamboo sticks.  Holding that shotgun was a chore, but I got three out of twenty-five targets.  Now don't just sit there snickering; I had a handicap, one that I'm not sure how I'm going to fix.  I'm right handed but my left eye is dominant due to the scar on my right retina which is inconveniently located right next to the optic nerve.  It's a lot better than it used to be but it means that if I close my left eye, I can't see the bead on the end of the barrel, and if you can't see the bead, you can't aim the gun.

After lunch I tried the twenty gauge, and while it was lighter and easier to handle, I didn't have it seated correctly in my shoulder so the recoil smacked the bejeebers out of my right shoulder and I knew I was done and that one was going to leave a mark.  Well, a bruise, anyway. I called Steve over and handed him the twenty because at that point, I was toast.  Achy from holding up something heavy for a half hour, and sore from the recoil.  Naturally, he did really well with it.

So if we ever get to go hunting, I'll have to learn how to throw a knife or a tomahawk, because I can't shoot and I don't think I could pull a bowstring either.

Maybe I should just learn how to fish.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

How I Spent My Birthday

I know it's been awhile.

Between working 50-60 hours a week and canning, canning, freezing, and canning, and then not having anything to report on my wheat harvest, I've really let the old blog go.

I absolutely have to tell you about today though.

Today I got to do something that I've been wanting to do ever since we got to Oregon in March of 2007.  Today I got to go mushrooming!

I'd planned on spending the day out in the yard cleaning up the vegetable beds and thinning the collards and carrots, but last night at dinner Rae said, "what are you guys doing tomorrow? You wanna go hunt chanterelles?"

Did we ever!

Today was my fifty-fourth birthday, and I got to spend it tromping around in the woods on a beautiful, sunny, warm autumn day with a sharp knife in my hands.  I could not have been happier, I don't think.  I didn't tell Rae it was my birthday because I didn't want her to feel awkward or duty bound about anything. Instead, I got to reap her generosity and time just because she was willing to give it to me.   That is the best kind of gift, I think.

Needless to say, we filled a shopping bag full of chanterelles.  Tonight we had them in a cream sauce with bacon and garlic over pasta, and tomorrow night we'll have them with steak.  Tomorrow I think we're going to dehydrate some of them, but Rae sautes them with butter and garlic and then freezes that.  If you have any ideas, let me know.

In the meantime, the memory of a great day spent out in the woods will probably last a lot longer than the mushrooms themselves.

Thanks Rae.

Monday, August 26, 2013

George's Boots, Harper Oregon

I ran across this video of a custom-measured boot maker in Harper, Oregon, who is looking for someone to buy his business.

If I were younger and unattached I would seriously think about this.  I can sew, and I have experience making leather clothing, and I can hammer and use power tools.  I could totally do this, with some training. I'm all about skill acquisition.

But I'm not looking for another career.  And I'm kind of stuck with a ball and chain, albeit very happily.

It would be a pretty cool way to earn a living though.  I hope he finds a successor before his craft just disappears.

(And I would love a pair of those two-toned boots!)

Anyway, if you know of someone who'd be interested, pass it along.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Keep Portland Weird

"Anyone want a shrimp?" asked the young man who'd just sat down next to me at the street car stop on 10th and Everett.  We were in Portland to drive Steve's friend Moco around to get a sense of where to look for a house for his family who was arriving from Virginia the next day.

"No thanks," I said, "we just ate."  Which was a lie; we'd just finished a beer at the bar across the street, but I wasn't about to help myself to his shrimp.  He was good-looking kid, wearing a sport coat over a concert tee, had slightly longer than shoulder length hair, and was toting a guitar in a soft-sided case.  "This is horseradish, I guess it won't kill me," he said as he flicked off the cocktail sauce he'd spilled on his shirt front.  I noticed this spillage wasn't going to make much difference in his appearance.  He ate a couple more shrimp and then put them away, digging a cigarette out of his coat pocket.  Filterless, I might add.

"Anybody got a light?" he asked the general population. The general population was Steve, Moco, a young, short-haired, Asian man in board shorts and a tee shirt toting a backpack, and me.  We all responded in the negative.

"I asked for a light, not a syringe," he said.  I stifled the giggle that was threatening to spill out of me. I also stifled the desire to ask him what he was on.  His eyes, which were sleepy, weren't red, so I assumed that whatever it was, it wasn't pot.

He produced a book of matches, lit one, and then held it a quarter of an inch away from the end of his smoke. And held it, and held it, clearly in some kind of stupor.

"Hey, you had a light all along," I said.

"It's not a light," he answered.  The match was still just far enough away from his smoke that it would never get there if I didn't help.  I pushed the hand holding the match gently toward the end of his cigarette and it caught, but it was too late.  He still managed to burn himself on the match before it went out.

His eyes widened. "You're somebody famous!" he suddenly declared. I decided to play along.

"I'm related to somebody famous," I said. "It's somebody famous, but I have no idea who it is."

"David Bowie?" he asked.

"No, not David Bowie."

He changed the subject.

"Well, I've finished eating, now it's time for music. What'll it be? Pink Floyd or Bowie?"  We all chose Bowie, probably because he'd planted the seed.  He started to play Ziggy Stardust, and if he hadn't been so inebriated (which is what Steve later decided he was), it would have been nice, because he could clearly play, and had a nice voice, but man, was he fucked up.

His phone suddenly rang. "Sonya. Hey I'm glad you called or I would have totally forgotten about that.  Do you know what the fuck I did last night?"  Sonya must have taken the lead on the conversation because we never did find out.

"Sonya- are you there with Chris?" he sounded angry suddenly.  She must have placated him, because he mellowed out again.  "Sonya, will you promise to be my girlfriend for tonight?"

The street car showed up, and it wasn't ours, but our young friend hopped on it and quickly found a seat.  I saw Steve grinning, and he told us why.  After finding a seat, our young minstrel popped open his shrimp container and offered the guy in the seat next to him some of his shrimp.

We caught the next car back to North West and I drove us to the St. Johns area of south west Portland.  We tooled around there a bit, looking at houses, and then headed home.

"Does pasta sound okay for dinner?" I asked Steve. Yeah, he answered.

"Moco, will you stay for dinner?"

"No, I gotta get back.  I have a lot to do before Britta and the kids show up tomorrow."

We got home and said our goodbyes in the driveway.  I excused myself and popped into the house, convinced my bladder would never be the same again.

It was still pretty warm outside, and the next day was set to be a lot warmer, so I started dinner outside on the porch.  I found myself humming, the words to the song floating around me in the twilight: Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly, and the Spiders from Mars…it wasn't the first time the song pestered me since our encounter downtown, and now I had the song well and truly stuck in my head.

I guess there are worse things.

Pasta with Bacon, Garlic, and Homegrown Tomatoes

Boil six quarts of water for pasta and salt it. It should be roughly as salty as sea water.

3 strips of bacon, cut in strips across the short way
Olive Oil
Goodish pinch of red pepper flakes
2-3 cloves of garlic, sliced or minced, whichever you prefer
3-4 tomatoes, stemmed and cut up in half to three-quarter inch pieces
1 tsp. dried oregano
Several fresh basil leaves
Romano cheese

Once the water is boiling, toss in your pasta and set the timer for ten minutes.  If you're cooking angel hair, wait until your sauce is roughly done and then cook it, for three minutes.

Saute the bacon in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil with the red pepper flakes. When the bacon is done, toss in the garlic and cook for a few moments until it's golden and fragrant. Do not let it brown or it will become bitter and icky.

Toss in the chopped tomatoes and the dried oregano and stir.  Cook on low to medium while the pasta finishes up.  The tomatoes should be warmed through, but don't worry if they're not cooked all the way - that's part of this dish's charm.

Once the pasta is cooked al dente, fish it out of the water with an appropriate implement and throw it into the sauce, which you should turn down for the time being until you get all the pasta into the pan. Turn up the heat to cook off some of the liquid, and pour a few gluts of olive oil all over it.  Turn off the heat, toss in the basil, shredding it as you go, and give it a final stir.

Serve in bowls and top generously with freshly grated romano cheese.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Arm Yourself

Think you can trust just about any food organization that sounds like it's looking out for your best interests?

Think again.

It turns out that Big Ag is behind a lot of those so-called food advocacy groups that take out whole page ads in the New York Times reminding New Yorkers that they need a mayor, not a nanny, just because their mayor wants restaurants to stop pouring sodas down customers' throats by the gallon. But most of them are a lot more subtle than that, and a lot more insidious:  one front group is promoting its agenda to young children by making its promotional materials available to schools starting at the kindergarten level. The levels to which these groups will go is really stupefying.

The Center For Food Safety is a non-profit public interest and environmental advocacy membership organization established in 1997 for the purpose of challenging harmful food production technologies and promoting sustainable alternatives.  Michelle Simon, Policy Consultant, has written a report called "Best Public Relations Money Can Buy: a Guide to Food Industry Front Groups".  

From the report:

"One increasingly common way industry attempts to shape the public discourse is by forming a group that appears to benefit the public.  Often these groups claim to represent farmers or consumers or some other sympathetic constituency when in fact they are funded by powerful industry players."

"Their tactics are designed to hide their true agenda and funders. For example, representatives of front groups often write op-eds or appear as experts without disclosing the conflict of interest."

"While trade groups are generally up front about who they represent, front groups are not. Front groups often have deceptive-sounding names and attempt to create a positive public impression that hides their funders’ economic motives."

Ok- enough quoting- I don't have permission anyway.

Read the report for yourself here.   It explains what and why it's going on, and specifically, who's doing it.

Keep in mind the next time you head to the grocery store: Praemonitus, praemunitus- forewarned is forearmed.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

What happens when you stack a compost pile correctly...

I stacked it Saturday, and today is Tuesday, so this is right on time.  I don't think I've ever had one get this hot before, though.  I layered green tomato cuttings one cutting thick, a thin layer of dirty straw and chicken poop, and a thin layer of what I didn't harvest from the compost pile, over and over and over again.

There are some folks that argue that 'cooked' compost isn't as full of bioavailable nutrients as uncooked compost, and still more evidence to suggest that the best soil is created from wood, but at this stage of the garden I'm more interested in quickly improving the soil I imported, even if it's a nominal improvement.

Maybe some day I can relax about it but right now while I'm digging in the Land of Clay, sooner is better in the tillable soil department.

Especially in the summer; dry clay soil has all the friable tilth of reinforced concrete.

* As a note, while digging through the remainder of the first pile I ran across a section of rotting grass clippings that smelled exactly like fresh horse apples, which means it was rotting anaerobically, which means it didn't get stacked right the first time.  It's really important that you have enough carbon materials scattered through your nitrogen materials to ensure this doesn't happen.  Which means next time Steve is dumping out the grass catcher I need to be there to mix it up right from the git go.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Garden Update, 08 July 2013

Per usual, the garden has been keeping me hopping.  On Independence Day, I freed the tomatoes of excess foliage, with the result that the bumblebees were better able to find the blossoms.

Tomato Jungle

Liberated Tomatoes
The garlic is nearly ready.  I won't pull them out until the end of July. I'm not sure how well this year's harvest will look, but at least they didn't get the rust that last year's garlic did.  Once they are out, I'm pulling out this bed because I need the space for something else.

Hard neck in front, soft neck in back
The wheat is nearly ready and the boysenberries are starting to ripen.  I still have frozen boysenberries from last year in the freezer.  The wheat that fell during that one storm picked back up a little, so I will be getting less wheat than I planted, but more than I thought I would. It doesn't help that one (or more) of the neighbor's cats have been using my wheat patch to play Jungle.

Hard red spring wheat and thornless boysenberries.
This is half of the long bed.  It's planted in Kentucky Wonder green beans, assorted peppers, onions, eggplant, and three sisters which I did not photograph because it looks like a cornfield and if you've seen one cornfield, you've seen them all.  The good news is that it was a lot higher than my knee, more like my waist, on the fourth of July, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a good harvest this year.  The sweet meat squash planted in it are starting to put out buds, and the Black Coco beans are covered in blossoms.  I'm not sure they were the right beans to plant in there; they are not climbing the corn, so I think they are probably bush beans, which is bad on my part.  I could have checked that.

Onions, peppers, eggplant and beans. And one tomato.
We are getting peas right now (I froze two bags on the fourth) and this bed also has onions in it.  The beets I planted are starting to sprout but the carrots haven't yet.  In another week, I'll start the next succession. To the left there you can see the zucchini; I'm getting squash off that already too.

The strawberry and blueberry bed.  I got one, just one strawberry this weekend; the slugs are getting most of them, even though they are on the straw.  But we are getting all the blueberries.

New onion transplants.  I moved those out of the first bed which is fallow, for the most part, so I decided to cover crop it.  I'll sow buckwheat into it tonight as today is an 'above ground' day by the calendar.

And last but not least, I made seedling boxes this weekend from pallet wood and left over firring strip scraps I had lying around.  The handles were extras left over from remodeling the kitchen five years ago. I think I'm rather late to be starting my fall and winter garden, but these are for my brassicas: pak choi (with which I've have zero luck so far), cabbages and kale.  They'll be transplanted into the big bed after I pull all the wheat and potatoes out of it. Anyway, they're getting seeded tonight as well.

This weekend was really good and productive and all that, but we had some fun, too.  One of the neighbors set up a movie screen out of sheets, two by fours, a couple of ladders and some rigging inn their backyard because they had mounted a DVD player under the corner of the roof of their deck, and they invited folks from our street over to watch Gangster Squad out in the backyard with them.

What a kick.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Brown Acres Potato Box

This post is about my neighbor, Larry Brown, and his potato box. Larry is in his seventies now, and when he gets an idea, he thinks on it a good while and then puts it in action.

A few years ago, he put in a garden bed and planted a bunch of tomatoes.  Then last year he put in another one on the other side of the garage door, and then this spring, he built another one.  This is Larry's garden now.  It's pretty, isn't it?  If you look close, you can see his mason bee nests hanging on the upright of his patio roof over there on the left.

Larry got a hold of a good idea and built himself a potato box.

First he made a four u-shaped sides out of two-foot long pieces of 2X6; he connected them from the back using deck screws.

Then he stacked them one on top of the other and connected them with flat and corner plates, and toe-nailed deck screws in through the front.  The bottom level had the front piece screwed on as well.

But here's where turned into a tricksy hobbit:  He installed screw eyes into the ends of the next three pieces and hooks into the sides of the potato box such that the hooks snap snugly into the screw eyes. That way, he can put the sides up as the spuds grow up and as he hills up the soil around them.  It will also let him take a piece off in the middle and reach in and harvest spuds as he needs them.

I think this is one of the best designs for growing potatoes that I've seen and I can't wait to see how it will work out.

This is something that somebody with a sunny patio or fire escape can put to use.  Pretty cool, huh?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ye Olde Chicken Gaol

All the girls have been exhibiting broody behavior to varying degrees, but Tommie has been obnoxiously broody of late.  So much so that we had to do something.

So I built a jail for her.

Research seems to indicate that the best way to break broodiness is to isolate the bird in a wire bottomed cage so that her underside will cool off, and once you can get her body temperature down, she'll break broodiness and stop being such a crazy little fiend.  To borrow a term from The Great Escape, Tommie is going to spend three to four days in The Cooler.  Literally.

The jail has a water and a food bowl of course, but more importantly, it has a droppings board, made out of leftover metal roofing. I want to be able to build another broody breaker underneath the first one, because Buffy has also been broody of late, but not so bad as Tommie.
Tommie had actually taken to roosting in the nest box, and we'll have none of that.

Steve said that he came out the other day to check chickens and steal eggs and he saw only two hens in the enclosure.  When he opened the nest box door, sure enough, there were two big fat buff orpingtons and a little black sex link crammed in there.  It's only twelve by twelve. Inches.

In other news, we had a bad storm blow through early this week and I was crushed to find that it had blown down 85-90% of my wheat.  The sun the rest of the week raised it a little bit, but my understanding is that once wheat is down, it's down.  So bummed, but it appears to have a case of rust anyway, so I'm not even sure it would have made it all the way to maturity.

Good thing I'm planning potatoes anyway.

This year I'm trying potato baskets made of welded wire.  They are wrapped around the two-foot diameter stepping stones that the previous owner left.  I'll put some soil in and then fill it full of the dark, organic stuff from the compost pile, and we'll see how they do.

This was all I managed to do this weekend.

Oh- and hit the end of my finger with a hammer.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Preventing Coddling Moth With Peds

A post or so ago I mentioned a neat trick with peds.

Here it is:

When your apples get to be about the size of walnuts.....

...get yourself some peds (those little stocking things for trying on shoes) and some size 8 rubberbands....

....and swaddle the apples in the peds, enclosing it with the rubberbands.

The peds keep the coddling moths off the apples, and as the apples grow they stretch out the ped, which allows more sunlight to reach the apple and ripen it.

I read about this method several years ago and have been itching to try it, which is part of the reason I espaliered the apples.  Aside from increasing yields and allowing more sun to reach the fruit, it was a good way to ensure that I could reach the apples!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Householding Update 02 June 2013

 We finally had some good weather again, so this weekend I was able to muck out the chicken coop. But before I could do that, I had to move some compost around.  It's still in the same bed, but I had to re-stack it so that it would continue to rot properly.  That's when I discovered that I had compost I could harvest, so I did.

 Most of it went into the middle bed there.  That was after I moved some parsley plants to the herbalicious border.  I can't call it herbaceous because that would imply that it's all flowers, which it isn't.

Now it's mostly herbs with a few perennials thrown in.  In order of foreground to background: French tarragon, lovage, chives, oregano, and rosemary.  Behind me are dill, lemon thyme, orange balsam thyme, German chamomile, lemon verbena, and English thyme.  Oh- and flat-leafed Italian parsley.  Quite the international border, no?

 This is the zucchini I saved from the slugs by popping a cloche over it.  They managed to eat every single cucumber I had planted, so I started some more in six packs filled with compost.
 I also worked on cleaning up the orchard, which was full of all kinds of farm-type detritus: chunks of welded wire, weeds, a ten foot piece of PVC conduit, a pile of one foot rebar pieces, and six concrete stepping stones.  It was a mess, but it looks a whole lot better.  I spent a good part of the weekend weeding the pathways as well.  This year I have a pretty good head start on the weeds.
The concrete rounds got moved to a new spot over between the wheat and the laundry dryer.  This year I'm going to try making baskets from welded wire around the concrete pavers, which are two feet in diameter.  Then I'll fill them with compost and soil, and hope for the best.  I probably won't fill all of them though- I don't think I can make compost that fast.
Speaking of wheat, look how high it is already!  This is spring wheat I bought in bulk at Bob's Red Mill.  I have no idea of the variety, though, although I suspect that it was grown here in the Pacific Northwest.
 It's making heads already!
 However, the seed heads are not as big as the seed heads on the volunteer winter wheat in the long bed, and by big I mean longer. The one on the right here is the spring wheat, and the one on the left is the winter wheat.  I think it's probably twice as long as the volunteer wheat from last year, which also grew from the straw I bought.  This year's volunteer has a really big head though, so I'm letting the winter wheat in the long bed grow to maturity and then I'll harvest it for seed, which I'll start this autumn for more seed.  I think it will take a few years before I have enough seed to be able to grind some of it, but by then I should have the last bed or beds built (I need to move some trees before I build the next bed, and that requires dormancy).
This is one of the two Golden Russet apples.  They are making up for being the only apples with fruit on them again this year by being covered in apples.  I have a little trick up my sleeve to show you with the apples but I'm waiting for the rubber bands to come in.  I sure wish the other apples would start bearing, though, especially the Bramley's Apple, which is vigorous and sturdy but so far not particularly fertile.

This is two of Three Sisters that I planted: Black Coco dry beans and Painted Mountain flour corn.  The third sister is Sweet Meat winter squash, which is a keeping pumpkin.  Sweat Meat is a Cucurbita maxima, which keeps very well in a cool room in the house.  I plan on feeding all seven of us this winter with it.  That is, the five chickens and Steve and me.

And that is what's been keeping me busy lately.