Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Crazy happy greens!

Well, a quick update. This week I've pulled in about 3 pounds of greens. These include the indefatigable Siberian and Red Russian kales, chard in different colors, field peas (from a couple small garden sections planted with a cover crop mix), baby radish plants, baby beets, orach, spinach, broccoli raab, small turnips and greens, mizuna, baby bunching onions, baby kohlrabi plants (thinnings) and chives. The kales and chives are the biggest producers so far, so it's nice to mix in other things for flavor.
Our important discoveries of the week:
Mizuna has a mild mustard flavor.
Field pea plants taste like peas.
Chive blossoms taste like very mild chives.
Everything I'm growing tastes wonderful in salads and soups.
Now that my husband and mom have discovered how good the vegi.s are, the greens disapear fast.

At last I have enough to share, and this week I gave away modest samples of my harvest to two neighbors and a friend.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Harvests are getting bigger and more frequent

Amazing actually, given how much time I'm spending on building garden beds in which to grow vegetables in! From left to right, we have chocolate mint, baby turnips, baby radish, spinach, chard, Siberian kale and red Russian kale, thinnings of various things, oyster mushrooms and chives (with edible flowers attached). I'm pulling in about this much every three days or so. Enough for me to make a wonderful lunch with the addition of some pressure-cooked dry beans, a grain, some oil and vinegar, a little fresh ground pepper...

Friday, May 16, 2008

The virtues of hardware

Well, as I’ve continued to build raised garden beds, I’ve tried very hard to limit myself to recycled materials. Unfortunately, the conditions in my back yard, in which rocks, gravel, sand and clay imitate some large and unfriendly layer cake, serve to reduce my chances of success following this approach. Having initially planned to follow the plan of my brother, developed and implemented by himself in Denmark- building beds without hardware, using two-by-four stakes to hold up the sides of the beds, I dug holes for stakes with great difficulty. My post-hole diggers, so useful in California, sit untouched in the garage because post-hole diggers depend upon soil that is made up of mostly soil (rather than mostly rock as in our case). With considerable labor, I can produce holes that are adequate generally, but which are just a little too shallow to hold the stakes vertical when bearing a load.
Backup plan number 2, involving rebar stakes, when safely executed, requires just as much hole digging in reality. When unsafely executed, purchase of an abundance of not-locally produced bandaids becomes necessary (plus the rebar and plastic caps for the rebar to prevent further industrial accidents suffered by unsuspecting individuals strolling out in the garden on some distant date after which the garden will be more a garden and less a construction zone).
Backup 3 involves lag screws purchased from the hardware store. Also some bolts, nuts and washers scavenged from our fairly well stocked garage. Using these with select power and hand tools, I was able to quickly knock together a sturdy box for my third raised bed. I’m so delighted by this that I must admit that I couldn't give a flying fig for where the lag screws came from. This is bad attitude I know, but whatever.
Next I get to dig out all the soil that sits under the box and get rocks out of it so that anything will grow in it.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Irrigation and cheap labor

These pictures are about a week old and everything is so much bigger now. I really can't keep up.

Garden bed with "Freezonian" peas (from the Victory Seed Co.)in back and sprouting broccoli in front. I've transplanted some of the broccoli since the picture was taken. Thus far Freezonian hasn't performed very impressively overall. Growing very, very slowly. Of course it may be comforting for us all to note that we've just had a very cold winter without much snow and that Spring has been awfully dodgy too. Given another Spring with less challenging conditions, or perhaps planted in a less windy location, Freezonian might perform better...

Further peas (Wando and Alaska) with mizuma and arugula.
Our current high-tech. watering system includes me running out with the hose. The kale in the picture below, has wilted and is about to be watered. As the weather has warmed, we have days that are too warm for the cool season crops and wilting happens (especially with the almost constant wind...) My solution in this case was to increase the height of the hoops and use floating row cover over them to act as a shade cloth and to cut the wind. This worked very well- no more wilting. Note also that I have a pretty healthy layer of straw to act as a mulch, cut down on water loss and prevent the soil from crusting. Weeds are easier to dislodge too. The burlap sacks serve the same function for bare earth between beds and other areas. Russ likes to go hunting for worms under the burlap sacks and is learning to put them back properly.

Just starting to lay out the third bed. Dogs investigating.

The bed pictured above is basically a nursery bed, acting as a safe holding zone for leeks, onions, shallots, celeriac, cabbage, some turnips, beets and chard. I still find we have days when the wind is just so annoying that although I don't have to put down the plastic cover, I think the plants grow more quickly and are more healthy because I do. We're starting to lay out the third bed now, although we have to finish prepping the soil (and adding a little more) to the second bed. One of our dogs found me digging in the bottom of the second bed the other day, and suddenly found herself in the mood to help. She jumped in and started digging. As it worked out, I was tired of digging and found that I could get her to dig where I wanted, needing only to hold up a burlap sack to keep the soil from flying out of the bed. She dug for quite a while and loosened up most of the Northwestern corner of the bed. Dogs can be helpful in the garden...

Monday, May 5, 2008

Two raised beds with a side of vegetables

We completed raised bed number 2! Actually we have to do more soil prep. and moving, but we're almost there. Russ had the seemingly innocuous task of digging some rocks out of the new bed this weekend. Oh my, he dug up the biggest rocks we've encountered yet, requiring his dad to come help him actually haul the rocks out. We have ceremonially placed them in positions of honor flanking the new gate. And speaking of the gate, we decided to take some pains to dress it up a bit. As we very conveniently have aspen trees producing aspen suckers out in the meadow behind us, Russ and I were able to go cut some down and wire them into a pretty arch over the gate. We added aspen logs given us by a neighbor to give the entry a little more solidity. Whimsy we added with a bird house gourd we'd grown in California and which we converted into a bird house. Very organic, cottage garden look.
And, as the construction continues, the vegetables grow. We are currently enjoying the most perfect weather for growing greens. Hoop houses stay open at night as well as all day (ready to be re-covered should snow or really strong winds look likely). Everything is growing well now. Here's the list for the moment: peas, kohlrabi, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale (three varieties), spinach, beets, chard, radishes, turnips, mizuma, leeks, onions, chives, arugula, and carrots. Even the plants I started very early and transplanted out under hoops and plastic are looking good, although I admit that a little bug damage is going on. Perhaps slugs. I am having trouble keeping seedlings happy in the house. I forget to water something, or leave it too long on a hot windowsill and it cooks. Or maybe I forget to feed for too long. I think the real problem is my fatigue. The building is hard work for the moment.
I did figure out that attempts at ducking hard work do not pay. Having gotten quite tired of digging huge holes in which to sink 2 x 4's, when I laid out raised bed number 2, I buried 2 x 4's on one end and called in my husband with the huge sledge hammer to sink rebar stakes to hold up the sides of the other end (this was supposed to be easier). It was late in the afternoon and John and I were tired, so we of course had to learn a hard lesson. Never, never, ever hold a rebar stake steady while your mate bashes it with a sledge hammer. Just don't even think about it. I was lucky actually, as I was wearing gloves when I did this dumb thing. The sledge only hit my hand a glancing blow as it slipped off the rebar stake as John swung it down, and the result was a bit of laceration and bruising on my right little finger, but you know, really. Find some other adventure to have.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Cheesy garden gate...

I finally decided to get around to some kind of gate for the garden, having had a temporary piece of fencing stand in for one for some time. Of course the first order of business involved digging another hole and setting a reasonable fence post for the corner (we'd handled the other side a couple of weeks ago). Next I needed materials, and fortunately had on hand the remains of my eldest son's deconstructed waterbed box frame. The wood isn't choice, but I decided it would serve. I also had the piece of fencing from the previous temporary gate, poultry staples, a couple of cheap cabinet hinges, some wire and some galvanized screws. It took a couple of hours of concerted effort to throw the thing together, wiring the hinges to the metal fence post (lacking the lovely 4x4 or 4x6 in aged cedar that I would have cemented into the ground for posterity). The result is simple, square (rectangular actually, I mean the corners are square) and awfully functional considering what it's made out of and the somewhat indifferent carpentry involved. A proper portal. Sort of...

Friday, May 2, 2008

Little Harvests

Today I had to thin out a couple more brassicas from Hoop house #1. My harvest for today as pictured above, from left to right, are: basil, micro-mix, orach, a quart of alfalfa sprouts, one bunch of Siberian kale, and a little spinach. Not pictured are a hefty handful of chives from our crowded chive patch and some asparagus from just behind our back fence. Available resources in the yard also include chocolate peppermint, cat mint and the occasional dandelion. The current market price for my technically organic harvest today I estimate to be the following: basil- 50 cents, micro mix- unavailable, alfalfa sprouts- 3 dollars, kale- unavailable (equivalent kale of other variety would cost about $2.50), spinach- 25 cents, chives- $6.00, 5 spears of asparagus at perhaps $ 1.50. Total for today would be $13.75 not including the micro mix. I currently could harvest a similar amount daily for at least a week. In general we average about a fresh quart of sprouts daily of value ranging between $3.00 (e.g. alfalfa or red clover) and $6.00 (e.g. broccoli or broccoli rabe). Already we are reducing our food bill a little bit. This is "eaten up" rapidly because of the rising prices of staples, but I feel as if my efforts are providing some cushion for us. There must be some way to calculate the offset the food provides for our carbon footprint. I must look into that when I'm not working so hard building the garden and growing in the garden...