Saturday, December 22, 2007

Time for a move

Hello everyone,

Please update your information. I know it is a pain, and I apologize. I have moved shop over to here:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Greenhouse statistics

Cold day atop Mont Merde: the greenhouse is MUCH taller than it appears in this picture

Many have asked, so here it goes:

Coldframe, high tunnel, hoop house, polytunnel: we just call it The Greenhouse. Folks: It will add a zone and a half to your growing season. My 6B garden? An 8A, people...Panhandle Florida!

I got the greenhouse kit from an outfit in Tennessee called Grower's Solution. The guy on the phone was both supremely friendly and extremely kind, answering my myriad questions as well as easily and quickly supplying a hardware shortage (one measly part!). I had hoped to use a local manufacturer for my greenhouse, but my request was a small one, and the local outfit doesn't deal with little orders like mine. Sigh.

The goods: It's 16' wide, 20' long, about 9' high in the center, and is composed of six bows (arches) that are set in ground stakes 4' apart. For ease of shipping, the bows are in three pieces: you screw them together to create one bow. It has one central purlin (center pole) that ties the bows together. If it were self-standing and 4' longer, it would require more bracing; as it is, it relies on a building for its one end and it is free-standing at its door end. For ventilation, I purchased one hand-rolled side (it rolls the plastic up about 4' off the ground on one long side) and created one large gable vent above the door.

You are supposed to supply the ground boards and the end framing for the end wall (in wood); they supply the plastic to cover the whole thing, and the channels and wiggle wire to hold the plastic to the bows.

We (i.e., nonmotivated husband and myself) hammered in the ground stakes, screwed together and erected the bows, and attached the purlin in under two hours. It was Instant Gratification, I do not lie. But then it was my work from then on: I excavated the ground on 3 sides to both bury hardware cloth and the 2x8 wood ground anchor and then erect the 2x4 notched studs for the end wall/door framing. This actually took me two whole days to do...separated by a week, of course, because, really, who has two full days to work on anything?

Putting the plastic on was another battle with the husband (that is, getting his free time). He committed finally on a day that was windy: I advise you not to put plastic on a greenhouse in the wind. Ever. But that was our fate. We anchored the plastic to the endmost bow (against the building) and then went from bow to bow until we reached the door end, kind of like pulling pantyhose over a reluctant leg. That wiggle wire is quite amazing stuff. It really is great at holding down the plastic film. The film is graded to last of 6 years without significant UV decomposition: I have heard neighbors say they've gotten 8 years of use, which rather helps me, as plastic is not exactly the most eco-friendly of things. We held the plastic down to the last bow with some pre-soaked 1x2 furring strips.

I say this all with a rather blase' attitude. I here admit that I am a builder of many things: neither construction nor power tools intimidate me (hahahaHA), but, well, if you have never held a hammer nor worn a toolbelt, then putting up your own greenhouse could be a challenge. (Compared to building our coop? This was a walk in the park.) But I will say that Tom's purchase of a hammer drill greatly eased our pain: it helped put the bows together and helped put the channel atop the bows in, like, no time at all. I had gone along just fine with my 14 amp cordless drill for two houses' worth of renovations; Tom has helped me see the light with his 18a Drill of Pain. I admit, I was impressed. (I still like mine better.)

Am I saying you all need to go out and erect a hoop house in your backyards? Well, absolutely! (I'm getting salads and veggies out of my garden in late December, are you?) Just read this guy's books, read his wife's gardening columns and book, and yes, you too shall Sip The Kool-Aid.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Greenhouse in the plural

Tasty but rare

Getting the coffee going this gray, ugly morning, my husband and I were discussing full-spectrum lights. It seems one of our friends uses them to avoid S.A.D.

I told him I tend to just go into the greenhouse at midday, when I get a little tired of working. "I think it helps, just sitting in there for five minutes," I said.

"Yeah, I went in there too recently. It smelled just wonderful." (This from the guy who expresses zero interest in my gardening, except at suppertime.)

I told him I hated to be so stingy with all the greenhouse's contents. The salads we have had from there are positively heavenly, so tender and deeply colored. (FWIW, it is not fully planted: construction ran too late for some seedlings, and then an escaped chicken made a mess of my mache bed. It will be full when the sun swings back into our hemisphere, say, in February.)

"Maybe we should build another one, then," he said.

And here I was, wondering how the heck I was going tell him I think we should build a second one next year!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Moving away from this site

Hey, I need some input from you non Blog**er people out there. Where should I go, type8pad, word8press? I am looking to free sites, so any input would be appreciated.

OH, and the reason I am considering a move? COMMENTS! It's hard to do here! So email me or, if it is not too arduous, leave a comment.

the email is fastweedpuller at gmail dot com.

Thanks in advance, kind readers!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Orcharding, or, Greater Field Domination

Soon, poor neglected tree, I will bring you friends!

'Tis the time of year for lots of planning. Right now, I am planning my first orchard.

'Tis true, I have apple, plum, (and one) peach trees extant on this farm already. I've got currants, gooseberries, blueberries and strawberries, and that elusive lingonberry, too. And I am in the Fruit Belt, which means that relying on others' efforts to sustain our fruit habit is actually a very inexpensive endeavor: I can get bushels of fruit for an eighth of what you all are paying for it, or less, with no exaggeration.

So I will let the Fruit Belt sustain us with the genus Prunus persica (peaches). Peaches are beautiful but fussy things, well suited to folks with deeper pockets than my own. And I'll look elsewhere for blueberries, though we have them too here on the farm; for vast quantities, I easily can just go to a friend's farm, or, if lazy, I will go to the fruitstand and shell out a whopping $18 for 10 pounds. Yea, people: behold, the Promised Land of fruit production.

(I once went apple searching when I lived in Minnesota. They wanted--I shit you not--$48 for a HALF bushel of McIntosh. It was dispiriting, and it factored in to my desire to move here. Apples should not cost $2 per.)

Why plant my own, if not doing so is so cheap? Oh boy, if you have to ask that question, well, you've only started reading this site then. Let's just say I ADORE a challenge, and am very interested in permaculture. So I am platting my land for the fruits of the genus Malus domestica (apples, baby. Lots of apples: twelve varieties to complement my native two). Pears as well: these are always welcome. Oh, and apricots and cherries. These latter fruits are bird-prone, and will be put at the north of the main garden to act as a windbreak, but also to help me keep away the birds. Throwing nets over them will help.

There are also plans for an arbor of just hops. (Beer.)

Of course, I am looking long-range: I won't harvest my first apple until probably 2010. Do I mind this? No, I do not. My first pawpaw will be harvested in 2019! My first wine grapes (the ones I planted in 2005) in 2009! In other words, if you're planning an orchard, you are planning to stay put and, uh, put down roots.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

More on seed-saving

Very dear to me

The tone of my most recent post was rather flip. Granted, I do cast a jaundiced eye on most of the world, particularly the world of commerce (in this instance, seed catalogs), but on occasion I actually am reverential.

And today, I revere my seeds. Today I am back in my cold basement, cleaning and sorting seeds, shelling dried beans and the like. I look at what is in front of me and I feel positively giddy.

Especially with the winds howling and the snow blowing outside, I feel like I am the keeper of a vast store of botanical wealth. Seed-saving, like bread-baking and vineyard maintenance, are three very particular activities which connect me with the past. My great-great grandparents would know this feeling, and would know the value of saving the seeds of this year's harvest. They'd know the love and the satisfaction that goes into kneading and forming loaves of bread. They'd have enjoyed the small labor that is vineyard and orchard maintenance, especially considering the vast reward found in a successful harvest. They would be appreciative, in other words.

I will tell you this: there is not much in this world for which I would trade my hills of beans.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

On seeds and seed-saving

'Mama, these flowers don't smell': the kid with the parsnip umbrels last spring: as you can see, I'll have enough parsnip seed next year

It's happening earlier every year: this inrush of seed catalogs into our mailboxes. Is it a good thing?

I wonder. I suppose the earlier they show up, they've got the advantage that we haven't wholly forgotten the previous garden season (and then buy accordingly). But then I wonder about this, too: I would think that a forgetful gardener, snow-deadened late in the winter season, would be the best customer. So happy for greenery would he or she be, the orders would be flying. I am quite sure, though, they've market tested all of this, and have decided the holiday stressed gardeners out there need to spend their money on seeds TOO.

Boy, I sound bitter. This is not the case. I enjoy getting these catalogs (within reason). Mainly, I enjoy getting them and huffily sniffing at them that "I would never plant THAT," and various forms of the same.

But over the last two years, I have become a seed-saver. This started small (as all bad habits do: it's just a little bit of cocaine, officer) and now, well, now I am a bit overwhelmed. I undertook the task of placing the darned things in some recognizable order last night, down in the chilly basement, accompanied by loud music and a big mug of wine. I'll say it was fun, but that may have been the wine talking. I will say I probably don't NEED to order any seeds this year, I have done such a good job preserving my last harvests. That is gratifying, but not...satisfying.

So, I will give in, probably in January, and order more seeds. In this, our hyperconsumerist culture, I could always...use...more.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

On seasonal food preferences

Big bowl of yum

When the days start getting shorter, I notice lots of changes in my habits. I'd like to think that moving to a farm and actually being outside for some period of time every day has tuned me in more to the tilt of the planet, but I think it's more ingrained than that. I think it's biological in nature. Evolutionary biology, to be exact. Bear with me here. As far as I can trace them, my forebears came from either Ireland or France (and many more from the former than the latter). Both of these places see lots less light at this time of year than my little farm does, which, latitude-wise, is as far south as Rome. I have no known biological ties to Russia, but that is where my thoughts go at this time of year.

It is usually in November that I pick up a particularly long book to read, sometimes Russian; this year it's the Oxford imprint (Maude translation) of War and Peace. Maybe it's the early, Doctor Zhivago-inspired visions I had of an icy dacha, but I adore the good long slog in a sledge that a Russian novel reliably provides me at this time of year. It's colder there than here, I tell myself, and darker too. So I tend to put the child to bed and then climb into bed myself, armed with my book, quite early in the evening.

And it is this time of year that, if given the choice, I will always choose a starch over any other food form. Bread, yes, of course; but also potatoes and (xoxoxo) beets, as I love them so. So I read an article like this one with interest: perhaps starch is just something I have been adapted to crave to, uh, tide me over until spring comes again. It's a nice rationalization, really, as I grab my third beet of the week (and these the size of grapefruit).

But think about it. What DID people eat three hundred years ago to sustain them through a long winter? (In places where winter is an issue, that is.) And the answer, reliably, is starch: starch in the forms of roots like rutabagas, turnips, and sugarbeets. And potatoes, that new world wonder.

So bring on the borscht, baby.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gardening and the theory of Always

Maybe next year

If all these years of dirt-digging have taught me anything, the one thing I can definitely say is the word "Always" has no place in the garden.

I think there is something very gratifying in this statement, even though it's a statement of insecurity. If there were an always, or a never, we would not try to plant things outside of our hardiness zone, or we would give up after one failed crop.

But it is a truism that pisses me off sometimes. I went into the main outdoor garden on Saturday, scissors and colander in hand, to retrieve some lacinato kale and parsley. I had a big pot of my navy beans boiling on the stove inside and needed the greenery to add to make soup. And lo, in the snow-covered garden, I was met mush. What happened? This has never happened before, I have ALWAYS been able to harvest kale and parsley all year!

There is that word: always. It is humbling in its absence.

It also means that three seasons in one garden does not a pattern make, four is better and 15 better than that: I will know, in 2019, if I can expect kale and parsley to be reliably hardy. It means I have a lot of growing to do, too.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Another non-gardening post

Hey! Allow me a bit of spousely bragging. My husband's book came in as book #100 of Amazon's Best Books of 2007!

My comment: "Somebody had to be #100."
His response: "Better than #101."

FYI: it's an art book, in a toddler's board-book layout. Uh, it could be considered a bit too naughty for your average toddler, but our daughter has taken it to school at Show and Tell (and she's pushing 4). You can see more of Tom's work here.

Friday, December 07, 2007

This really should just be a garden blog...

Not edible, but pretty

...but I seem to have other food-related interests, though, especially during the non-food-growing winter months. Could it be I simply have more time on my hands?

Anyway, I thought I would share some "food activist" things I have been doing.

My daughter goes to a private school. There is no lunch program, so lunches are up to a child's caregivers, but snack (yes, snack) is up to the school. Last year and the year before that, I worked with a friend of mine to do an organic box scheme wherein we got lots of California veggies and fruits and sold them, in boxes, to some interested families in the school two times a month. This was fun, but...let's face it, it wasn't local, so I felt pretty guilty about those boxes. Our reason for doing was twofold: any profit we made went right back into the snack program, AND our buying power enabled us to buy the kids lots of wonderful fresh fruit and veggies for their midmorning snack.

So this year, well, we kind of dropped the ball by dropping the box (scheme). And now? Now the kids get things like knockoff Chex mix for snack. Chex mix, and #10 cans of pears. (Egads, how far we have fallen.)

This made us a little angry. We're now back at it, this time by starting a Slow Food Convivium that is centered in the school itself. It seems there is a convivium already in our area, and that it was actually the first one in the U.S., but their mission (dinners and wine) and ours (child/parent nutritional education) is different. So, starting in January, we'll be doing Slow Snack two days a week.

Another thing I have recently done is start a buyers' club. A local buyers' club! One of the places we get things from is a new co-op in Grand Rapids. It is a virtual farmers' market: there is NO bricks-and-mortar store. Monthly, members simply order their items online and then pick them up about a week later at a warehouse. This co-op is fascinating, as it is ONLY LOCAL ITEMS from local farmers; grass-fed meats, organic veggies and fruits, home products, knitted goods, soaps... And, get this: they thought I lived too far away!!! So I said the magic word ("buyers' club") and bingo, I am now a member. I place orders with 4-5 of my friends.

Other places we're getting our goodies from are an organic farm near Lansing that mills their own grains, grows their own beans, etc. (They have been my primary source for flour for a while now.) We can still use our California organics source for things like kiwi, avocados, and citrus fruits. And we also "know a guy" (always helpful) who roasts coffee as a hobby, and is able to get fair-trade organic coffee at the fairly traded price, thus charging us only $6 a pound.

Again, my point in telling you all this is to give you some ideas. Child nutrition is a no-brainer in my mind. That my child doesn't know what a marshmallow or a hotdog are is something I'm proud of, frankly. And as for the buyers' club, it helps to pool resources, I think, as there's lots more purchasing power in big orders. (By getting flour delivered to my house in hundreds of pounds, for example, I am able to save big bucks than if I only bought 25 pounds of the stuff.) And as you all know, I think food is very, very important: especially good food. So I put my money where my mouth is.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Life in the batting cage

Phyllis in a more lushly feathered phase

The hawk (a hawk?) came back, and attacked poor Phyllis, our sole Ameraucana (blue/green egg layer). Luckily, I was around, and chased the bird off. What a horrible potential death, though: and yes, don't chide me about the "circle of life" and all that: the chicken doesn't die immediately, it gets ripped apart, bite by bite, while the hawk straddles its neck and tail with its talons. Ouch.

So she's missing a few feathers now, and is a bit more of a chicken chicken. The attack led me to move one fence line in about 30'. Their run is now about 45' wide and maybe 50-60' long. And I undertook a big crafting project: I covered the whole thing with deer netting, and sewed the 7.5' wide pieces together.

Ice caught on the deer netting at the coop's eave

Thus, the batting cage (thank you, Tom).

He suggested making a chicken wire geodesic dome, a la Bucky Fuller: hey, El, we could electrify it, he said.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

On eating local in a Michigan December

I'm so pretty: Treviso-type radicchio in the cold, cold ground

Remember One Local Summer? Well, one brave soul decided to continue the idea of producing, eating and then posting one locally sourced dinner per week over the course of the winter. Laura at Urban Hennery has found more willing folks who are also giving it a try: go check out the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge.

I did not do this challenge. My reason for withholding is simple: with all food in our larder locally produced, there isn't much of a challenge to be had. This sounds like bragging. It's not: it's just me being single-minded. Admittedly, I thought ahead; this wasn't something I just started to do. I just wanted to show you that, with a little forethought, you might be able to do the same.

My weekly meals rely fairly heavily on making fresh, filling breadstuffs, and on the contents of our freezer/root cellar/canned goods. Lunches are usually leftover dinner. I try hard to mix up the vegetable offerings, but mostly I use up what is fresh first before moving into the deep freeze stash of last summer's veggies. Most of our salads nowadays are fruit-focused, with lots of apples and pears mixing it up with the heartier cabbages, fennel, celeriac and radicchio fresh out of the gardens.

So here's a sample of this week's local eating at Chez El.

Eggs and toast for brunch, with jam (strawberry or Damson plum this week)
Dinner (with company!) of minestrone soup, frozen from August's beany bounty; roast chicken with potatoes and carrots in the roasting pan; roasted beets; oaty whole-wheat bread and a fennel/bosc pear salad

Oatmeal for breakfast with applesauce for the sweetener
Lunch of either a cheese or chicken sandwich on the oaty bread; apple
Dinner of biscuits and gravy (with pan drippings from Sunday's chicken dinner, as well as a few pulls of leg meat in there too) with a salad of "hot" coleslaw (think warmed spinach salad); dessert of cranberry muffins (10 lbs. of cranberries from Thanksgiving: luckily, we like them! I've frozen them in 2-cup portions)

Breakfast of cranberry muffins and applesauce
Lunch of biscuits/honey, fruit, and cheese
Dinner of Michigan-made spaghetti and a jar of tomato sauce

Eggs and toast for breakfast
Leftover spaghetti for lunch with apple or pear
Soup night: either something with the stock made from Sunday's chicken or potato/leek or potato/kale soup. New whole-wheat loaf, salad from the greenhouse.

Eggs and toast for breakfast, with jam
Lunch of leftover soup, cranberry muffin and apple
Dinner of vegetarian chili with cornbread: my beans, peppers, tomatoes; local Bloody Butcher cornmeal; canned peaches for dessert

Cornbread with honey and homemade yogurt with fruit for breakfast
Cheese sandwich or leftover chili for lunch with yogurt/apple for dessert
Dinner of root mashers with steamed cabbage thrown in: think Colcannon without the cheese; salad of shaved celeriac and apple; toast with butter

Porridge (5-grain) for breakfast with fruit
Quick soup for lunch (either out of the freezer or off the shelves downstairs: tomato, eggplant/tomato, or something bean-y) with bread
Dinner of leftover lunch soup, herbed omelet, pan-roasted potatoes, roasted cauliflower; apple tart for dessert

What this weekly sampling kind of tells you is we've got lots of variety. Olive oil and butter are my big out-of-foodshed weaknesses, but lately, I have found a local source for soybean oil, and it is okay, especially for baking. The spaghetti and the cheese were the only things I purchased that were "ready-made," all else is just stuff I chop up and have either cooked and canned/frozen earlier, or am chopping and cooking for the day. Bread gets made about 3-4 times a week, with quickbreads like biscuits or cornbread filling in the gaps. I am not a maniacal breadmaker, though; I often rely on some slow-rising sourdough or a variant of the no-knead method. We free-range on apples and pears in the winter; our root cellar is fairly full of these fruits now. Not much goes to waste, certainly. The chicken carcass always becomes soup or stock, cooking all night and then refrigerated in the morning to be picked over later. The stock is usually then frozen with the meat, sometimes without, it just depends. I also am VERY stingy with the greenhouse greens! Those babies need to grow a bit so January and February aren't so dire. I am also, for some unknown reason, saving all my winter squash. Maybe it's because I am the only one who really truly loves it in the household...who knows.

If this helps just one person think about how he or she can eat closer to home, I will feel gratified. And if anyone would like my sources or recipes, please let me know. Local winter eating can be done, and I swear it doesn't have to be boring!

(Luckily, though, we do like pears and apples.)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Thoughts for Monday

For $1.98 per seed pack, these too can be yours!

"Eat responsibly. [E]ating is an agricultural act....(consumers of food) must understand that eating takes place inescapably in the world, that it is inescapably an agricultural act, and that how we eat determines, to a considerable extent, how the world is used.... This is a simple way of describing a relationship that is inexpressibly complex. To eat responsibly is to understand and enact, so far as one can, this complex relationship."*

Wanna commit an agricultural act of your own? Our mailbox has already seen a couple of seed catalogs this year. When they arrive at your place, do a little bookmarking, and do a bit more mental gardening for next year: how about more vegetables? It will be so fun, and so very good to eat! And, well, it might just make you feel a bit more connected with your world.

*What Are People For? by Wendell Berry (New York: North Point Press, 1990)

Friday, November 30, 2007

Garden Rant

HEY dear readers!

I am ranting today at Garden Rant. Go check it out.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

On apostacy

Me, outstanding in my (septic) field: view from Mont Merde
Apostacy: from Greek αποστασία, meaning a defection or revolt, from απο, apo, "away, apart", στασις, stasis, "standing"

I understand dogma, I understand rules. Rules are out there for many very good reasons: for social cohesion, for safety, for clarity. Dogma is an interesting nut. It throws rules and religion (or at the very least, orthodoxy) into the works.

What does it mean to cheat, though? Cheating has been a purely academic exercise for me for a while now. There is nothing that stirs me up enough that I feel I need to cheat at it. There is nothing in my life (and I consider myself highly fortunate to have achieved this state) that I wish to cheat on, or from. No strictures, no bridles, no ties from which I wish to loosen myself, nothing that I feel I am denied or in want of that I need to bend, or break, life's rules to get, or to achieve. Again, I feel fortunate.

But (and there is ALWAYS a "but")...but, in this life I lead now of living with less, in so doing, I am continually restricting my access to "the great more" that is out there. I cut up my credit cards before I went to grad school. That was nearly twenty years ago, so I suppose I am out of the habit of credit spending; should I go out and get one, and go wild? Should I buy a gas-guzzling vehicle, just because I have denied myself the pleasure of driving one, these last ten years that I have had my miserly one? Should I leave a light on all night? Should I plug the dryer back in?

Should I eat meat again?

Ah. There is the rub. We're plumbing the depths of my own personal orthodoxy. I have been a vegetarian for, what is it now, either 15 or 16 years. A long time, in other words. I have been a vegetarian on moral grounds: I really did not think anything needed to die to keep me alive. (And yes, that, like any orthodoxy, is hairsplitting: how many poor little fieldmice and bunnies had to die to cultivate my grain and bean meals?) My main reason for it is I just did not want to eat anything that had been badly treated, and let's face it, the vast majority of the meat animals in this country have lives of horror and pain. I just couldn't turn a blind eye to CAFOs and continue to enjoy a rare steak.

But now, now in this world, there are animals that have been humanely raised, pasture fed, living their lives out the way they naturally would have lived, or at least how they'd lived on farms of 100 years ago. And this meat is available widely, if you look.

My new dogma, or rather my walking papers, are another big nut: local eating, low impact lifestyle, thrift, living close to the land, doing things ourselves, permaculture. I grow my own food, I raise my own chickens for eggs. This spring, I will raise my own chickens for meat. Turkeys too, and maybe ducks.

What has come over me? A hard look at our household, that is what. I'm looking at things like the nutritional needs of a growing child. I am looking more to traditional foods. I am also looking at the fossil fuels that are expended to continue to supply my Michigan-based vegetarian diet. Some studies have stated that omnivorous lifestyles actually use less land than pure vegetarian ones do...and that is intriguing, in these trying times. I am all about having a smaller footprint on this earth.

I am often asked if I ever really missed eating meat in all those flesh-free years. Yes, I did cheat on occasion: our annual family clambakes were my once-a-year binge on molluscs, and there were times I tried bites of things off others' plates. But I never went through Wendy's drive-thru or anything. (Bleck, the idea gives me the willies, frankly.) It just did not appeal; my life, and my palate, were well sated on the diet I have had.

But it is with some reluctance that I here admit that I have become an apostate to the vegetarian lifestyle. We are now practicing a diet of meat from one animal every other week or so. I usually stretch things far, so the beast's sacrifice is spread over many different meals. It is my goal to know the animals I will kill and eat. But now, we are only eating animals from farms we have visited, from farmers we know. We have seen them alive. In a couple of cases, like our turkey, I have seen them killed. For our family, for our life here, this is just enough syncretism to make complete sense to me: occasional meat-eating is the answer, frankly, to the trajectory of the life that has led me to this farm.

Floral wonder

We had a HUGE dinner of just salad last night. It is getting mighty cold, so up came all the greenery that was still hanging on out in the gardens (I had it under some Reemay) and into the kitchen it went. Slight frost damage, but otherwise, yum.

Today, though? Today? VERY cold out there. That snow is gone, as I mentioned...but now it is a crackling 28*. I went to the garden after feeding those chilly chickens this morning, and was surprised by the blooms I found. Calendula is quite amazing. Though after today, it will be gone, too. (Big sigh.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Girl in the plastic bubble

View from my chair: yes, it's gray. It's winter in Michigan after all.

Three o'clock in the afternoon on Sunday: I had finished my chores, so I went back in the house, poured myself a glass of wine, grabbed a book, and went back into the greenhouse. It is a bit early to be hitting the sauce, admittedly, but I had lots to celebrate. My greenhouse was 98% finished, 100% enclosed.

Sssh! Plants are sleeping: double-coverage this morning. Chair in middle, fig trees wrapped up, 6 of the 8 raised beds in view

I was warned that there is not much to do in a cold-frame greenhouse in the wintertime except harvest. And wait. Seems I will do a lot of waiting, watching that produce grow. (I am okay with that, really I am.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Winter slinks in, slinks back

Penny loves the snow

It was quite beautiful, looking out the steamy kitchen window on Thanksgiving day, watching those fluffy snowflakes fall. I knew it was coming. It was Lake Effect snow: a rather common occurrence around here. I was surprised, on moving here and practicing architecture, that the requirements for roof members (structures) weren't more stringent: our average winter will see something like 70-80" of snowfall. But the reason they're not so tough? The stuff melts. Quickly.

And so it is, looking outside today: I knew the ground wasn't frozen yet, and that 5" of snow didn't have a chance to stick around. The chickens and guineas are happy. They see their precious grass again, and they've found their dirt-bath dirt. About every half hour I am scared witless by ice crashing from the house roof onto the porch roofs (metal roofs on all both expedite and amplify this effect).

I step outside and look toward the back of the property, looking northeast. The leaves have finally fallen off the trees, and the world is still white, at least for a little while. I hear the roof dripping, and I smell...I smell nearly nothing, just that great outdoor fresh-air smell. No vegetative funk, no burning leaves, just the winter air. I can just hear the sound of the lake's waves crashing, but I need to strain to hear it.

This snow will go. We'll get one more grass cutting/leaf pickup done, probably within two weeks, and then we'll steady ourselves for winter in earnest, when the snow comes and stays.

And if I grow to miss that smell of vegetation, I will just need to step into the greenhouse to smell it again.

Friday, November 23, 2007

First snow

Pauline and the guineas, unhappy with the white stuff
First snow for the new chickens and guineas. The guineas were not pleased, and spent half the morning voicing their complaints.

First snow means of course first snow man

And the first snow means I can still get my gardening jones fixed, as it was toasty and warm in here. I need to compose a sonnet, describing my love of this greenhouse.

100 Mile Thanksgiving (burp)

Whee! Loosen that belt!

--Roasted butternut squash soup (my squash, veg stock, nonlocal butter and curry powder)
--Salad from the greenhouse and what is still out there in the snow
--20.75 lb. hen turkey from Providence Farms, roasted with home herbs under her skin (parsley, rosemary, winter savory, thyme and sage)
--Giblet gravy with a white wine reduction
--Mashed homegrown Russet potatoes with homemade yogurt and nonlocal butter
--Stuffing, both in and out of the bird, with my usual bread and cornbread and celery from here; onions, parsley, sage, thyme homegrown; Maldon salt and homemade vegetable stock
--Brussels sprouts: my two, plus one more stalk from Eaters' Guild
--Roasted root veggies: my few cute sweet potatoes, fennel, turnips and small white onions in a balsamic glaze
--Mashed rutabagas at my mother's insistence
--Caramelized local chestnuts
--Corn spoon bread with local corn (canned by me in August) and Bloody Butcher cornmeal from here; eggs from our girls, veg stock from home
--Cranberry sauce with sugar from the Thumb (+100 miles, but Michigan grown!)
--Applesauce from our trees and that Thumb sugar
--Pumpkin pie and an apple pie (homegrown pumpkins and apples) with flour from here and nonlocal butter in the crust.
--Local wine and homegrown grape juice for toasting

We had eight people, and today we've not got a lot of leftovers, except that huge turkey, which is today destined for sandwiches and soup.

I feel rather pleased that I was able to provide all the vegetables except two. Next year, we are venturing into Turkey Land ourselves (and some meat chickens, too) so I will hopefully be able to reduce the food miles even more. And I keep threatening to get a milk cow for that demon butter I am so very fond of, but that's just me dreaming.

I hope you all had a wonderful, delightful, thankful holiday.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cheapo garlic

Some naturalized cloves

Have you planted your garlic yet?

Like spring bulbs, garlic cloves are planted in the fall in this part of the world. My garlic is planted: I made a fairly large purchase from Filaree Farm last year, and saved some good-looking heads from this year's harvest to set out this fall. (Getting bulbs from a local farmer's market is also an idea: if they grow for them, they'll grow for you. Just make sure you ask if THEY have grown them!) But making a big purchase is not the only way to go about getting garlic.

Now, to be frank, growing big, beautiful heads of garlic is not always an easy thing to do. I'm getting rather boring by repeating how tough my clay soil is on most things, but let's just add garlic to that list, too, okay? But if big garlic is what you are after, then by all means buy your seed garlic from a knowledgeable place like Filaree: the catalog is long, and they will gladly make suggestions to you regarding your area. And growing place-appropriate garlic is important. Most of the allium family are sensitive to day length, so that store-bought California stuff will just not do all that well for you in Indiana. It's not you, in other words, it's the garlic!

But as I have mentioned here before, I just do not like waste. And occasionally, some of the kitchen's cloves will sprout, turning into rank little sulfur bombs as they do. My solution? Stick the danged things into a corner of the garden, and let them do their thing. They won't get big, they will spread (nicely, though), and...voila, instagarlic. I find I use it as green garlic, and I readily snip off the greens for a salad or soup topping, and, well, I will harvest a minihead and pound the snot out of it in the mortar just because.

Monday, November 19, 2007

On things going well in the garden

Par-cel cutting celery and wildling garlic greens

Two days in the garden can do wonders for one's spirits. (One's back, though? Ouch!)

There is much still green in the vegetable beds. It dips below freezing nightly now, so I am a bit surprised by all the photosynthetic fireworks still out there. The above has been my "new favorite thing," and really, something THIS green and showy, so late in the year? It's a tonic.

And it has been used as a tonic, too. This stuff is definitely more celery than parsley, taste-wise, but is used more like parsley, chop-it-up-wise: its leaves are a little stiff, but do cook down easily. I have planted oodles of it, and it's a good thing, too, as it's been the green of choice for all those jars of vegetable stock sitting in rows downstairs. I just adore it. It will go into the mounds of stuffing I am making for Thursday's big pig-out.

I didn't find it too tough to sprout, though I did plant it indoors very early, with the Italian flat-leafed parsley. It's a biennial, so...I only expect to get to use it through the winter; once the sun comes back in earnest next spring, it'll shoot into flower. But then again, I will have a bunch of seedlings to set out, and so it goes...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

On the efficacy of tears

Thank you all for your warm sentiments. I appreciated the cyber-hugs!

Gardens, in the scheme of things, are nothing to cry over. I didn't lose my job, I didn't lose a loved one in a war, I don't have an incurable disease. Those, frankly, are great reasons to cry.

My first thought, honestly, when I was pulling out the posts for the chicken fence were this: what's with the waterworks? Is this The Change Of Life? So even among the tears, I am always laughing at myself.

I'll tell you this, though: when Tom came back inside from talking with the propane guy, and heard me sobbing, he freaked OUT.

So, today, my task list is especially long. That chicken run needs to be put back up, as those happy birds again have free range, but they're easy targets for the hawks. The damage needs to be assessed in the herb garden. Compaction is a bigger problem than just getting smashed: this clay soil becomes positive concrete when it's run over. I think the only loss, as far as Thanksgiving is concerned, is the sorrel: it is ripped to shreds. And the fence needs to be put back up around the herb garden. And then there's all that other stuff I need to do.

I'm time-crunched is all. Considering I adore having lots to do in the gardens, you'd think getting one uprooted and another run over would be seen as opportunities by me!!!!

Friday, November 16, 2007

On tears

I did something yesterday that I never do. I cried.

Yes, I am normally very much a tough cookie, and am not easily given over to much sentimentality or, indeed, to tears of any kind. My first reaction is usually anger. It's a wave, usually, of red-eyed steaminess that, with much social grace and coaching I have tamed to...well, at least a deep intake of breath before I blow my top.

And gardens are nothing to cry over, in the big scheme of things, but...

...the propane gas guy HAD to drive right over the kitchen herb garden yesterday. And I cried. I cried A LOT.

What the hell is THIS about, I wondered?

I guess it started with having to get our well replaced. I had to move a whole bed of perennials in order for that to happen. Have they moved back? No. Has the bed been reaugmented with lots of organic matter and new soil? No. Is the front yard still a clay-filled unsightly mess? Yes, why, yes it is!

So, what's with the propane guy? Is the driveway all of a sudden not big enough for him? Well, welcome, friends, to the joys of country living, where all services (electric, gas, water, sewer, trash, internet) are YOUR responsibility!!! There IS no city or township or county system to plug into. Propane is only (thankfully) used to heat up the hot water heater, and the dryer, which now sits unused. So our propane tank, a small lovely looking R2D2 thing outside the basement door, sprung a leak. You would walk outside and think: 'did something die under the back porch? By Dog it stinks out here.' So the whole tank had to be replaced, and he had to drive a big truck back there and boom the old tank out, new tank in. This required that I first remove the chicken fencing, remove the decorative fence around the garden, take one of the clotheslines down, and then go inside and cry.

(I should say I harbor absolutely no malice toward our propane guy. He is, though maybe 10 years younger, and sporting a 'I Heart Jesus' keychain, a dead ringer for Michael Moore. He is actually quite a sweet man, and he felt horrible about the garden.)

What's with the tears? I guess it is because I have absolutely no time to redo what has been undone. The greenhouse is only now just enclosed, the other gardens need to be put to rest, the compost needs to be made, leaves raked, chicken coop windows reinstalled, etc. etc. etc. No time for extras. So thus, I cry. It's the overwhelming hopelessness that I remember as a child: I have no power over this situation, these tears say. It's not a comfortable feeling.