Sunday, August 30, 2015

The slow transition to autumn

Here at Living Low Acre, the slow transition from summer to autumn is underway. Some of the leaves on one of our dogwood trees have changed to their fall colors. Birds such as robins eat the ripe berries; I walk over broken berry parts on the way from the house to the vegetable garden. While most of the leaves are still green, they are taking on the washed-out tint of the transition.

I had intended to include a photo of the dogwood leaves as proof that my digital camera again works and also because the leaves turn to a beautiful red color that I thought you all would enjoy. However, although the camera works again, Blogger is not responding when I click on the photo button to add a photo. Bad Blogger! Although I suppose that someone who insists on using a 14 year old computer should not complain about a relatively small thing like that.

Anyway, regarding the camera, it turns out that when I put new batteries in it, the batteries were the wrong chemistry. For some reason it does not work with ordinary, non-alkaline batteries. While I had read that in the owners manual, that was a few years ago, and I had forgotten to pay attention when we bought a pack of non-alkaline AA batteries recently. At least those batteries can be used for flashlights and clocks.

Yesterday I planted seedlings of four varieties of lettuce as well as bok choy, kale, collards, and mustard greens. While I can grow all but the lettuce by direct-seeding into the garden in early August, I prefer to raise and transplant seedlings of these larger plants. I have enough thinning work for the next week as it is since the radishes, arugula, and turnips that I sowed in the middle of the month are now large enough for their first thinning.

As for the lettuce, I have not been able to grow it from direct-sown seeds in our August heat, even when I have sown the seeds during a cool spell when direct-sowing of root crops works. Lettuce seeds need to be cool to germinate. Apparently I have not been able to keep the soil cool enough for them to sprout at this time of year, when they need to be sown if they are to mature before it gets too cold for them to grow. I’ve read in different places that freezing lettuce seeds for a few days prior to sowing them helps when sowing them in summer for fall crops. Since I have a cool basement in which I can hold a flat of lettuce seeds for long enough to germinate them, I have not yet been tempted to experiment with freezing the seeds and then direct-sowing them.

While starting seeds in the cool basement works, it has its disadvantages. The major disadvantage is that the lights under which I hold the flats are not bright enough to produce stocky seedlings. Even though I hold the flat in the basement just long enough to get most of the seedlings up and growing and then put them on the front porch where they get more light, they grow long and gangly. Long, gangly seedlings are difficult to separate from one another when I prick them out into cell packs to grow on. As they grow, they tangle together again, making it difficult to remove them from the cell packs without breaking them or the other seedlings tangled together with them. Then, too, I have to keep them watered and growing during July and August heat. Keeping them in a shaded spot so they stay a little cooler helps, but it also promotes more long, gangly, tangle-prone growth. On top of that, I didn’t start the seedlings soon enough this year so I had to transplant them before their roots had filled enough of the cell space that the root ball was easy to handle. And now the weather pattern has changed to a hot, dry pattern, with highs around 90F / 32C predicted for the next week, so I’ll have to keep the seedlings well watered. It will be worth it, however, to have the lettuce for salads in the fall and the greens for stir-fries into early winter. I’ll let you know the results.

Speaking of the transition into fall reminds me that I want to write about how we minimize our use of fossil fuel heating. Although I’ve been promising to get back to the human-powered tools series (and I will, one of these days), with the fast cool-down we get here it’s not too soon to post on this topic for those of you who might want to start looking for things like warm sweaters and wool blankets. Yes, I know it sounds odd to think about heating season if it is as warm where you are as it is here while I am writing this. But St. Louis almost always records at least a few low temperatures near 40F / 4C before the end of September, and sometimes lows close to freezing. And most years we have our first frost around mid-October to the first week in November. If all goes as planned, I’ll have the post on keeping warm with a minimum of fossil fuel use up before the end of September.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Rain, rain, rain ...

Here I was planning to start my post with a photo as I usually do, but my 10 year old digital camera has decided not to work. It's always something. Still, it seems only fair to catch you up on what has been happening here at Living Low Acre during the summer.

And that has been rain. Not a lack of it, either. When I last posted at the beginning of June, we'd had a somewhat wetter than average May that contributed to my being slow to get the beds of summer crops planted. No problem, I thought. Plenty of time to plant during June. Well, 10.8 inches / 25+ cm of rain later, I found myself near the end of June with most of eight 100 square foot beds still to be planted. Luckily the rain slacked off enough during the last week of June and the first week of July for me to get all those beds planted, barely. And they are producing well. I have almost forgotten how much digging went into that effort. Good thing because then I'll be willing to do it all again next year.

If you think 10.8 inches of rain in one month was a lot, you're right, but it wasn't as much as some parts of our area received. The official weather recording station for St. Louis is roughly 10 miles to the southwest of Living Low Acre. It recorded a record June rainfall of 13.4 inches of rain.

Nor has the rain stopped since then. I measured 3.0 inches of rain in July; the official site measured closer to 5 inches. Since August 5th, I've measured 4.7 inches of rain, and again the official station has recorded more than I've received. Just one of those weird weather anomalies, I suppose. Our water utility must be crying the blues; no one is running lawn sprinklers this summer so they won't make their usual profit for the year off of that. On the other hand, landscapers are mowing anytime the rain stops long enough that their mowers don't sink in the mud.

I'll have numbers later, but at this point I can say that harvest has been overall good, other than the carrots (which the rabbits decided were theirs instead of mine), the peas that I planted too early and didn't weed well, and the onions that rotted in the July rains. Of the calorie crops, a particular interest of mine, the popcorn crop looks good so far and the bed of potatoes that I am currently harvesting will yield close to 50 pounds when I finish with it in the next couple of days. It's been cool enough this month to sow seeds of turnips, arugula, and winter radishes; had the camera worked I would have included a photo of the seedlings which promise fall and winter goodness. In a week or so I'll plant the seedlings of lettuce, mustard greens, collards, kale, and bok choy which will complete the fall garden.

The excessive rains mean I have had to mow the lawn here at the Acre a lot more often than I could do by human-powered means. With that plus the demands of keeping up on weeding in the vegetable garden and all the pruning that isn't getting done on the various trees and shrubs that need it, I have to face up to my own limitations. When we bought the Acre, I was in my mid forties. 13 years later, the acre feels a lot bigger than it used to. Much meditation during the winter will center around how to make maintenance of the rest of the Acre easier than it has been, and how to incorporate more pollinator, bird, and amphibian and reptile habitat into the redesign.

In other living low news, a friend of mine sold me a beautiful antique ladies pocket watch that he had acquired at auction. If you haven't been fortunate enough to see a pocket watch made 100 years or so ago, please do at least search the web for photos. Not even the most expensive watch now made can match the beauty and functionality of the everyday pocket watch of a century ago. I have wanted one for years but until now I had not had the chance to acquire one at a price I was willing to pay. It's an interesting coincidence that I bought it so close to the time when John Michael Greer's narrative of Retrotopia is about to begin. I'm sure it will be in fashion on the train to our destination. Please check him out!

With this post I am embarking on an effort to make a short weekly post on the happenings here at the Acre, interspersed with the longer, more in-depth posts that have been the mainstay of this blog. Thanks to you, my readers, for the inspiration to write more often, for taking the time to read my posts, and for your thoughtful comments on them.