Out Standing in my Field

I’m digging up and terracing 200 square feet of lawn to create a second garden. I think the biggest expense will be a fence around it, which may not need to be as substantial as the one around the bigger garden. It will be > 200 SF of turf on a slope I won’t have to mow anymore. This area faces east – southeast and will have a little morning shade from pine trees on the eastern perimeter of the yard. Most of the day it will get unfiltered sun like the original garden – I’ll just start calling that one the Big Garden now.

First, EG and I measured the rise and run and calculated that the slope is only 1 degree. Here’s his TinkerCad model of this simple plan. The stones that = 1×2 feet are his suggested footpath down the middle, but I changed that to a 2′ wide path horizontally instead of steps down/up the center. That removes 80 SF of planting space but I need that to reach into the  planting beds without stepping on them.

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This will allow two 4 x 10 beds with a short retaining wall on the downslope sides of the top bed and the path. There will need to be a perimeter on the outside as well, so I can access the beds from all sides, so I might as well remove the turf there too. I don’t know what to use for those paths; maybe pea gravel. Removing turf, Minecraft-style with a pickaxe, is burning a few extra calories.

How much can I grow here? This is a rough draft of a goal:

-8 tomato plants, potentially 80-100# of tomatoes or $280-$350 worth (Market value $4-5/pound in my area, but I’m conservatively valuing mine at $3.50 because I’m not a market grower)

-2 pepper plants, which I am never optimistic about, at best providing 10# of peppers or $25 worth

-4 rows of legumes grown vertically, providing about 2 cups per day fresh green beans  in June, July and August (and a few pounds of dried beans in the fall

-Steady supply of mustard, kale and some other greens that grow throughout the summer; maybe $30 worth. I love lettuce but the ship for planting that here has sailed. It’s May and I haven’t gotten this bed ready for planting. Lettuce I already planted in the established beds in March.

-A cucumber vine or 2, maybe 3, hopefully giving us 10# of fruit in June and July. My experience with these makes yield hard to predict. I feel like I have little control over the success and much has to do with the weather.

Speaking of weather, this is what the sky is like today, and I wish I were collecting the rain for when it’s dry later:

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That is a sculpture made of trash (plastic or Styrofoam cups) we saw on a recent trip to Boston, where it’s cold and rains all the time. Apparently. It was at a place called the MFA, which turns out to be an acronym for Museum of Fine Arts. I thought the MF stood for something else. I am fortunate enough to have been so saturated with the experience of fine art museums in my childhood that I hate them. Still, this sculpture made an impression on me. I hope it makes an impression on other parents who run lemonade stands and could use compostable cups. They do jack up the price of your lemonade though.

Here is the new Garden ROI spreadsheet for 2018: Garden expenses 2018

 

 

Stuff to do so I’m not tempted to start seeds too early

I’m a busy parent. There are kids to play with, horses to ride and this Prosecco isn’t going to drink itself. It’s all I can do to fit in a 2-hour workout.

That’s not really me. I would never wear that. Also I don’t really have that much time on my hands. I don’t even have a string of horses. Just access to a string of horses. And I bought several bottles of Prosecco but it was for our holiday party. There were two left over and I made jelly with one and used half the other in risotto (see this blog for risotto recipes and pics). Don’t remember what happened to the other half.

Making jelly is fun. I wouldn’t normally waste a good bottle of wine on a batch of jelly, but it was Christmas and I sent some to family members. I added lemongrass and basil to the Prosecco jelly and rosemary to some I made with Moscato (EG colored it green). That’s not really relevant to this gardening blog, is it. I didn’t grow the wine, it was just left over from a party. But I did make jelly from the raspberries that grow in my front yard, and that got good reviews. I also happened to score a cheap case of blackberries in the fall and made insanely good preserves out of those, which was almost too pretty to eat.

My friend Mean Charlene (ironic nickname) grows a variety of hot peppers, which she shared with me. I combined them with heirloom tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper for a decent salsa.

I would grow peppers, but as long as Mean Charlene does every year, I can just trade with her. I did have two plants outside this year, one I planted and another that was a surplus seedling a coworker gave me. Right before the first frost, I made a last minute decision to dig those up and bring them in. They blossomed in November and have little peppers on them.

And here’s a blurry pic of the owl in my neighborhood, who has little to do with gardening but I was just so excited I got this close and s/he let me take pics, I’m posting one.

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Not just the man who gave us PB&J

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7 grams of complete, delicious, stick-to-your-ribs protein

 

Not trying to hijack MLK day, like the the Commonwealth of Virginia did when I lived there, but I want to mention GWC.  Mostly because this is a blog about a tiny farm. Today Metal Pig talked about George Washington Carver after reading a comment along the lines of, “If you think you’re not getting the resources you need, read about GWC…” That’s not an exact quote. It was something like that. Can’t believe I don’t go around thinking “What would George Washington Carver do?” Although sometimes I think, “What would Joan Jett do?” and that’s good, because she’s a great entertainer, citizen and intrepid entrepreneur. I am not two of those things, but it doesn’t hurt to think like her sometimes. Or like I think she thinks.

What were the most defining traits and experiences that Dr. Carver, a slave as a child who would later become a Master of Science? Can I relate to any of them? The couple who once owned him also homeschooled him, I think in part because he wasn’t a strong boy who could work the fields. The elementary education was at least one less obstacle but it could not have been easy. How did he think? Did he have a natural curiosity and obsession he pursued relentlessly? Did he have low or no expectations? He’s given credit for inventing peanut butter, which he didn’t, but he did popularize it. His breakthroughs include:

  1. Saving crops, such as cotton, from destruction by introducing crop rotation with legumes
  2. The science of improving nutrition in soil and the plants that grown in i
  3. Tapping the value in previously overlooked legumes, sweet potatoes and even useful wild plants (you know, weeds, like delicious purslane)
  4. Improving the health of many through improved nutrition by agricultural education and general resourcefulness
  5. Believing in, and promoting, harmony (many sources use the phrase “racial harmony” but I feel like his influence was not limited to race issues and “harmony” is more inclusive)
  6. He didn’t do it for the money, either. He was an academic, directing the Agricultural Department at what was then called Tuskegee Institute, and I’ve read that he turned down a very lucrative offer from Thomas Edison.

Sources: 

  1. https://www.biography.com/news/george-washington-carver-facts-national-peanut-month
  2. My elementary school education

Time to hoard

My to do list for the day before the first snow of the year:

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I didn’t get to do any chalk art on the sidewalk but the kids did. I love sidewalk chalk art and cave paintings, because I’m primitive.

This time of year, my in-laws in Iowa are harvesting corn with giant, sophisticated combines (or whatever they are). The grain goes into silos several stories tall (I think) or maybe it’s made into fuel or corn syrup. The big green tractors are amazing. They are all green because these are John Deere people.

At my house it’s not exactly like that.  My garden is slightly smaller than a combine. I gathered five kids, who are also sophisticated, but kind of small. Then I gave them boxes, locked them in the garden and told them not to come out until all the tomatoes and beans were picked. I ended up staying in there with them to make sure it got done. Actually I picked the ones they missed. They found this fun, like an Easter egg hunt. They whined a little (“Mom? Can we have root beer?” “Auntie, I think we’re dehydrated” – not actual quotes) but we came out with 70+ pounds of usable produce. Then I gave them lunch, cake and root beer, so don’t alert CPS.

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It was 77 degrees and sunny, but snow was coming in that night, so everything had to be brought inside. The weather pattern here is like this: it’s warm and sunny, then breezes bring in an agricultural smell associated with the cow towns to our north, then it snows. And that’s what happened Sunday. Now it’s warm again and the cycle may not repeat for another week. Fall in Colorado is less dramatic than spring.

That’s it for the season, except for greens which grow almost all year long. The mustard and cilantro has re-seeded itself and sprouted. Most tomatoes are green and will ripen indoors. The experience of eating them raw isn’t the same as it was in August or September but it’s still good. I cook and can a lot of them as they ripen. I blended a mix of all the varieties and cooked them down to about 2/3 their original volume and added only salt before canning. Some I canned whole to see what they’d be like, but I think cooking and reducing them is a more efficient use of space. Some are just sliced and frozen. The total weight of tomatoes harvested for the season is 179 pounds.

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The beans pictured were blanched and pickled. So now what do I do? Wash, dry and save seeds to plant in a few months. I actually do other things too. In fact, the other things are the vast majority of the things I do, they just aren’t nearly as exciting as vegetables, or if they are as exciting I’m not publishing anything about them.

Golden load*

Technically, it’s still summer for a few more days. I hate letting it go and try to hoard the sunlight as the days get shorter. I stopped wearing my Tilley hat and let my normally dark hair get as sun-bleached as possible, hoping for a surfer look. My birthday is in the fall, which makes it even harder because I’m reminded of getting older, a fact I deny all summer long. But once I let it go and talk myself into looking forward to more harvests I appreciate fall. It’s like summer, with shorter days and fruit instead of flowers. Like summer got older and wiser, but stayed somewhat pretty and fertile.

Dried beans start piling up. I like the way they feel; it’s some kind of tactile stimulation.

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They don’t require any prep or refrigeration, just stay in jars until whenever we want to cook them.

I cooked down and canned tomatoes in a pressure canner, separated by color. Some are orange and yellow, which get a little darker when cooked, and some are red and purple, which just turn into a basic red sauce. In the past I’ve just frozen them all but I think I like canning them now. I also canned some raw and they look so watery after processing I’m not sure I did it right. There’s a food blogger I’m a fan of who would probably never make the amateur error of allowing her reflection on the shiny jars (her site is Cooking without limits). But maybe I could insert Easter eggs that way, like by having someone take pics in the nude.

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Zucchini cake is popular right now. I made one with yellow squash that was bright yellow and moist, a huge hit with my friends who came over on Labor Day. On EG’s birthday last October I made zucchini and chocolate cakes, and the kids chose zucchini over chocolate, which surprised me. I don’t eat chocolate because it triggers migraines so I usually make some non-chocolate option I can enjoy for dessert. That probably explains my muffin top, which I will not be posting a picture of.

Here’s Pixie licking every last crumb off the picnic table:

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It’s a terrible pic but it reveals her true self so well. I accept her for who she is.

*The phrase “Golden load” is from this poem by William Blake, “To Autumn”

O Autumn, laden with fruit, and stained
With the blood of the grape, pass not, but sit
Beneath my shady roof; there thou mayst rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.

“The narrow bud opens her beauties to
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust’ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather’d clouds strew flowers round her head.

“The spirits of the air live on the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.

I’m in the hypothetical black!

I was wondering when the hypothetical return on my gardening investment would start to show. As of today it’s $11.00 ish. How do you like me now, Richard Branson?

Is it annoying when there are pages and pages of essays about this one time this blogger had this one thing and it reminded her of this one time when something was fun and then there are ten captioned photos of food before you get to the recipe/photo/instructable you googled? I think so, but still do it.

 

 

Here’s a pretty salad my friends and I enjoyed last weekend. Paul Robeson, Pantano Romanesco, Pink Brandywine, something yellow and Kellogg’s Breakfast. The recipe is that you pick some tomatoes, slice them and I might have sprinkled salt on them:

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I really need to invest in a better iPhone or an actual camera. Maybe some photography classes.

Some of those are from seeds I saved from plants grown from seeds I saved the previous year. That’s why they’re called heirlooms. I’ve talked to people who save seeds by letting whole fruits get moldy and disgusting, but I’m not sure why. I don’t mean I’m not sure why I talked to them, I mean I’m not sure why people waste an entire tomato to save its seeds. I slice the best examples of the variety and there are seeds on the cutting board. I make sure the cutting board is clean and free of salt or other seeds so I don’t get the varieties mixed up. Then I put the seeds in a jar of water (my water is filtered but that probably doesn’t matter), label the jar and forget about them for a few days. Later I wash and drain the seeds, then let them dry on a paper towel. When they’re dry I seal them in envelopes and plant them again when it’s seed starting time. I have had them stay viable for two, maybe three years. Look at this Kellogg’s Breakfast; not many seeds but enough to grow a lot more plants:

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You could read this before you save seeds. I just did, after doing it like I described above for over five years. There’s a risk of the plants developing late blight or something. If I’m honest, my plants don’t look perfect this time of year, but they are still producing leaves and healthy fruit. I have the same experience whether I order or save the seeds, with the exception that the saved seeds tend to have a higher germination rate. That slice of tomato has like $2.50 worth of seeds in it.

Well done, Brad Gates

This is a Lucid Gem tomato, an heirloom variety developed by Brad Gates of Wild Boar Farms. I had never grown these before this year and never eaten one until today. I gave it a five star review at Baker Creek’s site for flavor, looks and productivity. I also noted it resisted what looked like a blight creeping up on its neighbor (referenced in post Oh we got trouble from last month).

Here’s a Solar Flare, also new to me, very tasty, and impressive to PTA ladies who come to my parties 😉

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And a Paul Robeson that happens to be shaped like a tuchus:

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You’re welcome.

And just because the internet loves cats, here are some adorable barn kittens my niece is holding (sorry for the picture quality):

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I love cats. We had a cat named JB for years and lost her to kidney disease about 5 years ago. We still talk about her. But if I ever get another cat (which will never happen according Metal Pig, who is allergic), s/he’s gonna stay indoors. I was wondering what had happened to the Bird Show, which is what I call it when a variety of birds congregate around my garden at dusk. There are noticeably fewer. Then I think I figured it out. My neighbor got a new cat this year, and I saw him drag the body of a young rabbit into his yard. I was traumatized and called him a bad kitty, like that helps. He just looked at me, back at the rabbit, and then at me again, like, “What?” I can’t blame him. Doesn’t matter that he’s well-fed, he’s just hard wired to hunt. And, like his predecessor Oscar, he’s probably an adorable bird-killer. I’ve seen Oscar take down a sparrow in mid-air. If you wonder what those mysterious pets and feral cats do all day, it probably involves sleeping and killing. That’s why people like them in their barns, but they don’t just chase mice. My friends with outdoor cats are wonderful, caring people, maybe they just don’t know how much impact the kitties have on our wildlife. I didn’t until I looked it up. JB’s favorite place to be was in the garden with me; I guess she just didn’t hunt when I was looking. Or maybe not all cats are so motivated, I don’t know.