Saturday, August 27, 2016

Farm Report: Seeding for Winter


The summer garden is summering. Beans. Armenian cucumbers. Tomatoes. Pumpkins and corn ripening. All that stuff. We eat stuff. We give stuff away. Yay.

But my focus is now on the fall and winter garden. Yay!

Why is the future garden so often more fascinating than the present? I don't know, but I'm going to write about it anyway.

The overwintering cauliflower and broccoli and sprouting broccoli plants, planted as ittybitty soil blocks, are now nice big seedlings. So far, they're staying well ahead of insect damage; we'll see if that keeps up or if this will be a Lesson Learned about insect netting. I've been wanting to taste overwintering sprouting broccoli since I heard of it; I hope it works this time.

Meanwhile, I presprouted some butterhead lettuce seed and planted it in the space that the broccoli and cauiflower don't yet need, next to lines of quarter-inch soaker hose (programmed to water five minutes every day in addition to the longer less frequent watering) and it grew--in 105 degree highs!  Lots of little inch-high lettuce plants. Yay for presprouting. And for soaker hose.

The mini-soaker scheme also worked for the beets--I planted Merlin beets a little over a week ago right next to soakers, and they came up so well that I had to do a whole lot of thinning just to get them to half an inch apart. I'll go back soon to get them to the recommended interim spacing of three inches apart. (From my reading, the three inch spacing gives you enough space for baby beets, and at some point you remove (and eat) every other baby beet to give you a six inch spacing for bigger beets.)

I just finished prepping the "salad garden"--beds A through D of Row 8, four 4 X 6 beds in a row, so a total space of 4 X 24. (A handy space for a very short low tunnel later.) I'm cutting three slits down each bed, six feet long and eighteen inches apart, and putting a soaker hose along the slit.  This gives me a total of twelve six-foot "rows". A little more tweaking, and they'll be all ready for seeding.

Ooh, seeding.

What to grow? I've got plenty of options in the seed box. Four different kinds of scallions. Two kinds of carrots. Two big packets of green butterhead lettuce (Tom Thumb is presprouting as we speak). Mache. Kale. Peas that I could grow for peas or pea sprouts. Little cabbages. I'm about to send of for golden beets and Fordhook chard and a red lettuce.

Let's make up a plan:

  • 1: Evergreen Hardy White Bunching Onions
  • 2: Tom Thumb butterhead lettuce.
  • 3: Red Kitten spinach, grown for small salad leaves.
  • 4: Russian Hunger Gap kale, grown for small salad leaves. I'm wasting the potential of this kale; its claim to fame is bolting late to produce kale raab. But I've got the seeds, packed for 2015, so I'd better plant them soon or never.
  • 5: Guardsman scallions
  • 6: Oxheart carrots
  • 7: Golden beets
  • 8: Fordhook chard, grown for small salad leaves.
  • 9: Summer Island scallions
  • 10: Tom Thumb butterhead lettuce.
  • 11: Soloist hybrid Chinese cabbage
  • 12: Red Baron scallions
How's that look? A lot of scallions, but I want to taste all four of those scallion types. Only one kind of lettuce, but salad leaves will also be coming from the spinach, kale, chard, and beet greens. And as things come out, I might be able to replace them with lettuce. (I say "might" because when the temperature gets too low I can plant lettuce all I want, but it won't actually grow.)

I like it. We'll see if I actually plant it that way.

That is all. For now.

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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.