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Archive for September, 2011

Dude.  I just found out that Bee Balm (a fantastic pollinator attractant) has an aroma very similar to Bergamot, and can be used to flavor Earl Grey tea, one of my favorites.  That’s exciting.

Also, I realized that we can make egg noodles with our extra eggs.  Whole wheat egg noodles. With fresh-ground whole wheat from David’s grain grinder.

And, yesterday we bought some common vetch and winter rye seeds from City People’s to try out as cover crops this winter.  The vetch is a viney legume that fixes nitrogen, and the rye is planted with it for support.  I’m hoping that the chickens will like to eat both, and that neither will grow stems too tough to decompose quickly in the compost bin.  Now… if only i could keep Cornelia out of the chicken patch long enough to let the cover crops grow…  she’s so tricksy!  People say chickens aren’t very smart- but she’s clever- and therefore a pain in the ass.

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So this weekend David and i went window shopping… literally- we bought windows to build a mini-green house for the garden.  There’s a store down the hill from us in Ballard called RE-store that takes stuff from old houses, buildings, schools and sells it second hand to people who are building or remodeling their own houses.  They’ve got everything from lumber to doors and windows to cabinets to bathtubs and toilets to light fixtures.  They currently have a set of three confessional booths from a Catholic church, several walls of lockers from a junior high school, and a super nice kitchen counter/sink/cabinets that i totally would have bought if we owned our house.  They have an amazing collection of windows- newer double-paned, metal framed ones and old, craftsman style lead or wood-paned ones and huge sets of bay windows and sliding glass doors.  When we own a house and have our own yard, we will definitely assemble a real green house with windows from RE-store.  But for now, a transportable mini-greenhouse made from $24-worth of windows will do.

The mini green house will sit just inside our 4ft wide beds and will be 4ft wide by 3ft long (that’s the size of the big, single paned window i found for the lid), 1.5ft tall in the front sloping up to 2ft in the back.  I brought my tape measure to RE-store and found matching windows to make the four walls; these will be arranged in a box on the ground with an open floor so that the lid will be sloping southward for maximum sunlight and heat absorption.  The lid will be set on a hinge so that it can be opened and propped up with a stick during planting and harvesting times.  There will be little triangle gaps between the side walls and the sloped lid that i will cover with some sort of hard plastic from home depot or a couple layers of plastic cloche cover or autoclave bags, which are quite durable.  I may caulk or weather seal the seams, and i may weatherize the windows with that thin plastic you can stretch across your windows and blow try smooth to keep heat in your house during winter.  If i do those things, this green house will be pretty toasty inside and will allow me to protect a 4×3 section of garden bed during one of Seattle’s biennial harsh freezes, or to start tomatoes or peppers or squash waaaaay earlier than normal.  But- lesson learned from forgetting to open the plastic cloche on hot days and frying the pepper plants this summer- we’ll have to watch the temperature and vent the green house appropriately.

I also bought 2 more big, single pane windows (slightly smaller than 4’x3′) that will become cold frames- essentially what i’ve just described above, but the side walls are made of wood.  This allows less light in but keeps more heat in, and with a southward slope these structures let in enough light to grow greens over the winter.

I’m stoked.  Must hurry up and pass general exam (November 9th!) so i can get back to gardening!

 

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Tomato-splosion!

It’s 8:30 in the morning and several of the chickens must have just laid eggs- they’re cackling like a bunch of proud, frantic Jokers.  We’ve been delivering little half-cartons of eggs to the neighbors every once in a while to make up for the noise… but jeezus.  I did not know that chickens would be this loud.  I knew that they would crow a little egg song after they laid an egg, but i did not know that they also have an “I’m about to lay an egg!” song, and a “Oh wait, i was wrong before, but now i’m REALLY going to lay an egg!” song, and an embarrassingly early morning “Hey!  Let us out of the run so we can go tear up your grass!” song, which is more an incessant squawk than a song.

The neighbors on either side of us say that the chickens don’t wake them up- so they either get up way earlier than i do, or they sleep like rocks, or they have amazingly insulated windows.  In any case, it’s a good thing we have extra eggs to give away.  It is also a good thing that our tomato plants are literally exploding with ripe tomatoes.  (I do actually mean literally- some burst open when i attempt to pick them.)  Last weekend we picked a humongous basket full of them, gave quart yogurt containers full of them to 6 neighbors and friends, and were still able to fill up all the fruit bowls in the kitchen.   Yesterday (3 days later) i picked another huge basketful and gave another 5 tubs away to coworkers who have been helping me with my experiments, and there remains a large pile of tomatoes on the kitchen counter in addition to a bowlful from last harvest that we haven’t finished yet.  Good grief.

I think this means that i need more indeterminant plants (grow and produce fruit all summer) and fewer determinant plants (produce most of their fruit in a small harvest period).  And then i need to start them earlier, so that they will actually be ripe before August.  I’ve found that, if you are going to start your tomatoes from seed indoors under a grow light without bottom heat (they’ll grow more slowly, but will be heartier), and you’re going to protect them with a cloche or wall-o-waters when you transplant them, you can and should start them way earlier than most regional gardening calendars suggest.  From a combination of NW garden books, i have on my calendar to sow tomato seeds in the last half of February, but i will definitely start them earlier next year.  Hopefully that will get the harvest started earlier so that we are not inundated by tomatoes for a couple weeks surrounded on either side by severe tomato shortages.

Anyways, i’m going to go eat some cherry tomatoes for breakfast.

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I’m pretty stingy with my garden space- i don’t want anything growing in there that won’t be delicious for either us or the chickens.  This has meant that i have never planted any flowers, except for a few generic bulbs in the front yard- a decidedly neglected little piece of hard dirt.  I did attempt to plant some nasturtiums along the fence (somewhat less generic, and edible!) but they were over taken by the morning glory before they could produce more than a few leaves and blooms.

Without many flowers in the yard, we don’t get many pollinators coming around.  We still manage to get enough vegetables fruiting, but i’ll bet that two thirds of the flowers on the beans and tomatoes and squash don’t end up producing fruit because no one has come to visit them.  So i’ve recently become obsessed with researching the best flowers and plants to attract pollinating bees and butterflies so that i may recruit more winged, fuzzy help to my garden.  I also decided that i’d try to make most of these plants native- as a good challenge and to provide familiar pollen and nectar for native insects.  I also thought that most of them should be perennials, to save me time in the future and to leave the soil less disturbed from digging in new plants each year.

So, to start, here’s a list that i’ve come up with of mostly native, mostly perennial plants and flowers that bees love.  As soon as i research them all to find out what to put where in which season, i’ll let you know the deets.

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