Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Full and Satisfying Day

Tomorrow it will be October, but our beautiful Indian summer weather is hanging on. It still has barely rained since mid-July, and the days are lovely and warm, although the nights are finally getting chilly. Matt and I made the most of this beautiful Sunday, working full-out until well after dark. I got my homework done in the morning, while Matt tended the rabbits and began pruning the apple trees. He got both done by early afternoon, and they look great. The Asian pears still haven't ripened completely, so that one will get pruned later, after it is picked.

I messed around the yard and garden, weeding and picking up fallen fruit under the trees for the chickens, and cutting back the banks of lemon balm and oregano against the garden fence and under the Asian pear. It looks much more tidy now, and the chickens appreciated getting the big pile of cuttings to scratch through.

I took a little survey around the garden, to see how the fall crops and cover crops were getting on.


Red clover coming up among the green onions.

I cleaned out the chicken coop and added all of the dirty straw to the compost pile, and filled the henhouse with fresh clean straw. Esther seems pleased about it.

While Matt finished up the pruning, I got a baking of bread into the oven, some dishes washed, and a little bouquet put together for the birthday of a special young kiddo. Making an appearance at her party, and then picking up some groceries, gave us a quick break in the middle of the afternoon.

After we got home, we changed back into our work clothes and headed to the community garden. We dug up the potatoes there, and sadly got a paltry harvest. Well, that garden has a healthy gopher population, so growing any root crop there is a crapshoot. Of course, that didn't stop us from planting more root veggies. I pulled up all the bean plants that were no longer producing, and planted in a couple rows of turnips and beets.

Working in the beautiful evening light, Matt planted chard and more radishes, and field peas where I had pulled up the remaining carrots.

Elsewhere in the plot:

Matt transplanted the leeks in on Friday, and they seem to be acclimatizing pretty well. 

Lots of little parsnips to perk us up late in the winter!

Radishes and spinach and self-seeded nasturtiums. 

Back at home, we raced against daylight (when did the days get so short?!!) and dug up almost all the rest of the potatoes growing around the front yard. We could leave them where they are, but we want to plant in more winter crops, and also cover crop some of the space where the soil isn't so great. We have already used most of the All-Reds and Yukon Golds- a lesson to us to plant potatoes rotationally next year, so that we still have plenty come fall (all of these ones were planted at the end of March, and we could easily harvest those and plant a second batch in June and still have a full fall crop). So we dug all the Austrian Crescents, to put into storage in the garage. The Yellow Finns from the community garden are in the fridge, but the A.C.s grew very abundantly, and we had enough to go through with our experiment of packing them in damp sand in bins in the garage. We did the same with our meager carrot harvest. There are so few at this point that we could easily keep them inside, but we want to see how they will keep for a few months in the sand. We also have two more smaller batches of carrots still growing.

There are still a couple potato plants yet to be dug, but it was completely dark by the time we got these finished, and moved into the garage to pack them into their bins. Then it was inside to get dinner, eating at 9 PM. Nothing beats a long day of good satisfying physical work, followed by a chard and carmelized onion quiche.

It's back to the grind of work and school tomorrow (Matt starts his new job tomorrow!), but we're feeling pretty good tonight, about our wonderful harvest this year, about so many fall and winter crops already planted and growing while this warm weather remains, and of how it feels to work so hard and be so exhausted in such a good way. I wish I could feel like this at the end of every day.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Thelma & Louise

Last Sunday, Matt and I made the 30 minute trip across the Columbia to Washougal, Washington, where we obtained the newest members of our backyard brigade.

Introducing Thelma:

...and Louise: 

These girls are year-old Ameracaunas, just slightly younger than the rest of our flock. This is our second attempt at some green eggs, although it might be a little while; Thelma is finishing moulting, and the trauma of being introduced to a new flock might put them off the lay for awhile anyway.

Matt had brought up the idea a few weeks ago of adding two more ladies to our flock, since our permit from the county allows us seven hens, and we have a growing market for eggs, with several of my coworkers wanting to buy them from us. So we scouted around and found a place in Washougal that was selling hens for $14 apiece. 

Picking them up was a bit of an adventure, mainly due to a bad move on my part. We bought the hens from an older man with a big property on the edge of town, and we took along a box to put them both in for the trip home. The man had caught the then-nameless Thelma with a long handled net and got her into the box, and I held the lid on while he went after Louise (Matt was moving the car at the time, so someone else could get out the driveway). Louise was netted and handed to me when the man's phone rang. So I had Louise under my arm and was holding the box shut with my other hand, and without thinking of the possible negative consequences, I tried to slip Louise into the box by myself. In hindsight, more than two hands were needed to keep one freaked-out chicken in the box while inserting the second. Thelma saw her opportunity, and made a break for it. As the man came back from his phone call, he found me looking incredibly sheepish, now with Louise safely in the box, and Thelma on the lam and out of the fenced chicken yard. He ran after her as she escaped the property completely and went into a massive and dense camellia hedge beside the road. It took another fifteen minutes of Matt crawling around inside the hedge trying to spot a perfectly camouflaged chicken, and flushing her out, while the man waited grumpily at the end of the hedge with his net, and finally sprinted madly after her when she did make her exit. I spent the whole time feeling like an idiot and simply holding the chicken box shut, since the bungee cord we had brought to keep it closed was in Matt's pocket, deep inside the hedge. As we left, I tried to apologize several times, and dearly wanted to explain to the man that I was a keeper of chickens and knew their ways and just hadn't thought, but I'm sure he believed I was just some greenhorn from the city who had no idea what she was doing. On the drive home, Matt suggested that any pair of chickens resulting in such a runaway should be dubbed Thelma and Louise. Since in the movie Thelma was generally more of a hell-raiser, that name went to the beautifully mottled brown lady that led Matt on a wild-hen chase in what was virtually a jungle.

Nearly a week later, they are somewhat integrated into the flock. Louise more so than Thelma. There has been some brawling in the chicken run, but it is decreasing every day. So far Louise is jumping in to fight over the kitchen scraps with the other hens, but Thelma is rather reluctant for fear she will get chased or pecked. Ironic since at first she raised Cain and went toe-to-toe with the other hens. She must have come off worse in the end to be at the bottom of the heap now. I managed to get photos of her showdown with Goldie:

Strangely, Mimi, who was once the new kid on the block, has become the boss of the flock and is most likely to dole out punishment on the new girls. She is also the biggest of the hens so is probably the most intimidating if you're at hen-eye-level.

Well, they're here, and they're figuring out the routine of where to roost and to come running if they hear me or Matt come outside. We clipped their wings and tails when they first arrived, to be on the safe side, but I don't think they're wanting to escape as much anymore. Another week and hopefully there will be peace in chickenland and they'll all be getting along well all the time, rather than only at select moments. Here's to green eggs soon!

Our flock of seven!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Planting and Preserving the Fall Garden

Our warm-- even hot-- weather kept up for a really long time, but this week we went from 90 degrees and warm nights straight to chilly nights and cool days. Sigh. I guess fall truly is upon us. I'm glad it's held off as long as it did, even if it is my favorite season. I'm just not quite ready to let the heat go. This morning it is warm, but the ground is wet- some of the first precipitation we've had in two months.

We've been making an effort to get the fall crops and cover crops planted earlier this year than we managed last year. I think last fall the cover crops went into the ground in October, which meant that they barely grew at all. This time hopefully we've got them in in time to get established and growing before the really cold weather hits. I had a nice afternoon yesterday, pottering around the garden, harvesting, planting, pulling up spent plants, and generally tidying things up. Matt was home and feeling under the weather, but he got up for an hour or so to give the chicken coop a good clean and do some much needed maintenance on the henhouse and the rabbit cages. It was nice to be working together, but separately, to make our little homestead more tidy and productive.

All of our cucumbers got powdery mildew this year, and I hardly got a Straight Eight off this vine that wasn't too bitter to eat. The scarlet runner beans here did wonderfully though. This bed still contains two rows of fall carrots, and most of our basil. This bed has been constantly growing things since we moved in over a year ago, so this winter it's going to get a rest. We'll just mulch it with straw and rabbit poo, and give it several months to get some new nutrients built up. 

This bed has chard and green onions, plus one tomato plant. It is also now growing fall greens- collards and kale. Yesterday I planted all of the remaining space in red clover, which is a good nitrogen-fixing cover crop and will grow low under and between the other crops. 

The old garlic bed is doing a great job with the carrots and turnips so far, and yesterday I planted more turnips into the empty spaces, for a later crop. According to the seed packet, in our zone we can plant turnips periodically throughout the winter, so I think we'll give that a shot and try and have a rotation of them throughout the cold months. 

The "empty" space in this bed has been seeded with bok choy and a cover crop mix (clover, field peas, and vetch), and the back under the trellis is more kale and spinach. I've been doing battle with the aphids on the cabbages and broccolis. I lost one full head of broccoli by the time I noticed the infestation, but now I've been essentially power washing the plants with the hose every day, and I seem to be winning the battle. 

 I picked the remaining apples yesterday, and now we have probably at minimum thirty pounds of them. I had thought they were good eaten fresh, until Dad brought some of his early apples along last weekend. I had forgotten just how delicious they can be! Oh well, I know that ours make excellent pies, and that is going to be one of my projects for today: mixing up bags of apple pie filling to freeze.

 We're still only getting ripe Asian pears here and there. I have a good guage for how to tell if an apple is ready to pick, but have no experience with these. Online sources say when they come easily off the tree, and so far only a few have done so, but the skins on them still seem really thick and tough. Anyone have any other tips?

Yes, it's definitely looking autumn-y.

We haven't eaten a single rhubarb dessert all summer, but this plant has been flourishing. Maybe we'll have a crumble sometime this weekend, just to do it justice. 

Proof of impending fall, courtesy of the lilac bush by the mailbox. 

But this is Portland, so of course the roses are still blooming :) 

And the baskets of goodness are still coming in. I dug one of our parsnips, and we had it for dinner all sliced and fried up in butter. Yum! Lots of scarlet runner beans are drying out upstairs now, a big bag of hot peppers and another one of beans await processing in the fridge, and our one solitary leek has been harvested. I think we'll have potato-leek soup tonight. A good meal on a gray day. 

I'm home alone today, my last free Friday before I go back to school next week. I slept in, and am having coffee and toast as I write this. I am planning to enjoy one last day or two of housecleaning, canning, and listening to archived episodes of "This American Life," before returning to the world of graduate school. We already have as many pickled hot peppers as we'll eat this year, so I'm going to try making hot pepper jelly. Then there are the apples to deal with, my desk to clean out, and hopefully I can get a batch or two of dry beans cooked up and into the freezer. Our routines are about to change dramatically- Matt starts a new, full-time, permanent job (!!!!) on October 1st, and I'll be gone three evenings a week at class, so having lots of  food prepped and in the freezer will serve us well.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

In the Garret

We haven't been upstairs much on this blog, and since we've just got it organized and cleaned, now seems like a good time for a visit! We don't spend much time up in the garret in the summer because it gets so hot, so it has been largely neglected for the last few months. But my parents are coming for a visit that weekend, and since the upstairs is also our guest space, it was time to get it shipshape again. Matt tidied and swept everything, and I organized the desk space, and now it's looking very nice. Not that my parents expect everything to be spotless, but it makes me feel better to have it all clean when they come.

It's a nice place to sleep, although it's warm enough right now that Mom and Dad might opt to set up their tent in the backyard where it will be nice and cool. 

My sewing corner, where I wish I had a nice set of shelves to organize my fabric on, rather than using the bursting-at-the-seams ragbag I have now (which used to be a pillowcase). The rainbows on the wall are from the prism that hangs in the window.

View from the south window and our very dry front lawn.

Just don't open up my desk- it's still a mess inside! Organizing all my papers will be a task for next week, before school starts (all of my notes from spring term still haven't moved from where I stashed them in June...). The fluorescent lights we use for starting plants are on the right, just out of sight behind the desk-- you can see the glow from them on the wall.

Matt's collection of antique tools at the top of the stairwell.

I've started some leeks under the lights in the hope that they will do better than the ones we planted directly in the garden. They're already taller than the ones that have been in the ground for a couple months...

View from the north window, of our very dry backyard.

 The "book corner" at the top of the stairs. No shelves, but this works fine for us so far! If we do decide to add shelves, they will need to be long and low, because of the slant of the roof.

Down the stairs and into the hall.

You can see here how cozy our house is. The "hall" is actually only about ten feet long, with six doorways coming off of it, to the bathroom (to the left of this photo), to Lisa's room (behind me as I took this), to the living room (to the right of the dark shelf), to the kitchen, upstairs, and to our bedroom. The lovely half-curtain hanging over the stairway is a Japanese noren that Matt and his mom brought back from a trip to Japan when he was 14.

Our garret is such a nice extra space, and whoever painted it (and our bedroom) that perfect shade of green has my approval! I'm looking forward to spending more time up there  as I go into student mode again, and as the weather cools down. There's no better place to be when it's raining than up under the eaves. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

We Made Soap!

I spent a delightful weekend in Seattle, where I got to spend lots of quality time with quality people. I visited Joel and Heather at their home, got a tour of their community garden plot, a delicious lunch, and excellent playtime with 10-month-old Marie, who I hadn't yet met. My family and Joel's have been connected in numerous ways for a long long time (his father was my 3rd grade teacher, his mother was my flute teacher, his little sister is one of my best friends, my brother was Joel's best man...) and I am so very glad he married Heather, who has become a great friend as well. It was so grounding to catch up with them, after far too long between visits.

I stayed with Laurel at the beautiful house she and her husband bought this spring. Her kitchen is to die for, and we took advantage of the fact that she has way more fancy gadgets than I do, and we made a batch of soap! We'd been wanting to do it for a long time, and used this method from Down to Earth. It was remarkably easy, only took about 30 minutes, and went off without a hitch (not counting the fact that we went on a wild goose chase around town trying to find lye. Tip: try small neighborhood hardware stores).

See? Gadgets I don't have- a stick blender, candy thermometer, and scale. Although this was so easy and fulfilling I might have to invest so I can do it at home...

Laurel is excited to make soap! (Note the stylish orange butcher paper we used to cover our staging areas). 

Lye + Water = Heat! (and fumes. I coughed a bit).

Chemistry in action.

 Bite-size brownie pans = wee soaps!

We covered the soap with parchment and towels to cool slowly overnight, and this is what we found in the morning. 

Tiger says, "It was so thoughtful of you to lay these piles of comfy towels on the table for me!"

Taking it out of the moulds the next morning. 

Success! All of the bars are now curing on a shelf in Laurel's laundry room, and she will send me my share in a month or so once it has solidified a bit more. I think I have caught the soap-making bug.