18 April 2010

Independence Days Update

Where are we at now that spring looks like it’s really here?

Planted: Oh yeah! Planting time, finally! Today I put out beet seeds, carrot seeds, and leeks and cabbage. Watered everything that is outside, and continue to care for the indoor seedlings. Just 4 weeks to ‘Official Last Frost’!

Harvested: Lots and lots of eggs, and some fleece from the sheep.

Preserved: Nothing that I can think of here … 

Waste Not: The usual feeding-leftovers-to-other-creatures (including putting my apple cores in a ziplock and bringing them home for the chickens, instead of just tossing them in the garbage at work). Made fresh pasta as an ‘egg saving experiment’ (see below)

Want Not (Preparations): Tried home made pasta and posted about the experiment on Facebook … and a friend offered me an unwanted pasta machine! Traded some lamb chops for said pasta machine and have made wonderful fresh pasta (doubles as entertainment for small children who think pulling noodles out of the machine is really cool).

Community Food Systems: Lamb sales have been so successful we are down to just sausage in the freezer! Have a couple more ready to go to the butcher, and will be restocked soon. Set up a Facebook page for the Apple Jack Creek Family Farm.

Eat the Food: More fruit in the WECAN basket this month, and cauliflower and potatoes. Have ‘cowboy pie’ in the oven right now – ground beef cooked with spices & HP sauce, mixed with a tin of mushrooms, topped with mashed potatoes and baked. Baked with the bulk flour purchased at the mill – nice bread! The flour is a different shade, not quite as white as the ‘store stuff’, and the bread has more flavour. Yum.

05 April 2010

More progress in the garden

Ev asked for pictures of the garden, so I had The Boy (who is a great photographer) take a few shots today while I finished raking the wide beds.


This shows the new ‘mini-raised beds’: large tin cans with the tops and bottoms removed, filled with soil and planted with herbs that should be kept from spreading (or clearly identified). I have no idea how well the cans will hold up to the weather, although all of these are enamelled on the inside, so perhaps they’ll be more durable than the usual sort. Trying them out seems a good way to discover the outcome – they were free, after all! (Thanks Mom!)

If you look closely you can see the wooden plant labels – I splurged and picked them up at Lee Valley, having grown tired of cutting up yogurt containers into strips that just get lost in the dirt. The orange thing is a spike waterer: you put a pop bottle on the top and it’ll slowly water a plant (another Lee Valley widget).


And here you see yours truly, decked out in garden gear, raking the wide rows. The straw cowboy hat keeps the sun out of my eyes and off my fair skin, and the rubber boots are lined with sheepskin which makes them both warm and cushioned. The belt is my “Quaker Sword Belt”: it’s a thrift store D-ring belt to which is attached my Japanese hori knife (for weeding), a sheathed dagger (I’m useless with a flip blade, and there’s always bale string that needs cutting if I haven’t got a knife with me), and a net bag containing the house phone, my cell phone, and a family radio (I was on call today, and The Boy was out and about). It’s very handy having all the ‘usual tools’ attached to a belt that can just be added on to whatever I’m already wearing – although I do need to replace the net bag with something smaller … it was what was handy today, but it’s too big to really work well.

Anyway, the white arch is plastic tubing (previously used as row cover supports) which is marking where the rebar row-markers are placed (I discovered that rusted rebar isn’t particularly visible against a dirt-and-straw backdrop, so these are serving as safety markers). The wide rows are measured very scientifically: they are just as wide as I can comfortably step across. I figure I won’t always want to walk around to the end of the rows, so if I can take one big step and get across, that’s about how big it ought to be. The pathways between the rows are about as wide as I am, on the assumption that I won’t be taking a wagon down between these paths, just walking (the raised beds are spaced so that the wagon fits between them, but then, those are rather solid fixtures, and it’s best to have a bit of room to manoeuvre).

There are only 5 rows for the wide beds, which doesn’t seem like it could possibly be enough. However, with the wider rows, there’s room for more plants – it’s not just one long row of tomatoes, they can be staggered so that each still has enough room to breathe, but the total number of plants is almost double what we’d get if we just had one single row.

I’m sure I’ll still find that I need more garden space – as I learn to preserve what we grow, I’ll want more available to put up for winter, plus our summer eating, but for now, it sure feels good to have all that compost spread out, raked mostly smooth, and marked out for planting.

03 April 2010

Finally getting dirty

At long last, it’s time to get good and dirty in the garden!

Yesterday, The Reluctant Farmer fired up the bobcat and brought in about 20 bucket loads of 2-year old compost from where it had been piled to age. The resulting mix of mostly-dirt (the pile wasn’t turned or cared for in any fashion, so there are still some spots where the hay/straw is clearly recognizable) was rather haphazardly spread in the south area of the garden, where the row crops are going to be planted this year.

We follow two wildly different gardening strategies: we use both Square Foot Gardening and Gardening When it Counts. The root vegetables and small things like lettuce go in the square foot beds, and the tall and spreading things, like potatoes, peas, and beans, go in wide rows. Since we have a good, steady supply of soil amendments (barnyard waste is not waste around here!), square foot gardening isn’t as resource intensive for us as it is for people who have to buy their compost at the store; and since we actually do have a lot of room for our garden, we also have the option of wide rows for the kinds of things that do well in that system.

So, needing more raised beds for the herb garden expansion, I got out the air nailer and the skill saw and knocked together several more frames – we have plenty of scrap lumber, and as the garden used to be pasture (and thus is well populated with insanely stubborn grasses), it’s very useful to get the growing areas clearly marked off from the paths. Besides, the actual topsoil layer is very thin, and the borders for the raised beds hold in the upgraded dirt.

The garden plan was up to version “E”, and the actual implementation is, as always, turning out to be different yet again from the last iteration of the plans. It’s not too far off, though, and I’m finding that the work that went into the various drafts is, once again, saving me time in the actual implementation … even if it is different than it was on paper.

So, what’s out there so far?

Well, there is a 4x4 bed of onions planted: I had a bag of onion sets that I picked up last year and never planted, so those went in today (onions don’t mind being planted early). There were a lot of herbs that needed stratification, and so several of those went out today as well – there’s no point fussing with starting them indoors if Mother Nature will take care of the stratification for me. So, in a new 5x2 herb bed we have Meadowsweet (used as an anti-inflammatory and stomach remedy), Evening Primrose (an edible plant that is used for a number of medicinal purposes, including soothing muscle aches), Borage (for skin and women’s concerns), Lovage (a celery substitute that is also good for an upset stomach), Elecampane (for bronchitis and congestive coughs), Vervain (for fevers, and as a relaxing tonic), Coltsfoot (for dry coughs), Hawkweed and Horehound (both for congested lungs and coughs). Most of these I haven’t grown before, so we will have to see how they do.

In a new 3x3 bed we have Chamomile (for tea) and Mullein (for coughs and ear infections), and in another we have Poppies (for seeds) and Calendula (for soothing skin salves, and in tea for upset stomachs).

There’s also space set aside in a second 5x2 bed for the herb seedlings that are still indoors: chicory (for drinking as a coffee-type beverage which is also good for the liver, and as a dye plant), Wild Lettuce (which is a fabulous sedative that gives pleasant dreams and deep, satisfying sleep), Betony (a black tea substitute that also has some medicinal uses), and St John’s Wort (used in depression, but also topically for arthritic pains and as an antiseptic).

Up along the fence, I am trying a new strategy: my mom works at a camp kitchen where they use lots of gallon-sized tin cans. She saves them for me, and I’ve been using them as temporary plant pots for seedlings. Today, though, I took some outside and used the can opener to remove the bottom as well, making a tin can tube. I dug out a section of grass and twisted the can into the dirt, then filled it with good compost and planted seeds in the can. Basically, I made small round raised beds. I have some very old seeds that may or may not still be viable, and some other plants that I want kept separate - those that can cause skin irritation if handled in full sunlight, for instance, or those that I want to be sure nobody picks by mistake. So, in the tin cans I’ve now got dill (for cooking, and as a digestive aid), columbine and sweet peas (flowers from my ancient stash of seeds), two kinds of poppies (which may be seed poppies or may be the California kind, we’ll have to grow them and see), Rue (used as a dye plant, mostly, or very cautiously as a herbal remedy), California bluebells (more flowers), and Feverfew (for migraines and fevers). I also plan to put cilantro, chives and basil in tin beds (all herbs used for cooking), as well as woad (which is a dye plant).

This is most definitely the year of the herb garden: I like learning about the various herbs and their uses, and I have found them to be quite effective, even if my family makes fun of me for using ‘snake oil remedies’. The herbs do have to be used with knowledge and respect, of course – just because it grows outside doesn’t mean it won’t hurt you – but with a reliable herbal guide and careful selection of plants, you can make life a little more comfortable without spending money on ‘over the counter’ remedies. I mean, why take Nytol if a cup of strong wild lettuce tea will knock you out for the night, and let you wake up without a hangover the next day?

Besides, growing stuff just feels good.

Up next: veggies!