Tag Archives: Garden

Summertime and the livin’s easy?

It was a long hot summer here in Vegas. Back in June I took an excursion to Reno to meet my Granddaughter

Avery

Avery

and come back to find a fried Pluot Tree and my favorite Golden Cockoo Marans rooster keeled over. Friday morning everything was dandy, when I got back Sunday POOF! It got to 117 degrees that Saturday and just knocked the bejeezus straight outta that tree and roo.

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble?

Bubble Bubble Toil and Trouble?

The ferment buckets really got going strong by August. 24 hours and there would be a good strong ferment going on, by September the amount of hooch being produced was remarkable. Ferment2

It got to where every Saturday I would empty all of the hooch out of one of the two ferment buckets and they both still stayed nice and sour. All of that Lacto-Baccilus inoculated highly acidic fluid went straight into my greywater collection tank to be distributed throughout the orchard. One bucketful did go into the latest compost pile and boy did it heat up fast!  Glop

 

Ferment4

This lovely looking Glop had collected in the bottom of the buckets, it is very viscous sorta like a sourdough sponge, Mother? I win sure. The chickens gobbled it up though.

 

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Preserving not Rotting

So many of my posts have been about the breaking down of material into compounds that are beneficial to the garden/orchard, this post is about the flip side of that process. The orchard is still in its infancy but has given me a few tasty morsels to whet my appetite for the bountiful harvest to come in future years, the garden is a bit of a shorter term dynamic though.  Tomatoes are producing well and while not quite bountiful enough to call for an adventure into canning there is a bit of excess. In my head tomato’s are too valuable to allow to leave in other way than through your digestive track (funny I love giving away eggs but aint nobody gettin my maters!) While harvesting in the 100+ heat last week the idea of sun-dried tomato’s popped in my head, I have no clue what inspired the idea but it seemed like a good one. After some research I discovered that tomato’s dried in a dehydrator are supposedly inseparable from those dried outside in the sun, the only difference being a distinct lack of the subtle flavor notes of fly shit.

A big meaty Roma Tomato

A big meaty Roma Tomato

I thought I had a nice picture of the large basket full of beautiful ripe tomato’s that had been harvested from my garden just waiting to be cut up and placed in the dehydrator. Apparently I got a bit distracted and taking that shot got overlooked. I do have a good excuse though, my second Granddaughter Avery Lynn was born last week and her pictures kinda took precedence.

Granny Tuey and Sweet Avery

Granny Tuey and Sweet Avery

My Awesome Son Mikey & his Exceptional Daughter Avery

My Awesome Son Mikey & his Exceptional Daughter Avery

The basket of maters contained Roma’s, Early Girls, Sweet 100’s, and grape tomato’s. The sweet 100’s did not make it into the dehydrator in fact I am still trying to figure out how they made it into the basket seeing as how my standard harvesting practice involves eating those wonderful little suckers as soon as they come off the vine. The grape tomato’s on the other hand are a still a disappointment , I didn’t like their funky after taste from last years crop but decided to give them a second chance. I found a different hybrid to plant along with the previous one hoping for a better outcome but must say I was disappointed. If anyone has had better results with these prolific little beasts I would sure appreciate some tips.

Roma Tomato's halved and ready to be dried

Roma Tomato’s halved and ready for drying

Quartered Early Girls

Quartered Early Girls

Halved Grape tomato's waiting for improvement?

Halved Grape tomato’s waiting for improvement?

I took a hint from Laura Rittenhouse’s Gardening Blog and left the skins and seeds intact, some sites recommended removing the seeds and “schmuts” before drying but I thought that I don’t do that before eating them fresh why would I take away part of the flavor that I am trying to concentrate? Laura’s post confirmed that I’m not the only one who kinda likes tomato seeds and skins in their sauce.

The Roma's really came out nice

The Roma’s really came out nice

The Early Girl's really shrunk up

The Early Girl’s really shrunk up

Tomato Raisins?

Tomato Raisins?

I haven’t tried them yet but have learned one or two lessons from this first run.

  1. The Roma’s definitely need a slit down the back of the skin
  2. Next time I will sprinkle them with just a little salt while on the trays about 2 hours before turning on the dehydrator
  3. Eat the early girls fresh

The Roma’s produced the best finished product by a wide margin and is it any wonder? I believe these tomato’s were developed for preserving. Resting after salting is to allow the salt to dissolve and get into the tomato’s before they form a skin, I ended up with salt crystals on the outside of the finished tomato’s. The Early Girls took a long time to dry and their more delicate flesh just kinda broke down rather than forming the expected leathery texture like the Roma’s.

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That’s just my bucket of Comfrey Tea

When asked by my granddaughter, Lexi, “what died in here!” what do you think my answer was? Last month I made FPE (fermented plant extract) with some of my comfrey, my post Comfrey Fermentation outlined the procedure. The result was a greenish liquids that smelled a bit like canned green beans with a slight alcoholic edge. This month I decided to try making just straight comfrey tea. Not the kind you drink but basically broken down (rotted) comfrey leaves.

Comfrey Plant ready to be harvested

Comfrey Plant ready to be harvested

This past Monday I went around to all of my comfrey plants and cut out all of the flower stalks then pulled off about half of the leaves from each plant.ComfreyI ended up with a good 5 gallon bucket of comfrey which I then firmly compressed by liberal application of my foot, I stood one-legged in the bucket.Comfrey3After filling with water to the level of the compressed leaves I added a second bucket with holes drilled in the bottom. Comfrey5 Comfrey4This bucket was then weighted down with a large brick. Not much happened the first day, I had read that due to its low fiber content comfrey breaks down amazingly fast, so I was wondering when something was gonna happen. When I checked on it yesterday (day 2) there was a couple of inches of oily looking brownish muck in the upper bucket but no smell that I noticed. Everything I had read also talked about the stink and I was thinking “yeah right” then I kicked the bucket a bit. Oh Lordy!!!! what a vile disgusting reek emanated from the tiny drops that landed on my hand! I ain’t talking anaerobic compost pile stink, Lexi hit the nail on the head. This stuff smells like DEATH! Now I’m kinda scared to load it up in the backpack sprayer and dose my orchard with it, the cops might come over looking for dead bodies. I’m thinking this stuff is gonna be a soil drench application possibly followed by a lacto spray to try to neutralize the stench before the neighbors call the authorities.

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Mulch ado about nuffin

Things have progressed in the garden to that slight lull in activity between preparing, planting, and harvesting. There is still plenty to do like my bi-weekly spraying regime and weeding, but luckily it is not as hectic as before. In between setting the tub in the guest bathroom at the Clayton house today I mulched raised bed #2.

Mulch06 Mulch07 Mulch08

Comfrey leaves being laid out

Comfrey leaves being laid out

This bed has a bit of nitrogen deficiency problem

This bed has a bit of nitrogen deficiency problem

Comfrey is high in nitrogen and breaks down rapidly, I am hoping this layer of leaves will help boost the fertility in this bed.

Straw Mulch

Comfrey plants can be seen in the foreground of this picture. They are on the downslope end of this bed in order to scavenge any nutrients that leach down.

Comfrey plants, seen in the foreground of this picture, are on the downslope end of this bed to scavenge any nutrients that leach down.

It hit 101* F today! The straw will help keep the soil temps down a bit along with minimizing evaporation.

Isn't this Tomcot Apricot a beauty?

Isn’t this Tomcot Apricot a beauty?

This is Karen's latest foster baby...Tribeca

This is Karen’s latest foster baby…Tribeca

My sweety Karen’s latest foster baby is Tribeca, a cute little kitten with a severely mangled paw that will necessitate amputation of her leg when she gets a bit older.

YummyCammy & Tribeca

Tribeca is socializing well and has a large following on The Humane Societies FB page already, so finding her a good forever home shouldn’t be a problem .

Gooey's new mineral block

Gooey’s new mineral block

Gooey the Mountain Goat

Goats have special mineral needs and now that Gooey is down to one bottle a day I went out and got her a mineral block. Like everything else in her world though the block is just another obstacle to climb!

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Comfrey Fermentation

My next venture into Korean Natural Farming techniques is FPJ aka Fermented Plant Juice. Comfrey01 Comfrey02 Comfrey03 Comfrey04 Comfrey05 Comfrey06 Comfrey

The Comfrey I got from Coe’s Comfrey last fall are really doing well this year. In fact I should have paid more attention to where I had planted it, apparently I missed some when transplanting them out before tilling the area for the first of my new 4’x12′ beds and now there are little comfrey plants coming up all over. Those little plants are going to be allowed to get a little bigger before they get potted up and either transplanted or given to one of the Master Gardeners at the UNCE orchard. Comfrey Comfrey09

The first harvest of leaves resulted in a 1 gallon bucketful weighing a pound and a half. Four days later you can’t even tell anything was cut from the plants, this stuff grows like mad and thrives on high nitrogen sources like raw chicken manure and straight urine! Comfrey11Comfrey12

After mixing/macerating the comfrey at a rate of 2/1 with brown sugar the volume was greatly reduced. Comfrey14 Comfrey13

Four days later and the mix has started to funk up a bit but hasn’t gotten stinky….yet. Comfrey15

While not strictly according to the procedure laid out by Bryan McGrath in this excellent FPJ outline:  I added 3 cups of  dechlorinated water because it seemed like the right thing to do. At this point my Comfrey concoction smells sorta like canned spinach.

Comfrey16

 

Then it was back into my newest hidey-hole to ferment until next weekend. If my brew starts developing the dreaded hydrogen-sulfide rotten egg smell it’s going to have to move up to the orchard to escape detection by my sweety Karen.

 

 

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New and old beds

Last year I decided to redo the raised beds that run between my orchard rows. I now have two 4’x12′ beds along with my three original 4’x4′ ones.

4'x12' raised bed between the first 2 rows in my orchard

4’x12′ raised bed between the first 2 rows in my orchard

The bed above was whacked together in late fall/early winter. After filling the bed up with a bunch of stuff I called compost (really just partially decayed wood chips), litter from the hen-house, and some good old poopy dirt from the chicken run I heavily sowed it with oats, barley, and red wheat. The idea being to suck up some of that nitrogen from the raw chicken manure and mellow the bed a bit before spring. Red Wheat is all that came up and then not until about a month and half ago. It is hard to see but there are 5 tomatoes spaced about 18″ apart down the center of the bed with an artichoke anchoring the end in the foreground. Outside of the maters there is some spinach up at the top end with 10 chicory plants below that. My sweety Karen and Lexi picked out the pretty flowers to liven it up a bit and attract bees. Weekly I have been chopping and dropping the wheat forming the basis of a planned heavy mulch layer that should be in place by June.

This raised bed is between rows 2 and 3 in the orchard

This raised bed is between rows 2 and 3 in the orchard

This bed didn’t get setup until a little over a month ago and it shows. The fill is composed mostly of my compost/mulch piles that washed under the oleander during last summers floods. Mixed into this is another big batch of litter from the hen-house made up mostly of partly broken down star and chicken shit. As you can see the bottom end is similar to the previous bed in that there is an artichoke plant but only one tomato. Above that I am trying a “three sisters” planting. Down the center of the bed is a double row of sweet corn with 6″ separation between the rows and seeds spaced 8″ along the 8′ long rows. Six inches outside of the corn on either side is a row of pole beans again spaced 8″ apart but offset 4″ to give a little more room. Finally 6″ outside the beans is a row of yellow and green summer squash spaced 12″ apart. As before the women in my life have claimed the perimeter for “pretty” flowers and herbs. This bed didn’t get any mellowing time and I am beginning to see a bit of chlorosis, probably from the raw wood chips scavenging up the nitrogen. Hopefully an extra spraying of cold processed liquid fish will help get this bed on track.

What a mess!

What a mess!

This was the first bed I put in last year. It has a lot of scrap wood and coffee grounds under the soil(my half-assed attempt at hugelkulture) I’m going to chop and drop all the mess then plant a couple of pumpkins or squash plants and see what happens.

Bed #2 from last year

Bed #2 from last year

It is probably hard to tell but this half-assed hugel bed has already been chopped and dropped from an overwintering of cereal plants. There are four roma tomatoes in here that will be mulched with straw as the get bigger.

Hugel Bed #3

Hugel Bed #3

This final bed is again a sorta kinda hugelkulture bed with scrap wood, wood chips, and coffee covered with a load of compost from the UNCE orchard. It did OK growing broccoli and cabbage over the winter, I am going to chop the rest down and toss it to the chickens then plant peppers in here.

 

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Do I dare trust my GUTS?

While I do suspect I may be trying to get the Flu, fear not! there is not a single BM pic in this whole post.

Some of the GREAT people at the orchard!

Some of the GREAT people at the orchard!

The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension runs an amazing demonstration orchard here in Las Vegas, the Master Gardeners are absolutely amazing! Over a close to 20 year span they have tested almost every fruit and growing method you can think of and are truly the authorities on growing fruit trees in our harsh conditions. Every year they bring in fruit trees from Dave Wilson Nurseries for sale to interested gardeners. They focus on making available the varieties that produce good fruit here, which aren’t always easy thing to find.

Due to a slope in my orchard that I ignored last year I lost nine trees due to wet feet. The remediation plan was laid out previously in my What to Do? post. Basically I built 2’x2′ raised beds for the new trees to minimize the slope and give the new trees and area above the mucky soil below.

The raised beds started as 6' cedar dog eared fence planks

The raised beds started as 6′ cedar dog eared fence planks

 

My nephew Steven was a huge help. He is always a pleasure to be around!

My nephew Steven was a huge help. He is always a pleasure to be around!

Steven and I cut up all the material then assembled all of the boxes. Originally I had planned on using steel T-posts but my cheap side kicked in and we ended up using 1″x2″x24″ wooden grade stakes 25 for $7! During the planning of this modification of the garden/orchard area I came to realize that for me function is more important than form/style. Over engineering had been bogging me down until it clicked that last years “Grand Plan” was all being changed and for me “pretty” comes from healthy trees, healthy chickens, and tasty veggies. I am truly jealous of those that are able to create a masterpiece/showcase in their garden but I finally came to the understand that my mind doesn’t work that way. Basically I am CHEAP and hate spending money on something that I can’t wrap my head around it’s contribution to productivity.

Yeah there's only 3 stakes holdin that box up, I told you I was CHEAP!

Yeah there’s only 3 stakes holdin that box up, I told you I was CHEAP!

 

A good overview of the Orchard

A good overview of the Orchard

A secondary goal was reconfiguring my narrow raised beds that I installed last year. The idea was they were situated to the downhill side of my irrigation lines and would therefore require minimal supplemental irrigation. Come midsummer in an effort to minimize the soggy ground at the base of my orchard area I actually ended up diverting my Grey Water irrigation supply to a separate cobbled together system that didn’t really do anything well.

The Upper end of the "raised" bed

The Upper end of the “raised” bed

The plan for the area between the rows has morphed into a traditional raised bed 4′ wide and 10′ long. As can be seen in the above picture the upper end of the bed is actually only slightly above grade.

Truly "raised"

Truly “raised”

The bed is level both side to side and end to end, consequently the lower end of the bed is slightly above grade. Hopefully by the time my trees shade this area out in several years the level of the surrounding soil will have leveled out via the copious additions of mulch.

The sun is going down and the days work is done.

The sun is going down and the days work is done.

The raised bed was filled with the last of the compost and the accumulated muck from the floor of the hen-house. Last year about this time I put about 6″ of mulch in my 10’x10′ coop. Two bales of straw, a couple bags of shredded paper, and a bale of alfalfa had made it’s way in there during the intervening months. It had dried out quite a bit (I wet it down weekly during the summer) and I realize it is probably very “hot” due to all of the chicken poop, so I watered it down well to kick start the composting action.

The two little boxes are Comfrey plants that fell outside of the new bed.

The two little boxes are Comfrey plants that fell outside of the new bed.

Today we went back up and staked the new trees, did a general cleanup, mulched the first row, and then planted the new bed. To try to mellow out that “hot” soil I sowed several handful’s of red wheat and oats, then I planted bush beans, swiss chard, and beets Square-Foot Gardening style through the pasture seeds. Why? I’m not really sure, it just felt right and that’s the theme I’m trying to stick with. Educate yourself as much as possible then go with your gut!

 

 

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What to do?

Humidity is dropping, temperature is moderating, and sadly motivation is waning bit. Shoulda got up and got a load of mulch but didn’t, coulda headed up bright and early to clear out vegetation but just veged. I did make it up to the homestead kinda later in the afternoon and found 10 eggs, woo-hoo. Yeah it’s kinda like that but it won’t last, motivation is right around the corner. I can feel it bearing down on me like……….well I don’t know like what, but it’s comin! Mother Nature took another swing at the Orchard/Chicken Ranch but thanks to my sweety Karen & daughter in law to be Shanda it was a swing and a miss. They braved raging flood waters (4″of rain in an hour) to clean out the grate on the storm drain and narrowly diverted a repeat of the Great Flood of 012! I still have a soggy stinky mess in the chicken run though, primarily in the juvenile pen so my goal tomorrow is to relocate it. The chickens have done a great job of turning the compost piles and I need to get all of that mess back in to the bins.

I need that compost to amend the back-fill for the raised beds/boxes I am going to create for the replacement trees in the orchard. It would be nice to get those made, hung and filled so that I can put some winter crops in them to condition the soil before planting new trees next February. By hung I mean that the plan is to build 3’x3′ boxes out of 2″x6″‘s then hang them from 3’ T type fence posts on each corner so that I drastically reduce the relative slope of the orchard. The hanging boxes which will probably end up about 6″ above the existing ground in the lowest area then be filled with amended soil and surrounded with a heavy layer of mulch. Will this plan work? Hell if I know but it sure aughta.

Did I mention I got a 22 lb watermelon out of all that mess of vegetation? I’m pretty sure there’s at least on more in there along with some punkins and zucchini. So really it’s not a matter of “What to do” it’s more a matter of getting my butt up and doin it! Tomorrow, yeah tomorrow.

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You make me spin right round baby

During an early morning web-crawl I stumbled upon an interesting post over at Permies.com about SPIN farming that intrigued me. I began researching and became even more interested and as usual my head is now “spinning” with ideas for my Orchard/Garden/Chicken Corral. On first read the concept seemed to be a strange marriage of Square Foot gardening and Multi-level marketing.

I first became enamored with square foot gardening back in the 90’s when we would spend as much of the summer as we could in our R/V next to the beach in Oceanside CA. San Diego’s public television station had Mel’s show on everyday during the week and it just made so much sense. I couldn’t wait to get the book and have since given several friends copies of the square foot gardening book whenever the discussion came up about growing vegetables. It was familiarity with square foot gardening’s simple common sense approach to backyard gardening that made Dave Wilson’s Back Yard Orchard Culture ideas so attractive when I discovered them last summer.

Am I planning on becoming a locally sourced produce entrepreneur? I don’t think so. It isn’t the marketing/business model of SPIN that I am interested in. From what I have read so far Small Plot INtensive gardening is the exact same concept as Square Foot gardening but with an added marketing component, my garden/chicken farm is relaxation/therapy for me. Growing stuff and tending my chooks helps refocus me and keep me going in a positive direction, it most certainly is work but it isn’t a job!

The part that grabbed my attention though is the suggested bed configuration of relatively long narrow beds that you can easily step across and straddle. Currently I have my sunken beds and my Half-Assed Hugelkulture beds between the rows of trees in my orchard. The orchard is laid out with with four rows 9′ apart with the trees spaced 4′ apart within those four rows. My sunken beds are 6′ long and positioned in between the trees in the first three rows. Basically: Emerald Beauty/bed/Gold Kist/bed/Splash ; Santa Rosa/bed/Royal Rosa/bed/Dapple Dandy ; Flavor Grenade/bed/Blenheim/bed/Mid Pride ; Flavor King/bed/Flavor Delight/bed/Arctic Star. My three Half-Assed Hugelkulture beds are in between the last two rows of trees. The Half-Assed Hugelkulture beds are going to stay where they are and in fact as soon as the weather breaks I am going to add a fourth bed in between those last two rows of trees. All of them are 4’x4′ straight out of Square Foot Gardening, I am comfortable with that configuration and think that I will have plenty of room around them for the tree branches. The Sunken Beds are another matter, their E-W orientation in line with the trees is a bit confining and I am finding it a bit difficult to work in them. Truthfully it has become an overgrown mess. I’m thinking that if the existing Sunken Beds were replaced with a single 2′ wide by 12′ long bed run N-S between each of the first three rows of trees I would have much better access while at the same time reducing competition for nutrients. Additionally I lost several trees this year due to wet feet, this new configuration would increase the distance between the beds and trees reducing the possibility of over-irrigation.

Last night I was thinking about how I had things all mapped out in my head in regards to garden projects for the fall, now one little blurb I read on the internet has turned my head upside down. All of those well thought out plans have rolled away across the tile floor leaving a big vacancy for new ideas!

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Closing a few loops

My best friend’s son Cody had his first successful hatch today and I think he’s hooked. My recurring chore of hauling mulch went off without a hitch with the one exception that John wasn’t there to discuss whats going on with my pluots or to see my super duper silenced air gun. This weeks load of mulch went into the chicken coop, I had filled the bottom of the henhouse to a depth of 10″ about 3 months ago. In that time the depth had shrunk to about 4″ due to the girls scratching it out under the sides and natural composting action. The mulch had also reduced in particle size from large shreds down to pieces 1/2″ and smaller.

My Sweety Karen came out to practice her Photography skills at The Fruity Chicken Orchard/Chicken Ranch today while I puttered around. She did a much better job with her Olympus than I do with my I-Phone.

I finally got around to setting up my compost bins on the west side of the henhouse. The idea is that I can go out once a week or so and rake up the girls feeding area and dump it all in the bins. Just cleaning up the accumulated mulch, chicken poo, and dried up vegetable scraps filled up one of the bins. Every ten shovel fills or so that got dumped in were followed by two bucketful’s of vile smelling water from the duckpond. All indications are that this compost pile should heat up rather quickly so that in a week, maybe two, I should be able to turn it into the second bin and start refilling the first.

That vile smelling duckpond is also on my radar, I know that it is full of valuable nutrients just waiting to transformed into something useful. The first level that will be implemented in this system is the introduction of duckweed into the pond. For a couple bucks I got a plastic baggy of water and a little bit of green stuff. Truthfully I felt that I got ripped off till I dumped it into a bucket that I had half filled with water from my Koi pond. That stuff goes everywhere, in addition to the bucket I now have several plastic shoe boxes with it in it. I read that it doubles in anywhere fro 24 hours to 10 days, we’ll see. I do know that the little bit that I put into the Koi pond seems to have multiplied several fold overnight.

Over at The Soulsby Farm Blog they had an interesting article on rain gardens, now we don’t get a lot of rain out here in Vegas but the article did make me think that I could do something similar in the outflow from the duckpond. The same drip irrigation system that refills the chicken waterers twice a day also refills the pond and creates a small amount of out flow. The challenge will be finding appropriate plants that will be able to tolerate our scorching heat while having wet feet. If anyone has suggestions please let me know.

The theme of this post ties into my overall purpose in writing this blog. Now keep in mind that this a personal purpose not some bigger than the sum of its parts, gonna change the world kinda purpose. Am I a great writer like Sara over at A Scribe’s Tale? or an amazingly talented Artist/Photographer like my sister Lorri over at The Eff Stop? The answer to both questions is an obvious NO! What I am good at is putting concepts together. Thats what I am doing on my Blog. Stealing other peoples ideas, twisting them about, then talking about how I think these ideas are going to work in my situation, and finally documenting the success or failure of my efforts. Yeah I sometimes am trying to entertain, brag, stimulate, or maybe irritate readers. My core philosophy is to keep focused on the things I have control of and to make things better one little thing at a time.

In summation if you have ideas or are doing things that might help in my situation, please comment and let me know about it. Or you can just like my post, you can be sure I’ll surf on over and glean something useful to plagiarize.

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