Sunday, December 30, 2012

Garden Planning - OCD Nerd style

That's what my garden plan looks like. Yup, I'm a nerdy geek. You know what else? I am prone to using the scientific names when referring to plantings. It's how my brain works.

I have all of my planting areas laid out into a 6 inch by 6 inch grid, the walkways are coloured in, the plants I intend to plant are positioned and sized properly.
There is likely to be some tweaking, since I have not yet checked for cross breeding of sub species and also have not yet decided how much hand pollination I want to do for seed saving purposes. At least the cucurbitaceae (cucumbers, squash and their ilk) and gramineae (in my case maize, and in the fall wheat, but all the grass based grains) will have to be partially hand pollinated, I just don't have the room to fully separate them.
As far as the solanaceae (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes,etc), they are all open pollination, so I'll let them have their little orgy and be done with it, whatever will be will be. Except for the hot peppers, they will be diligently separated and kept from all the fun. I do NOT want to bite into a delicious, hand raised, lovingly prepared stuffed pepper and have it be HOTHOTHOT beyond the spices I add myownself.

I have basically 4 planting areas I plan out like this. Here is the largest one. We call it the back 40, it's 44 feet on each side, so it works for us, trust me ;)

The (coming soon) high tunnel is in there, upper left corner, and the chicken coop is also planned out for its new location, so the little feathered raptors can help me with pest control. I plan on what to plant where, and to some extend when by using this spreadsheet. I know the space requirements of each plant and have a little template of them which I copy however many times I want to plant a certain plant and then I play tetris.

I consider who plays well with who, who will play a bit too well with who, who does not like to play with who, who will get into fights, who will attract the wrong kind of attention, who will attract the right kind of attention, who will make good wing men and who will ripen/ be harvest-able at coordinating times. Then there is the new and improved consideration of where will the chickens come in most helpful, which plants should not be accessible to them and for what reason (poisonous? Not beneficial? Growing for their winter rations?) and where will they do the most damage. I also consider what was planted here last season and what will I stick in that spot next season/year?

There are also some areas on this plan that do not get full sunlight, so that has to come into the equation, too, as well as which areas of land are draining better than others. And then there is the arguing with the hubbin about where he has to dig first (you didn't think I did this all on my own?) and which plants he has to help me with planting and why they have to go there and not over here... :)

For the record, I call this fun. I no longer do this thing for pay, so it's even MORE fun :D And it really is kind of rewarding to play around with, to set it up for the next 2 years because of crop rotation and household needs. I try to plan so that I have at least a 2 year stock of the veggies I do not buy any more, so that if there is a crop failure (tomatoes last year and yeah, I had some dehydrated ones from 2011 left and they were still completely delicious). I have about 5 years worth of seed, some more, in the freezer, so I can operate this kind of setting on a seed/plant budget of less than $200.

I do not list all of my planned plantings in this outline, there are things I stick in wherever they can fit in for all the various reasons, like space, companion, growing season, etc, and the herb garden is not even on here, neither are the strawberries or any of the other perms, except the Asparagus, and that's because they are moving this winter, and will not fill the bed fully, so there is some rotating stock filling that empty space this year.

Ah, yes, empty space... I try to not have any. My cover crops are fruit bearing, think Buckwheat and Peas, both of which bind nitrogen into the soil, Alfalfa is on the horizon. The things I talked about plopping in where they will fit? Onions, Nasturtiums, Dill, Radishes, small and fast growers or beneficial companions. It helps with weeding (never done), maximizes my harvest and at the same time minimizes the need to squish bugs (cathartic, once I got over the ick factor) by either confusing them or attracting beneficial insects.

The reason the 'walkways' are coloured in, but part of the grid is because my beds are not actually raised, they are merely marked off with string or modular fencing. I can 'spill over' into the spaces between plantings, which gives me more freedom to accommodate my plants, a quick dig with the broad fork and I am off and running. So my layout changes somewhat from year to year, and we've added spaces to this every year we've been at it.

The other part that makes this a functioning tool for me is the seeding and planting calendar that shows me when to put things in the ground and when to expect to harvest them in relation to each other. So while I have a winter, spring and fall plan, it's a fluid reality and based on when things are spent.

A final thought: This will be my 4th year of doing this and my garden has NEVER looked like the plan. It's a starting point, a plan in fact. If I suddenly realize that I have a 100% germination rate with the peppers, but the tomatoes are failing, then I go with that. If the spring is so hot that the carrots all shoot into flower before the roots become more than the size of my pinkie then I just cover the flower heads and collect the seed, 'cause hey, seed! and I move on from there, checking if I have room for carrots planned into the fall garden. And if the spring is so wet that my low point; which is usually the most fertile; is under a half inch of water, then the early plants go elsewhere and I move where the late seeds go. This is nature I am planning out, things change. I cannot control these things, but I can plan for the eventualities :D. Probably the most important thing this plan does help me with is understanding and learning what can be done with my little plot of land.

Happy pinching.

Friday, December 28, 2012

It's like we are on some sort of mailing list...

We got 14 seed catalogues in the mail yesterday. Yup. Fourteen.

There are two issues with this:
1. None of them are Nonsanto.
2. I have already placed my seed order.

There are two or three items I still have to order or buy, a pear tree and some berry bushes, so there is actually a chance that I will place an order with one of these catalogues, but basically what this onslaught of paper means to me is that I now get to track these companies down and ask them to take me off their mailing list, because I will not order Monsanto GMO seeds and I don't need all this kindling.

When the lab crew have fiddled around with the genetics of something to the point where it can no longer be called a plant (because bacterial and viral RNA have been added or something equally icky) I am rather desirous of NOT eating it. And I can't save those seeds, so it's an ongoing expense, which, let's face it, I'm working towards eliminating as much as possible.

Long story short, buying most things from these catalogues goes against EVERY SINGLE decision we have made for ourselves.

And I should have not opened any of them...I am weak. I really want those little cucumbers that are about the size of a finger and so tender and sweet and delicious that I occasionally splurge and buy them... They are a F1, so unlikely to breed true, so I won't order them. But I really, really want to. Stupid, self-imposed principles.

Now, to gird my loins, don the armour of organic heirloom righteousness and sally forth to pick out a pear tree and some golden raspberries that aren't, but nothing else.

Ok, maybe just one pack of cucumber seeds.


If it's in the budget.

If I have room for it in the garden.

If it means I get a discount.

Don't judge me.

I do that all by myself. I'm really rather good at it, too.

Happy pinching.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Blizzard warning - thoughts.

It must be Winter in Indiana or something.

I could say we are blessed or lucky, but really that would be sort of a lie. We ARE blessed, we have each other and we are a team and work together towards common goals, and we ARE lucky that we found each other (with a lot of help from the larger forces of the universe) but that is not what I mean.

I am talking about the fact that we have a blizzard warning and I know that there are currently people that are scrambling to try and prepare. Not us.

Yes, the hubbin is currently chopping wood in the back yard. Yes, I went around and replaced the spent candles in the wall sconces. Yes, we checked and made sure that we had gasoline and oil for the generator. Yes, I just plugged in everything we have that is re-chargeable. But that is it.

No frantic run to the grocery store. No worrying about keeping the house warm in case we lose power (and we don't even have a wood stove, just a fireplace in one room). No worrying about how we will cook anything.

We are not what is increasingly becoming known as Preppers, we are not ready for TEOTWAWKI.

What we do have is a sustainable mindset:

I switched the stove from electric to gas a long time ago. Yes, we need to have a gas line, we are hooked up to the infrastructure. If that goes, I'll have to fall back onto last years Valentines day gift from the hubbin, my rocket stove on the back patio. Or even more improvised, make one out of an old coffee can and use it in the fireplace if push REALLY comes to shove. I can heat food, I can bake bread.

That actually leads me to an even more important part of being ready for an emergency: I know how to do these things AND have done them.  Knowledge really is power.

I can make a water filter from charcoal if I run out of ready made filters. We have rain barrels and a well (not yet converted to manual, but that is actually on the list).

If we run out of food stuffs (6 months minimum), I know how to get more, can grow more, the works. Most of that is in the back yard, and not just in the raised garden beds. My 'ornamentals' are edible.

We both wanted a house with a fireplace, so that is what we have. A few years ago we gave each other an in-fireplace heater for a Solstice gift. If we lose power, we may have to run the battery operated pump for a bit, and that's OK for now, in the long term there is a plan for a wind driven generator to power this baby. And because I love having a fire going it helps heat the house all the time. It's paid for itself within the first two years, actually.

There are a bunch of small changes we have made over the past few years that save us money, make life more sustainable and make us less dependent on the grid. The things our grandparents took for granted. I don't want to lose that knowledge, it is more valuable to me than gold. I can't eat gold and it will not keep me warm.

So yes, we are on the grid, we live in a city and if we lose power and the roads are closed for a week or two we will be perfectly fine. No scrambling. No worries. And I cannot understand anyone who is not at least this ready. This is not rocket science, it really is not. Most of the worlds population knows how to do these things, even those who have never seen a school.

Stay warm and be happy :D

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Chickens... cute little ones

Yelling, while waving arms around above head:

The chickens are coming, the chickens are coming...on or about March 24, 2013.

There will be 44 of them.

14 Barred Rock girl type chicks,
8 Black Giant girl type chicks,
10 Blue Cochin Bantam straight run chicks and
10 Araucana Bantam straight run chicks.

Yes, I know that that doesn't add up to 44. We will also receive one rare exotic chick of indeterminate sex and breed and I expect that there will be an additional chick to insure against any losses during transport, at least that is what happened the last time we ordered from McMurray.

So we will most likely wind up with about 30 or so girls if the 50/50 split works out on the bantams. Thinking of keeping one or two of the roosters, just to have that self-perpetuating flock of teensy-tiny chickadoodles. And to see if bant roos are man enough to try and take on a black giant girl. If they do I promise to try and film it. <grin> And because Bantam Roosters seem to be somewhat quieter in their crowing...

Bantam Roo crowing

I can't wait.

Let's see if we can sell enough eggs off this lineup to make them self-financing AND still give us enough eggs to eat. That is the goal for this venture. That, and to have some help with pest control in the garden.

Now all that is left to do is to strip off last years coop skin, re-arrange things so it is a walk in coop, add on nesting boxes, re-skin it with stronger siding, re-do the roof on it, re-position it in the garden, make it dog proof (very important, and I'll post about the Indianapolis chicken massacre of 11/03/2012 and the lessons learned from it at some other point) and then re-do the fencing for the garden before the hoop house goes in and the Asparagus bed gets moved this spring.

OK, before this morphs into a garden plan post (later, I promise), I bid you toodles and Happy Holiday of your choice.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's apparently seed catalogue time

[this post was originally published on 11/15/2012]

I'm wondering if this is some sort of push to get people to give seeds for Christmas (hey, what a neat idea!)  or if I am simply still too new to gardening to have fully grasped the extend of what is going on.

Our first seed catalogue came in the mail today. It's not all organic, all heirloom, so i am relatively safe. For now. Once the nonsanto catalogues start rolling in I am IN TROUBLE. My dealers of choice:

Sand Hill Preservation
Baker Creek Heirloom
John Scheepers
Southern Exposure
High Mowing Organics

Since I may have over-spend a wee, tiny bit last year I have been given a firm budget for seed and plant purchases this year, and with it being only $200 it's going to be just enough to cover the crop failures and losses we had this past summer. One pear tree (I want Bosc, but we'll see what I can find) almost all of our blueberries, at least three of the raspberries and right there is most of that budget. I will have to get some potatoes, I really am hoping to get some purple sweet potato slips this year (I missed that one last year, 'cause I dragged my feet) and I was not able to save any zucchini or cucumber seeds, what with having a complete crop failure.

Just writing that by no means complete list made me feel a tiny bit deprived. Quick, focus on all the seeds I DO have, some of them will be the fourth generation in our little garden.

There, that's a happy thought :)

So far I have been able to save tomato, radish, carrot, pepper, winter squash, lettuce, potatoes, sun choke, garlic, onion, chive, sunflower, corn, cowpeas, peas, dill, basil, sage, eggplant and asparagus. It feels like I am forgetting some.It also seems like I should probably write up some seed saving instructions. I will.

Considering that 5 years ago I could not keep catnip alive that's not so bad. So I have not been able to grow a bean without bug or get any kind of cole crop to produce something other than caterpillars, and the only carrots that did really well for me were the tiny little round ones that I seeded out by accident, big deal. It's the time of year where we focus on accomplishments, and look hopeful into the future, so I hereby declare that the cole crop in the ground right now will be less protein intensive and next years bean plants will have leaves.

Who would have thought that *I* would enjoy this grubbing around in the dirt thing?

And yes, that is a picture of some corn I tried in an unsuitable location. It's supposed to be baby corn, but I'm just going to go ahead and call this zygote corn.

And with that, I bid you toodles.

Chili weather. Chilly weather? Chili weather!

[this post was originally published on 11/14/2012]

And it's Slow Cooker to the rescue...

Completely against my better judgement and indubitably to the eternal chagrin of Spouse I decided that this weeks large meal will have to be vegetarian chili. Largely because I have all the ingredients and I don't really want to go to the grocery store. Yeah, that's how I roll.

So, I could go ahead and post some sort of recipe here, like 4 cups pre-soaked beans and 3.5 oz of name your ingredient, but let's face it, that's not how I cook. I cook using relational quantities and often adjust to achieve the taste and 'feel' I am looking for.

So, here's how *I* make chili:

  • Roughly the same quantity (by volume) of beans, tomatoes and onion
  • About half of that in peppers, less if they are hot.
  • If I have some other kind of vegetable laying around (you'd be surprised how often that happens around here) I may throw that in, too, at which point this becomes *whatever* chili. If I had ground meat of some sort laying around, this would not be a vegetarian version.
  • chili powder
  • cinnamon (optional)
  • cayenne pepper
  • garlic in whatever form I have
  • salt

Soak the beans over night (wash and sort first)
Next morning, find the crock pot, wash the dust off the crock pot, position it on the counter somewhere where it will not be in the way.
Cut all of the remaining vegetables into roughly equal sized chunks(I often process large quantities of veggies and dry them for later use, doing this in approximately the same size every time helps)
Rinse the beans
Throw everything into the pot.
Add some water, just enough to wet everything well. Think not quite soupy.You can use beer for this, but all we had was chocolate porter and I prefer to drink that.
Add Garlic. Err on the side of caution.
Add chili powder, again, err on the side of caution.
Add a teensy little bit of cinnamon. We're talking a pinch for each two handfuls of other stuff.

Set the whole mess on high for a while, until you have a nice boil going, then turn down to medium and taste. This is when you can add some more seasonings if needed. Salt and Cayenne come in here.

Let simmer for a few hours, it will thicken up and smell absolutely drool worthy.

If you can't watch this (crock pot, so you can set this in the morning and go) just set to medium and let her go.

I have eaten some variant of this over noodles, rice, bread, chips, crackers, couscous, and all on it's lonely own, so this is up to you, too.

I cook in camp follower quantities, so I can or freeze some of this (if canning, pressure and according to Ball Blue Book). When re-heating I often add some form of meat, depending on how the fancy strikes me.

Have a great day and happy cooking.

Winter is coming, Winter is coming (also, lacto fermenting)

[this post was originally published on 11/13/2012]

And in a way I sort of, a little bit, look forward to it.

The fall planting of potatoes is in the ground, the garden is (mostly) put to bed, the radishes are doing pretty good and will be lacto fermented for delicious yummyness:

Clean, then cut radishes into bite sized chunks or slices (I prefer slices, but ymmv),
put them into a glass container with a wide opening (you want to be able to get your hand in there, old pickle jars are great for this), then, using filtered, distilled or boiled and cooled water (you don't want bleach in your water, it will inhibit the friendly little lacto bacti you are trying to encourage), mix it with salt. I prefer sea salt, but have used pickling salt, it's a matter of choice.

One quart of water with three tablespoons of salt. Agitate until all the salt has dissolved. I found that yelling political slogans works less well for this than actually shaking the bottle, so I use an empty two liter soda bottle to mix the solution.

Cover your radish chunks or slices or stars (hey, get creative, these can look really cool) completely, then weigh them down to keep them submerged. There are several methods to accomplish this. Small plates, with a glass filled with water on top work, provided they fit into the opening, you can use a small canning jar to keep the radish down, you can fill a plastic baggie with some of the salt lake and keep them submerged that way or what I do, which is using a plastic plate, cut to just larger than the opening, that I use to keep things down.

Leave the whole shebang on the kitchen counter (or the coffee table, I won't judge), be sure to have some kind of surface protection, since this thing may bubble over, and well, salt water; wait for a few days, you should see little bubbles come up. After about 3-5 days, go ahead, fish around in there and taste one.

Salty. Radishy. Delicious.

Rinsing the bit off will make it somewhat less salty.

If it tastes good, put it in the fridge. Want more tang? Leave it out for a few more days and keep tasting. I keep my finished jars in the basement, it's cool, it's dark and noone can hear them scream they will keep for 3 months to about a year.  

If you get some sort of mouldy looking scum on the top, remove the scum, check the contents to make sure there is no ickiness going on (talking slimy, repulsiveness), otherwise, it's ok.

I have not yet had any go bad, but I am given to understand that if it does, it will smell like a mixture of fermenting cow droppings and bum vomit. I'm not entirely sure what that smells like, but I am relatively certain that I've never smelled it and we are both still alive, so apparently I've got this.


I just read my description of what this blog is about and HEY, I'm good. And it's a journey. I'm not done. WOAH.

Ok, I'm done tooting my own horn, I'm transferring some posts over here from my other blog, just because they are relevant and this is where I'll be posting. So sorry if you have seen some stuff before, it's a one time thing. New stuff to follow in short order, because I have a bunch of ideas (and I wrote them down this time) for posts. And if you want to hear about anything in particular, please feel free to leave a comment. I actually figured out how to enable them.

Happy Pinching :D