Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Farm Report: Growing For Volume

Back in April, I posted about maybe-possibly-perhaps growing food to donate to the food bank. I finally got around to hauling the first of it over today--a bunch of Armenian cucumbers, three or four gallon bags of snap beans, and a few stray tomatoes and summer squash.

The harvest so far hasn't been as plentiful as I imagined.  Not that I had a lot of crop failures. I just didn't plant a spring garden, and I forgot how long it takes for the summer garden to start bearing. Most of the tomatoes are still green. And I felt vaguely silly going over just to donate zucchini. I still can't quite believe that people really like zucchini. Zucchini feel like a prank. Even the name.

But there are a lot of those green tomatoes. Looming. Like The Birds. Hopefully there will be a bunch to donate soon. Just the dribs and drabs of two or three per plant gave me a couple of dozen to haul home.

The engineering part of my brain points out that if my primary goal were to help the food bank, I could instead spend the gardening hours working some overtime, and donate the money. I'm gardening for the fun and sanity; the mildly useful side effects are just mildly useful side effects.

But, hey, useful is better than not-useful, yes?

Having the goal of donation changes some of my gardening strategies. For example, last year I didn't much care about the distinction between the full-day versus half-day-sun parts of the garden, because even a halfhearted crop was enough for our kitchen. Now, I'm trying to go to some trouble to give the productive sun-lovers what they want. And I'm keeping an eye on the productivity difference between an indeterminate tomato given its own bed, versus four of them in one bed. And I'm debating the productive crops that we don't eat at all--like chard.

And so on.

All of which is fun--it gives me the excuse of pretending to be a small grower. The engineer keeps shouting, "Just write a check!" while the gardener enthuses, "I could grow a lettuce bed like in the pictures, and it wouldn't go to waste!"

I choose to assume that purity of motive is overrated.

That is all.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Farm Report: Rambling and Carrot Plans

I'm not writing much lately. Or sewing. Or taking pictures. Lately, I'm all about the farm.

("Farm": 70 foot by 70 foot vegetable garden.)

Right now my brain looks at hobbies that involve flitting from topic to topic, putting in a lot of thought and creativity and not necessarily coming out with any satisfaction, making long-term plans that may or may not pan out, and says, "Nope."

Compare that to the farm. Dig a hole. Insert a tomato plant. Water occasionally--or not, for the dryfarm tomatoes. The sprawling vines covered in fruit are a whole lot of satisfaction for very little thought.

The farm supports thought, if I want it to. I could do more dryfarm experiments. I could breed plants. I could experiment with different seeds, different fertilizers, different care, all sorts of things. I could spend hours and hours on the layout of next year's farm. There's ample room for thought.

But I don't have to think if I don't wanna. I can go out to the farm, pick a bed that's ready to be replanted, freshen it by the standard recipe (two cups of my chosen fertilizer, half a cubic foot of my chosen compost, meditatively loosen the whole thing with a fork inserted and tilted roughly every two inches, break up the clods with the little hula hoe, pat it all down to a manicured finish, put the weed barrier back on it, and plug it in to the watering spine) and plant something.

I'm going to plant carrots next. I'll add rock phosphate to the standard recipe. Some sources tell me that's a waste of time, because the phosphorus won't become available in the time it takes for the carrots to grow. They suggest bone meal. I don't want to work with bone meal. So I'm not gonna. So there.

The carrots are an experiment--I've never grown them successfully before. They involved a little thought, because my usual method of punching holes in the landscape fabric at an 18-inch spacing isn't going to work for carrots. Instead, I'm going to cut slits about two inches wide and twenty inches long, four of them per bed, and run miniature soaker hose down them. Right now (I won't get to this for at least a week, so the plan may change) I'm thinking that I'll mix the carrot seeds with vermiculite, sprinkle the mixture down the slit, and sprinkle the smallest bit of peat moss over it. And I'll set the irrigation to run five minutes a day in addition to the usual big watering every three or so days, until they come up. Or until it's clear that they've failed. I might go with the traditional advice to add radish seed to "break ground."

There was some thought there, but it was thought I enjoyed thinking. And I didn't have to justify the vermiculite to anyone, or write a budget request for the soaker hose, or explain what happened to the original plan to plant beans in that bed, or...

Yeah. My brain is tired.

So. Carrots. Also, lettuce. I (well, we--I had help) did the slits-and-soaker-hose thing to another bed. I planted some cauliflower and broccoli seedlings in that bed, but I plan to presprout some heat-tolerant lettuce seed and plant it between the seedlings while they're sizing up. I don't actually know if the seedlings survived--I planted them a few days ago and haven't been able to get back. But if they failed, I won't have to explain the failure to anyone, or write a report, or get authorization to repurchase them or to buy netting to cover them with.

Tired. So tired.

Farming is good.

Image: American Gothic by Grant Wood. Public Domain.  Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Finishing: Finishing

Last Sunday, a group of gleaners (summoned by Himself) came to take the extra fruit from the plum tree, so that this year the driveway won't be littered with fruit leather. Finished.

This Friday I picked every ready-to-eat bean, snap pea, tomato, strawberry, pepper, zucchini, pattypan squash, and cucumber in the farm. Well, every one that I could find--I'm sure that I missed a few, but I searched every plant, so hopefully none of them should be shutting down due to over-mature food. Finished.

I washed the strawberries and fed half of them to Himself and I (woohoo!), and froze the other half sliced with sugar. Finished.

I gave away all the zucchini and pattypan squash and some of the cucumbers. Finished.

The rest is in the fridge in nice little baggies and boxes. Not eaten or processed yet, but we have a plan. Just getting them promptly chilled and stored is a Finished.

After concluding that there's decent evidence that my recent lush hand-watering of the strawberry beds resulted in a fresh crop, I watered them again. Finished.

I finally ordered that bottle brush that I've been meaning to get forever, and cleaned that nice vacuum bottle that I've been meaning to clean, and used the bottle. A little thing, but finished.

I'll be Without Car for a little while, so I bought enough compost and irrigation supplies to get me through the next few weeks of farm prep. Not finished yet, but a nice clean clear step.

So. Finishing. It's a thing.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Farming and finishing

I've been reading about task switching and multitasking and the Kanban Work In Progress concept and all that stuff.  And the Zeigarnik Effect, the human tendency to remember unfinished tasks and forget finished ones. And some website (I'll link to it if I find it again) was talking about the tendency of overloaded people to take on little tasks, just to have the pleasure of finishing them.

I've always tended to have a lot of unfinished projects. Right now I have five ideas for books, several sewing projects in work, a whole gang of planned series for this blog that I never did. And so on. And opportunities to finish things at my job are increasingly rare.

Suddenly that's too much. My tolerance for the unfinished, untidy, un-put-away, "un", seems to be exhausted. I don't know exactly what the last straw was.  But there it is. 

I seem to be aiming all that Zeigarnik overload at the farm. (Usual disclaimer: 60 by 70 foot vegetable garden. "Farm" is a nickname.) Forming a plan. Setting priorities. Planning tasks. Doing them. Done. Finished. They're not big tasks, but all the same, finishing tasks, knocking them off one by one, seem to satisfy some craving.

Even something simple like picking all the green beans and snap peas that are ready, checking every plant two or three times, instead of stopping when I'm bored and leaving the rest to mature and slow down the plant. Full basket. Empty plants. Finished.

Do I have a point here? I'm not sure. Maybe I'll find out in later posts.

Meanwhile, that is all.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Rambling: Again the Rambling

So, what if I started blogging from all devices and without a plan? Would I blog more? Would it be worth reading?

Hm.

I'm writing on my phone right now (taptaptap) but I'm not logged in to the blog so I won't be posting instantly.

Part of the recent blog slump was because I was preparing for a Big Trip, and then on the Trip, and then back from the Trip. And I felt like I should blog about the Trip. But I didn't wanna. It was a lovely Trip, but apparently it requires some pre-blogging percolating. So I didn't blog at all.

Illogical.

If I had been able to blog in the moment ("Hey! I just saw a Himalayan blue poppy at the Chelsea flower show!") would I have?

Worth trying. Maybe.

Taptaptap.

I've been thinking a lot about my next career. I don't know if that will happen when I turn 65 (is 67 the official retirement these says?) or if I'll make a slow shallow turn in my current career. Or some other shift.

No, I'm not going anywhere with that idea in this post. Probably.

The farm is producing snap peas. Oregon Giant Sugar. I think. I need to recheck the name on the packet. Carol Deppe recommended them in The Tao of Vegetable Gardening, for both snap peas and pea sprouts eaten as greens. After eating the snap peas just three times, I'm totally sold and planning to plant at least triple the number of plants next year, and to attempt a fall-grown crop.

I was  surprised that the pods are flat--I expected them to be fleshy like other snap peas, and was afraid that the snow-pea-like flatness would mean snow-pea-like not-sweetness. But, no, they're quite sweet, the bigger the sweeter. Apparently the quite small ones are more snow-pea-like (I haven't eaten them really small yet) so I could treat them like two vegetables--maybe three if I eat the sprouts/tendrils. They get BIG, and eventually do produce nice little round peas. I suppose technically I could shell out those peas and declare s third/fourth vegetable, but that would be a tragic waste of the pods.

Another advantage is that a pod can sit on the vine for a very long time, from delicate little snow pea to big elephant-earlobe pod with filled-out peas. So if I don't pick in a timely manner, that's OK--I think a weekly picking would be just fine, as long as I'm good with a mixture of different sizes on the plate. And if I were going away for longer, I bet I could pick all the peas of all sizes and be good for two or three weeks.

They taste good. Really good. Sweet, but also with a flavor so distinctive that I want to figure out how to flavor butter and cook other things in that butter.

So far I'm just cooking them plain-with-butter: Boil a big pot of water, throw the snapped pods in, boil for one minute, dip them out into a strainer, dump the water, turn down the heat, throw in a glob of butter, let it foam, throw the peas into the butter, cook a little too hot until every bit of water from butter or bean is gone and the butter is syrupy and an occasional bean has a browned side--maybe two minutes. Put on plate. Salt. Eat. Look around for witnesses before licking the remaining butter off the plate.

Mmmm.

I think that's all. For now.

Image: (Ha! Fooled ya! No image!)
(Yeah, I'm a little sleepy.)

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Rambling: Rambling

So I've been away.

Literally in the sense of vacation (no, not since April 17) and figuratively in the sense of the not-writing.

Um.

I thought I'd write more here, but apparently I just needed to break the ice on resuming the posting. So, consider the ice broken.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Writing: Scraplet

(I wrote this to demonstrate a concept on a writing forum. Then the blog looked hungry, so why not?)

Jane's front door was open. She had locked it--she always locked it, and checked it, and sometimes came back from the car to check it again. Rebecca was always talking about OCD and a therapist, but was reduced anxiety worthwhile if it meant a laissez-faire attitude about locking doors?

Jane stared blankly at the door for a moment, then dumped the groceries on the step and rushed inside. She passed by the phone, she ignored the gun cabinet. She didn't stop, she felt as if she didn't breathe, until she was standing by the opened third drawer of the dresser in the second floor guest room, holding a threadbare stuffed rabbit. Then she released a breath. Muffy was fine.

At lunch later that morning, Rebecca asked, "You thought that burglars had come and stolen a twenty-year-old stuffed rabbit? 

"Thirty-two. My father got Muffy for me the day I was born."

Rebecca's tone was a fraction gentler, but the effort to keep it that way was apparent. "Hon, you are not Elvis Presley. No one is stealing artifacts of your childhood. Next time you need to call the police. Hon? Are you listening?"

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Gardening: The farm droning continues.

So, I've already drawn an alarmingly optimistic plan that involves tilling row 6, half of row 7, and the weedy ends of rows 8 and 9.

And planting

  • A block of four beds of Supai Red parch corn.
  • Four kinds of pole beans growing on the corn: Fortex, Withner, Blue Lake, and Scalzo.
  • Patisson Golden Marbre Scallop summer squash. This is another one that's supposed to be good as a winter squash as well.
  • Four more tomatoes.
  • Another try at Candystick Delicata, in a proper plushy bed, because I grew it lean last year and it wasn't good.
  • Enation-resistant snap peas in some of the half-shaded back beds, as an experiment.
  • And repeats of already-planned things.
I should get a grip.

I occasionally tally up the things that can be harvested late and stored, to make myself feel less wildly irresponsible:
  • The parch corn.
  • Most of the beans, as dry beans.
  • All of the cucurbits except for the zucchini and cucumbers.
  • The potatoes.
It's a short list. I don't really feel less irresponsible. Now, the Armenian cucumbers and Costata Romanesco squash are at least harmless--they'll just sit there and turn into useless dry, hard things. The same for the peas. (For all I know the peas might even be decent dry peas, but I doubt it. I'll look them up.) My concern is all those tomatoes.

But I don't seem to be erasing anything yet.

Many of the tomatoes are dryfarm experiments, after all. So most of them could just fail. Right?

That is all.

Gardening: Progress! Woohoo! And more droning on.

So, most of the top farm priorities are mostly done. This is well ahead of where I expected to by today. (Thanks, Cynthia! Cynthia did almost all the work.)

So, as of yesterday rows 10 and 11 are tilled and mostly ready (woohoo!) for us to insert seeds. I say "mostly" because in some cases we still have to do a little minor cutting of fabric and arranging of already-hooked-up drip lines. Those rows are ready to take:
  • Eight beds of Blue Lake bush beans. Beans are spaced roughly 18 inches apart, so there are twelve plants per bed. I realize that this is a crazy-wide spacing for beans, but they make correspondingly enormous bushes and aren't too demanding of water; so far this seems to work well.
  • Five tomatoes.
  • Two Armenian cucumbers.
  • One Costata Romanesco zucchini.
  • Two Sunshine F1 winter squash plants that we'll probably also harvest as summer squash.  These are vining squash, so they'll go in 11G and 11H, and I'll encourage the vines toward the sun.
  • An early girl in half-shade as an experiment.
  • Some Withner's White Cornfield Beans in half-shade as another experiment.
What's next? There are a few items remaining from the original plan:
  • Plant the first bed of potatoes. 
  • Prep for pumpkin plants.
What next next? Is it OK to plant more? Didn't I promise to make this the simple garden? Hmm.

For now, that is all.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Gardening: Droning On


I want to keep talking about gardening. But there's really nothing to talk about. For this year. (Look up there! Last year!)

But I could talk about the dozens of projects and crops that I'm not planning to work on this year. That could be interesting to see in some theoretical future when I have the simple garden chugging along and I have room for projects.

So, what are those possible projects?

Growing for donation. Like food banks and such. I've never grown for volume before, because we don't preserve things. But growing for volume could be an entertaining challenge.  And it could tie in with other things--for example, if I want to do a trial of multiple varieties (testing under dryfarming, or shade, or something) and lots of them succeed, I'll end up with too much food. It would be useful to already have a routine for giving excess away.

It would also feed fantasies of growing vegetables for income. That's purely fantasy, probably forever, but I like feeding fantasies.

Popping/parching grains. I've been curious about popbeans since I read the first version of Carol Deppe's Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties. And then about parch corn.  I tried parch corn, and I think popbeans, in earlier and more failure-prone years. And I seem to remember other popping grainlike things from her books. As I understand them, these are grains that don't pop explosively like popcorn, but instead sort of puff, becoming softly crunchy.

These are a gardening candidate because I have yet to find a way to just buy the grain or bean--you can buy popcorn anywhere, but not popbeans or parch corn. Apparently sorghum and amaranth and lentils can also be popped (sorghum makes adorable itty bitty popcorn; I had some at a restaurant the other day), but I suspect that I can just buy them. But I'm not sure.

All of these would, I think, be a kind of dried storage grain that I'd actually be willing and able to eat. I don't like dried bean or lentils cooked the normal wet way, and while I sometimes like polenta and I definitely like cornbread, I'm far too lazy to not only shell corn but also grind it. So they're a good choice for, among other things, the zombie apocalypse.

Tepary beans. These beans are supposedly appropriate for growing dryfarmed, assuming that you get them planted in still-wet spring weather. Of course, they run right into my dislike of dried beans. I just bought a bag of white tepary beans at the grocery, so I'll try them to see if there's any way that I like them. The interesting bit is dryfarmed beans that don't require support.

Sprawling Pole Beans. Speaking of beans that don't require support, Steve Solomon says that pole beans grown for dry seed can be allowed to sprawl on the ground. Could I get any snap beans this way, or would they get too much insect damage? It seems worth a try; I'd be annoyed to assume it won't work, struggle with supports for years, and then discover that it works just fine.

Bean Texture Experiments: I'd like to like dry beans. I don't like the mealy texture of most dry beans. So I'm interested in trying any dry bean that is reputed to have a different texture, such as the Hutterite Soup Bean.

Breeding: Snap/Dry Bean Crossover. Black Aztec corn is useful both fresh and dry. Sunshine squash is supposedly useful both as summer squash and winter squash. Fava beans are useful both fresh and dry. I have yet to hear of a regular common bean that is useful as both snap and dry.  Is there a fundamental reason why not? Does one already exist that I don't know about? Could one be bred?

Breeding: Shade-tolerant round snap beans. This may already exist, but I just read (Deppe, again) about the shade tolerance of Withner's White Cornfield Bean. They produce flat beans. We like round beans. Would it be worth playing with crosses?

Breeding: Sunflower buds/flowers as a vegetable. Supposedly, sunflower buds can be eaten. I keep growing them and not getting around to eating them. But if they're good for eating, then surely it would be worthwhile to do some breeding work

Winter Squash. Well, I'm already going to try those Sunshine squashes. If I like them, I'll try other things in other years. The premise is that while you can buy winter squash at the grocery, most of them are harvested immature and insufficiently cured.

Dried Summer Squash. Discussed in Deppe's The Resilient Gardener.  I want to like summer squash. I want to like it fresh, but so far I only like it when it's soaked in so much oil and garlic that it might as well be upholstery foam. So I want to try it dried.

There's more. Lots more. So much more. But I'll stop here.

Image: Mine.