yeah, pretty lame excuse

​Hello good friends, and my apologies for dropping off the face of the earth without a word. My thoughts are simple (as might be evident); I didn’t have anything interesting to say. If it wouldn’t interest me, I can’t expect it to interest someone else.

And then I kinda got sucked into the whole lazy thing.

The garden has wound down. Last night was our first real freeze. Frost on the windshields and brown pepper plants.

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I’m waiting for the rest of my free brown materials to fall from the sky. In the meantime, I fashioned a large leaf-collection bin, made from 20-some year old materials that were sitting in the barn waiting for their moment in the sun.

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The cold brings out the chainsaw. I use only deadfall trees from the property for firewood, and the scrub trees that die and fall are usually dry enough to use the same year. This year has been a little lean as far as deadwood. There was a nice big oak down, but that has to season till next year. It might just be a year for buying a little wood that some other fool cut up.

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I’m coming to the realization that cutting and splitting firewood in quantity is a younger man’s game. Somewhere along the way, I messed up my wrists and thumbs, and handling a chainsaw doesn’t suit me for long periods, nor does crawling around on the roof cleaning the chimney. But I’ll keep picking at it until I have to say uncle.

There’s not much activity in the garden. My fall cover crop mix is doing its job without complaint. After watching the deer happily grazing on last year’s crop, I decided to strategically place tomato cages to nip that kind of thing in the bud. So far so good.

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I planted garlic and shallots today in the space occupied by this year’s compost bins. And the lettuce plants that I sowed indoors in August are hitting their stride under a cloche.

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It’s good to be back in the saddle. But I reserve the right to be lazy at any time I choose.

paths and beds

There was a time when I would wait for all of my crops to be spent, till the garden and call it a season. Now it’s more of a piecemeal proposition.

With my garden’s size, I never have enough compost to fertilize the whole caboodle. Even starting with three bins full of waste materials, it cooks down by half or more.

I had enough compost to generously cover 4 1/2 beds, which are now a uniform 21′ x 3′. I tilled in the compost and then planted a winter cover crop mix in those beds. The rest of the beds will each get 7 to 8 gallons of fresh chicken manure before winter (I clean off the pop board every morning and store it in a covered 5 gallon bucket). Then they’ll be covered with shredded leaves.

In the piecemeal spirit, I’ve also started improving paths. It’s an uncomfortably big job to gather and spread wood chips on all of the paths at once, so I pick them off one at a time.

This year I had a big pile of willow chips from the ground-up stump of a huge willow tree that came down earlier. To keep weeds from getting a head start, I first laid down cardboard boxes or newspapers. These were actually from a stack of discarded voter guides that my wife picked up. The perfect place for politics…

IMG_5310…and done.  Not a permanent solution, but good for a couple of years.IMG_5311

These chip paths just make it nicer to walk and kneel in the garden in the mornings and after rains.  Here’s a path that I’d completed earlier, with the winter cover crop doing its thing…

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the rewards

I’m pretty happy. Somehow the sad, downy mildew-ed pickling cucumber vines stayed alive long enough to produce another batch of cucumbers.

So yesterday morning I grabbed the cukes, dill, garlic, grapevine leaves and jalapeños form the garden and knocked out a few jars of hot dill spears. I cherish these pickles in the dead of winter. Hot and crunchy and full of vavoom on a cold, snowy night.

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Next, on to a good way to make use of the glut of fresh eggs coming our way from the happy hens. I’ve never eaten, let alone made, pickled eggs. But they sound interesting. The recipe calls for adding canned beets to the boiled eggs, vinegar and spices. I don’t think I like beets, so this is a leap of faith. Who knows? Maybe there’ll be beets in the garden next year.

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I think the very best way to put off processing tomatoes is to core them and put them in a ziplock bag in the freezer. That way there’s no pressure to act before they rot. After they thaw they’re easy to peel, and still plenty fresh. And you don’t have to cook every time a new flush of ripe tomatoes comes in.

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The first buckwheat cover crop that I planted is blossoming, so that means it’s time to turn it into green manure. Thought I’d try it the easy way this time. Out came the chicken tiller.

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They did a fair job, but they need to work on technique. You don’t just eat the good parts, girls. It probably defeats the purpose of green manure to swap it for real manure. Maybe not. I’ll need to think about that one.

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boom boom, out go the plants

As with most any aspect of life, knowing your strengths and weaknesses and using that knowledge can make things a whole lot happier for you.

Over the years, I’ve observed that generally I can grow better tomato and pepper seedlings of the varieties I want than I can buy at the local greenhouse. By the same token, there are a lot of seedlings offered at the grower’s that make my efforts look sad.

I try to play to my strengths. Cole crop seedlings bought from the local greenhouse always always seem to be much more robust than those that I grow. Same with some lettuces. I don’t know why, and don’t much care.

It’s perfectly fine by me. I’d rather buy healthy seedlings (even if maybe some artificial helps might be used in growing them…I don’t ask) than nurse along sub-par seedlings using my limited indoor light space. I’m not looking to be organically certified. I know what I put into my soil and onto my plants, and none of it is synthetic chemicals. But there’s no point starting out with sickly plants.

Enough philosophy.

Dirt. Now that’s real.

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I hadn’t planned on planting a large chunk of the garden yesterday. But a look at the 10-day forecast was all it took to get the juices flowing irretrievably. It was off to the greenhouse for some of those maybe (but probably not) organic seedlings.

In went the cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and some lettuce plants. I basically covered the tilled ground with most of my stash of shredded leaves from last fall, then made planting holes through the leaves.

Uh. That’s frightening. No-till with twice the work, plus tilling. I may need to listen to my good friends who’ve been commenting that permanent mulch is a really great system.

A couple of concerns about permanent mulch systems; planting seeds in permanent mulch still seems a little clunky to me. We’ll see.

I’m not sure where green manures would fit into a permanent mulch system either. I don’t believe that a permanent mulch of mostly leaves would provide all the nutrients that certain plants might need, and green manures work so well. That’s a concern.

Mine’s a fairly large garden, and leaves are the only massive waste resource that’s available. Even with the huge cache of leaves I hoarded last fall, there’s not quite enough to cover the whole plot.

Oh, and the biggest drawback that I see to permanent mulch is that it’ll take forever for the soil to warm up in the spring.  Pulling it all back kinda defeats the ‘permanent’ part of the equation, no?

Still, something to think about and learn. That’s what I love. It never ends.

PS…the old tried and true works pretty well too.

spinach planted last fall and overwintered

spinach planted last fall and overwintered

turning under an old leaf

The smell of Spring soil. Finally.

After an early morning snow, it all melted and I decided to go for it. With our loamy sand, there’s never been a problem tilling early. I’ve had clay too, a long time ago, and that would just turn into brick if I tilled too soon. The soil turned over nice and black and dirty.IMG_4438

So some of the cover crop is turned under and doing its final work of decomposing. It’ll need at least a few weeks of cooking before it’s ready to plant. Sure is nice to see that patch of black again.

The chicken pen got four bags-full of shredded fall leaves (yeah, you really never have enough by summer). Might as well let the chickens shred them more and mix in some fertilizer.

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I added a small side door to the coop for navigating the chickens into a yet-to-be-made chicken tractor.

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And I was notified that the Black Jack No. 57 rubberized coating that I ordered for painting the coop floor was cancelled because it was out of stock. After I waited two weeks for it. Dorks. I just shrugged and bought some paint. But it won’t be warm enough for painting till next week. Oh well. I’ll twiddle my thumbs and wait.

[in Just-]

it’s
spring
and
         the
                  goat-footed
balloonMan          whistles
far
and
wee
I’m really not a poetry guy at all.  But I remember [in Just-] by E. E. Cummings from back when I was [in Just-] my young person days.  Those lines make me happy.
The snow is receding here in southern Michigan.  But I can see green.  The cover crop is working even now to loosen up that block of ice beneath it (mostly the rye).  But in just a few weeks…
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It never ceases to amaze me what some plants can endure.  The spinach that I planted last fall is doing better than it ever was [in Just-] a thin shell of plastic, after enduring temperatures of -20°, and the coldest February this region has ever experienced.  My iron pipes should be so durable.
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Yours,
the goat- footed balloonMan.

buckwheat part 2

In case you don’t read comments, I want to acknowledge one that made me feel silly and smarter at the same time.

The McNeelys at RockyCrop Farm told me that they ‘broadcast it after summer’s harvest of cucurbits. It blooms and dies back with frost and makes a pretty good ground cover that helps with winter erosion. Then, in spring it has re-seeded itself and grows until about 50% bloom when it is turned under early enough to decay before planting tomatoes.’

And as a bonus, they sent a link to much cheaper seed: Heavenly Seed

I love learning things.