Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fall Planting Guide

This year's garden wasn't as big in square footage as some of our past gardens for a variety of reasons (big tree removal and a busy summer), but it was somewhat saved by a three row, late summer planting of beets, chard, and arugula.

I don't know how many of you like to eat boiled greens, and actually there should be a fancy French term that would make them sound better.  Boiled Greens.....if I didn't know that they were so good, I wouldn't have anything to do with them either.  What is so good about them, you might ask?  Well they are easy to grow, fresh, and full of vitamins, a good source of calcium and fiber.  And.....basically not fattening at all if you don't put a pound of butter on them.

There are a lot of crops that you can plant in the late summer/early fall that will give you another crop.  Most people look at you strangely if you tell them you just planted another row or two in your garden, and it is late August or early September.  But that is fine.  The weather is typically warm enough to allow the seeds to germinate quickly and to grow well, but not so hot that they plants get stressed from lack of water, or become strong flavored from the heat.  You won't get a second crop of sweet corn, or any watermelon etc, so don't even think about it.  You can get great crops of salad greens (lettuce, cabbage, arugula etc.), and boiled greens (verts bouillis..... as the FrAnch are fond of saying...) (chard, collard greens, beets, spinach, mustard greens etc.).  If you had known and planned well, or have a time machine, you could probably get a second crop of peas.  Onions will over winter...beets and chard will be very mild flavored from growing in cooler weather.  We have had chard overwinter, but it usually in the really cold weather.

Sometimes, in late summer or early fall the stores have moved the seeds to the back of their storage room, or have gotten rid of their stock of seeds completely.  This can be a frustration.  We get our seeds from Mountain Valley Seeds, and they are always ready to ship.  They ship all of their seeds in airtight mylar covered zip baggys, so they are protected from light and moisture.  If you keep them in a cool place the seeds will last for a long time.  Also, Mountain Valley ships in quantity if you want.  So if you think you will be eating a lot of one variety, or want to plant a small field, they are the ones to order from.

Here is a good guide to fall planting that you can save to your computer as a PDF or print or not.  Not only does it give you an idea of days to harvest, but also of frost tolerance and of other characteristics.  For instance, it shows that beets have a better flavor when grown in cool weather.  We have noticed that broccoli is mild and sweet when grown in cooler weather, and gets a really strong taste in the heat of the summer.  I haven't planted a late crop of broccoli, but we noticed that the second growth after the main harvest was always better tasting than the main crop.  I don't know if our plants were water deprived in the heat, or if it was the heat itself that gave it the strong taste, but the second growth was always better.

I guess that is about it for now.  Happy harvesting! 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Why Bother?

It is the end of the season, just about.  Our garden was interrupted by  the partial removal of a large locust tree, and as a result of a busy spring and summer, and other projects around the house, I didn't plant the garden that we have had for the last few years.  We did get the raised beds planted, and I got some late chard, beets, and arugula planted in the main garden.  But that is OK.  Now we are contemplating a move to a house with a small farm, or a really, really large and overgrown yard.  We are contemplating raising chickens, milking goats, raising and even more of our own food, and I have to ask myself why I bother.  It is better that I ask that question first, and have some kind of an answer ready, because a lot of people ask me why, and sometimes I flounder with my answers.
When I started this blog several years ago,  there were multiple, immediate crisis' going on in the financial world and I felt that this might be a way to help make family members more aware of how dependent we all are to institutions and infrastructure that might fail, or that we might not be able to access, for any reason.

Time has moved on.  The crisis of Lehman Brothers has morphed into the Eurozone crisis..... and that will probably move on to something else.  More immediately,  we have had children out of work for extended periods of time, others that struggle to make ends meet as they raise families and try to complete their schooling.   So our family wasn't at the economic center of the hurricane, but they got plenty of wind and rain and 'power outages'.  

So in the here and now I find myself contemplating the future, contemplating a move, retirement, and a completely different life.  And so the question:  'Why bother?  Why do you want to tie yourself down.  Don't you know that you can drive to Costco (at probably any given distance) and get more food cheaper than you can raise it, and much easier?  Why do you want to bother?'

Part of my love for the rural and pastoral is a love for peace and quiet.  Part of raising a garden or raising stock is about a connection with my past, with Grandparents, and Great-Grandparents, patient, hardworking, full of faith and hope.  When I am digging, hoeing, planting, gathering, weeding, building....I remember stories of lives and times gone by, and I hope that I can live up to their standards of conduct and faith.  

Part of it is the good things that you raise. And you know how clean the lettuce is.  You know how much (if any) sprays were used.  What you pick is fresh and at it's peak of flavor and nutrition.   It is good not to have to run to the store every time you need an apple or an onion- you always end up buying other things too.  

Economy, nutrition, nostalgia, contemplation, and peace of mind.  Your mileage may vary, and gardens and stock care might be just a big pain in your backside, but I guess these are some of the reasons why I bother to raise a garden, and why I'll probably go to the bother of gathering eggs, and milking until I'm too old to raise a shovel.

(P.S. Here is a Prairie Home Companion audio clip on small town life and gardens supplied by Mike - {Thanks Mike} )

Raised Beds On the Cheap- The Frugal Farmer

I ran into a nice video on building raised beds with recycled pallet wood.  Your mileage may vary in that you might not be able to find pallets with the same dimensions.... but you are smart and can probably adapt this video to other scrap wood that you might be able to acquire.

Enjoy.  Our raised beds are made from cinderblock and are probably more durable than wood, and we are pleased with them, but they cost more, and they were quite a bit of work to build, especially the capstones.

Also, re-claiming pallet wood: