Tag Archives: Gardening

Finally back into the garden

What passes for Winter here is losing its hard edge now, and I’m starting to spend time in the garden again…here’s a rather disjointed post about some of the current projects:

This is going to be a raised bed with straw-bale borders. The inside is filled with old goat bedding and other compostables. Soon I’ll remove the tarp, letting water in to start the composting process. The plan is to put a layer of soil and finished compost on the top and plant into that, hoping that the warmth of the compost action beneath it will help get early plantings off to a good start.
Straw Bale Bed

Yesterday, our neighbor and I planted a hundred baby fir trees along the property’s roadsides, to eventually decrease traffic noise and provide privacy. They come in a bag about three feet long:

BabytreeI expected the trees in there to be tiny, but they were mostly about two feet long, and very healthy looking.

This kale is actually the remains of last year’s that got harvested, then eaten down to stubs by goats, then transplanted into the cold frame, where it’s thriving.
Kale Feb 2009

Turnips are starting to sprout in the cold frame as well. It’s not the ‘right’ time of year to plant them, but with the mild climate here it seems worth trying.

This garlic we planted a few months ago is looking well:
Garlic Feb 2009

…as is this garlic, which we planted about a year ago. It died down pretty young and I never dug it up, but it’s returned as a volunteer. (since everything is so green out here, I removed color from everything but the garlic plant to make it visible)
Volunteer Garlic

Pregnant goats!
Obers Feb 2009

Here’s a 55-gallon steel drum (used once, to transport maple syrup) set into the ground to serve as a root cellar. We haven’t experimented with putting food in it yet, but the thermometer I have in there seems to stay in the 40s no matter what’s going on outside.
Steel Drum Cellar

November photo assortment

peasWell, mostly November. This picture of 2008’s second pea crop is about two months old (the weather changed and the plants became goat food)

greenhouseWith Western Oregon’s mild climate, we will be trying our hands at winter gardening. I’ve replaced the leaky, opaque roof on the greenhouse with “sun-tuff” – corrugated plastic panels – and used some of our old windows to make a cold frame (the 2′ high glassed projection on the front). We hope to grow kale and a few other greens in there, after getting them started indoors and gradually acclimating them to outdoor life.

Outside the greenhouse there’s still plenty to do. Cover crops of clover, cereal ryegrain, faba beans, and vetch have been planted in last year’s beds:
cover crops

garlicHere’s a 40′ double row of garlic, about 1/3 planted. We’ll be doing three different varieties, with different storage life and flavor attributes. In our mild climate, the garlic will (we hope) grow slowly through the winter and burst into life in the spring, with harvest coming in May and June.

goth sunflowersPerhaps inspired by Halloween festivities, these sunflowers have gone goth.

Goats, of course, don’t take a break in the winter as most of the garden does. Stand by for gratuitous cuteness:
aberdeen door

koko aberdeen door


goat gateNext year, the goats will enjoy another little pasture area. I’m putting a lot of radish seeds in there, because goats love the greens, which grow early and fast. Here’s the door from their current enclosure to the new pasture. The door is of course made from old shipping pallets.

firepit stepsIn non-farming news, visitors will be happy to see that the deadly mudslide down to our fire pit now has steps.

And finally, the Yamaha saga. I found what seemed like a good deal on a mid-size road bike, and bought it with dreams of 55mpg dancing in my head.yamahaThe wiring and tires were a mess, but I’ve fixed that and a few other things. The title was lost, but the previous owner’s widow filled out all sorts of paperwork that should have helped me get a title.

Finally the day came – I went to the DMV and all my papers were in order, but there is a lien on the bike from the 1980s, and I’m currently navigating a voicemail maze at the finance company in question to determine whether the lien is satisfied. Oh well, it’s raining all the time anyway now, but I hope to get this thing on the road for next spring. For now, it just sits there looking cool (as cool as it can with the ill-fitting Harley seat, slated for replacement with a stock one)

Attack of the Heirloom Tomatoes

Tomato gardening goes something like this:

Is this thing growing?
Nothing (repeat for several months)
Tomato. Tomato.
Tomato tomato tomato!

Notice how the repetition eventually makes the word’s meaning slippery? You have to step back from the fray, breathe, and remind yourself what it means.

These critters can come in a flood that makes zucchini look lazy, and for the past month and a half “can more tomatoes” has been constantly floating around on my todo list. I just saw the photos below and remembered to be grateful for all the stews and sauces that will start with a jar of our own tomatoes this winter.

Here are some “Willamettes”:

…and here are the striking “Purple Calabash”:
Purple Calabash tomatoes

One plucky little tomato

We’re still adjusting to the rhythms of sowing and harvesting. Food comes in bunches, from our garden and our CSA, and sometimes we just don’t get around to canning/drying/freezing/eating it in time.

This tomato got soft in our hanging basket, and was almost on its way to the compost bin when we noticed something funny…seeds sprouting right through the skin! No waiting till next year for this one:

Impressed by its determination, we decided to stick it in a pot and see what happens. I don’t know if a tomato plant can really survive in the see-saw climate of a rickety old cottage with woodstove heat, but we’ll see…who knows? We haven’t thinned the seedlings; it’s become a bit of a natural selection experiment:

I didn’t murder the taters!

I thought I blew it with the potatoes. Everyone warned not to use supermarket ones as seed, and I ignored them. When the plants suddenly started dying a month ago after an unseasonal 3 days of cool, rainy weather, I figured I’d learned my lesson.

Yesterday, I thought I’d better deal with the mess. I raked aside the mounded straw, too deep and wet with hot compost action on the bottom, and the spading fork touched something soft. I bent down and dug with my hands; it was a large, mushy, foul-smelling potato. I made plans to drag all the straw away to the burn pile so as not to spread the fungal blight I was sure had taken our tubers.

Then I spied a tiny but healthy-looking spud peeking up at me. No more than 1/2″ long, but perfectly shaped. I put it in my pocket as a memento to show Teri later, and kept digging.

When I had two one-gallon buckets almost full, I decided to leave the rest there, so Teri could enjoy uncovering a few. It was so unexpected; I’d been sad about the sudden departure of those formerly vigorous plants.

Tonight, we had fried potatoes (ours!) with onion (Wintergreen Farm, about five minutes down the road):

Also had a salad – romaine from Wintergreen with our own heirloom tomatoes and the one very-non-local ingredient: Danish blue cheese

…and for dessert, our very own homegrown watermelon, another first for us:

It wasn’t by far our most homegrown meal, but the potatoes were a big deal…they can be a really significant part of our diet for fairly little work, and like almost everything we’ve grown here they tasted incomparably better than those things at the supermarket.

The more we eat this way, and the more I learn about food production, the more it seems that most other human foolishness pales in comparison to the way we’ve transformed our food into poisonous, flavorless garbage that leaves a wasteland behind after harvest.

My food’s made of goat poop and old straw (well composted, of course) and it’s way better than anything I paid $30 a plate for in NYC.

Lots of busybusybusy (just a tease)

I know you come here for the pretty photos, so rest assured there is a big backlog of beautiful plants, animals, recipes, and adventures waiting to be resized and color-corrected, and they will be posted soon.

Apart from working 40+ hours/week at the day job, I’ve just been really busy. Lots of that “busy” is stuff that would be perfect for the blog, but I just haven’t had time to document it in detail.

We’ve been harvesting/canning/fermenting/drying: Oregon Grape, apples, pears, blackberries, zucchini, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, asian pear, dill, kale, and a bunch of other stuff. Planted arugula and carrots for us, and a whole bunch of perennial rye grass for goats. Started blackberry, Oregon Grape, and blueberry wine, and the new batch of chocolate stout is ready. Got a great deal on oak parquet flooring for the kitchen, and the loft area is just a few days of labor from becoming our winter bedroom. A few cords of wood are waiting in a pile for me to find a deal on a used chainsaw, which needs to happen soon if we’re to be warm this winter.

I learned to “process” chickens from live bird to frozen grocery item. I wondered if it would bother me, taking a life with my own hands, but although my reverence for life has grown throughout the years – all life; we escort even the hideous-looking earwigs and vicious wasps outside to continue their lives – it felt nothing but right. I feel like I have much more of a right to eat chicken than I did when it came from a supermarket all prepared and shrink-wrapped.

Next month I’ll be going on my first wild turkey hunt, which I’m very much looking forward to, and somehow that doesn’t clash with the fact that our property is a no-gunfire-except-in-case-of-emergency refuge where a momma turkey and her five babies visit several times a day to eat seed fallen from our bird feeders and the deer who ravage our raspberry plants and chives will be fenced out rather than shot. As I write this sitting at our outside table, the turkeys are pecking and cooing not more than five feet away from me.

Coyote have been howling their eerie chorus in the hills at night, and the days, which were fifteen-plus hours long just a short time ago, are noticeably shorter. Part of me reflexively tenses at the thought of winter’s approach, until I look back at how green things are in the rainy season and remember that December and January are often perfect for BBQs in Western Oregon.

The man who considered CBGBs a holy place of pilgrimage and mourned the “cleanup” of Times Square is now reluctant to visit “the city” (Eugene, a small but vibrant town of 138,000 about half an hour away) more than once a week. If I’d known how much country life would agree with me, I would probably have left years ago – but then I might not have met Teri, who is my glowing inspiration and the anchor of my life.

What a long strange trip it continues to be!

And I promise you lots of pretty photos very very soon.

Garden update

Zucchini starts sat around in their little pots till they started flowering, poor things, but now they’re in double-dug, well-manured soil:

Potatoes are growing like crazy…it’s very comforting to see, because this can be a staple item most of the year:

Kale is finally coming up (we had a strange, extended Winter and Spring):

Last year, our peas succumbed to a lawnmower accident…this year I marked them clearly, and they’re thriving, starting to flower now:

We started a whole bunch of tomatoes from seed in the early spring, and then the seedlings languished for months without really growing, and a few died. Finally, the plants are starting to take off:

This patch doesn’t look like much in the photo, but it holds red lettuce, onions, chives, broccoli, tomatoes, jalapeños, sweet peppers, and a whole bunch of sunflowers:

We have a lot of happy raspberry plants now. I bought 30 rhizomes from a neighbor (conventional red raspberries), and dug up a few of the luscious black raspberries from the woods, which are flowering now:

I know I posted the lingonberries before, but now they’ve got wood chip mulch, which makes them much more visible:

I prepared a little bed next to the house and planted dill, oregano, basil, and an especially nice catnip plant here:

The pear tree looks like it’s going to give us a huge crop this year:

There will be lots of apples too. These are about 1/2″ wide now:

Indian Plums grow wild here and there…edible, but not considered very tasty. We’ve yet to try them, but we will:

Why the long silence?

I haven’t posted in a while, partly because it was Teri’s turn to debut a goat and I didn’t want to post about other stuff till that happened – and she’s been crazy busy finishing up school. Myself, I’ve been busy with work – dayjob got hectic just when I have a couple of side projects going on.

Despite all this, we’ve somehow managed to plant bush beans, chard, kale, peppers (sweet & jalapeño), potatoes, cucumbers, corn, tons of sunflowers, various types of tomato, chives, 30 domestic raspberry plants, 4 wild black raspberry plants, dill, catnip, basil, oregano, and a few hundred square feet of perennial ryegrass (where the goat pen was bare after blackberry cane removal).

The salad greens are part of our dinner about every other night, peas are doing well, and once again we’re faced with the “how to eat all these @#$ radishes” problem (but they’re yummy). Lettuce and spinach seem to be unhappy about being planted so late; we had a few really hot days already, and they’re both very slow and spotty. The onions seem to be slowly growing, the apple trees are setting fruit, and the pear tree (which did very little last year) looks like it will be bountiful. And of course there will be a zillion blackberries.

Not much in the way of photos today, but here’s the goat house viewed from about halfway up one of the 100’+ trees that flank our house:

As for how to eat all those @#$ radishes, I’ll save that for the next post…

A spring morning walk around the yard

Here’s a slew of pretty pictures, taken during a one-hour morning walk around the yard –

The “lawn” is largely composed of flowers. Some are just pretty:

…but many are wild strawberries (the real thing is far cheerier than Copy of wildstrawberries

A baby fir-tree cone:

Apple trees are budding:

Not sure what this tree is, but it’s got pretty flowers:

Never got around to moving this extra horse poo to the compost bin, and now it’s lush with greenery and fungi:

The woods by the river have a number of Trillium, a somewhat uncommon and delicate plant; it’s illegal to pick any part of it – even taking a leaf may kill the plant, and they can take fifteen years to flower for the first time:

Also down by the river is the beautiful and malodorous skunk cabbage. The roots are actually edible (after cooking to destroy harmful compounds), and while this still doesn’t sound very appetizing, with all the food craziness going on in the world, the discovery of yet another edible plant on our property is a comforting thing.

Oregon grape – fruit is edible, but very sour…used more in jam than fresh:

There are a couple of these, which I believe are Salmonberry. They’re isolated, with just a few flowers each, which is too bad because I’ve been wanting to try it. If there are only a few berries, maybe I’ll save them for the seed.

I really want to grow some raspberries here…especially black raspberries, the sweetest, most amazing ones I know of. There’s one small patch at the edge of a clearcut near here from which I picked very lightly last year…I think I’ll try to find out how to propagate it before the $#% timber companies spray defoliant or bulldoze it.

I don’t know what this is, but Teri quite likes it, which has rendered a whole patch of our garden area off-limits to tilling and planting:

Catnip is pretty common in un-tilled bits of our garden, and here and there all over the property, but for some reason it LOVES the spot where I grew tobacco last year…maybe I’m creating the ultimate feline drug – Tobacnip!

Speaking of the garden, here’s the beginnings of this season’s planting, which will be much more extensive than last years, and which should benefit from the soil tests and classes we’ve been taking.

Walla Walla onions:

Shelling peas:

Salad mix:

If you’ve got Swede in the family tree (or shop at Ikea), you probably know what Lingonberries are. Delicious and tart, they are made into jams and sauces, and are full of anti-oxidants. Best of all, they grow well in acid soil (ie, all of Western Oregon) and propagate by rhizome as well as seed (they’ll slowly spread out without help from us, and won’t become out-of-control invasives like the Himilayan Blackberries that plague/feed us):

Chives and heirloom tomatoes (Purple Calabash and Brandywine) are under lights in the kitchen waiting for this extended frost season to finally end:

…and finally, no post these days would be complete without cute goat photos

Drama queen nosing through the nasty old chicken wire someone applied over the field fencing:

And Cocoa, with the evidence of a messy bottle feeding still on her face:

That’s it for today, but I’m sure tomorrow will bring a whole bunch of new flowers and cute animal shots

Tantalizing taste of what’s to come!

Gods I love the weather out here.

Found this little beauty behind the house today:
First flower feb 15 2008

Spent a little time brainstorming about the goat stable…the primary construction material will be shipping pallets, plus a few stout, rough-split poles I originally collected for firewood. Here’s about half of what I figure I’ll need (more scrounging to do!):
Future goat house

The fencing is mostly in good shape, but about 100′ of it droops beneath a thick mat of blackberry. I’ve already spent hours clearing it, but there’s a full day of work just getting the rest of it off the fence:
blackburied fence

Finally, to cap off this random little post, a backlit photo of one of last year’s hot peppers:
hot pepper backlit