"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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Biennials in the Garden

Yesterday turned out to be just about perfect, no rain, no snow, and even a little sun. I was finally able to get the Giant Red celery (an heirloom biennial) we have been saving over from last year out of the root cellar and into the garden where it can go to seed, along with a few red, yellow, and white onions.

The onions were planted in three separate areas hopefully far enough apart to keep the seed from crossing. I also replanted some carrots and consolidated a few Russian kale for seed saving purposes. Speaking of biennials going to seed, I noticed many of last years radicchio pushing up through the ice and even some French sorrel...both will provide me with seed if I manage a little self control and keep them away from the salad bowl.

A row of salsify and scorzenera have managed as well. A most fine day indeed.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Another Day in Paradise

Another day in our own little paradise brings with it a hint of winters' snowy past, no worries though, as seedlings are safely tucked away in the greenhouse sheltered from the tantrums of spring.

Inside our home, under lights, newly emerged peppers and eggplants have arisen and are stretching their wings like a prima ballerina on pointe preparing to do a pirouette in earthen toe-shoes,

breaking the bonds that hold them and preparing to go out into the world and produce.

The tomatoes are standing tall like proud little soldiers in marching formation readying themselves for unknown battles and triumphs.

Even a few celeriac have decided to take a peek at the new world and will hopefully call out to their siblings to awaken and arise from the long slumber that still grips them in a seedy embrace.

Outside, the rhubarb having emerged in the warmth of sun must now face the reality of a sometimes harsh Mother Nature. The "pie plant", being much more in tune with its wild past than the friends that will soon be graced by its presence, will most certainly prevail.

Friday, March 27, 2009

What Good is a Russet Without a Purple Majesty by it's Side!

I love potatoes, not just any potato...all potatoes and that is why we will be growing twenty five varieties this year. Last year I think we had around twenty and maybe 45 plants. I think that growing ones own food is very important, but just as important is enjoying growing ones own food and variety allows for that.

There are many reasons that I grow a large number of each type of vegetable aside from the enjoyment aspect. It allows me to see which vegetables do best in my garden and in any given condition that may arise, and also provides me with the opportunity to be more self-reliant. More self-reliant in the sense that I am able to save seeds from a much wider selection of crops and will eventually, I hope, be able to rely more upon myself for those seeds and less upon others (seed companies).

Now that I have attempted to justify why anyone in their right mind would possibly choose to grow twenty five different varieties of potatoes, here is what we will be growing for ourselves and our chickens :). Many of these potatoes will be grown from my own seed but I did purchase a few of them.

Purple Majesty - One of our favorites, it is purple inside and out. We are sometimes provided with really large specimens that taste great fried, baked or boiled and are most wonderful tossed hot over a healthy green salad.

Red Lasoda - Red skin and white flesh makes for a great potato salad. We do have a problem with scab on this one in particular...but hey, scab is only skin deep and who will ever know if you mash it.

Yellow Finn - New to us this year, it is supposed to have yellow flesh with a buttery flavor and be a good keeper. A butter like flavor...why is it that every yellow fleshed potato seems to be described that way? I have yet to eat a butter flavored potato, but I am sure this will be the first.

Sangre - The name means "blood" in Spanish, it has a dark red skin with white flesh, nice used as a new potato. We are always stealing this one in July as it seems to come on fairly early and gives us lots of baby potatoes.

Mountain Rose - A sometimes large potato with red skin and pink flesh it makes for a great boiled potato.

Dakota Pearl - We first grew this last year and really liked it. The potato has an almost white skin and flesh, very crisp potato that takes extra time to cook. Small to medium in size all of mine were free of defects such as scab. A fine choice for hash browns.

Huckleberry - Red skin, pink inside (especially once cooked) with some white, very similar to Mountain Rose. My wife is partial to this one and always chooses it to top her salads. Grows really well for us and is named after huckleberries that grow wild here in the northwest.

Gold Rush - We are trying this one for the first time this year. Supposedly a nice baking potato with good flavor it is a cross between a Lemhi Russet and Norgold...supposed to do well in dry climates.

Russet Burbank - Most widely grown potato in the United States. A favorite for baked potatoes especially in Idaho. The chickens love them and they are regularly included in their diet. Ours always turn out short and fat and bear little resemblance to the perfect store bought russets.

All Blue - Medium sized potato with blue/purple skin and a bluish interior. A bit of a mealy potato I have grown to love after becoming accustomed to the texture. Very high yields for us.

Russian Banana - With yellow skin and flesh this potato makes for a great french fry and also seems to grow well in our climate putting out numerous disease free tubers.

Swedish Peanut - Another potato that we are trying for the first time, I hear it has a nutty tasting yellow flesh and should be good in a stir fry as it is supposed to stay firm when cooked.

French Fingerling - A staple in our diet, the french fingerling has red skin and slightly yellow flesh with a red line running through the middle. Another potato that does well fried.

LaRatte - We have yet to try this yellow skinned potato that reportedly has a creamy yellow flesh and somewhat nutty flavor.

Austrian Crescent - With light yellow skin and flesh this potato, along with all of the other fingerlings, is really a treat when steamed and served on it's own.

Anna Cheeka Ozette - A very interesting looking potato with deeply set eyes, yellow skin and flesh. This potato stores and produces very well for us.

Red Thumb - With red skin and flesh we were not able to find this potato last year and are excited to grow it this summer. It is supposed to be very uniform in shape and have a nice texture and flavor.

Adora - Very productive with yellow flesh and round shape. Makes a fine boiled potato, especially when young.

Red Norland - Red skin and almost white flesh, perfect for potato salad. Does seem to have an issue with scab.

Norkotah Russet - Like the Burbank russet, a nice baking potato that produces fairly well...but not great. Some of these get really big.

Yukon Gold - Thin skin and yellow flesh, definitely my favorite baking or boiling potato. Unfortunately it does not produce all that well for us.

Red Pontiac - Large round potato with thin red skin and white flesh this potato is perfect for mashing.

Purple Viking - Purple skin and white flesh, it will be a first for us as well.

Superior - White fleshed potato that is an all around excellent potato and supposed to be good for making chips, although we have never done so.

Purple Peruvian - Our favorite finger potato with purple, almost black skin and a dark purple flesh. Mealy but delicious, they almost grow wild around my garden as they have so many eyes that even the smallest piece left in the ground produces a plant.

Lots of potatoes, yes, but as a staple in our diet and that of our chickens we go through them pretty fast. No matter how many potatoes we grow the best ones are those that end up on a salad at the end of the day.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Spring Sprung and then Sagged a Bit

Spring sprung and then sagged a bit as March in northern Idaho continues to be a most interesting month. It can be sunny and warm one minute and the next brings with it snow and rain, sometimes all three at the same time. Snow was on today's menu.

I spent the late afternoon doctoring our fruit and nut trees as the winter has been very harsh with them. My red headed helpers and I taped broken hazelnut and apple tree branches. I'm not sure how well this will work with these trees but it does work with all of the shrubs around our house that get dumped on when I must shovel snow off the roof. We have one poor cedar shrub that looks more like Frankenstein as it has been patched so many times. The flock does not seem to mind the weather though, they are just happy to see some bare dirt and be free of their winter confines.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Rainy Day Carrots

It was another sloppy rainy day and the latter part of it was spent hauling flats to the greenhouse, bowing before my leeks - begging them to please germinate already, and sorting through carrots. We try to check on our root cellar veggies this time of year, first to remove any that have rotted, and second to choose the ones that will be replanted for seed. I only found a couple carrots that were bad but had yet to spoil the bunch. Around 250 left - looks like we will have enough to get us through until the end of June when some of the new ones should be ready.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Extending The Growing Season

I was asked to elaborate on the construction of our row covers, and having considered doing a post on this subject in the past I was finally encouraged to do so. Season extending row covers allow us access to fresh salad greens at least until early January and often all year depending upon the weather. Regardless of the amount of snow received, if diligent in keeping the row covers free from snow, I am also provided with a place to plant greens, onions, brassicas and other cold hardy crops in the very early spring.

We also have a few cold frames and will be constructing more in the future and although they do have some advantages over the covered rows they cannot cover the amount of space needed and are also not as versatile especially in the sense that they cannot be easily removed when no longer needed.

It has been my experience that many winter greens, especially less mature (smaller) ones, can survive numerous freeze and thaw cycles. The trick is to provide them with adequate protection from the elements as the, wind, rain, and snow will take their toll on the crops long before cold temperatures will.

The design I chose for my row covers is simple yet effective, easily put up and just as easily dismantled and stored away for the season. Our garden rows are approximately 4' wide and anywhere from 10-60' long. I use 1" poly irrigation pipe for the tunnel frames and 4 mil, 10' wide plastic for the covers.

The pipe is cut with a hacksaw into 8' 4" lengths, to allow for taller growing greens such as Swiss chard and certain brassicas.

This fits nicely over my 4' wide rows as well. The hoops are held at ground level with 12" wood stakes that are cut from the many maple saplings that grow on our property.

The stakes are pounded at an slight angle about 6" into the ground and the poly pipe fits snugly over them.

Normally the hoops are placed 3' apart all down the row. Going forward I will be placing the hoops every 2' as we have had record snowfall the last couple years and more support is needed. At 3' apart the hoops will easily hold up to 2' of dry snow or a little over 1' of heavy wet snow before they are compromised.

A length of rope is staked to the ground at each end of the row as well as being securely looped around each individual pipe in order to prevent them from sliding back and forth.

A 5-6' long pole with a natural V shaped notch or one that I have cut is then placed at the end of each row to further stabilize the entire structure.

To further strengthen the pipes a piece of rope or twine can be attached to both sides of each hoop in order to allow it to handle more downward pressure.

Neither the ropes or end poles are necessary if snow is not an issue. I use 10' wide clear plastic sheeting as that allows for an extra 1' on each side of the row that can be held down with brick, rocks, or wood. In the winter I just use the snow to my advantage as the other weights often become frozen to the plastic.

The plastic is cut lengthwise so that it overhangs each end of the row enough to be held down with another weight.

There are a few issues with this type of season extension. The snow can accumulate faster then you can remove it and the structure may collapse under the strain. While shoveling the snow off it is easy to tear the plastic. I find that a piece of duct tape attached to each side will fix any rip and often wait until summer to repair the tears as I am able to dry the plastic in the sun and this really helps the duct tape to bind with the sheeting. Some of my tape jobs have lasted over 3 years now.

One of the biggest problems is the plastic freezing to the ground, my only solution to this is to patiently wait until a warm day allows for the removal of frozen ice and snow. Lastly, the plastic sheeting can be blown off when the wind catches it if not held down in enough places.

Although row covers as season extenders take some effort, the choice has been made to use them as it affords us the ability to procure fresh produce from the garden much longer then otherwise possible and also fits into an ongoing goal to provide for ourselves. As our quest for food self-reliance progresses, we find ourselves increasingly reluctant to consume food from sources other than our own garden. The availability as well as the quality of the produce offered in the supermarkets is most disturbing and I would just as soon not have to wonder what is in, on, or being done to our food. Below are a couple other posts I've written regarding cold weather gardening.

There Is Nothing Like Salad Fresh Out Of The Garden In January

Winter Greens
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