Monday, July 23, 2012

Blessed rain

We have been so rainless for so long that I forgot what it is like to wake up to the sound of thunder or open the door to the smell of rain. This past week, the weather gods blessed us with several little soaks and one big one. Maybe watching those Native American rain dances on YouTube helped.

I made salsa with some of my garden Roma tomatoes and was rather disappointed over how bland they tasted. Is it because of the weird weather? Or from being watered from a well instead of the sky? Or maybe it's the potting mixture they are growing in? There is not much I can do about the first two suppositions, but Saturday my SO and I did something about the last: brought in a trailer load of horse manure. I am fortunate to have a source that is not only free but mixed with wood shavings instead of straw, so it is virtually weed seed free. My little trailer held enough to top off five of the seven new beds, and I threw a little of my own homegrown compost on top, to add some starter microbes. Next weekend we hope to get another load. We'll let it all cook, then in the fall, stir it up and distribute it to the other beds. That should help.

Speaking of weeds, I spent some time clearing the area around the gas meter. It tends to get a bit overgrown, to the point where in the not so distant past, I have received a nastigram from the gas company about it. But now it is all neat and tidy.

Pea gravel is not my favorite landscaping tool, but in this case, it is perfect. I hope the meter reader appreciates my efforts.

This is the first year I have grown hyssop, and almost every bee that visits it has orange saddlebags loaded with pollen.

And did you know that goldfinch eat the seeds of lemon balm? I did not until this past week. Or if I did know it, I had forgotten. Why watch TV when there are so many interesting things going on in one's own backyard?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A garlic for every purpose

A few years ago, I did not even know that there were different varieties of garlic. All I knew about was what is in the produce section at the grocery store and elephant garlic (which isn't actually garlic at all). It was probably someone's blog that got me interested in growing garlic, which exposed me to the fact there are lots of different kinds. I haven't comparison-tasted the varieties I grow (although last night I used the Georgia Fire in a stir fry and it was not very garlicky at all), but I did select them with a purpose.

Bogatyr - good keeper, important if you want fresh garlic in the spring

Broadleaf Czech - small cloves, all-purpose, good flavor

Georgia Fire - for fresh use, in salsa and salads, nicely hot

German Extra Hardy - HUGE bulbs, perfect for roasting

I have found garlic to be extremely easy to grow - lots of information may be found here. This year's crop was my first attempt at square foot gardening - planting nine cloves in a square foot worked out perfectly.

I'm 95% sure these are labeled correctly

Ordinarily, one removes the flower heads when they appear, to force energy into bulb formation. Which I did this year, but a couple popped up later than usual and formed bulbils.

From what I read, the bulbils may be planted like the cloves; the first year they get larger but don't form bulbs. They are dug up like bulbs, though, and replanted in the fall, and the following year become bulbs. I thought about trying that, just for fun. The garden has not been very fun this year, however, and right now I am not in the mood for experiments.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


I'm hoping to indoctrinate my granddaughter in the joys of gardening, even though this has not been a very joyful year. Right now, this very minute, it is RAINING! Please, a little more of the same.

I have been harvesting the garlic one variety at a time, to help me not mix them up. This is the Georgia Fire. Two down, two to go.

I keep finding chipmunk caches, this one on top of the strawberry planter. Also, the other day I saw a dagnabbit RABBIT in the yard. I blame the meter readers for not securing the chicken wire when they pass through the gates.

I spotted a few butterflies recently, but they don't hang around for portraits. Plenty of yellow jackets, though. This one is on the fernleaf dill.

This week's CSA box was better than usual: two ears of corn, two personal-sized eggplant, four tomatoes, lots of sweet peppers, a couple of cukes (destined for cold cucumber soup), the usual summer squash (froze zucchini soup base with some), some beets, and still more lettuce.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Chin up

If I were dependent on my vegetable garden to feed myself, I would starve. The tomatoes are ripening - I had the first ones in a BLT tonight - but those first ones also suffer from blossom end rot. The rest look healthy but puny, despite my ministrations. The onions are better than last year, but not up to expectations. The green beans have yet to blossom.

It is hard to believe that, once upon a time, I fed a family of four year 'round with the literal fruits and vegetables of my labor. Three things contributed to that success: chickens (and their manure), two acres of lawn (lots of grass clippings for mulch), and regular rainfall. Gardening thirty years ago on a mini-farm was easy - and cheap! Suburban gardening, not so much.

Last night I felt very discouraged about the whole yard - the brown grass, the thirsty plants, the kinked up hoses, the weeds that survive no matter what. All I could see was the bad and the ugly. (My mood was influenced by a bit of sciatica, no doubt.)

Today I can focus on the good: the arborvitae that provide privacy, the juniper that will shade the west side of my house once they get a bit bigger, the Georgia Fire garlic (nine for nine!), the redbud trees that completely recovered from that late frost, the sweet potatoes that thrive in the heat. And the strawberry, asparagus, and raspberry beds all look great.

Last night I was ready to turn the yard back into one big lawn and take up golf. Today I'm looking forward to the changes I will make next year. Gardening may be good therapy, but sometimes it makes me feel schizophrenic.

Thursday, July 05, 2012


I was waiting for the 100+ degree heat to subside a bit before watering the garden tonight, but procrastination pays off.

For once, my yard was under the bright red splotch on the weather radar. The rain gauge registers just under 3/4" but I'll round it up since some of that rain was falling sideways. Despite the wind gusts, nothing blew over.

A few days ago, I discovered that the visiting chipmunk was not just digging in my containers, but burying as well. Here and there, clusters of sunflowers have sprouted. Hope the little critter appreciates my efforts at providing him seeds and a place to cache them.

Back to the subject of my previous post, Jason wanted to know if raw milk is "prohibitively expensive," a relative term. Not counting the one-time expense of the share (which I cannot recall offhand), I calculate that the boarding fees translate into just under $7 a gallon. If I had a family to feed on a limited budget, I admit this would give me pause. But I was the kind of mom who drove miles into the country to purchase fresh (pasteurized) goat milk at a premium price, because at that time (30 years ago) cow milk was blamed for triggering allergies.

As for the taste, at first I did not think the flavor was all that different. But recently, when I had reason to sample some store-bought (organic) milk, I was horrified at how bad it tasted. It literally tasted like sh*t. Between that and the pasture-raised meat I buy, I am so spoiled. It would be hard to go back.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Mooove on down the road

As I've posted before, I own a share in a dairy herd, for which I receive fresh-from-the-farm milk. Today my SO and I braved the fallen branches and dead traffic lights to participate in a tour of the farm.

Pasture's Delights is a small operation, with a growing herd of Ayrshire cows. The animals were friendly, once we lured them out of the barn with apples.

The farm itself was formerly a commercial dairy, so the infrastructure was there, although since the cows are fed no grain, the silos are empty. The soil, dead from years of so-called modern farming methods, has been brought back to life. The animals are pasture-fed, receiving no supplements other than minerals and, in winter, molasses, so the milk is free from hormones and antibiotics.

As part of the tour, we were shown the milking parlor and the sanitation methods were explained. The underside of the cow is wiped down, the individual teats are dipped before milking to clean them and afterwards to close them to bacteria. Samples of each milking are kept in a freezer and once a month, a sample is sent to a lab for testing.

The cows are mechanically milked once a day - it currently is not cost effective for them to milk more often - and the milk goes from cow to stainless steel containers. From these containers, it is poured into a larger tank with a spigot where it is "jugged". The plastic jugs go into a freezer for a few hours, to quickly cool the milk, then into refrigerators.

The farm did not escape damage from the recent storm. Not only did this tree go down, a shed roof fell in (no cows were injured). While some of the surrounding communities were without electricity, the farm had power.

When I started receiving my share of milk from Pasture's Delights, I initially was afraid to drink it because it is not pasteurized; the brainwashed me kept screaming "Danger! Danger!" The logical me found this a bit ridiculous, as milk from commercial dairies has a longer supply chain and the milk is mixed in with the milk from other dairies and shipped long distances, all of which provide many opportunities for contamination in spite of pasteurization.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the issue of "raw" milk. There are news stories that hype the dangers without providing the whole truth. Pasteurization came about because of poor sanitation methods, not because milk is intrinsically bad. When properly handled, fresh milk is perfectly safe to drink.

I am a proponent of farmers being able to produce and sell raw milk directly to the public, but I am NOT in favor of raw milk being sold in stores. For one thing, that would extend the supply chain, inviting opportunities for mishandling. For another, agribusiness would butt in and squeeze out the small, local farm operations. Also, there is value in knowing the person producing the food you eat.

While obtaining fresh milk is more expensive, I consider the money spent to be an investment in my health, similar to buying organic produce and pasture-raised meat. On the other side of the ledger, I have returned to making my own yogurt and have experimented with making cheese, plus I no longer take a calcium supplement.

Some of you don't approve of my consumption of raw milk, and I understand that. But please respect my right to choose my food sources. It is important to me to know where my food comes from and how it is produced.