Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bountiful Living

This second season in the garden I got a pretty good feeling for just how slow the learning curve is in raising outdoor gardens. Sure, I had a little garden in town, but the forest interface, extreme heat and winter freezes bring us to an entirely different degree of difficulty.

Last year, we learned that drip irrigation is the only way to go, and I installed what we could afford. This year, thanks to a Christmas shopping trip to the farm supply store with Grandma Lynn, I was able to provide drip irrigation to more than half of the garden. Another friend had loads of drip tubing laying around that had been donated to her garden. With her spare previously used hose, and another couple of trips to the farm supply store for additional links and fittings, I was able to finish the task.

I also learned that using green (aka "hot" or "fresh") horse manure is certainly nutrient-rich for the garden, but it also brings LOTS and LOTS of fresh weed seed. Clearing out the garden for planting this year was a bear! Keeping up with it was impossible, but when the time came to really get on the ball, a friend loaned me her cute little, one-foot-wide rototiller. I was super thankful, but eight-tilling-hours into the task I took a look around and determined I'd need another 30 hours of straight tilling at that rate. Instead, I took a half hour to drive into town, a half hour to rent the biggest walk-behind tiller available, half an hour to drive home and two hours to complete the garden tilling job. Another hour round-trip to return the tiller and the job was done, and time was freed up to do some freelance work that would help pay not only for the tiller rental, but also for the seed, electricity to pump water for and tools for more garden work.

We had great success with volunteer cherry tomatos as well as our zucchini, crooked-neck squash, watermelon (two varieties), pumpkin (two small pie varieties), Anaheim chilis (in the second planting) and basil. Our beans were a bit tough, the bell peppers didn't set fruit until very late in the season and with thin walls, and our various full-size heirloom tomatoes were sparse. The chickens got into the garden and ate all the corn, squash and bean starts in the lower garden, and it was too late in the season, at that point, to start again. (I built a new gate to help fend them off for next year.)

I had a great time harvesting, canning and freezing the harvest this summer and fall. The girls are tending away from the garden, the kitchen, pretty much anything that might look like work these days. It was a bit lonely in the canning kitchen, but I hope they come back to it in their futures. While it might be seen as a chore, it's still playtime in my mind.

Meanwhile, our hens gave enough eggs constantly this past laying season to share with another family regularly and now and again with a local baker who prefers eggs from pastured hens. Our hens were joined in September by "Roo," a gift of rooster who could no longer stay in his Utah backyard. (It seems the city thinks crowing might not be the best thing for maintaining a neighborly community.) We think he's a bantam Plymouth Barred Rock since he fits the description, but is outweighed by our PBR hens easily two to one. He fit right in with the girls, and has also begun warming up to the half dozen Australorps we picked up this fall after half our flock disappeared in a single afternoon. (Lots of feathers left around the garden, so we don't figure those girls just walked off.)

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