Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And Now the Days Are Getting Longer

...or so they say. I know it's true, but it doesn't feel that way yet. One of the ways I like to drive my long suffering husband crazy is to constantly remark about the length of daylight compared to night. I say things like, "I've never seen so many sunrises in my life until we moved to Oregon, and it's not because I get up early". In no time I'll be complaining that it's 10pm and the sun is still shining.

The birds are making the most of the feeders lately, and now that the bird bath is thawed they can wash it all down with rainwater. Aaahh.

I haven't done much in the garden since the big freeze, except clean up some of the casualties. We had lots of rain after the thaw and some plants have begun to rebound, like mustard greens, turnips, parsley and a few of the lettuces look like they'll pull through. I used turnips in a braised short rib stew last night.

And inside, the Pimiento de Padron pepper is hamming it up like a hothouse flower. Still blooming and producing little cocktail peppers. Don't know why I never did this before, but this plant will have a huge head start when I bring it back outside once it warms up.

Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Winter Chill

Well up until just a few days ago there was still plenty to eat coming from the garden. Mustard greens, turnips, lettuces, kale, pea sprouts, beets, rapini, Chinese broccoli, chard, celery, oregano, and parsley. I know, I know, it all sounds little too healthy.

But a few days ago it turned cold, really cold, well really cold for Oregon. I can hear mid-westerners and east coasters chuckling. Really cold, really dry and really windy. Get out the chapstick. Last night it got down below 20 degrees and the water for the chickens was frozen, as was the birdbath, and hummingbird feeder.

Most all of the plants are slumped over, not looking very happy. And this just after I've been bragging about my "cold tolerant peppers". Well they don't look like they're cold tolerant enough. Luckily I brought some of them inside, where they seem to be quite comfortable.

I've put a heat lamp in the coop, just to knock a little of the chill off, especially since two of the birds have been molting. They are almost re-feathered, but I don't want their semi-naked butts to be too cold. The trouble is that they awake at about 5am and start to squawk, so I get up and turn off the light and go back to bed. And so do they, until dawn when I let them out to peck at the frozen ground.

Oh, and there were lot of these things in the garden too. Luckily I harvested before the freeze.

Jerusalem artichoke, or Sunchokes
We ate some in salads, and stir fry, and the rest of them became pickles, along with some cauliflower and onions. Sweet, sour, and very crisp.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Little Hen Who Could...


Yep, Queenie is broadening her repertoire to include not just contented clucking and the enthusiastic bawk bawk bawk bacaaaawk that announces the arrival of an egg, but a rooster-like cock a doodle do. Well she only makes it as far as cock a do...

It's kind of abbreviated, well more like strangled at the end. So far she only does it in the mornings, to notify me that she and her gal pals would like to be let out into the yard. Yes, my birds have trained me to rush outside and let them out into the yard to play and peck and scratch for the day. So these days I rise before they do, in the summer I get a real jump on the day, rising at 4:30 or 5. They wake when the sun comes up.

Since the weather is cold, the neighbors have their windows and doors closed. Only a few of them have confirmed hearing this strange sound. And neither of the other two hens seem interested in acquiring this new skill. But then Queenie is the top of the pecking order and they probably don't want to question her authority.

Recently she has stopped doing it everyday and is, perhaps, keeping it as a special party trick, just to be used on auspicious occasions. I've talked to a few other chicken owners and none of them have had this experience or heard of it.

Maybe it's time to call Animal Planet to see if there is money to be made from this animal anomaly. Of course as soon as I sign the contract she will refuse to crow ever again.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cute Fruit

This is, quite possibly, the most adorable vegetable I have ever grown. Although it is technically classified as a fruit, allowing my, oh so clever title. Everything about them is miniature, which I find irresistible. Tiny curlicue climbing tendrils, itty bitty yellow flowers, and small, ivy-like leaves. And the fruits themselves look just like a watermelon, perfect for Tom Thumb.

They are bite-sized, crunchy, and just the slightest bit sour.

This is another treat from Territorial Seeds. It's the Mexican Sour Gherkin, listed in their catalog under "Novelty Cucumbers".

Were I in the business of coaxing children to eat vegetables I would use this as a secret weapon. And I feel justified in writing about these dainty treats on the cusp of November, because the plants are still bearing fruit. I don't know of too many cukes that can accomplish that feat this late in the season.

Best Bang for the Botanical Buck

Oh sure I love the luscious fruits and vegetables as much as anybody; the blowzy, plump, colorful tomatoes, melons, corn, and peaches. But I get the most satisfaction from growing plants that have a longer season and hang around when there is not much in the garden to eat. Greens and some of the heartier herbs are the plants I value most.

This bed of mixed lettuces has been providing crunchy salads for a couple of months now, and some of the varieties will survive through the winter. It is planted with a seed mix from Territorial Seeds, my favorite seed source. Here is how they describe the mix.

"Provencal Winter Mix
32 days. This famous mesclun salad blend is composed of 3 colorful, winter-hardy French lettuces-Continuity, Salad Bowl, and Brunia-as well as Roquette, Corn Salad, Treviso radicchio, Broadleaf Batavian endive, Dark Green Italian parsley, and Chervil. This makes a colorful salad mix as well as a wonderful summer garden landscape planting. Add pansies or violas for a celestial treat." And it's all true.

Also in this salad bed is celery that I started from seed in the spring. 2 plants provide me with leaves that are great in salads and plenty of stalks for soup stocks.

Parsley, chives and oregano have made it through the winters in my garden most years. I just loved being able to go out and grab just a handful or 2 of something, without having to go to the store and buy an amount that may be more than I need.

And then, of course there are my beloved greens, rapini, Chinese broccoli, and mustard greens. Mustard greens are on the menu tonight, along with

Yukon Gold potatoes, and Peruvian Purple potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, and garlic, all from the garden. I intend to roast them in the oven and serve with polenta. But I can't decide whether to call it
Small Batch, Artisan, Oven Roasted, Heirloom Root Vegetables, with Braised Mustard Greens, or Grits, Greens, and Spuds.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Autumn Leaves

Having grown up in southern California fall color might refer to many things, but never to a change in leaf pigment. Palm trees don't turn. But here in the Pacific Northwest the trees shout at this time of year. From sunny yellows to brooding purples, the trees all try to outdo each other in a final blast before they strip and go to sleep.

The real show stoppers are the ones flaunting shades of red and orange. Usually they are maples and the trees positively glow, as if illuminated from within like a lantern. It's like peering into a dark fireplace and seeing the luminous, smoldering embers. My eyes never tire of seeing this intense, incandescent color and light. Maybe I'd get over it if they lasted longer, but the show only lasts a few weeks, and then everything turns gray, well not really, but it feels that way.

I've never been to the east coast for the famous turning leaves, but if it's a whole lot better than it is here in Oregon, I probably wouldn't be able to handle it. Happy Autumn.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mustard Greens and John the Frog

I have a frog in my yard. When the weather turns cool and damp he makes himself known by croaking. He is doing it now and we have lots of rain in the forecast. Maybe he knows something. My husband has named him John. John the Frog.

Here's a pumpkin so it must be autumn. The weather has definitely turned cooler and the days are shorter. But fall in the Pacific Northwest is a treat

And here are my lovely Mustard Greens. I planted them in plenty of time this year for them to get a good head start. The very small leaves are terrific in salads, and the more mature leaves are great steamed, stir fried and in soups, or as braised greens. They have that super sastisfying, hearty, dark green, leafy vegetable taste and a peppery kick.

And here is the other green that I love, rapini. It has reseeded itself since summer and is providing lots of leafy greens that are great with sausage and pasta

Rainbow Chard too

I planted my garlic this week, about 40 cloves so far. I'm going to try to figure out a place to squeeze about 10-20 more in. The problem is that most of my yard doesn't get any sun during the winter months. I am shaded on the south by my neighbors, and by my own house on part of the garden. So maybe if I plant in a less sunny location I will just have a later crop.

Gardening is experimenting.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Disneyland For Chickens

I finally made an open compost bin. I've been threatening to do this for sometime, but the idea has met with some resistance from the aesthetics czar. So I put it in a part of the yard he seldom visits.

I've been using the black plastic Earth Machine composters with some success, but I wasn't able to turn the contents frequently or thoroughly enough. My neighbor, the Compost Chef, uses an open contraption and turns out the most delicious, black, crumbly, rich compost. So I decided to follow his lead, aka copycat.

I assumed this new situation would be of some interest to the chickens, and I was correct. Scarlet, the Rhode Island Red was the first one in and the first one to the top of the heap. But the others soon followed. And they got right to work. They just love spreading stuff out. Anything left in a pile or stack will be evenly distributed in no time.

I'm hoping the hens rearranging the pile constantly will serve to turn and aerate the pile. And the necessity of shoveling it back into the bin makes them my personal trainers.

At some point I may need to restrict their access to the pile, if I get tired of shoveling it back into the bin, or if they eat all the worms. But for now I love seeing them working away, kicking and scratching, digging for gold.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Transition Time

Time to clean up some of the summer plants, harvest before the cold, and move into a fall mode.

Here is the driveway plot where the tomatoes used to be. I brought them all inside to finish ripening in anticipation of precipitation and cooler temperatures. I planted Austrian Field Peas here as a cover crop. You can see an earlier planting of the same peas on the left side of this picture.

And here's the genius part, Naomi at Concentrates reminded me that cover crops can also be used for grazing. Grazing for animals and for people too. Pea shoots are tender, sweet, and delicious. I've been snipping the tender tops of these peas and putting them in salads and sandwiches.

And when I brought the hens to the front yard for a little field trip they headed straight for the peas.

Below are just a few of the Manzano pepper, related to the Rocotto, a cold tolerant pepper from Peru. I grew 3 plants this year and 2 of them did really well. Super prolific. I've gotten at least 25-30 peppers so far, all the size of a golf ball. They are wonderfully sweet, like a bell pepper, but have some heat. And they dry really well. I'm going to try to keep the plants alive outside for the winter. We'll see how cold tolerant they are.

Another fall project that has kept me from writing; it's time to make pesto, and lots of it. This bundle is from one location in the yard where I had basil growing. Although this year was not great for tomatoes and squash, it was terrific for basil.

My homage to Thomas Kinkaid. A late afternoon shot in the front yard. Who says you can't shoot into the sun. Sometimes being a mediocre photographer really pays off.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Making Room For Flowers

In past seasons I haven't made much room for flowers, I was much more interested in growing things to eat. But this year I made sure to include flowers in the mix and I'm so glad I did. Not only have they provided added interest and visual pleasure, they have attracted loads of bees and hummingbirds.

Artificial looking zinnia.

Texas Hummingbird Sage. This is a lovely plant and really does attract hummingbirds. It reseeds itself pretty aggressively, so once you plant it you will most likely enjoy it in subsequent years.

Fall blooming crocus. I remember planting these, but they appeared last fall and have returned this year. Delicate and beautiful.

More zinnias. I love the punch of bold color, and they last forever.

This is the path through our front yard, lined with cosmos on the left and zinnias on the right.

Cosmos provide gorgeous color and movement in the garden. They sway in the breeze as if dancing.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thank Goodness For Farmers

Since we can't grow EVERYTHING on our Backyard Farm we are lucky to have a terrific farmers market really close by, 2 blocks away. It occupies a large parking lot, generously donated each week during the summer by the Wilhelm's Portland Memorial Mortuary. Lots of great growers and food vendors brave the cool days of early spring and the scorching days of mid-summer to bring us their offerings.

Musicians serenade the shoppers each week. This bluegrass band was especially good, so good I should have made a note of their name.

Here are a few things I leave to the experts. The corn this year was sweet and tender and crunchy, everything you'd want in an ear. And cheap at 3 for a dollar.

The peaches were superb as well. These are Fancy Lady peaches from just over the river in Washington. I don't think I've ever enjoyed peaches more than I enjoyed these.

A little color from my garden. These Fairytale Eggplant didn't get much bigger than 3-4 inches long, but they're still terribly photogenic, with their spicy pepper friends.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Big, Big Zuke

Every year one or two zucchini get away from me. Either I miss the perfect harvest window or they are hidden from view or I can't think of which neighbor to offer another zucchini. But somehow they avoid getting picked. Once they achieve a girth not normally seen in the grocery store, I can't resist, I just have to let 'em go to see how big they'll get. It's not like I can't spare few squashes in the name of science.

I must have few of the kooky giant pumpkin growing genes, but I don't set out to grow gigantic veg, it just happens. I think the current world record is 1689 pounds. My zucchini are not that big.

So here's a Romanesco zucchini and a yellow squash that achieved greatness. The sprinkler head is added to give scale.

I like to name them after those big trucks with the giant wheels that drive over piles of cars. So these 2 are called Grrrrravedigger and Widowmaker.

Stella and Kaitlyn Stella and Kaitlyn demonstrate that kids do indeed love over sized vegetables.

And this is the view as I look up from my patio on a gorgeous September day.

Monday, August 24, 2009

I Feel Fall

Today will be spent doing a little clean up and rearranging on the farm. Fall is beginning to make it's presence known. Not everyday, just now and then little signs appear. A few leaves are starting to fall, the days are getting noticeably shorter. There's an intangible sense of the changing seasons in the air. Although the days are still plenty warm, it does feel as if fall is waiting in the wings.

The greens I planted a few weeks ago are doing fine and some of the summer plants will be removed to give them some more room and more sun. Plants to remove include sunflowers, which are fading, a redundant zucchini, and some underperforming peppers, and of course many weeds.

In sad news, my farm cat, Mel has been missing since Friday. I've put up fliers around the neighborhood and spoken to all my neighbors, posted a description and photo on craigslist, and walked all over the neighborhood calling kittykittykitty. We even visited the Humane Society to see if she had been turned in, even though I think it's too early for that. So keep your fingers crossed that she will wander back home.Several people have told me stories of their own cats that came home in good health after a week or 2 or even a month, so I remain hopeful. Here's what she looks like, let me know if you see her.
And here is a shot of Mel performing vital work on the Backyard Farm.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Delights From The Garden

I really need to get better at taking pictures of vegetables. But here are a few shots of treats from the garden. Lots of things at peak these days.

Beans in abundance. The packet of seeds claimed purple, green and yellow beans, but there don't seem to be too many yellows. No matter, I have yellow bush beans in another location, an undisclosed location. Now, who's the Bean Queen?

These are my beloved Pimiento de Padron peppers. Some of these were not harvested early enough and may end up blowing somebodies head off. But the small ones are tender and delicious. Saute in a little olive oil, sprinkle with coarse salt, and pop like candy. I planted 2 plants, one is thriving and doing all the heavy lifting of supplying us with peppers. The other one is struggling to produce a few measly peppers. It has labored in the shadow of a zucchini plant and been besieged by chickens TWICE, so I forgive the poor production.

We aren't getting tons of tomatoes, as I lamented in a previous post, but what we are getting is just what you'd imagine; plump, succulent, juicy and oh so flavorful. I have enjoyed them many ways, but my favorite remains crusty bread, a generous slathering of mayonnaise, slabs of ripe tomatoes, coarse salt, black pepper. This is best enjoyed over the sink.

My Dad once described some particularly gorgeous tomatoes as pornographic, and I have to say that when the lewd fruits are plump, juicy, meaty, ripened to perfection and warm from the vine, well, it's tough to find a better word.

And here are the Manzano peppers. They are about as big as a golf ball so far. Both plants are carrying about 10-12 peppers and I think there will be more to come. These peppers will ripen to yellow. The smaller Rocoto pepper plants are coming along fine, but I still don't expect to get any peppers this season.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Roller Coaster Temps

Following the rope-a-dope weather we have had lately, the plants seem to be recovering. At the end of July we had a hot spell, with temperatures over a hundred degrees for several days in a row. Portlanders were wilting and whining, and the plants faired a little better. But the intense heat stunned them.

The beans have blossoms again, after a short period of no beans and no flowers. We're back to normal with temperatures in the high 70s and cool nights. Perfect Oregon summer.

Tomatoes continue to ripen, even though there aren't very many, as I have mention previously. And cucumbers are back in full production. Strangely the zucchinis, which we are usually up to our necks in by now, have not grown much and have not produced many squashes. The plants have not sprawled across other plants the way they usually do, engulfing all in their path. Having a zucchini shortage is downright WEIRD. Like Bizarro World.

But it's great time for planting seeds. The seeds for greens, lettuces, beets, etc. that I planted last Thursday have begun to sprout, with almost no duds. Warmer weather makes all the difference. Sprouting seeds at this time of year deludes me into thinking I have some control over nature. Powerful and terrifying.

The seeds lurk under the thin covering of soil for what seems like only minutes before they spring up, enthusiastically.

In the cold, wet, dark days of spring, trying to get a head start by sprouting seeds indoors is much harder work. I find myself peering at the cells of the seed starting try, imagining that I see the tiny crooked necked sprouts struggling to pierce the surface of the soil and strain towards the dim light coming in the window for maybe 6 hours a day.

I'm happy to have the first batch of plants started for fall and winter grazing.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Summer Bounty and Fall / Winter Planning and Planting

Lots and lots of cucumbers lately, including the adorable Mexican Sour Gherkins. They look like tiny watermelons and have a snappy crunch and a little citrus tang. The vines are delicate, with lots of those curly climbing springs.

And many many beans, green, yellow, and purple. I have put the word out and neighbors have come to my aid to bail me out.

But even though I am kind of drowning in vegetables recently, I started some seeds for fall and winter harvesting. I usually wait to late to do this, but I hope it is early enough for these plants to get a good head start before the weather turns cool. Considering our recent string of hundred degree plus days, it is taxing my imagination to invision the weather cooling. But we know it will. It always does.

Kale, Cabbage, Lettuces, Beets, Rapini, Gai Lan, Onions, Chard

I planted all of the above in a seed starting tray and after only 3 or 4 days some of the sprouts are emerging. I'll direct seed some more carrots, peas, onions, and lots of lettuce. Whatever we can't keep up with will be enjoyed by the hens.

Now it's time to start planning ways to protect these plants so they can stretch out into the fall and winter. I expect some of them will make it to next spring.

I've tried cold frames and hoop houses with varying degrees of success. The hoop house creates a look perfectly complimented by a car up on blocks, an above ground pool and a trampoline. This was my husbands least favorite solution. Someday I'd like to have a real greenhouse.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Yes, but...

Organic food is no healthier, study finds

This story appears on Reuters, and sounds kind of stunning at first, except that it fails to address the real reason some people favor organic produce. Conventionally grown produce may have pesticide and herbicide residues. Maybe some folks think organic is more nutritionally rich too, but the main reason is to avoid nasty substances.

Locally grown produce that goes quickly from field to table is more nutritious than food that has spent long periods of time traveling many miles. It's fresher, and fresher produce has more vitamins and minerals. Besides, produce that is embarking on a long trip may need to be picked before it is ripe and exposed to extreme temperatures or preservative gases.

So, while "organic" produce from wherever in the world may not be more nutritious, there are still good reasons to give it preference, particularly if it is locally grown.

Oh, and the school that published the study has a funny name.
The London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Evildoers or Opportunists?

While I was out of town on vacation the chickens executed a jailbreak. They got into the part of the back yard that I have banned them from this year. By the time the escape was discovered they had uprooted a couple of yellow squash plants and some small onions and they had strewn a lot of dirt and mulch over the paths. This is their particular speciality, they are adept at spreading everything in their immediate environment into one even layer. This way they can pick and peck through everything very thoroughly.

But now that I think about it, I wonder if they deliberately chose the squash.

Like many gardeners I usually end up with an over abundance of squash and zucchini. And like most gardeners with this problem I run out of victims on whom to pawn it off long before I run out of squash. So I end up giving lots of it to the hens. They seem to like it, especially the seeds. But maybe they are more like us than we imagine. Maybe it is part of their dastardly plan to eradicate zucchini when they have the opportunity so they won't have to do the heavy lifting of disposing of the excess squash.

Monday, July 27, 2009

It's Gonna Be A Scorcher

We're about to have 2 or 3 days over 100 degrees. Wow. Yesterday I watered all the plants thoroughly, so they should be alright, but some may need a little refreshment.

And I'll have to do a few things to keep the hens cool. Their beach umbrella is up and the water is full. I may need to water down the run and the hedge, where they like to hide in the shade. The coop needs cleaning and a change of bedding too. That ought to be fun in the stifling heat.

Time to get outside before it gets any hotter, but first a trip to the feed store for cedar shavings, which is what I use for bedding and for mulch around the garden. Also some 5 grain scratch as a treat for the girls. Concentrates is my favorite for this stuff. Extremely helpful and friendly people there and it's close to home.

And there will be some catch up posts to make up for the dearth while I was out of town on vacation. Stay cool.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Trouble in Tom Town

My tomato plants look hideous!
They're setting fruit, but the just look scraggly and sparse and not at all healthy. At first I thought I might have some blight from not mulching sufficiently before some big rainstorms, splashing fungus and junk onto the plants. But now, after some consult with the BQ (Bean Queen) it may just be plain old poor soil.

I thought I had added enough compost, I grew a cover crop and turned it in before planting. I fertilized. Maybe it just takes a little more to reverse 30 years under a sheet of concrete.

We'll get tomatoes, just not as many as I was hoping for. Gardening, it's a crapshoot.
So yesterday was the first officially ripe tomato, a Sungold. Delicious, but will there be enough?

Blueberries are ripe for picking. I went to a U-Pick farm with my neighbors. We hauled in about 20 lbs worth. Get out the blueberry muffin recipe.