Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rainstorm Update

We lost our internet connection in yesterday's rainstorm, which came complete with nearby lightning strikes, and a guy from AT&T showed up this morning to bring and install a new modum. Our old modum was old enough that jokes about donating it to a museum were made (we are thinking that it was at least ten years old).

It was weird to not have access to the internet.

The good news is that repairs we (well, mostly Joe) had made following the Big Rain of '09 mostly held. There is a low retaining wall on the uphill side of our back yard that was washed under in the Big Rain, and we had dumped several wheelbarrow loads of rock and sand into the hole that formed underneath. We will need to add more rocks and sand, but what we had already dumped in did seem to help in yesterday's 2 inches of rain.

A bigger problem that we had to work on concerned the rain barrel. We had installed the barrel during the drought under a downspout at the back corner of the house on the uphill end. During the mostly wimpy rains of the past few years, this worked just fine. When it seemed that more rain was on the way, if the barrel wasn't empty, I would drain it in advance, taking the water to plants that needed it.

In last week's Big Rain of '09, the barrel filled early, with no way for me to keep it emptied between rains because no "between rains" actually occurred. The water from the downspout couldn't go into the barrel, so it just spilled out over the top. As it did, it splashed onto the side of the house (we have cedar siding) and ran down the little path to join the river flowing from under the low retaining wall.

Needless to say, erosion occurred (on the little path), and the cedar siding nearest the rain barrel got wetter than it should have---it is still damp. To keep this from happening again, Joe moved the barrel down to the back corner of the back deck, using a piece of downspout to connect the barrel to the bit of downspout that comes down the corner of the house.

In yesterday's rain, this seemed to work. The siding didn't get splashed, and the side path doesn't seem to be eroded any worse than it was. I will need to stop one of those wood-chippers the next time I see one in the neighborhood, because we could use a truckload of wood chips to put on our paths.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Return to Fully Hydrated Soil

I checked the rain gage at 12:45 p.m., and it was holding 3.6 inches of water, all accumulated since 8:15 this morning. Another check of the gage just a few minutes ago, at about 1:35 p.m., showed an additional 2 inches of rain. Holy Mackerel! This would explain why the creek that runs along the eastern edge of my yard has left its banks, dumping a small tree on the grass above its underpass.

I have lived here for 19 years, and even though the creek has risen enough to sweep across the road before, it has never come up over the bank on my side. The opposite bank is at least a foot lower, so when the creek comes up, it just spills out across the yard on the other side. Not today, however.

If it had been safer to go outside at the time, I would have taken a picture showing how close the creek came to my house. I grew up in Oklahoma, though, so I know better than to go out in rising water and when the lightning flashes are simultaneous with the thunder, which sounds today a lot like I imagine cannons to sound.

The photo below is looking toward the creek across the side yard. One end of the hammock is just barely visible, attached to the big tree to the right. It doesn't look quite as relaxing today as usual.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rain Report

I spoke with a guy on Friday evening who said his yard had received almost eleven and a half inches of rain in the last nine days. Actually, he told the amount to the exact one hundredth of an inch, because he is a science teacher who delights in precise measurements, but I remembered the rounded-up number, because that was just easier.

His yard is in another town a little north of mine, but our rain accumulation has been pretty similar, maybe an inch less. When I peered through the rain across the yard to my rain gage this morning, I saw that we have received another couple of inches of rain since yesterday morning. The weather forecast for the week includes rain for several days to come.

I am very glad that my Fall planting is mostly done (radishes still need to go out), because even though my garden is a series of terraced beds, it will be a while before those beds are dry enough to work without messing up the soil structure.

If the beds were completely level with a flat ground, the soil would be water-logged (other parts of the yard are about like a thick pudding right now), it would take even longer to dry out for planting, and the roots of my veggies that are already out in the soggy mess would be pretty unhappy.

2:50 p.m. update: We've had an additional 1.5 inches of rain since I checked the rain gage this morning, and water is still falling from the sky. It is a miracle. The creek is finally looking like a creek again, with water flowing freely and uninterruptedly above the streambed.

Since this is not a day for gardening, I am making bread, a double batch of Parisian Daily Bread as described on the blog A Year in Bread, except that, for me, it usually take six hours instead of four. I made the dough in Cheryl's grandfather's wooden dough bowl that is plenty big enough for the double batch.

8:15 a.m., 21 Sept. update: since 2:50 p.m. yesterday, we've had an additional 3.2 inches of rain! The forecast is for more.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Seasonal Cilantro

Just as the Fall planting of cilantro starts to look good, the tomato harvest starts to dwindle. I spoke with someone last weekend who was very disappointed (and I am sure she is not alone in this!) that the two crops peaked in different seasons, partly because she didn’t really know what to do with her cilantro after the tomatoes were gone; her favorite way to use cilantro is in salsa.

At our house, as Fall progresses and the tomatoes become less abundant, we switch from using cilantro in salsa to using cilantro with cabbage, another Fall crop, to make what we call Costa Rican cole slaw. We don’t do a whole lot of traveling, but Costa Rica is one place we’ve been. While we were there, at almost every meal, a salad a lot like this (sometimes it included a little diced tomato) was served. I am pretty sure that in Costa Rica this salad has a different name, but this one works for us. The salad isn’t hard to make:

2 cups shredded cabbage
at least 3 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh cilantro (the hardest part of the recipe is chopping the cilantro)
2 teaspoons lemon juice (lime will also do, if that is what you have handy—if using Meyer lemons you might need a bit more)
2 teaspoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all together and serve soon; the cabbage gets a bit wilty if it is left too long.

Of course, we also use cilantro in just about every Mexican-style meal that we make, and it also goes into those Thai(or Japanese)-style fresh Spring Rolls, for as long as the cilantro holds out.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Transition to Fall

The bok choy is doing unusually well this year. Most often, it is just pathetic, but this year's crop is going to make some great stir-fry starting in just a few weeks. To get the picture, I had to move aside the tulle that protects it from the white cabbage moths that are parents to those voracious green caterpillars.

The wire fencing is in place to hold the tulle above the leaves, so the moths can't lay eggs on the leaves through the holes in the tulle. I'm not sure that they would, but I like to play it safe. When we get our first freeze, the tulle can come off the cabbage-family plants, because those white moths will be gone.

Other Fall veggies are doing variably well. Most of the greens look great. The broccoli and cabbage are growing slowly, and some of them haven't survived, so I am going to look for transplants when I am out later today.

The summer garden production has slowed down, but the cowpeas (pictured below!), planted when the zucchini came out, looks likely to give us a few suppers worth of peas. This is my first year with this variety, so I am really looking forward to that first serving!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Building Better Compost through Avoidance

There is never enough compost in the pile out back for all the garden beds that need it, so there is always a big temptation to take all the old garden foliage from plants that are no longer producing and put it in the compost. This would be a mistake.

Any plant that has merely died of “old age” can go in the compost, but plants that show signs of disease should not. The risk of spreading disease all through the garden is too great. To be safe, I never put tomato-family plants into the compost, even if they look healthy, just in case.

Remains of the squash-family plants from my garden also go to the landfill rather than the compost pile. These almost always have some kind of mildew. I know that the plants are going to get it again next year, no matter what I do, but I like to think that my keeping it out of the compost gives next year’s plants an extra week or two. Note, however, that there is no scientific basis for this thought.

Other plants that should stay out of the compost include grass clippings from any yard with an unknown history. I used to pick up bags of grass clippings from around the neighborhood to use in my compost, then one day I dumped out a bag of clippings and a jug of Roundup fell out onto the compost pile along with the grass. This made me think of all the other chemicals that are used on lawns.

I know that grass clippings are a great source of nitrogen for a compost pile, but they could also be a source of pesticides and herbicides that are not approved for use on food gardens. A very brave gardener, or a determined one, might knock on the door of a house and ask what products are used on the lawn. This could be socially awkward, a bit like asking a date about his or her disease history, but it could similarly help to preserve a gardener’s own health.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Still Veggies After All These Weeks

The garden is still producing plenty of summer vegetables, even though the temperatures have dropped a bit and disease has started to really hit the tomato plants. For the last several days, except for the tomatoes, I’ve mostly just brought in what we needed for meals. That left quite a bit in the garden for today’s harvest.

The Casper White eggplants are smaller than the first several that the plants produced, but these three haven’t seemed to gain any size in the last week or so, and I wanted to bring them in before they got too seedy. The Jimmy Nardello peppers will be pickled later today, and the okra, well, I’m not exactly sure what I’ll do with that. We’ve eaten a lot of okra lately.

The tomatoes are several kinds: Rutgers, Cherokee Purple, Wuhib, Amish, and Japanese Trifle. Regardless of their intended-by-breeding purpose, they will all join quite a lot of other same-variety-mix tomatoes in a large pot later today before they all get packed into jars for the winter.

I also brought in a bowl of Matt’s Wild Cherry tomatoes that didn’t go into the basket because I was concerned they might get squashed under the heavier veggies. Those are all headed for the dehydrator.

The melon is the next-to-last of the Sugar Nut melons. We’ve been lucky enough to have melon with breakfast three to four days each week for the last few weeks.

I keep forgetting to photograph the squash before we eat it, but we did eat one of the trombocino/zucchetta squash earlier this week. There is actually a little chunk left –each squash is plenty big enough to go in more than one meal—and it will go into tonight’s grilled-veggie sandwiches. I went to Harry’s/Whole Foods today and brought home French bread and aged provolone with that supper in mind. The sandwiches go into one of those George Foreman grills after they are stuffed with the cheese and grilled veggies. It’s an easy but good weekend supper that uses our garden’s produce and that everyone likes.

edit: I froze the okra.

7:30 p.m. tomato canning update:
When I prepare tomatoes for canning, one step is to drop the whole, uncut, tomatoes into boiling water for a minute or two, then into cold water. This makes getting the skins off easier. Today, this worked like a charm for the Rutgers tomatoes, which is no surprise. Rutgers were grown for years as canning tomatoes. This variety is also very meaty, so most of what is inside that skin actually makes it into the jars.

The Amish tomatoes were also easy to skin and chop for canning. Of course, their yellow coloring is going to mess with the color of what’s in the jars, but we will all live.

The Wuhib tomatoes are a paste variety, but their very thick skins were a little more difficult to remove than the above described varieties. They are also smaller, so preparing them was a little more labor intensive than the Rutgers and Amish tomatoes.

The Japanese Trifle were a mess to can. Just that brief dunk into the boiling water turned them right into mush. I will not add them to the canning group in the future.

The variety Cherokee Purple was somewhere in the middle in terms of ease of preparation for canning. These are so wonderful fresh, that I probably won't add them to the canning group in the future, either.
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