Sunday, March 22, 2015

March 19-22

The previous weekend may have been a wash, but I did get back in the wong of things this week, beginning with a rare weekday afternoon off, during which I expanded and then planted the potato bed, planted some old wild onion bulbs (maybe no good, but better in the garden than in a cabinet), planted some bulbs found during fieldwork that I am pretty sure are camas, and consolidated various weed-contaminated heaps. Oh, and I dug holes for hops.

This weekend, I transplanted Hallertauer, Glacier, and maybe Chinook (pretty small and weak) hops into holes along the south side of the house. Both Glacier and Hallertauer were already going off, a foot or more of bine already climbing; I separated off some of each, planting th Glaciers and potting the other. The south side hops bed gets pretty good sun and is between my house and the neighbor, where air flaw seems pretty decent. I have 3 of six holes filled there, and can probably expand later. Meanwhile, the hops planted previosuly along the north fence are peaking out of their pine needle blanket, and I set the climbing twines (they run up about 20 feet to an old nautical block attached to a tree, then down to a railroad spike low on the trunk--the idea being that when they're ready, I cut the lines at the spike and the bines come down for easy harvest).

I also transplanted a serviceberry, blanketflower, and about 5 scraggly blueberries from Brown street. The blueberries are along the south side willow fence (as is the extra Glacier hops), about 5-6 feet south of the first row. My plan is to remove any grass in between and use coniferous mulch (plenty of pine needles will fall here anyway). I'd like to sneak in an understory of strawberries or something native, but that's not urgent.

I did water all the new plantings today, but the timing for planting was close to optimal anyway. A few weeks ago might have been better, but neither hops nor berries were really leafed out prior to planting, and nothign really seems to have been shocked. Weather was cool and overcast most of the week, and the ground moist without being super-saturated.

It looks like poppies have sprouted, or else I have a bumper crop of some sort(s) of weeds coming on.

Not really sure what I'll do with all the sod being generated by making and expanding beds. Most of it has dandelions and buttercup, so it's not really great for grass. I'll probably use some to mess with micro-terrains so that any surface runoff heads into the blueberry patch, but then again maybe not. There are really no areas where there's no grass now that it's needed, and ultimately sods may go into the weed-soil heap.

Speaking of which, the warming and lengthening days are waking up weeds in said heap. This week, it went from brown to splattered with green as dandelions, bindweed/morning glory, and buttercups began growing again. No sign of composting within, and a lot of these weeds are likely to just keep sprouting, even after turning and burial and so on. Options seem to be:
  • getting them off the property (rids me of weeds, but also worms, loam, and nutrients)
  • put it into black garbage bags, tying them shut, and waiting for everythin inside to die (retains the material, but the outcome is slimy and may house slugs, but few worms)
  • keep moving the heap around, killing weeds each time, getting rid of them through attrition (retains the material and leaches nutrients into the ground below, but also increases risk of weed propagation and uses up space for a long-term proposition)
  • shovel a little bit into the fire every time I have one (should really kill the weeds, mixes them with charcoal and ash, but also kills worms and micro-organisms, and will take a long time).
  • spread it on the driveway in the summer heat, letting the sun do the dirty work (lose a parking space, risk weed propogation, and kills worms and micro-orgs)
  • screening (takes a very long time to get all the weeds out, and is not totally effective)
 In the end, it may be a mix of methods. Quick and easy as it would be, I'm loathe to cart away a couple of yards of soil and organics. Although it retains all the soil and biomass, the death-by-black bag method means having heavy-ugly, slug-ridden bags around til the Fall. So yeah, it'll probably be a mix of the other approaches. May as well throw some in the fire, or screen a batch for potting soil or compost, and keep the pile moving (I keep finding mega-worms in places where these weed-heaps formerly resided)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Last Weekend

Nope, I didn't do anything on the list. It rained like hell, and I stayed inside.

Been in the field in Eastern Washington this week, so there was not St. Patricks Potato Planting either.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Coming up this weekend

Here's an idea: post about what I'm gonna do this weekend, and then check back next week to see if it actually happened.
  1. Volunteer at my kid's school garden
  2. Dig a hops bed south of the house.
  3. Transplant hops from wendell berry garden
  4. Consolidate the buttercup and bindweed-contaminated heap
  5. Extend the north bed so I can plant potatos on st paddy's day
  6. ...maybe that's enough.
  7. But I'll at least make an effort to clean up a few things
If I were energetic, I'd put up hops supports, but I don't even have the right poles. Or maybe dig up some front yard. Or prune the hydrangea or rhody, maybe lay waste to the camellia. Or any number of things. If I even finish the numbered list, a nap is in order before taking on more. Seems like I'm caught up enough.

After a couple weeks of sun, we got a little rain yesterday, and may get a bunch on Saturday, but the weather's supposed to be warm. Pretty days are nice, but it's freakish to look at at the un-snowy Olympics, or to think about how little it rained this winter.

Friday, March 6, 2015

First weekend in March

What I'd like to do is complete the fencing this weekend. There's enough willow to cover the back gap, but I need some more in front, and gates on both sides. Hoping I can just get an 8 or 9 foot gate for the north, and hang it on the post that's there. No idea how to transition from willow to gate.

Re. Blueberries: the south line of 7 all came from pots. 6 were about 3-4 year plants in 3 gallon pots since I dug them over a year ago; they were just about to leaf out, and did burst when I planted them. The 7th ans easternmost was in a larger pot, given by neighbors; it seems to be a small variety, maybe a couple of years following being pruned to the ground. In addition, they gave me another one in a large pot, looks like a 2-3 year plant and was already leafed out. I put that one at the house end of the north bed, and it seems fine.

Weather continues to be clear, barely (or not even) freezing at night, 50s or even 60s in the lengthening afternoons. Looks good for St Patty's Day potato planting in the north bed, which I'll probably extend more before planting.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The New Place

Circa March, 2014

I'd pretty much left this blog for dead.

But now, it comes back as a way to keep a garden journal of the newest tabula rasa, as seen in the above abode, wherein I now abide. Instead of .rtf or .doc, klunkily entering dates, I'll ill-advisedly put my trust in the web to preserve this journal. Because it will bother with the entering-of-the-dates.

So anyway, time for some catching up:
  • Bought the house last August, and since then the main things I've done are
  • Prune deadwood etc. from plum
  • Rasa-fy (I guess that would just be "erase") a tabula of raspberries hogging the middle of the yard.
  • Just got around to re-planting the best berry canes along the north fence.
  • In mid-Feb, chopped down rotten trunk of willow. Since then, I
  • Made a willow withe weir across most of the south boundary, but not before
  • Chopping Howard's fir branches shading the south central yard.
  • Also, some dead branches from my fir.
  • I dug out the bed from back porch to deck. 
  • I dug out the north strip bed
  • Somehow, I made a big pile of dirt on the south strip bed (future site)
  • Removed roses
  • I raked and corn-glutened the north bed
  • I rigged a hops block and
  • Planted Fuggles and Bullion and Willcadia hops to climb yon block
  • Planted poppies next to the hops after digging out tree-base ivy and holly, not to mention a bunch more cinder bricks 
  • What with all the erasing and digging, I created various piles of dirt laden with buttercup and bindweed. I'm trying to segregate and consolidate.
  • Established the south-back as compost and brushlandia. Doing a creeping worm heap of scraps-browns-grit, and it seems to be going well. Consolidating and burning the brush where I
  • Made a fire-pit. Needs slight expansion and a few more imu stones.
  • Exposed brick edging L, basis for the back beds. 
  • Inside the L will be th south strip, maybe with a cold frame
  • South of the L will be a grass strip
  • South of that, in an existing low spot, I just planted 7 blueberry bushes. 
  • The current heaps are these: worm-scraps, fine willow, willow-withes, willow stakes, fir foliage, future firewood, various rocks and woods, ...
Maybe (probably) there is more. But that's the main points. Another urgent task is to get hops in south of the house. There's good sun and circulation, but fairly tight space, and the neighbor is planning on a new roof soon.

Well, it's 11:11 now, so I think I'll head to bed. More later.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Foment a Ferment, the Lazy Cider-Punk's Guide

Bubble bubble, no toil, no trouble.

For years, I've wanted to make hard cider, but never have enough apples at once for it to be worthwhile. I always give the tree's owner a good share, and maybe some to friends and neighbors, but basically the girls and I drink it as fast as we make it. Despite a particularly generous neighbor this year, it was the same story.

Once you press the cider, you end up with a "cheese," the wheel of spent pomace, apples chewed by the mill and crushed dry by the press. In the past, this went onto the worm heap, but this time my inner cheapskate devised another step in the cycle.

I dumped some pomace into a bin, and filled it with water, on the theory that I could coax forth more sugar and get a ferment going that would yield some vinegar. Just a plain plastic bin, sprayed out with a hose, duct tape over two openings that the fruit flies would have entered. Snap on the lid and walk away.

Being shiftless and lazy, I did not keep notes, but fuzzy recollection tells me that fermentation set in quickly, and it was not long until it was frothy. Yeast was gobbling sugar and pumping out alcohol. I shut the lid and walked away for another undetermined amount of time, checking progress intermittently, satisfied that the fermentation gases were escaping, but fruit flies were not getting in.

At some point, the fermentation slowed, and I decided to jettison the fruit. I strained out the liquid and then put the pulp into a canning kettle, pushing it down with the circular wooden plunger from the cider press to squeeze out the last liquid. Then, finally, I let go of the pomace and the fruit flies and worms got their feast on.

This liquid was then covered for the final ferment, turning alcohol into vinegar. Because I'd just let the wild microbes do what they wanted, and maybe also because this was a second pressing, I doubt the liquid was ever really what you would call hard cider. The vinegar smell was present early on, as the Acetobacteria drank alcohol and pissed vinegar. By this time, I had not only apple, but also pear and plum batches a-brewing.

The pear juice was thick and viscous, a syrupy consistency that I hoped translated to sugar. There was more than half a bin of this as I snapped the lid shut and walked away. The times between lifting the lid and checking grew longer, and between stirring even longer. There were some more bubbles, but not as many, as fermentation mellowed and aging began. Meanwhile, the bin sat just under the eaves of the house, getting afternoon sun when it shone, getting cold at night, pretty much neglected. The whole process, I figured, was a very low-stakes gamble. Rather than invest time and effort, what would happen if I let nature take it's course?

Good things, it turns out. A little more than two months after putting the batches in dark places to do their thing, I pulled the bacterial mat off the surface to reveal liquid that was less cloudy than before and much less viscous. It smelled like vinegar, and tasted like it.

Now, I have a quart of plum vinegar, which seems really fine, but I am continuing to age in the fridge. There's a gallon or so of apple, which seems to be fairly weak and clear; I have not tasted it yet, but even if it's not flavorific, I can use it for the 1001 non-food functions of acetic acid. Finally, I have several gallons of pear vinegar, which is pretty good. I pasteurized some (150 degrees for 35 minutes) and bottled it in re-used beer bottles that I boiled for 10 minutes. I just used the regular crown caps like beer, but will seal it with wax if I get around to it. It will be interesting to see how these age. The live stuff is in a big jug out in the garage and a few half-gallon growlers (again, thank you, beer containers) in the fridge.

Already, some of the vinegar has been put to use. Some went to scrubbing down a moldy molding (acetic acid kills mold without killing me), and some went into salad dressing that adorned the last lettuce of the year. Next Summer, I should be able to make pickles using my own vinegar. The frugal, off-the-grid, lazy, and independent parts of me rejoice. Wringing vinegar from spent cider-fruit adds another spoke to the re-cycle.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Alliums, Yummy Allies

Gene, holding Shallots.

Real life has once again intervened with posting here, and all I have is old news.

Last fall, I planted some red onions and vari-colored garlicks, and in the spring I transplanted and new-planted more of their kin. Throughout the seasons, my right finger would poke dirt so the left hand could deposit a slippery stub, bulbish-headed root-end of a scallion stir-fried or otherwise-et the day before, it's promise of free food affording it a place in the garden as I made my way compost-ward with the dross-veg. I cannot swear when I planted the Shalits, except that it may have been later than the Orthodox Fall-Planting school and earlier than the Rebel Spring-Planting outpost. Or maybe not.

It was what this immigrant thinks of as maybe a typical 20th Century Spring and Summer here in the South Sound, and all alliums seemed to thrive. True, the scallions do nothing but grow into gianter, tougher scallions, and the red onions succumbed to neglect (including the outright abuse of a summertime transplant), and of course there was the sheer scapelessness of the 2013 Summer. But the scallions did get ginormous and  the shallits [yes, I'm doing the Lewis-and-Clark thing of spelling a word diffrintly all-the-damn Time] grew fast and strong.

Cogniscenti gardeners will see from the photo that I scooped up the shallottes a bit early--shoulda let the tops die back more--but the haul was good. Same with garlic. See?

Garlic, Me.

Anyway, it was a good year for alliums. I have enough garlic to keep me happy for another year, and a pretty good haul of shallots.