Sunday, December 31, 2006

Six weird things

Bloody Beatrice last night with a mouse tidbit (a gift from us after the cats were done with it)**

I got tagged by Monica a couple of days ago with a meme about "Six Weird Things About You." Hmm. The rules indicate I should tag six other poor souls, but I think I will spare the lot of you. I had to think a bit, mainly because I am probably SO weird that I needed some help deciding on 6 things. So I asked my husband.

Here are the six things:

1. My husband. Seriously.

2. Even though I am a vegetarian of long standing, I can kill anything, usually without much hesitation. I figure I am channeling some farmer ancestors.

3. I have done much genealogical research, and I can't find any farmer ancestors, or at least none for the past 5 generations.

4. I eat popcorn with a fork (but I lower my standards when at the movie theater).

5. I am really weird about old food. Three days, and it goes to the chickens.

6. Since 7th grade, I had painted nails. Long ones. Then I had the kid, and no more polish. Now I bite my nails. (What is up with THAT?)

Happy new year to you all!

**the red in the photo above? Not blood, just the glow of the brooder light we have in their coop. When they huddle under it, I am reminded of the roast station at an awful buffet-style dining establishment. Poor birds.

Friday, December 29, 2006

On time

Huge sin of commission: a clock in full view of the garden

So I am terribly pleased with myself in that I have actually gotten organized. Sure; my socks aren't paired, but hey, my seeds have been recatalogued, my seed order made, and--most importantly--my shed is now not an embarrassing mess. All this is thanks to 1. a day and a half off of work and 2. my mother's help with her granddaughter.

I really wanted nothing for this holiday. In fact, I made a list that only had 3 things on it (three books) and yes indeedy I received multiple copies of all three. Sigh. What I really should have asked for was TIME. Can I please have some time? Time to read, time to straighten out the shed, time to sort my seeds?

And it is time that I gave to others this year. We made gifts of banana bread, granola, strawberry jam and--best of all--felted slippers made of sweaters we shrunk from Goodwill. I guess this is what I mean. Time is precious. If I can give it, I do. If I can take it, glutton that I am, I WILL!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Seed ordering

One place will be getting all my seed moolah this year.

The problem, of course, with ordering from only one place is that later catalogs come along and you get tempted. I mean, do I really NEED Egyptian (Walking) Onions? I might just.

And then I might just need to order more Asian vegetables. Especially yard-long beans.

Reading Fedco's catalogs is an education. They avoid Frankenseeds. Their refund policy is exemplary. Their organic seed is well-researched. They tell you how heirlooms perform against "improved" and hybrid varieties.

But I will tell you this: even though it is out of my zone, and even out of my area of the country, Fedco is a cooperative, and they culitvate heirloom trees, especially cold-hardy apple varieties. We're in the market for an orchard, or rather about 18 trees. And even though I live right in the middle of the fruitbelt, apples are not as big here as peaches, or blueberries. And it's apples I love...and apricots, pears, plums...

And IF it's peaches and blueberries I want, I know where to get them, locally.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Shifting zones

On Christmas Eve the budding naturalist and I went out looking for deer tracks in the mud of our land. Considering there is no snow to track them, it's mud that'll work (and does). We burned off some housebound pent-up toddler energy, then I selected a place to lie down in the sun. Our neighbor's dog had been barking at ours (we'd been tossing the ball for her) and so our neighbor came out with his dog, a puppy, to see us. I didn't hear him come, as I was lying down with my hat on my face.

"I thought you had fallen down. But instead, it looks like you found the only dry spot to lie down on," he said. "And what's she doing?" he asked, meaning the budding naturalist.

"She's picking me a dandelion bouquet," I said, indicating the large pile she'd amassed on my stomach.

It appears our little slice of earth has moved from a zone 6 to a zone 6-7. Christmas Eve, and we're out picking flowers. Are there still people out there who doubt the world is getting warmer?

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Coniferous greetings for the holiday season

(Coniferous? What, green, prickly, and sappy? Yes.)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Brassicas part two

Peeking under the political bed

So I grew a few Asian brassicas this year, too. Mizuna, though it gets eaten by flea beetles, is a big salad favorite around here. Pak choy, especially the mini kind shown above, often ends up stir-fried. Tatsoi, which has to be one of the prettiest green things out there, is good both cold and hot, and, when cold, its little spoon-shaped leaves are excellent receptacles for salad dressing. Then there's the hot mustard. All can be found at Kitazawa, along with a bunch of other fancy stuff! I'm looking forward to trying their bolt-resistant Japanese spinach this year.

And the non-Asian brassica that got planted the most around here (my notes say I planted it eight times) is rapini. Broccoli raab, whatever; it can get very bitter in the heat, but I'm still picking it out of the bed above. We stirfry it with garlic. (But what don't I stirfry with garlic. Blueberries, maybe.)

Thursday, December 21, 2006

With the start of winter, spring can't be too far behind

Bee balm and phlox nodding in the wind

On this, the shortest day of the year, I thought I would show a sunnier photo.

Blogger Beta has been bonky; to all who've tried to post, I apologize. I ended up turning off all flaming hoops for you to post. So unless I get a scourge of unsolicited, stupid posts, this'll stand until Blogger resolves their issues.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The star, and playing favorites

Frost-nipped parsley (Petroselinum crispum neapolitanum) is still good eating

When I reread my enthusiastic post about brassicas from yesterday, it got me thinking. Why do we pick favorites?

Broccoli has always been a favorite of mine, but it was only once I became interested in vegetarian foods and cucina povera (Italian for, basically, use what you have in your pantry) that dried beans and kales became regular dinner fare. But do I love them, I ask myself, because they grow so well for me? Is this a mutual admiration society here?

And I think it is. This parsley did not grow for me last year. This year I started it in the garage, and transferred it out to two big patches in the veg garden. Parsley is so...ubiquitous that it usually isn't given much consideration. It is an herb, after all; my experience is that most anyone can grow herbs. But parsley ends up in almost every savory dish I make, usually as a finishing touch, so it, like lowly onions and life-affirming garlic, is very necessary. That it is pretty and bug-free earn it bonus points, certainly.

(Do you play favorites?)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Brassica oleracea 2006

Frosty Nero di Toscana kale and Morris Heading collards in the garden this morning
I am puffed up and spouting poetry when I think of the genus Brassica:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
(partial, XLIII from Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

It is beginning to feel like Christmas around here: hoarfrost everywhere, and maybe (finally) those frogs have sunk back into their hidey-holes.

My first lovingly coddled office-sprouted batches of broccoli (Calabrese Green Sprouting, Early Purple Sprouting and Romanesco Italia, all Baker Creek) bit it in our really late frost, so I had to go with some cutting broccoli I found at the seed store. Wow does that stuff like my garden. I am still getting sprouts off of it. My second planting of broccoli (direct-seeded in July) got hit by our early frost in October. YES I feel very put-out.

But the kale of course did well. (Baker Creek '05 seed for both.) I planted a 6-cell flat with Red Russian kale back in the garage in February and planted it out with the early spinach in March under a row cover. It did fabulously, and still is. What's great about this open-pollinated seed is that the plants are all slightly different from each other, so one will be really red, one purple and one will be more a White Russian than a Red. I also planted a row of lacinato (also called Dinosaur, Nero di Toscana and Black Palm Tree) that I transplanted around. Gorgeous stuff. SO good in lentil soup. It is still producing.

Then of course there's the collards. Morris Heading Collards (Baker Creek, '05 seed) are a gift that keeps giving in my garden. I direct-seeded them in a row then planted them around the garden. They're great in the spring, but they are really fabulous once the frost gets them. I should be able to make a mighty fine Hoppin' John with all my Holstein and Cardinal cowpeas (black-eyed peas are relatives) for New Year's Day.

I will have to wax on about the wonders of Asian brassicas at a later post. Tonight's dinner will be "green potatoes," which are Yukon Golds slightly mashed with garlic-sauteed Red Russian kale. With lots of butter, of course.

Monday, December 18, 2006


This always happens!

It's still so unseasonably warm here. I left the house this morning without a coat (but I did have mittens in the car). So, what is a gardener to do when things are warm and wet as opposed to cold and frozen at this time of year? She digs more trenches.

Mapquest and other online mapping systems like TerraServer and Topozone offer aerial photos. They're not terrible high-resolution, but they're educational. The aerial above our house was taken in years before we purchased it, and also back when it was still a productive farm. The garden area, as I have probably mentioned before, has always been this house's garden area. The aerial photo shows it as a depression. The topographic map shows it as a flat area on the downslope of a hill. We're not talking mountains, here: just enough slope for the garden to accumulate water. There was a trench running around the south and east part of the garden. I extended it this weekend to run along the west, too, so we no longer get "water events" like what was shown in the above photo.

We have clay soil, which accounts for the ridiculously long time puddles just stick around on our place. It's the kind of clay soil that will add 2" to your height just by sticking to your boots. It's also the reason for the no-outdoor-shoes rule in our house.

Will it work? Well, the raised beds do help. (And guess where I put all this new dirt dug out of the trenches?)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Lettuces 2006

Poof into seed
I went a little crazy with the lettuces this year. Actually, I simply committed the sin of underestimating germination, and then I didn't have the heart to kill all those cute little babies. So we had lettuce coming out our ears. Good thing, though: I was quite popular for a while, giving a lot away. I also used them in my newly-dug flower beds, planted en masse for color.

There's always the mesclun mixes, of course, that are broadcast on the ground or in transplant flats. These do well, and I am mostly able to identify weed from seed when the plants are fairly young. But this year, in the unheated garage, I started a flat of heading plants. They were great. So tasty.

Focea green butterhead (Johnny's Selected Seeds, '06). Cos type, quite bright green.
Fireball red butterhead (Johnny's, '06). More spreading than Focea, and quite burgundy to start, but more mottled red when it heads up.
Freckles romaine (Johnny's, '06). Upright romaine, if you let it get that tall. Beautiful red-spotted leaves. Did not get bitter.

These are the other cold-season salad-type things I planted this year:
Claytonia (Johnny's, '06)
Dutch corn salad (Baker Creek, '06)
Giant Noble spinach (Baker Creek '05)
The first two were planted in one flat inside a plastic tub with a clear lid. I set it outside in February, in an area that got maybe one hour of sun a day. This worked. Claytonia, though, hates being transplanted. The spinach was fall-planted under straw (successful!) and also planted in the flat with the lettuce. I planted the tiny seedlings out much sooner than the lettuce and put a row cover over the top. I don't know; I never have complete success with spinach; it never gets very big before it bolts. Such is the nature of the beast, I guess.

Next year I will do the same in-the-garage trick. I always like oak-leaf and deer tongue lettuces, and never seem to have enough in the mesclun mixes, so I will probably get more of that kind of seed next year.

Oh, and one other thing: once the plants start to shoot into seed, you can hack off all but the bottom two inches of the plant and it will put out more baby leaves. They won't be bitter, but they'll be tougher than those early baby plants. If you do let them go to seed, then save the seeds! YUM.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Season extension

I am absolutely kicking myself that I didn't do more to extend the seasons. This above pic was taken yesterday in the weedy herb garden. It's of two types of arugula, some chervil, and some weeds (a nagging rhizomatous grass, and some Queen Ann's lace). Ah. In the category of "next year," right?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tomatoes 2006

Amish Paste

I will have it be known to all that I killed a mosquito in our kitchen this morning. Yep; 12/14/06, and global warming is a theory.

I have wondered how I would review the vegetables, and it struck me that I could adopt the Academy Awards format. Too hokey, certainly; though in many people's gardens, tomatoes ARE the best actors or even the best picture.

Well. My notes say I planted 7 types of tomatoes from seed, and one tomato from an extra plant my mom had. In general, this was a very wet year, and we also had a cool spring; all this means that tomatoes took a while longer to ripen. I harvested our first small tomatoes the last week of July, but the first big ones didn't ripen for another week or more...and the chickens nabbed my first harvest. Little buggers. I fixed them, though.

So here's the list, from small to big:
Black Cherry (Baker Creek, '05 seeds). Heirloom, purple, prolific, tasty. Also known around here as Pox On Your House, as these were the only volunteers I found, and I found them in EVERY bed (compost not hot enough, I guess)
Riesentraube (Baker Creek, '06 seeds). "Giant bunch of grapes" red, nippled tomatoes; good sweet salad tomatoes; small plants, small leaves.
Sweet 1000s cherry: random plant. Somewhat thick skin, orange-ish, very prolific; not as tasty as the above two.
Green Zebra (Baker Creek, '05 seeds). Best fresh tomato; heirloom, know it's ready when it gets yellow shoulders. Fussy plant, not terribly prolific, but worth it.
Amish Paste (Baker Creek, '06 seeds). Plum-like, fleshy paste tomato. Very prolific, somewhat uniform fruit; tends to ripen all at once so be prepared.
Striped Romans (Baker Creek, '05 seed). Beauty queen winner; elongated, thick-ish skin, fussy heirloom. Will get blossom end rot if conditions not ideal (mulch is the answer). This is the "Oooo" fruit to impress the guests; easy to peel and can.
Hillbilly Potato Leaf/Flame (Baker Creek, '05 seed). Big beauty that can crack at the shoulders if it gets dry. Cut it open and it is beyond gorgeous. I made lots of salsa with this and the Green Zebras for my kid's school (so that is a LOT of salsa); quite tasty.
Brandywine (Baker Creek, '06 seed). THE heirloom. Big, thick, pink tomatoes; my largest one weighed in over a pound. Quite tasty, too. Like all large tomatoes, prone to cracking and catfacing; watch their water when they're plumping up.

I always wonder why I plant large tomatoes at about the time when it seems like they're taking forever to pinken up, but then, when they're all coming in (at once, it seems) I wonder why the hell I plant small tomatoes. I can't win, in other words.

The tomatoes were planted out with a half scoop of well-rotted sheep manure in their holes, and they were planted next to 2x2x8' posts. I lost my first batch to our ridiculously late frost. Once the second batch took hold, I put compost on them up to their shoulders, and compost (about a double handful) on each plant once more toward bloom set in mid-July. I mulched first with straw, then with grass clippings once the season went on. My other tricks this year were to plant Genovese basil in the middle of the plants: it didn't bolt once the tomatoes blocked their light, so I always had some on hand. I also planted vining nasturtiums on the beds' perimeter to act as a type of green mulch. The nasturtiums climbed the plants and made a colorful display. My watering schedule was nil after the 2nd week of July, but I had watered plenty to get the plants going.

Next year? Who knows. There'll always be tomatoes around here, though.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

2006 Garden Review

Parsley, taking an end of season bow
The garden recap, 2006

We had a garage sale when we lived in Minneapolis the spring before we moved. I brought out boxes of books, categorized by subject, alphabetized by author, all boxes labeled. Nutty, I know, but it was something I had to do. Now, this was Minneapolis, which has a fairly well-educated citizenry: one patron looked at the books, looked between Tom and me, and said, “Which one of you is INTJ?”

(Now, it will be a cold dark day if some random Michigander garage-sale shopper even KNOWS Myers-Briggs categories, much less can look at one’s spread of books and can type the book sorter. It will also be a cold dark day before I ever have another garage sale.)

With this in mind, I hereby give a wrapup of my 2006 vegetable season. Here are the five “truths” of the season:
1. Mulch. Mulch with anything on hand, but mulch. Copiously. Repeatedly.
2. Nobody Grows Alone. No single grouping of plants for the bugs seek/destroy.
3. Squash bugs are Enemy #1.
4. Succession planting = Successful planting. In some instances, I planted things eight different times.
5. Giant of Italy parsley was the surprise winner of the season.

Over the next few whatever--weeks, days--I will go over each pretty little thing that got planted out this year. Maybe it will help you suss out what you may want to plant next season; maybe it won't be completely juicy blog material, but hey: this IS a gardening blog, after all.

As it is, I need to review my notes and seed packages. They're all organized, you know, by plant family, growth type, and general requirements. Of course. It was something I had to do.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

More weather wackiness

Tom said he saw a frog in the pond yesterday when he went to get the mail. It's a gray warm day out there, so out I went, armed with the video camera, to see what I could see. Well, I rounded the corner of the house and I heard about 15 splashes: all frogs on deck decided they were camera-shy.

I can see one now from my window seat, but I won't bother to try to take its picture.

It's December 12th, for crying out loud! I just hope, for the frogs' sake, the weather settles in to one season or another. I am not sure if their internal calendars are telling them this is December or March, but if it's happening in our little pond, it's happening elsewhere, too. I just hope the poor buggers don't go into baby-love mode and hatch out some tadpoles. They'd freeze.

The green thing? It's the pond de-icer (helps keep the fish alive, not ice off the pond; it only thaws a hole about 2" wider than it is). The pond had 2" of ice on it on Thursday.

Monday, December 11, 2006

What global warming?

The season of mud gets longer

We woke up to 45* temperatures this morning. Winter was short this year.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

On tidiness

My secret shame

So I mentioned a few posts back that I was thinking about a recap of last season's veg garden. I admitted I'd even drawn the garden's plan on AutoCAD, but I said the rest of my life is not so tidy. Well, here's my dirty secret: this is the potting shed. And it is in here, somewhere, that I have the garden's plan.

I realize I am incredibly fortunate to even have a garden shed, especially when reading other gardeners' blogs. What this picture isn't showing you is the shed is a lot larger than it appears: I've only captured about a third of the thing in the snapshot. And it's a mess, which you can plainly see.

Granted, I am not solely responsible for its messy state. I share the blame with my husband, who, usually in a fit of pique, is prone to throw things in there. He has his own shed for his tractor and the like and I confess it's as neat as a pin.

So if I look back and say WHY is this the state of things, especially because it wasn't nearly such a travesty last year, I realize this: I completely prioritize the little time I do have to garden by spending it ONLY in the garden. I figure shed-neatening is a non-gardening activity better taken on in the winter. Like now. Maybe even today.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Our kid has an immense interest in deer. "Let's go find some deer tracks," said I, hoping to lure her outside.

We found one set. And those of rabbits, a coyote, a cat, and some mice. The little narturalist is correctly identifying rabbit tracks in the bottom photo.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Why is this such a letdown?

After giving them all this credit, I renege on the accuracy of our local weather people's reports. Yes, I should mention they had downgraded their snowfall predictions from 12" to 8". But we saw 3", maybe.

Granted, lake-effect snow is notoriously hard to predict. I will say this: it usually hits inland, off the lake's shore, by a couple of miles...and escalates from there. We're about a mile from the lake, so, by my estimation, we should've been somewhat spared. But so was everyone else.

It's supposed to be in the upper 30s this weekend, though; those chickens will soon see their grass and beloved dusting dirtpatch before too long.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Anticipation of precipitation

It's coming...

So yesterday I ran around like a headless chicken, battening down the hatches in preparation for all this snow. Today was a snow day from school. And we're all inside all toasty-warm, waiting for it to hit.

That wind is sure whipping around out there. And the snow is coming down, but you always wonder if it is REALLY going to be as bad as they say.

I let the chickens out. They did a once-over of their pen and then ran into their condo. We situated the condo in such a way that we can see the door from inside the house. They all sit in the doorway, fluffed up, looking outside. They're so hopeful.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

On exercise, and the weather

No photo today: Blogger is being mean

Seems to me that when we lived in Minnesota, the weather people on tv were there to pose possibilities in front of their audience. "It might snow," they'd say. Could be that I had a city person's sensibilities, and thus I didn't really care how accurate the weather report wouldn't really affect me, other than I'd need to shovel my sidewalk if their possibilities came true.

But now I am here and the weather people are dead-on. They say snow? We'll get it. They say 6"? We'll get between 5-7". They say the dreaded "lake effect", as they did last night, and give a graphic showing our place getting 12" tomorrow? Well, boy, aren't I glad Tom had the foresight to put the plow on the tractor when it was still warm outside.

So I headed to school today with a digging shovel. (There are immense differences in shovels, as you probably know: a poop-scooping shovel won't do diddly if you need to break frozen ground to bury the cable to the new de-icer I bought for the sheep's water trough.) It got above freezing today for the first time in a while, so I thought I should probably do my yard poop and shed muck-out duties before the snow starts falling. And I am out there, raking poop in the slush, just having the time of my life. I really enjoy the sheer physicality of sheep duty, and gardening. It's not like I am running a marathon or bench-pressing twice my weight: no. It's not nearly that straining. It's just a bit of an elevation in heart rate and a bit more huffing and puffing on my part. It's just great.

But I still needed my second cup of coffee when I got home.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Thinking about a recap

Smooshed Green Zebra (looks like I forgot to bring this one in)

I've been reflecting on the last veg garden season. I do take garden notes, and make sketches...but you know, it's hard to really capture a whole season in time when you succession plant about half of your garden's contents every month! And because I am an architect, I also have the damned plan on Autocad. Seriously.

I really am not this organized in real life.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Last bloom

We stepped out for the weekend and--better late than never--winter has set in. Here is the last bloom I found in the garden: a shrub rose.

Like much of the country, we got socked by all that rain last week, and that rain eventually transitioned to snow, but made a stop at Iceville first. NOT FUN. Lots of downed branches around the farm, lots of slippy slidy conditions for all, chickens included. Poor chickens. Where did their grass go? They seem to appreciate their chicken condo. We've gotta get some de-icers, though, for their water.

The sheep, like the chickens, appreciate a doubling of food to keep them metabolizing, heating them up in the process. It has come as something of a shock to me that the sheep sleep outside. I had noticed some thawed patches of ground in their pen a couple of weeks back on a day that their wooly selves were covered with frost. Can't they go into their shed? I mean, chickens, with their minuscule birdbrains, at least have the sense to get out of the cold.

I am glad, though, for this snowcover. It's hard to think of snow as an insulator, but it is. So all those perennials, fruit plants and raised beds of microbial action are (blessedly) covered. For now.

Friday, December 01, 2006

New digs

White-knuckled trip to school today through the ice: One tree, three large branches across our country road, 8 cars in the ditch on the interstate. Dumb sheep were just hanging out, all icy, in their yard. (Get inside!)

On Thanksgiving, Tom and my father-in-law jerryrigged a chicken run. I had kept the chickens indoors on Wednesday, only letting the remaining 3 out with me in the garden when I harvested potatoes for the next day's big meal. Let's just say the new pen doesn't meet my exacting construction standards, but it will suffice, certainly, to keep the birds safe. The overall pic is taken from Tom's office upstairs. We've enclosed their two favorite spots: the lilac bush to the left and their dusting area in the garden against the garage. Their coop is the new-looking wood structure to the right. You can barely see the garden at the back on the right.

I can't say they're completely happy about the new arrangement.

Last night, in the rain, Tom moved the chicken condo into their pen (you can kind of see it at the back on the left). I knew the weather would be awful today, so we needed to get those girls a nice dry place to be other than their coop.