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A bear of a spring

July 7, 2010

A wet, cool spring could possibly mean a hard winter to come.  At our camp it is shaping up that way.  I am planting my fall and winter garden now.  Nothing unusual about that really, except that during the last two weeks of June I was just planting my summer garden too.

The Fish & Game officer stopped near our driveway this weekend to wait for a colleague to show him where to release this bear.  We chatted awhile and weren’t too surprised to hear that they have been trapping bears for the last two weeks.  It seems that the berries the bears usually dine on in June are not ripe yet, or in some cases nonexistent because of poor pollination due to the constant cold and rainy weather all spring.  It seems the bruins are hungry and developing a taste for chickens, and household foodstuffs, hence the trapping and relocating.

I know how the bears feel, a quick look at our fruit trees show a dismal harvest ahead 😦  I guess I shouldn’t be in too big of hurry to eat up my applesauce – it will have to last until the next year.  That really does show the beauty of canning, food put by and canned properly keeps well and can take you through hard times if need be.  I have plenty of provisions in the freezer too, but the shelf life is questionable.

It seems funny to post about a cool spring when everyone including the Pacific Northwest is experiencing a heat wave.  We wore down vests for late night 4th of July festivities, and now we are making hay in close to 100°F weather.  Go figure.  Lots of things to post about, so little time to write them down.  Our pastures are amazing, and I have some great photos … more on that later.   But gardening is on my mind too, so here are some pictures to show just how behind we are.

It was a good thing I decided to fallow some of the garden this year – the cover crop was a runaway.  And since we are a one tractor farm, I need to get my tractor work done, so Hangdog can get to haying.

Close to 7 feet tall, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it didn’t lodge at all.   Della’s last contribution (besides Jane of course) was providing enough manure this winter for this cover crop patch.  If I had put too much on the excess nitrogen would have made the rye grow tall but with weak stems, and the heavy rains would have brought it down.  Thanks Della, this spot will be a bang up garden next year.

I use a dust mulch and wide spacing for my garden, and we water very little in our main gardens.  So for that to work I have to maintain a weed-free, well cultivated area for my vegetables.  Hoophouses and intense plantings are the exception to that rule though, they do need irrigation.

When it is this hot, it is critical that I conserve the soil moisture for the seeds.  To do that, I don’t mark my rows, which would dry out the furrow, until I am ready to plant.  As you can see in the photo above the soil is dark and damp just under the surface.  More information on this type of gardening can be found in Steve Solomon’s, Water-Wise Vegetables.  Obviously, this method won’t work for intensive raised bed type of gardens, and for people who have adequate water for irrigation.  But it is the way truck farmers around here grow many crops in our dry, Mediterranean type summers and I can attest to the fact that it works.  And if you’re a new reader, going back through my blog posts you can see I grow lots of vegetables every year, consistently.  I worry about peak water… .

Lutz beet.

While it may seem like we have missed the boat this year in the garden, I haven’t felt the need to worry too much.  We ate our last root crops from last year in May.  In our climate we are able to store them in the row were they grew, and dig as needed.   So we have adjusted our diet and tastes to match what our gardening conditions allow.  Since we dined on fresh carrots, beets, rutabagas and celeriac all winter and into spring – we really have no cravings for any now.  We have been happy with huge salads and braising greens until different crops mature.

Joan rutabaga.

And so it goes, planting by the summer solstice so I will have something to eat come next spring equinox.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. July 7, 2010 2:54 pm

    I worry about peak water too. Some day I hope to have a metal roof on the house and a rain harvesting system for watering the vegetable beds, et al.

    I’ll look into that water-wise book at the library.

    Nita- how much do you plant for the three of you? I’m still trying to figure out what I need to be doing so that I can get most of our food out of the yard. They say you should be able to do it on a quarter acre, and a lot of my yard isn’t under cultivation because of the clay, but I’m still trying to learn how much to plant! And not have it all ready at once….

    I’m trying Joan rutabagas for the first time this year…

    • July 7, 2010 3:53 pm

      Paula, that book is out of print, but you should be able to find it on Ebay or AbeBooks for a song. Sometimes it is cheaper for me to buy a book for $5.00 (including shipping) than it is to drive all the way to the library when a hold comes in. Then I have the book!

      How much to plant? That is a tough one to answer properly. Meh. I always plant more than we need to allow for crop failure or critter problems. Usually I go by row feet or # of heads. I don’t usually weigh my harvests unless I am trying to check yields or for instance want to know how many pounds of tomatoes I need for X number of pints of sauce or something of that nature. Just to give you an idea though, about 150 row feet of beets, rutabagas and parsnips will do us for the winter. Approximately 50# pounds of seed potatoes planted in 300 row feet will yield around 500#. We end up planting about 48 each of different types of brassicas except Brussel sprouts. And many things like lettuce, greens, bok choy, kohlrabi, daikon and salad turnips are planted successively in smaller increments as space becomes available. The best advice is to grow what you really want to eat, and work your way up. I loosely use the 52 week rule, for canning and preserving fruits and vegetables – one unit of ______ per week. Exception to that is that we eat potatoes most days from September to May – so the 52 week thing doesn’t work for that. So it takes time to figure it out – my garden certainly looks different than it used to.

      I’m thinking you will like Joan!

  2. July 7, 2010 3:37 pm

    Shall look for that book…our weather here has not been the same any year. This year is very wet but two years ago was the nth year of a series of droughts. Give hugs to the babies and the dogs at your place…Kaleb is sending his happy dog smile 🙂

    • July 7, 2010 4:00 pm

      Robbyn, I like Steve Solomon – even though he isn’t all that popular in some circles. 😉 But he is spot on with the dry-land.

      The dogs are staying in – too hot for them. They will emerge when it cools off, I keep telling them Kaleb makes them look like wienies with your weather 😉 Jane is chilling under an apple tree and glaring at the house! Guess I better go out and rescue her with some nice warm milk :p

  3. July 7, 2010 9:04 pm

    I think it is good that you are so adaptable with your garden. Our garden is all but gone except for okra. We ate everyday out of the garden, but did not plant enough for more than that time period.

    I think we are going to do a winter garden this year in hopes of growing more vegetables.
    I wonder if we will ever have enough to freeze or can.

    I hope Jane and the other little calf are doing well. Sounds like you have a lot of work left to do.

    • July 7, 2010 10:18 pm

      Pam, oh my, you guys have really been hit with the heat – we haven’t only had 2 or 3 days and we’re complaining – typical Oregonians 🙂

      I think you will be able to have a wonderful winter garden – once you get in the swing of gardening in a different season it gets easier. I used to think October was the end of gardening – now I know better. As for the freezing and canning, sometimes I think it is much easier to grow it than to put it up – I’m not much of a kitchen gal 😉

      Jane just had her 11:00 pm bedtime grog – she is doing great. Lola and her mom are back with the other cows – her mom wasn’t giving enough for me to be a milk thief, so I they made the trek and are doing fine.

  4. July 7, 2010 10:04 pm

    Holy moley, that is some tall rye. I never.

    Makes my chest-high pasture bush-hogging once a season seem not so radical after all. Folks in KY can’t stand to see things not mowed, so they used to cut the pastures 3 or 4 times a summer. I can only get out there once at the end, and chop it all in like you’re doing with that cover crop, which seems to be having the same effect. Thick growth and the soil is building. It wasn’t that way when I started 4 years ago.

    I’ve seen that book before, think I’ll scrounge it up on Abebooks again, thanks for mentioning it. Keep cool up there!

    • July 7, 2010 10:26 pm

      TD, I like the mowed look too – or rather now the grazed look. But, I am glad not be spending so much time with the bush hog like I used to. But you’re right – carbon is carbon, cutting it and leaving it works wonders. When that rye is worked in, the soil should be nice and mellow, and then I can swap to the other side for a fallow period. I was wearing it out gardening in the whole space, and myself too. The weeds were winning, so I realized it was time to for rest, and rebuilding.

      That book is great – a good go-along with his Gardening when it Counts, Growing Food in Hard Times.

      Supposed to be 100F tomorrow – maybe a good day to post about grazing!

  5. July 8, 2010 5:35 am

    As I Have said, I like to practice wide spacing in our large gardens too. I like this method especially for potatoes. Last year was my first time doing this method I planted the potatoes 3 foot a part in rows 3 foot apart and did not hill them, as this kills the feeder roots and cut down on yield. we got more potatoes that fall then ever and big ones, and I never watered them at all! so now I do it with all the vegetables. I learned this method from an old book called Campbell’s soil culture manual it is available to download from google books. Even though MI is not a dry state most farms in my area have irrigation pivots because it is sandy and there is no hummus any more. But I have found that if I grow green manure crops and spread compost there is no need to water. As I write it is raining and the pivots are on!

    • July 8, 2010 6:41 am

      David, it certainly works well here too – I find it easier to perfect the dry land techniques and select the correct varieties than it is to spend money and time on irrigation that may not always be available. Rain water collection makes sense for small gardens, but I can’t imagine storing enough rain water to water my gardens for the 2 or 3 months that we don’t receive any rain.

      I do hill my spuds though, if I don’t the yield is dismal. For our soil a 4 foot spacing each way works well, and the potatoes keep well into late May since they aren’t full of water.

      I have been lax in answering past comments, but I didn’t forget your question about the rumen fiber mat. Hugh Karreman, DVM writes about the importance of providing forage for calves instead of protein (grain) to develop a good rumen for grazing animals. Of course he centers on dairy cows who many times are raised in an unnatural environment. So a beef calf nursing it’s mother and on pasture would progress as a calf should. Most discussions I have seen on the manner only consider protein in the form of grain as important to developing the rumen – but the photos of rumens developed that way show a thickening of the rumen wall, not necessarily in a good way. But those studies are also in many cases funded by the grain moguls.
      Here is a link to Dr. Karreman’s site, mostly about dairy, but it is still bovine so some good info there:

  6. July 8, 2010 7:07 am

    I second the weather complaints! I’m in Southwest WA and today will be our second day this summer over 90 degrees – gag! This after weeks and weeks of gray, drizzle and temps barely over 70. Our furnace came on one day last week (it’s set at 63 degrees) and then last night, even with the house buttoned up all day, it was 82 degrees inside. I just hope we don’t hit 106 like we did last summer.

    Our garden is still suffering and looks about a month behind. Corn is ankle high, beans maybe three inches. The brassicas look good and the zucchini has new leaves but is nowhere near bloom or fruit time. On the good side, this looks to be an apple year (no apples last year), so if any ripen perhaps we can make some applesauce after all.

    Question: we have a big variety of “wild” apple trees dotting our property and tried samples of all last year but found most to not be good eating apples. (Bitter, pithy, etc.) Would it matter to use those as applesauce apples?

    • July 8, 2010 7:35 pm

      Amy, I am jealous of your apple crop – we scarcely have any. Your wildings may make better cider, but I would cook up a few and doctor the sauce with cinnamon and see how you like it. Sometimes a good cooking apple doesn’t taste very good out of hand.

      Your garden is really ahead of mine – I did plant a little corn, and now someone has helped themselves to most of it. Farmers just now are getting in the fields and getting them planted. It may be a long winter… 😦

    • Eva permalink
      July 9, 2010 12:19 am

      Hi Amy,

      Perhaps what you have are semi-feral apples which you could treat like crab apples which make amazing jelly. They have a large amount of pectin in them so are great to mix with other fruit to help set. My Mom just halves them and takes any nasty bits off, cooks them and then strains them through a linen cloth, I’m not sure how much sugar she adds. We don’t eat much jelly here so we still have some left from 3 years ago and haven’t needed to make another batch.

  7. July 8, 2010 7:54 am

    It’s a different sort of year here….I haven’t even thought of watering anything yet and most years it’s quite the opposite. I always enjoy your garden posts.

  8. July 8, 2010 1:15 pm

    Can you speak some more as to why you choose a dust mulch over some other kind? Is it maybe the sheer scope of your garden would make other types of mulch impractical? I’m currently using straw as my primary mulch, and it works okay, but in some ways it makes weeding harder. If I go in with a hoe, I disrupt the layer of straw and make holes for more weeds to grow. Hand-picking the weeds works fine, of course, but sometimes I kind of wish I could just get in there with a hoe, scrape everything away, and be done. I’m not sure whether that would end up being more work, or less, since the actual amount of weeds that would pop up would probably be greater, even if the weeding itself would go a little faster.

    • July 8, 2010 7:50 pm

      Joshua, I grew up gardening like this, and could see how well it works. People get real tensed out seeing all that bare dirt not being covered up with something because it isn’t natural. But like most things we humans do, vegetable gardens are so far from natural I never understand that argument. Or the repeat of the Dust Bowl argument gets trotted out too. So as Solomon explains the dust mulch (the loose, weed-free top layer) is that it caps the soil and keeps the moisture from wicking out from the subsoil. Mulch materials do eventually make for a deep-seated drought because they do allow the soil to stay moist all the way to the top therefore mining out the moisture over time. A plus I see is that if the soil is dry for the top inch or so, the roots of plants go down deeper to seek moisture and nutrients and therefore are more drought tolerant. But people get real emotional over issues like these so I dont’ argue, I just present my garden as proof, but it is like trying to explain to my neighbors why we have adequate pasture and they don’t. They see with what they want to see.

      I hoe a lot, I keep my hoe sharp and it isn’t hard work, if it is done correctly, and the soil is friable. But that’s a hard one to sell too – if I tell people to hoe their garden they act like I sentenced them to a chain gang! But the right tool with the right application makes any task easier.

      Hope that helps!

      • July 8, 2010 7:59 pm

        I appreciate the response. I’m still trying to figure out what’s going to work best for me here at the Wallow. My current model is intensive, block gardening with irrigation and mulch–tailored towards raised beds–but I’m really thinking twice about whether that’ll scale up to even the relatively small 1000 square feet I’ve got.

        • July 8, 2010 8:42 pm

          If I mulched the slugs would have a field day – we pretty much live in rain forest, with some cleared land. The other thing too is adding so much carbon over time could be a problem in some situations. But everyone has to find what works best for them. To me mulch feels wrong for my conditions, and to others my bare soil feels wrong. Sigh.

        • July 8, 2010 9:37 pm

          No sigh required. The more I learn about gardening, the more I learn that what works in one location, for one person, won’t work at all for another.

          Here in eastern TN, I wouldn’t call it a rainforest, but it’s pretty humid, and I have been having a devil of a time with all sorts of fungal diseases. I am seriously considering giving up the intensive block-planting entirely, with a focus on spreading out the plants more so as to make for better drying of the foliage. The price of drip irrigation systems has thus far kept me watering with an impact sprinkler, but with the flow rate from my well, I have to run it for about 9-12 hours to get an inch of water over the whole garden. That makes for some wet plants. Fortunately, I haven’t had to run it too many times, as we have had ample rain this year. Anyway, as long as I’m thinking about giving up block planting, I’m re-thinking darn near everything else too.

          Thanks for the input.

        • July 8, 2010 10:00 pm

          Joshua, I have come to believe the same thing as you. Our water comes during the winter months and then dries up for the summer – period. Our nights are cool and influenced by the Pacific Ocean, we virtually have no humidity, in fact low humidity is a problem here in the summer. That means less to no fungus, and hardly any insects plaguing the gardens like most of the rest of the country. Japanese beetles and the like are virtually unknown here :0 Knock on wood. Thanks for the lesson about Tennessee gardening!

  9. Tracey permalink
    July 8, 2010 2:10 pm

    For people wanting a copy of Steve Solomon’s book Waterwise Vegetables, Solomon has made it available online for free at

    He calls it Gardening Without Irrigation but if you read the preface, it seems to be the same book, and GWI was his preferred title, which the publisher wouldn’t let him have.

    • July 8, 2010 7:12 pm

      Tracey, thanks – that link for the entire library is on my sidebar and I forgot to suggest it 🙂 I’m still a sucker for a book I can hold in my hands though. I don’t feel so bad about buying used books, the tree has already been cut down.

  10. July 8, 2010 4:37 pm

    Tracy, thank you so much for sharing that link! I just read the preface and you are totally correct, it’s the same book…he’s just been allowed to publish it free, online, with a different title. Bonanza!

  11. July 8, 2010 4:41 pm

    Boy am I glad to hear from you! I hope your Fall Garden produces well for you. What an amazing cover crop you and Della planted! We are in a severe drought. The pasture is as dry as a bone. With very little grass left to eat, Josie’s trip to the meat locker isn’t coming too soon.

    • July 8, 2010 7:14 pm

      Diane, I hope so too – we have been having varmint problems galore though. Now we have a heat wave so I guess I can’t complain about being cold and having to build a fire!


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