Sunday, September 28, 2014

No mushrooms yet

We drove out to our mushrooming spot, where we found 30 pounds of funnel mushrooms last year, and stumped around a bit. Nothing yet. Talked to a muzzleloader with a big pickup and a big white beard, and he said shaggy manes should be out with the next good rain.

Annie and Earl came along, and Annie worked hard tangling her stretchy leash in every possible shrubbery.

Then we came to to more tomato servitude. To which I must now return.

And ALL the beets and carrots are sleeping in their bins of damp sand in the boiler room.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Slaves to tomatoes

Tomatoes continue to rule the kitchen. C. has been canning them plain, cooked down into sauce, and mixed with herbs and onions and stuff into spaghetti sauce. The three food dryers are cycling loads of roma-types into lovely dried scraps of concentrated tomato-ness. The cherry ones go straight into the freezer in gallon ziplocks. I've been helping with the daily sorting – beefy, cherry and roma; green, ripening and ripe; and tomatoes with issues (slug bites, deer bites, Earl bites, bad spots).

C. spends a whole lot of time dunking them in boiling water to peel them. If we could find the damn Foley food mill (we call it the Foley Fuckerhead after a story I read once in a women's magazine in a doctor's waiting room) we could dispense with the peeling, but it's in a box someplace, or at the Ancestral Home. Right next to the cheese grater and my favorite Hawai'ian shirt – items that were apparently lost in the move.

As she processes the tomatoes she scoops out and saves some of the seeds. Saving tomato seeds is a messy job. (So is everything to do with tomatoes. The cutting board, the counter, the knives and my hands are all slimy with tomato guts.) You let the seeds ferment for a week or so in a little dish with some water and grow a little mold on top, then rinse them carefully several times. The gel around each seed washes off, and the good seeds sink to the bottom. You dry them and store for spring. We usually buy seeds, too, but it's smart to save some.

Anyway, big bowls of tomatoes are everywhere. We try to keep up with them, and try to keep Earl from sneaking them off to eat on the rug. And there are still some on the vines in the garden.

I worked on digging all the beets and packing them in damp sand in a bin in the boiler room today. I was pleased to have actually finished something – when C. reminded me there was one more bed of beets to dig. So tomorrow I finish something. And the carrots, too.

The rabbits played in their yard and ate beet greens. I've been plucking them a little – Fondue last night, and Plumb Bob the night before.

C. got out a six-gallon crock and is making sauerkraut, as well as something called kabachkovaya ikra, a Russian squash spread that should be interesting. Her first batch of ketchup is delicious. And her carrots are gigantic!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

September weekend

I'm working on the veg storage area in the boiler room, hauling pallets and bins and sand down there. C. is cleaning the chicken house.

Since I was working outside the rabbit room, I opened the window into their yard so they could frolic and nibble some grass. They were skeptical. I brought Smokey out, and put the other guys on the window sill so they could look (and hop) out. They're still thinking about it. That's Crystal there, with the ear tufts.

No, Azul isn't dead. He's dust bathing, after a nice hose-down with cold water. Alpacas are weird.

Maltese dogs are also weird. Jazzy is doing her hair, while rolling in something nasty. Two birds,
don't you know.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Harvest season at the old school

The frost last week did more damage than we realized. The beans are pretty much finished. The squash and cucumbers, too. And tomato alley has lost all its leaves on the north and west sides. The fruit is mostly undamaged there, but is dropping off.

This side of the tomatoes has gone from lush to tattered.

So we're gathering all the green tomatoes from the damaged plants, and bringing them in to ripen. The undamaged plants are doing fine and we're leaving the fruit alone, as the forecast promises lows in the 50s for the next week. And the kitchen is full of bowls and baskets and boxes of tomatoes in every shade from lime to ruby (as well as the Russian ones in blacky purple). We're still having tomato sandwiches most nights.

I've been working on the boiler room in the basement, preparing to store all our root crops down there. We're going to set up big bins on pallets on the concrete floor, and fill them with damp sand and beets and carrots and Jerusalem artichokes. The spuds will go in milk crates or burlap bags.  I figure the winter will show which areas of the boiler room and the coal room are best for each crop. (That means we don't have any fancy devices for measuring humidity and are flying by the asses of our pants.)

Here's the outside stairway to the boiler room. The door and window were boarded up, and I finally had to use the reciprocating saw to cut the door loose from its frame. It took forever to get the job done, and I was stumping up and down the inner and outer stairs getting three different saws and the drill and an extension cord and vise grips and crowbars and wedges and screwdrivers. One at a time, of course, because I was sure each trip that this tool was going to do the trick.

The acoustics down there are awesome, so I burbled little tunes, and hummed and muttered and (let's be honest) bitched as I worked. At one point a frog or toad joined in with a huge, wet, echoing "rikkit" that filled the space. We did a little duet. I looked for him by flashlight to no avail. But I was pleased to have a giant frog in the basement, and hoped he'd stay out of the spuds.

So I finally free the door (to vast and echoing applause) and gather my tools for the climb out when – plop – a tiny brown tree frog lands on the step right in front of me.

I guess he liked the acoustics, too.

I opened the door and let him out.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The heating season begins

We started the first fire of the season in the big wood stove, and pulled the plastic curtain over the doorway. I was tempted to just throw on a sweatshirt and go to bed, but C. wanted be warm while she canned beans and tomatoes.

So I fired up a few scrap 2x4s and it's a balmy 66 in here now. Earl is happy. He likes a fire on a cold night. Me, too.

I made brownies, and now am off to bed. C. is finishing the tomatoes.

Wouldn't that frost you?

Out of the blue came freezing temperatures. It seems crazy early to me, but the old hands in the Elk-Camden Garden Club said it was just about time. Pat said they used to get frosts by Aug. 7 on the hill where she lives. Then, three years ago, it got warmer, longer. Last year's first frost was in late September or maybe even October. (I'll look through the blog archives.)

But you can't fight the weather, so we spend several hours yesterday draping covers over the tomatoes, beans, squash, peppers, cucumbers.  We used all the plastic we could find, as well as tarps and flannel sheets.

What a beautiful garden! And ready for the magazine photo shoot.

Good thing we did, too. The frost damaged both uncovered and covered plants, but I think we managed to save the big double alley of tomatoes and maybe half the pole beans. And some of the plants that were nipped pretty badly, like the squash below, seem OK on the lower leaves and fruits.

The beans on the right are frosted; the ones on
the left look fine.

It's supposed to freeze again tonight. We beefed up the coverings.

I don't want to lose those hundreds of pounds of tomatoes on the vines, but, confidentially, it would be a relief to let the garden go for the winter. She's a slaver driver come fall!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

From Thermopolis to Elk

My brother and his wife and daughter stopped by on their way from Thermopolis, Wyo., to Seattle. Nice folks, and we had a good time. I gave them the old-school tour, the roof tour, the pump-house tour, the ballfield tour. Em was here, too, and we talked about everything from gardening to chickens to yap dogs to whiskey. Jasmine alternated yapping with stink-eyeing. Earl adored my bro, but we couldn't convince him to take the big speckled jackass back to Wyoming. (Earl is the speckled jackass, not my brother. My brother used to be freckled, and I often considered him a jackass when we were kids, but he's grown into a good guy with a sneaky sense of humor. I like him. And I'm sorry I was so snotty to him when we were little.)

Now that my nephew is in Seattle we should see more of them.

C. dug spuds, and I packed them away to cure in milk crates (for air circulation) in Nadine's room. In a few weeks we'll move them to the boiler room for winter storage.

Today we hit the monthly book sale in Deer Park and found another five boxes of reading matter to help get us through the approaching winter. C. packed a batch of green beans into jars and I ran the pressure canner. She plans to spend the next several hours as slave to tomatoes.

The goats are going under the fence into the orchard. And when I tighten up the bottom of that stretch of fence, they go over. I'll go out later and move the line and tighten things up. I must remember that, with goats, fences are more guideline than laws. I'll try to leave a weak spot on the other side of the building away from the orchard, so that when they feel they must escape, the little tree stubs are safe.