On home vacations

One of the vacation projects was putting cement board siding on the outside of  Loven.  Ick; that cement board is nasty, but the cladding needs to be fireproof.  Now to paint it all and put the galvanized roof on…maybe I need another vacation?

Ah!  A week off from work.  The place looks really spiffed up (projects begun, projects completed, chaos swept away).  And:  I have bruises in strange places.

About a third of my work as an architect is designing second homes for Chicagoans keen to have a spot on this, the better, side of the lake.  You’ve heard about second homes, right?  They are acquired because the first home is wanting.  But me, I find it hard to ever leave my first home!  And why should I?  I would rather be home than anywhere else.

And it is just as well. There’s plenty to do.

Greenhouse #3 is even big enough to have a place to sit.

The new greenhouse layout is perfect for growing long rows of indeterminate tomatoes.  It is no secret that I abhor staking tomatoes; I have devoted many posts to this dislike, yet I still grow and stake them.  So I tried a new method on Thursday morning, as it was the best time to do it:  cloudy, breezy, and the Supreme Court was due to make its final rulings.  Instead of sitting by the radio being pissed off, I took to the greenhouse to change what I can.

This is 17 gauge fence wiring.  There are many uses for a roll of this stuff; in point of fact, I have never set a current to this wire…and I have gone through an eighth of a mile of it since I bought it.  I stretched the wire between the bows, using self-tapping screws held off from the bow just enough to allow a wrap of the wire.  Then, I stake the tomatoes by tying sisal twine to the base of the plant, stretching the twine up and knotting it over the fence wire, then draping it back down (for when the plant gets taller/more unwieldy).  Pretty simple all around.  I have plenty of screws, plenty of wire…but I ran out of sisal.

I trim to one main stalk, and am maniacal about trimming all future suckers until the plant gets about five feet tall.  Wrapping with the sisal is fairly easy.  Up twisty up, avoiding the fruit branches, loose enough to allow it to grow.  At its biggest point a plant might require up to four strings to hold it aloft but sisal is cheap.  The wire shouldn’t bend much under the weight; between the 4′ span of the bows there are only two, maybe three plants.  And they will all grow to hit the roof sooner than later.

And by the time I finished with this task (yes, doing 76 plants takes a bit of time) I turned on the radio and surprisingly wasn’t angry by the rulings!  Ah, a morning well spent.

On closing the harvest gap

Spanking new potatoes with herbs for tonight’s roast chicken

Well, that’s good:  it was for only six short weeks that potatoes were off the menu here.  These Yukon Golds made a fine accompaniment to the roast chicken we had to celebrate Father’s Day.  Potatoes this early in the season can only mean two things:  one, they had to have been volunteers (indeed), and two, the freak-warm winter had a lot to do with their early maturity.  So into a parchment paper envelope they went with butter and salt and…a stapled edge.

In order for me to repeat this gap between one potato harvest and the next, I just need wacky hot weather and to miss harvesting all of last year’s potatoes.  Uh, no thanks.  Keep the weather; Ill work on my harvest skillz.

But everything’s a mite early.  Cherries, first blueberries:  normally strawberries alone command our fruity attention at this time of year.  Roses come and gone.  First garlic pulled.  Peas done (thankfully:  we harvested 3 gallons (!) of them this weekend).

All this earliness doesn’t mean I am any happier that the new greenhouse remains a month behind my schedule.  But it’s now planted at least.  I suppose I ought to be glad the scalding temperatures of February killed my first tomato, eggplant and pepper seedlings off because it’s the second round of the same that are planted here at what fortuitously was the perfect size for transplanting.  Small mercies.

Finally!

And yes, it’s only I who could think that 76 tomato, 15 eggplant, and 6 pepper plants (and 6 artichokes, 4 sweet potatoes and dozens of chard and basil plants) mean the new greenhouse is underplanted.  It’s the layout that’s throwing me off.  The other greenhouses are oriented N-S and this new one is E-W but the beds are continuous (and all point E-W in all cases).  These beds are all 4′-0″ wide, running the greenhouse’s 32′ length.  The beds in the other greenhouses are wee 3’x6′ things for the most part with lots of paths between.  I still think the E-W orientation of any bed is best at this latitude; had the other greenhouses been planted like this one there’d be too much shadowing of the crops in the center beds.

Greenhouse building aside, mid-June is actually a not-too-busy time in the gardens (pea picking excepted).  I’m just watering and weeding now; first crops are coming out and new ones follow in the empty spots.  It’s a nice pace, frankly, just standing with the hose in one’s hand, watching things grow.

On looking for shortcuts (and not finding them)

A new garden day dawns over Greenhouse #3.

One of the (perhaps not terribly) surprising things that happens to new gardeners is learning how long it actually takes to accomplish something.  What appears straightforward (harvesting and then shelling fresh peas) is actually a sneaky time-thief that makes a person sigh with exasperation.  A half HOUR to shell two cups of peas?

It sure makes you think about the industrialization of our food system.  Frozen peas, either in baby form or those starchy large ones, are a bit of a modern miracle.  Who are all those people bent over those pea vines?  How DO they do that, if not by hand?  And how in the world do they shell them all?  If you think about the true labor involved if you were to pick and shell them by hand, no child’s plate would ever have uneaten peas.

Lincoln shell pea

But yes, that’s my back bent over the pea patches.  I grow the main 3 types:  shell, snow and sugar.  I would say shell were my favorite…by far, even if they take forever.

Lots of things take forever.  That greenhouse in the foreground of the top photo is a perfect example.  I often find my happiest days generally have me either eight feet up a ladder or on my knees in the dirt somewhere…and it’s a bonus day if I end the day having done both.  But even those days get tiring.  I was on the ladder one 90-degree day recently with the hammer drill setting the wire-lock channel to yet another greenhouse bow and it occurred to me:  is there an app for this?

An app for pea-picking might also be in order.

On small feasts

Five year old greenhouse globe artichokes actually produce flowers of a decent size

Interesting:  I hadn’t intended for two weeks to pass between postings.  Could it be a long weekend, a new greenhouse, the end of school or something else life-changing and/or burdensome that I can blame for the radio silence?  Eh, well, check off “all of the above.”  Ahem.

I am appreciating the garden just now.  Surely, if you home-grow, you work mainly from famine to feast on any one vegetable, and no matter how you try to time it, those famines/feasts between vegetables seem to work in concert with each other.  Everything must somehow ripen jointly.  (Must work on this, says the Machiavelli in me.  Where are my garden puppet strings.)

But the other wonderment that has occurred to me as a gardener is that almost every vegetable can be eaten at any point of its growth.  Why wait for the proper harvest?  My gluttonous binges on perfectly-ripe vegetables are tempered by the not-insignificant fact that I am Impatient.  (Yes, capital-I.)  So when I first see the (first of the garden to ripen) English (or shell) peas, I am eager to pull off a few to eat as mange-touts, or snow peas.  Why not.  My labor, my benefit.

And so it is that these young peas are joined with the everbearing asparagus (maybe a month left to go for my daily raids), some fresh favas (greenhouse-grown, pulled from the spots of the first “done” October-planted lettuces), the newest spring onions, and the current representative of the garlic crop (the scapes).  Everything is really flipping seasonal here.  Why not a pilaf, with some (effing) garden mint and thyme and a pinch of pantry cardamom and cinnamon, thank you Nigel Slater for the inspiration (a pilaf of asparagus, fava beans and mint from his inimitable Tender).

I think often of capturing these meals.  But they are a dime a dozen here, frankly; why brag.  My point in all of it is to get it to be de rigeur for YOU.  (Tell me:  is it working?)

On thankless tasks

Perdita and Puck joined the herd at 8:40 Friday night

They say that 95% of goat births are uneventful.  My percentages stand at 80%…Sabine’s birth was not fun at all.  Less than two weeks after that fraught event, Cricket calmed the waters by delivering these twins.  As a goat midwife, my job should simply be to wipe their faces, dry their bodies, trim their umbilici and back off to let the mother do the work.  And in so doing Friday, we stood witness to the nonevent, the simple wonderment that is animal husbandry.

2012 is the year of the white goat, apparently.  All our other goats are either chamoisee (brown w/ black legs) or sundgau (black with brown legs).

So the weekend may have started with a bang, but the rest of it felt like I was stuck in a thankless-task loop.  Another round of weeding of invasives like bindweed and bamboo grass, another grubbing with the spade to uproot the deep roots of dock, another wheelbarrowload of straw mulch to cover the potatoes and strawberries, and an assortment of other icky tasks left me feeling fairly done in come Sunday night.

I have to tell myself it’s all of a piece.  You may want to compartmentalize, but gardening, like most worthwhile things, has its fun and unfun tasks.  The overall picture is the one you’re aiming for.  A big harvest requires I grub out that bindweed, like having a baby requires I change a diaper or two (or two thousand).

But then I look around and see the fruits of my labors (the full milk pail, the delectable harvests, the funny and accomplished child) and I really don’t mind the thanklessness of it all.

On timing (not) being everything

Sabine is doing well:  the splint (not shown; she wears it at night) has helped straighten her right front leg…this pic was taken last Tuesday.  She and her mom are integrated with the herd now during the day.

I often have believed the world would run more smoothly if it ran on MY schedule.  And on MY schedule, things need to be done sooner than later.

I am not quite sure what happened (motherhood?  the onset of middle age?  moving to the country?) but my usual foot-stomping impatience has waned!  What is it, have my expectations diminished?  Have I just run headlong into that closed door called reality?  Whatever the cause, I have accepted a lot more leeway in my schedule.  “Take a deep breath and get over it” seems to be the new m.0.

The apiary.  First hive has been split; we added two more this spring; and the first hive yielded just shy of 27 pounds of honey from the first harvest

Most of the pressure that I have put on myself revolves around getting food for my CSA people.  It’s been almost two years now since I have transitioned from bartering my extras to running a year-long, once-a-week box scheme for my friends (6 full shares, one partial share).  There have been weeks where I panicked that there wouldn’t be “enough” but I have set up the shares in such a way that flexibility is a key to it all.  Yes, bread-salad-greens-milk product-eggs is standard per week, but weeks like this one (honey, chive-blossom vinegar, fresh sauerkraut, and no eggs) work for both me and for them.

I spent my Mother’s Day morning assembling the greenhouse frame.  Ah, the life of the weekend warrior-farmer.

And that’s a good thing.  I do have a life, after all, and can’t spend all my days puttering around the garden or whipping up bread and cheese in the kitchen….much as I would like to.  Sometimes, work interferes with my farm life (actually, that happens quite often); sometimes, a child must be chauffered to and fro; sometimes, I just want to get away or just sit with my book.  Having some flexibility built into the schedule is key to it all.

And with that flexibility?  I don’t do nearly as much foot-stomping.  I leave that to my crabby goats.

Willow and Sabine.  Willow is a fairly patient mother, all things considered.

On ba(aaa)d births

Welcome, Ms Sabine

To have milk, you need to have babies.  It’s an unavoidable fact.  And this milk year, because I was unable to get our doeling pregnant (our daughter was in the hospital during Ivy’s last heat of the year) we ended up buying a pregnant doeling from a local dairy.  Willow, the pregnant goat, has been an adorable addition to our herd.  It’s too bad the other goats don’t feel the way about Willow that we do, however!

Because Willow is tiny AND bullied, we’ve been having her sleep elsewhere.  Goats hate being separated; they’re herd animals, after all, and in Willow’s mind, she’d much rather be head-butted than be alone, even just at night.  Poor thing.  I took heart in the fact that she could deliver soon, and she’d at least have her kids for company.

Problem was, we didn’t know when she would kid.  Unlike my other does who have driveway dates to get pregnant (thus I hang my hat on a solid due date 155 days after their visit) I just had to wait and watch with Willow.  “Watching” basically means I felt her up and hung over her, daily…and “waiting” means I have been doing it since mid-March.  But on Saturday, all signs pointed to a Cinco de Mayo baby goat or two.

Not two baby kids, though; one kid.  Sabine made her way into the world only with our help. She’s huge; she’s nearly a quarter the size of her mother in length and height but not weight.  And her cramped quarters weren’t helpful; she was born with a badly twisted leg and foot…a splint is helping those flexible young bones to straighten out and develop normally.

The bonus, of course, is that she’s a girl, and she’s a lusty eater.  But poor Willow!