Monday, December 28, 2009

Harvest Monday

First time I remembered to do this. The slow harvests are probably helping my memory! At any rate, while I think that year-round gardening is great, sometimes it's difficult for me to remember that some things have to be done at the "right" time for optimization. For instance, late December is pruning time. Instead of writing it down on my calendar, I determined to remember it. Usually that doesn't work well, but this time it did!

In the interstitial time between Christmas and New Year, I've gotten a lot of nest-neatening stuff done, and that included a big prune yesterday. All of the fruit trees, and some of the herbs, got their yearly haircut. The little trees that were put in last year seemed too little to cut, but I remembered the instructions -- cut all summer growth back by 50%. So I gritted my teeth and did it! I hope I get a nice harvest this year, with new watering plans and a fertilization schedule.

But first, a few ounces of spinach and some baby beet greens for salad. This was easily the worst tasting spinach I've ever tasted. It was awful. I would have enjoyed grazing as much as I did this. Ugh. It's "Wolter," and I don't know if it's the lots of rain or what. In past seasons, it's tasted better. The chickens are going to love it if it keeps tasting like this. Pretty, though.

All that pruning led to lots of citrus harvest, even without the Meyer lemons I'd made into sorbet for Christmas. This is the first year the lime has been in full production, and I'm delighted. I haven't weighed it yet, but the basket is heavy. I'm putting off juicing and freezing the fruit because my wrists will ache afterwards. Candying the lemon peel is a pretty good idea, too, and I'm thinking I might do that tomorrow. Some I'll probably grate and save, though, too.

So that's it, pretty much. The carrots are swelling slowly in the ground and the peas are starting to think about bearing. It's a nice time in the garden here. If you want to join in the fun, Daphne is the ringleader of Monday harvests at Daphne's Dandelions. You can head over there to see other folks and what they've grown.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Art imitates life

The kids and I decorated gingerbread houses that I managed to design, bake and assemble right on time (perhaps the last thing I'm going to do on time this year) and each one reflected its decorator's personality. The eldest made a painstaking mosaic of candy on her roof, the next one made an exuberant self-declaration, the third made a military installation, and the fourth followed along gleefully, sticking candy hither and thither.

She also looked up and said, "Mama made the backyard!"

And so I did.

"I'm not a witch, I'm not a witch!" But that is, in fact, a witch in front of my cottage. My temper is beginning to feel a little stretched these days. Perhaps this being the solstice and all will help -- more daylight makes me much less witchy!

Chickens for eggs. I've already had a Jordan almond omelette from this hen.

And of course, no yard is complete without a hive of busy bees. I guess this kind likes the snow.

I hope the turn of the year finds all of you looking forward to longer days and stress-free celebrations.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Right on schedule

I am, weirdly.

But first, pictures from that three year old Christmas present.

I think she likes it. If she doesn't want to wear it, it would make a nice table runner:

Close-up of mistake free section.

Friends and acquaintances keep telling me how stressed they are by holiday preparations. I keep waiting for the "oh no oh no oh nos" to hit, but they haven't.

You see, I have a Secret Plan. It involves A List:

If I do everything on that list, in the order listed, I should arrive at Christmas morning serene and with enough sleep. We shall see. Tonight, I finished one Fetching, in Jimmy Bean's 8 ply from stash.

Here it is spokesmodeling one of the uneaten gingerbread houses I got made up and decorated with the kids yesterday. (I delivered them, fully assembled, right on time. A List.)

Now I have to go and quilt one end of a lap quilt before I go to bed. Yawn.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

While I was hiding from the rain

The weeds had a party, especially under the Reemay. As the cover whooshed off, clouds of little gnats flew up, and revealed:

I think this must be some kind of braising blend -- at least I'm going to treat that like mizuna and cook it. I won't be cooking the oxalis or the grasses. The chickweed might find its way into a salad or three.

The spinach is doing well, with only a bit of leaf miner damage. I'm contemplating a salad.

Weeds were having a pretty good time among the Bedazzled sweet peas, too.

Someone needs to get the memo about "winter" to the Anna apple. I wonder if there will be a crop this year, or if it's just all cattywhompus.

Green snow peas appear to be recovering nicely from their November Nibbling.

The Golden Snow peas have missed out on all predation -- I have high hopes.

Some of the peppers are still hanging in. I began harvesting the piquin ones and will try to finish harvesting tomorrow. I hear the rain is going to slack off for a few days. I should probably get to weeding, too.

In just a day or two, I think our first shelling pea harvest will commence! Nothing like a three-pea beginning. These are "Alaska."

Winter gardening here, except for the dratted weeds, is pretty much pure pleasure. Low pests, easy weed pulling, and tasty salads and stir fries.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sweet and cold

Yet another night of survival of the most frost-tolerant here. The courage to visit the peppers out back hasn't yet arrived for me. I did see that the side of the front not under the street tree had a bit of frost on it -- mostly it's the artichoke I'm concerned about out there (although if the aphids infesting it got hit, that would certainly make up for a bit of frost damage!).

I know that to those of you up to your knees or necks in snow and ice, my whining about the weather only confirms the worst stereotype of Californians, especially the crazy tree-hugging econuts in the bay area. As I told Eric when I'd wear a sweater at 80F in Arizona, it's not the absolute temperature that matters, it's the relative one. We're just not used to (nor are our flimsy Victorian houses made for) weather much under 40F. Neither are many of our plantings.

On my way back inside after the school run, I went to examine the neglected rasperries on the side -- their support wires need redoing to follow the slope of the yard. For now, they're just sprawling.

I found these two, with more behind!

They were so cold that they didn't taste until they'd warmed up in our mouths. It's really not the season for these, and they aren't "Fall Gold." In fact, I don't think those bore this year. I think they're just dual season red ones that fired a little late.

I don't know whether to apologize or revel. We may have crazy politicians; our houses may cost more than is reasonable (and be worth less than we owe on them); we may spend too much on good coffee and talk about local food enough to make people roll their eyes, but darnitall, I've got berries in December.

Now I'm going to huddle by the heat stove and drink tea.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I should have listened to Kevin

He actually called me and told me to cover my plants. "Yes, of course," I answered, but then talked to Denise, who said that the forecast had already put the coldest temps behind us, plus we'd had an inch of rain Sunday night. Well, last night was beautifully clear, so. . .

Red kale and carrots:

Broccoli and spinach and beets:

Tat soi:

It was still a a little dark when I got outside with the camera. I hope that all the things in the garden bounce back, as they're all pretty hardy -- excepting the peppers. I'll pull those if they turn black. I'm also worried about my artichoke, and watching it as the frost melts. Things surprise us here, though. In a land where people grow what are houseplants anywhere else in their yards, odd things happen.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Peathetic, that's what it is, peathetic

Anyone else obsessively read Winnie the Pooh to their children? That story was one of my favorites. Poor Eeyore and his birthday party. Aaaaat any rate. . .

All of the children love snow peas. They get sort of fought over in stir fries and other dishes. Many of the kids like shelled peas, also. Those get stirred into pasta, and I remember the kids eating them as little frozen snacks when only babies (the kids, not the peas).

So I figured, based on last year, that I'd grow both kinds.

"Alaska" seems to be a basic bush pea, that many seed companies carry. They're supposed to get 30" tall, so I figured I'd try the compostable sticks method of staking them. Seems to be working out well -- they're blooming and setting peas and I'm sure they're going to enjoy ten straight days of rain next week.

I also tried "Canoe," a pea from Territorial, as they promised that there would be so many peas crammed into each pod that it wouldn't matter how many you planted -- peas galore. They are significantly shorter, so far, than the Alaska peas, and while the Alaskas have small leaves and graceful, delicate tendrils, the Canoe are like the rugby players of peas.

Rugby players with wild, enthusiastic hair. Their tendrils grow in bunches, like ferns with attitude. I don't know if they hold on any tighter; they're not that big yet.

We'll see if they respond happily to their upcoming near drowning.

So far, so good. But what about snow peas? Remember, I was going to grow so many that we could stuff our freezer full of them and not buy any more packaged, sad-looking snow peas? I even planted the long bed, where the tomatoes had been, full of them, all along the sides of the drip hoses. We were going to do nothing but pick peas.

The birds appear to have had other ideas.

Although the peas have sprouted well, every single one seems to have sustained multiple bird attacks. It's "off with their heads" all the time in that bed. I don't know if the birds have noticed the golden snow peas planted later in the lower half of that bed. Last year, there was the same problem. Apparently it's a timing issue -- they just have to get big enough to not be interesting, and these were planted at just the right time to seem like a thoughtful buffet for the beaky ones. I don't want to fuss with bird netting, so I'm going to plant again and again, just before the rainstorms, and see if I can get a few crops out of this.

Remind me of that when I'm moaning about how many peas there are to pick and freeze, okay?
Michelle, or as I refer to her privately, "The Studmuffin of Seed Saving," sent me some "Green Beauty" snow peas. Here's where they're going to go, after I rip out the sourgrass, of course.

These are going to get a little Reemay jacket until they're big enough to stand up to the bullies.

Hope your predators are either too cold to predate or elsewise occupied!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wonder if it's doing okay without me

I've been away from the garden since Tuesday, and I'm wondering how it's faring. Are the peas filling out the pods? Is the red kale ready to eat? Have the birds stopped beheading the baby snow peas?

I'm thousands of miles away, and having a great time. Today we went to Carnton Plantation for a reenactment (on the anniversary) of the Battle of Franklin, an utterly brutal Civil War battle. Approximately 10,000 soldiers were killed or injured. The house still has bloodstains on the floor from the wounded hospitalized there. It was cold and breezy, and the reenactment didn't have the same flavor. As Denise pointed out, no one was screaming in pain or calling for their mothers. I wonder if our boys would stop playing shoot'em up through the house if they had any sense of the reality of war? Tomorrow, I'm taking the kids to a house in the town that experienced heavy fighting also.

On the brighter side, there were some neat features in the gardens.

A beautiful log pergola type thing.

And a fascinating espaliered pear tree arch. This gives me ideas!

There were also a couple of beds of hardy greens, but not that many.

Away or at home, I hope you're all enjoying your gardens in some way.

Knitting while Traveling

A big family Thanksgiving isn't the only way to go, but every few years I like to get together with all of my cousins, or at least as many as will get together at the old farm place, and Thanksgiving is a fine time to do it. So I'm in Tennessee right now.

I brought an early Christmas present to my mom. This was started back in 2006, and put in time out for some mistakes I couldn't fix then. Denise suggested that I neither fix them, nor even find them, but bind the piece off and call it good. After I knit that edging, then pinned it out for blocking, I found the mistakes. . . but it's okay. After three years, my memory sort of softens.

She said she'd put on a nice blouse and model it for me tomorrow.

A stop at Bliss Yarns in Brentwood to meet up with some absolutely lovely Ravelers led to these two skeins of local alpaca coming home with me. I love that the name of the animal is on the label. These come from Teardrop. Teardrop has a nice gray coat.

These are going to become either Brünnhilde or Ceangaltas Mittens from Knitting New Mittens and Gloves. Is it only coincidence that they almost perfectly match the Araucania Nature Wool in this sweater?

Yes, this sweater now has only a start to a sleeve. . . I took the plunge and ripped it out after discovering (through the magic of counting) that I had cast on approximately half the stitches of the entire body for the sleeve. No wonder it got too big. My arm isn't half of the circumference of my waist; it's nearly a third. I hope this one works well. It's going to be my "flight home knitting," but I'm going to switch to a longer cable for easier magic looping.

I also discovered that the lovely orange/yellow raglan cable sweater I made for a little one has a tiny mistake in it -- right in the front. I was gazing at my littlest daughter wearing it and thinking how nice it is to see my kids wearing sweaters I make, and saw a miscounted stitch right on the front of the sweater.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunshine on a cloudy day

Our mail carrier is, like so much of our neighborhood, a real treasure. He never ever wears anything but shorts with his uniform. I suppose he doesn't get cold. He's unfailingly cheerful, stops to talk to the children, is interested in gardening, gardens himself, and is just generally a dear. I look forward to his visits and am always vaguely disquieted when a Different Mail Carrier brings our mail.

Yesterday was a gray, cold day. We've finally turned on our heat stove, to prevent the children from scampering from bed to bath all day long. Yet, up drove Shane, in shorts as usual. I saw him hand Tor a box from his mail truck and drive on. Tor scampered in, "A package from mama!"

I didn't remember ordering any new yarn, so I couldn't think of what it might be. But there, nestled inside, was a jar of pure summer:

Ribbit had sent, as threatened, a jar of chunky peach and red pepper sauce. I can't wait to broil up some chicken and serve it with wild rice. If I really loved my extended family I'd somehow work it into our shared Thanksgiving dinner, but family fealty only goes so far.

Thanks Ribbit! I can hardly wait to taste it.

In other news, I did the "really last" harvest out of my hives and bottled that honey up directly in sale jars. 42 pounds of ready-to-go honey. I've sold some, but not as much as I'd hoped, but two jars paid for a haircut for one of my kids. Our hairdresser travels to our house, and she's just great. I cut kids' hair myself for a long time, but I don't do well with even ends on very straight hair, and the teenager has a certain cut she wants that I won't even try. Bridget does a great job, loves the kids, and loves honey and eggs! I'm going to explore bartering in the future, too.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Color of Good Eats

I don't know whether or not to apologize to those of you who are dealing with snow and freezes. My current biggest scourge is winter weeds. . . the garden is chugging along nicely.

A favorite lunch for me these days is either rice or another grain, like quinoa, with a steamed rosette of tat soi on top, dressed with a drop or two of sesame oil, fish sauce, and soy sauce. So yummy. . . and those rosettes are really beautiful.

In just a day or two, we should be able to make our own Meyer lemon salad dressing. The little tree is loaded with lemons, ironically enough on low branches that I plan to hack off once they're harvested. It's time for this wee tree to stand off the ground.

Granny, this one's for you.

Despite woeful neglect, the fall bearing "Fall Gold" rasperries are blooming right on schedule. They're a pretty golden color also. I need to weed them, rub off the little caterpillars that want to eat them, and get them up on their wires. Last season's bearing canes should probably be cut off, too. Wonder if that will get done?

Even without fruit, the teensy persimmon tree is providing a harvest of sorts -- I can look out from my computer, where I'm grading less-than-beautiful student prose, and see exquisitely lovely leaves. Maybe next year there will be fruit.

Dinner tonight was full of homegrown goodness -- butternut squash ravioli, kale with garlic, homemade (but not homegrown) bread, homemade/homegrown pesto sauce on
homemade noodles, and homemade with foraged apples applesauce. All we need now is a wheat field and a cow. . .

I hope all of you are enjoying something from your gardens.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Stuffed full!

My computer is, anyway, so full that it won't let me upload any photos until I make some room, and there's just no more room to make. I don't care for this imposed de-cluttering, though if some external force would impose the same sternness regarding my house, I bet it'd be a lot cleaner. Anyway, until the new space-maker arrives, hopefully Tuesday, I'm photoless.

Until then, look forward to pictures of what people do to entertain chickens (who need entertaining, right?) and our---mostly Kevin's---crazy huge White King Bolete harvest. Yum.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Watering System

Heather asked for an overview of the watering "system." So, a little tutorial on the easy-peasy, hardware store-parts irrigation method I'm trying with the new garden.

Currently, the source is the pressurized water from the city. This should hopefully be a temporary situation, since we're harvesting rainwater. At least I'd like to be dependent on non-gray or -rainwater for much less of the year.

The pinkish hose then runs out to the master pipe for the whole garden.

It took me some time to get that to stop dripping. I had to buy aftermarket rubber rings. I think it's done the trick. We dug a ditch, starting at this point, and running along the middle of the new beds, and over to the existing ones, where a ditch then ran the length of those, in between them.

At the corner of each bed, about 1.5' from the center pipe, we laid a cross connection. That led to feeder pipes and then up to the stand pipes with valves. We got good at glueing up elbows and ts and cross pieces. The valves are simple ball valves, but I can adjust the flow using those. We tried to get them sitting right at the top edge of the bed.

But, as you can see, a couple were too tall. I may take the time to lower that -- some time. They're just that much more vulnerable to breakage sitting up like that. In the picture above, you can see the remnants of the drip system installed by professionals with an automated timer and everything. It never, ever worked well.

One drawback to this post-hoc construction is beds like these.

This year, I may just have to remove those cross-pieces and deal with the slope. On the bed closest to the chicken coop, there's a double spigot so we can theoretically have water all the time to the coop. So far, I haven't left the pressure on, regulating it instead from the house, so I don't know how that would work. We did do our best, but I haven't felt up to testing it yet.

In the future, I'd like to have it set on a timer, so that I could leave it for a week or so and rest assured that each hose would deliver water to each bed. I'd also like to install a pressurizing water pump so we could use those rain totes to water with, even going so far as to put the recycled bath water in them because it would be used so quickly. This will take not only time but money.

When our children make it big as rock stars, though, you can bet I'll get that rainwater system working really well!