Thursday, November 2, 2017

Learnings from the Internet

I often try different things in my garden based on curiosity and sometimes impracticality. I will grow things that don't really do well here just to see if I can. When I started growing cotton, I knew the area would be good for it with some water, a warm place in the garden and the right kind of seeds. And it does well. I have planted wheat, oats, and other items that need lots of space just to see what they look like and how they are processed. Sometimes I find seed on the internet and some of the growing instructions as well.
Learning how to grow something from information on the internet is precarious. The information is scattered about different sites and it is hard to accumulate all of it in one sitting. Sometimes it takes several growing seasons to find out what is wrong.
Potatoes and sweet potatoes are a good example. You can find information about growing potatoes. They are cool weather roots, need fertilizer and lots of water. They will grow deeply if the ground is soft enough. You can sprout a potato from the store. But then you read about storing the potatoes and you have to age them a little to get the sugars to set. I have never needed that information. I just dig them up when it is time to use them. There are never so many that I have some to store.
Sweet potatoes are a warm weather crop. They like warm ground, fertilize one time in the spring, water deeply weekly, long time until harvest, vines run like crazy and run over other items so plant them in their own bed, roots grow deeply and slowly. And then, after you manage to get a harvest, it has to rest for a couple of weeks to get the sugar to form. Otherwise the sweet potato is starchy and dull. This information has been gleaned over a couple of years as I find things not working well from the original sparse information.
There are many other examples of incomplete information on the internet. Knitting patterns, sewing patterns, cooking recipes, weaving instructions, product assembly... the list goes on. I am sure many other readers have found problems in getting a full rounded education on a subject from the internet.
But I am grateful for the internet and its scrambled information. I have been able to try so many different items in my garden, select trees for fruits, make preserves and jams, cook lovely meals...all because the internet has lots of really good ideas and information.
But it is necessary to caution about the sources. I have spent many hours looking and many articles to gather enough information to make a good choice and to make that choice work well. It is not instant gratification. There is work to be done there.
I have learned about myself as well. I may be very optimistic about my abilities and the environment, but you can't make something grow where it just can't grow. Learning to recognize a potential failure in the garden has been a big challenge for me. I have dug up many trees that just could not do well here. I have failed to keep some plants well watered while I was on vacation. I have neglected plants that are heavy feeders. I have ignored insect damage too long. If there is a garden no-no I have probably done it more than once.
I have no machinery, like a tiller, so everything is done by hand and shovel. As I grow older, I am less able to keep up with the physical demands of the garden and see myself looking for ways to maximize energy and leverage. I will probably look into hydroponics at some point. And I am sure the Internet will have all the information I need, somewhere.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Eating Seasonally

Part of my blog and world is my garden. I have experiments, collect seeds, plant strange things out of season. But mostly, I have regular stuff for us to eat.
Here in So.Cal. we don't have normal seasons. We don't really have any appreciable rain, either. When you need heat, it is cold. When you need cold, it is warm. It is a confusing place to have a garden.
I have low chill hour fruit trees, but some of them don't get enough chill. The temperature has to drop below 45f to create chill. When a tree needs 400 chill hours, it needs to be below 45f for 400 hours. Sometimes, the nights get down that low for a few hours, but it would need a real winter child for several days to get close to chill hours. Many low chill trees need 200 hours or less.
Our apricot tree is supposed to be low chill. It has not made any fruit for the last 3 years and before that it had one good year. We think there may be some other reason why it fails to produce fruit, but weather is an important contributor.
On the other hand, the peach tree is a constant producer of large fruit in great quantity. It is about 20 years old now and still going strong.
So, this blog is about growing things in season and eating things grown in their season. Where I live, there is an abundance of seasonal produce and quite a lot of imported out of season produce. I also have the mystery seasons that make growing things possible at times when other areas cannot produce them. I am going to limit my blog to growing things in my own weird seasonal area and not talk about those short seasons to the north or the desert areas to the east.
What grows here and when?  This has taken me years to figure out and every year it is a little different. The summers have been scorching hot. Corn, peppers and tomatoes are just about the only reliable plants lately. And you have to water them with a precious resource. Corn takes a lot of water so I try to water at night when there is less evaporation. This time of the year means no root crops, no lettuce, no strawberries, no tender greens or peas, very limited selection. Most of the spring stuff is long over. This summer we had lots of overcast days that were still warm. We could grow squash, peas, beans, potatoes, kale and chard into July. Good variety.
I had snow peas and kale in abundance, but the overcast thing killed all the garlic and after a short time the squash started getting mildew. The ground was not warm enough. The tomatoes and peppers didn't do well.
In my grandmother's time, gardeners would grow a couple of acres of different things. I am limited to 4 8ftx4ft boxes. I have to select my plants and seeds carefully to maximize my planting area and I often will grow intensively. Every couple of years I empty the large compost boxes and chop up the compost, then space it into the garden beds. I try to do this between seasons. My grandmother grew lots of greens under a tree and potatoes, corn and other heat loving things in the sunny area. When she had too much of one item she would swap with another neighbor for other stuff. I don't have any neighbors who produce anything, so swapping is out.
This now brings us to the real issue of eating within a season- boredom. When you get snow peas for days on end, it becomes difficult to find new recipes. I have about 5 good recipes for snow peas. At the peak of the productions, we would have to rotate these recipes every 5 days for about 3 weeks. My husband just won't eat like that. Snow peas are not his favorite, but he will eat a few at a time- like in a salad or soup. Eating a whole dinner loaded with snow peas is not a happy thing for him. And tomatoes are O.U.T. out unless it is tomato sauce.
I did a lot of preserving and pickling. If you eat preserved fruit and vegetables are you cheating the eating in the season thing?
Back to the garden. I decided to skip planting a hot weather garden this year- no corn or tomatoes. I went on a vacation and came back to some scorching heat. When September started, I planted some half summer half spring items- radish, lettuce, spinach, pumpkin, kale, onions, green beans. All of them are doing just fine right now. Nights have been around 60f or warmer. Fog, yes, no rain, yes, but not destructively hot during the day. Things are looking good.
If you grow things out of the normal season, does it cancel your eat within the seasons efforts?
I have all these questions and no real answers- but if it grows where you are, when you are growing it, then it is in its season. So if I get strawberries this month, they are in season. And the items I pickled are in season as well. And the fruit I froze is in season as well. As the lines blur from season to season, it is not difficult to see that something from south America is very close to being in season in south United States. It doesn't seem to make any difference if you eat items from other countries.
I eat fresh when ever possible. I pickle, freeze and preserve excess since I can't trade with anyone.
To me the idea of Eating Seasonally is not well thought out. And probably not practical.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A Year of Spinning Cotton

I started this a year ago. I typed nothing. It is harvest time again.
In November 2016, I had managed to finish spinning the 2015 cotton while collecting the 2016 cotton. Whew! it was a lot of work.
Guess what? It is October 2017 and I have 8 more bags of 2016 cotton to spin and I have lots of 2017 cotton happening.
If I were a slave or peasant from Turkey, this would be my life- spin, pick, water, spin, spin, weave. A never ending stream of cotton, cotton seeds, and cotton spinning.  We are talking about the 1800s maybe in some parts of the world.
So why do I grow cotton. I often ask myself. I even took out some plants this last winter so there would be less. I think the answer is that I can't have sheep, it is too warm to wear wool here, it is too warm and dry to grow flax and process linen, and I like the idea of having something homegrown to spin.
But I have to say that I have not had as much time for spinning, weaving or knitting as I once had. And this is causing a yarn pile up.
I have decided that 2017/2018 is the year to weave out. I may not get the 2016 cotton spun before the 2018 harvest, but that is what happens. I only have so much time and so many hands.
But just so you know, I still love cotton.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Which came first? Beer or Bread

We have gone down this road before. I grew wheat and realized that wheat was not the staff of life. So I decided to try  hull less oats. The package came with about 30 seeds. I prepared the bed and planted in the fall- like for winter wheat. WRONG.
Oats are a spring crop. Warm and wet is what they want. So eventually they did grow because it is not so cold here, and the did go to seed. And I did harvest several bowls full from my 20 or so plants.
As plants, each seed makes a large clump of grass about the size of a small dessert plate. It grows at different speeds so some parts are going to seed while others are still growing and go to seed later. This will mean your harvest is several stages if you are harvesting by hand, which I did.
As the plant starts to go to seed, the first few stalks of flowers (I am not sure what these parts are called on oats) are mostly for making pollen. The plants seems to need gravity to pollinate although I did see some bee activity and some other bugs. This might also be a wind type of pollination. Which ever it is, the lower parts get pollinated better than the first top ones.
Now for the tricky part- competition and harvesting.
The literature I read said to harvest in the Dough stage, when the seed is still soft. If you wait until it is hard, it will fall out while harvesting. There was no discussion about insects or birds. Birds love this stuff. They attack the seeds even in the milk stage. The insects love this stuff also. They attack the whole plant. Big and small, insects were causing lots of seed damage at all stages.
When the harvest was in, I let the seed pods dry in bowls and watched little bugs run all over. Then it was time for the fun part- getting the good seed out of the pod or husk.
About 1/3 of the seed was not Hull Less. what a surprise! I got to see how both types work. Here again, with rustic tools, probably what pre-civilized man could make, I attempted to extract the seeds from the hulls. Extremely time consuming. Yet, the process, like with wheat, is perfectly suited to a birds beak.
Now a cow can eat the whole plant down to the ground. The cow can digest the grass, hull and seed. The birds are there for the seeds and maybe will use some of the grass to build a nest. They might also enjoy a few of the bugs.
So this brings me to the original question- what came first? Beer or bread? And I say it was beer. This is because you can sprout the grain for the enzymes needed to convert the starch to sugar, then ferment the sugar, without having to remove the seed from the hull. Just ferment the whole thing. There is a pounding that happens after the seed is sprouted, but this can be done in a rock bowl with a heavy stick. After fermenting, the liquid is strained through a woven basket and the residue is fed to the cows, chickens and other grazing animals.
It is possible to pound some grain out of this for human consumption, but to get enough to make bread would take a week of hard labor. I would rather have beer and steak and skip the bread altogether.
If I were to try this on a large scale, I would grow the grain and feed it to chickens, then eat eggs and chickens. If I have large fields, I would have cows for milk, cheese and meat. There are much better things to eat than grains. Maize is pretty easy to grow and eat. Potatoes are lovely. And all fruits and vegetables seem to be great for  growing and easy harvest. So I am content to let the grains feed the animals. I have collected a bowl full of oats. I might make some oat meal later on, but for  the most part, grains are a  modern food.
Final numbers- The oats produced 4 ounces of grain. The wheat produced about 1 pound and the corn (maize) was the real winner. If I have to grow grain, it will be maize/corn. Easy to harvest, easy to extract seed, easy to prepare (polenta). Next year, a bigger corn crop.