Thursday, September 30, 2021

Sometimes Gardening is Hard Work

The other day I noticed my husband had gone out to the new cleared "meadow" with a wheelbarrow and a crowbar to pry up some largish rocks that were buried in the area we will have to brush-hog.  His choice of tools and lack of scheduling indicated the level of effort he was planning to put into it. Minimal. Then, I noticed he had gone for the big tractor and a logging chain.  Something was afoot.

He had come across a concrete slab buried in the mud near the road.  Over the years we've put some concrete in the area for fill.  This was not that.  This was heavy old concrete that pre-dates any of our existing information (which goes back almost hundred years).  It appeared to be poured in place.  It had no date on it which was fairly common practice.  And it was heavier than anything we had equipment to move.

Unfortunately the backhoe is off the tractor for the winter.  Our 43 hp tractor was able to lift the weight but having no backhoe meant the tractor did not have the balance to control it.  I should have taken photos of the nearly one ton slab dangling from the loader, but at the time I was standing on the back blade trying to keep the tractor from tipping over.  We got it to the road and were going to continue on, but had we suffered a mishap like a blown hose or a peeled tire we would have been in a pickle.  So it was dropped at the edge of the drive.  We borrowed the neighbor's jackhammer and cut it down to size.  Then we threw it back in the mud.  There is one area out there that is going to need a lot of fill to make it accessible.

Each of these chunks was barely liftable by one person.  About 100# each.
The slab was at least a foot deep and full of gravel.

Now that autumn is underway I have been gradually cutting down the ugly and cleaning up for leaf season.  The garden is nearly completely empty.  Two beds are in use and seven of the beds are mulched.  Two are still growing Buckwheat and the last one will have tulip bulbs planted before mulching.

There are still plenty of pretty things in the landscape.

Miscanthus purprescens
"Flame Grass"

The heads of the Japanese Silver Grass look like fireworks.
The effect is much more dramatic in 3D

Now that I'm outside a little less it is easier to cut Dahlias and bring them in.  Especially before a day of wind and rain which will only break the heavy blooms down anyway.

Belle of Barmera was the last variety to bloom but was worth the wait.

Rebecca Clematis Vine round two

Hawthorne berries along the natural edge

We repainted the bedroom and finally put out the new bedroom set I've had in a box since July 2020
We've never had such heavy, cozy drapes and are getting ready for winter hibernation.

Today is dry but cool.  Currently 52 degrees at noon with a forecast high of 58.  Partly cloudy and breezy.  I have thick pork chops in the slow cooker and a glass of cider at the ready.
A pre-hibernation practice run.

Parting Shot:  a closeup of Belle of Barmera

Monday, September 27, 2021

The Bartlett Pear

I just ate the last one of those Bartlett pears.  I really wasn't expecting to blog about every pear I eat so I wasn't being obsessive about pictures.  But - pears can be tricky because they ripen from the inside out.  And I have a little learning curve on Bartlett ripeness...  I ended up with three Bartletts from the Chilly Pear Tree and on the third try I got it right.  This pear had been in the fridge for at least two weeks.

That was by far the BEST pear I've ever eaten!
Not only because I've worked so hard to get it.

And I still have a Bosc to go.  I'm a lot better at figuring out when a Bosc is ready to eat because I grew up with a Bosc tree.  Right now our lives are all about apples, so it can be easy to forget about a couple of pears tucked into the fridge.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Preparing Horse Radish

 When I was digging potatoes I kept running into really nice horseradish root.  It is a little early in the season to harvest horseradish because cold weather brings out the flavor.  But its still good even if it isn't really hot.  So I don't waste it. I have three big clumps of horseradish along this bank.  Two of them stay nice and tidy and never try to wander off.  But this newest clump is next to a planting area which I am always digging up.  Not only is the soil soft and inviting, but it seems like each time you break a root it uses the opportunity to send up a plant at the breaking point.  

This nice little plant is not welcome here.

Whenever I come across a nice root, I dig as much of it out as I can.  Then I just pop it in a zipper bag and put it in the garden fridge.  My husband is on his way down the fall chores list and today he cleaned out the garden shed fridge.  Our house fridge was completely over run with beer and sweet tea and cabbages so it was a good time to deal with these roots.  This beats the heck out of digging them mid-winter when the ground is muddy and you're out in the snow with a pot of water trying to thaw the ground - but I do it that way too.  How else would we get fresh horseradish for home made cocktail sauce for our holiday shrimp?

The first step is to get a good veggie brush and scrub the roots clean.
These long, flexible carrot-like roots are my favorite to deal with not the coarse, gnarly type at the base of the plant.

Next, cut off the dirty, broken end and the little end that is too skinny to peel.

The roots are just like carrots.  There is no real skin to them, but you want to clean them up and inspect them.  The goal here is not to whittle them down to nothing.  Just scrape the discoloration off.

You could grate this by hand and if you want to  - more power to you.  But I use the food processor.  Here is also where they stop acting like carrots.  They are quire fibrous and tough to chop. You'll need a good chef's knife to dice the roots into something your food processor can handle.

Nothing special here, just a little 3 cup chopper.  I start with just a handful of root.

As the first ones get to a good consistency I keep adding more.  I put about half a cup of water in too to get the mixture moving.  You want to keep shredding until you get quite a fine mixture.

The consistency will begin to get pasty.  You can use vinegar instead of water if you want.  The vinegar will stop and stabilize the chemical process so the longer you wait to add the vinegar, the hotter your end result will be.  If you want more mild taste, go ahead and use vinegar.  This time of year before the roots go dormant the flavor is more mild anyway.

Use a spoon the remove the horseradish leaving the liquid behind.

I use a spoon to pack the mixture down bringing more water to the top so I can pour the liquid off.

Top off the jar with white vinegar.  I use the spoon to loosen the jar contents and allow the vinegar to percolate down to the bottom.  Some people add salt but its not necessary. 

Now you have a jar of nice fresh horse radish that will keep in the refrigerator.  I always date mine.  It will keep for three or four months but will start to lose its kick after about three or four weeks. We use it mostly for roast beef sandwiches.  When fresh it makes absolutely awesome cocktail sauce.  Just find your standard cocktail sauce recipe using ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Fall Chores

I can't believe it's been two weeks since I blogged.  I was doing really well all summer.  I guess I've been busy with Fall Chores.  That's easy to do.  Shampooing carpets, washing tractors, putting away equipment, dividing daylilies and hosta, cutting down perennials, digging potatoes, preparing apples,  preparing apples, preparing apples.  Broken record there.  But it's the truth.

When I dug potatoes I found some unwanted, wandering horseradish.  More about that later.  It is shaping up to be a good year for potatoes.  I only had a sparse handful of small, irregular spuds that I tossed.  Everything else is large and storable.  I still have to dump the bagged potatoes that I consider my main crop.  These were the extra that I planted because I didn't know what else to do with them.....

Thanks to our resident Fisher Cat, we are getting low on squirrels.  I know those of you with fowl or small livestock will be cringing right now, but we were so over run with squirrels the last few years that I'm totally OK with it.

Game Cam shot of the Fisher

And because we are low on squirrels, for the first time since 2018 we have apples in the "orchard trees".  The "orchard trees" were in the corner of our lawn leftover from the last residents.  They were nearing the end of their life span and we are down to one Macintosh tree.  The Yellow Transparent we cut a few years ago because it was a wildlife MAGNET and not in a good way.  We rarely got a single apple between the crows and the squirrels and the deer.  They are a soft, early apple and we were absolutely over run with critters.  So we cut it down.  

That left us with a Macintosh and and Empire tree.  The Empire tree died this summer. When we finally decided she had "had it" we just pushed her over gently with the tractor and hauled her back to the burn pile.  That leaves us with the Mac.  We got a nice bushel of apples off of it, but we are going to have to plant a couple more trees because the Mac doesn't look good either and I need a pollinator for the Northern Spy trees by the garden.  The Macintosh are very sweet and make lovely applesauce.  All of these apples are now sauced and frozen.

I have been dehydrating the Northern Spies as they fall.  I think I am on the eighth batch today and I have some of those in the freezer too.  I pick half a dozen ripe ones each day and still, whenever I walk by I find this...

I managed to plant some fall color.  I replaced the petunias with mums.

Our Fall Ungardening starts by cutting back all of the daylilies.  It is actually refreshing to see some bare ground this time of year.  It makes it easier to deal with the oak leaves too.

I have been dividing and moving daylilies and hosta around in the front landscape bed.  We had to remove a good sized Lilac Tree from here this spring and there is still space to be filled.

The Big Drain also gets cut back hard.

Its usual look - wild and wooly

Now it is refreshingly blank.  And I can get in there and hoe out some of the Houttuynia cordata roots.  Chameleon Plant is attractive and useful and in the right situation is a great ground cover.  But that stuff is super invasive and requires some annual maintenance.  I really do love how it creeps into the stones and naturalizes, but this time of year it gets a few doses of Spectracide to keep it in check.  You can see a little planting area on the left edge below.  I dug out all of the daylilies, divided them, purged them of "hootenany root" and replanted.  I now have nine gallon pots of daylily that need to find spots.  If they survive the winter in pots (they will) I'll re-plant them in the spring.

Dose #1 of Spectracide
Lightly browned but not yet defeated

Not everything is cut back.  
Some things are right in their prime like this Cherry Cola heuchera

And the River Bed is a peaceful, breezy place this time of year. 
The Japanese Silver Grass is just now putting out seed heads.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Crop Rotation - I do and I don't

Every spring is a blank slate for a garden.  You aren't sure what sort of challenges you will face this year.  When will the last frost be?  Will it be a hot summer?  A wet one?  A short one? Will the cucumber beetles be bad or non-existent?  Will blight drift in on the wind from an unknown source?  All of these things would be really good to know up front, but all you can do is plan.  And as they say "Man plans.  God Laughs".  Still, you do your best.  And your best does not mean you walk out into the garden with a packet of seeds and go "Eeny Meeny Miny Moe..."  You must know your garden and if you know your garden you know what will grow best where.

The Garden in April

This post is specifically about crop rotation. This question was brought up in the comments from my last post and I found I had such extensive thoughts on the subject that I couldn't answer the question with a few short sentences.  I have different views of the importance of rotation now than when I started out.  The basic theory is this: you should group your crops into four different types based on growing conditions and requirements and then rotate your planting locations so that each type is in the same place no less than four years apart.


Crop rotation should be done for two reasons.  #1 pest/disease control and #2 nutrient depletion.  Raised Beds are a different scenario than field crops or even traditional in the ground tilled row garden which may easily vary in size or location from year to year.  I used to garden in a wide open plot.  I outlined the steps we took that brought us to our raised beds in this post.  When you switch to raised beds you impose certain limitations of scale on your garden.  Some of these can be manipulated in the construction phase and I'm sure all of us would layout our second gardens differently than our first one.

A Traditional American backyard row garden

Part of the issue is that you don't necessarily grow the same amount of each type of crop.  And those amounts may vary from year to year.  You may not grow any root crops at all.  Or you may have found that root crops do better in containers.  You may grow some lettuce and cabbages, but not in the same quantities as beans and peas.  Suddenly having four rotating groups fails to apply to your garden.

When you utilize containers you effectively remove that crop from rotation

Not everyone needs a whole bed of lettuce.
I plant lettuce alongside my peas even though they are in different groups.

When you are working with permanent raised beds if you have a pest or disease problem in one bed you're going to have that pest in all your beds because they are so close together.  Unless it's appears to be more of a fungal type soil problem specific to that bed.  In the case of fungal soil problems (or a weed problem) I will occasionally rest a bed and try solarization.  But you are really better off just replacing or diluting that soil with fresh soil and being done with it.  This is possible in raised beds but nearly impossible on a larger scale with field crops.

Soil solarization is a non-chemical method for controlling soilborne pests
using high temperatures produced by capturing radiant energy from the sun.

We used to cover the beds with road fabric and only uncover the beds
we were planning to use, resting the others while controlling weeds and pests.
Regarding nutrient depletion, there are heavy feeders (fruiting plants) and light feeders (legumes).  If you are planting a heavy feeder in containers or permanent beds which have had the same soil in them for many years you are going to need to add nitrogen no matter what.  

My Organic Fertilizer Stash

Because beds can only take so much new compost, I turn to more concentrated sources adding blood meal, bone meal, potash, worm castings and biochar every year before I plant and then follow up with additional slow release Garden-tone throughout the season.  When choosing blood meal(N), bone meal(P) or potash(K) over a balanced fertilizer, you should follow the N-P-K guidelines for your intended crop.

Blood meal was added to the right side for cucumbers.
The bean plants closer to the right show greener foliage than those on the left edge.

I do consider rotations when planning my layout each year.  In beds where I am getting consistently poorer performance regardless of what I am adding I will plant peas and beans in them while continuing amendments for a year or more while they catch up. 

Beds prepared the same and seeds planted on the same day

Another rotation consideration is to try to find a bed that they do better in because of sun, wind and water patterns.  The differences are subtle but consistent and each of my four corner beds have a prevailing issue related to one of those. The eight beds in the middle are much more reliable.  

The prevailing growing conditions in my garden layout

  Our prevailing wind is from the west  but is blocked somewhat by trees making the northwest corner the breeziest.  The sun is high on the horizon at our latitude but the trees to the west cast shade on the south west corner first late in the afternoon.  The garden has about 12 inches of grade from east to west but the easternmost beds get some additional rain from the sidewalk on that side.

So I do rotate crops to an extent.  For instance, potatoes.  They've been in the Tater Patch, the Dahlia bed, the regular raised beds, and containers.  The Tater patch has hosted potatoes, cantaloupes, summer squash and Dahlias.  Yes, there are limitations to the extent you can rotate raised beds, space, growing conditions and priorities cause me to change my layout each year.