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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.