Friday, September 19, 2014

Random notes from the year so far.

I got the pictures on a stick, which saves me the trouble of figuring out how Windows 8 organises them. So here goes, finally!
The year so far with pictures. Starting this August 17. The day is cool and cloudy which suits me fine.
May and June this year were great growing weather, a nice mix of sun and rain. Not too cold and not too hot. Thanks to the greenhouse we were eating fresh salads in early May. For the umptieth time, I love my greenhouse! The picture above shows the abundance as of May 11. I must have done something just right with that small 21/2 by 8 ft bed. It yielded an anazing amount of food.
Early in the summer perennial flowers did their thing in the bed to the side of the lawn.  This is a poor picture, I had not figured out the camera's menu yet. The deer were relatively merciful.  Somehow they left the astrantia alone.
Of course I had to create some more work for myself by buying annuals to fill in the gaps.
Salmon coloured poppy is always a brief and uncertain glory. It bloomed during a showery period and we never got more than a few blooms at the time. I did get this one picture I am quite proud of.
Since I am a non technical klutz I was quite pleased that I managed to remove the dull, nicked beyond repair blade from the lawnmower in order to replace it. The mower  had cut the lumpy space that passes for lawn here for almost a quarter century and was otherwise working just fine.  It turns out they don't make blades for this sturdy model any more. I went to town for a blade and came home with a new mower. It works great and is lighter, but I doubt the plastic body will last as long as its metal predecessor. Planned obsolescence, don't get me started or I'll be ranting on the insanity of the economic system for hours.
By late June it got HOT and by the second week of July we were in a nightmarish heatwave/drought that defined much of the summer. That nice blue time of early July, when the rains have stopped but summer is still young and all is lush and green, that time was cut short this year. It soon felt more like August. The valley was choked with smoke from the many wildfires, fortunately none right here. It felt scary. At the beach the water was delicious, but the atmosphere was so weird I didn't even enjoy it. The sky was white, the mountains across the lake were barely visible in the smoky haze. A hot erratic wind made one worry about the fate of the many brave souls fighting wildfires. We had one week of respite, cooler temperatures and one rainy day around the twentieth of July. The heat soon returned with a vengeance and did not abate till August  14. It was often smoky/muggy, and more to be endured than enjoyed. In spite of the many weeks of hot dry weather I feel strangely unsatisfied with the summer. I was also very busy, a mixed blessing.

It feels like September now. The trees were weakened by drought and are shedding leaves, some of the bracken is yellowing. Our Saturday market yesterday was quite wet and nobody minded, we were all so glad to see some moisture.
On the plus side, harvests were early too. We had the earliest green beans ever, these beauties came out of the greenhouse on July 15. I had stuck them in between the Chinese cabbages, so when those bolted the beans were well up and raring to go. Better: just pre-start them in pots. They got a bit too leggy from having to fight their way up in childhood. One smart new trick: sticking bamboo poles in between the beans, one per plant. Even a bush bean likes some support. 

Continuing August 29.
Blame the Nexus 7 and the cat for the long interval. These days I spend more computer time in my comfy chair with the tablet, lap free for cat. This makes it less likely I will work on a blog post. Even my four fingered efforts on the keyboard are faster than the tap tap tap with the stylus on the touch screen and besides I have not figured out how to add pictures.
Once July was past the flowerbeds were TOAST, victims of drought and deer. The only late colour comes from the petunias, geraniums and marigolds in containers that are placed along the edge of the border and diligently sprayed with Bobbex. Plants the deer never used to touch, like sedum and golden glow, are now systematically demolished. 
The veg garden on the other hand is starting to look decent again after an interval when I felt like a total failure. I mean, if you can't even grow zucchini, what's the world coming to? It turned out the small fruits that started rotting in infancy were suffering from blossom end rot. The same plague hit many gardens in the area, even a professional grower. Extreme heat may have played a role. I removed one plant to improve air circulation, encouraged the other three to grow in a certain direction, removed all sick leaves and stems and gave them a good spray with liquid seaweed. The temperatures also moderated. Whatever did the trick, we are finally enjoying the usual zucchini season with lots to eat and plenty to give away.
We have carrot pulp to use up for all the things that used to soak up the excess zucchini crop. Muffins, sauces, veggie patties.  Last year I dried a bunch but we did not really like them. Conclusion: consider summer squash a seasonal treat and relax. It makes no sense to let them grow beyond tiny deliciousness.
Isis Loran posted a list of questions to ask ourselves NOW, while we can still remember what was what. Good plan. I try to do that with an almost-annual Asparagus to Zucchini post.
but I love these questions, especially 4 and 6. As the attentive reader can see, the beets were eaten up again. The dastardly voles are back. I had planted lots because we juice carrots and beets almost daily. 
Before they were eaten the beets were looking great, with the healthiest leaves I have ever seen. Credit goes to Steve Solomon's COF with a tiny bit of boron. The few we did get were delicious.
These golden beets came from the greenhouse. Could I have prevented the loss? Maybe. I could have planted them in a fortress bed, but that is what I did with the gourmet Sieglinde potatoes, supposedly a late variety. The plants started to die down quite early. When I pulled back the hay I found the vines had been chewed through. The varmints had managed to get in there. There were a lot of half eaten potatoes. Voles can JUMP and I had allowed the buttercups around the base of the bed to get too high. I saw a big fat culprit,  It took him or her a few tries before (s)he managed to jump out of the box, which gives me hope that with better weeding at the base the fortresses will hold. By the way, the few Sieglindes that we did get were delicious. Yellow, firm, waxy, will plant again.
My nomination for Plant of the Year goes to Lucullus Swiss Chard. It does not look as dramatic as Rainbow chard with its many colours of stems, but is it ever delicious! It is mild and tender, without that set-your-teeth-on-edge oxalic acid quality. Much more like spinach. Since spinach always bolts here this makes me very happy. At the end of the season I am transplanting it in any gap. is September 19. Forget the rest of this, I might as well start on the Asparagus to Zucchini overview!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Gardening with an accounting principle

Many years ago, when my daughter was a baby, I took a course in accounting. The idea was to acquire a usable skill that might lead to flexible employment, perhaps as a free lancer from home. I didn't get very far. My brain was Mommy Mush, totally obsessed with the adorable 4 months old at home. She was extra special because it had taken two pregnancies to produce her.

But I did learn something in that course that has always stayed with me: The Principle of Ongoing Concern.
It means that no matter how brief the future of an enterprise may be, you keep the books as if it will continue forever.

You may be planning to declare bankruptcy on your startup next week, you still maintain those books as if the business is working towards its centennial celebration.

Right now I am applying that principle in the gardens. One moment I want to stay on this land forever, the next the village beckons. There is much to be said for having friendly coffee shops and the beautiful waterfront within walking distance. A friend is considering putting her home up for sale. I love her place and have often imagined myself there. It is right in the heart of the village, but the fenced sheltered lot is private and offers plenty of scope for the aspiring urban food gardener. No deer and a longer growing season. Dilemmas, dilemmas. 

But meanwhile we serve these gardens as if we will be here for years to come. We garden with the principle of ongoing concern.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Moments of truth

I came into the fenced veg garden on the top level and noticed that a wind storm the previous day had damaged two pole extensions. When the fence was built some years ago Old Dutch did a brilliant job of extending it upwards. Some of the extensions had snapped. For reasons I will not go into here any fixing is up to me. I did a temporary job using the material on hand: duck tape. 

But while I stood there taking in the damage and wondering how to keep the hungry hordes of deer out now it suddenly hit me: This is getting to be TOO MUCH. The time is coming to retrench instead of expand. 
For the first time ever the thought of a nice small house in the village with a decent size garden began to appeal to me in the middle of summer. In winter the thought has occurred before but once the snow is gone, never! I will die here! Or so I thought. People can change. The thought of the actual move is daunting. It's not like you can wave a wand and magically switch places. But there is much to be said for making those changes while we can and before we must. The offspring has a sentimental attachment to the place but it is unlikely they will want to live here again as long as the present geological and social order holds. It may not but that is another story.

Another moment of truth: I have run out of "If onlies" and I am still nowhere near the perfect garden. You know, if only my hips did not hurt. If only I was not side tracked by the farmers market, house guests or reflexology clients. If only I did not get tired halfway the day. If only I had a greenhouse.
If only I had a fence. If only I had enough manure. If only I had enough mulch.

Well, this year there are no excuses.
Body parts: working fine, thank you chiropractor and physio.
Energy level: great, thank you surgeon and bluegreen algae.
Time: In May and most of June I was available to the garden almost 24/7. I potted up a few plants for the market but not much. 
Greenhouse: check.
Manure: check. I started the year with an ample supply of sifted compost and COF.
Mulch: last fall a friend delivered 25 bales of hay. I can pile it on. Straw is better but hay is more easily available.

It is still not done. There. Moment of truth. I am trying to do too much. If I did not get it all together this year I never will. 

We have now hit the season of extreme heat as well as harvest. Keeping things watered and picked will take precedence over working ahead, framing another raised bed etc. I am also taking part in the farmers market again, getting reflex clients again, and the grandson is coming over for three weeks. The time of total garden obsession is over for this year. Either we relax in the wabi sabi of it and enjoy what is there, which is plenty! or we drive ourselves nuts. Wabi Sabi (the appreciation of imperfection) it is.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Garden seasons by state of mind.

June  2014. (started early in the month, finished later)

Surely it cannot be the sixth month of a year whose date still sounds slightly unreal? Ruminations about time must be reserved for the rants blog, or I get side tracked even more than usual.

I am behind, of course. On the other hand we have been eating home-grown salads since early May, which is pretty good, and I froze my first bags of greens for spanakopita and non-palak non-paneer. One of the reasons this blog has been languishing is the lack of good photos. I have never liked the Canon Power shot A1300 as much as its predecessor, the A560. We finally figured out how to access the menus in the first, and cleaning the lens restored bulky Old Faithful. Better pictures coming soon, I hope.

Meanwhile I have been incubating a post about the states of mind that seem to accompany each micro season in the garden. Today is the first cold rainy day in some time, a perfect time for it. No pictures.

March/early April: Re-awakening.
We have starts under grow lights, and are slowly shifting into garden mode. "Brown Time" is the time after snow melt and before the grass and bracken kick in. The soil is still too wet to work, plants are sleepily stirring underground but not doing much yet. There are aconites, crocuses and snowdrops in the small flower bed underneath the living room window, but otherwise every green shoot is a rare cause for celebration.

We can walk all over the land. In winter the snow is too deep, in summer the bracken too high. Ideally, Brown Time lasts from about mid-March to mid-April, and is a leisurely season of poking and puttering, collecting stakes from the woods, dragging messy branches to brush piles for burning, raking up some of the dead vegetation from the bracken field to use as mulch later on, tidying up the flowerbeds, moving some perennials around.

In a not-ideal year like this one March is still winter and snow lingers till mid-April. We have to hit the ground running.

Mid April/early May: The season of promise.
We are fully engaged now. Perennials are popping up in the bare flower beds. Hardy starts like leeks and brassicas have been moved into the greenhouse, tender seedlings remain under lights but have been potted up. We are preparing the soil, one of my favourite things to do. Changing a lumpy weedy bed to a smooth dark  seedbed is so full of promise. Everything seems possible, even crops that look like the glowing pictures in seed catalogues. Could this be the year we pull it all together? The land is like a park, a total joy. Daffodils and primroses are blooming in the flowerbeds. The open spaces are green, but the bracken lags behind the grass. We can still see everywhere. 

Mid May/mid June: Obsession and Panic
I live, breathe and eat gardening. It is truly all I want to do, all I can think about, all I want to read about. If this state of mind lasted all year I would be a very boring person. (I may still be) Everything is still possible, but we now feel a sense of urgency verging on panic as the Solstice looms ever closer. Nothing seems more important than to get those last beds planted, those yearning babies in the greenhouse potted up, the flower beds trimmed and finished with annuals. I resent anything that comes between me and the garden work. Peace in the Middle East would be nice, but how will it affect my cabbages and irises? I am behind, of course. I love the work, but I would be much happier if only it were late April instead of late May. Bracken is coming up and unfurling.

Later June: Disappointment
It is becoming clear that once again this will not be the year of the perfect garden. We are still behind, torn between flower beds and vegetable garden. The weather has been too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. Carrots may need reseeding, beans have rotted in the wet ground,  spinach and Chinese cabbages have bolted in the heat.  Slugs have taken their toll, or flea beetles, or cabbage moths, voles, or all of the above. The novelty of having green leafy things to eat has worn off, but the peas are not ready yet. Disappointment season is brief but it happens every year. Bracken is fully up and out now, closing us in. The obsession is waning a bit. We remember that there is more to life than gardening, that minds and friendships need cultivating as much as the ground.

July: Resignation and jungle.
Winter seems impossibly far away. We have always been in the garden and we always will be. Not all visions came true, but the plants that are growing are doing it so fast we can barely keep up. I call it jungling. Besides, it is getting too hot to get upset. Who needs perfection? Let's do some beach, or flop down on the shady lawn with a good murder. In the hottest months the garden has to compete for attention with summer guests, the farmers market and the desire to have some summer fun.

August: The fullness of harvest.
The fullness of summer. Even in a bad year there should at least be zucchini and snap beans. Watering may become an issue. We are starting to fill the freezer. There are early potatoes. In years we have chickens this means we can put an entire home grown meal on the table, I love that.

September to early October: More harvest, and thinking of  next year.
The climate seems to have shifted. These days spring is late to warm up, but September has become a true summer month. This has been the pattern for some years now. I love September in the garden. The summer guests have gone, and we don't feel torn between garden and  beach. The days are cool enough for serious work. We are enjoying the plenty of this year, and leisurely working ahead for the next season, when the garden will be perfect, right? In a good year garlic gets planted between September 15 and October 15. In a bad year it gets planted with clumsy freezing fingers with the first skiff of snow already on the ground.....

Mid October/early November: Wrapping it up, working ahead, maybe.
Once it gets cold the garden feels like work. I may still put in a few hours a day, but when the temps fall below 7 C my hands start hurting after half an hour or so. Guess I am allowed some signs of old age. Brussels sprouts get harvested by sawing whole frozen stalks off and dashing back inside. We start to look forward to the winter break. If the raspberries get pruned before the snow flies, great. If not, by now we know that a painful chore in fall is pleasure in spring.

Halloween to Imbolc: REST.

In May I may picture myself studying and planning during the off season. The reality is that by November I welcome a break from the whole thing. Once the snow covers everything the garden is out of sight, out of mind. The cycle starts again in late January or early February, when we seed leeks. You can't plant them early enough.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Let there be light! The trouble with trees.

As said before, what this land wants to do is grow trees. It is very good at it. While waiting for trees a lush cover of grass and bracken fern, interspersed with wild flowers, holds the soil on the slope. One of these days I will devote a post entirely to bracken.
June is tiger lily month.

It is hard to remember, but in our earliest years we were thrilled to find baby trees here and there. We wanted a fringe around the place for privacy in case neighbouring lots ended up being cleared. We got it. Indeed, we are now surrounded by clearings, but our neighbours are mainly invisible thanks to our own trees. We also wanted a few islands of trees here and there. They obligingly appeared. 

There is one problem: trees don't know when to quit. They just keep spreading and they just keep growing. I love trees but I also love sunshine and views. 

We have had several cullings when the price of timber was higher. The money we got for the wood paid for the work done by the horse logger. That was some years ago. It was time for a new round. I would have done it earlier but for two factors. Finding a way to get it done without paying anyone, and domestic politics. It seems that in every household in the woods one partner likes shade and privacy, while another prefers sun and openness. My own inertia is a powerful force to begin with. Add the desire to avoid conflict, and years passed with more shade than I like. 

What finally shook me up was remembering that non-action is a form of action. (Thanks for the lesson son Alex) We have never sat down to discuss the pros and cons of turning an abandoned hay field with stunning views into forest with a few openings. It just happened. So why do I feel guilty about removing a few trees? The culling done now is still a compromise.

One large tree shaded the greenhouse section. Every year I pictured it gone, but put up with it for one more year. Its time had come. 
The last blow to inertia was struck by a good friend who found an experienced faller to do the job. The friend pays for the work in return for the firewood. I know nothing about the value of wood, but apparently it is a good deal all around. Win/win.
Note the twin stumps in the center above. The extra light in this garden, just below the greenhouse, is amazing!
The only drawback is the mess of branches. 
I thought of hiring a teenager to deal with them, but after the chiropractor fixed my hips again I did my own shlepping to a central pile. 
And so it goes.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

No spring yet, and not in my step either.

Spring Equinox 2014. 
We had some beautiful days and then some more snow/sleet/yuck. The snow is melting, but it has a long way to go yet. The last of the snow can leave the gardens here at any time between early March and late April. Obviously this will not be one of those early springs when we can get a leisurely head start. Too bad, I love it when I can spend a few weeks just poking around without hurrying. Remind self to be grateful we are not in drought-ridden California. 

We do have signs of spring.
Poor robin. The dramatic pile of snow is what slid off the roof. I love that roof.
As reported I lost my first batch of seedlings due to my own stupidity. That put a damper on the early enthousiasm. 
But a worse damper is coming from my body. 
My injured right knee (tibial plateau fracture in July 2012) has been acting up, after being fine for a year. Last year it allowed me to do absolutely everything I felt like doing, including feats of extreme digging. I walked up and down the hill between dwelling and garden and barn, I hauled what needed to be hauled, I had no pain, was full of energy and had a blast. Hips might balk once in a while but a visit to our wonderful chiropractor took care of that. Aging? Ha! Not yet! Scott Nearing didn't slow down till he was almost a hundred, right? Or so we thought till this week.
The path to the greenhouse is a half-thawed out trail through snow that is still halfway to my knees. That is the worst possible thing to walk on, even when you are careful. You take a few steps and without warning your foot slips off the trail into the soft mush to the side of it. Needless to say this is hard on the knees. It happened a few times yesterday when I took the compost to the barn through a different route. I thought I had gotten away with it, but on the way home from a walk, on the easy flat part just below our own land, I experienced a sudden sharp pain just below the knee cap and felt half crippled for the rest of the day and half of the next.

The plan had been to start some more seeds but it took me too long to move around. I got the planter prepared, that's all. This was one of the days when the thought of a cute house in the village with a small but perfect garden starts to be appealing.

I dug up some of the physiotherapy exercises I never did a lot of. The knee responded with gratitude. Stronger muscles help to keep the knee in place. I should have called this post "When in doubt, follow instructions, part 2".

Post script.
I had almost forgotten about that. The knee as well as the rest of the body has been behaving perfectly after a few exercises. I am so grateful to the good trusty old beast!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

When all else fails, follow instructions.

WAAAH!!! My first planting of leeks is damping off! And it is entirely my fault. Talk about being penny wise and pound foolish.

This has never happened before. I feel like someone working in a hospital, besieged by increasingly resistant bacteria, who has come to rely on the magic of antibiotics and gotten sloppy about hand washing.

What does every garden book tell you about starting seeds, which I have been doing for more than 40 years now? Use a sterilized planting medium. I usually make it a point of saving some from the big bales and keeping it handy so I can thaw it out come February. But last year I did not sell plants at the market, I ran out of potting mix and did not feel like shlepping another bale to the greenhouse. Instead I sieved potting mix that had been used in containers last year and used that. Sieved, but did not sterilize.

Fortunately I have lots more seed and it is still early. But still. There goes a full month of time advantage. The only other things I got going are leafy greens, that are very replaceable if they die.

Today we buy some bags of starter mix. Grrrr. 

Continued: The next two batches did not do well either. That may have been burning by overzealous use of liquid fertilizer, rather than damping off. There had been no sign of fungus after all. Instead of my usual Sunshine mix enriched with COF I had some Schultz all-purpose liquid plant food and diligently misted my seedlings with it. Did I use an exact measure? No.....more what Jamie Oliver calls a glug. Finally read the instructions. For a one liter spray bottle half a teaspoon will do. Oops. See title of blog. So old, and not yet wise.....