Friday, October 25, 2013

New and improved winter gardening

At the end of each season, I do what most gardeners do.  I ask myself what worked, what didn't work, and what needs to be tweeked to fulfill it's purpose in a more efficient manner.  Last winter, I knew the cold frame was going to be in the "tweek" file.  While it worked wonders during the frosts.  It kept my winter greens happy and healthy.  When the winter snows came in December, it was obvious that the plastic sheet was not strong enough to hold the snow at the angle that it was at.  While the frame would have worked beautifully had I used old windows or other sturdy material, but that wasn't in the budget.

While at the Mother Earth News Fair this year, I managed to spend some time at the workshops (I couldn't last time we went due to having small children along for the ride.) One that I went to was about intensive gardening practices and how to extend the growing season and volume year round.  While many of the practices she espoused were ones I already did, it confirmed my thought that you need hoops in order to really do winter.

So this year I made a change.  I decided to make a mini-high tunnel.  I reused all the materials from my cold frame, and bought 5, 10' pieces of plastic 1" pipe.  I reused the plastic I had leftover from the last attempt, and I was ready to go.

I also decided that the amount of manure the chickens produce in a year is too precious for the deep fertilization that is needed for decomposition heat in a hot house/cold frame, I decided against digging a hole and putting in the precious manure.  I think my arms and back thank me too.

So here is my new and improved winter growing grounds.  I started a fall garden when I pulled the squash and using arugula, lettuce, broccoli, and chard will be added soon.  I also decided to use the rest of the squash bed for my garlic, which is that very dark composted area right next to my hoops.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Garlic Season

My husband and I went to the Mother Earth News festival this year in Seven Springs, PA.  I went with a few goals.  First, was to expand my garlic collection.  I also wanted to be able to listen to some of the presentations.  So, I was officially able to complete this simple list.

For the past seven years that we have lived at our current house, I have grown one type of garlic that originally was bought from a local farmer's market as eating garlic.  I thought that since it grew locally, it would grow in my garden, and I was right.  But last year was hard on garlic and I only got about 3 heads that were good for planting (where I usually plant about 10-15 heads...we really love garlic here.) I also got about a dozen that were more of a culinary quality, seeing as they were not quite as large or beautiful.  I found a stand at the fair from a garlic farm that is about an hour's drive from our home.  They carried about 20 varieties of garlic. While it was a little pricey, as seed garlic tends to be, it was beautiful looking garlic and they carried many difficult to find varieties.  I made a point to ask the grower what his favorite variety was and got that.  I also asked what the spiciest one was and got that.

I also asked one more question.  What did I do wrong that my garlic was abysmal last year.  They told me it wasn't my fault, that last year was a very bad garlic growing year since it was so wet.  They had a bad year and only grew about half of what they did other years and had complete crop failures for some of their varieties, only having enough for seed for this year.

So today was the typical fall planting day for garlic.  It all starts with well rotted compost full of chicken manure, leaves, and spring cleanup.  I lay down about 3 inches over the entire bed and then hoed it in so the soil was nice and loose and full of fertility.  Next I used my handy dandy stick to dig holes 6 inches apart and 3 inches deep.  I plant each variety in a block and labeled them using some lovely copper markers I got at a yard sale for 25 cents for a 5 pack.  Each large clove was taken from the head and planted roots down, pointy shoots up.

When all of them are planted, I cover each hole over carefully and then cover the entire bed with 3-4 inches of mulch.  This mulch is very important.  It suppresses any weeds that want to come up.  Garlic does not like to compete.  It also keeps the cloves where they were planted.  When frost comes, if the mulch is not there, you have much more heaving of the soil, which disrupts the plant growth.  It helps keep the soil a touch warmer and happier.  Lastly, the mulch decomposes over the 8-9 months that garlic stays in the ground.  This keeps the soil from getting too depleted during garlic's long stay in the ground.

Yes, garlic is a long term visitor in the garden, but most of the time is over winter when the garden space is not used.  Where garlic spends the winter, spring, and early summer, becomes a great place for a fall/winter garden the next year with just a touch of added compost and a little labor mixing in the rotting mulch.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Casting on...the girlfriend hat

In just a few days they are predicting snow.  SNOW.  Snow in October is nothing special in many parts of the country, but snow before Thanksgiving here is a special event.  And since C. has grown out of the hat I made for her two years ago, she needs a new one.  I looked through my stash (since I am a sucker for the singles bin of really nice yarn at the yarn store and tend to have lots of hat quantities of yarn laying around.) I found a nice teal color and a purple blue color for her to choose.  Of course she chose the purple.  She is a girly girl. I pulled out my handy dandy go to pattern (the boyfriend hat) and am adjusting for her little (non-man sized) head.  So instead of casting on 100, I am casting on 90 and going from there.

Ever since the Mommy Busy Pants became a mommy/auntie, she has called all of the girls, "the girlfriends."  There are quite a few girls in the family.  So in her honor, I have to change the name of this particular hat to "The Girlfriend Hat" since it's for my little gal pal.

For reading, I breezed through The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball.  It was one of those books I read in two evenings after the kiddos went to bed.  It's not one of the romanticized books of move to the farm...everything is fantastic type of books.  No, it's about dirt, blood, poverty, death, exhaustion, and community.  At it's core is a city girl who everyone thinks drank the kool-ade and has gone off the deep end and her farmer boyfriend/husband who has an amazing work ethic and ability to build community.  It's an engaging and quick read.

Linked to Ginny's knit along

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A hill of beans

Every Spring I pull out a drawer of my fridge which contains all of our seeds saved from previous gardens as well as some varieties that have been bought since they were interesting.

Every Fall, I restock the drawer as the harvest comes in, and dispose of seeds (via compost or the chickens) that the variety was disappointing, the harvest blighted, or the plant no longer wanted.  

This Spring/Fall cycle was no different this year.  In the late Winter, I began drooling over seed catalogs marking them for what I wanted to try out.  Maps were made, and overly extensive plans were made, and the drawer came out.  Big Rainbow, Polish Linguisa, Yellow Plum,  Provider, Zucchini, and Delicata, Rainbow, Winter Red, and Black Seeded Sampson all made their appearances.  Some were originally chosen by pictures, others by their names, some made their way via a farmer's market or friend.  However they got there, only the true favorites stay year after year.

One of the perennial favorites have always been Provider green beans.  They do just that, provide.  While others in my neighborhood think their Kentucky Wonder Poles are wonderful are missing out.  My one neighbor was proud of her Kentucky Beans.  She thought it was wonderful that she got some in her freezer and some for dinners.  She gave me a handful of her beans.  Tough, gone to seed, fibrous...this was all I could think when I tried one.  I hadn't the heart to tell her she'd picked too late.  Too often people go for size and not taste (think baseball bat zucchini when one should pick them at or before rolling pin size.)

I grow two crops of green beans each year.  The first one I pick 2-3 pickings off of them and then let them go to seed.  When I stop picking, I plant a second crop right next to the first.  This way, I have seed saving insurance.  Most likely, the second crop will come up, be harvested, fill the freezer and pantry, and be excellent as dry beans and seed, but always the first crop is primarily for seeds.  I select first the plants that have the earliest beans.  Then I select for bug resistance and tenacity through summer drought and rain forest conditions we have here (as it it won't rain for a month and a half and then it rains all day every day for a month.)  I select too for ones that won't stop blooming.  

Over the years I have also been able to figure out by looking at the seeds, which ones to keep for future generations.  The ones that are speckled are only good for eating as beans.  They grow plants that bugs love to devour.  The little brown seeds make stringy plants that shrivel up and are non-productive except as compost.  What I look for are plump purple seeds, which turn into plump maroon seeds when they are fully dry and ready for storage.

So now as I pick the end of my second crop of beans at their dry stage for seed and storage, I find that all two crops from a 20' row of beans add up to is a small hill of beans; a promise of baked beans and growth in the future.

Linked to Simple lives Thursday

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Knit along...with tea leaves

A long time ago, my in-laws gave me some birthday money...with a stipulation.  It was not to be spent on the kids, or paying bills, or anything practical.  It was for me and just me.  I think I spent the actual money on groceries or some other mundane living expense, but the idea of the birthday money still sat there.  And then I got an idea.  My favorite sweater, which had been demoted to house sweater, which may get demoted to "throw on to go care for the chickens" sweater is falling apart.  No matter what sweaters I may have in my closet, they are not as comfy and perfect as my favorite sweater.  I have decided to tackle making a sweater.
I have in the past made the shalom pattern for a sweater, but the one I made is sleeveless and I made it out of cheap wool, so cheap that the drape is all off and I think it cost me $4 to make.  I also have decided to never use yarn over button holes.  They just seem sloppy and lazy.  Instead I am going to go with these buttonholes from now on (in fact her videos are the only ones I will watch on matters of technique.)

I studied patterns on ravelry, and even got a reluctant husband to look at the ones I narrowed it down to. He claims they all look alike.  I had it down to Tea Leaves and the February Lady Sweater.  The more I read reviews and pattern changes, the more I realized that the February Lady Sweater only works with certain bust sizes, and would be a bit silly looking on me.

My husband was home a few weeks ago on a Saturday, so he watched the kids as I took off on a grand adventure to a yarn store that sold just yarn (as in not a craft store with a cheap yarn corner.)  I then looked over their patterns and decided to stand by my decision to make the Tea Leaves pattern.  Seeing a store employee wearing the February Lady Sweater only cemented my decision.  Don't get me wrong, I really love the pattern, but it would not be a flattering look for me.

The other thing I love about a yarn store is that the employees all knit...all...the...time.  The employees know what they are talking about.  So when they recommend an extra skein because I have a long torso, I buy an extra skein.  I always have trouble with shirts being long enough so it makes sense.

 I have already made some decisions on how I am going to change it for my tastes.  First, I am going to do the one row buttonholes as I said above.  I am also going to make it long in the torso because that's what I need.  The button row is going to have buttons all the way down rather than just two since that is how my favorite sweater is made.  That way I have the option of only buttoning two, or all.  I am also contemplating putting the yoke pattern around the wrists and bottom of the sweater.  I am not quite sure if that's what I want to do yet.  If I do, I may put a ribbing pattern rather than a garter stitch around the wrists.  Since the pattern didn't specify a cast on, I decided to use a cable cast on to keep the neck smooth and flat (again the knitwitch has a great video on this.)

They had the Madeline Tosh yarn that the pattern is made for, but at $18/skein, that was not an option.   So I looked at other options.  One I really liked didn't have enough yarn in stock to complete the project and dye lot couldn't be guaranteed if they ordered more.  I then selected with the help of the knitting employee about 5 different colors.  She then started having people vote on the color I should use.  It's the kind of place with people always there willing to help out or give an opinion.  I bought, by consensus, Cascade 220 in nebula heather, and it is very pretty.  It is a base of a reddish purple with flecks of red and blue.

As for reading, I am currently reading a copy of Anne of Green Gables that Country Sister gave me many years ago.  My son found it in a bookshelf and decided it was time for me to read a really big book to him.

Linking to Ginny's Yarn Along