Sunday, November 30, 2008

Farm! A Short Documentary


FARM! from Anthony-Masterson on Vimeo.

Shamelessly stolen from Groovy Green, because it features young farmers in Georgia!

In early June one year, when one of the Scout Dads stopped by our house to drop something off, he looked out over the patch of green beans, to the stand of corn, then to all the other plants, and he asked, "Who's the farmer?" Well, it's me of course, but my little yard doesn't really count, and I am getting to be enough of an old lady that expanding the growing area too much would require my getting a lot more help, but the young people in this video really are farmers. It is great to see and hear what they've done and to know that they are being successful. Georgia could use more farmers!

Pots of Potatoes

Last summer, in mid-July, I was given a small handful of fingerling potatoes that had started to sprout, and I planted them in Miracle Grow Potting Soil in two big pots. One of the pots was bigger that the other. I had read, in the past, about growing potatoes in barrels and bags and old bales of straw, and it seemed likely that big pots would also work.

Yesterday, when I finally dumped the pots into the wheelbarrow, I found about one and a quarter pounds of fingerling potatoes, so I couldn't say that the experiment was a resounding success, but I did find that the bigger pot had more potatoes. Also, I found some mushy potatoes that had been nearer the edges of both pots, and I didn't count those as actual "potatoes" in the weight measurement. I think those had probably frozen in the previous week's colder weather, so if I had dumped the pots a couple of weeks earlier, it is likely that the harvested weight would have been more.

I really would like for this method of growing potatoes to work, because potatoes are in the same plant family as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants, and rotating plant families around the garden to keep these from being grown in the same place year after year is difficult in a small garden---each spot should go at least three years without one of these plants in it. Growing potatoes in big containers would keep them completely out of the rotation.

I know that potatoes are sensitive to moisture levels (drying out is bad!) and that they are cool-season vegetables (high heat is bad!), and those characteristics may explain why the bigger pot did better than the smaller pot. The bigger pot was probably less prone to swings in both moisture and temperature, staying both more damp and more cool in the deep center than the smaller pot.

So, next year I am going to try again, in Spring and with regular (probably something like Red Pontiac) potatoes, with the largest container I can find and with soil that has been specifically amended for the needs of potatoes, which is going to require some research.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Role of the Kitchen

I started a batch of wine last weekend. When I first started making wine, I used kits, and they turned out pretty well. The wine tasted like something a person might actually buy. But then I bumped into Jack Keller’s website about making wine from just about anything, and my view of wine-making changed. Unfortunately, the only plentiful wine-making base from the yard has been blueberries, and the blueberry wine recipe didn’t seem highly recommended, so for now I am making wine with organic fruit juice from the store. Since this is the season for apples, it’s a good time to start some apple wine, so that is what is bubbling away, in glorious fermentation, in the five gallon carboy in my kitchen right now.

I made apple wine a couple of years ago, too, but just two gallons since it was my first try and I wasn’t sure how it would turn out. I wish I had made five gallons back then, because it is definitely drinkable. The other non-kit wine I made was from Welch’s Grape Juice. I even used some toasted oak chips in the process to fancy it up. There is only one bottle of this left, after three years. When I drank the penultimate bottle, I could still taste the “Welch’s,” and I think I grinned through every glass, so when I bought yeast for the apple wine, I also got yeast and toasted oak chips for another batch of Welch’s Grape Juice wine. Humor is important.

How does this relate to gardening? Well, the connection is round-about, but when we lived in Virginia, a friend grew food in the plot next to ours. It turned out that he really only was interested in the growing; he didn’t like to harvest. That seemed a bit weird to me, but people are all different, so we harvested his garden for him and left the produce in bags on his front porch. He did use the food once it arrived, and that was important. Cooking—food preparation—is, to me, an essential part of gardening.

Plants for the garden are (usually) selected on the basis of what my family likes to eat, but sometimes I choose a new vegetable because someone else has said “It tastes great!” or I have seen a recipe online that uses a new vegetable with a lot of others that I know I like. Nearly always, the homegrown fresh-from-the-garden version is better than the weeks-old-at-the-store version, so it can be worth the effort to grow a small batch of an untried veggie. That way, I get to REALLY know if I like it. This is how I came to love parsnips, which I have been growing for several years now, and this year I have rutabagas maturing out in the yard; I think they will be ready in a few more weeks.

When it is time to eat these vegetables, they will be roasted, because I have had plenty of practice roasting other root vegetables and I know this method works. Having the experience of cooking many kinds of food in many different ways means that I have more options for what food to grow in my yard. It also cuts back on waste.

If this next year turns out to be a good year for plums—end of the drought would help—I will make a batch of plum wine. Practicing now to make non-kit wines should help the next step in my wine-making experience, using whole fruit, to be as successful as possible. In addition, making wine would be one way to preserve part of a bumper crop of plums, if I ever get another such crop!

Freezing!

When I looked out the front door this morning to see the thermometer on the front porch, it was showing a temperature of 25 degrees Fahrenheit. I am glad that we have had big salads from the garden with supper the last couple of evenings. It is possible that some of the remaining lettuces won't survive. They always make it through a lighter freeze, but mid-twenties is a bit too cold for some.

I expect everything else to make it through the cold just fine. My carrots, though, look like they won't be quite ready for eating next week. Bummer.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Tucking the Asparagus in

We really are into Fall now. A predicted light frost early last week led me to bring in a bunch of green tomatoes and ripening peppers, just in case, and in the last few days the leaves have all begun to turn. The maple trees have gone red, the tulip poplars yellow, and the dogwoods a purpley-red. Every day the trees are more beautiful than the day before, but leaves also have begun to fall, so the Great Raking has begun around the neighborhood.

In my garden, the leaves on the blueberry bushes are turning red, and asparagus stalks are turning yellow and brown. This is a clue that it is time to get the asparagus bed ready for winter, so this weekend I cut the plants down to the ground and chopped them up for the compost pile. Over winter, what’s in the compost pile will decompose; what’s left underground will gather strength for Spring.

To help this process of gathering strength along, I used my sharpest hoe to cut down emerging winter weeds in the Asparagus bed---chickweed and purple dead-nettle were coming up already! Then, I spread four bags-worth of composted manure (from a store) over the bed before covering it with chopped-up leaves that were brought over by the teenage boys who live across the street. When they “rake,” they actually use a leaf sucker machine that shreds the leaves as it goes. When the machine’s bag is full, the boys bring it over to dump in my yard. The shredded leaves are great mulch for my garden!

My asparagus is the variety Mary Washington. I know that other kinds grow well here and might even be more productive, but I like that this variety reseeds. Admittedly, keeping sprouting baby asparagus from taking hold between the established plants can be a hassle, but I also appreciate the volunteers that come up in other places. I can dig those up to replant elsewhere and to give away.
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