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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Climbing Stories

Today we closed the windows on the coop.  Part of that is because the nights are starting to get chilly and part of it is because Lola, who is last in pecking order so the other girls won't let her roost with them, has been roosting on the top of the larger window, which means she's crapping all over it. I had to clear everything out of the coop, climb up into the coop, unchain the window so I could tilt it into the coop, and reach over the roosts to scrape bird poop out of the window frame with a joint knife before I could close the window.  Between this and climbing all over the enclosure roof last weekend, I am finding muscles I haven't used in fifty years. For real. Like the last time I used them I was five.  I'm not kidding; I used to climb onto the kitchen counters to get into the upper cupboards where the good stuff was.  I was bad.  I got my comeuppance though.  One time I'd opened a lower cupboard door to climb up the shelves to the counter and got up there and promptly lost my balance and fell off, landing squarely with the open cupboard door up my crotch.  I'd loosened the top hinge on the door and nearly gave myself a female circumcision in the process. Luckily my dad was the next person into the kitchen- he felt sorry for me and fixed the cupboard door while I whimpered.  My mom would have just killed me.

I mentioned before I've been working on re-roofing the enclosure and managed to get most of it up before a couple days of rain only to find that the tarps didn't fair so well over the year and they're full of holes, a lot more holes than I put in them.  They have to be replaced, so I ordered three each eighteen-ounce vinyl tarps which are the minimum weight I could use for a roof and expect it to hold up.  They are supposed to be waterproof but also abrasion and UV resistant, which should help them last longer. Or so I hope.  They are a lot more expensive than the polypropylene tarps. A lot more.  Anyway, the amazing thing is that I got up on the roof in the first place! Granted, it's not as high as say, the roof on the house, but it was more than I expected to be able to do.  I surprised myself.

You'd think I'd learned not to climb up on stuff.

Friday, September 12, 2014

The End of The Summer 2014

The shadows are getting longer and the sunshine is mellowing out to an autumnal shade of golden.  The zucchini are covered in powdery mildew and have quit putting out flowers, and the Kentucky Wonder beans have only a few stragglers still on them drying down because most of them have been picked already.

The end of summer has come and I'm mentally and emotionally ready for autumn, which is my favorite time of year, despite the fact that it means nearly non-stop rain and chill, and then three months of winter. There is something about flannel shirts and wood smoke and frosty mornings that I just dig.

I promised myself that I would re-roof the chicken coop before the rains start, so that is in progress. I tore off the tarps that I had up there; what didn't occur to me when I put them up is that they would not only protect the girls from the rain- they would also fill with water and sag. Last winter I had to go around and punch holes in them with a knife so they would drain and not bring down the roof, which rather defeated the purpose of the roof.  I'm adding more rafters and cats, and have a passel of one-by-threes to nail up for purlins.  I considered corrugated plastic, vinyl flooring, and briefly, asphalt shingles to cover it, but all were going to cost more than I wanted to spend.  In the end I decided to reuse the tarps, which I'll cut to fit this time and staple down. And then go back and patch holes.

Fire roasted peppers
The end of summer also means harvest, and this year's summer garden has kept me hopping.  To date I have enough frozen, shredded zucchini to make forty-four loaves of zucchini bread (for which I have a great recipe; we really like zucchini bread), two shoeboxes and then some full of packaged green beans (French filet beans, 'Denver' and 'Vanguard'), frozen onion rings and chopped onions (which is how I'm salvaging the onions that went to flower) three quart bags of chopped green bell peppers and one quart bag of chopped red bell pepper (and they're not done), ten half-pints of fire roasted Italian peppers (they're not done either), seven pints and five half-pints of salsa, nine half-pints of baba ganoush, twenty-three half-pints of tomato sauce for pizza (the tomatoes are a long way off from being done), two gallon bags of muffin-tin-sized chunks of frozen pesto, eight pounds of dried Kentucky Wonder beans for soup, enough garlic and shallots to last the year, and fifty-five pounds of onions.  I'm definitely getting better at this, although I'm still a long way off from where I want to be.  But I think I need more room for that.

I still have onions curing that
haven't been bagged yet.
This year's onions were a revelation.  I'd purchased live starts of a variety called 'Big Daddy' from Franchi seed by way of Seed from Italy.  Several them tried to go to seed, which is more due to the capricious nature of our spring weather than anything else.  I was ecstatic, frankly, when I discovered that the great majority of them didn't get tricked into thinking they'd gone through a winter and needed to go to seed.  The onions grew and grew, by and large, true to their names; I've never seen such huge onions much less have them come from my garden.

No lie- crocheting with twine
is hard on your hands
When they were finally cured and ready for storage, I quickly discovered that the two little string bags I had weren't going to cut the mustard, so I had to crochet myself a large string bag from twine. First I had to whittle a large crochet hook from a dowel that was in my collection (which my dad had done for my mom, so I knew it could be done), and then I was able to crank out the bag.  The onions are resting comfortably on the floor in the kitchen.  I sure wish I had a pantry.

Other plants that did well and were a surprise were the chard I also bought from Franchi.  Bieta 'Verde de Taglio' is actually a kind of beet ('bieta' gives that one away) but it makes sense when you consider that the other name for Swiss chard is silverbeet.  I actually hate Swiss chard, but the description in the catalog claimed that this variety tastes like spinach, which it does.
Bieta 'Verde de Taglio'
But unlike spinach, this stuff handles the heat like a champ and keeps on growing all summer long. We had some ninety-six degree days there and it didn't even wilt.  I've been cutting on it all summer and it's now thicker than ever. I suspect that it will only last as long as the first frost, but at that point I will have more than gotten my money's worth for this seed purchase. I'm really happy with this cultivar. Incidentally, Franchi is very generous with their seed, and have a great reputation for high germination rates.  I have lots of seed left and will buy this one again some four years down the road when they're finally no longer viable.

Oddly, this year I struggled with the squash, of all things.  I'd planted black zucchini and a variety called Costata Romana and they came up and got eaten by something (slugs, no doubt).  I didn't have much time, so I only replanted the zucchini, which took.  And out of three seeds per each four spots, only one precious 'Sweet Meat' winter squash made it through. From that plant I have only two squashes, one of which is pictured in the header.  Next year I'm going to seed the squashes early and transplant them.  Cucurbits aren't supposed to like that but I'm not taking any chances like that again.  I'm also not going to plant the black zucchini but will stick to the Costata Romana because that is the one that Carol Deppe (The Resilient Gardener) said was very tasty dried, and I had wanted to dry squash to put away.  She said that some zucchini tasted like nothing at all and some were not too nice dried, so since she's done all the work growing, drying and tasting, I'll take her advice and grow the one that tastes good dried.

I've learned my lesson with volunteers, however.  A plant that grows where it isn't wanted is technically a weed, but wanted plants (like food crops or expensive ornamentals) that are growing where they weren't planted have been dubbed volunteers by my mother.  So that's the term I used when I found volunteer tomatoes all over the yard.  I have a whole bed of volunteer strawberries in with the blueberries, for instance.  This year, when I had so much trouble getting the zucchini and Costata Romana to take, that when I happened on a volunteer squash growing over by the Sweet Meat squash, it was so much further along than my second batch of zucchini that I just let it grow.  I didn't know what it was but I recognized a squash when I saw it.  It turned out to be another zucchini, and I've pulled a lot of food from it, but the downside is that because it was within ten feet of the Sweet Meat, now I can't save the seed from the Sweet Meat because it was no doubt cross-pollinated with the nearby zukes.  So no more volunteers. I have to be ruthless with the volunteers.

Today is Friday, and I would like to goof off for once (especially since I didn't pull the last batch of jars out of the pressure canner until 9:50 last night) but there is still a chicken roof to work on and apple trees to prune and zucchini plants to pull out and replace with cover crops. And weeding and a planter box to move and a compost pile to throw into it, and…and…and…..