Sunday, March 30, 2008

Micro Meal

First harvests not made by voles! Greens growing in hoop house #1 needed thinning, so we have thinnings in our supper. Not much food I admit- a little Red Russian Kale, Siberian Kale, Chard and Spinach- enough to fill a very small bowl. According to "Johnn's Selected Seeds", this is called "micro mix" and is popular at finer restaurants (and seed houses everywhere no doubt). Not only are we going local, but we're going gourmet. Those voles are on to something!
Of course as I sit here congratulating myself, I wonder if we can consider that the plants I am growing are local enough. The seed comes from elsewhere. Johnny's is in the state of Main, but I know that seeds are purchased from growers all over. Perhaps I take this a little far...

Ok, no voles in days

No voles in several days.
The morning after I set out snap traps, I went out to investigate. The trap in hoop house #2 had gone missing. Wow!
John and Mom share the opinion that the Red Fox who lives in the meadow took it. Now I ask you-how plausible is this? To execute said theft, Mister Fox would have jumped the fence topped with barbed wire, gotten into the hoop house and under the row cover without disturbing anything and then taken the cheese (with trap attached) and retreated for his meal.
Mighty foxy.
Anyway, this fox has been seen in close proximity to the back fence when dogs are elsewhere. My theory is that the voles are after the greens and the fox is after the voles. As to what happened to the snap trap? I really don't know.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Voles for lunch

Today we had voles over for lunch. Actually they arrived unannounced via a nifty tunnel into Hoop House 2, and helped themselves to lunch (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.) I was away at the time, and discovered a considerable reduction in plant life in Hoop House 2 at about 5 pm. So much so in fact, that I toyed with the idea of packing up the plastic and the hoops and giving up.
But no, I was aggrieved, but not defeated.
I must admit that at our house, we have a certain dichotomy in approaches to Rodent Issues. John, although fond of reading Redwall books aloud to Russell for bedtime stories, in which the true heroes are field mice (otherwise known as "voles") has no fondness for mice of any flavor. I do think that a mouse dropping down the back of his shirt from somewhere above while he was working in the garage one night, fueled his somewhat ruthless approach to wildlife management in the garage and compost. Indeed, I admit that I have been unwilling to divulge mouse/vole sightings in our compost, for fear that the snap traps will be brought out, armed with cheese and put where unwitting creatures will can happen upon them and be grievously injured or killed, therefrom interred in plastic bags (following drowning if necessary) and thrown out in the trash.
I on the other hand, must admit to a certain nagging sense of the bad karma such acts could create- though I do feel that this is a superstition of mine, that make little sense. Anyway, having also read aloud or listened to Redwall stories for years, I admit to a little soft, fuzzy spot for soft, fuzzy critters.
But this afternoon, after observing the destruction among my hard-earned little plants, I understood a little of John's attitude. I asked him where to find the snap traps and how to set them properly. As one trap in a compost bin had caught a mouse or vole or whatever, I took it out to the back of our yard and in order to keep it within the local ecosystem, tossed it out into the meadow where the local red fox has been lingering of late. Bon appetit red fox! Next I got a lesson in how to clean the trap and bait it (cheese) and put one trap in each hoop house. This leaves some seedlings out unprotected in another part of the garden- but well, tomorrow maybe I'll ride my bike over to the local hardware store and invest in a couple more traps....

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Restaurant for Voles

Well, last week I had some visitors in hoop house #1. Between the red and yellow markers in the picture to the left is the entry to my fashionable little eatery for rodents to my considerable woe and dismay. After all, I had come to expect that I could just run out to the hoop houses and just gaze at everybody happily growing and looking all green and purple and whatever. This was not so one day. The preceding night, much of my orach, spinach and a healthy percentage of my yellow chard had provided for the appetites of small rodents I suspect are voles. I researched the topic, and based on the diameter of the holes and the nature of the theft, and the general location next to a meadow, voles are the first on my short list of suspects.
I had needed to thin my seedlings, but this wasn't what I envisioned somehow... Anyway, following Internet research, I consulted the local hardware store where I was told I'd have to gas 'em out, and I placed a couple calls to farmers in the vicinity (one keeps farm cats, and the farm cats must keep a steady diet of small rodents), and checked a couple of organic gardening books for suggestions. My plan ended up being to block the meadow-side of the hoop house with 1/8 inch hardware cloth as far down as I could get it (6 inches was recommended), reinforced with rocks of course, and a snap trap down a tunnel. So far, my efforts have prevented further incursions. The snap trap has been sprung once, but we think it was the wind.
We'll keep you posted.

Friday, March 21, 2008

More Rocks

Ok, we have boulders buried out in our yard just under our "grass" as you all know. This comes in handy when on a day like today, when we have wind such as what wouldn't shock any Boulderite, but which is quite capable of sending the plasitic covering my hoop houses to either Nebraska or Cansas depending on whether the wind's out of the West or the Northwest. I was conveniently out in our "irrigation/drainage trench", wedging out rocks with Russell and assorted garden tools, and with the gusts picking up nicely and the plastic unfurling off the hoop houses and being blown repeatedly against the fence, I piled the rocks onto the ends of the plastic so the whole business would stay in place.
Certainly I wonder sometimes, what our neighbors must think of the whole enterprise. Do they peer out of their windows and cheer me on in my efforts? Do they laugh to themselves and say to themselves "Just wait until it dumps five feet of snow. Then lets see her find her silly little hoop houses.
Never mind. The rocks by the way, did the trick.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Well I don't suppose anybody would be surprised that we have lots of rocks here in Boulder. We actually have a great many of them in our yard, and many of these rocks stand between our dreams of raised garden beds and reality. The rocks largely reside within the earth, lots of them an inch under the weedy turf that we call "grass" out back, and some of these rocks might be considered to be small boulders if one were a little generous in the use of the term. As far as I can tell, the folks who put down sod when preparing this property for the market the first time about 15 years ago, must have tossed down a few yards of construction fill (aka "rocks"), added on a little bit of "soil" (we call this stuff "clay", "sand" and "what's that, it can't be natural!") over the rocks and rolled out the turf. The problem with our garden is our perennial problem- drainage. As our yard does not drain well from South to North, we have a couple of sections of the yard best described as Swampy. So, we have managed to tunnel out to the open space behind us, but must now add a perforated pipe drain in a gravel-filled trench that runs the width of the yard. This will go right under the garden beds so that they don't turn into rice paddies on particularly rainy, thunder-stormy days in the summer. While we're at it, we'll add irrigation pipe and a faucet in the garden itself.
So, in order for us to achieve our goals, we must roll up our sleeves and have at it. Fortunately we have amoung us, one who has made rocks a particular subject of life-long study, and who is also quite adept at jiggering rocks out of tight holes in our gradually deepening trench.
Here he is, preparing to tackle a
particularily nasty specimen
having been called in to provide
Notice that he's well prepared (minus socks, but with
properly laid back foot wear apropriate to the location).
He's still smiling..
O.k, we've got the shovel-lever action going:

Some more prying and generally putting pressure on with the garden tools. You can see the rock now:Russ had to go for the pick-axe for this part. Persistance paid off in the end. Here he is rolling the darned thing out of the trench. Russ wasn't able to pick this one up. We had to get John to come pick it up.
Russ went on break after this.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Eating gradually more locally

My dinner tonight:
I made myself a gluten-free, low sodium soup out of the following:
-Water from the tap.
-Dulce (a type of seaweed): from Maine. This is the only seaweed I've found thus far that is produced by this country. Ix-nay on the ory-nay and the ombu-kay.
-Canned Roma tomatoes: from my garden that I canned last October.
-Canned black beans: that I purchased as dried beans from Whole Foods (origin unknown) and canned last December. I ran out of scarlet runner beans quickly this fall. These are fantastic- easy to grow and make the loveliest dried beans! Note to self: grow more beans to dry next summer. Easy local protein!
-Canned no-sodium turkey: that I purchased frozen the week before Thanksgiving via my local CSA from a grower within 200 miles of here and that I canned the next day. All the next day.
-Green savoy cabbage: from California.
-Broccoli: from California.
-Garlic: from California as my stash from our CSA ran out about 1 1/2 months ago.
-Tahini: fresh ground at Whole Foods. Origin unknown. Bet I could find out where they get it from...
-Bob's gluten-free cereal (corn, rice, white sorghum and buckwheat). Bob's is in Oregon, however I'm not certain that all cereal ingredients were grown and processed there. I have found a source of gluten-free oats in Wyoming. For glutenivors in my house, I've located a source of whole-wheat flour from a farm (Wheatland Farms) within 100 miles of here, one county over. They sell it at the local King Soopers market.
-Apple cider vinegar: from Pittsburgh, PA. I used to get Balsamic, but stopped when I realized that all the Balsamic comes from Italy...
The Dagoba chocolate that I had for dessert is organic and marketed by a company in Oregon (Ashland). They claim to source their chocolate from suppliers who operate equitably and sustainably. Their chocolate comes from Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Peru and Madagascar.
My approach to the whole idea of eating locally is that if I keep working away at it, eventually I'll have it under control. It was a bit of a shock when I started to really look at not just the fruits and vegetables, but all the other staples as well. I also had to start with ways to make it possible while hunting down substitutes. Obviously I have more work to do, but I'm making progress.

Survival under plastic

So here are my "poster-seedlings" for hoop houses in the cold. Red Cabbage and Brussels Sprout seedlings raised under lights and on South-facing window sills in the house, in seedling flats and then later transplanted into newspaper "plant bands" in sawed-off milk cartons. Transplanted 3-4-08 into "hoop house" in the garden, mulched with straw and row cover doubled over it at night. Minimum outside temperature since then has been 12.2 degrees F. Minimum temperature inside the hoop house has been 25.2. After the first cold, snowy night, I did decide to add more straw so the little plants were about an inch under straw. Today I unburied them and they took some sun.

Here are more seedlings having their afternoon in the hoop house- Viroflay Spinach, New Zealand Spinach, more broccoli, cabbage, onions, and Brussels Sprouts. They will spend the night inside under lights for part of the time (they get a total of 16 hours a day).
These are Siberian Kale coming up in abundance in a "hoop house". Why am I not surprised that the Siberian Kale is doing well? I got these seeds from "Seeds of Change" FYI

Golden Chard coming up. Oh how do I love Chard!

Hard to see, but this is lots of Orach
coming up (back of leaves and stems
are red). It helps to remember that there are no tender, green things growing outdoors yet other than the grass and some weeds that are just starting to get going. Even the evergreens are looking a bit weary about now. It is March in Boulder after all. None of the above plants I'm growing would be able to survive under current conditions without cover. As I search for seeds in various seed supply catalogues, I am looking not just for frost-hardy plants, but also plants that can hopefully tolerate some heat, because our temperatures vacillate between extremes here in this high, relatively arid climate.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Well, ok- maybe they froze..

So it snowed some last night, not very much. It also was darned cold though not as darned cold as it gets around here. I pulled myself together sometime midmorning and got dressed for the winter so I could go out and survay the damage (and put out some indestructable New Zealand spinach seedlings for the day while I was at it). Seedling transplants in the hoop house looked a bit shocked I think- kinda limp and rather the color of the lettuce when the temperature in the fridge. goes too low and the lettuce freezes. Anyway, I didn't get too involved just in case the seedlings have a chance, and when I went back out later in the day to bring in the spinach, I threw an extra inch of straw over the broccoli, onions, brussels sprouts and cabbage in the hoop house and doubled up the row cover over the straw. Now I sit in my nice warm house and hope for the best.

Monday, March 3, 2008

So why am I doing this?

For weeks I've been tending little broccoli, cabbage and onion seedlings, dragging them around in their seedling flats, putting them under lights, putting them in the window and then taking them out of the window when the sun's too hot, transplanting them into sawed-off milk cartons (as in picture) and then gradually "hardening the seedlings off" so that in theory they would be ready for today. Today I took them out to the newly prepared garden bed where I had done a soil test to determine whether the soil was dry enough to dig in and then dug in lots of compost that came from the Coors plant (the beer's no good but I'm banking on the compost!) and weeded and set up a little hoop house to warm up the soil just before the most recent snow storm. Today I took half of those little seedlings and planted them and mulched them with straw and tucked them in with a row cover and buttoned up the hoops and plastic with lots of rocks so it would be nice and cozy in there all night.
Cozy right now at 9:16 PM MST, equals 31.5 degrees in the hoop house while outside it's 32-point-something. 40 percent chance of snow's predicted too. Don't worry, it's usually warmer in the hoop house than it is outside. Mere technicality the temperature- really. Tomorrow morning I'll run downstairs to peer at the indoor/outdoor thermometers that we have set up with sensors out under the back deck and in one of the hoop houses (yes, I have two "hoop houses"and yes "they" have proliferated to two recently) and I'll check the minimum temperatures on record for the night. Then I'll go and peer under the plastic and the row cover with my heart in my mouth, fully expecting my tender little seedlings to be frozen stiff.
Oh, what have I done?