It is a delight to be the spouse of a hard working, joy-filled, dedicated man.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

I'm An Inventor!

It was time to give my little seedlings some much needed ventilation. But I ran out of room to put the box fan on a table top or shelf, on the floor wouldn't give the seedlings on the shelf much air movement, soooooo... ingenious Lanny hung it, with, of all things, bailing twine. (You can do very little here at Victory Farm and Gardens without bailing twine, it's sorta mandatory.)

When I turned on the fan I realized I had better than a fan, I had a swirling fan, spreading fanness everywhere! Go through the pictures really fast and you'll see what I mean.




for a different view....

more spinning

more spinning

more spinning

Uh, hold it a sec,

Is that an oscillating stand fan in the background?
Sure nuf is.
Just sittin' back there, doin' nuthin', not plugged in, not working. But I'm sure it wudda worked if I had tried it.
Oh, well just 'cause I didn't need to invent a twirling spinning fanning thing doesn't mean I didn't.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Those Are Great Tips!

I want to thank Arija, for her tips on dealing with the pumpkin patch, it sounds a lot like how I build my garden beds. I would love to have been able to construct the pumpkin patch like that, unfortunately it would cost $1,700.00 in alfalfa (lucerne) alone. The patch probably doesn't look all that big in the pictures but there are nine four foot wide strips of just the beds with three foot (or wider) grass walks in between. It is over 15o feet long.

Not to mention it would be a calling card for every deer in the county, I struggle with the four lurking around already. Which by the way if I feed them all year why can't I put one in my freezer any ol' time, like the sheep I raise? I feel it is a fair mother nature trade since the coyotes and bald eagle take out a couple of my lambs and poultry each year. But I digress.

The $1,700 just for mulch is not really cost effective right now, so I'll just keep hauling the free stuff that I can spare out to the patch and we'll see how that goes. I have in the past used any of our local grass hay (weed seeds and not greatly nutritious) Dirt has left over from the winter before he puts in the new.

But we are scrapping the bottom of the hay barn this year due to the unusually long snow season and chill so I'll be looking else where for my mulch this year. Dirt is rather cranky about buying so much hay right now, that to ask him to buy it for the garden, I'm thinking he'd... I don't know how he'd react, I just know I wouldn't want to experience it. I'm surprised that I wrestled this patch of pasture out of his livestocky hands.

The water in the pumpkin patch, Pumpkin Pond, complete with a pair of mallards, goes away in time to plant, so the level of the ground doesn't matter as long as Dirt tills it with the orange tractor before the rains set in in the fall. And we don't really have to haul that much water because the water is right there under the surface, just at first if we happen to hit a freakish dry spell. I have a tendency to freak out and probably water more than I need to but I probably need the prayer time anyway, God has a way of evening the score with me. If water was at a premium I would probably not water as much.

The left over grass hay that I put on, put at least three inches of mulch down around all the plants, and it sure did do a good job of holding water in. But three years in a row, that's a total of at least nine inches, where'd it all go? Not to mention the trailer loads of manure that have been hauled out there. Chips are such a nitrogen hog and cucurbits need all the nitrogen they can get their little roots on that I hate to use them to build the soil in this instance, the amount of chicken waste that I would need to put on, and those folks across the street would soon forget what the dead possums smelled like!

We have enjoyed the experiments we have run so far (that's what I like to call garden failures) and the sheep have appreciated all the pumpkins we have managed to grow that we couldn't eat. The second year I think we all turned orange.

Last year was our worst of the three years I've "experimented" even the late start first year was better than last year. But the girls and I took a once in a life time road trip (for us) at the worst possible time for a pumpkin grower, and I was horrifyingly sick just before going. The Romantic Influenza was one of my first posts last year. This year couldn't possibly be that bad!

I wish I could find the picture of Dirt's tractor's trailer heaped up with all kinds of pumpkins from our second year, it would be very inspiring to me this spring. I think I might toss around the idea of a green manure crop next winter but I'm thinking it might not work, because of the lateness of the pumpkin and squash crop.

Thanks to Arija though, her timing couldn't have been better, she reinforced much of what I said about building garden beds. Six inches of mulch material and alfalfa, lucerne, is the best mulch nutritionally. I use it as a fertilizer and soil amendment when I can slip it past the livestock man. In fact I was going to be sharing my slurry recipe in a couple of days. It uses alfalfa pellets, fish meal and Epsom salts. Alfalfa pellets are a little cheaper but still have great nutritional benefits for the garden.

Arija, and any Dear Readers from Australia, have a great day down under, hope your harvest season is going very well and sorry about your drought conditions, that has to be tough to deal with. Hey, is Bill Mollison's permaculture movement still going strong down there? Back in 1986.... Oh heck, that is another post for sure.

Good night everyone and God bless and keep you. Thanks for the present, you know who, and congratulations on the new job Miss Linda! And thank you, all you commenters and readers, I get so pleasantly embarrassed when I think someone bothers to read my silly stuff.

The Farm Tour Begins

I would love to take you for a tour of where I live. This is my world. Please go see some more of the_world, when you're done here. Hope you brought your boots, we're mighty soggy right now.

I decided to begin the tour not in the driveway as if you came here by car but in the far corner as if you came here by camera.

This is the northwest corner of the farm that we have rented since August 1985. At that time we were a family of three, Phil Dirt, Stephanie, and myself. As soon as we arrived I decided that my idea of having only one child was rather silly and our second daughter was in the making.

This is the gate that you can see in the first picture. Across the state highway you can see a big white rock and a driveway, this gate was put in when our second oldest girl was big enough to come down here and cross the highway with the horse so she could ride with her friend and practice gaming in their sand pit.

Now our youngest two use the gate to go ride with their friends. Every once in a while when God wakes me up in the middle of the night to pray, I think he might be waking me up to check fences and gates. So I trudge out here in my evening wear to make sure no one has cut through the lock. It makes for great prayer time.

This is like we are walking backwards from the corner, don't get dizzy and fall into the pond. This is all dry by late summer and then fills up again usually in the fall, this year it waited until February. We have had a lot of rain in the last sixty days, or snow that melts quick.

This is the approach to the bridge that Dirt built over the little seasonal stream of water that comes from across the highway. We happen to be the head waters of Horn Creek, the water wonders all start right here.

As you can see from this shot the bridge isn't nearly as dilapidated as it appears on the approach. I love the rustic things Dirt builds. He built the bridge long before he put in the gate. We needed it to check fence lines in the winter and spring.

If we swing around and face east you might see our driveway just beyond the fence and the buffer piece. Here in the pasture you see my roadside pumpkin patch, this has been a challenge. Timing is everything, this year Dirt made sure it was plowed and tilled before the water came.

All this water now and then in the summer I load hose on my trailer wagon and spend a good portion of the day watering in the seedlings. Another great time for concentrated prayer, not sure irrigation pipe out here would be a blessing. I'll get it worked out yet. I may be a procrastinator but I'm no quitter. These beds aren't raised yet, but I still use the wide bed concept. Everybody walks on just the grassy parts, right Fluffy and Martin?

A couple of years ago the farm across the highway was developed and now we have folks living way out here on house lots barely bigger than in the city, inches away from a state highway that has, on occasion, taken the traffic from Interstate 5 when Chehalis floods. When I work out here in my roadside patch I wonder if they enjoy the sound of logging trucks and bass blasting cars mixed with the smell of exhaust and rotting possums.

If we turn a little more and look south east you can see the "compound" in the distance, our farm buildings and our house. The log barn has brown metal roof and the house has green. In the next week or two you will see the barn up close when I take your for a tour of the barnyard.
I'll do a big swing over to the south west and you can see the spot where the girls went ice skating this winter with their nephew, Kai. Yes, that is a tire swing.
This is the deeper end of this pond and in the summer when the girls aren't taking the horses into the pond for a swim they swing on the tire swing, not for the purpose of letting go and falling into the pond, no one would do that on purpose, but they are always sporting smiles when they come in soaked accidentally.

I leave off here in the pasture with a note that, although so far it looks like an idyllic place to be, with the work, coyotes, cougars, bald eagles weasels, raccoons, possum and occasional bear it can be a back and heart breaking place to live. Intense. Yet, I am not sure I could get used to living anywhere else and there will be tears when God tells Dirt and I it is time for us to go do something else. Tears will spill even from the queen of change.


Next week's tour will be the animals' barnyard and the back pasture (unless of course I change my mind and show you something else), until then be sure and go see some other parts of this great world God made. It is amazing, the mighty hand of God.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lesson Two-ish

So I had a lot to say about raised beds or deep beds or whatever you wish to call them in my post, A Well Raised Bed, A Changed Gardener. I said that raised beds are really the beginning of season extension. (But remember, I am no expert on anything.) To review:
  • Raised beds allow you to work in your garden earlier than normal, when the soils usually would be too cold and wet, once you have them are established in the fall before.
  • Raised beds allow you to plant way more stuff in less space.
  • You can use "raised bed method" in the vegetable, ornamental or mixed garden.
  • DO NOT use any type of building material or natural material to make sides for your beds, they will stand just fine on their own.
  • Side boards LEACH nasty stuff into your garden soil and harbor bugs and SLUGS (and they often cost money)
  • Make your beds four feet wide.
  • You can "build" up a bed by sheet composting right on top of sod or weeds if you use over six inches of material.

Here are some points I would like to clarify or slip in because I forgot them:

  • Make your beds as long as you want to walk from the middle of to get a tool you left four beds over. And come on, that has got to be longer than four feet! The fewer cross paths the more veggies, flowers and herbs.
  • Cover your beds with mulch once you make them up if you are not planting right away, it protects from erosion and weeds.
  • Cover with leaves, fir boughs, grass trimmings, straw, or even plastic, avoid hay or other weed seedy material, rubber tires, your car, your neighbors house siding...
  • Hog fuel is the stuff the roadside tree trimmers mulch up in their big trucks, layered with good fresh manure it will make good soil in a year-ish.
  • Use hog fuel in your paths if they are slimy like mine. Or you may find you need hip replacements. I don't, I just think if I slip anymore I just might need something replaced!
  • Most of my paths are two feet wide. Some are wider so that I can get the wagon closer to my work but rarely are they over three feet (okay, I can not think of one over three feet, I just said that to cover my hiney if you come and find one.)
That whole four foot wide thing is rather arbitrary but I can comfortably reach more than half way across a bed that is four feet wide at the base. Sometimes, because of how much room I have in an area, the bed might be less wide but rarely more.

So here is a little somethin' more about the whole "you can plant way more in less space" thing. If you normally make a row for a vegetable and then walk next to it, you need lots of space to walk and the veg needs a little extra leg room 'cause your kinda squishing his feet when you walk all over them.

That is why on the back of a seed packet you will read, "space three inches apart and eighteen inches between rows." or some such nonsense. The row space is rarely less than eighteen inches no matter what the veg is. But I don't walk on my beds, so I am not squishing any one's feet therefore I can just make sure that the veg has its "in row" spacing all around it.

It is called equidistant spacing. Check out the board in the picture. It has dowels set every eight inches (I'm pretty sure this was my eight inch one) Dirt made it for me and I use it to mark where I put the hole for the seed, or it actually makes the holes for me. In the picture above this one, you can see I have pressed it on to the top of a well raked bed. Because I was planting garlic last fall I am using a dibble, okay the handle of my claw, to make larger holes for the garlic.

Garlic does not need to be eight inches apart. But now this spring I will come along with lettuce plants and set them in between my garlics.
Essentially equidistance looks like this diagram. If you picked one of the plants. like say that loverly red leaf-ed number there in the middleish, any plant next to it would be the same distance as the others. (It may have gotten distorted so this drawing may not be accurate. And you have to consider the base, so base to base. )
Can you see how it is a series of equilateral triangles? And around the red plant is a hexagon? It is all so geometrically wonderful and so Fibonacci, Golden Mean -ish that it can't be anything but beautiful right? You can use this set up for any distance, well it gets a little dicey at the thirty-six inch distances but I don't know anything that really needs that much room, well maybe Purr Bobb does but he isn't supposed to be in my garden.

I find that because I do not walk on the soil and it is fluffed originally very deep, and I am constantly adding stuff back into the beds that I can really tighten up plant spacings. When I companion plant it is even better space savings because someone may be a deeper rooted plant that his neighbor.

Well that was just meant to be a quick review because I wanted to begin talking about other season extenders. Raised beds drain and warm quicker but that may not be enough to get a little jump on the season.

One thing Dirt and I like to build are hoop houses. Basically it fits over one bed.

Like this one that I planted some beets, lettuce and spring greens in a couple of weeks ago. Some of the things I planted can handle the cold soils and some need a little boost, the garlic won't mind the rise in temperature as long as the day length doesn't change.

I use about a three foot length of rebar for every six or so feet of bed on each side. I push or pound the rebar stakes in the edge of the bed starting at the corners and walking off about six feet, then matching the placement on the other side.

Then I slip a ten foot section of PVC pipe over the rebar making hoops over the garden.

The ten foot wide by however long the bed is long plastic then goes on top of the hoops. It is held in place by wider pvc pipe cut length wise. It is a good idea to melt the edges of the clamps so they tear the plastic less.

If I need to work in the bed I can just roll the plastic up and hold it in place with a clamp. The plastic gets pretty dirty getting on the hoops, but I just make sure I protect the inside of the film and the rain takes care of the outside of the film.

Sometimes I get so impatient for the season that I end up with several of these in my garden. Depending on the year, I keep one up over the tomatoes with the sides rolled up half or three quarters of the way most of the time. In the fall I employ a slightly taller version (and less stable) to go over my dahlias and chrysanthemums.

Oh, by the way, that stuff right there in the front of the picture, that is hog fuel. I get it free and delivered if I chase the road crews that trim the trees from the power lines, I just give them my name, address and where I want it dumped and I get it in a couple of days.

I would love one of those giant chippers. The little household lawn and garden jobbies are a silly waste of time for the amount I need and the amount of tree limbs I deal with.
But then I really don't need need it.
Dear Reader, I hope that whether my info helped you or not or just made you laugh at some point, that you are able to get out and get gardening, even if it is restacking your supplies while the snow falls. I hope you get out to visit some of the other gardens around, there are as many styles to gardening as there are poppies in California, go see some. And let the gardener know you have come by, and appreciate the work that he or she has done.

Lenten Flowers, Lenten Psalm

Dear Reader, I hope that you enjoy these pictures. I've had flower pictures on my brain since last week when I decided that this week I would join the participants of Today's_Flowers created by Brazillian Luiz Santilli Jr., which I found at Fishing Guy's This_Is_My_Blog.

I thought for sure the flower I would have for this post would have been my much awaited for daffodils but my Hellebore with snow on them captured my eye last night.

I got home just in time, the snow was beginning to accumulate on the road way. These pictures were taken hastily last night, I didn't have much time to dwell on picture taking as I was getting home rather late with homemade burritos and handmade-from-scratch salsa on the a-little-taste-of-summer menu. The timing for last night's menu could not have been more needed.

Lenten Images

Lord God I will not be weighted down
not even with all that surrounds me.

Your perfection speaks through the ages
and is greater than all that presses in.

No matter the darkness, no matter the isolation
My heart is not dark and my spirit is not alone.

The weight of evil may seem to be a crushing thing,
But you my Lord God are more than anything.

You, Lord God, with the Word and the Holy Spirit, spoke
at the beginning of time and all that I know became made.

From you Lord God nothing can
parade in secret, all is known.

My head can lift from my cold pillow
because it is Your hand that lifts it.

There is no weight greater, no accumulated weight, greater,
than the might in Your hand, no weight causes You strain.

The icy fingers of death and destruction, though they try to surround,
fail in their attempt to crush those who know the Source of Life.

Our heads can lift and they lift to You
they lift in Your song in Your warmth.

You make our eyes shine bright
and our hearts sing Your praises.

Within You is everything.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Well Raised Bed, A Changed Gardener

The Pacific North West is a great place to grow a nice vegetable garden, it it is the only place I have ever gardened and I have been gardening for forty years.

There are some tricks I have learned along the way to make the PNW garden more successful.

The big hurdle is our seemingly short growing season. It isn't so much that there are fewer calendar days between the last frost date and the first frost date but that there isn't that many days of sun between the two. We have plenty of rain fall. Our rainfall can be as much an impediment to gardening as the lack of rainfall can be in other areas.

If you try to garden the old fashioned way or what I call the Kansas Farm Corn Row style of gardening you won't have any where near the production that is possible in the PNW. A gardener needs to learn some season extending tricks and it isn't all just about green houses or row covers.

Before you can plant you have to have prepared soil and before you can prepare your soil it has to be dry enough. One way to know if your ground has the proper soil to moisture ratio to be tilled either by machine or by hand is the squeeze method.

Take a handful of your soil and squeeze it into a ball. If it holds its shape great. Just like the picture above. But now comes the part of the test that PNW soils fail until late spring.

Pinch the ball of dirt once across the middle and see if it falls apart. (Trying to do this and take a picture of it is very hard.) The ball should fall apart like this second picture shows.

If the ball just changes shape like you pinched a ball of clay then don't touch the soil with a rototiller or a spade or spade fork. You will ruin the soil texture. You will be fighting dirt clods with roughly the same physical properties as rocks all summer long.

With our amount of rainfall and the relative cool temperatures you could be locked out of gardening for months into what can be your new growing season. Lots of vegetables can grow in cool soils and even take frosts but not cold wet gloppy soil. And even if they could handle cold wet soil you can't plant them if you can't touch your soil.

My world of gardening changed in seventy-eight when I came across a magazine article describing wide raised bed gardening. That was huge and was followed by Territorial Seed Company coming on the scene another huge change in my gardening. All of which was only slightly over shadowed by meeting Dirt in November seventy-nine. By nineteen eighty I was proficient and sold on the idea of wide raised beds for gardening and the potential for growing vegetables nearly year round in the PNW.

I've tried it a lot of different ways, boxed in, putting all the rocks in the paths, shorter bed lengths and I always come back to the simple method. Deep dig and form the beds four feet wide with two foot paths, add amendments, let it sit a bit then plant.

Building materials should not be used in the food producing garden. Railroad ties leach creosote, pressure treated lumber leaches chromated copper arsenate, regular old wood rots. If plastic bottles leach stuff into the bottled water just because it sits in a warm truck, what does the plastic board leach into the vegetable garden?

Aside from the toxicity of building materials, boxing in beds causes other pains in the neck, they harbor bugs and slugs, they make digging a big fat hassle. Trust me the soil isn't going any where anytime soon. If you put a mulch down in the harshest season, you accomplish two things, keeping weeds at bay when you don't want to be in the garden and you stop any erosion that heavy rains might cause.

We get pretty heavy rains, the water in these pictures accumulated in an afternoon of hard driving rain and a hard spurt of hail. And yet, I don't lose the shape of my beds. Even the ones that have been essentially naked for a couple of months.
Don't fall for marketing ploys designed to get you to buy stuff you do not need. Sometimes the things we are talked into in order to be "green" or "simple" are actually the opposite in effect.

I've grown so fond of what the raised beds do for a garden there is rarely a bed in all of my gardening that isn't essentially raised. Many of my more ornamental focused garden areas have sculpted raised beds, my dad would call them sad little berms if he saw them.

Raised wide beds hold far more product in less space than KFCR gardening and on a hundred acre farm space saving at first really doesn't seem to be an issue. But having the garden close in is a definite plus especially when dragging hose and equipment. In the ornamental beds, being able to cram the biggest feast for the eyes in one sweep of the eyes is another advantage.

I have raised beds that are in the same spot they were twenty some years ago when we first moved here and began building the soil. But a lot of my gardens have changed greatly, this garden here by the barn used to be the horses' winter sacrifice and feeding area. But then I turned my backyard into the ultimate lawn for weddings and volley ball games so the garden moved over one.
Moving garden beds and reclaiming dirt spilled by weeding and amending is one of the reasons I stopped putting the rocks in my pathways. The pathway is a great place for dropping the weeds and spilling a little manure, then the rotted mixture can be raked or scooped up onto the bed later. It is also a great place for the clods that do form to get smashed underfoot and reclaimed with the spilled manure.

This is one of my beds in my North garden. This garden was quite the challenge to build, it was completely scraped by a bulldozer prior to our arrival and a huge bonfire was burned in the middle of the area, I try not to think of all the things that could have been thrown on that fire. I didn't unearth too many melted this-es and thats-es and so I figure it wasn't too full of toxins. It has a giant rock that looks like the top of a mountain range and the sunken mountain range became my compost area.
Just before I began to build the soil, Dirt had a hundred sixty cubic yards of chicken manure delivered and dumped on this very spot. After he spread what he wanted out on the pasture the rest went to building the soil in the surrounding area now called the North Garden.
We put down wide strips of hog fuel, chicken manure, hog fuel, horse manure layers. Boy did the fungi grow like gang busters that fall and winter hopefully doing their job on any toxins. Then we put down taters on that and all spring and early summer piled on more hog fuel with horse manure and compost to hill up the taters. We ate potatoes forever that year!
The soil the next fall was looking promising and we planted a few over winter items and the following spring began planting enriching crops, one more year of amendments and we had the deluxe garden soil that has only gotten better and better and deeper and deeper.
I have used that method to build a lot of great garden areas without ever getting out the tiller. Just layering various materials like hog fuel, dead weeds, manures, leaves, the stuff that you would normally put on a compost pile and within a year you have gorgeous soil.
The deeper or higher you make the layers the better but if you don't make them well higher than six inches on top of sod or growing weeds then you will just have healthy sod or weeds later on . But layers seven or more inches will choke out the sod and weeds underneath.
Some folks put down newspaper first or cardboard. These days the ink they use on newspapers is soy based and not toxic. You can plant started plants in the bed by making a dish of soil into the layered compostables and setting the plant in it. Sowing seeds is a little bit more difficult but it can be done.
This is often touted as the weedless garden method if you use sterile soil ('cause I've got that much sterile potting soil?) and that is a bunch of hooey. As long as there is wind, birds and little furry creatures there will be weeds where you don't want them. Unless of course you can afford a constant supply of corn gluten to suppress seed germination, just remember it suppresses all seed germination. A weedless garden is one that is constantly tended by an dedicated gardener proficient in bending their legs.
Dear Reader I hope you find your gardening groove in our crazy spring weather, you'll never guess what it is doing right now, in the temperate Puget Sound Basin at the end of March? It is snowing, sticking and accumulating. I'll post those pictures tomorrow. I was out for the day with Dirt and the girls and it has taken over twenty-four hours to get this posted. Having a hard time keeping my eyes open when I sit.