Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Independence Days update: June 19, 2012

Above: Part of our vegetable garden as of June 16.

We received about an inch and a half of rain at our house in the past week; not enough to end the developing drought, but maybe enough to keep it from getting much worse. Meanwhile, the warmer than normal temperatures, lower than usual relative humidity, and the approach of the summer solstice have combined to cause my lettuce crop to stop growing and start drying out or to bolt (go to seed). Growing full-sized lettuce heads in St. Louis, even those of short maturity, isn’t that easy. Springs are short and warm up too fast; fall often starts out too warm and ends early because of lack of sufficient daylight hours and/or turning too cold. I like lettuce enough to keep growing it, but over the years the amount of square feet I devote to lettuce is shrinking in favor of crops that better handle the weather. If the trend of warm March weather continues, I may try planting it earlier and see if that leads to success.

I’m ready to give up on spring-planted bok choy and mustard greens as these bolt before becoming full-grown due to hot weather and long days. Fall plantings can be chancy too if we experience hotter than normal weather in August and September. If I can get the seeds germinated, the fall crops last longer, sometimes well into December though they stop growing by mid November. Collards, kale, cabbage, broccoli, and turnips withstand heat in May and June much better than the before-mentioned green leafy crops so are worth growing as spring crops; some of the kale and collard plants live through summer to provide summer and fall greens. The appearance of self-sown bok choy in the squash bed has gotten me to wondering if I might do best with that crop by starting it in early June and allowing it to grow over summer to mature in fall. It’s proven to be rather heat-tolerant as long as daylight hours are decreasing.

Planted: a week ago I moved some of the self-sown bok choy plants from the squash bed into their designated location in one of the greens beds. They seem to have taken despite increasing heat and breezy to windy weather over the past week. Yesterday I planted popcorn seeds, the last crop to plant before a round of fall planting in August (unless I decide to try a fall crop of potatoes after I dig the French Fingerling potato bed later this week).

Harvested: the last of the spring lettuce crop; shell peas; snow peas; collards; broccoli; turnip greens and roots; nasturtium flowers; dill; plums; a few potatoes that had grow up from pieces left in last year’s beds, dug up as I was preparing the beds for the popcorn crop. I also set aside some black walnuts that fell out of the neighbor’s tree onto our backyard, as I learn how best to remove the hulls.

Waste not: I’ve been boiling water for tea and cooking rice in our solar oven since we are getting a lot of clear to partly cloudy days, avoiding use of the electric stove and electric rice cooker for these tasks. About two weeks ago I baked two loaves of bread in the solar oven and achieved success. The key was a clear day, careful aiming during the first few hours, and cooking for several hours (as I recall they were in the oven six hours or more). Our solar oven heats up to between 300-350F on a clear day when it’s properly aimed.

We still haven’t turned on the A/C even though we are now experiencing highs in the mid 90sF. Nights have been running in the upper 60sF-low 70sF so we have been able to sleep well without the A/C. The St. Louis National Weather Service office hasn’t declared a heat advisory yet; our usual practice is to not turn on the A/C until we are under that or an excessive heat warning. Last weekend when I was digging the beds for the popcorn, I seemed to be one of the few people willing to be outside in the heat. Naturally I took breaks and drank plenty of water so as to stay safe.

I attempted to avoid waste of a cheap digital watch by putting in a new battery and getting the broken plastic watchband replaced with a flexible metal band. However, after a few days water vapor got into the watch and corroded something, rendering it useless. Mike pulled out the battery and the movement and took off the replacement band. I’m planning to purchase another cheap water-resistant digital watch (useful for my Stream Team work); I’ll save the watchband and battery for it when needed. Mike took the case; he thinks he could make a wrist-mounted compass if he finds a compass small enough to fit into it. The good news is that the jeweler I bought the watchband from is resizing my wedding ring and doing repair work on both our wedding rings, thus ensuring their continued life.

Want not: I finally received my birthday present from Mike, a copy of Peter Bane’s new book The Permaculture Handbook. This wasn’t Mike’s fault. The book was supposed to be available in February, the month of my birthday, so he pre-ordered a copy for me last November. Copies are just now being shipped.

Eat the food: more stir-fries with various greens, turnips, or snow peas, served atop Missouri-grown rice. More salads with the lettuce, dill, and nasturtium flowers from my garden, and Missouri-grown onions. Mike sauteed the garden peas with the new potatoes for a nice side dish. We started eating the remainder of last year’s kimchi so there will be space in the refrigerator for the sauerkraut Mike will make from the cabbages when they are ready in the next few weeks.

Build community food systems: nothing this week.

Skill up: that’s why I’m reading Peter Bane’s book!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Independence Days update, 6-11-12

Above: this year's pale purple, glade, and yellow coneflowers in glorious bloom.

Today we are experiencing the first decent rainfall in the last month. Since all the rain barrels filled to overflowing from being empty, it appears that a half inch or more has fallen since the rain began. Considering that I had measured only about a quarter inch of rain in the preceding month, today’s rain is a big help. Combined with rather cool temperatures forecast for the next few days, at least for June in St. Louis, it means very little watering outside of the container plants will be needed this week.

Mike and I have been watering for multiple hours each day for the past couple of weeks (me the vegetable gardens and a spring-planted perennial border, him the mycelium-inoculated mulch piles and logs), in order to keep plants and mycelia alive and growing. We are fortunate that St. Louis has a steady water supply from the Missouri, Mississippi, and Meramec Rivers available to permit us to do this. We also collect roof runoff in six 55 gallon drums sitting under our downspouts, used primarily for watering container plants and also as a backup source to drain into the rain garden during drought periods. The rain garden receives its water as overflow from one set of two linked barrels and also directly from half of the roof over our front porch. This weekend I noticed that the great blue lobelia and jewelweed plants in the rain gardens were wilting from lack of water, so I emptied the two sets of two linked rain barrels into the rain garden. Each was around half full, so the rain garden received something in the vicinity of 150 to 200 gallons of water. The water in the other two barrels fed some new trees, shrubs, a grapevine, and chocolate mint plants I added this spring as well as the collection of subtropical and tropical plants in containers. I had just used up the rest of the collected water two days ago, so today’s rain is most timely!

Planted: hull-less pumpkin seeds. I noticed that some self-seeded bok choy plants have appeared in the butternut squash bed. These are progeny from last year’s bok choy plants. This week I’ll move some of them to where the current bolting bok choy plants are, to become the fall bok choy crop, and leave a few others to be companions to the squash plants. I’ve successfully raised bok choy seedlings over the summer for fall planting in the past, so I have reason to believe this strategy will work. I’ll collect seeds from this year’s bolting plants as well.

Harvested: garlic, potato onions (a type of perennial multiplying onion, tasting like yellow onions), topset onions (another type of perennial multiplying onion, also called walking or Egyptian onions), lettuce, bok choy, snow peas, shell peas, dill, nasturtium flowers, plums. I’ve held off on harvesting collards and kale so far, but this week I’ll start on them.

Preserved: I froze some more plums.

Waste not: we are doing just fine so far without air conditioning, though I will note that it hasn’t gotten real hot yet. The house has not gone above 83F, and that was a couple weeks ago during the hot spell the last weekend of May. This weekend we left the house open rather than close it up it the morning when the high was forecast to be around 90F. My theory has been that the house would warm up more slowly if we didn’t let the hot outside air in, waiting until after sunset when temperatures cooled to re-open the windows. Because we’ve had the house sealed, the effect has been to also keep generated humidity in the house. It felt better, we discovered, to allow low-humidity air to keep moving through even if it may have raised the interior temperature a degree or so above what it would have been if we’d closed the windows in the morning ... and I’m not sure it got any hotter after all. We’ll have to try this when the dewpoints are in the 60Fs or even 70Fs, more typical of St. Louis summers, rather than in the 40Fs to 50Fs that they have been this summer, to see if it holds true then as well.

Want not: we bought a used fruit press, a small one suitable for home tincture pressing and wine-making, and another used 5 gallon glass carboy for wine-making.

Eat the food: more homegrown salads and more stir-frys with the homegrown bok choy and snow peas. We also shelled and ate the shell peas sauteed in butter (delicious!). We’ve been enjoying fresh plums as dessert, removing inhabitants beforehand as I described last week.

Build community food systems: nothing particular this week.

Skill up: I’m mulling over how to attach a chicken coop to the south side of a garden shed and construct the coop in such a way as to use solar heat to keep the chickens more comfortable in the winter. Basically the coop would be designed as a small solar greenhouse. Constructing the two will be a fall project. I already have a location in mind.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Independence Days update: June 4, 2012

Above: 'Kinemontpas' lettuce on the left, 'Pirat' on the right. These are the butterhead lettuces featured in the salads we've been eating.

On June 1 I heard the first cicadas of the year. Like everything else this year, it’s happening three weeks or so early. Except that I have only seen one Japanese beetle so far. Usually by now Japanese beetles are clustered thickly on rose-family plants and on other plants they like. Perhaps they are on the rugosa roses in the back of the back yard, someplace I haven’t been since I mowed around them 2 weeks ago. The mole population is high; I suspect the moles, little grub-eaters that they are, are feeding well off the grub cycle of Japanese beetles. Keep up the good work, moles!

Very little rain here in the last four weeks. The good thing about lack of rain is the grass slows down, so I can spend less time mowing and more time on more enjoyable, and fruitful, garden work. The bad thing about lack of rain is needing to water the vegetable garden. Since it’s been warmer than normal on top of drier than normal, I’ve had to add a lot of water. Even then the butterhead lettuces have suffered. They are finished for the season. Luckily I also grow more heat-tolerant lettuces that will be in future salads.

On to the report!

Planted: Midnight Black Turtle dry beans, an edamame-type soybean, and black-eyed peas.

Harvested: the height of the spring harvest season has arrived, early as everything else is this year, so this is a long list. Lettuce; bok choy; one variety of garlic; snow peas; shell peas; shiitake mushrooms; apricots; two kinds of plums; dill; nasturtium flowers; anise hyssop; spearmint; peppermint; New Jersey tea; lavender. We’ve been eating the remaining heads of store-bought Chinese cabbage, or I would have been harvesting more of the greens I’m growing as well.

Preserved: I froze some of the plums, in hopes of getting enough to make plum butter this fall after it cools down sufficiently to not mind heating up the kitchen. I dried the anise hyssop, the mints, the New Jersey tea, and the lavender.

Waste not: I’m learning how to use the apricots and plums, despite all the apricots and all of one plum variety being inhabited by one or more worms. (When you grow your own organic, unsprayed stone fruits, worms are hard to avoid.) What works is to cut open the ripe fruit, remove the pit and inhabitants, and then wash each fruit half well to remove the part next to the pit that the inhabitants messed up. Ripe fruits so processed taste as good or better than any purchased fruit. Interestingly, the ‘All Red’ plums, a small round plum, have no inhabitants so can be eaten straight off the tree, while the ‘Hollywood’ plum tree has its fruits inhabited. Why the difference in insect inhabitation? Offer any guesses as a comment! We’ve pursued the usual activities such as composting, plus Mike plugged more logs with oyster mushroom spawn and spread the remaining spawn into more of the wood chips in a small shady area next to the house. I’ve lost a few excess pounds, enough to fit into a favorite 28 year old silk skirt that I’m planning to wear to the summer weddings to which we’ve been invited. We still haven’t used the AC.

Want not: long ago the top to the above-mentioned silk skirt fell apart, so I looked for a suitable dressy top at the Scholarshop, a local shop selling donated clothing to help fund college scholarships. I found and purchased an excellent top set for the skirt and have all the rest of the items needed for the outfit already, thus avoiding purchasing anything new for the occasion.

Eat the food: salads featuring home-grown lettuce, dill, and nasturtium flowers. Stir-frys featuring home-grown snow peas, a few shiitake mushrooms that have popped up despite the weather being warmer than they like, and frozen Jerusalem artichokes from last year’s crop along with the remaining store-bought Chinese cabbage. A delicious mustard-style potato salad, with wasabi substituted for the mustard.

Build community food systems: I’ve been answering a friend’s questions on composting.

Skill up: I think learning how to make the insect-inhabited plums and apricots edible qualifies.