Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Rain it Raineth Everyday

Still rainin', but that's okay.

Lettuces are doing fine and the beets and carrots are making great soups. I even found a few onions I didn't know I had. The cover crops are thriving and the chard is looking better than it did all summer.

I pulled the pumpkins in out of the rain. I got 3 big ones a few little ones and lost several to rot. 6 acorn squash.

Still waiting for the radicchio to sprout.

It's windy too today so the leaves are dancing and spinning in tiny twisters.

Fall has it's charms.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Fall Rains Falling Almost Everyday

I'm a believer, summer is over. It's been raining off and on for a week now I think. The Buckwheat cover crop I planted got a head start on the rain and is doing fine. But the mixed cover crop, containing Austrian Field Peas, Vetch, Clover, and Rye is kind of drowning and hopefully will catch up during the next few dry days.

I remind myself, that most of these cover crops are extremely hardy, survivors, weeds almost. They'll be fine.

I grudgingly brought in the rest of the green tomatoes. They'll have to complete their ripening in the comfort of the kitchen. I took out the pepper and cucumber plants. And planted Spinach, Radicchio, and Giant Radish from New Dimension Seed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

So here is the chicken coop, almost finished. It's all made from scrap and recycled wood. I'm trying to get the caging finished around the bottom, so I can plant some cover crop around it. We are supposed to get rain in the next few days, so I'd like to be finished by then.

The hens will be able to go in and out of the coop as they please, while still secure. And they will have access to dry ground under the house, even when it its raining. And I plan to build a chicken tractor that can be moved around the yard to let the hens work in the raised beds.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Fall is Coming

After one last burst of bonus summer it seems fall is settling in. The tomatoes and beans are starting to look a little tired, cucumbers have slowed down. And Ive been clearing out faded flowers and planning my cover crops.

Cover Crops are plants you can grow in the off season. The goal is to protect the soil from errosion and to enrich the soil with organic matter. Many cover crops will also fix nitrogen, which means add nitrogen which has been depleted during the growing season back into the soil.

The idea is that you grow the cover crop in your gardening beds and before it goes to seed you till the cover crop into the soil. In just a few weeks the soil will be ready for seeds or starts.

Suitable cover crop plants include:
Clover (especially white clover and crimson clover)
Annual Rye Grass
Fall Cereal Rye
Austrian Peas
Fava Beans
Common Vetch
Hairy Vetch
or a blend of several cover crop plants

Try it in part of your garden to start. You will probably find that you can use less compost and fertilizer by using cover crops as part of your sustainable practice.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Chicken Coop Under Construction

Here's the coop under construction. I'm making it out of pallets and recycled wood. I hope to house 3 happy, productive hens. It sits at the back of the yard.

So you see not all of the zucchini have ended up as bread. Meet Grave Digger or The Widow Maker, I haven't settled on a name yet. It's almost 2 feet long...so far.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

HELP! I'm drowning in zucchini!

Every year it's the same thing, the plants start out small and then they take over. And the zucchini are the worst. They hide under their own enormous umbrella leaves. Don't blink, don't look away even for a minute...they will be double in size when you look back.

I have one in the backyard right now that has totally gotten away from me so we're just going to see how big it gets. It's as big as a thigh now. I'm calling it WIDOWMAKER. I intend to set the record.

But for the zucchini that don't get to epic proportions what can you do? Well you can give them to your neighbors. My neighbors are nice people, but these days they draw the drapes and turn off the porch light when they see me coming.

Zucchini bread? Yeah, that's another god way to get rid of it. But how about something you can pull out of your freezer in the dead of winter? Something that will make you feel like you are out in the garden on a warm day harvesting nature's bounty. Something that will warm you from head to toe?

Inspired by Viana La Place's Cucina Rustica I whipped up a batch of summer vegetable stew. I sauted onions, zucchini, eggplant, green beans, garlic, tomatoes, basil and oregano, salt and pepper. I let the mixture cook together for a little while, then cooled it and divided it up in freezer bags.

I envision pulling it out of the freezer and serving it with crusty bread, a piece of cheese, and a glass of wine. Or as a pasta sauce, or stirred into risotto right before serving, or as a topping for bruschetta, or as the base for a rustic soup, or with Italian sausages, or for slow cooking chicken in, or...

I love having versatile, delicious, healthy foods on hand. Now is the time to put some goodies like this in your freezer or in canning jars.

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Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Housing Chickens (and their friends) in Style

So this past weekend I toured some of the finest in poultry accomodation in the Portland Metro area.

Without exception the coop owners were a gracious, gregarious bunch. Most of them had a whole sustainable, green gardening scene going on in their backyards.

Here are some of the highlights.

This Japanese / Craftsman coop was ingeniously constructed and the hens seemed to love it.

Lovely hens.

And not just hens, but ducks too. Runner ducks and French geese.

All hard working employees of this remarkable mini-farm. They all help control kitchen leftovers and slugs. And they all contibute fresh, delicious eggs.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tour de Coops

Here's what I'll be doing next Saturday. Checking out the city chickens in Portland.

And then I'll be adding chickens to my own backyard.

More info here
Tour de Coops

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Are These Bees Italian?

Besides the Borage in my garden, the bees really seem to go for the oregano. I have a big oregano plant that keeps coming back every year bigger and bigger.

Once it goes to flower it is bee heaven, hundreds of them swarm on it all day.

Bees like small flowers, like the ones on dill and fennel and this oregano has tiiny white flowers in abundance. So I let it go to flower for the bees and then I let it go to seed to make sure it will come back next year by reseeding itself.

Before it flowers I harvest lots of the leaves and dry them so I will have oregano to cook with all through the winter.

So plant some herbs for yourself and for the bees they will undoubtedly attract.

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The Taste of Summer in One Tiny Bite

Sungold cherry tomatoes, yum. What could possibly taste more like the very essence of a summer day...

Unless of course you think ripe, juicy peaches taste more like summer.

For me it's tomatoes, the smell of the plant as you brush against it, moving the leaves aside to get at the hidden treasure. The aroma of the rip fruit as you bring it up to your nose.

All my tomato plants are loaded with fruit, some are ripe and some are not yet. I just hope I am able to keep up as the ripening speeds up. Don't worry, I have some strategies fo dealing with an abundance of delicious home grown delights.

I pop the cherry toms like candy as I walk the garden, but my absolute favorite way to enjoy ripe tomatoes is on good bread with home made mayo and lots of salt and pepper. If the tomaotes are really juicy, you may need to enjoy this treat while leaning over the sink.

Hope you are hip deep in tomaotes by now.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Borage Flower

Borage Flower
Originally uploaded by joeysplanting
Here's a beautiful borage flower from joeysplanting on flickr. On a typical borage plant there are hundreds of these gorgeous, luminescent blue flowers.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Borage Brings in the Bees

This winter as I flipped through the pages of my seed catalogs over and over I had bees on the brain. I'd been reading about CCD (colony collapse disorder) and all of the cascading problems that might result from a lack of bees. I knew I needed to make an effort to lure bees into my garden.

I settled on borage as an experimental addition and bee bait. It took a while to get going, but now I have several of these beautiful plants throughout my garden and they are always full of bees.

The other plant the bees seem to love is Oregano once it hace flowered. I have a large patch of Oregano that was planted last summer. This hardy plant wurvived the winter and is now host to hundreds of bees on it's tiny white flowers. I will always make a place for this Oregano in my garden.

Friday, July 13, 2007

1st Tomato is Ripe Today!

I know it's been way too long since I have reported. But even though I've been lazy, the garden has been busy. Between vacation and hosting visiting relatives I've spent most of my spare in the garden, and not writing about it.

Today I harvested my first tomato of this season. It came from my tiny, but mighty Siletz plant. This plant has the most fruit on it of all eight varities I grew this year. It was delicious and captured all of the thrill and anticipation of watching the miracle of a plant making something for you to eat.

Yellow bush beans are starting to appear. I better get my canning plan together before I am swimming in them.

Everything seems to have survived the 100+ temps on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, so from here on out it should be fast and furious food production.

More soon, and hopefully some picutres.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Rain and Hail

Rain and hail for the last few days have halted all work in the garden and some of the plants really took a beating. Hopefully this will be the last of this brutal weather. It's not too cold, temps in the 40-50 degree range at night. And 50-60s during the days, with a few glorious sunbreaks.

But the new sprouts have gotten hammered just as they peek thier heads out. Maybe next year I won't try to start so early, hah.

Friday, April 27, 2007

What's Bugging the Bees?

Here's one possible answer.  The mysterious disappearance of bees (aka pollintors) is a problem we must solve. It's not just about the honey.  Without bees flowers go unpollintaed, and that means much lower crop yields.

Fungus may be behind the loss of bees - Earthtimes.org

Fungus may be behind the loss of bees
Earthtimes.org - 4 hours ago
Diana Cox-Foster of Pennsylvania State University said the pathogen was one of the many being studies for possible role in the annihilation of bees. ...
UCSF RESEARCH: Fungus Killing The Nation's Honey Bees KTVU.com
Experts may have found what's bugging the bees amNewYork
all 60 news articles

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Urban Vegetable Gardening

You really can do a lot with a little. Urban gardeners everywhere are growing their own food.

Be determined to grow at least some of your own food.

Be creative in looking for growing opportunities around your yard or patio or even indoors.

Be flexible, be resourceful.

The payoff is tremendous. It's relaxing, it's meditative and the feeling of eating food you have grown yourself is enormously gratifying. And good for you.

Ithacans embrace urban gardening - Ithaca Journal

Ithacans embrace urban gardening
Ithaca Journal, NY - Apr 18, 2007
ITHACA — As spring planting season begins, some Ithaca gardeners say they don't need big plots in the country to grow vegetables, fruits, nuts and herbs. ...

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Are cellphones killing bees?

If this is true, we have a real problem.  We need bees, not just for honey.  We need bees for our food supply, no kidding.  Most plants need to be pollinated to produce a fruit or a vegetable.  Bees do a lot of this pollinating work.  Without them we are in trouble.

Bees in danger - Champion Newspapers

Champion Newspapers
Bees in danger
Champion Newspapers, UK - 2 hours ago
Mobile phone masts have been blamed for the death of millions of bees and Cllr Jones says we should heed this finding. "I had heard a year ago that certain ...
Report links phone masts to cancer Norwich Evening News
all 2 news articles

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

More Plant Choices When You Start Your Own Seeds

Here is the best reason to start your own seeds.  Sooner or later you'll covet plants that you just can't find already growing at the nursery.

If you get really carried away, you'll end up like the woman in this article, with your own greenhouse.  I have a feeling this is where I may be headed.

Start seeds for exactly plants you want - Chippewa Herald

Start seeds for exactly plants you want
Chippewa Herald, WI - 7 hours ago
Start seeds in a specially formulated “germinating mix,” a soil-less mixture that’s pulverized to a fine texture just right for small seeds. ...

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My Kind of Yard

I moved into a house with lots of lawn.  Slowly but surely I am eliminating the grass in favor of raised beds and areas to be planted with pollinator attracting flowers and plants.  And it looks like I'm not the only one.

Out with the lawn, in with edibles - Seattle Post Intelligencer

Seattle Post Intelligencer
Out with the lawn, in with edibles
Seattle Post Intelligencer, WA - Apr 9, 2007
"We've seen that growth (in gardening interest) and added so many more programs recently," said Kathy Dang, a teacher at Seattle Tilth, an organic gardening ...

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Monday, April 2, 2007

NewsFlash! Playing in the Dirt Makes You Happy!

Here's something gardeners have known for a long time. It turns out that some of the bacteria and microbes in soil act similarly to anti-depressants.

Play in the Dirt for Your Mental Health!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Sometimes a Gardener Needs to Destroy Plants

I am not one of those who believe all plants are sacred. Some of them are just a nuisance and a waste of good growing area.

So it had to happen sooner or later. The monster in the backyard had been appeased and ignored long enough. it had even been coaxed and cajoled to no effect. Today was the day.

No more negotiation, no more Miss Nice Girl.

I called in the big guns, the tree service. Three young men with chain saws and a giant chipper. The Laurel Hedge, aka, the beast, needed to be tamed. It had claimed 3 or 4 feet of our backyard as well as 3 feet and all the sun from our neighbors. It stood at least 25 feet high and showed no signs of stopping.

So in a couple of hours it was turned into a sedate swath, a polite wall. I hope I'll be able to keep up with it. I know it will try to recreate all the mass it lost today. Everyone will get more sun. The power lines and cable will no longer be in peril. We'll have more planting area in the backyard and maybe a place to sit and enjoy the winter sun.

Now we just need to get rid of the creepy hot tub and the rotting deck.

Upwards and onwards.

Friday, March 23, 2007

100% Sprouting on Basil Seedlings!

Basil is up. All of them, eight plants so far, after thinning. I will probaly start some more in a week or 2 for insurance and to have plants to give away. The neighborhood should be awash in fresh basil this summer.

Borage and Brussel Sprouts are up too. I'll move them to slightly larger pots and start acclimatizing them to the outside world soon. Yes, yes, I know it is probably too soon, but it just feels like it is time.

Yesterday I planted Sunflowers and Foxglove, as well as Cilantro and some Lettuces.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Eyes on the Prize

These are San Marzano Roma tomatoes from last year's garden. These plants were prolific, even though I crowded them a little. The tomatoes were not great for slicing, but made wonderful sauce and were fantastic for drying. I have started seeds for a few plants for this year.

Eggplant from the 2006 crop. Beautiful, tender, fresh. These were great grilled and stir fried and cooked to soft perfection in curries.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Farming in the City

Here's a link to an article I saw on The Energy Bulletin.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Farming in the City

I spent most of this past weekend moving compost around the farm. I really enjoyed it and I am even more excited about the coming growing season. Even though this part was mostly just hard labor it was good food for the soul. Now I have rich, black mounds of new compost adorning my raised beds and new flower beds in several spots around the yard. I split a 7 yard load with 2 of my neighbors, which made it really economical.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Planning for Apples and Persimmons

Okay, I cut my finger doing it, but I grafted 3 new trees for my garden last weekend. A Fuyu Persimmon, a Hudson's Golden Gem apple, and a Cox's Orange Pippen. I also have an Empire apple that I grafted a couple of weeks ago when I learned how to graft.

Hopefully the fruit will taste as good as the names sound. All 4 trees will take about 3 years before they begin to bear fruit

Persimmon is particularly underrated. The orange orbs decorate the tree late into fall after the leaves have fallen. The fruit can be enjoyed crisp like an apple in salads or with cheese. Once it is more fully ripe it can be used in baked goods and puddings.

Persimmons have a rich, deep flavor, maybe like a combination of melon and pear. And when you slice them laterally they have the most beautiful star pattern inside.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Building a Fruit Tree

Tomorrow my local Home Orchard Society is holding their annual scion exchange. A bunch of fruit tree enthusiasts get together and trade sticks. Well that's what it will look like, but there will be something magic happening too.

A scion is a piece of wood from a particular variety of tree, let's say apple. When that piece of scion wood is grafted onto a rootstock a tree is made. I've been wanting to add fruit trees to my garden so a few weeks ago I learned how to do a simple whip and tongue graft. I made an Empire Apple Tree on dwarf root stock. The apples will be normal size, but the tree will be small, appropriate for my small yard. Dwarf trees will bear fruit sooner than full size trees too.

The main problem is choosing from hundreds of varieties of apples, pears, cherries, figs, persimmons, and berries. I know I want unusual varieties, heirloom varieties, beyond that I'll have to let the experts guide me.

Like most big scale agriculture fruit production is limited to a few mainstream varieties. But it is important for biodiversity to preserve the lesser known varieties. Home orchardists help to keep obscure or forgotten varieties in existence. Who wouldn't want to be able to offer their frinds and family something unique, something you can't find in the grocery store, maybe even a piece off history.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

I Just Couldn't Wait Any Longer...

Saturday and Sunday were dry so I did it. I planted seeds, the first of this season. In the 2 raised beds in my front yard I planted a couple of rows of each of the following:
turnip greens
chard (Bright Lights)
sweet peas
I have been so anxious to start gardening this spring, and with the unseasonably warm weather it was just too much to resist. Hopefully we won't have too many more frosty nights. I can't wait for the sprouts to start coming up. This is addictive.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Where Have All the Bees Gone?

Bees are disappearing from hives and from the landcscape in general. The dramatic decrease in the bee population is expected to have an negative impact on agriculture. Remember most plants need a pollinator in order to produce fruit or vegetables. Bees do a large portion of this work.

This story appeared in the Daily Telegraph recently.
Fears For Crops as Bees Vanish

Check out my squidoo lens on Orchard Mason Bees. I am trying to attract more bees to my garden. These little guys are hard working pollinators. It is just about time for the Mason bees to emerge from the house, mate, and produce larvae for next year's bee population.

Bees may be like the canary in the coalmine. It is important to find out why they are disappearing and to figure out how to stop them from diappearing. We need the bees. They are an integral part of a sustainable garden.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Seeds and Snow

The seeds for this season's garden arrived today, and so did snow. Well, it's not really snow, or at least snow that sticks. It's mostly big soggy flakes that melt as soon as they hit the ground. It isn't bitterly cold so maybe there will be achance to plant some seeds this weekend.

The snow is jsut a reminder that maybe it is still a little too early to get carried away planting. But the few warm days we have had in the past few weeks have deifinitely lit the fire.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Sprouts, the Easy Indoor Garden

When I'm not gardening outdoors, or even when I am, I can always garden indoors, in a sprouting jar. I grow sprouts for sandwiches and salads. You can sprout all kinds of beans and seeds and nuts.

Sprouting is so easy and sprouts are soooooo good for you. Sprouts are living food. Sprouts have all the concentrated nutrients that the seeds uses to grow into a plant. Sprouts contain proteins, vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.

You might not want to switch to an all raw food diet, but adding sprouts to your diet is a great way to add raw foods with all the benefits they bring.

Here is my favorite source for sprouting seeds and accessories.
Sprout People

Monday, February 19, 2007

Companion Planting

Planning which plants will be neighbors this season.

The weather has turned cold again and a little too wet for planting, even though I am itching to get started. So I am planting on paper instead, and using lot of eraser. Some plants help each other and should be planted in close proximity. Others are not good neighbors and you should try to keep them apart.

Which plants are good companions? Here's a quick reference from the folks at GardenGuides.com

Companion Planting

Monday, February 12, 2007

This is what I'm talking about.

Check out this video I stumbled across.
Garden Girl's Urban Sustainable Living

Here is her website where you can find out more about this "Martha Stewart" for the future.
Go Garden Girl!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Seed Swap

Last night we got together with my brother and sister in law. She's an avid gardener and suggested that we get our seeds together and share with each other before we place our orders for new seeds.

This is a great idea because most seed packets give you way more seeds than you can use in a year or 2 and after that the germination rates may decline, so the seeds you have may not all sprout.

I scored corn (Peaches and Cream), swiss chard (Bright Lights), sunflowers ( Red Sun and Infrared Mix), Zucchini (Romulus), and lovage. I shared some of my tri-color beets, edible pea pods and soybeans (Black Pearl) with her. We still managed to circle about 10-12 items from the Territorial seed catalog that we could live without.

Territorial Seeds

Territorial Seed sells seeds for varieties specifically chosen and tested for the Pacific Northwest. Their seeds would probably grow fine in other climates, but if you have the choice to buy seeds from a local company in your area, that tests and chooses based on your specific conditions, I would recommend that you do so.

We both plan to buy plants already started for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. These vegetables can be safely planted in May. I can't believe we have so long to wait. I'll just have to make do with some early spring lettuces, kale, chard, beets, etc.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Too Early for Garden Fever

When the sun is shining and the mailbox is full of seed catalogs it's hard to resist a mild case of garden fever. Even here in Portland we still have more winter to look forward to, but it's been sunny for days now and I'm planning to work in the yard this weekend.

Tomorrow is Groundhog Day so we will wait for the Oracle of Punxsutawney devine whether we will have an early spring or not. I'm pretty sure I will be tempted to put some poor plants out too early. But I'm also certain that I will have some plants from last summer still alive and still producing. Thus I can claim "crop overlap". In my first year on this new farm, to have something growing year, is a feat I am not too humble to proud of.

Of course, what I have growing currently is a shadow of the summer cropload. Most of the arugula, except fro the stuff on the south side of the house succumbed to the frosts. I can still rustle up enough for a small, coarse salad every few days. But the kale and the stunted beets are povided feedstock for the juicer. Rosemary is fine and robust, although that's kind of a gimme, as is the lavender. Survival of the oregano was a surprise, it actually looks pretty good. And the parsley suffered a little due to the frost, but is already showing signs of new life.