All I wanted for Christmas was a working gate in the loafing shed…famous last request.
But I got a work of art instead. Beautiful, and a reminder twice a day at least of how talented my other half is. And as if Jane needed another nickname – now I call her Spiderwoman since she’s always waiting at this gate for morning milking.
Even with a greenhouse to get gardening started, late March gardening moves at a snail’s pace here in the Cascade foothills. Slow but sure, some of my direct seeded greenhouse crops are making a showing.
I stuck my neck out and seeded peas, beets, carrots, kohlrabi and filet beans on March 12. So far the kohlrabi, beets, peas and a few beans are making a showing. Not a peep out of the carrots or the potatoes I planted the same day, but that is to be suspected with those two anyway.
Outside, even less is happening. Hope springs eternal though in the garlic row.
And hope springs eternal in the gardener…I did get a chance to do some ground breaking yesterday.
ale, the so last year brassica, plays a prominent role here in the garden; so much so, that it’s the one plant that we can grow that makes it through each month on the calendar. All in all, I actually think kale prefers the cold winter to the hot summer. It won’t keep in a summer salad mix like other greens do, but it’s pretty tasty and well worth growing any month of the year. It’s hard to believe that the Redbor pictured below was seeded last June, planted in the greenhouse in July and has made it through the winter.
You never really know here in the Pacific Northwest just what winter will bring. So you plan for the worst and hope for the best. It could be five feet of snow that smashes your greenhouses or it could be 5F temps that freeze your formally winter hardy crops. I planted my usual cast of kales for winter, because they are the most prolific and cold hardy green and I depend on them for greens for the hens and us too, of course.
I planted Lacinato, Rainbow Lacinato, Hunger Gap, Red Russian, White Russian, WinterborF1, and Redbor F1. My only survivors are Rainbow Lacinato and the “bors”. That’s a garden trial, same conditions, survivors take all. Some winters the others make it, but gardening is about extremes. Hot, cold, wet or dry, now I definitely know I won’t waste anytime planting certain kales for winter fare. Many other folks won’t be either…I have heard that some of the hybrid kales are already sold out for 2014.
I made a deal with the chickens yesterday after putting the cover on the greenhouse – you do some weeding for me, and I’ll let you have as much kale as you can stand. Deal? We’ll eat the kale in the garden and the chickens can help themselves in the greenhouse.
So far so good, it didn’t take long to move them, although Russell Crow was not liking the indignity of being carried to his new digs. Add a nest box, waterer, and feeder and they were happy to get to work.
Sweet baby Jane is no longer a baby, she’s a full grown milk cow almost done with her second lactation, and she has the appetite to match.
At nine months into her lactation and five months bred, per day she is eating at least a bale of our grass hay (45 pounds +), four pounds of rolled barley, six pounds of assorted chopped roots, 1/2 cup of molasses, 2 teaspoons of probiotic, and free choice minerals. Her grain and root amount is fixed, but I keep her feed bunk full of hay for night, and put hay out in the pasture for her by day. During the grazing season she won’t eat hay, but I do offer grain when she is milking.
For our farm, ruminants really fit our 90/10 rule well, making them a good fit for our locale. Sustainability for small farms depends on not buying in feed. Or at least only a small percentage, otherwise we are just like the big guys we so love to complain about. Our farm community has died out here, there are no more feed stores, all the big farms have been chopped up and subdivided, and get good hay? Hard to do without animals on the land. Hay is more than just grass, and with cows it’s hard to offer them the proper minerals when you’re skewing them by bringing in the bulk of their diet from another farm. When the term terroir finally trickles down to the food world from the wine industry we will see some real sustainability in our small farms. Until then, we’re just trading big for little as if little or small is a guarantee of anything other than small. Or in other words like Wes Jackson said ” you need to meet the expectation of the land.” Once we start to make inroads of meeting the land’s expectation we will see some progress.
Besides general condition of the cow – smooth hair, clean tail and bright-eyed demeanor, you can look at cow pies to see if you’re feeding enough the right feedstuffs and have them in balance. It may seem pretty odd to the uninitiated but if you have cows, you need to spend the same amount of time observing what comes out the back as much as what goes in the front. Taking photos isn’t necessary unless of course, you want a record of how different types of feed affect a cow’s manure.
Right now the grass is greening up a bit, and Jane is getting some spring tonic to go along with her hay. The early spring grass is as bad nutrition-wise as the fall green-up. Woefully out of balance and washed out, it isn’t much more than a green smoothie for a cow. So we are still feeding sunlight harvested last year in the form of hay to keep her evened out. By watching her manure I can monitor how well I am balancing her feed. With dairy cows you walk a fine line keeping condition while producing milk. I have been able to put a little weight on her this winter, but she is a fairly persistent producer – still at 3 1/2 gallons per day now nine months in, and on farmstead fare. Soon it will be time to dry her up and then walk the other fine line of over-conditioning in the dry period. Too fat is just as bad as too thin for a full-blood dairy cow at freshening time. Stay tuned to see how Jane does.
I’ll weed carrots and buck bales for you ’til the cows come home.
Back in the day before I had a greenhouse I coveted another person’s greenhouse. I used to propagate dwarf conifers, and the stock garden at the nursery where I took my cuttings had four greenhouses. They were homemade A-frame jobs, made with rough cut lumber and fiberglass panels. In those days you either had an expensive glass house or you pored over Mother Earth News and appropriate technology rags and made a greenhouse yourself. These greenhouses were like that. Greenhouses are wondrous places, I always feel transported to another place when I step in one. It doesn’t matter what is grown in them, they represent hope and life beyond what lies outside. In spring here we wait for the signs of spring, when the red currant blooms the smelt will be in the Sandy River, and when the vultures show up the hummingbirds arrive on the same day. With a greenhouse you inch those micro-climate facts ahead and in the fall you can put a hitch in the get- along of winter that for sure will be bearing down on your gardening efforts.
At that time in my life I was still of the mindset that you earned money, then you bought what you needed or wanted from someone else. We are trained to be consumers from an early age. Save your money…so you can buy something. Every couple of days I would go to that nursery to take more cuttings, since propagation is a piecework kind of deal, you need fresh stock to work with. So after the winter cold, and before bud break I would do cuttings by the thousands. And drool over those greenhouses. They had built four, but only ever could work up to filling three by the time the conifers would break dormancy. I always wondered why they didn’t grow food in the empty one. They were fair weather vegetable gardeners, planting with good intentions and but then giving up when the weeds overtook the little vegetables in June. Food wasn’t really on their radar so much, it is much easier to have a job, and pay for food at the store, and garden as a side hobby.
As far as fair weather gardeners go, I was sort of one too. I grew the typical garden of the time, mostly for preserving warm weather crops by canning and freezing with a few stored root crops. And I grew tons of flowers, which kind of went with where my mind was horticulturally at the time. I was more interested in making bouquets along with propagating and grafting anything that wasn’t tied down, than I was growing a huge share of my food.
Somewhere along the line, food started to become more important to me, and then we were exposed to Susan Moser and her salad business. Needless to say I thought that salad business would be the perfect
excuse reason for a greenhouse. At first we were hung up on the greenhouse space being expensive real estate and wouldn’t dare think to plant pedestrian everyday vegetables in the greenhouse. But as with all things, change happens. Salad mix became readily available in stores, farmers markets and CSA farms popped up everywhere, and the price went down. And soon in our minds the greenhouse started looking like a place to save money instead of “make” money.
Now we realize the importance of growing our food here, whether it be plain old Irish potatoes typically planted by Saint Patrick’s Day somewhere else. That calendar has never fit in our cool climate, until we built the greenhouse. Outside my gardens are a little frightful – wet and cool, barely any warm weather weeds daring to stick out their necks. Inside though, I’m a month to six weeks ahead. Calendula and lambsquarters started appearing about a week after we re-installed the greenhouse plastic, just one hundred feet away though in either garden I see neither of those plants. When I see those first weeds germinating I know I can start direct seeding some small amounts of some early crops in the greenhouse.
Yesterday we officially started the garden, although it’s in the greenhouse, it’s a start on fresh food for the new season. Now having come full circle I believe any food you can grow at home is a savings on all counts. It can’t get any fresher than that, and I have to say if you are affected at all by the cloudy days, even a cloudy day in the greenhouse beats the cubicle any day.
Planted so far:
Dark Red Norland potatoes.
Spring Treat snap peas.
Maxibel filet beans.
Kolibri F1 kohlrabi.
Merlin F1 beets.
Napoli F1 carrots.
Next week our new strawberries should arrive and hopefully some of our starts will be ready for transplanting. I love my greenhouse.
Outside it’s still winter and chilly around the edges despite the bright sun.
It took sixteen days to dry out the greenhouse, but the wait is over.
And the dogs. Although they will be banished now unsupervised. The big dogs know the drill, but Grady is a loose cannon yet.
After some bed shaping and weeding we’ll probably start direct seeding some crops tomorrow. I’m rotating greenhouse crops this year, so this one will serve as the first spring garden with a quick round of beets, carrots, potatoes, haricot verts, kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, salad fixin’s, strawberries, and maybe a summer squash or two, plus cover crop for the winter crop area.
This is the part where I urge anyone with a strong desire to get off the food grid, to build a greenhouse. Season extension is the name of the game with food. We are living off our stores of winter squash, potatoes, and still pulling roots from the garden and gagging on kale…yes, it does get tiring. But starting a garden here in my location in the first part of March, unheard of without some kind of gardeners intervention. Since the first of March we have received 8.2 inches of rain, our outside gardens are a sodden mess. Inside the greenhouse, it is spring, and time to plant. Bliss.