Sunday, May 31, 2015

Sun. Rain maybe later

Rototilled the middle bit between the garden and orchard, about 20x50 feet. Sod, rocks and knapweed, on a slope. Only lost the tiller down the hill once, and it boobled along and finally fell over and died. Nothing was damaged.

C. came over wearing her magic apron and produced tape to hold the throttle lock up, which is a big improvement. Damn thing kept sticking wide open, and I had to let go of the handlebar with my left hand and pluck at the lock on the right handlebar while the tiller heaved and throbbed at the soil. That's how it got loose and ran downhill.

So now we rake the grass, roots and rocks out, then till again. That's my setup for raking, above. I pull the sod up onto the screen, then sit down, rub the dirt through the screen and toss the quack roots into a bucket.

Tomato Alley, before mulching. We gave the plants a whole lot more room this year, thinking they will produce more if not crowded. It goes against the grain, though. Those black bags are duck bedding mulch from A.

Finished Tomato Alley with 13 more plants (Balconoyya, Stupeechka, and two from home-saved seed,  identified only as "perfect" and "nice medium") for a total of 38. (Yes, our record keeping is a little weak.) We have probably 50 more tomato plants in need of a bed.

C. planted cucumbers, shallots and squash.

The guineas are grounded, for crimes against cabbage. They can come out when the cabbage is big enough to defend itself.

Good day. Worked hard. Sleep now.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Rain, then sun

We've got 25 tomato plants in the ground: Prudens Purples, Opalkas and San Marzanos. There is probably room for another 15 in the row, then we'll have to make a new tomato alley. Rototiller time. Lo.

I go out, dig seven holes, stir in alpaca poo, pinch the lower branches off each plant, poke it in a hole, cover and water. Then I go in and rest and cool off. Seven is the most I can do. Eight is right out.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Early morning thunderstorm

And it was a doozy! Lightning blasted, right out our big windows, over the Little Spokane River in the valley below. Thunder baboomed. Four dogs climbed shivering and panting into my lap. And the rain cut loose in a wild windy rush. The worst of it was over in about 20 minutes, and the dogs stretched, shook themselves and wandered off.

This morning the garden was nicely wet – but too wet to rototill or plant tomatoes. So I'm laying soaker hoses out in the garden beds, and making more by poking poly pipe with an awl. I've got odds and ends of all different sizes of pipe and fittings from estate sales over the years, and am working to integrate it all into a working system. It's slower than buying everything new and compatible, but a whole lot cheaper. It's the hippie way. Probably have to pick up some more fittings to connect everything.

I'm finding the USU PVC plan to be a little unsatisfactory. They don't glue the pipes together so they can disassemble it all at the end of the season – but the damn things tend to come apart under water pressure. It's probably that our garden is on a slope, or maybe I'm not strong enough to cram the pipes into the fittings hard enough, but it's really unpleasant (or maybe comical) to be fiddling with soaker hose at the top of the garden and have the pipe pop apart to spew water at the bottom. I rush to the bottom and fit the pipe back together, and it pops loose up top. And I've staked the line with rebar and buried sections under the path and you'd think that would be enough. Feh. So I'm glueing some sections together, as well as any place that wants to come loose. Storage be damned.

Anyway, a lovely overcast day, great for working outside.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Weather change

Em and Richard were up yesterday, and we engaged in a great deal of rock moving, carting off the rock piles C. made when expanding garden beds, and adding to the terrace walls. They got Richard's ancestral tiller going, and I plan to fire it up tomorrow, maybe, and carve out a couple of new beds, extending the garden onto the orchard side.

C. made cream of asparagus soup. Delicious with homemade rolls full of fresh oregano and thyme.

Today started out hot (yes, we slept in) and C. planted and mulched a big square bed of Cocoa Noir beans, and a double row of rattlesnake pole beans on the tall wire trellis. I repaired a bunch of garden hoses, and found some more soaker hoses and hooked them up. Made a couple of tree cages for the apple trees and the Siberian tree shrubs. A. and Q. came up with a load of duck bedding for garden mulch, and took a load of stuff to the dump. Awesome on both counts!

The sky clouded up and a cool breeze started, with occasional thunder sounding in the distance. C. went to finish brushing Pants the goat, and I went along to hold him. I wore a mask but will probably be all stuffed up for a week like last time, but he fusses and fidgets and it goes much faster with a helper. (Yes, I took one for the team.) Then I donned the haz-mat suit and applied bug powder to Pants and the sheep in the barn as rain came pouring down, banging on the tin roof.

Asparagus soup and new rolls for dinner. The dogs had rice with frozen pod peas from last year's garden and chunks of cheese. Pretty good day.

Goat as chiropractor

So I had my ass kicked by a 60-pound goat. Nothing new there.

We'd caught Pants and C. was brushing the cashmere off him. I stayed away as goat dander makes my head swell to tremendous size. And after an eternity of brushing, C. decided to give up for the day. I "helped" her by unclipping him BEFORE taking the halter off his horned head, and he tore away, still wearing the halter. My bad.

He's leary now, harder to catch. I go over to the big red maple tree by the barn, pull down a branch and rustle tasty leaves at him. He eyes me with his creepy horizontal pupils. I try to look innocent, and babble happily, falsely at the sheep and the remaining goat, feeding them handfuls of leaves. He is suspicious. (Can't imagine why.) Finally, watching those dumb sheep suck down those succulent leaves becomes too much. He comes close, halter now around his neck like a leash, and scarfs lovely red leaves – I grab the halter with my left hand, still holding the branch with my right. Right then I know it's not going to go well.

He takes off and my feet go up and I hang on tight to branch and goat, spinning counterclockwise like one of those aerial rope dancers – only faster and with less grace. (I feel like a spinning top or a dreidel…the spinning don't stop when you leave the cradle…) I'm not sure how many times we go round, at least twice, before I go flying off into the dirt. Oof.

I haul myself up, surprisingly unhurt. In fact… my back feels a little better. I have a few minor scrapes is all. I limp into the house and bring out the big guns: alfalfa pellets. Pants comes over politely, eats pellets and lets me remove the harness. Guess I showed him.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

May garden

C.  planted bright lights swiss chard, and replanted a lettuce patch that Earl had dug up. And she watered a bunch of stuff with the hose as we haven't got the soaker hoses set up yet.

Last night she planted shallots, and a patch of spuds in the orchard area.

I grubbed out a bit of sod at the north end of the garden after work, laboring (slowly!) to extend the beds into the orchard. We've tried rototilling the sod but that just chops the quack-grass roots up, and every stinking chunk starts a whole new plant. Still, digging the grass out by hand is going to take us old people a thousand years. It might be worth rototilling and planting now, and pulling little quack weeds up for a year or two or six.

We've got a bed set aside for tomatoes (but not all of them!) and for a double row of green beans (but not all of them!) but then we're going to need more space. I'm not sure how this happens, except it has something to do with someone with a dad and granddad named Gardiner.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Extra day off

Graduation is over, and my summer hours have officially begun. I'll have Mondays off until September. I couldn't take yesterday, though, as my buddy Tom and I had to produce two life-size cardboard figures of the college founder in silly costumes for a dinner. I did enjoy sitting with them on the back of the golf cart as we delivered them to the HUB.

So I took today off, and boobled around the garden. The winter squash seeds C. started didn't come up, so I started a few more and stowed them in the greenhouse. It's getting late for them, but maybe fall will be easy and they'll have a chance to mature. Transplanted a couple of tomatoes still under the lights in the house. Worked on the garden watering system. It stops just short of the last two beds, but I think I'll call it good for this year. Below, one line runs through the asparagus bed. I've drilled tiny holes in the pipe, so it sprays out and up. You can kind of see the spray. It's my custom asparagus fountain.

It's all three-quarter-inch PVC as our water pressure isn't very high and I wanted to make sure the lines would carry enough water, even at the ends of runs. It is not beautiful, but if it works, that's enough for me. Hose-dragging is no fun. Basically, the line runs from the top of the garden down along the central path. There's a valve and hookup for a soaker hose on each bed to the south (left in the photo), and every two beds on the north side. The lines to the north are buried where they cross the path. We've spent probably $120 on new pipe and fittings, and the rest will have to be scrounged. We have a bunch of soaker hoses I'll get out, and will probably have to fabricate more of the fountain lines from some black poly pipe we have. 

Mo the goat went to the vet in the back of the Subaru. Some nasty goat lice moved in on him in the last couple of weeks, and he's had a bad reaction to them. His skin is all lumpy and crusty and sore looking. He got an antibiotic shot and a sprinkling of some hideously toxic pesticide powder. We'll have to sprinkle the other big animals as well, weekly for a month. Gah. If we'd caught it earlier, or if he hadn't been sensitive to them, we probably could have found a less drastic treatment.

C. spent the afternoon battling big rocks at the top of the garden. She's got half a dozen out of the hole, but there are a still few wedged in the bottom. She's saving those for tomorrow.

Otra the chicken has gone all broody, and has been faithfully setting on an empty nest for about a week.
We don't have a rooster, so she's unlikely to hatch anything chicken-like. But my egg lady, Charlene, grabbed a dozen big fertile eggs right from under her chickens' butts yesterday and put them in with my usual order, and I hustled them home and poked half of them under Ms. Cranky Pants. She pecked me a few times, then fled, bitching furiously. She continued to bitch as she shoveled in millet seed in the chicken yard. "Squap!" she said, with her mouth full. Peck-peck. "Bock squap!" Peck-peck-peck. She spent a few minutes eating, then was back on nest duty. Chicks would be fun, and Charlene has a wide variety of breeds – Aracaunas with neck beards, Polish birds with chrysanthemums on their heads, all kinds. We could use more hens, but not more than one rooster. But it's way to early to be counting them.

Here's Otra in the posh nest she built in the pet-crate nesting box.

And here's what sunrise looks like out our back door.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Beautiful weekend

We had sun, we had rain, we had a thundershower. It was great. Working out in the garden in the rain means no mosquitos, and no sun hat. I gotta have that sun hat if it's hot, and then I'm responsible for the dang thing: keeping it attached to the head when it's windy, banging the brim into fenceposts while I'm working, remembering where I leave it when I ditch it for a while. I'm not a hat person, but it keeps me from melting or becoming heat-addled. And it's a pain.

So it was great outside, and we planted some sun chokes (or Jerusalem artichokes) that had been packed in sand in the hallway over the winter. They detected spring outside and were trying to get out of the bucket and into the garden. They would have made it, too. Very determined plants. (You'd know that if you every tried to eradicate them.) We grow them for the animals, mostly, though they make a nice crispy addition to salads.

They're prepared to go through the brick walls if necessary.

C. transplanted some Early Jersey Wakefield cabbages, planted two kinds of lettuce, and puttered and dug and such.

I worked on the hang-tooth fence with our fancy new drill that Em and Richard got us. I LOVE THIS THING. Smooth. Powerful. Made for people with normal sized hands, too. All of that and it makes a cool noise, lights up, and looks like something out of Star Wars.

It was a fine weekend.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Short weekend

So my garden club, the Elk-Camden Garden Keepers, had a booth at the big garden show yesterday. I spent some time helping set up and take down, and sat around and watched the knowledgeable make sales and take money. I'm not wise enough or smooth enough or strong enough to be truly useful, but I was there anyway. I think we did well, but the numbers aren't in yet. I'm tired just from watching everybody else work so hard – Barbara and Pat were on their feet all day, the rest of us pitching in for a few hours.

Picked up an excellent old wheelbarrow at the Goodwill Outlet for $6. Bought asparagus from the Boy Scouts' roadside stand.

Working on the fence a bit, but it's hot out there in the sunshine. Might shear that last sheep, or pluck some bunnies. Em is coming out to putter.

C. planted the rest of the yellow sweet Spanish onions, and carrots, spinach and mustard-spinach. Mulched them with shavings from A.'s duck pen.

Yes, the sheep was sheared! Suddenly the big, puffy black sheep is a tiny thing. And that means the sheeply pecking order must be reestablished.

The bare patches are where Tricks' fleece "rooed" or shed; the rest was sheared. Weird peek-a-boo effect, no?

One sheep walked right at the other, who backed up, and around the field they went, head to head. Then THUNK! a head-butt. Eventually they settled down. Yes, we do plan to catch Savvy and neaten up that haircut. Maybe she'd like some peek-a-boo spots, too.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Meanwhile back at the ranch...

I'm back at my desk job, but C. is (of course) gardening. Yesterday she planted carrots and beets, and transplanted another chunk of tomatoes into pots in the greenhouse. We've got over a hundred tomato plants, for sure. As usual, I'll sneak around and give some away at work and get the number down. How many plants do we need to feed two people all year? Even with delicious broiled tomato sandwiches for supper all August-September? I suppose we should always have extra in case of a poor tomato year.

Last year was a poor green-bean year. Haricot vert (ooo, aren't we fancy, with the French) are a staple around here, for people and for dogs. And for deer, last year anyway. White-tailed bouncing bastards.

Actually, we do not grow haricot vert. We grow good ol' 'Merican green or string beans, variety rattlesnake, a shorter, chunkier variety with purple splotches. The French version, predictably, is more elegant: taller, thinner and, like the werewolf of London, always beautifully dressed. Effete bastards, haricot vert.

I need to get off to work before I insult anyone else.

Monday, May 4, 2015

May already

I took a couple of extra days off work this weekend, planning to kick the ass of the goat-moat fencing project. And shear sheep. And 50 other jobs.

Started out by making chocolate-chip-oatmeal-pecan cookies. That's how I launch a weekend. Mmmm. The demarara sugar makes them crunchy, and doubling the chips is always a good idea.

Savvy the sheep had complained of heat and itchiness, so she was first. Plus, she's friendly. Our newly sharpened and tweaked shears were brought into play. Our shears are rusty old things picked up at estate sales over the years, and while we could get them sharp, the blades were never "set" right, so shearing has been frustrating. And the sheep get pissed. But we prevail. (Sure, we could hire it done for $35 a sheep. But a) we like to do things ourselves, and b) we don't have $70.)

She looks a little moth-eaten, but cooler!

This year garden-club good-guy Jim (who has a couple of sheep and is really good at sharpening things) worked on the shears, with some help from garden-club good-guy Tim (who has over 50 Jacob sheep – you know, the spotty ones with crazy horns), and they cut a whole lot better. It still took us a few hours to do one sheep, and the shears weren't exactly right so we again used scissors for the fussy bits, but it was a big improvement. (Yes, I know that champion hand-shearers can do 50 in a day, better than one every 10 minutes. Pfffft.)

So one sheep is done, and though I might have walked funny the rest of the day, I was pleased. Savvy was feeling better, too. I caught her making lamby hops down the hill. Goofy old thing.

C. left her a little tuft on the end of her tail, lion style. 

I transplanted half of the remaining flat of tomato seedlings into larger pots and moved them into the greenhouse.
Tomato plants get set deeply into their new pots to develop roots all down their stems, so they look pretty puny here. They'll grow like crazy in the next couple of weeks, and we'll set them deeply again into the garden beds.

Saturday, all sheared out, I devoted to fencing. I'm putting up that old snaggletoothed picket fence we picked up from a guy a couple of years ago. There's about 150 feet of it. It's roughly in place and I chopped out a section to build into a gate.

C. continues to work and dig and plant and mulch in the garden every day. Did I mention that both her dad and granddad were named Gardiner?

And the peas are up. Below, these are Cascadia edible-pod peas and the sticks are their trellis. The striped line is the soaker hose that will hook up to the watering system that I'll get back to as soon as the goat moat is up.

So Sunday I fenced a bit, but wore out early. And Monday I took the box of sheep shears over to Tim's place for some more tweaking. No wonder we've struggled with them – the blades have to be beveled just right, and slightly cupped, and the edges have to meet just so, touching only at the spot of the cut. It helped a lot to look at a pair of Tim's for reference. We've never had a new pair, just old beaters. When they are just right, you can take great swaths of wool off with – almost – ease. I think I learned enough to keep three pair cutting well now that they are set correctly. Two pair proved too out-of-whack to ever cut wool again, so they'll be garden shears or knife blanks or something.

I owe these guys some cookies, at least. Sure appreciate them sharing their expertise. I should film them for YouTube so other folks can learn this stuff. There is nothing on the web about adjusting hand shears. I looked and looked and cussed and then played Bookworm.

Anyway, my long weekend is over, and I'm beat. Ready to go back to the comfy desk job.

The Dogly Dinner
The dogs had brown rice, hardboiled guinea and chicken eggs, and tofu wiener bits for dinner, in a lovely red sauce (the water from soaking the dried tomatoes we ate in our mac-and-cheese).