Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Rambling: Hobbies

I continue to plan next year's farm.  The plan's settled down a bit, so there's less to blog about. I always find it vaguely disorienting when a hobby that has filled my brain to overflowing suddenly leaves room to spare. I'm still taking notes, drawing plans, choosing varieties, but it's just polishing and refining right now.

So the other hobbies edge in, peering and sniffing and vying for space. NaNoWriMo is on its way. The seasonal shift in my perfume preferences should be finished soon, so I could start in with the perfume again. I want to make a few more of a particular skirt that I wore over and over this summer. There's some cooking that I'm thinking about. I have a stack of books that I started reading and didn't finish. And so on.

But I want to avoid that splintered focus thing. My mind seems to be healing up, at least in the hobby realm (the work realm is another matter), but I don't want to start pulling it in a dozen directions again.

Maybe habits don't splinter focus as much? I've been working on a walking habit (Exercise? Exercise? Nooooo!) and a morning writing habit. Is there a place for a sewing habit, too?

Splinter splinter.

We'll see.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Patient Garden: Seed Fantasies

So, a large part of gardening is musing over seed catalogs--and, these days, seed catalog sites. Actually, I sometimes wonder if the actual dirt-and-plants part is just there to serve the catalog part, instead of the other way around. I think I'm joking when I say that. But I'm not sure.

So, the new candidates of the moment (for next year's garden) are:

Jimmy Nardello Italian Peppers: I wasn't going to grow peppers next year, but that didn't stop me from paging through the pepper section of the 2015 Baker Creek catalog. These jumped out at me, looking so classically pepper-like that they almost didn't seem real. But  don't like hot...wait, they're not hot peppers. But I won't eat all the fresh...wait, they can be dried. Patient food!

They're frying peppers. I don't really understand the idea of frying peppers (You cut them up and fry them with onions and put them on steak sandwiches, is that it?) but, hey, frying! And they're in the Ark of Food, so they're, well, cool.  Twice-cooked says that they have "an almost-overwhelming fruity sweetness that, when cooked, becomes creamy and complex". Well. Who wouldn't want to grow that? And, even better, apparently Territorial sells them as plants, so if I want to spend extra money, I can save myself the labor and uncertainty of growing them from seed. Well, they sold them as plants this past year--I don't know if they will this coming year.

So I've evicted something--I don't recall what--from the garden plan, to devote one bed to them. Of course, they could be evicted in turn, but I don't think so.

Ananas Noire Tomatoes: Next year's garden plan has four tomato plants. Just four. That's more tomatoes than we need, but which four?  This is complicated by the fact that we like our tomatoes very sweet and very low acid. And that's complicated by the fact that apparently sweet tomatoes aren't sweet due to sugar, but due to flavor aromatics that make them seem sweet. Or some such thing.

That doesn't help us pick a tomato. For years, we've been chasing a holy-grail tomato that a friend once gave us. It was orange, smooth-skinned, round, medium-sized. Last year I tried several orange tomatoes without success; this year I'm going to abandon the quest for that specific tomato and just go for "sweetest."

Ananas Noire sounds good, looks delightfully freakish (that's it in the photo), and it has the advantage of also maybe being available as a plant.

Mountain Magic Tomatoes are/were also available as a plant, and are sort of on the other end of the heirloom-to-modern spectrum. Red, round, smooth, crack-resistant, disease resistant--but apparently low-acid and sweet. Territorial pictures them as dried tomatoes as well, which is an interesting concept just in case we decide to break down and get a food dryer.

Surprisingly, that's just about all. For now.

Nardello Pepper Image: Territorial Seeds.
Ananas Noire Image: Territorial Seeds.

Edited to note that I have no affiliation with Territorial. It feels weird that I feel obligated to say that a company isn't compensating me to mention them. But when I mention a company in a post, I assume that people will tend to assume that they are. See? 

OK, that's all.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Blogging: Housekeeping

So is this a gardening blog? A perfume blog? A diary?

Nobody knows. But I've tweaked it just a bit, added a list of the six main topics, added a glossary to point to when I feel that some context is called for, removed some pages that I was failing to maintain, and, well, there we are.

I also removed a fair number of blogs from my blogroll--the ones that haven't had a post in so long that it seems likely that they've gone permanently idle. And now I feel bad, because I'll probably never know if they've re-awakened now. But it's done.

The garden is gently winding down. There's still plenty to write about. I have a dozen photos on my phone recording the process of shelling my corn. And I'll be putting in the garlic. And there's bed after bed after bed to prep, in gaps in the rain, on until spring. And the ittybitty lawn at the farm wants seeding. Plenty to write about.

But my mind is occasionally looking up and around and noting, "You know, I used to write about perfume." And in addition to the Farmer to Farmer podcast, I've started listening to Seamwork Radio.    And thinking about notions that I might want to gather for some sewing over Thanksgiving and/or Christmas.  And NaNoWriMo is coming up. Winter hobbies.

That is all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Patient Garden Crop: Lettuce again, and some rambling about seedlings

So, seedlings are not patient creatures. The plant is trapped in a tiny volume of dirt, totally dependent on you to come to its rescue when it needs water, food, light, more root room, whatever. First it wants the lights closer, closer, I'm starving! Then further, further, you're croooowding me! And water me, water me, water me right bleeping now! That's too much! Drain off the excess! My feet are all wet now! I think I see a mildew spore! Heeeeeeeelp!


But seeding in place isn't so straightforward either, at least for small seeds like lettuce. Their demands for water are, if anything, even more frantic, since the weather conditions are less controlled. And the imperfect conditions in general mean that I can't rely on every seed, or even every third seed, to sprout. I can plant three bean or corn seeds and expect two or three of them to come up; for me, the same is not true of lettuce. Part of the issue there may be lettuce seed's demand to simultaneously (1) be damp and (2) be exposed to light, in order to germinate.

I had some success with a couple of lettuce plantings, using two changes of strategy:

Soaker drills with automated watering: "Soaker drills" meaning the lines of mini soaker hose, running along slits cut in the weed fabric, that I've been mentioning in the past few posts. (If I'm going to keep making up my own phrases, maybe this blog needs a glossary.) The soakers are right next to the seed, and the automated watering timer allows us to run the watering for five minutes a day (well, we could even water for one minute a day, I believe) in addition to the usual substantial watering every several days. So the seeds don't dry out.

Presprouting the seed: Following, I believe, Carol Deppe's directions, I made myself a sprouter with a canning jar and a piece of window screening fine enough to keep the seeds in. I dump in about half a teaspoon to a teaspoon of lettuce seed (which is a lot of lettuce seed--I've been buying the larger packets since I started this) and run enough water into the jar to get it all wet. Then I pour the water out through the screen and shake the jar a bit to get the seeds to release from the screen and fall down onto the glass. The seeds should end up just damp, not in standing water. I repeat the rinse-and-drain two or three times a day.

To the right is a picture of the sprouting jar. That unappetizing-looking stuff clinging to the glass is the damp lettuce seed.

I realize that "two or three times a day" and "patient" don't really seem to mesh. But it happens to be patient enough for me, because I'm going to use the sink that the jar is sitting next to several times a day anyway. And if I slip and don't plant, all I've lost is some seed, which is why I'm buying the larger packets.

The impatient part of this is that the seeds need to be planted within roughly two days of starting the process. Or at least I think they do. By twenty-four hours after the first wetting, I can usually see little barely visible tendrils breaking their way out of a few of the seeds. By two or three days, a lot of the seeds have breakthrough and some of the tendrils are starting to look long enough to break with handling.

Just because I would have liked to know what lettuce really looks like when germination is well advanced, I offer someone else's picture. It looks like, yes, it would  certainly make long breakable...er...things, if I waited too long. So far, I've caught the seed before the tendril is longer than the seed.

So I did this, twice--soaked seed, planted it in two or three days next to mini soakers, and waited. And it did great. Too great. It was essentially impossible to get the seed out in anything but clumps, so I got clumps of three, five, ten lettuce plants all fighting it out in the same spot. I thinned where I could, but most of the plants were so close together that it was impossible to thin down to just one; removing its companions would have damaged the survivor's roots too much.

Last weekend I started gently digging up entire clumps and setting the tiny plants at a measured spacing. It seems to have worked, and the result is that I have lots of decent lettuce seedlings now at a time when it's getting a bit late to start new lettuce from seed. So, yay.

But I'd rather plant at a better spacing in the first place. Two weekends ago, before the transplanting experiment, I decided to test the possibility that the drills alone were the cause of the sprouting success and that the presprouting was unnecessary. I dug a tiny barely-visible trench down a drill, got a pinch of seed between dry fingers, and dropped seed. by. seed. by. seed. down the trench. Then I covered it all with vermiculate and hoped.

The result: Meh. One of the two varieties of lettuce planted that way seems to be coming up fairly nicely; the other hasn't shown its head. That's interesting--I expected universal failure or universal success--but it's not reliable enough. And the successful one took the full two weeks to get big enough (about the size of half a sequin) for me to feel even slightly confident that it's lettuce and not weeds. The failed lettuce variety might still emerge, but I'm realizing that I've already gotten used to and spoiled by the speed with which presprouted lettuce starts growing.

So I'm back to presprouting. A few pinches of Merlot lettuce are sitting in my sprouter. My next strategy for getting a more normal spacing is the cornstarch method, where you make a thin cornstarch slurry, mix the seeds into it, spoon the mixture into a Ziploc, cut a tiny hole in one corner, and squeeze the seed/cornstarch mixture out as if you're decorating a cake. I'm going to take pictures as I do that, and post again with the pictures if it works.

Which makes me think about the nature of this blog. I suspect that a normal responsible blogger would try new things, maybe a few times, and only after working out the kinks give you a nice professional informed post about how to use that technique.

Not me. I seem to prefer blogging my uncertainty.

That is all.

Sprouting jar image: Mine.
Lettuce tureen image: Wikimedia Commons.
Germinating lettuce image: By Rasbak at nl.wikipedia. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Patient Garden Crop: Parch Corn

So, dried corn is a pretty patient crop. At least, it was for me this year. I'm working out how to make it even more so next time.

Dig. This can be done at my leisure, as far ahead of planting as I please. No impatience here. And I can prep deeper now that I have the broadfork.

Fertility. Corn should be fed during the growing season, at fairly specific intervals. This year I got away without doing that, but I suspect that the crop suffered--the stalks seemed rather spindly. I got about one ear per plant. I don't know if that's a good crop for this variety or not.

Post-planting fertilization is an issue for the whole farm. I can't lift the weed cloth once a crop is in progress, so I can't add more solid fertilizer. And I'd rather avoid mixing up fish-and-seaweed; having to do so at specific times is an "impatient" requirement. So I need to sit down and do my research on slow-release fertility--rock phosphate and greensand and such. Neither of those take care of nitrogen, though. Is a legume cover crop an option? Does it provide slow-release nitrogen as it decays? Research.

Then there's water. The farm has automated watering, but the corn beds this year were watered with tubing with fairly widely spaced emitters, so there was no guarantee that water would be right on the seeds or seedlings. So I did some hand watering, which is incompatible with the patience thing. The drill-and-mini-soakers would take care of that. Really, I should grit my teeth and trust that the seed will emerge from one good soaking at planting time, but the precisely placed watering will be good for the rest of the season.

Planting? I planted the seed in groups of three, the seeds an inch apart, the groups eighteen inches apart. The idea is to end up with one plant every eighteen-or-so inches. Next time I would plant the seeds more like three inches apart, because by the time I got around to thinning, I was afraid that ripping the losers out of the ground might cause root damage to the winners.

I might also increase the per-plant spacing. That might help with the fertilizer question--the wider the spacing, the more nutrients for each plant to rummage around for.

Then? When the corn was up and thinned, I was pretty much done until harvest.  (Weeding? You might ask. Remember, weed cloth.) I admired the corn patch and was pleased with each stage. Getting tall! Tassels! Ears! Kernels in ears! Kernels turning red! Kernels no longer puncturable with a fingernail! Woo!

Then, harvest. The corn was near dry by the time I harvested it, but the harvest window felt a little tight. If the rainy season had started early, I would have had to harvest still-soft corn pretty quickly and fuss over getting it to dry without molding. A shorter number of days to harvest would be better.

So, next time: Consider a shorter-season corn, prep deeper and plusher with the best slow-release fertilizer scheme I can think of, choose a wider spacing, use mini-soaker drills, plant seeds further apart in their groups (marching along a drill), soak the planted seed and force myself to wait for emergence, and water rarely but deeply.

OK, then.

Meanwhile, I'll admire the corn picture.

Image: Mine.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Prep and Planting: Garlic

This weekend, I prepped beds 6B through 6E (96 square feet) for garlic, even though the garlic hasn't arrived yet. I'm doing work even though there is no neglected plant material slowly dying in the fridge or on the porch.

Yay me!

The (excessive) detail: I broadforked the beds to loosen the soil down to twelve inches. Then I used a digging fork to break up the big surface clods from the broadfork. Then I tried to (mis)use the hula hoe to break up the small surface clods from the digging fork. Then I watered the bed to soften up the remaining dry bits, and I'm planning to come back and repeat the hula hoe part after it's had a chance to soak in and mellow.

This is a lot of tool time. It probably wouldn't have been necessary if the soil had been in better shape, so in the hope of making it all easier next year, I added double the usual annual compost when I added fertilizer. I don't think these beds got any this year.

After all that, I cut slits in the weed cloth for drills and assembled soaker hose, etc., etc., in the usual way. The new usual way. As in this post. So, except for the final hula hoe run and stapling down the weed cloth and soakers, the beds are ready. I'm pleased with myself for doing the job thoroughly and not stalling on anything that could be done. That finishing thing.

I need to prep three more beds for the garlic. Plus one for the potato onions. And one for the shallots. Y'know, later. Meanwhile, ow.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Patient Garden: Planning

So as the summer farm shuts down, I continue to plan the fall/winter/spring-all-those-future-times farm. I find myself looking at perfectly productive bean and tomato plants and demanding, "Are you done yet?" Bad ungrateful farmer.

Last year, my planning was all focused on a drawing of the farm. This year it's all about bed counts. The farm has a total of 120 beds, each with four feet by six feet of growing space. They're organized in rows One to Twelve, each with beds A-K. (Yes, that's eleven letters. We skip I to avoid confusion with J when rapidly scribbling. So, ten beds per row.)

But the count shrinks in the planning, as I reluctantly accept my limits--I'm not going to prep 120 beds to the plushness needed for vegetables and plant every one of them with different fancy things. At least not this year.

So rows One to Four--forty beds--are the pumpkin and flower patch. The flowers will be types that will consent to grow in lean soil, and while the pumpkins need to grow plush, each pumpkin plant will occupy more than one bed and won't need a lot of intensive planting.

So that leaves me with eighty beds.

Row Five is reserved for blueberries--all ten beds. I hope that we get the soil acidified and the blueberries planted this year--we've been planning it for the last two or three years. But whether we do or not, it's not going to be used for anything else. So, down to seventy beds.

Row Ten is all strawberries. And we're going to leave three beds each of the existing strawberry areas, so that's sixteen beds of strawberries, and fifty-four beds remaining.

Row Twelve will be all beans, Blue Lake and Fortex probably. Forty-four beds remaining.

There are a lot of salad greens and alliums and roots (carrots, beets, blah) that I want to plant and harvest, plant and harvest. I want lots of salad leaves, in particular as discussed in this post. So, ten beds, dotted here and there, will be "salad". Down to thirty-four.

Seven beds of garlic, plus one for grey French shallots and one for potato onions. Twenty-five.

While we're talking about onions, one bed for scallions, maybe perennial scallions. Twenty-four.

Four beds for herbs. Twenty.

We eat a lot of broccoli and cauliflower. So I've allotted them eight beds, ignoring the three beds already hosting overwintering versions. Twelve.

Three beds of Copra onions, because I miss them. But this year I'll grow them from seed. Buying plants just seems wrong. Nine.

Black currant bushes already occupy two beds. Seven.

Two beds for tomatoes, two plants each. Five. This is a huge tomato reduction. We didn't make much use of this year's tomatoes; I think that the reduction is appropriate.

Two beds for Armenian cucumbers, two plants each. Three.

And the last three beds will get raspberries, so that we're growing our three favorite soft fruits.

This leaves a few things out. If I fall in love with the parch corn, I'll eject something and put it back in. The same for the Candystick Delicata. And potatoes, potatoes, what to do about potatoes?

Anyway. There's also the question of succession plants. The crops that I've listed are just the priority crops for the beds--the crops that the bed is required to be ready for. But there's lots of time around these crops. The beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers won't go in until May. The garlic, shallots, and potato onions will be out sometime in midsummer.


That is all.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Patient Garden: A Tale of Two Beds

I like to keep track of things. I want to keep track of my farming processes. So here I blog about my process for "flipping" a bed--taking a bed that's finished with its previous crop and preparing it for the next crop.

Have I mentioned my new broadfork? A broadfork is a bigger, freaky, acrobatic version of a regular digging fork. I want to dig deeper and better. but still dig mostly with hand tools, so I decided to try the People's Broadfork from Meadow Creatures, which is supposed to loosen the soil to a depth of twelve inches. The cool thing about a broadfork is that you don't push it down with your knees like a regular garden fork or like a shovel. Instead, you climb on top of it, using your weight, rather than your muscles, to push the thing into the ground. See the woman in the picture on the Meadow Creatures site? Like that. My knees have expressed a rather firm "Don't push me," attitude lately, so I like the idea of putting less load on them.

(And, no, Meadow Creatures did not pay me with chicken wings or perfume samples or garden equipment or anything else to mention them. I just like the fork.)

So. Earlier this year, I grew peas in two beds. They finished off sometime in midsummer, and I got around to snipping the plants off at ground level (the ones that didn't just break off) in...August? The idea of snipping rather than yanking was to leave their roots in the soil to decay and add organic matter. No, I have no idea whether this is actually a valid strategy.

My bed-flipping steps were:

I yanked the ground staples that were securing the weed cloth over the two beds, uncovering a four foot by twelve foot strip of dirt.

I broadforked the two beds. This took me about fifteen minutes, which is far less time and effort than it would have taken to dig the beds much more shallowly with a shovel. The photo below shows the halfway point--the left-hand side is forked; the right is still fairly compacted soil.

Below is the bed fully forked, with the broadfork triumphantly posing. 

The broadfork leaves pretty big clods. as you can see in the photo. Or at least, it leaves pretty big clods the way I use it--I may just have bad broadfork technique. A shovel would do the same. A regular garden fork would break the soil up finer. I'm debating how I feel about this. If I needed a really fine seedbed, I guess I could fork and then shallow-till with the electric tiller. But the below are my usual steps.

I sprinkled organic fertilizer over the whole space, using an amount at the high end of the cups-per-square-foot on the bag. I feel as if I should be composting or collecting herbivore manure or applying rock dust that will provide nutrients for years and/or brilliantly cover-cropping for fertility. But for now--bagged organic fertilizer. And sometimes rock phosphate. And I'm trying to find a reliable source of greensand.

And what about compost, you might ask? Well, I've been reading that I should perhaps minimize compost additions to avoid the threat of symphlans, and this bed got a generous dose of bagged organic compost before the peas. So no compost this round. These beds will probably get some when I refresh them again, maybe in late spring.

Then I broke up the big clods, by abusing my smaller hula hoe. You can see the job two-thirds done below. This is absolutely not what the hula hoe is made for, but it's by far my favorite tool for breaking up soil. I would be doing this if I had dug with a shovel or a conventional fork, too.

Then I manicured the bed. That is, I got down on my knees (Oof. Ow.) and ran my hands over the soil, squishing clods and smoothing it all out for a fairly even surface. 

Then I hooked up the watering.  The plan is to run three drills down each bed, so I plugged three lengths of mini soaker hose into the watering spine, each of them twelve feet long plus maneuvering slack.

Next, I re-covered the bed with the weed cloth, and cut slits for drills where the cloth previously had holes. Most of the ground is covered, and I can plant in the drills at whatever "spacing in the row" that I'd like to use.

Then I arranged the mini-soaker along the drills, and turned in the water for a leak test.

And it's done! Ready to plant. 

Other Images: Mine.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Harvest: Parch Corn!

I grew parch corn!

You're not excited enough.


Are you excited yet? I can get louder.

Specifically, Supai Red parch corn. This is my second time trying to grow it, and many years of wanting to try it.

Now, I haven't technically "tried" it yet, because I haven't parched any. I tried and failed. I think it needs to dry a while longer.

What is parching, you may ask? I'm not actually sure; my understanding is that it's something almost, but not entirely, unlike popcorn. Or sort of like puffed rice You heat it and it "poofs." I think.

It's beautiful, isn't it? I was hoping for a couple of ears, but instead I got about forty. So, yay!

If it never parches, it's still flour corn. Apparently all parch corn is flour corn. (But not all flour corn is parch corn.) So I'll find a way to grind it.

Anyway, yay!

That is all.

Images: Mine.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Patient Garden: Potatoes


Potatoes are the subsistence food, but they're also jolly. After the zombie apocalypse, we'll all be munching on French fries.

The problem with growing potatoes is the dirt. Now, everything grows in dirt, but for most crops, you  pretty up the dirt with fertilizer and compost and stuff, you pat it all down all nice and neat, you insert the seeds and/or plants, and then you're done with the dirt. Well, at least I'm done with the dirt, because I do that weed barrier thing.

Potatoes involve a lot of dirt encounters. First there's the normal soil prep, with an extra priority on that loose, friable soil thing. Then you're likely to dig a trench to plant the potatoes in. Then the potatoes come up and you bury their stems once, twice, maybe three or four times. By the end the trench has been filled and the bed is now likely mounded up to a hill. Dirt, dirt, dirt.

All that soft friable dirt stuff attracts (1) weeds and (2) cats seeking a warm sunny litterbox. I disapprove of both. In my single bed of potatoes last year I thwarted the cats with a layer of floating row cover. That didn't do a thing against the weeds (in fact, it probably encouraged them) and it also added heat to potatoes already coping with a too-warm spring. So that's not a plan.

After a fair bit of dithering and sketching, I dreamed up a scheme that involves cheap three-foot weed barrier or maybe paper row cover, Crystal Geyser one-gallon square jugs with the bottoms cut out, and, well, potatoes. I may blog a sketch later. Or photos even later. Details aside, the plan lets me cover most of the potato soil against the weeds and cats.

This method isn't "patient", because it requires that I show up at a fairly specific time to do the first hilling, but I'm trying to make that as easy as possible by digging the smallest possible trenchlike hole for each potato, thus requiring the smallest possible amount of soil for filling in--maybe little enough that I could ask a friend to do the first hilling if I'm going to be out of town. The second hilling will be much more work, but if the original hole is fairly nice and deep, it will be moderately optional.

All of this ignores the cost of inputs. In addition to compost and fertilizer, I'll need four feet of weed barrier and one Crystal Geyser jug per plant. (And, yes, I am getting the MacGyver vibe. I'm just ignoring it.) I want the cost of all that (admittedly, I guess I'm going to drink the water) to be lower than the value of the potatoes.

Though I'm going to do it either way, at least one year. Got to be prepared for the zombies.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.