Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Still Going Strong: Summer's Hangers-On

The kitchen garden no longer looks like this:

Gone are the squash, sweet corn, and melons.  But a few summer favorites are still around.  This post is in appreciation of all those hot-weather plants that have yet to say goodbye.

Dear Eggplant,
We've come a long way together.  We fought and won two major flea beetle invasions, and I think we are both stronger from that epic battle.  You've given us countless meals this summer, and I can't thank you enough for that.  The eggplant parmesan pizza was incredible!  We will soon say goodbye, but don't worry, you won't be gone for long.  I'll be sowing your seeds again in just six months, and you'll be coming back ten times over.  We're putting up a mini-high tunnel for you!  You'll have a warmer home, not quite so exposed to flea beetles.  The weather will be warmer under the tunnel, so you can come out earlier, and hopefully, you'll stay longer.  We will miss you terribly this winter, as you are neither pickled nor frozen.
Pingtung Long eggplant this week.

Dear Peppers,
Your persistence is amazing.  You have real stick-to-itiveness!  I am particularly looking forward to enjoying the roasted reds I have waiting in the freezer.  Also, the chili powder from the Anchos will be great for all the veggie chili I'll make this winter.  It's been a good run.
They're still ripening beautifully.

This week's pepper harvest.

Dear Tomatoes,
After the first blight, I thought I had lost you forever.  I was wrong.  You came back for rounds two and three.  I'm so happy you're still in my life for fresh eating daily, but you will also be joining us at the table throughout the cold months as frozen and canned delights. A sincere thanks to you all (Black Sea Man, Black Plum Paste, Moonglow, Persimmon, Red Brandywine, Speckled Roman, Wisconsin 55, and Mystery Compost Pile tomatoes).
Some of the latest tomatoes; Mystery Compost Pile in the background, Black Plum Paste in the foreground.

It's a joy to have our fall garden in the ground while summer's plants are still feeding us.  I can't remember a time when we've run out of veggies around here.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fat Bear Fall Garden: It Actually Happened

We've been incredibly busy these last few months, and I din't  see how we could possibly have the time to plant a fall kitchen garden.  It always takes more time than I expect to clean up beds, hoe, plant, mulch, and then do garden magic on all this stuff.  But, it has happened, and I have to give Ben most of the credit for this one. When he had a few spare moments, Ben hoed up some vacant beds and spread manure on them.  By the time he was done, all I had to do was sprinkle on some seeds and do a little dance over them.

We have added arugula, kale, spinach, chard, beets, broccoli, carrots, and lettuce to the kitchen garden.  I planted beets four different times, and the first ones are almost ready.  I can't even believe it!  I did two plantings of broccoli, and the first set is struggling from a caterpillar issue.  The younger broccolis seem a little more vigorous.

Nasty little green caterpillars are colonizing my poor broccoli.  What's a girl to do?

We had great beets this spring, and this latest set is also doing very well.  These fall beets actually seem to be maturing faster than their predecessors.

It's great to have garden fresh salads again.  The chickens are also happy that lettuce has returned to the menu.

Our very late tomatoes are alive and almost producing.  We'll see...

Beets and carrots; with their powers combined, they can't be beat. 

A raised bed of Earliglow.

We had several crowns leftover from our high tunnel strawberry project.  I managed to get all of the extras into the garden this fall.  I also transplanted several runners from the strawberries that were already growing in the kitchen garden.  In all, I think we have about 250 strawberry plants in the kitchen garden right now.  All of them should be ready for harvest next spring, and I couldn't be more thrilled.

In addition to all of the stuff recently planted, our peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, herbs, and strawberries from the summer are still producing.  We have a very happy kitchen.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

We Have a New Record

The girls took a vacation yesterday and left us high and dry.  But they made up for it today!  Five of our chickens went to work and left us with some beautiful eggs.  Thank you, ladies.

The girls had been laying two to four (usually three) eggs a day up until now.  We've never been given more than four in one day until today.  Ben and I have been able to enjoy the fruits of our flock's loins for breakfast most days, but I really want to be able to give them to friends and family.  Once everyone starts spending a little time in the nesting boxes, we'll be able to spread the love.

I treated the chickens to the rest of the bread I made Monday night and a little tomato.  I don't think I'll ever grow tired of watching them pig-out on kitchen scraps.  Last night, Ben and I learned that they prefer white potatoes over sweet potatoes.  These birds refuse to be boxed in.  They're just full of surprises.

For us, the coop really is our "chicken tv."  We don't have a tv in the house and don't miss it. (Except during college football season; Ben misses it then.)  And now that the hens are beginning to lay and the rooster is doing as roosters do, this chicken tv channel is getting very interesting.

This morning, I watched as three Australorps defended one another from the advances of Robert Rooster.  He's always so randy in the morning.  He finally got lucky when two of the three went inside the coop for a bite to eat and left the third in the yard on her own.

Robert is still a growing boy, so some of the larger hens have no trouble fending him off.  Lucky for him that some of the hens don't seem to mind all the neck-biting and  air-humping involved in chicken love (especially Paulie). 


Monday, September 19, 2011

My Fingers Smell Faintly of Garlic

Today was another cool, cloudy, all-around-grey day.  A perfect day for planting garlic.  Rain is in the forecast for the next several days, so it was good timing.

We ordered our garlic seed from The Organic Garlic Seed Farm in Oregon, and it arrived a few weeks ago.  The seed looked beautiful, and I would recommend this place to anyone.  They had some of the best prices we could find, and it's organic!  I also just like supporting (fellow) farmer-hippies any way I can.  We ordered one pound each of five different varieties: 

We also saved about a pound each of Elephant and Georgian Fire garlic seed from when we harvested garlic this summer.  We had ordered these varieties from Seed Savers Exchange in 2010.

Some Elephant garlic harvested this summer.

I had seven pounds of garlic seed to plant.  I added a few inches of aged horse manure to the bed where we had just harvested our sweet potatoes, hoed it up, and popped the seeds in.

Left to right: Music, Purple Glazer, Persian Star, Chesnok, Elephant, Georgian Fire, and Mother of Pearl.

I was so very pleased that the seed we saved ourselves looked healthy and vibrant.  Saving our garlic seed is the plan going forward.  It's easy to do, and it will be one less thing we have to buy.  We just let the bulbs dry for a few months, then they went into paper bags.  Too easy.

 Elephant garlic

I covered the row with a thick layer of straw, and now I wait for the rain.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chicken Diaries: New Romance

Robert Rooster loves Paulie.  They hang out together a lot.  He keeps extra-close watch over her while she's laying her eggs, and they just seem to have a good time.

Robert Rooster and Paulie Newman

All this hand-holding and fraternizing has been good for Paulie; this sweet girl has been giving us gorgeous blue-green eggs for several days now!  I've caught her in the nest box doing the deed a few times.  

Paulie's grown into quite the young lady.  A few months ago, she seemed very shy.  She never came to greet me and kept to herself most of the time.  Now that she's all grown up, she seems to have become more gregarious.  She's my best feathered friend now.  Sorry, Stevie.

 Stevie.  We used to be BFF.

Paulie, the girl with the teal eggs.

Because I'm so thankful for the beautiful eggs we've been getting,  I wanted to give the chickens a fun snack.  I remembered that there was a winter squash with a tiny little patch of mold in the basement.  I had meant to give it to the ladies and gent a few days ago.  Perfect snack.

Amish Butter Squash

I took the Amish Butter squash up to the kitchen for dissection.  As soon as I cut into it, I knew that it was just too good to give to the chickens.  It was so incredibly aromatic that Thurgood woke up from his nap, hopped out of the bed, and trotted into the kitchen looking for a treat.  It smelled just like a sweet cantaloup, and Thurgood loves melon.  The juicy-sweet smell lingered in the air as I scooped out the seeds and put them in a bowl for the chickens.  As for the flesh, I put that on a cookie sheet, and into the oven it went.  It will roast until it's mushy soft, then I'll sprinkle on some brown sugar and let it caramelize in the oven.  After cooling, I'll peel the squash halves and puree them.  I'll put the squash into the freezer and use it later in a pie, soup, or beer.

Chicken Salad?

For snacktime, I paired the squash seeds with leftover sweet potato fries.  I garnished with nasturtium leaves and flowers.  It was pretty popular.

Nancy and Denise seem very interested.

They went for the squash guts and sweet potato immediately, but weren't too excited about the nasturtium.  Typical.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chicken World Today

We've been given our first blue egg thanks to Paulie, Stevie, or Alex.  I'm not sure which Ameraucana has started laying, but Ben says he believes it's Stevie.

A blue (That is blue, right?  Looks sorta greenish.) Ameraucana egg and a brown Wyandotte or Australorp egg.

Paulie, front and center.

The Ameraucanas and Wyandottes are the same age, so I guess it is also possible that the Wyandottes are laying, too.  It's hard to tell because we'll get brown eggs from both the Wyandottes and the Australorps.


We have three Golden-Laced Wyandotte hens, three Ameraucana hens, and ten surviving Australorp hens.  Our rooster, Robert, is an Ameraucana.  Right now, we're getting one to three eggs per day.  I'm hoping that one day soon that number will rise to an even dozen.

Robert Rooster

I love Robert.  He is the best rooster I could ever dream of having.  He's got a great attitude and a lot of character.  His crow is so righteous that it demands an "Amen, brother!" in response.  I love Robert.


Robert is performing all of his duties; he welcomes the morning, afternoon, and evening with his musical greeting, he loves his ladies right, and he generally keeps everyone on their toes.

Where deposites are made.

The girls have been religiously laying their eggs in the next boxes.  I'm so glad we don't have to go searching high and low for eggs every day.  Each box has been used, and the eggs stay clean and safe until we can collect them.  It's almost too easy.

We had figs for snack time today.

I don't know what we did before we had chickens.  They've been in our lives for six months now, and I don't remember what things were like without them.  Just as I know I'll always have dogs in my life, I hope we will never be without a backyard flock of chickens.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

2012 Strawberries: Full Speed Ahead!

Ben had a four-day weekend for the Labor Day Holiday.  He worked three of those days.  This is how it went:

The strawberry plants arrived from Lassen Canyon Nursery on Thursday.  We ordered 1,000 Jewel and 1,000 Gaviota bare root plants.  I had to store them in the refrigerator until Saturday.

We received two of these boxes.  Both arrived in great condition.

We had prepared the outside of the high tunnel by tilling with the tractor, hoeing up six rows, and laying horse manure.  We mulched the pathways with a layer of cardboard with shredded bark mulch on top.  The rows are mulched with straw.  We planted 1,000 strawberry plants here.

A row of rawberries growing outside of the high tunnel.

Ben had put down chicken manure on the inside of the high tunnel several months ago.  Before putting in about 900 plants, we rototilled and hoed up the rows.  We mulched with a thick layer of straw.

Not including the months that led up to this, Ben and I worked on the strawberries nonstop from Saturday through Monday.  When Ben had to go back to his job, I worked Tuesday and Wednesday to complete the project.  My lower back was screaming at me!

High tunnel plants

As for the garden magic part, I watered-in the plants with a dose of seaweed and fish fertilizer.  They sprang to life immediately.

I had a few plants leftover, and those went into the kitchen garden.  No Plant Left Behind!  Not only did I not want to waste any of the plants, but I also think it's a good idea to have some of each variety planted in several different places.  This way, if some disaster happens, like an insect infestation or deer attack, we'll be sure to have back-up plants.  These back-ups can be used to repopulate the high tunnel area if needed.

We'll get our first harvest next spring.  The strawberries inside the high tunnel should ripen earlier than those planted outside.  We're looking forward to harvesting our first asparagus and strawberry crops next spring!