"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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Onion Seedlings and Such

With the days slowly getting longer the sun is finally able to climb above the wall of trees that surround our gardens and shine down upon our greenhouse warming it up inside, 81° today...a regular hothouse. As we have little room and even less patience for seedlings in the house I am trying to get them moved into the greenhouse a tad earlier this year. I moved some of our potted plants and all of our onions and leeks that have germinated thus far into the greenhouse to make room for recently seeded tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers...and so our gardening season begins.

The onions, leeks, and scallions can handle a bit of cold weather after a few days of acclimation. As a matter of fact, the soil in their containers has partially frozen a couple times now during the night with no obvious side effects. We made the decision to make do with last year's leftover onion seed, due to a backorder on this year's seed that was slow to arrive, and seem to be having excellent germination with the Yellow of Parma and Jaune Paille des Vertus storage onions but our Borettana seed has not performed as well, perhaps a bit of patience is in order. I also planted a couple flats of Red Globe, Sweet Utah, Candy, and some scallions that are doing splendidly. As soon as our celery and celeriac have finished germinating they will also be booted into the cold to shiver with the alliums.

These former denizens of our basement dungeon are more than happy to brave the cold as fresh air and sunlight is what they really crave. The Swiss chard, sorrel, endive, and parsley are starting to green up a bit.

The first dandelions will be those that were held over from last summer, I have yet to see any outdoors but soon they will begin to appear.

Rhubarb coming up in a pot...I'm really not sure why, just because I wanted to see how it would do I suppose.

The last of our celery is starting to put out new growth as well.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Of Bark Splitting, Free Eggs, and Lessons Learned...

Last summer's heat was a bit challenging for a few of our smaller fruit trees, most being only 4-7 years old. Towards the end of the gardening season I noticed that two of our apricots and a pear tree had developed some pretty ghastly wounds in the form of bark that had split wide open in numerous places along both the trunk and limbs of the trees. This, having never happened before, was definitely a cause of concern for us and prompted me to dig up some information online that suggested perhaps the trees had suffered from sunscald...dang.

Our Chinese (Mormon) apricot tree is in pretty bad shape due to sunscald

Apparently sunscald is fairly common among younger thin-skinned fruit trees. Fortunately, it is often not fatal to the tree and I was very happy to see lots of new buds had developed on ours this winter signaling that the trees were still full of life. So from what I have been reading I will need to perform a bit of surgery on the trees and remove some of the curled bark thus helping the tree to recover and hopefully form calluses over the wounds. That and make sure that all of the trees get an adequate and steady supply of water to help prevent this issue in the future...lesson learned.

This young D'Anjou pear tree looks bad but is in better condition than the apricot

As for the free eggs, a few weeks back the grandson commented in a long forgotten conversation that the eggs he was eating were free. The free comment was not lost on me and this past weekend I shared with him a few of the secrets of life. I told the boy that now that he had grown into a strapping young five year old it was time he started earning his keep and proceeded to explain to him that the eggs he had partaken in were not really "free" at all. I shared with him the fact that caring for the chickens that laid those eggs required a bit of effort on our part and that they did not just magically appear in our refrigerator.

So, early the next morning we went out to the chicken house where I taught him how to perform his new duty, the monthly chore of cleaning the old straw out of the nesting boxes and replacing it with fresh, clean material. I explained to him one of my many theories, if the nesting boxes became too dirty the birds would begin to look for a better place in which to lay their eggs. I told him that as long as we kept the boxes cleaned at least once every month the birds did not seem to have this tendency and that the last thing we wanted was to wander around in the forest looking for stray eggs...he agreed that that would be quite a hassle. Under the hens strict supervision he did a pretty darn good job and will probably never refer to eggs as free again but might enjoy them all that much more as he now has a stake in the whole affair. Again, lesson learned.

Squawk! "Get to work boy, I'll be supervising this operation today."

"Good job, that's right, just dump the old straw on the ground. Hustle up now I've got eggs to lay."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Homegrown Puppy Chow

One of the things that we have been striving to be more self-reliant in is the ability to feed our pet's food that we can obtain or produce ourselves. After consulting with a fellow blogger whom I trust goes to great lengths to care for her own dogs and doing a lot of reading on the subject of canine nutrition we have come up with our first homemade dog food recipe. Having realized that a dogs natural diet could consist of a wide variety of different foods we started offering small samples to our puppy, Rowdy, early on so that he would develop a taste for them, and boy did he ever. He loves to eat everything we have given him...fruits, veggies, nuts, chicken poop (his idea not ours), etc...

In the wild, a wolf, coyote, or dingo's diet consists of more than just meat. Being opportunistic in nature their diet, while based on various types of meat, can also include some fruits, berries, grass, vegetables, and other plants. I've read that coyotes are even known to raid farmers melon patches upon occasion. So we came up with a cooked puppy food that is approximately 50% meat and eggs and 50% plant based. This is of course subject to change depending upon how well the dog does on this diet and any new information I might obtain.

Here is a fascinating video of wolves supposedly eating raspberries. Although they look more like rose hips to me.

Our first batch consisted of a couple pounds of good quality lean ground beef, eggs, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, peas, plain tomato sauce, berries, apples, chicory root, parsley, celery, and steel cut oats to bind it all together. All of these vegetables, and the steel cut oats, are supposed to be easily digestible for dogs unlike some of the cheap corn and soy based "filler" ingredients, full of chemical additives, that make up the bulk of some pet foods...or so I've been reading in Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide To Natural Health For Dogs & Cats and various other sources. For the record, while a very interesting book, I don't necessarily agree with everything in Dr. Pitcairn's book.

Anyway, this mix will last him about 25 days (keeping in mind that this is a small puppy...for a while) and is served as an addition to his constant supply of dry dog food and the occasional serving of kefir or milk, extra eggs, raw fresh veggies, fruit, berries, and any voles or mice he might catch. We measured out the daily portions and froze them for ease of use.

Grandfather tested and puppy approved homemade dog food right out of the garden.:)

He absolutely loves his new food, it was so good I even had a bite. If I have to start eating dog food in my old age this will be my brand of choice, not very tasty but pretty darn healthy.:) We will probably add a little more protein in the form of beef, fish, broth, legumes, and eggs as he continues to grow. Other possibilities include the addition of spinach (?), garlic, eggshell powder, broccoli, squash, rice, flax, and kale to the mix. He goes nuts over our kale for some reason, he was with me while I was picking it one day, probably thought I was grazing on it, and has been stealing it from under the row covers ever since. Now if I could just figure out how to make a high protein healthful dry dog food, and then there's those hopelessly lazy and finicky cats to deal with.

So far Rowdy is a very healthy, happy, and energetic puppy who loves to take walks in the wetlands. Beside harassing our cats his favorite pastimes include catching goose feathers that are floating down stream, hunting for voles, and quality time with the chickens...more on that later.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Some Unusual Frugal Potting Soil

With no snow to speak of and the ground even starting to thaw a bit I have been out and about hunting for the right soil medium in which to start my onion, leek, celery, and celeriac seedlings. Normally we try to make our own "homemade" potting soil that does differ slightly each year depending upon what type of materials we can come up with. For the most part I just try to produce a semi-fine soil that is able to retain moisture and remain pliable without hardening up. Our house is heated with a wood stove and the one drawback of this is the lack of humidity in the air, this lack of moisture tends to cause the soil in our seedling trays to harden very quickly making it difficult for the plants to germinate and grow. So when it comes to potting soil my focus is on keeping the dirt soft and arable.

This season I am using a rather interesting mixture. I am lucky in the sense that I have a massive pile of decomposed sod which will make up the bulk of my potting mix. This combination of topsoil, dead grass, and fine little roots should work well.

Also added is my own version of peat moss, in this case a common green moss that grows in great abundance around here. After I fill a tote it is dried by the fireplace before being added to the mixture in order to help with water retention.

Lastly, strange as it may seem, I incorporated a couple of vacant red ant nests to help keep the soil from hardening. I scoped these potential amendments out last summer. Every once in a while for reasons unbeknowst to me the nests are abandoned never to host ants again. Red ants in these parts build large mounds using materials gathered from their surroundings, in my case these materials are largely made up of very small twigs, pieces of dead grass, and other debris that should provide excellent soil aeration. I hold these particular ants in high regard as they are very omnivorous, thus helping to keep many of the so called "bad" insects in check as nature intended.

A wheelbarrow full of ant nest, we have lots of these nests around but only a couple that were abandoned.

Here is a closeup of the materials ants use to build their mounds.

Yes Silke, he does tend to be quite the little helper. Rowdy's job was to break up all of the clumps.:)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Knee Deep In Roots

In my opinion, one of the most important tasks involved in the long term storage of fruit and vegetables in ones root cellar is in maintenance. Almost every day I make a trip into the basement for some sort of veggie and always take the time to check and see how everything is doing. I might toss a rotten apple or pull a few shoots off an early sprouting Purple Majesty potato, perhaps the turnips are in need of a trim. Just last week I rid myself of the last of my Burpee Long Keeper tomatoes and sorted through our tomatillos. Why I bother to store either of these I do not know as we have tomatillos and tomatoes coming out of our ears in the form of salsa and sauce, both canned and frozen.

While everyone else seems to be covered under a chilly blanket of snow our winter has been abnormally warm and that is not conducive to good root cellar conditions. Normally I need to trim the sprouting shoots off carrots, parsnips, and beets by the time March rolls around in order to stave off the inevitable urge to grow that the warmer temperatures bring to these cellared foods. This will buy me a couple more months of storage time and after that point I will sometimes bury the remaining produce a couple feet down in the ground outside giving me yet another month or so of cold storage.

This year I found myself facing this task much earlier due to the the warmer weather. Yesterday my trusty assistants and I trimmed the parsnips and carrots. I still have to do the beets. It is an all day job to trim and repack thousands of roots and as it was so sunny and nice outside we got a late start.

It was so very nice out yesterday that boy and dog found some ice water to play in, against the advice of boy's grandparents of course. Boy slipped and fell in. Boy's boots filled with ice water. Grandma gave boy her socks. Boy walked the quarter mile home in grandma's donated socks while she carried his sopping boots. Grandfather and dog took another route home as he was afraid of what people might think if they saw boy wandering around without any shoes in the middle of winter. Boy learned that ice water is cold.

Rowdy, diligently guarding some of our soon to be trimmed parsnips.

Trimming and packing parsnips, the tops of these and the carrots were fed to the chickens

Grandson's job was to carefully trim carrots, he managed his assigned duties for almost 5 whole minutes.

Abandoned, as usual, Grandfather (I'm way too young for this title) found himself knee deep in carrots with four totes to go.):

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