Saturday, August 31, 2013

Catching Up

It's been pretty busy over here; first we went on vacation- we've been taking a trip out to Glacier National Park in Montana every year, since 2008. I can't get enough of the place... it's like going home every time we go there. We spend almost the entire time hiking; this year we logged just over 60 miles for the week. Whew!

When we got back, the garden (as expected) was in full swing. My mom housesits for us when we're away (THANKS MOM!!) and she did her best to keep up with everything. There was, however, a zucchini hiding from her:

                Feed Me, Seymour!

So, as soon as we got back, we had to hit the ground running. I picked, blanched, and froze three pounds of green beans, and have been cycling pounds of zucchini through the dehydrator. I also had to scramble to get the apples that were starting to fall, and canned up some pie filling and applesauce. Blackberries are off the charts as well, so many pints of jam were canned up during the week after work.

Now the pears are here. I picked a bunch the other day and I'm just waiting for them to ripen a little bit more before I can them. I'm thinking I'll put them in a medium syrup with vanilla... mmm.

Plums are also on the way- the tree is loaded and I'll be up to my ears in those in another couple of days. I've scavenged the few early ones and have them soaking in some vodka; I'll give them about a week, and then strain out the spent fruit. A shot of that, plus a little simple syrup in a glass of seltzer makes for a nice treat after all this hard work!

True to form, my tomatoes are just putzing along. I have 3 (would be 4 but I ate the first one) reddish ones on the vine, and oodles of green ones just taking their time. I'll be stopping by the farm stand down the road tomorrow, to see if they have any uglies boxed up and ready for sauce. I nabbed a flat from them last week ($18 for 10 pounds of organic heirloom beauties!) and had a batch of sauce in no time. I like using my crock pot for stuff like this; I can put it on in the morning before work and when I get home it's pretty much ready. Beats standing over the stove all day- it's still too warm here for that!

What's your favorite thing to put up for the winter?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

2+1 equals... 13?

After we had the first batch of pullets for a few weeks, I realized that everything I've read about chicken poop is true: it's stinky, and they make a LOT of it. I'm a big proponent of composting, so my original plan was to add it to our existing bin and let it turn into the magic that is compost.

Without getting into the technicalities of composting -we'll save that for another day- I'll just say that the chicken manure and associated bedding (straw and/or alder shavings, in my case) wasn't breaking down as fast as I expected.

What's a girl to do, you ask? Easy! Get Rabbits!!

I'd been kicking around the idea of adding rabbits for a while, anyway. They're a great addition to any gardener's yard: they don't take up a lot of space, are easy to take care of, and in general are pretty friendly little critters. They also love to eat garden trimmings and weeds. Their manure is on the other end of the spectrum from chickens where composting is concerned; it's considered a "green" and doesn't have to break down as long before it can be used in the garden, if at all.

So, with logic and chemistry on my side, I picked up two rabbits from a woman on craigslist. Meet Barley and Hops... they're Satin rabbits, known for their shiny fur. Satins are also a fairly large breed of rabbit, and are generally raised for meat as well as their pelts.

Barley (L), Hops (R)- 10 weeks old.

Male rabbits, referred to as bucks, I've come to find are pretty gross. I didn't know that going in; I either missed that part during my research or failed to grasp what "spraying and other undesirable behavior" meant. Either way, if I had to do it over again, I'd skip bucks unless I was planning on breeding. Which I wasn't. Then.

Anyway, fast forward about a year. The boys are full of raging hormones and I'm thinking, well... what else do you do? Sure, you can get rabbits fixed but that's better done early on and not later. So, I did some searching and found this lovely lady:

Stretching out on a plastic tub. Big Gal.

She goes by Missy, Linnie or Mama, depending on the day and who's talking to her. I don't think she cares that we can't decide on a name; her previous owner didn't actually name her, and we got her at 10 months old. She's a California Giant- a rather big bunny. It's reported to be safer for the doe if she's larger than the buck, if you're planning on breeding.

We did some math, checked dates on the calendar, and picked a breeding date for her and Barley. He's got gorgeous cinnamon colored fur, and has a much friendlier disposition. Granted, we're (gasp) planning on raising the offspring for meat, but on the off-chance that I'm not up to the deed when the time comes, I wanted to make sure we had a marketable and friendly pet-quality end product. We put the two together, and voila! Our rabbits did what rabbits are known to do...

...and 28 days later, she had 4 kits! If you haven't seen the photos, there are some over on the facebook page. There was one tiny hiccup in all of this: I had the rabbits all housed together in floor pens, inside a 7x8 dog kennel that we converted to a rabbit hut. I didn't realize how determined a buck could be- Hops climbed over the 3 foot divider and into her pen- fortunately I happened to look out the window just in time to see what was happening, so I ran outside to separate them. I was worried he'd do something to the new kits; it didn't occur to me that he was going after Her.

Hops wasn't happy about the interruption; in fact, he went full Monty Python on me and took a chunk out of my arm in a fit of rage. Seriously, folks- I couldn't process what was actually happening at the time: I just stared at the rabbit hanging by it's teeth from the end of my arm. Totally Bizarre.

So, off to exile in the mini cooper Hops went; I noticed that Barley was starting to get a little twitchy, too, so I moved him out to his own hutch so Missy could raise the kits in peace. It's been fun watching the little guys grow up, and it's definitely given me a lot to think about. Typically meat rabbits are dispatched around 12 weeks, so at just over 4 weeks, we're not even halfway in yet. The ethics and challenges of raising one's own meat is definitely a topic for another day.

Speaking of 4 weeks... you may have noticed that she had her first litter 28 days after being bred. Guess what just happened? Yep- Hops was on the money and she just gave birth to another litter- 6 this time. I never would have chosen to breed her back like that, but people do and it certainly happens in the wild. I would have preferred to have more experience with the first round of kits, but everyone... all 13 of them... seem to be doing just fine. The boys will have to stay in their apartments for a while longer, though!

Mama and... Mini Me.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Rainy Friday

It started raining here on Wednesday evening; a rare thunderstorm rolled through and kicked off what's stretched into 2 full days of on/off rain. I have to admit that as an East Coast transplant, there are few things I really miss besides a good, loud, shake-your-windows kind of thunderstorm. One of my all-time favorite memories is sitting on the front porch of our house in New Jersey with my Dad, just watching a downpour and listing to the thunder. We'd laugh that it was the angels bowling... and I sure loved it when they'd get a strike! It's funny, the things that stick in my memory.

Anyway, rain in early August is an oddity here in WA. Usually you can count on July and August being dry, whereas the rest of the year is pretty much a crap shoot where the weather is concerned. On one hand, this bout of rain isn't a bad thing- most of the local farms have just finished putting up their hay, so they're in the clear. It's also kind of nice to have the dust washed off of everything. On the other hand, though, rain while it's still warm sets the stage for a fungal explosion.

Since I don't use chemical sprays, I'm anxiously watching the forecast. As of right now, they're calling for it to clear up tomorrow and get sunny again. Best case scenario, things will dry out before anything nefarious takes hold. Our apple and pear trees are the most at-risk; both fruits are susceptible to scab and that's a real challenge to keep in check without sprays. Good sanitation practices are key, but all it takes is a few warm and wet days to set the stage for a major outbreak. If one sets in now, we'll have to be extra vigilant come fall to make sure that next year's fruit isn't impacted. This means raking up and burning all of the leaves and spent fruit (whatever we can't use) as our compost pile doesn't get hot enough to kill out the spores. If you're not familiar with it, scab causes unsightly cork-like patches on the fruit and can damage the overall health of a tree. The fruit, while it won't store well on it's own, can still be peeled and cooked up or frozen.

In the veg garden, powdery mildew is a distinct possibility. Once things dry out, I'll be watching for any white fuzz to show up on leaves, so I can remove any offenders and get them down to the burn pile. Catching it early is  great control, but the key with any fungal infection is to make sure you're not mucking around with things while there's moisture on the plants. I can't stress that enough... if you get the spores on your hands, and the conditions are right (read: wet) you'll just spread it around the garden yourself. Not Good. Insects and birds can also transport the spores, which is why removal can be helpful.

I've not tried it, but I have read that milk can be used (diluted 1:1 with water) as a foliar spray to control powdery mildew. I don't remember all of the science to it, but something in the milk reacts with sunlight and as it breaks down chemically, it's anti-fungal for about an hour or so. Garlic is also a great anti-fungal; I used to use garlic tea on my roses for black spot control. A simple recipe is just to boil a cup of water, and pour it over a few cloves of garlic that you've either chopped up or squished in a garlic press. Mason jars work great for this. Cover it and let it steep until cool (I always left it overnight just because I'd forget about it) then strain out the garlic and put the liquid in a spray bottle. For bad infections, I'd leave it full strength. If you're shooting for a preventative (keeps the aphids away too) then dilute it with an equal amount of water before you bottle and spray. This will be stinky-- you have been warned.

Even with those natural options available, I still hesitate to mess around with spraying things if I can avoid it- but that's just me. In my opinion, it feels easier to just snip something off and get rid of it, rather than fight (and possibly spread) something around the garden.

What do you do for powdery mildew or other fungal issues in your garden?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Garden Tour

I think it's kind of funny that I decided to start a blog in the middle of garden season. I mean, yes- it makes sense given the scope of the blog... but it's that time of year where as soon as I get home from work, I'm outside until the sun sets. Since I try not to blog when I'm at work, this creates a bit of an issue with getting posts up in a timely manner.

So, I created a video tour of my veg garden for you! Feels a bit like I'm cheating, but at least you know where I'm hiding out when I go quiet for a few days. I do ramble in the video, which totally feels weird to me, but it seems passable for a first attempt.

Oh, and going forward, I'll orient the camera correctly so it fills the screen... Hello, Learning Curve! For now, I'd suggest not trying to watch it in full screen mode, as it gets all blown out and pixelated.

Anyway, hopefully it's not too dorky and you all like it. I think it's a good medium to take advantage of when I don't have a lot of time, but it's your opinion that matters most. Let me know what you think!

PS: I've come across some compatibility issues with Blogger comments and the Chrome browser... I'm working on getting that fixed. In the mean time, if you're trying to leave a comment and you can't, try switching to IE. If that doesn't work, email me and let me know so I can have the nice folks over at Blogger troubleshoot it some more.