Saturday, June 17, 2017

Gardening: More Perennials!


I may have mentioned that The Farm has 120 four-foot-by-six-foot beds.

Prepping and planting a bed--lifting the weed barrier, digging or forking, adding fertilizer, adding compost, possibly swapping the weed barrier with a piece that has suitable holes for the new crop, re-attaching the weed barrier, making a watering apparatus or moving in an apparatus suitable for the new crop, manicuring the soil of the holes or drills, possibly adding sand or vermiculite or compost to accept the seeds, possibly mixing seeds with sand, planting seeds or plants, possibly adding a layer of compost, watering the planting in...

Whew!

...takes at least a couple of hours per bed. Planting a line of several beds--like the 24-by-4-foot garlic bed or last year's 36-by-4-foot bean bed--doesn't really reduce it that much.

120 beds, two or three plantings per bed per year, takes us to, oh, maybe 300 hours of prep-and-plant per year.  On weekends, when the weather is suitable and we're in town and I have time. So this explains why I have yet to get the whole farm in production at one time.

Therefore?

Perennials. Edible perennials. Preferably what I'm calling "soft" perennials--the kind that are easy to move or eat or give away if I want a bed back for annuals, someday when I have more gardening time.

Currently, the perennial list is:
  • Six (seven?) beds of strawberries.
  • Three of black currants.
  • Two and a half of chives.
  • Half a bed of garlic chives.
  • One bed of thyme and oregano and tarragon.
  • One of sage.
  • One of rosemary.
  • One of perennial scallions.
  • Two of Jerusalem artichokes.
  • One of artichokes.
So, nineteen or twenty. I'll probably remember one or two more. So that's a little under twenty percent perennials.

My plans for more include:
  • Another bed of chives.
  • Another five beds of strawberries.
  • Two beds of garlic chives.
  • Ten beds (one full row) of blueberries.
  • Probably six beds of raspberries.
  • A sweet bay.
  • At least one more bed of herbs.
  • Ten roses along the left-hand fence. Probably rugosas, for lots of rose hips, so that they count as food. See the picture up top? Fruity!
  • Ten of something along the right-hand fence, where the ground is painfully gravel-filled from the parking lot next door. Something tough, like maybe butterfly bushes to bring in pollinators for the rest of the stuff.
  • Five evergreen shrubs of some kind, preferably edible or edible-themed, along the front of the five right-hand rows.
  • Another five at the back of those same rows.
What's that add up to? Seventy-six total, leaving twenty-four beds for annuals. Three-quarters perennials. I'm not sure if that's too many or two few annuals. And I'm a little worried about the high number of un-soft ones--for example, you can't peacefully pull a blueberry bush out of the ground and replant it or give it away the way you can a raspberry or a clump of chives. But it's going to take me plenty of time to plant the extra fifty-six (fifty six!) bed of perennials, so, I have some time to decide how much those things worry me.

Oh, hey, I forgot asparagus. And I keep thinking about breaking the edible theme and planting some peonies.

Anyway, it's a plan.

That is all.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Writing: Highly Flavored Fiction

As usual: Wow, it's been a long time since I posted.

So I've actually been writing fiction. A couple of weeks ago, I started a new strategy: the highly flavored strategy. I'm...

OK, let's just paste in what I wrote on a writing forum at the time.
So after talking about flow over in the writer's block thread, I did some thinking about what used to be rewarding back when I spun daydreams in my head. Some of the appeal, I realize, is that in my own head I embrace any situation that I find emotionally satisfying, even if it seems foolishly angsty or sentimental, and even if it doesn't necessarily fit a neatly coherent and likely plot. I go for immediate emotional reward. For the fictional equivalent of salt and fat and sugar. (Isn't there a Yiddish criticism that translates to "without salt or fat"? Or am I misremembering?)

So I sat down to write a scene in a fictional/fantasy world that I used to use back when I played roleplaying games (but it's my world, not fanfiction), with the deliberate determination that when something feels a little too salty or buttery or sugary, I'll embrace that something rather than back off. I'll embrace, in fact pursue, the overflavored first draft.
One goal, I realize a while after writing the above, is to have a period where I enjoy writing fiction. I usually enjoy having written fiction; I don't usually enjoy doing it. I'm enjoying doing this. I've written five thousand words since the third, which is admittedly not a lot, but it's (1) more than my official allotment of 300 a day (446 a day on average), (2) got written during a high-stress time when I'd probably write nothing, and (3) I enjoyed almost every minute of it. I say "almost" because the first couple of sentences, each time I sat down to write, had to fight against resistance, but then I was into enjoyment. Oh, and (4) The plot is surprisingly close to coherent.

The flaw with this as far as the blog is concerned is that highly flavored scenes give me stage fright, so I'm not willing to post them to the blog. We'll see if that changes.

That is all.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Rambling: Farm Rambling

Wow. A month since I posted.

I've been writing scraps of one of my book ideas. Not all that reliably, but more reliably than usual.

The farm is progressing nicely. Much of the following was already discussed, but, hey, I'll re-list!
  • Onions! All the onions! Garlic, potato onions, shallots, French grey shallots, perennial scallions. Oh, and I divided one big clump of chives into 21 sub-clumps. There will be a lot of chives. Later on, I'll do the same thing with a big clump of garlic chives.
  • The Oregon Giant peas are nice big plants and there's a flower or three in the bed; it shouldn't be too long for peas.
  • This past weekend I planted some potatoes--German Butterball, Purple Majesty, and Yukon Gem. Only three beds, instead of the planned six, but I did plant them mostly right. In a later post, I'll probably show pictures. If they, well, grow.
  • Sadly, the raspberries that I planted a few weeks ago didn't grow; six out of nine died. I'm not good with bare root plants. I'm going to prep another set of beds, get more raspberries from either the back yard or the grange, and fill those beds with the new ones and the survivors.
  • I'm moving the survivors because I really wanted to get some beans planted, and the spaces that the dead raspberries vacated were all ready for me to just poke some seeds into the ground. I planted some Blue Lake bush beans in part of it. In the other part, I planted Russian Mammoth sunflowers, with the plan of growing Fortex up them. I had very few of both means; I'll be ordering more.
  • Oh, and herbs. A few weeks ago I planted a new bed of oregano, tarragon, and two kinds of thyme. Soon I'll plant sage and marjoram in another bed.
Oh! And the overwintering cauliflower overwintered! I thought that it had "buttoned" (made an itty bitty head) but I ended up with three perfectly nice heads out of, I think, four plants. (If it was six plants that's obviously rather less successful.)

I'm extra pleased with this year's spring garden, due to the fall and winter planted crops; it doesn't have that sad desolate look. I'm going to try to plant more this coming year. Let's make another list:
  • Again, the garlic, shallots, French shallots, potato onions.
  • Lots more overwintering cauliflower.
  • A much bigger late summer crop of carrots.
  • Late winter peas again.
  • More potatoes--if they work this year.
But I'm also discovering that I simply won't do all the work required to plant every bed every year. So, I'm thinking about some added perennials:
  • If those perennial scallions take hold well, a couple of beds of them.
  • Another multi-bed block of strawberries.
  • Hedgy perennials that are kinda food: Rosemary, sweet bay, roses known to produce lots of hips.
  • Maybe daylilies. People eat the flowers, after all.
  • We've been planning a row of blueberries forever. Someday it might happen.
  • Probably some perennial flowers.
I look at the annual beds that that leaves, and I get nervous. But I've left a number of beds unplanted every single year; it would be a lot more fun to see things growing everywhere. I need to remind myself that if I have more time, I can always give some things away and go back to annuals.

And so. That is all.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

IttyBittyFictionScraps: In which people think

(The conversation continued, leading me to observe that I tend to do all-dialogue, or no-dialogue. This one is no-dialogue.)

Jane peered into the bakery case as she sipped her coffee. Buttercream. Candied violets. Crunchy sugar. Marzipan. Meringues. The cup was half gone by the time she finally ordered. A plate of a few things, please. A mini cupcake. And one of those little layered things. (And the counter girl showed no amusement or disapproval when she ordered it in exactly those words.) And a slice of yellow layer cake with pale chocolate buttercream.

She sat at the table by the window, the one with the cracked marble top. She finished her sugary lunch, then took out her notebook. Now. Get to work.

Who to kill?

And how?

Losing the museum director would throw the operation nicely into chaos, but he was management, and management was always distinctly replaceable. A temporary fill-in would be hired, and he might be, well, competent. That wouldn’t do.

So the key was to find those with irreplaceable skills. That might not even require killing anyone. She preferred that, in a mild way, just as she preferred to eat a salad once in a while. The climate control system, for example, was limping along, tended by a head janitor whose primary purpose was to serve as its nanny. Arrange for that man to retire, and the system would break down within weeks, requiring an evacuation of the more delicate bits of art.

Monday, April 10, 2017

IttyBittyFictionScraps: In which people move

So I posted an all-dialogue bit on the writing forum where I hang out, and there was a feeling from some people that occasionally a dialogue tag or even an action or a scrap of setting might be nice. So I wrote this. And once written, let's blog!

Joe ordered his third Howards End, drank it rapidly, and resumed drumming his fingers on the table. How could this have happened? What would they say? Would they ever forgive him?

“Wow, that’s a lot of glasses.”

Joe jolted out of his reverie and looked up at Alice. When did she get here? “Huh?”

She blinked. “A lot of… Nothing. What’s wrong?” She pulled out a chair and sat on the edge.

“You’re going to kill me.”

“Why?”

He took a deep breath. He grabbed the near-empty glass and slurped the last drops of ice-diluted blackberry vodka from the bottom. He kept on slurping long after the liquid was gone, and was reminded of those scenes in the movies where the traumatized character keeps on pulling the trigger on an empty gun. Click. Slurp. Slurp. Click.

“Joe!” Alice grabbed his shoulder and shook it slightly.

He put the glass down. “I lost the map.”

“Oh!” She released his shoulder. “Is that all?”

He stared. Wait. She wasn’t going to kill him? She always carried those knitting needles; he’d imagined himself being impaled, nailed to the chair. “What?”

“Well, it’s not as if I really believed that it led to treasure.” She air-quoted ‘treasure’. “It was just a fun thing.” She settled into her chair, hung her monstrous purse on its arm, and extracted her knitting. “No big deal.”

He kept on staring, and automatically reached for the glass again, but found to his surprise that he didn’t need its comfort. “Really?”

“Really.” She loosened a length of chartreuse angora. “Not a problem.”

“Is that how Stan is going to feel?”

“Oh.” She looked up, halting in the act of winding the yarn around the needle. “Oh.” The second ‘Oh’ was far deeper.

“He’s going to kill me, isn’t he?” He clutched the glass and started slurping again.

“Maybe you’d better run along. I’ll tell him.”

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

IttyBittyFictionScraps: Invasion

(A scrap written in response to the question of, how do you insert description of the narrator a first-person piece?)

Oh, dear God. It was Mom. I plastered on a smile and opened the door.

Mom tilted her head. "New haircut?"

The smile wavered. "Yes. I told you, I like it short."

"No, dear." She shook her head as she swept past. "It won't do. If you had a chin, that...mass of frizzy blonde might be all right. But with your little round baby face? No. But we can fix the damage. I'm going to make you an appointment with my stylist on Thursday."

"No, you're not." I chased her, glancing frantically around the apartment for evidence of...well, anything. Life. All life must be hidden from Mom.

"You're right." She turned back. "My mistake. Not Thursday. That's the appointment with the dietician."

"I don't need a dietician, Mom."

"Of course you do, dear. I know that you're not technically overweight, but people age. Ten excess pounds today leads to diabetes at fifty."

"That's insane!"

"It would be different if you had the height to carry the weight. Darling, you know the surveys; women five foot six or over are the ones with the good careers. Why aren't you wearing those heels I sent you?"

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Daily Drafts: Turnpike

I'm trying, once again, to write 300 words of fiction a day. I don't know why I'm posting this one. But I am.

What the hell?

Jane stopped at the end of the alley. What was that? There was movement, just barely, in the darkness. An alley and movement would make a person think of rats, or cats, or raccoons, or some similar unpleasantry—well, not that cats are unpleasantries, but alley cats often are—but anyway, that’s not what the movement looked like. It looked upright. It looked like people. Tiny tiny people.

What the hell?

After another moment of peering, she dug into her purse and extracted her phone. After some fumbling she had the flashlight-whatsit working, and she aimed it at the alley. It barely illuminated ahead of her feet, so she cautiously entered the alley for a better view.

The movement all but stopped as soon as she cleared the pool of light from the streetlight. As she moved forward, she heard the occasional skitter and caught a flash of movement in her peripheral, but her light illuminated nothing. Step, skitter, nothing. Step, skitter, nothing. She was halfway down the alley when she became suddenly aware of skittering behind her. Her heart thumped and she sped up, fast-walking to the other end of the alley, emerging rather quickly into a startled-looking post-theater crowd.

The man that she bumped touched her shoulder briefly and gingerly, saying, “You all right?” He glanced past her to the alley, then looked back to her eyes.

“Yeah.” She looked back too. “Yeah. Fine. Just fleeing the elves.” She smiled at him to make it clear that she was joking. She wasn’t.

“Sure.” He grinned, looking relieved. “Did you leave them a gift?”

“A gift?” She frowned and she smiled and she still shook a little.

“Yeah.” The grin weakened. Maybe he could see the shaking. “That’s what my granny said, anyway. It’s like a toll road; you go through the little people’s country, you leave a gift, or they’ll come get one, and you won’t like it.”

“Oh.” She still looked at him, her banter failing her.

Disconcerted, he offered, “They love tobacco, Granny always said. I could leave them a cigarette on your behalf.”

“Yeah.” She nodded. “Yeah. Thanks. I’d appreciate that.”

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Farming: Potato Grand Plan


OK, so I'm making a battle plan for planting the potatoes. I write up this sort of thing because I can't get at the farm right now and I want to do something!

  • Cut the seed potatoes if they need cutting. Do this the night before, to allow the cut edges to dry.
  • Buy 36 feet of 4 foot wide weed barrier.
  • Buy enough insect netting to cover 36 feet by roughly 8 feet.
  • Buy three bags of...uh...whatever the brand name of my preferred compost is.
  • Make sure I have a box of my preferred brand of dry organic fertilizer.
I pause here to note that this infrastructure will quite likely cost more than the resulting potatoes will be worth.  

This is alleviated by the fact that the weed barrier can, judging from my past weed barrier experiments, probably be reused for five years or more. (The warranty should tell me how long I can use it, but the warranty requires me to cover it with mulch, and, no.) I'm hoping that leaving it out to freeze will kill any disease that might pass from year to year; if research tells me that it won't, I have other uses for the weed barrier, though that does hamper this as an ongoing technique.

I don't yet know how long the insect barrier can be reused, but I also don't know if I'll need it or not in future years, so it might be a one-time experimental expense. It's not really insect barrier in this application, but cat barrier.

Anyway, this time I just want to see if I can create a "patient garden" method for growing potatoes without having all that loose soil to weed. Later, I'll focus more on making it a cost-effective method.

OK, moving on. Keep in mind that all the extra work is intended to prevent weeds once, rather than fight them all year.
  • Lift one side of the existing weed barrier on a continuous strip of six beds. Fold the barrier to one side of the bed, exposing the planting soil.
  • Ground-staple one side of the four-foot weed barrier to the other side of the beds, and one side of the insect netting over that. Fold that back so that the bed is still exposed.
  • Yank any stray weeds in the six beds.
  • Sprinkle fertilizer over the beds. One source says that since I grew beans in those beds last year, I should go lightish on the fertilizer.
  • Spread the compost over the beds.
  • Broadfork two beds.
  • Attack the two beds with a hand fork to mix in the fertilizer and compost a little better, especially in the center.
  • Dig a trench down the center of the two beds, 8 inches wide by 8 inches deep by 12 feet long, dumping the dirt to the two sides of the beds.
  • Place the potatoes in the bottom of the trench at a 9 inch spacing.
  • Cover the potatoes to a depth of four inches.
  • Collapse. If the collapse involves staggering home and groaning on the couch, put the weed barrier back over the bed to keep the cats from using it as a litter box, and pull it back again when returning.
  • Repeat the whole process from "broadfork" for the next two beds.
  • Repeat the collapse.
  • Repeat both again. Separating the work into two-bed sprints reduces the odds that I'll collapse prematurely and fail to plant anything. 
  • Yay! All six beds will be planted. 
  • Pull the four-foot weed barrier to its edge of the trench, and lightly staple it down here and there. It will be lumpy over the dumped dirt from the still-empty four inches of the trench.
  • Do the same for the existing six-foot barrier on the other side. This will have so much excess that I may need to formally fold it and staple down the fold in a few places.
  • Pull the insect netting over the whole thing and staple it down on the other side.
  • Done!
  • Collapse for a very long time, with extensive use of ibuprofen.
A few weeks later, when the potato plants are above the trench, hill up:
  • Fold all that insect barrier and weed barrier back again.
  • Yank any weeds from the tench that are too big to bury when I fill it in.
  • Fill in the trench and, if the potatoes are tall enough, hill up above it, leaving the little potato tops looking half-drowned.
  • If research suggests that it's a good idea, scratch in a little more fertilizer.
  • Pull the weed barrier up to the edge of the potato stems and lightly staple it down. This is the reason for the extra weed barrier width--it has to cover the hilled-up soil.
  • Cover with insect barrier again.
At this point, in theory, almost all of the soil is covered with weed barrier, and the potatoes are growing away underneath.

A few weeks later, try to find a chance to do a second hilling. This may involve stealing soil from another bed.

Then just wait. It occurs to me that when it's time to harvest the potatoes, I can follow the traditional advice of leaving them to dry on the ground for a few hours, because I can once again pull the insect netting over them.



IttyBittyFictionScraps: Mildew

(A scrap that I wrote as part of a discussion of that "show, don't tell" thing, in the writing forum where I hang out.)

Henry opened the fridge and studied the sticky, empty shelves. Half an inch in the milk jug. Broccoli browning on the edges. And that nervous-making smell that signals bad happenings in the depths of the crisper. If Jane were here, this would be the signal for "Grocery time!" in that terrible chirpy Scarlett O'Hara voice. He'd never have to hear that chirp again. Thank God.

But he really wouldn't mind a slice of her meatloaf.

Feh. Who needs meatloaf with a restaurant on every block? He shut the fridge and studied the window, watching as the rain ran down behind the...yeah, yeah, fine, so the glass was dusty, so what? A man has better things to do than chirp "Cleaning time!" and bustle around with lemon oil and a feather duster.

Feh.

Feh.

Don't you dare cry.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Fiction: Food Safety


I miss posting fiction. The theory was to stop posting and maybe I'd eventually write something that I could, y'know, submit somewhere, because you can't submit it after you've blogged it. But then I stopped writing fiction much at all. So, here we are. This one is from July, but I don't think I ever posted it.

The teacher told the second grade, "For tomorrow's art project, bring the shells from two hard-boiled eggs."

"Large or extra-large?" asked Josh.

"It doesn't matter."

"But it has to matter. Extra-large eggs are twenty percent bigger. That's more eggshell."

The teacher studied Josh, then sighed. "If you have extra-large eggs, bring two. If you have large, bring three. Then there will be extra."

"Okay." Josh nodded, content.

Josh's mother boiled three eggs before dinner and taught Josh to peel them, but the pieces came out too small. She boiled more after dinner, but the pieces came out with egg on them. She boiled more right before Johnny Carson, and made him promise to take them to school whole.

"Miss Othmar will show you how she wants them peeled."

"But peeling them is homework! You do homework at home!"

Josh's mother studied Josh, then sighed. "You can bring the eggshells in, too, to show your work."

"Okay." Josh nodded, content.

The next morning, Josh was horrified to learn that his father had thrown the eggshells into the compost heap.

"They're filthy! I can't bring those in!"

"I'm sorry, Josh. That's what I always do with eggshells. I didn't know."

Josh packed up the whole eggs and took them to class, where he told the teacher, "I wasn't too lazy to peel them. I peeled some others, but my father threw them away."

"It's all right, Josh," assured the teacher. "These are very nice."

"I've got three."

"Yes."

"They're extra-large, but I wasn't sure about the twenty percent."

"Yes."

"So I brought three."

"Yes."

"Is that enough?"

"It's plenty. You have extra. Don't worry."

Halfway through making the eggshell picture, Melinda Conner edged over to Josh. "Teacher says you have extra. Can I have some?"

Josh frowned at her. "Why didn't you bring your own?"

"My brother ate my eggs and put the shells in the trash. I would have gotten them back, but they touched the chicken package."

Josh's eyes widened, and they both said it at once. Like an acapella choir. "Salmonella."

They blinked at each other, and both of them smiled.

Fourteen years later, they were married. With two prenuptial agreements, and a spray bottle of diluted bleach in the kitchen. They were very happy.