Thursday, November 10, 2011

More Cold Weather Gardening, Cozy Chicks, and A Monkey in the Tree

We have an apple tree. It isn't one of those dwarf, easy to pick things and I am not even sure what variety of apples they are,  It produces apples every year without any help from me. I don't prune it, water it, or fertilize it and as a matter of fact the grass grows up around the bottom of the trunk and all I do is mow around it. Last year I bought an apple picking basket. You know the kind with a long telescoping handle and a basket
at the end with a few hooks that grab the apple and then you give it a yank and the apple falls in to the basket. But the tree is still taller than the basket thing. Our oldest daughter is and has always been part monkey. I have seen her shimmy up a hundred foot fir tree without even thinking about it. Our apple tree is
only 20-25 ft tall so every year she gets the job of climbing the tree and tossing down the apples to the rest of us earthbound hominids. It always amazes me that she can do it. I think perhaps I should prune the tree this year since she is going to be 19 and probably wont want to do it much longer.

With the cold weather approaching the chickens are competing for the favorite nest box. Now try to remember this nest box is only 12 x 14 inches so this picture is kinda funny.
With the colder weather the garden is looking rather shabby. I am harvesting the last of the lettuce and peas and still patiently waiting for the brussel sprouts to get some size to them. I could have sworn that last year at this time I had good sized sprouts. The white cauliflower heads are small and wrapped up inside the protection of the leaves so we shall let them be for awhile. I harvested the cheddar cauliflower and it was delicious. I'm really glad my family likes cauliflower. My youngest informed me that just because the cauliflower looks like cheddar cheese doesn't mean that we shouldn't have cheese on it. hmmmm.
Cheddar variety of cauliflower

The cold frame is getting filled at a snails pace mostly because I have family duty that takes me away from my gardening chores right now but I managed to get a layer of leaves raked up and placed in the bottom. Now if I can just find the time to go get some horse manure to put on top I could then put the growing layer of soil on top of the whole thing and get it heating up. I did manage to find the black oil pans for about $10 that I mentioned in the last blog but I had to order them. I will be filling them with water and placing them inside and   along the back where the sun can warm them up during the day and release the heat back into the structure at night. If it works we will have fresh greens all winter. Ya ho! Did I mention that the man, my gadget freak, put a wireless thermometer in the cold frame so that I could monitor the temperature without going outside? It is very cool I have to admit. Lets hope I get it all together before next week. The weather here is starting to turn nasty with the weather man calling for gale force winds tomorrow.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Cool Weather Gardening

Last year I experimented a little with winter gardening. I planted broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts in late August and early September to be harvested in the fall and early winter. What I got was broccoli with green worms, cauliflower with ricey looking heads, and brussel sprouts with tons of grey aphid. I swore I wouldn't try it again. Instead I was going to sit on my butt and read, have fun during the holidays, and cook. Somehow I couldn't resist the siren call of the garden this fall. I planted all of the above plus sugar peas and lettuce in early August. I am now harvesting sugar peas and lettuce for our October and November dinners. The aphids are so far leaving the peas alone and the plants themselves are adding nitrogen to the soil. The lettuce is incredible especially compared with store bought and will last about two weeks in the fridge (except we always seem to eat it before that).

 In July I attended a garden tour in my old stomping grounds on Lummi Island with my friend K. It was a lot of fun and there were some beautiful gardens. However K's garden gave me the tip of the year for my own and she didn't even know it. She had netted her blueberries with netting purchased at a fabric store. You know the kind used for petticoats and tutu's? It's cheap and easy to get and she used that instead of garden netting because the year before she had found a bird tangled in the garden netting that had died. Anyway I went home and bought a few yards at $1 a yard, planted the broccoli and Cauliflower and covered them all with the netting. I noticed the white butterflies trying to get in to lay their eggs all over my plants but to no avail. Come September I was harvesting big heads of broccoli that was worm free and believe me I looked really good. If my kids EVER saw a worm in their broccoli that would be the end of
ever eating it. Now the plants that I harvested from in September are providing side shoots of broccoli. Some of them quit sizable. The white cauliflower is coming along and I have harvested an orange cauliflower called cheddar that was very yummy. I will plant more of that one next year. Once the white cabbage butterfly season was over(when the weather got colder) I removed the netting. Guess what happened then? I got grey aphid. Yep! Guess I should have left it on. Lessons learned. Aphid isn't a real big deal. Hit them with a strong spray of water from the hose a couple times and you should be good. Any left over can be washed off or in the case of brussel sprouts the outside leaves can be peeled off.

This summer's project for the man consisted of trying to figure out how to keep the geese off the porch so we didn't have to pick our way through goose poo every time we wanted to enter or leave the house. Yes they were looking for me. Standing on the porch rattling the screen door until they got my attention then looking very innocent. We came up with a solution that consisted of a short cute fence around the patio with a cold frame for winter lettuce and spinach and a grape arbor over the top. This has turned out to be a great solution and I love the way it looks. Now all I need is the time to fill the cold frame with soil and plant it. However nothing is easy because I am always looking for a better way to do things. The cold frame is made of untreated blank T1-11 siding on a frame of 2x2's. The four lids on top are poly-carbonate panels that we found in the remnant pile at a greenhouse supply place. He mounted them in frames made of 2x2's and installed them with hinges to the top of the box. Then he lined the inside with plastic sheeting so the soil wont rot the untreated wood poking slits in the bottom for drainage.  My plan is to layer organic material that will decompose and give off heat starting with leaves and manure and topping it all off with a "growing layer" of soil for the lettuces and spinach and what ever else I decide to experiment with. I am also planning to line the back wall with some kind of water filled containers that can heat up during the day and release the heat back to the growing area at night. What I would love to get is 3 or 4 of those black plastic flat things that they sell at the auto parts store for draining oil out of cars but they are about 40 bucks each. I will probably end up with one liter soda bottles painted black. I guess you could call it a passive solar grow box. What ever you call it the man did a great job as usual. He even installed a gate in the fence that swings both ways and is spring loaded so you can push your way through it in either direction with arm loads of stuff and it springs shut behind you. I discovered one little problem. When the dog wanted out I was having to walk outside in my bare feet to open the gate for her so she could go outside and pee. I have now taught her how to open the gate herself. She doesn't like doing it but if she wants out bad enough she will push through it. (No she wont pee on the patio. She has manners.) I will let you know how this is working out when I get it planted. I will take pictures along the way so you can see how it's put together. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sneaky Holidays

All right. I'll admit it. I like fruitcake. Good fruitcake that is. Not that sticky candy fruit mess you buy at the local drug store that comes in a can or cellophane wrap. REAL fruitcake. I've heard all the jokes but I just have to believe that if you don't like fruitcake it is because you have never had a real one. My brother use to send me a fruit cake made by monks in some Abby that was good. It was expensive and never lasted long enough.  And I have received a fruitcake from a company in Texas that was good enough to cause me to gain 5 ugly pounds. But last year my brother and I made a white fruit cake that was the best I've ever tasted. I can't take credit for it because he found the recipe on We had a blast making it together mostly because we doubled the recipe (our eyes were as big as our stomachs) and the cakes were oozing butter. Two pounds of butter to be exact. I don't recommend doubling a fruitcake recipe unless you have made it before and know what you are getting into. So this year (yesterday as a matter of fact) I dug out an almost Christmas CD, gathered the ingredients together and went for it. The fruit had been sitting the whole day before soaking up orange juice and a little triple sec so I was ready. The actual cake part was easy enough to put together. Mixing it by hand requires some muscle because you can't use a mixer on something that contains that much fruit and nuts. It turned out great and today I wrapped it up in cheesecloth soaked in a half pint of brandy and wrapped the whole thing tightly in foil. This is gonna be great!! My youngest doesn't like the taste of liquor in her cake and fortunately this recipe makes enough to fill a tube pan and a bread pan. So the small fruitcake is wrapped in cheesecloth soaked in apple cider just for her. I will let the flavors meld together a couple days and put that one in the fridge since it doesn't have the "preservatives" on it. Ya, alcohol is a preservative. Maybe that's why people get pickled when they drink. So if the spirit strikes ya here is the recipe. If you don't like fruit cake try this white one. Make sure you get good quality fruits too. You may have to go to a food co-op or specialty shop to get the fruit but its worth it. Then make sure you wrap it in cheese cloth soaked in your choice of liquor, wrap tightly in foil or plastic wrap and place it in a cool place to age. You can add more liquor every week or so. So try it. A white fruit cake is so different from a dark one.