Search This Blog

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

USDA Farm Bulletin Archive

Just in case you're interested, you can access a digital archive of USDA Farm Bulletins here.  They are historical, so they may not represent current USDA thinking, but I kind of think of that as an advantage...

There's a lot of good information here and you can download the bulletin into various forms; I'm currently reading how to make vinegar via PDF.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Just In Time For Autumn

This year's summer garden was a triumph for me.  The year's winter garden is shaping up to be less so.  My timing is still not right, I don't think.  In the foreground below, you can barely see the kales and beets (Red Ursa and Westlander kales, Cylindra and Boldor beets*) that I planted, and I have a bad feeling that they will not gain enough size by mid-October to be of much use this autumn or winter.  I also have some cabbages planted a little further back, but doubt they'll gain enough size as well. I think for winter harvests, you really have to get stuff into the ground in July, regardless of heat, and since my beds are occupied in July, that makes winter gardening much more of a challenge.  Obviously, I need another bed! But more on that later.

These are the cabbages (Red Acre and January King) I planted in one end of the covered row.  These, I think, will be fine.

The rest of the bed is planted with Andover parsnips and Berlicum carrots (and the occasional errant onion).  These will also be fine.  The challenge here will be getting the parsnips out of the ground when it's time; they are hard to dig because the bottom of the roots are firmly in clay. Ha! My parsnips have feet of clay!

In the big bed (which differentiates it from the long bed), I've planted chard, leeks, arugula...

winter peas,....

Walla walla and salad onions, lettuces, and winter radishes.

All of these are cold hardy but not frost hardy, so this year I am finally building the high tunnel greenhouse that I've been needing.  So I made this, which is a hip bender,....

so that I could take this one inch EMT conduit....

and turn it into this:

Here's how it works: you clamp the hip bender to a solid surface (in this case, my neighbor Larry's sturdy picnic table), and then you put in the conduit and starting at roughly the center of the piece, you bend it slightly, and pull it back and bend it a little more, and then pull it back and bend it a little more and so on until you have the bend you want.

This is the last section of yard left to put into production.  I'll have to move the clothes dryer, which doesn't make Steve happy, but it's got to be done.  Autumn is the best time of year to get a bed ready for the following spring, so I'll get to that once I get the greenhouse done.  My plan is to make the new bed exactly the size as the greenhouse, so that I can eventually move the greenhouse to the new bed.  The area gets more sun in the winter time, so that makes more sense.  Could I build two greenhouses? Of course, but I think I'd be pushing my luck with Steve if I did that.  I need to prove the usefulness of the first one before I try a second.  The black plastic area is where I attempted melons this year, which I will not repeat (probably).

And this is the marvelous broadfork I'll use to break up the new bed. No more tilling!  This is a People's Broadfork by Meadowcreature, which has twelve inch tines.  I would have loved to purchase the fourteen inch, but I couldn't pick it up without difficulty, it was just too heavy.  But then, I am a weakling.  I love my broadfork though!

* I won't be planting Boldor beets again- turns out it's an F1 hybrid, and I don't do hybrids for the simple reason that if I all of a sudden needed to save seed, I want to be able to do it.  So I buy only heirlooms or open pollinated seed.  The Boldor was a boo boo.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Annabelle Has Got To GO

We're down to three hens now.  Annabelle, our Blue Andalusian has had gender identity issues for a little while now and started crowing a couple of weeks ago.  This was after going broody, being cooled down in the Chicken Gaol, and resuming laying.  Yesterday on two separate occasions she hollered out her confusion and that was the third time she'd crowed this week.   Then she did it again this morning.  I live in a small municipality that allows hens but no roosters, and no one is going to believe in a crowing hen, so she had to go.  My buddy Rae came by around noon today to pick up my little miscreant and for her troubles (Rae's, that is), I sent her home with zucchini, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, turnips, turnip greens and beets.  And a very mad hen.

The remaining three are being strangely quiet...

Friday, June 26, 2015

Garden Update - June 2015

So far, this year's summer garden has been wonderful; probably the best I've ever grown.  Because of my needing to eat paleo (with a huge emphasis on the autoimmune protocol) we eat vegetables, usually at least two, with every meal, and the garden has been keeping up with us. Honestly, we're actually having a little  trouble keeping up with it.  I've been drying Costata Romanesco zucchini (on trays in the back of the car parked on the driveway- why not?), but otherwise we are sort of keeping up.  I needed to cull some rutabaga leaves because they were shading the carrots and parsnips and we've been eating them like greens with bacon and garlic (delicious), and we're finally done with the first culling.  Naturally, they need it done again.  If they don't make good bulbs this fall (they need cool weather to form a bulbous root), they will still have been worth the real estate because of their delicious leaves.  They produce a lot of food for the space they take, and that is always a plus in my book. The garden is still popping out new lettuce plants all the time; I succession planted more but that was really unnecessary.

Nasturtiums in the salad
 Summer showed up this year in early June of all times. Usually we don't get hot weather until the weekend of Independence Day, but we already have forecasts in the low 100's for this weekend.  I hope they are wrong about that because all the lettuces will bolt which will make them bitter. However, I do have cucumbers and cabbages coming right now, and those make good salads as well. I'm glad I planted nasturtiums this year; they are a nice addition to salads as well as making the garden a little prettier.
Covered winter roots in the summer
Because of the forecast I am concerned about my carrot and parsnip seed.  The carrots (Berlicum, a giant storage variety from Seeds From Italy) are starting to come up but the parsnips (Andover, Johnny's Seeds) are still thinking about it. So I spent some time this morning covering them up with Agribon to try to keep them a little cooler.  It seems a weird thing to be planting for winter when it's so darn hot outside but that is what you have to do.  This is the first year I left parts of the garden unplanted so I would have room for planting winter things, and it's also the first year I've managed to get them scheduled and in the ground on time.  More winter vegetables will go into the ground in July.

The big bed currently has new beets and leeks in it; I'll replace the beets with lettuces once they are ready.  The other side of the big bed currently has garlic and more volunteer potatoes.  I swear potatoes are the gift that keep on giving.  I think the only way to not have potatoes in the same place year after year is to turn pigs out on it, which is exactly how I'll manage one day.  In the meantime though, I'm leaving the potatoes for their 'free food' factor, and they'll come out at the end of July ready or not when I harvest the garlic.  At that time, Lord willing and the crik don't rise, I'll put metal ribs and plastic on that bed and finally get around to building my greenhouse.  Well, the ribs and ends will be built; the plastic probably won't go on until the end of September or early October. The leeks will then be protected against frost this winter, and I'll plant lettuces and chard in there as well. I discovered that the chard will go all winter if you keep it covered.

We are currently harvesting (and eating!) beets, blueberries, cabbage, cucumbers, kale, lettuces, nasturtium flowers, radishes, rutabaga leaves, strawberries, turnips and zucchini.  The carrots, cauliflower, and potatotes are almost ready.

Hopefully the hot weather won't croak my garden.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Other Pruning Season - Advice For The Home Orchardist

The summer solstice is coming, and while I won't be sacrificing virgins or throwing clams to the sun in honor of the day, I will be getting ready for it.  That's because the best time to control the size of the homestead fruit tree is right about the time of the summer solstice.

I learned this at the Mother Earth News Fair when I attended a lecture by Ann Ralph, who wrote the book Grow a Little Fruit Tree.  It was a great talk, because she distilled pruning down to three basic cuts, and two times a year, and giving the all important explanation why.

It all boils down to stored energy.  Trees store their energy in the form of sap.  In the winter, sap is stored in the trunk and roots, and in the summer it's freely flowing up until the time of the summer solstice.  At that time, the sap stops moving to the ends of the tree and growth for the year slows way down, and the sap starts to flow back into the trunk and roots.  By the time it's autumn, the sap is pretty much out of the branches and the tree goes dormant. This is why you're better off transplanting a bare root tree in the autumn and winter, rather than planting a potted tree in the spring.

So the first thing to know about pruning is that cuts made in the fall, winter, and spring will result in bushy growth, because after the cut, the tree still has a lot of energy to move, and it will expend that energy growing branches. A lot of new ones.  This is good if you're trying to get your tree to fill out, either during its first year or at a specific area in the tree.  Cuts made at or just after the summer solstice will result in less aggressive growth, so that is when you want to prune to contain the growth of the tree.

The second thing to know is that you are in control of the size of the tree at all times.  Don't worry; I didn't know that either.  But what about dwarf and semi-dwarf rootstocks, you say.  If you read the fine print in the nursery catalogs you'll notice that a dwarf rootstock still results in a ten to fifteen foot tree, which is way taller than you or me.  Ms. Ralph said that it really doesn't matter what the rootstock size is because you can control how big you let the tree get; what you want to pay attention to in a rootstock is how well it does in your soil and climate.  Some rootstocks are better in well drained soil and some can handle heavy clay.  You should go with a rootstock that will handle what you're going to give it, regardless of what kind it is.  So even though you wanted that Elstar apple and it's only available on a standard rootstock but you wanted a much smaller tree, you can go ahead and get it.

Assuming you bought the standard sized tree during bare root season which is the best time to get a fruit tree, once you get it into its hole and all tucked in, it's time to make the hardest cut you'll ever make to that tree.  Cut the tree off at a forty-five degree angle with a very sharp pruner or lopper so that it's now at the same height as your knee, even if it has branches on it higher up. Yes, your knee. Remember, we're growing a small tree here.  It's okay, you can do it.  When I espaliered my apple trees, I cut them all at eighteen inches and they were fine.  Come spring when the sap starts to flow, you will find lots of new branches growing on your tree.

So now it's spring and you have lots of branches.  Keep an eye on where they're growing and the direction they are heading; if you have a lot of branches growing toward the center of the tree criss-crossing each other, you'll want to take most of those out at the solstice.  All trees ripen fruit by the exposure to sun which helps develop the sugars in the fruit, so you want to keep the canopy open so that sun can reach into all parts of the canopy.

Once it's the summer solstice, you can now go in and make your cuts to control the ultimate size of the tree.  Use heading cuts to change the direction in which the branch is going, and thinning cuts to remove branches from the tree (see the illustration at right for examples). Heading and thinning cuts can also be employed in the winter for the same reasons, but bear in mind that they will probably result in more growth because the energy of the tree is in storage.

My stump cut
Last autumn I decided that I didn't like the shape or size of one of my Lapins cherries, so I steeled myself and cut it off about hip high. I wish I'd known I could cut it lower, but I think it will be okay anyway, now that I know I can still keep it in control, and more importantly, how to keep it in control. But cutting it back hard did wonders for it, and I would do it again now that I know how well it's turned out. Instead of only two branches in the same lateral plane with the trunk, the
New size and shape. Long branches
will be taken out at solstice
branches are evenly spread around the trunk at a height that will be easier for me to manage.

The other Lapins. The long branches
will be removed altogether with
thinning cuts at solstice
The other thing that Ms. Ralph mentioned is that when you're considering which branches to cut, you should take out any vertical branches, which I've heard referred to as water spouts.  These vertical branches are rarely if ever fruitful. She also mentioned that you should still prune, even if there is fruit on that branch that needs to come off.  You should also thin your fruit, particularly apples. The first reason for thinning is so that the tree can support the weight of all the fruit.  The second reason is so that you can grow larger apples.  She believes thinning fruit to be so important that the first year one of her trees fruited, it bore two apples.  She thinned it to one.

Pluot with an open fountain
shape.  All I have to do is
control its size
I have a lot of work to do.  On my little quarter acre I have eleven apple trees, three cherries, two Italian plums, and two pluots, all of which need attention, especially the apples. The plums also need special attention; I cut them back this winter and they responded by getting really bushy.  I have exactly nine plums on them this year, the most there has ever been, but I will sacrifice fruit if it means I can get the shape and size under control.
Pluot with a bad shape. It
will have to wait until next
winter to be corrected

Getting ready for all this work means getting my Felco pruners tuned up, which I did yesterday.  You can see how to do that here.  My Felco pruners have stood by me for almost fourteen years; they were the first ever birthday present that Steve got me, even before we were married, and they have been great.  If I needed to, I would definitely buy another pair.  They have kept in reasonable shape all these years and now that I've cleaned and sharpened them again they are practically like brand new, and I use them a lot.  The classic Felco pruner is the F2, and they make an identical pruner for smaller hands which is the one I have; that one is the F6.  The videos for disassembling, cleaning and sharpening, and reassembling are shown with the F2 but they work for the F6 as well.  You can expect to pay around fifty bucks for the Felco pruner. If you need to buy pruners but don't want to shell out for the Felcos, at least look for a pruner that you can take apart to clean and sharpen.  Fiskars appears to make one here for around seventeen dollars.

Today is the nineteenth of June, which means you have two days to get your pruning gear tuned up.  If you have time, it might help to go out and take a look at your trees to make mental notes about where you'll make your cuts and what you have to do. To recap, you'll be looking to thin and control the size of the tree with heading and thinning cuts on or right after the summer solstice, which is the twenty-first of June. Next winter you'll be evaluating your trees to see where you should be encouraging growth, and pruning to help shape the tree.

I am giving myself several days to get this all accomplished, because with eighteen trees to prune, I'll be pretty busy.  The good news is, this time I'll really know what I'm doing.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

I Love Big Beets And I Cannot Lie

Beets: it's what's for dinner

These are Chioggia (key-OH-ghee-a).  I don't know if it's the variety or just because they're homegrown, but they are exceptionally sweet and delicious.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

I Have An Idea

Today and tomorrow are the two best days of the month for planting root vegetables according to the phases of the moon, so if you're planning a winter garden, now is a good time to get that stuff in, especially parsnips.  July would be the only other month for winter roots.

You see that?

No, I mean THAT.

That's a pac choi.  I found it the other day as a huge surprise, because it seeded itself. Well, I'm not sure about that.  All I can say is that I've tried unsuccessfully for the past two years to grow pac choi so I gave it up and threw out the remainder of my seed.  But here it is, all on its own as a giant surprise.

This bed is one of several in which I've planted all manner of things in the spirit of permaculture guilds, and in which I've allowed to grow most things that sprout on their own like lettuces, cucurbits (they all look like cucumbers, unfortunately- oddly, I was hoping for zucchini), and this pac choi.  The lettuces have been a bit of a revelation, actually. New, baby lettuce plants keep coming up all over the place where I've spread compost as a mulch, which was obviously not finished and definitely not hot enough to kill seeds.  This is important, because I haven't had to succession plant any lettuce this summer.  Between the waves of new lettuce growth and the serendipitous pac choy, I have an idea.

Next year as an experiment, I'm going to mix several different seed varieties into some mulch (probably compost again) and spread that over one bed in late winter or early spring and see what happens.  I'll probably do lettuces, maybe pac choi, onions, carrots, kales, summer squashes,  possibly green beans, and anything else I can think of between then and now that I think would work.  My reasoning is that you have to thin some crops anyway, so if it all comes up too thickly, I'd just thin it.  It would take much of the guesswork and labor of succession planting out of the mix because plants would come up when they are ready and conditions are favorable.

If this idea sounds intriguing and you want to try it as well, I'd be very interested in knowing how it worked for you.  In any case, I'll report back how it worked for me.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

It Sonofagun Worked

"What do you think?" I asked Steve, watching his expression as he chewed thoughtfully.  After fourteen and a half years of marriage I still can't read him.

He chewed a moment longer, swallowed and said, "I think it's pretty wonderful."  I don't think he's ever described any victual I've made before as wonderful, and I've made some wonderful things.

What was wonderful was the homemade prosciutto that I'd handed him to sample. Homemade prosciutto is more than possible; it's definitely doable.  Using the River Cottage Food Tube recipe, which is one and one half days on salt per kilo of meat, and after rinsing and patting it dry, I rested the pork sirloin I used for the requisite time (three weeks) uncovered on a rack in the bottom of the refrigerator. Today I cut into it, and it sonofagun worked.  The folks at River Cottage used a British cut (natch) for which we have no equivalent in the states, but when I described to Dennis, who was the gentlemen who cut up my half hog for me, where on the animal this said cut was, he suggested I use the sirloin, which is not something you see in the butcher case, generally speaking.  This worked so well that I'll really have to figure out what I can use for the next one; I may have to special order something.

While at the Mother Earth News Fair the weekend of June 6 and 7, I attended a lecture on heritage hogs by Jeanette Beranger of the Livestock Conservancy (which was very good).  From her I learned that there are two kinds of hogs that I want to raise.  One is the American Guinea hog, which is described as a homestead hog because it's a smaller hog.  According to Ms. Beranger, the American Guinea hog is descended from the Essex.  It's a very fatty, lard hog, and she also indicated that there is currently more market for it than there is supply, at least on the coasts.  Obviously, there is no demand for it in pork country.  Easy for beginners (that would be me), it's also great for keeping snakes at bay.

The other hog I would like to raise is also a smaller hog, but it's much more lean than the American Guinea.  The Mulefoot hog is called that because it doesn't have a cloven hoof.  It has very dark meat and makes great hams.  (Prosciutto, anyone?)  It is also supposed to be very easy going and easy for beginners to raise.

Don't laugh - it worked!
Raising pigs for home use is still a pipe dream, along with the acreage I want, so in the meantime I'll just keep practicing my charcuterie skills. The bacon from my half hog that I cured and smoked turned out really well, too, but I know where I can get more pork belly when I run out of it, and bacon is pretty simple to make once you get your smoker figured out.  I smoked mine in a cardboard box, for instance.  I would like to try it on apple or hickory; the first batch I made I smoked on oak bark, which worked great! It is really smoky and delicious and way better than commercial bacon.

By the time I get my country property and my hogs in situ, I should be pretty good at this.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Householding Updates - May 28, 2015

Some updates from around the homestead, such as it is:

Fresh pork belly waiting to be smoked.  There's also a guanciale and prosciutto-cured sirloin in there but they do not get smoked.

 The smoker I rigged for the bacon smoking.  It worked great, and I'll use it again.

Because I'm always looking for ways to increase my knowledge and skill set, I've been collecting constituents for herbal teas, since that's the hot beverage of choice on weekday mornings.  It helps that some are coming from the front and back yards and local park, so I'm getting them for free.  From the left, this is birch leaf, hops, and lemon balm. The birch came from the portion of our neighbor's tree that overhangs the yard, the hops came from the freezer (I think they're what's left of Amanda's generous gift), and the lemon balm came from a volunteer in the backyard.

This is blackberry leaf from the park.

I also rendered a lot of pork fat into lard; this made seven pints.  Two are plain; I extracted those before I put the shoulder in to cook.  The other five are flavored by the shoulder; I'll use the flavored lard to cook vegetables because I can't eat butter and it really does make them much tastier.  I figure that the seven pints should last me all summer, and I have another batch of fat from the same half hog to render next fall.

I am rethinking volunteer plants.  Last summer I thought after leaving a volunteer zucchini too close to a Sweet Meat winter squash that I would forevermore hoick volunteers out of the ground, but I think that's too severe a policy that needs to be revisited.  Because we're trying to garden with a more permaculture viewpoint, stuff that shows up of its own accord is by and large being left where it came up, operating on the 'mimicking nature' idea. I figure if that's where it wants to come up, then I'll leave it, but I do say that with a grain of salt.  I'm only leaving plants I want, and pulling the ones I don't. I'm leaving the lettuces that come up, and the cucurbits that pop up (I'm hoping that they are green zucchini, because I inadvertently purchased yellow zucchini starts), but yanking out all the tomatoes, because you can only have so many tomatoes, you know?

So below are deliberately planted Red Acre and Early Jersey Wakefield cabbages and Chioggia beets, and volunteer lettuces (my money says Black Seeded Simpson, but I'm not positive) (Update: they're Salad Bowl, which is an apt name- they get huge).

The plant with the dark stake is a Kosmic kale, which is a perennial kale, and the larger green squashes are Costata Romana, which Carol Deppe says are good dried.  I'm growing those specifically to dry and store away for next fall and winter's soups. Then right in front are the chard that tastes like spinach from Franchi, and interspersed in the chard are French filet beans, either Vanguard or Denver.  And of course, more volunteer lettuces.

The row is where I started planting this past late winter, before I managed to break out of my planting-in-rows rut. There are Gilfeather turnips, Purple Top White Globe turnips, and Gold Ball turnips, more chard, Russian Frills kale, my selected kale, mixed lettuces, Atomic Red carrots, Kosmic Purple carrots, Red Cored Chantenay carrots, and arugula.  The stuff under the trellises are an Armenian cucumber, a couple Straight Eight cucumbers, and a couple Marketmore cucumbers.  I had two Armenians but broke one transplanting it.

The two smaller pots are holding Japanese walnuts that I found in the yard.  I know they're Japanese walnuts because I found their shells with them.  The other name for Japanese walnuts is Heartnut, because the nut is heart shaped when bisected.  Walnuts take twelve years to bear, and I hope to be long gone by then, so I'm growing these for the new place, wherever it is.  There are sugar pod peas in the large pot behind them.

Again, the staked plant is a perennial Kosmic kale, and the two large squashes are Sweet Meat winter squash.  I'm leaving the volunteer cucurbits in this bed because the most recent issue of the Seed Savers Exchange Heritage magazine had instructions for artificially pollinating and isolating squash for seed in it, so I saved the issue and I'm keeping an eye on the flowers, which are the barest suggestion of buds at this point.  I figure I'll keep the first squash on each plant for seed (Update: I've since learned that if you let the first squash go to seed it'll quit putting out fruits- pick a flower toward the end of the tendril for a seed fruit).  This bed also has Cylindra beets, Boldor beets, Tall Utah celery and nasturtiums, either Jewel Mix or Empress of India.  It's also lined with Stuttgarter onions, which may or may not be ready in time for the rainy season.  Onions, which normally pretty darn easy to grow, have been difficult the last couple of years due to the vicissitudes in spring weather which trick the onions into thinking they've been through a winter.  Because they're biennial they start a flower stalk, and once they do that they are absolutely useless.  So I tried sowing them later to see if I can beat the weather; we'll see.

In the foreground here I have more Purple Top White Globe turnips, Chanteney carrots, Helenor and Laurentian rutabagas, and Andover parsnips, which are just barely starting to sprout.  The plants in the back of the are Lacinato kale, Amazing cauliflower, and the two cabbages and beets I mentioned earlier (as well as the volunteer lettuces).  There is also a dill planted in the middle of the bed, either Fernleaf or Bouquet.  The dill is there to attract beneficial insects.  The root vegetables in this bed are for this autumn, and maybe winter if they last that long.

Much as I loathe black plastic, it's here to help my Sugar Baby watermelons and Minnesota Midget cantaloups mature faster and be ready to pick before autumn.  I've never grown melon before so this is an experiment for me.  This bed isn't permanent because at some point I'd like to put in a key hole herb bed here, so the melons are growing in bags of soil.  By the way, do not buy any of the Kellogg brand garden soils that Hone Depot is selling; they are all pretty much the same thing and they are crap.  Actually, straight crap would be a lot better than their soil products. They are not decomposed enough to be called soil; they are mulch.  In fact, I bought eleven yards of mulch that was closer to soil than this stuff.  We were trying to save money.  Lesson learned.

Clockwise from twelve o'clock: A climbing rose that to date has been in pretty miserable shape which evidently really likes the Ocean Forest soil with which I filled the pot.  I'm training it up the post which it is covering nicely along with one of the grapes.  I couldn't dig a hole on the other side of the post from the grape that's there, so I repotted the rose, which I grew from a slip a neighbor gave me, and it's really glad I repotted it.  Jean could not recall the name of the rose so I can't tell you either. Then at one o'clock is a flat of Bee Feed Mix that I really need to transplant, a new peppermint and chocolate mint in the flat, a potted spearmint, and Empress of India nasturtiums awaiting new homes.

Spuds!  We're growing organic supermarket spuds in some of that crap Kellogg soil.  Some sort of red potato and Yukon Gold.  If I had the room to grow a lot of potatoes, I would order seed, but it's not worth it for the space I have which is not much.

These are the sugar pod peas, and I think I'm finally getting peas.

This middle bed has an Italian Red Pear tomato and its attendant nasturtium and basil plants, a Costata Romano squash, and yellow zucchini, as well as Crimson Giant and French Breakfast radishes. There's also a volunteer cucurbit and lettuces in there as well.  In the lower right corner next to a short piece of rebar is a Bocking 4 comfrey plant.  I planted twenty-five pieces of Bock 4 crowns all over the yard, and most have come up.  Comfrey is a number one permaculture plant because it serves many, many purposes.  Principally, it's a dynamic accumulator, so it can be 'chopped and dropped' where it is to create a mineral rich mulch because it has very deep roots.  I chose Bocking 4 because it has deeper roots than Bocking 14 so it's more drought resistant.  Both the Bocking 4 and Bocking 14 produce sterile seeds, and you want this because once a comfrey plant is in they are in forever.  They are very hard to kill because of those very deeps roots. The good news is that comfrey is very high in protein, so it makes great animal fodder, and I availed myself of its reputation as a great healing herb when I deeply cut my finger with a boning knife.  I should have gone for a stitch but I said, Nope- I'm going to save myself the trip.  I applied pressure until it stopped bleeding and then applied a comfrey poultice, which I wrapped on with a strip of cling wrap. I alternated a comfrey poultice and a regular bandaid with antibiotic ointment, and I've never had a cut heal so fast or so cleanly; it took less than a week.  I should have applied comfrey to the spot on my index finger where I scraped it up on one of my handsaws, because it's not healing so fast or as comfortably.  So yeah; comfrey's good stuff.

And that's pretty much it.  We got a new chicken from our friends a couple of weeks ago, which meant that the two old ladies' time had come.  They enjoyed being the top chicken and her lieutenant this past year, but both quit laying, Becky because she was old, and Tommie because she went broody.  So I turned them into chicken soup, which is what you do with old hens.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

If anyone was ever to ask me how I know my husband loves me, it wouldn't be because he puts up with me.  Let's face it; there's a fair amount of that going on in both directions.

It wouldn't be because he's never teased me about my weight, and always refers to me as his 'cute little Paula', even though I weighed nearly a hundred and sixty pounds at one time (I'm five two).

It wouldn't be because he doesn't hound me about finishing the dining nook, even though I started it three years ago (I'm so close!).

No- it would be because he finally bought me a truck.  A very nice truck.

It's a 2013 Ford F150 4X4 and has eight cylinders, which means that once we sell our car (because we're a committed one-car family), there will be a lot more walking to the store instead of driving, and fewer trips all around.  Someday after we move to the country I'd like to convert it to wood gas, but that is a pipe dream for way down the road. In the interim, I need to learn how to drive like a grandma. Which is easy right now for me because this thing is huge!  I grew up with trucks, and I'm very comfortable driving them, but I have to get used to the difference in size between the two vehicles so I'm taking it easy.

At any rate, we made a rational, conscious decision to do this, and now we can start looking for an acreage somewhere.

You know what else?

It has room for a dog or two!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


I think my new bees are doomed.  I'd so wanted everything to go well this time in order to have something happy to post about, but their installation did not go well at all.  

What's not leaves there are dead bees
I signed up to be in the second wave at Ruhl because the fence wouldn't be ready by then and my spot for them was to be right by the fence (see below). I picked them up late in the day on the twenty-second of April and installed them that evening, like half an hour later. The queen went in okay, and a good portion of the workers got dumped in after her, but the ones remaining did not climb out and make their way to the hive entrance.  When I came out the next day, the majority of what was left in the bee cage was dead.  I estimate that I lost half my bees with the installation.

It was so awful that I quickly ran inside to look up a patron saint of bees. Curiously, there are several patron saints of beekeepers, including Saint Valentine, but only one patron saint of beekeepers and bees, and that's Saint Gobnait. Gobnait is the Irish version of both Abigail and Deborah, both of which names are hugely better than Gobnait, which almost sounds like it should have a 'hob' in front of it, as in 'hobgobnait'. What a truly horrid name.  Sorry all you Gobnaits out there; it is what it is.  But I said a prayer to Saint Gobnait anyway. I think she knows my feelings about her name, because the number of bees leaving and entering the hive entrance is dwindling, and I think my colony is dying. I'd like to open up the hive and check on the bees, but it hasn't been warm enough lately, and if there are brood in there I don't want to risk chilling them.  So I'm waiting for a warmer day.  This past Sunday would have been a good day, it was eighty-one, but we were doing something else and I couldn't stop.  And honestly?  I can look at them all I want but I can't do anything to help them.

Unless Saint Gobnait wants to pull a miracle out of her wimple, it looks like I'll be studying up on swarm trapping for next year.

Which will be Bees, version 4.0....can you believe it?

I am zero for three.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Fencing Lessons

This was supposed to be the summer of rainwater harvesting system installation, which I was hoping to get done this spring so I could capture some water, but I spent the money on a new fence instead.

Although we needed (badly needed) a new fence, it's not what I'd wanted to spend money on. Darn it! I wanted my cisterns.  Especially this year because I think California's drought will move north and involve Oregon.  But, as luck would have it, a mighty wind blew down part of the fence, and since it was the second section in six months to come down, we decided to bite the bullet and get the fence replaced. It is a swell fence.

Or should I say, it's a swell's fence?  Even though I managed to talk the fence company out of $640, it still cost a bundle to get this done. More than I expected.  However, now it's in and I can concentrate on saving up for the cisterns all over again.

Lucky me.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Makin' Bacon and Burying Treasure

Since time and tide wait for no man, yesterday I got hot on the charcuterie trail.  I had the belly from my half hog, the jowl, and the sirloin all to get salted down before they turned.

I researched many sources, from watching Benton Country Ham and Bacon videos with Allan Benton to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Steve Lamb at River Cottage to our Charcuterie book by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (which for some reason we refer to as 'the Ruhlman'), and settled on Ruhlman's cure, River Cottage's seasoning, and Benton's timing.

Why would I go to all this trouble?  I can't eat sugar, honey, or maple syrup (or corn syrup or sweeteners, etc.) and you can't find bacon made without them.  It turns out that sugar is added only to displace some of the salt so that your bacon doesn't get too salty.  But since I'm also hypertensive, I can't leave out the sugar altogether because super salty bacon would not be the right answer, either. So what to do? Date sugar, coconut sugar, and palm sugar are all on the 'maybe' list (as opposed to the out and out 'no' list), so I elected to build my cure with coconut sugar, as it's the most like brown sugar in flavor, and let's face- also because I couldn't find the palm sugar.

Ruhlman advises a pound of kosher salt, eight ounces of granulated sugar, and two ounces of pink salt, the latter of which we happened to have still from when Steve pickled the beef tongue a couple of years ago - which was delicious, by the way- it tasted just like an excellent pastrami- so that's what I used for the cure.

Mixed bacon
Fearnley-Whittingstall (who was once nicknamed Fearlessly-Eatsitall for cooking up and eating road kill) and Lamb both advised juniper berries and bay leaf as flavoring for bacon, and since I had both and wanted to try it, I did, on only one of the four pieces of belly in my possession.  I also flavored one with mace and marjoram, and one with crushed allspice (also on the 'maybe' list), and I left the largest one plain.  Everybody got rubbed in cure, dropped into a labeled Ziploc bag, and refrigerated after flavorings were added.  All, except the plain one, which was too large for a gallon Ziploc- that one had to be wrapped up in cling wrap.

Most of the instructions for curing that I found have you leaving the belly in the cure for five to seven days, but since Allan Benton makes the best bacon in the country, I'll leave it to cure for ten days like he does.  Then it needs to be rinsed and patted dry, and hung to dry and age for several days.  Only then can I think about smoking it.  More on that later.

Buried treasure
River Cottage also has a Food Tube video on Youtube for making a prosciutto-style ham out of a little british cut called a 'chump joint', which sits between the leg and the loin.  I wanted to try this, so Dennis at Mt Angel Meat Company boned a sirloin for me, which is in roughly the same location on the hog and is the best he could do for not being familiar with the chump joint.  The sirloin was packed, or rather, buried in straight kosher salt.

Cure timing on the container
According to Lamb (whose name is hilariously ironic, if you think about it), the Golden Rule is three days in salt per kilo of meat and fat, so since my sirloin weighed 1.648 kilos, I need to leave it in the salt for 4.944 days, or five days.  Then it comes out of the salt, the salt gets wiped off (but not rinsed) and the meat gets hung to dry for three months.  I will have to risk picking up fridge flavors by putting it into the fridge to dry because I can't keep it cool enough for three months.  I may start out with hanging it in the garage every night or leaving it there and monitoring the temperature. Not sure, but I'll keep you posted on that.

Then finally, the guanciale.  The jowl's curing and drying into a guanciale is kind of a cross between the two previous treatments; the cure is mixed from salt, sugar (coconut sugar, in my case), garlic, black peppercorns and thyme, and the jowl rests in it for four to six days. Then it's rinsed, dried, punctured, and hung up to dry for one to three weeks.  In the world of charcuterie, it's as close to instant gratification as you can get.

In any case, getting them all salted down and into the fridge means that all my hog pieces have been dealt with in one way or the other and I can relax about them.

Which also means that I can now turn my attention back to the garden...