Friday, June 22, 2007

Compost and Gophers

This blog starts out as a story about compost, but it is really about gophers. Well, it is about more than gophers and compost, but you have to read it to find the inner meaning.
Awhile back, when I was a young gardener, I started composting. I would dump my green waste and vegetable trimmings in a pile and watch it rot. Then I got sophisticated and got an old ComposTumbler from my husband's sister. She said it wasn't very good and they were getting rid of it. They had had it two years. It had a poorly designed lid system and would fall open with only about 5 pounds of stuff in the tumbler. It was still under warranty, so I called the company and they replaced the Tumbler assembly. It had been redesigned within those two years. I also started reading about composting. There are the greens and the browns. There is hot and not. There is the stir, tumble or stare method. But what a compost pile really needs most is Nitrogen. The little bacteria need nitrogen to do their job. Then the bacteria die and the nitrogen returns to the soil. This is one of the reasons that compost is so good for your plants.
One article I read suggested putting lawn fertilizer into the compost. Another suggested a balance of greens and browns and grass clippings (which are full of lawn fertilizer). One article said household ammonia is really good. And one guy said, "Just pee into the compost." I read this one to my husband and his son. My stepson immediately said, "This was obviously not written for squatters." We howled with laughter, and to this day, I still tear up thinking about it. But I was never very successful at getting the boys to regularly assist in Compost Production. Ultimately, I went to worm composting which didn't require additional nitrogen.
So, this brings us to the squirrels. Oh, no. Not the gophers. Not yet. Squirrels, we have a bunch. They sneak over/under/and around the fence and go for the bird seed scattered by the birds at the feeder. Then they attack the trees and strip the fruit. When I was an idealistic young gardener, I thought they were kind of cute, but when I watched them stripping the trees I became enraged. I went to the garden store and sought out some environmentally correct method of squirrel disposal. Poison. Oh, no. Not poison. It kills more than squirrels. It kills hawks and dogs and fish and maybe me. So I found Coyote Pee. Apparently, if you spread the scent of predator animals around your yard, the squirrels will keep away. I bought it and sprinkled a circle around the yard. It was pretty expensive and you don't really get all that much. And it washed away with the rain and you get to sprinkle again, and again, and again. The squirrels didn't seem to notice much, either. They continued eating birdseed and fruit. They came up on the porch. They ate my tomatoes. When all of my parents are dead I will write a book, but for now let us just say that my mother in law loaned us a bb gun. We named it Squirrel Spanker. It actually scares the squirrels enough to train them to not come in our yard, but it isn't strong enough to kill them. And it works on Ravens, too.
I know, you are still waiting for the gophers. So, we didn't really ever have a gopher problem until this year. And it is not just us. The neighbors are growing gophers also. The first one killed a fig tree by eating its roots while I was unaware. Then it headed for my Apple tree. I was in a panic. I dug up its trails, flooded with water and headed for the garden store again. We bought traps and poison. After an intensive week of flooding, poisoning and trapping, we finally caught the pest. It was as big as a squirrel and died in a trap after running from the water. But it didn't eat the poison. It would push the poison up to the surface ground with a bunch of dirt. I would come out in the morning and find gopher poison (think rat poison) all over the fresh soil. After we killed that one, all was quiet for awhile. Now I have some chickens. They are just two months old. And I let them run all over the yard eating slugs and bugs and grass and just about everything. And just about the time I had forgotten about the gophers, a new one showed up. It was using some of the old gopher's runs and was headed for the Apple tree. I can't use poison. The chickens will eat it when it gets pushed up to the top. I have only traps and water now, so I started the flooding process. The next day there was a new hole that was open, no dirt plug. And strangely enough, it started me thinking about Coyote Pee and Compost.
Needless to say, there is no predator as terrifying as a human, so I sprinkled a little in the hole. The next day, there was no new evidence of gopher activity. I sprinkle again, and still no activity. I was so relieved.
Well, the story doesn't end here. The next day we found a small gopher hole in the garden by the tomatoes. It is too far back for a squatter, so I think this is a job for a man. I will let you know how it turns out, later.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Inbetween Seasons

Sometimes the garden is confused. I know that doesn't seem right. How can a garden get confused? It doesn't think. But just as you get to the crossing of seasons, the garden acts confused. It is too warm for cool weather crops, but the warm weather things are not sure either.
Take corn for instance. In early spring it is warm enough to plant corn seeds. They sprout and start to grow. Then the cool, wet evenings kill the little sprouts. Too damp, they whine as the die. So now you have to wait for another warm spell to get those little seeds to sprout. Aha! They can sprout now, because it is June 20ish and it is SUMMER. Corn takes a long time to grow and lots of water. It will be ready to eat in late September, which is Fall. Why can't it be ready in the Summer when I really like to eat barbequed corn? Because those little spring sprouts thought it was winter again in early June and died. They were confused to death.
Lettuce is also a bit confused. It likes cold weather, but it will bolt and go to seed if it gets too warm. Some of my lettuce bolted in the spring warm moment and I had to pull it out. But some of it didn't buy into that fake summer. It waited a few days and kept being nice lettuce as the weather got cold again.
Our evenings have been somewhere between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and our days have been between 60 and 70 degrees F. Mushroom weather. Great for making saurkraut or Kimchi. Also, great for slugs and snails and slime mold.
So how can you deal with this strange Spring weather? What kind of food plants can tolerate it? Well, I have found that many Mediterranean plants like this type of weather. Fava beans, fennel, onions (short day), garlic, chard, potatoes, and lettuces. But there are also some plants that have been "developed" for this climate. San Diego Tomatos seem to tolerate the cold nights better than heirlooms or beefsteak types. This type of tomato seems to have been "developed" for mildew resistance. Right now I am getting palm sized red and yellow tomatos from plants I put into the ground in late February. Not a spot of mildew in sight. Last year, the cold nights killed just about everyone of my tomatos. And, this variety seems to need less heat to set and ripen the tomatos. Heirlooms need lots of heat for long periods.
So now I am getting tomatos. I just bought and planted some Basil plants. There is fresh garlic to dig up. And I am off to buy some Sourdough bread- It is buschetta time.

Bruschetta- Mediterranean Salsa

Two large Red tomatoes and one yellow one
3 Tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
3-4 large cloves garlic- crushed or minced
1 Cup freshly chopped, shredded or torn Basil
Salt/pepper to taste
few drops of Balsamic Vinegar
Mozarella or provolone cheese
Sour dough bread slices (6)

Chop the tomatos into 1/2 inch chuncks. Toss with minced garlic, olive oil, shredded basil and a bit of salt and pepper. Drizzle with Balsamic. Put it in a pretty bowl with a serving spoon.
Slice or chop the Mozarella or provolone. [Sometimes I use Fresh mozarella or buffalo milk mozarella. These are packed in water and are very soft. They tend to make the bread a bit wet.]
Toast the bread lightly. Put some cheese on the bread and return to the toaster oven or regular over to melt the cheese (about 10minutes at 400F) or you could use the broiler and watch it constantly.
When cheese has melted, remove from oven and cool just a few minutes. Cut the cheese bread into 2" pieces and serve with the bowl of tomatoes. Spoon tomatos onto bread and eat. Excellent with white wine and maybe a quiche.
Mmm. I gotta go get some sourdough bread right now. Bye.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Garden Therapy

Wellness of mind and body is partly related to what we eat and partly related to what we do. And partly related to genetic material. I am genetically predisposed to wanting to be outside my house. It must be that way because I see a general trend of indoor people and outdoor people. There is sanity in both places, but I would go nuts being in the house too much, just as some others get disturbed if they are away from their inner rooms for too long. There is joy, safety, entertainment, comfort and relaxation outdoors, too.
In my garden, I contemplate the joy and beauty of the world as well as how much work it takes to make that happen. My natural environment would look like blowing dirt and scrubby sun burnt stubble if I didn't water, fertilize and nurture. San Diego County is a coastal desert and expensive imported water is what colors it green. There is considerable work to do in weeding, planting, mulching, hauling, mixing, harvesting, preserving, repairing, fertilizing, mowing and trimming. Some people hire this work done- but for me it is Therapy- Dirt Therapy.
Lately, I have been in need of much Therapy. The inner rooms are having some problems, so I find myself escaping to the garden. I have long chats with my chickens (Custard and Quiche). I welcome the morning rabbits as they eat the lettuces, I feed the little birdies at the feeders, I love the neighbor's cat who stalks the little birdies, and I talk to my plants. I harvest the apples and plan dinner around the garden bounty. Lately, we have been having a lot of pie. Apple Blackberry pie. I have blackberries, blueberries and strawberries in the freezer for later and the berries are not done yet. I have peas and Fava beans in the freezer and the Fava beans are not done yet. I have lettuce, celery, turnips, potatoes, fennel, and green tomatoes. The oranges are ready now, too. I can plan some very wonderful meals which I want to eat outside on my patio in the cool of the evening when the work is done. Then I take a shower and go to bed exhausted. It is beginning to sound like escapism, rather than therapy. I can avoid the issues of my inner rooms by staying outside and playing with the chickens. But at some point I must go in and deal with the mess.
Laundry, bills, children in trouble, dishes, broken things that need repair. These are all waiting for me to come in from the garden. So how does the Garden Therapy actually work? Well, hmmm, while I garden I contemplate my anger at the child in trouble and devise a plan of action to correct the situation- it is good to have a plan. I think about the broken parts and decide if I want to do without it or repair it. Sometimes I realize that I just don't need that thing and I toss it rather than mess with fixing, or I get something different. Bills just get paid, and laundry just gets done, and cleaning gets done a little at a time. It is just not overwhelming when you spend lots of time outdoors. Like the seasons, all housework is a continuing thing. It is never done. So I often take pleasure in the parts that are done and the sense of practical functioning that is happening. There is a pile of stuff on the floor of my bedroom waiting for action of one kind or another for over a year now. But I am pleased that one of the items got taken care of last week, while three more were added. It is a simple mind, yes.
Well, so much for inner rooms and garden chat- I have beans to plant. I need to get out of this room and get some fresh dirt. My chickens are calling. Begawk!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Maybe I Don't Know Beans

This year, when I ordered seed from a Seed Catalog, I went Bean crazy. I think I was craving green beans. I ordered Roma beans, bush beans, pole beans, runner beans, and yellow beans. Later I got a catalog for heirlooms and lusted over long beans- next year.

I also ordered snap peas and dug out my old, saved Fava beans. Snap peas, snow peas and Fava beans like cooler climates, but the peas can get mildew if it is damp. I planted about 100 snap peas. In an other area I planted snow peas. And I planted a bed of Fava beans. The snow peas did very well when planted in February, but started getting mildew in late March. By late April, they were done and gone to compost. I got a couple of pounds of snow peas before they died. The snap peas got planted a bit later, grew like crazy, and started getting mildew in early April. You just can't get away from the wet, cold fog here. Still, I was able to harvest about 8 pounds (no pods) of fresh peas for the freezer. I actually do better with snow peas in the fall when it is dryer. I may try that with snap peas, too.
Fava don't seem to be bothered by the fog or cool dampness. Bring it on. They are now in full production. So, what can you do with a Fava Bean, especially when you have and 8 ft by 4 ft bed full. Well, this brings us to an interesting part of the garden experience. Even though it looks like a lot of beans, it isn't very much. Most of the Fava bean is compost. I only like the seed part. I don't eat the pod, although some say you can eat the young ones, if you are desperate. Each day or two, I can go out and collect a bunch of Fava beans, shell them, and end up with a cup of fresh beans. And a mountain of pods. Since there is only the two of us often for dinner, I will just boil them for about 3 minutes and serve with salt and butter. But if there are more than the two of us, I have to get creative. Make rice and toss in the beans in the last 5 minutes of cooking, like peas. Butter, salt, rice and beans. Side dish. Add them to Chicken curry, like peas. Peas, carrots and Fava. Onions, Artichoke hearts, fennel, peas and Fava with salt and butter. Ok, I'm done. And the Fava are about done, too. Very short season, those Fava. And now I have a mountain of green manure. What to do with all that green stuff.

Beans and peas are nitrogen fixers. Their roots make little nodules of nitrogen rich tissue. Rip out the plant and you throw away the nutrient. Cut off the plant and dig in the roots and plant new stuff. Put the upper plant in the compost bin or worm bin.(I have both.) In about 6 to 18 months, dump the composted material back into the bed and stir. Or, plant squash right in the aging compost. I actually have a squash plant growing in my compost. I think it is a pumpkin. It is growing out of an air hole in the side of the compost bin. I keep it watered and watch with curiosity.

More Fava bean information: Fava beans make a chemical that is often called L'dopa. It is used for people with Parkinson's and some other brain problems. It is present in very small amounts but might react with some medications. Also, there is a syndrome called Favism- like an allergy that can kill you. Some people cannot eat Fava beans. If you are not sure, ask your Dr. or eat a small bean and see if you get sick. Some recipes suggest that you cook and peal the skin off the Fava bean. The skin is about half of the bean. What is left looks like a green pea (size and color). I eat the skin. It turns pale green when cooked and the inner pea is bright green. Very pretty combination.

For my climate, Fava bean is a winner in the cool weather bean/pea contest. Peas suffer from mildew and Fava ignores it. Fava is just about the same as a pea in use and taste. I could have planted it about a month earlier, too.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Backpacking Old Guys

My husband and I are backpacking old guys. Once a year we dust off the packs, sort through our mountain of gear and divide up the weight. I keep giving him a bit more each year. As I age, I don't stand on that absolute equality platform as often. (Long rant for another time here).
So our backpacking is a solitude thing. We get away from the kids, cars, dogs, boom boxes, smoky fires, and drunk adults. You can only carry so much beer up that mountain with all the other stuff.
And our backpacking is an independence thing. We can carry it all, make it all, and do without some. Do we shop for special lightweight gear at expensive sporting goods stores? Sometimes. And we shop at Walmart, too. Our tent was from Target. Our cooking pots from Walmart. Our clothes are from our closet, whatever we usually wear. Our sleeping bags and mats and cooking stove are from REI, the expensive store. But we don't ever buy that prepackaged food stuff. This is Fluffysgarden after all. We make our own. We grow our own. And we sometimes buy it at the grocery store.
I have made beef jerky, chicken jerky, apple leather, yogurt leather, and dehydrated vegetables for our stew dinners. I also make granola and granola bars, but this time I bought them.
We often indulge ourselves with brewed coffee and Kahlua. We mostly lay around and listen to... nothing. San Jacinto is a dry place. There are not very many birds and almost no other animals. There is a water source about a quarter mile from our camp area and the stream flows through a meadow. In the evening you might catch sight of a deer at the watering hole, but we usually don't. No bears, mountain lions or snakes, either.
To be dreadfully honest, we lay around for two days because we are so tired from the hike that we can't do anything else. Then we have to carry it all back down the hill and drive home.
I love this trip and look forward to it every year. This year we bought a new fangled water purifying unit at the expensive store. I have no idea how it works and we leave in two days. This is what adventure is all about.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Apples on the West Coast

There are a few apple varieties that do well where there is almost no chill. Chill factor is the number of hours where the temperature is less than 45 degrees Fahrenheit. The Dorsett apple requires almost no chill, but others may require up to 600 hours in the dormant season, or that the soil freeze to one inch deep. Dorsett apples are happy in coastal May gray and June gloom. Mild winters start them blooming in late January, and the fruit is ready in May and June. Then they bloom again and the fruit is ready in November. And then they bloom again, but I pick off the blooms so that they will bloom in January.

The apple qualities of Dorsett are a bit different from other types of apples. The apples often will fall from the tree and need to sit on the counter for about three days before sweet enough to eat out of hand. They have a sweet tart taste and good crunch. If you bake or cook them, they completely collapse and have no texture- great for apple butter, apple sauce, baby food- but not pie. Except for certain types of pie- layered pie.

Layered Pie

Pie crust to make a top and bottom for a 9 inch deep-dish
4 Dorsett apples, about the size of your palm and slightly green, cored and chopped (not sliced). I like the skins, but you can remove them if you want to.
1/3 Cup sugar (or substitute like Xylitol or Splenda Baking mix)
3 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup apple juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon clove
Mix the chopped apples with the sugar, flour, juice and spices. Layer it in the bottom of a dough lined pie pan (9 inch deep dish) and dot with two tablespoons of butter.
Next layer is some other fruit- like berries. Mixed berries, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries- frozen or fresh. You will need about 1 ½ cups of berries tossed with 3 tablespoons sugar or sweetener equivalent.
Now put on the top crust and bake it at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 350 for 50 minutes to one hour .
When the pie cooks, the apples collapse into a solid layer and the berries sit on top. You get the great taste of berry pie and the fullness of apple pie. All you need is a scoop of vanilla ice cream to totally blow your diet.

I also use the Dorsett apples in apple muffins, apple bread, and apple salads. I have cooked them with cabbage and onions to dress up a pork roast and I have put them in apple sausage stuffing at Thanksgiving.

Having two crops a year is very interesting. The first crop is gigantic with large apples, lots of them. I have to pick off about 1/3 of the set apples so that the remaining ones get large. The second crop is about 1/3 as many and they are much smaller. I try to pick off about half of the set apples so that the remaining ones can get a bit bigger. Keep the tree well watered and fertilized all year long. It takes lots of energy to make that many apples.

This tree is self fertile and compact, but not for a pot. After six years in the ground it is about 6 feet across and six feet tall, but the trunk is very thick. It is suitable for a small yard even though I have a large yard and numerous other fruit trees.

I highly recommend this tree for serious apple lovers on the West Coast.

Garden review

This is my garden web page. I want share my reviews about different plants, garden stores, gardening styles and other backyard information for my micro-climate in Encinitas, Ca. I hope you enjoy the information.