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Not So Dryland Garden

June 21, 2015
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June 20, 2015

Phenologically speaking, we are two weeks ahead due to our dry and warm spring.  We’re cutting hay and picking raspberries, those two yearly tasks normally commence on or around the fifth of July depending on the rain.  Compressing tasks means we aren’t quite ready to be thrown into haymaking or berry picking mode just yet.  But here we are.

June 20, 2015

June 20, 2015

Also this means that I had to get cracking on the drip irrigation installation or wait until there was a break in the haymaking.  Sometimes there isn’t a break in haymaking, we’re hauling and mowing at the same time, so I decided to just get the irrigation off the list this weekend while Hangdog was mowing hay.

June 20, 2015

June 20, 2015

I took before and after photos of the garden for documentation, not so much of the drip irrigation itself but to show a good look at the garden that was planted in early May and has not been irrigated.  Normally this time of year we are lucky to have a dry enough stretch to do a lot of planting, let alone have to irrigate.  Farmers I know started irrigating just so they could plant in May.  We are having a dry year.

Cocozelle June 20, 2015

Cocozelle June 20, 2015

Dark Star June 20, 2015

Dark Star June 20, 2015

I can’t say enough good things about Dripworks, even if you don’t plan on using drip irrigation their catalog is full of information and I like looking at all the plumbing fittings.  They are in California though, so there may be an equivalent on the east coast that would make more sense to order from since the price of shipping has to be taken into consideration.  Also many of these supplies can be found at Home Depot or Lowe’s too.

June 20, 2015

June 20, 2015

Since this is temporary I just hooked the mainline to a garden hose.  If we decide to make it permanent we will trench in a line and a more permanent hookup.  The simplicity of drip irrigation is astounding, there are fittings for every application imaginable for the home garden.  I purchased a filter, pressure regulator (I’m using municipal water for this), mainline, drip tape, and fittings to attach the drip to the mainline.  Easy peasy.  The simplest way to see what you need for your garden even if you are buying locally, is to go to the Dripworks website and look at the kits that would fit your application, then just scroll through and see what you think you need.  There were several things in the kit that I couldn’t see a use for, and some that I needed instead.  My garden is laid out in row crop fashion, so that really simplified things.  One mainline, enough drip tape to water each row, and the fittings to match.  My garden is always laid out the same, so I will be able to reuse this for many years if I take care of the supplies.  The most important thing to do is take care of the drip tape.  Here is a great article by a colleague showing how to make a drip winder.

June 20, 2015

June 20, 2015

I decided to build in some flexibility by putting shutoff valves at each line.  I did not install any lines for the potatoes, they are fine without irrigation.  With the shutoffs I will be able to reuse this mainline for this garden even though next year the potatoes will move in the rotation.  The hardest part of drip irrigation installation is the planning ahead.  Also with the shutoff valves I may choose to stop irrigating a certain crop while continuing on another.  Well worth the $2.00 price tag to save on water.

Dark Star June 20, 2015

Dark Star June 20, 2015

While I’m not totally convinced that drip irrigation is what plants really want, since they are designed to take in moisture through their leaves also, I think that like many other things in life there is always a tradeoff.  I want a more automatic garden this summer, and this is the way to achieve that goal in the time being.  If I take care of my supplies this little system should last me years, especially if we go back to dryland gardening.

A Slice of Humble Pie

June 15, 2015
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Blogging is a lesson in humility, a mere week after ranting and raving about dryland farming and irrigation, I’m here eating my words!  I’m extending the drip irrigation from the greenhouse to the dryland garden.  Yup.  You see farming is like driving down a curvy mountain road, or actually driving up a curvy mountain road, you just never know what is around the next corner.

It seems my hubby who’s been complaining of back pain has some serious stuff going on.  What that means for me in the short-term is I need to pick up some slack in his department, so he can continue to do the things I can’t or don’t feel skilled enough at to perform.  So for me to pick up that slack means I need to let things go that I normally do, like tend the garden.  Not totally let the garden go of course, but make the garden a little more automatic so to speak.  Dryland is like organics, you spend a lot of time doing hand work, so drip irrigation will give me some leeway on thinning and weeding, since I won’t be relying so much on reserved soil moisture to keep the plants going.

This is a bummer on several counts, of course my better half doesn’t feel so hot, and I will miss writing about how awesome a dryland garden is, but drip irrigation is pretty awesome too, and hopefully this is just a bump in that curvy road.  I know for a fact that today at 90°F I would have much rather been weeding in the garden instead of hauling and stacking firewood.

Gardening on the Flat, with a Little Dryland on the Side

June 8, 2015
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Dry land staple garden June 7, 2015

Why do I do it?  Because it works.  I know I can feel you all cringing right now… .  Yes, Virginia, you can garden without much irrigation, I’ll add the disclaimer, at least here in my locale you can, everyone loves to tell me it won’t work.  I like to practice this lost skill of dryland farming/gardening just because I think it’s a skill that may come in handy.  If I set the garden up in such a way that it can still grow food without irrigation, I will be ahead compared to setting it up for irrigation and then not being able to deliver.

I know how my gardens look to some being all bare and such, but I don’t want to apologize for growing my own food, in my own way.  And really if you strip away all the BS about slow food that you hear these days, I would really want to raise my hand and say, what about growing some food with less irrigation?  What if?  The slow food mantra would have you believe that if you grow your chickens four more weeks, and your cattle one more year before you kill them while you’re sucking the well or spring dry for the garden, that that qualifies as slow food.  What about slow veggies?  Obviously I’m talking farmstead scale here not market gardens, and I do use irrigation on some of our food crops.  I’m just saying what if, what if folks explored using less and concentrating on some high calorie crops that store well.  First I know many will have to get over the carb phobia they have, I mean potatoes and squash are pretty high on my “the end is near” list of crops.  No water, no processing and store for months and up to a year.  If you’re hungry and food and water were scarce, I bet that carb hating feeling would be out the window.

So where to begin?  First with garden preparation.  If you want to start a garden, you should be working on the 2016 garden right now.  Most folks worry about weeds the most in their gardens.  I do too, I am borrowing that soil for part of year during the growing season, so I want the plants I want to thrive, to that end I need to remove the competition.  Weeds.  Especially if I am going to sparingly water.  So if you’re planning a garden right now, it should be twice the size you need, one half for growing your immediate food, and the other half for weeding.  The weeding side you work on all summer too, mining the weed seeds out as they appear, maybe a little cover cropping, and more fallowing, basically making a stale seed bed for your overwintering cover crop.  This takes equipment of some sort.  There is no free ride, if you grow your food you see the consequences of what you’re doing right now.  Is does no good to preach against tillage and buy your food, tillage is happening somewhere on your behalf.  The first year breaking new ground is a bear, you will have weeds you never even thought of.  But if you make a double garden and peck away with one and diligently weed the other, you will have an easier time next year when you swap and rotate one into garden and the first one into the weeding/fallow regimen.

Dryland potatoes

Dryland potatoes

A couple of things I should point out, is no raised beds and no wheel tracks from the tractor.  If I make raised beds I will need to water more.  Certainly a permanent raised bed makes sense in some cases,  but if I form beds out here, I am just putting  my plants in jeopardy in a no, or scant water situation.  Raised beds are good in the cold, wet spring to warm the soil, but here in Western Oregon where we have a Mediterranean climate with maybe only a chance of a rain in the summer, raised beds are plant murder or a solid marketing plan for the drip irrigation company.

As for wheel tracks, seeds like a firm seedbed, weed seeds love a firm seedbed. So when you till, start at one side of your garden and as you work your way across till your wheel track, my tractor is wider than my tiller, so I have it offset.  You will put a path in there anyway once you start planting, but until your vegetables get established it’s just easier to not make hard paths.  They are the hardest to weed because the soil is compacted where the equipment traveled or where you walk to tend and harvest.  Of course, if you have nice walk behind tiller, no worries it will do the work.  I use a hoe, so I want the dirt as soft as possible, so it’s easy to maintain my dust mulch.

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Besides removing weed competition, wide spacing helps in dryland farming/gardening.  The plants have to be able to seek out soil moisture.  If you crowd your plants, or plant at recommended spacing in the seed catalog, your plants will need irrigation.  I have to say here I’m not against irrigation, but it’s not necessary in some cases if you’re willing to use a little more space, select correct varieties, and keep the garden fairly weed-free.

The potatoes need hilling, which is moving the soil up around the stems where the future potatoes will form.  I don’t need to weed the potatoes because the action of hilling does that work too.  I can either cover up the little weed seedlings around the potato plants, or if there is grass I will pull that out.

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Certainly you could use equipment here, but I’m talking farmstead gardening so a hoe will do the trick especially if the soil is loose and friable.  Hoeing is not drudge work, unless you make it so.  I hoed five rows today in the hottest part of the day, sun hat, water, and a sharp hoe.  Not a problem, I got hotter hosing off the pigs when my garden stint was done.

Uncle John dry beans

Uncle John dry beans with a Calendula “weed.”

The usual order of business in keeping up the garden is to keep the paths clear with the hoe, and hand weed and thin the vegetables in row.  I like to clear the paths first so the weeds die in the sun, and then hand weed.  If I weeded and thinned first I would be moving all that trash with my hoe as I scuffled the blade around.  It may not seem like much, but the trash makes it hard to cleanly slice off the weeds in the paths, and may cover them enough that I miss them.  I’m a lazy gardener, I don’t want to move anymore soil or weeds than I have to.  That’s also why I garden on the flat, I’m only moving a little bit soil by hand, not wheelbarrow loads of mulch.  I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s attitude about the work more than anything that determines what and how you make your garden or farmstead hum and chug along.  It’s all labor, it’s just how you do it and how you see it in your mind.  Garden of Eden type gardens are still work, just different work.  I’m happy to weed in place instead of hauling around carbon I don’t have.  My soil is here, if nothing else it’s free. Farming and gardening is just materials handling folks.  Take this and put it over there and move that over here.  Materials Handling.

Cascade Ruby-Gold flint corn

Cascade Ruby-Gold flint corn

On the lazy gardener front too, spacing is important for ease of hand cultivation with a hoe.  My corn is planted in hills or groups in row with room to hoe in between, which translates to ease of weeding if I can slice off a weed with a sharp hoe as I walk down the row, rather than bend down or crawl along tediously weeding between closely spaced plants.  I have the same amount of corn plants in the row I would if I planted the plants single-file and close together they are just easier to manage in hills.

Welcome sweet corn

Welcome sweet corn

So it’s not really rocket science, it’s just a subsistence-type garden like all the homesteaders used that settled this location in the 1800’s.  Piped water was a luxury, and saved for household and livestock use.  I am not giving up my drip irrigation or my sprinklers anytime soon, but I’m the kind of person who likes to practice skills so I don’t forget how to do them.  As it stands, we only have one garden that is dryland, one is watered occasionally, one greenhouse has drip irrigation and one greenhouse is hand watered.  There’s room for all in my garden tool kit.

 

Garden Walk in the Rain

June 3, 2015

Finally some normal June weather.  Everybody (animals, plants and humans) is breathing in a sigh of relief with several days of rain!  I just did a walkabout this afternoon between showers and snapped a few photos of the garden crops.

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Over the past weekend we were able to get most of the garden planted except rows left open for fall crops.  I felt pretty smug on the weed front on those hot sunny days.  Now with three days of rain I’m not so smug anymore.  There is nothing like real irrigation to germinate seeds, whether it’s weed seeds or garden seeds.  I look at this and see only weeds, but actually the plants look pretty good if ignore the pesky weeds, most of which will disappear when we thin the vegetables.

Dryland garden plantings in order in the photo starting at the bottom:
Music garlic, just showing the first tips of scapes.
Red Cored Chantenay, two double rows (Jane).
Turga parsnip, one double row (Jane).
Lutz beet, one double row.
Brilliant celeriac.
Cascade Ruby-Gold flint corn, Welcome TSW sweet corn, three rows.
Purple Viking and Desiree potato, three rows.
Uncle John dry bean, one row.
Pollinator row, dill, cilantro, zinnia, calendula, centaurea, sunflowers, marigolds, cosmos, cerinthe, torch and I forget…mostly anything I find in my seed box that needs to get gone.
Joan rutabaga and Gilfeather “turnip”, one row. (My dogs go bazacko for Gilfeather)
Sweet Meat, Musque de Provence winter squash, Spookie pumpkin one row.
Dark Star and Cocozelle summer squash, and hills left open for Naked Seed pumpkin which is giving me fits and starts and may not happen this year.
Three fallow rows.

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Same garden from the other side.

Main garden

Main garden

Ugh, I’m really struggling here with weed management. Seed plants and early planted dahlias are giving me the fits here.  It’s funny what you see when you’re on the tractor, you find things you lost in a field and kaboom ideas hit you too.  I decided next year, NEXT YEAR, I will use plastic mulch on my replanted crops for seed.  Saving seed is a messy business if you like the look of a weed free garden.  In fact so much so, that seed companies tell you that if you think you want to save seed for them as a business consider this, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game than gardening.  Tall, unruly, ugly-looking plants and weeds are your future if you want to do any biennial seed saving.  Keep that in mind.

There isn’t much see here since it’s all above the keyline and it’s almost all direct seeded except a small brassica planting.  Next garden post I should have something to show for our work.  More carrots, beets, parsnips, cucumbers, summer squash, and some flowers got planted out this weekend in this garden.

Turga parsnip flower

Turga parsnip flower

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A lot of our garden action is still going on in the greenhouses.  In a span of a couple of weeks, outside we planted winter garden, then summer garden, and now we’re working on our fall garden seeding which puts us back in the greenhouse.  Gardening is like that, first you have nothing planted and then all of a sudden you have no room to plant anything, and you’re seeding more for the final planting of seeds whose fruits you will eat this winter.  I told my family the garden season was over this weekend, and summer hasn’t really begun! They covered their ears.  Rantings of an old seed lady, I’m not into cats, so Old Seed Lady will have to do and actually fits me much better.

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Besides seeding in flats in the greenhouse we are barely keeping the kale and romaine at bay…tough I know ;)

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I swear you would not believe we eat kale three times a day, have enough to supplement the hens and baconators and these plants keep rewarding us with phenomenal growth.  There is just something about the hen-pecked compost that the brassicas love.

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Sugar Sprint peas are about done,.

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The carrots are sizing up nicely.

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Kohlrabi is about one of my favorite brassicas.  If you just want to say no to row cover, grow these.  They seem to be immune to most brassica problems…and they are delicious.

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In the other greenhouse (we call it the lone wolf), with drip irrigation and plastic mulch, we don’t spend a lot of time in here.  I turn on the drip once a week, and other than attempting to prune and trellis tomatoes and pick strawberries we don’t come in here as often.  You could view that as a good thing or a bad thing depending on how you look at it.

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Same greenhouse, different view.  Strawberries, peppers, melons, cucumbers, tomatoes and a row of brassicas on the cool edge make up the plantings in here.  While we aren’t spending a lot of time in here right now, that will change as the solanums start to need harvesting.

So that concludes the “garden” tour this first week of June, I hope things are growing well in your gardens too!

 

 

Jane is Five

May 27, 2015
jane

5 minutes old

It seems like just yesterday when Jane was just a babe getting dried off with a pink towel.

almost one year old

almost one year old

two years old

two years old

three

three years old

four years old

four years old

five years old

five years old

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Juliette de Bairacli Levy writes that it is bad luck to pick a five leaf clover, so a photo will have to do.  We are certainly lucky to have Jane.  Three calves, another one in the oven, countless gallons of milk, pounds of butter, tons of manure for the garden, and never a dull moment.  Thanks Jane – Happy Birthday!

Dryland Potatoes in the Greenhouse?

May 21, 2015

Dark Red Norland
We do grow our potatoes outside using dryland farming methods, but inside the greenhouse?  Sure, as long as I pay attention to where I plant them.  I look at our greenhouses as a way to secure our food supply.  Nothing fancy, basically just a way to hedge our bets and grow more food.  No bells and whistles, just an unheated greenhouse.

Like our gardens, our greenhouses are oriented north and south for maximum light to all plants, and to extend our growing season.  When you mention greenhouse, most folks think of an east/west orientation with some sort of heat gathering device to grow things in the winter.  That’s not what we’re after, we’re after a longer, slightly warmer, and drier growing season.  Also an east/west orientation limits you somewhat on rotating crops due to plant sizes and growing habits.  Note, I said limits, many sites only will allow east/west orientation due to terrain or other issues like tall tree shade etc.

Dark Red Norland, greenhouse final harvest July 19, 2014

Dark Red Norland, greenhouse final harvest July 19, 2014

We grow most our potatoes for storage outside in the garden, but since we’re treating the greenhouse like a garden space we grow a row of early maturing potatoes inside the greenhouse each year.  The potatoes in the photo above are the final harvest of greenhouse potatoes last year, and I set aside the best ones for seed for this year. Here they are again in the photo below growing like gangbusters.

greenhouse 1

greenhouse 1

The edge rows of our greenhouses are the coolest and give me a little wiggle room for planting crops that would like it a little cooler and that can get some of the natural seepage from rainfall too.  While I do water by hand every day in this greenhouse because our starts are in here, I have not watered the potatoes.  The plastic has been on since mid-February and it is dry inside.

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But at the edge, you can see the soil is much like our dryland garden outside, a dust mulch is conserving the moisture below the surface and not allowing the soil moisture to evaporate at a high rate as you might expect.  Mulching in here is a folly, slugs abound and all they need is a moist passage and some cover, and they have their way with many things growing in here.

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I understand greenhouse growing is not for everyone, but if you’re not a dabbler I think they have their place on a farmstead for season extension.  I still firmly believe that any food I grow here in my own environment that is in my face, is owning it and all that goes with it.  You know what I mean.

A Quickie About Seed Saving

May 18, 2015

Or at least how I approach it.

Cascade Ruby-Gold flint corn

Cascade Ruby-Gold flint corn

Seed saving is much more complicated than just the act of harvesting a dry seed from a plant.  The expectation when you save seeds from a plant is that you will have seeds that produce true-to-type like the parent.  Some plants like tomatoes, beans and peas are pretty easy to save seed from the parent plants due to flower type etc.  And of course there’s the whole hybrid, open-pollinated thing.  You can save seeds from a hybrid for sure, but the resulting seeds will produce plants that vary.  I grow hybrids, and I grow open-pollinated varieties too, there is room for both in my garden and on my table.

The other thing about seed saving is that it takes extra space because you have to let the plant(s) bolt, set seed, and then dry down. It’s unrealistic to think that you will be able to save seeds from everything you grow in your garden to eat.  So you pick and choose.  My space for seed saving is limited, and my criteria for what to plant for seed saving is limiting also.  Will it cross-pollinate?  How many parent plants do I need to insure the gene pool stays strong and true-to-type?  Is this seed important to me for heritage reasons?

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In the case of this flint corn, if I want to save the seed from this corn, I need to make sure it won’t cross-pollinate with the hybrid sweet corn we like to grow.  Now growing corn here is iffy anyway, not really iffy, I guess, it just takes a long time.  USDA gardening zone charts tell me I should be able to expect to grow sweet corn to maturity easily.  But, those zone maps are pretty much useless unless I want to find out if my plants will be hardy over winter.  What the zone chart won’t tell you is about heat units.  The maritime northwest has notoriously cool nights in the summer, which translates to a much longer time for heat loving crops to reach maturity.  I grow an early sweet corn, which should be ready in about 69 days…it takes at least 90 days from seed to table.  Now if I want to grow two types of corn and I want to save seed, I need to extend my season somehow.

A trick I learned from my CSA friends is to start the seed indoors and transplant it just like many other crops.  Corn is very sensitive to soil temperature, it will rot fast in our normal May conditions if I direct seed to get a jump on the season, so transplanting really makes a lot of sense.  Once the corn germinates it’s not so sensitive to the cool soil, and it’s like you get to skip that 10 day hand-wringing when you direct seed corn in the early garden.

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Before I can plant my corn though, I need to select my seed.  The timeline on that goes in this order.  First I buy seed of a variety that I want to grow, or get seedstock from another gardener that is a plant geek like me.  Then I grow it out and make observations throughout the growing season, and then more observations through the eating season.  First off, it must taste good, or be awful damn beautiful or special for me to continue on the journey.  I bought a tiny packet of seeds last year for this corn, Cascade Ruby-Gold flint corn from the breeder, Carol Deppe. It was bred and raised in western Oregon, although a little further south, but still a similar climate.  This corn is also offspring from the Abenaki Calais corn I have grown before with success.

Abenaki Calais flint corn drying over the woodstove

Abenaki Calais flint corn drying over the woodstove

I did have to dry the Abenaki corn down over the cookstove, but I can’t hold that against it either since we had quite a bout of wet springs a few years back, and I couldn’t even plant garden until the end of June…sad days for sure.  I also hadn’t been brave or smart enough to think of transplanting corn.

The Abenaki corn is good, but the Cascade Ruby-Gold sounded a little better.  Gardeners like to experiment you know.  I started the Ruby-Gold in the greenhouse and attempted transplanting, and it really wasn’t at bad as I envisioned.  My biggest worry was hurting the extremely vigorous tap root, and expecting the corn to perform under dryland conditions.  I read up on the subject and advice ranged from don’t worry to worry and keep the corn flats above water so the tap root can live in the water like a cutting being rooted.  Well, that wasn’t going to happen so I proceeded with some caution.  I broke some tap roots, and discarded some seedlings, but I ended up with a good-sized block of transplanted seed corn.  So far so good, until the corn was about knee-high, and our last (RIP) remaining ewe decided to get out and eat the flint corn down to the nubbins.  Not all of it, but enough to tick me off big time.

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Despite all that though we brought in a decent harvest of flint corn.  It dried down beautifully on the stalk, and we were are able to harvest before any significant rains and get the bounty stored.  What I liked about it was besides tasting good, it yielded better for me than the Abenaki.  So far this corn has a lot going for it in my garden.  Now for this year, I need to select seed from cobs that meet my criteria.  Since growing, harvesting and taste have been satisfied, I want to look for production.  I didn’t keep the best notes when I harvested so I have no idea really what caused small cobs on some plants (sheep mowing perhaps) the small cobs appear in all colors so it’s not a color thing.  It not make any difference at all, but I selected my seed from my largest cobs of each color, and rejected any kernels that were smaller.  It may not make any difference in the next planting, but that’s how you proceed, one step at a time.  I like the mix of colors, red is supposed to be more tolerant of higher elevations, and cooler temperatures, so in the future I could only select for red or not.  That’s what makes it fun.  Saving seed can be like a box of chocolates, you never really know what you’re biting into.

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