"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Friday, May 29, 2009

Weeding and Reseeding

Planting was put on hold for a couple days as we were forced to catch up on weeding. A great deal of time has been spent over the last couple of days removing the multitude of tiny weeds that have sprung forth in order to find any "bare" spots that needed to be replanted. Luckily, very little reseeding was necessary this spring. About 1/3 of the seeds I direct seeded were my own and the rest came from a wide variety of other sources. The only serious germination issue was with pepper seed. Of course, in a panic, I replanted so many peppers seeds that we are now faced with a glut of the plants. Last year's germination, especially with certain direct seeded crops, was a real problem thanks to bad seed from certain seed companies. This year all is well... so far. That is me in the picture below writing a list of things that need to be replanted.

So, I have a revolutionary new system for weeding that is guaranteed to work for everyone. After years of trial and error trying to find the easy way out, heavy mulching, no mulching at all, using a torch... naw. I have come up with the perfect way to weed. First bend over and pull all the little weeds close to your plants with your thumb and index finger, hoe the rest, and repeat diligently on a daily or at least weekly basis. :)

Really, weeds can be a big issue and the best way to take care of them is to spend a little time each day pulling them. I guesstimate that an average weed takes around 5-10 days to reach a size worth the effort to remove. So, for example, if I had 10 rows of crops, I would simply weed one row each day in order to stay on top of the whole weed problem. A strict weeding schedule works for us... discipline is the easiest solution to weeds that I have come across. Happy weeding!

This row of carrots has been weeded and only a few needed to be reseeded.

No weeds left in the salad garden or the berry patch.

I have never had to reseed potatoes, but these ones definitely needed to be weeded.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Planting Tomatoes

And so begins the tedious task of planting the "soft" crops. This is what I consider any temperamental vegetable that shivers at the mere mention of a cold night and must be constantly pampered in order to live. These are the plants that I must diligently tend from seed to florescent light and later on to the greenhouse, finally hardening off under row covers outside. It is with great joy that I am able to free myself of this burden, or perhaps I should say commitment, that so intimately connects me with these particular plants and finally set them free to fend for themselves in the cold hard earth... hopefully not too cold. Tomatoes, tomatillos, ground cherries/gooseberries, various peppers, eggplants, certain herbs and even a few litchi tomatoes all fit into this category. I love growing my own food but I must say that caring for numerous seedlings is not a task I greatly enjoy.

We made the decision to plant our tomatoes, tomatillos, ground cherries and a whole lot of flowers about two weeks earlier than usual this year as the weather forecast looks really good as far out as the weatherman's eye can see. Normally cool and rainy going into Memorial Day weekend we have had 75-80° days and close to 50° nights. The most important indicator that it is time for planting is all the volunteer tomatoes coming up in the gardens.

We plant these three in pretty much the same manner. A deep hole is dug and filled with a rich compost that was held aside especially for these particular crops.

Tomatoes are buried as deeply as possible using soil that was excavated from the bottom of the hole to form a bowl around the plant. This sandy soil is a little more sterile than the compost and helps prevent against blight or other viral issues brought on by water splatter.

Field fencing is used to make sturdy cages and each plant is then tagged. Each and every cage will be also staked to the ground before the plants get much bigger.

Tomatillos and ground cherries are planted in a similar manner but instead of a cage I sometimes plant them in a row using two sections of fencing to hold them in place. Cross sections of bailing twine will be run across from side to side as the plants grow in height to keep them from falling over on each other.

This will work for tomatoes as well but ours are mostly indeterminate and get much taller and heavier, if we're lucky, so I prefer to use the cages for the majority of them. Cages also seem to allow for better air circulation which is an important preventative against disease.

We ended up with over 53 different tomato varieties and around 80 plants. The goal being to have at least 1500 medium to large fruits for canning, freezing, drying, and a large selection of seeds going forward. Thanks in part to http://grungysgarden.blogspot.com/ for exchanging some unusual seeds with us, we are having fun with tomatoes this year. The hardest part seems to be giving away the extra plants... a good problem to have for a change.

We have come across more of these yet to be identified salamanders in our gardens this year then ever before? This one was hiding in the compost pile.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wild Asparagus

I have been on the hunt for wild asparagus for sometime now, finding it for the first time last year. We happened to inadvertently stumble upon the palatable delights while walking along a river bank picking service berries in late June. The plants were already in the latter stages of their development for the most part, but we were able to gather enough for a meal. I made a mental note of the location and decided to make a return trip earlier the next year.

A new year has arrived and we went back and found our asparagus bed still under water as the river had yet to recede from spring runoff. We only found one stalk higher up on the bank that was bit past its prime. We hope to go back for another look in a couple of weeks. It is interesting that asparagus roots can survive underwater at all, but they must as this river is always high in the early spring.

It seems like it has been harder to "get away" and hunt for wild edibles or just wander the forest trails the last couple years for a variety of reasons. One of my goals for this year is to make time for such events as those are some of the best days of my life. Forced to choose between our wild wanderings and my food gardens, the gardens would be set aside. The quiet enchantment of the wilderness has no equal in my eyes, it brings about a feeling of awe that cannot be fully appreciated through mere words. My preference, of course, is to enjoy them both for as long as possible.

Last year's asparagus was found all along the river bank, about as far out as the partially submerged bush in the picture.

Wild lupine was just starting to bloom.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Good King

We grow the long forsaken perennial herb Good King Henry for early spring greens. This plant will self sow if allowed and is an excellent substitute for spinach. We sometimes adorn homemade pizzas with it, the young spring leaves are especially good. Once the seed heads appear it does become somewhat bitter but is then a real treat for our chickens. Some call it Fat-hen, as it was supposedly used in Germany to fatten poultry in days long past.

I love perennials that need only to be planted once and can then be enjoyed for many years to come. Three cheers for the king.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Worms Crawl In

Thanks to issues with cabbage root maggots the planting of certain brassicas, mainly cabbage, broccoli, brussels, cauliflower, and kohlrabi can be quite a chore in our gardens. The adult, similar in appearance to that of small housefly, lays eggs in the soil next to the stems of cole crops. When the larvae hatch they make their way down to the roots and eat tunnels throughout the root system causing the plants to eventually fail.

"One of the solutions to this problem, and the one that works best for us, is to cut squares of perforated weed barrier and place them around the base of each and every plant" he says with an exhausted sigh. Floating row covers can also keep the flies off cole crops but wind and water issues prevent us from using them. Besides, what fun would simple row covers be when one can look forward to cutting and placing hundreds of little squares instead. :)

First we separate, in this case ruby perfection cabbage plants from the tangled web they have weaved in my flats. Yeah, I planted them a little too close together and this is why I'm planting this particular batch out now rather then waiting until they are bigger as I normally do. We used really old seed and did not expect such good germination.

We plant them as deep as possible, even covering the first little set of leaves with soil. Planting this deep enables the cabbage, with its shallow root system the ability to access more soil moisture. Also this helps to keep it from flailing about in the wind... an issue we have, especially in the early spring. We actually have to put wooden stakes on the east side of full size cole crops to keep occasional wind gusts from literally ripping them out of the ground.

Then I put a small (6x6") square of weed barrier, with a slit cut half way down the middle, around the base of the plant making sure to leave a slight bowl shaped depression so that water will more easily penetrate through to the roots of the cabbage.

Cover with dirt and I'm ready to move on to the next one. In the past we also added a little wood ash around the plant as this seems to work as a repellent as well.

I'm planting my cabbages in three different stages this year, hoping to come up with the perfect heads for winter storage. As much as I love cabbage it is certainly not one of the easiest crops for me to grow due to weather, insects, and my general lack of a green thumb. Perhaps this will be the year I finally master this most simple of all vegetables to grow.

"Cabbage: A vegetable about as large and wise as a man's head." - Ambrose Bierce, American writer (1842-1914)

General disclaimer:

This post is in no way meant to diminish the worthiness of a root maggot or any of their kind. I am aware that we all have a right to live full and productive lives to the best of our abilites. Some species tunnel through cabbage roots while other species place numerous little squares to prevent tunneling.

Stupid maggots.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sod Buster

I grew up watching westerns, any spaghetti westerns with Clint Eastwood. An older John Wayne also had me enthralled with tales of gunfights and arduous cattle drives. The one thing that most of the westerns had in common was that it was not cool to be either a farmer (sod buster) or a sheep rancher. As a child I always wanted to be one of the gunslingers of days gone by, but alas, I have become a sod buster and chicken rancher (wrangler) instead... and proud of it.

We (I), perhaps foolishly, decided at the last minute to expand the gardens, and so sod busting has been my spare time hobby of late. I needed a sunnier location for tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants to grow and will hopefully have it ready in time for the June planting of those three. This "needing more room" seems to be a yearly occurrence for me.

One of the benefits of removing tons of sod is the great mulch pile it will create. By the time I'm finished we should be set on that front for at least a couple years.

Unfortunately, I did disturb numerous "Carabus nemoralis" or European ground beetles hiding in the grass. If you come across any of these guys, leave them be as they are a most excellent nocturnal predator of cutworms, maggots, and other garden pests.

I also ran into these not so beneficial little crickets, but had not the heart to harm little Jiminy and let him live to sing another day.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Good Year for Wild Edibles?

We managed another quick trip into the woods to hunt for mushrooms, one that proved much more fruitful then our last. In a little over an hour we were able to come up with just over 30 fine morels before being chased away by a windy rainstorm. One never wants to be caught in the mountains of northern Idaho in a spring windstorm, especially when not prepared for such an event. Normally, at the very least, we bring our smallest chainsaw with to cut away any downed trees that might fall across the road...we neglected to do so on this trip and were forced to beat a hasty retreat.

This Calypso orchid, also known as the "fairy slipper," was named after the sea nymph Calypso. According to Greek mythology this daughter of Atlas lived a solitary life on the island of Ogygia in the Ionian Sea and made life very interesting for certain sailors who washed up on her shores.

This orchid with it's vanilla scent and intricate design is one of my favorite flowers and a tell-tale sign that morels are in the area. It apparently has developed a sort of relationship with various fungi and shares the nutrients provided to both from the trees in old growth forests. Only having one leaf it cannot readily photosynthesize by itself and uses certain fungi as a host.

Some of the mushrooms we came across were not of the edible sort, like this deadly Gyromitra esculenta, Conifer False Morel also called "Beefsteak" or "Brain Morel". This little guy contains compounds similar to those used to manufacture rocket fuel...not good to eat, although some people do as the chemical concentrations differ depending upon where it is located...I'll pass.

And these Snow Bank Morels? Apparently delicious. Or are they Gabled False Morels (poisonous), they look so similar one has to examine the spores to tell the difference...these are not for me either.

I'm not sure what this one is.

We dried a few of the mushrooms to be savored at a later date and the rest were fried with onions, garlic, and potatoes...a most delicious topping for an evening salad. I hope our good luck with morels today is a sign of things to come as we spend the warm months gathering various wild edibles.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

No Room for Me

A large percentage of our garden area has been planted but we still have a long way to go. Our little greenhouse is full up, no room for me not even an inch...I had to put everything inside tonight as we are due for some cold frosty weather.

Peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, tomatillos, ground cherries, flowers, and various tender herbs make up the majority of the greenhouse contents and will have to wait until the first part of June to be planted. In the main garden all of my hardy plants are in the ground and doing well.

Blue podded peas


fava beans


shallots and set onions

garlic, celery, and celeriac

more peas and carrots

and a little purple potato that had to be covered up for fear of frost are a few of the plants that are growing outside.

Hardy herbs like valerian


lemon balm

and soapwort are all looking good.

The salad garden is still under construction, but starting to take shape and our salad bowl is overflowing.

We are busy, busy, busy... but having a most excellent time of it.

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