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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.

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.

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?

corn 4
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.

corn 1
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.

corn 1
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.

corn 3


What’s Growing

May 15, 2015

Well, actually what’s growing and what’s just planted.  Lists are so nice…a cheater post again.

clean place to store bok choy slated for breakfast while I weeded last night

clean place to store bok choy slated for breakfast while I weeded last night

The list of plantings in order of how I ‘see’ them in my mind as I type…good mental exercise since I don’t do crossword. I may be forgetting somebody, but I think this is pretty much it.

Potatoes – Dark Red Norland, Purple Viking, Desiree.
Carrots – Nelson, Napoli, Red Cored Chantenay
Peas – Sugar Sprint
Cabbage – Charmant, Ruby Ball, Melissa, Nash’s Green (Columbia), Toyko Bekana
Kale – Lacinato Morton, White Russian, Red Russian, Red Ursa
Bok Choy – Joi Choi
Arugula – Basic
Turnips – Hakurei
Radish – Black Spanish, Miyashige
Kohrabi – Kolibri
Lettuce – Parris Island, Little Gem, Red Salad Bowl, Oscarde, Merlot, Thai 88, Anuenue, Flashy Green Butter Oak.
Parsnip – Turga
Spinach – Space
Mizuna, – Early Green, Ruby Streaks
Beets – Lutz, Detroit Dark Red, Touchstone Gold
Beans – Uncle John (dry), Maxibel
Chard – Fordhook Giant, Five-color Silverbeet
Cilantro – Pokey Joe, and ours?
Broccoli – Arcadia, Romanesco
Cauliflower – Cheddar, Vita Verde, Denali
Garlic – Music
Onions – Walla Walla, Guardsman, Red Long of Tropea
Leeks – Bandit, King Sieg and maybe one more I can’t recall…
Shallots – Ed’s Red
Tomatoes – Amish Paste Kapuler, Bellstar, SunSugar, Pantano Romanesco, Astiana, Costoluto Genovese, Sweet 100, Japanese Black Trifele (I’m cutting back this year)
Peppers – Flavorburst, Numex Joe E Parker, Early Jalapeno, Hidalgo, Red Ruffled Pimiento, Piment d’ Espelette, Basque, Padron
Squash – Sweet Meat, Musque d Provence, Nutterbutter, Cocozelle, Raven, Dark Star, Spookie, Styrian Naked Seed
Cucumbers – Marketmore 76, Lemon
Melons – Delicious PMR, Piel de Sapo

and way too many annual flowers and herbs to list.

Still to plant sometime in the next month, Gilfeather turnip, Joan rutabaga, sweet corn, flint corn, and more of just about everything above that lends itself to succession planting.

late night light in the greenhouse is kind.  Buckwheat can quickly become a weed if you let it.

late night light in the greenhouse is kind. Buckwheat can quickly become a weed if you let it.


Blown Away

May 14, 2015
Shot Wing's mate

Shot Wing’s mate

I am blown away by all the wonderful comments!  THANK YOU so much for all the kind words and ideas for future blog posts.  It’s always nice to get a little pat on the back now and then.  Again, thanks so much.

Why the raven picture you ask?  Well, we owe that raven big time, he and his mate Shot Wing used to guard our pastured poultry flock from hawks.  We called the pasture the No Fly Zone.  Really they were guarding their young that they always raise in our watershed, but we benefited from their diligent parenting.  When we sold pastured eggs we never sold floor eggs, it was just a thing we had, by floor eggs I mean eggs we found (in deep bedding you never know how old that egg is) on the floor of the greenhouse we wintered the hens in, and that transferred to pasturing season too.  No worries there, because the ravens took care of that too.  We always had a hen or three in 900 that just couldn’t seem to figure out to lay in the nest boxes, or to give them the benefit of the doubt, you’ve seen the lines at the privies at a concert, ladies you know what I mean… . Maybe when the egg was imminent the preferred nest box was busy.  I have no idea, but I know the ravens would swoop in on a daily basis and grab the floor eggs.  Or I should say raven, because Shot Wing was usually on the nest, so her mate would swoop in and grab an egg and head for the timber where the nest is.  And it was funny, as dumb as I think chickens are, they knew that big shadow the raven cast was not a danger to them.  Our broilers weren’t quite so lucky, when it was time to take the pasture pens to the field the ravens showed up, knowing that little meaty morsels would soon be in those metal and wire boxes.  Part of the yearly inspection included making sure there were no gaps that a raven beak would fit into for pulling a chick wing or leg through.  Wicked birds they can be.  Stop gap measures literally were needed.

Many years have went by, and we’ve stopped doing pastured poultry, but our long-lived raven pair is here and two sets of their offspring have nests as well on different parts of the farm.  Usually in the fall when the babes are getting ready to leave the nests and care of their parents for good they have a confab here in the home pasture.  Carrying on, games in flight, a group of raucous ravens and then they’re gone.  But unless it’s hunting season (carrion everywhere) the ravens are here every morning at chore time, and when the young hatch they come twice a day.  I give them two eggs.  If I forget, or don’t notice the silent sentinel, they make a noise to remind me.  When my daughter’s horse was still alive they developed a hankering for Equine Senior, Raven Senior?  Getting a photo of them in flight with the egg in their beak is hard, they hate the camera.  Two-legged with box near face is bad.  Bring eggs only no box.

new pullets
To that end, I raise a few extra pullets each year to supply the ravens with their daily eggs.  We haven’t sold eggs since 2008 but the ravens are still here and we enjoy them.  They aren’t a bother, they don’t take more than they are due, and we are still grateful for all that hawk hazing they did.


Same Ol’, Same Ol’

May 12, 2015
Jane Butterfield

Jane Butterfield

I’ve got a couple, well actually three comments in as many weeks about my blog absence, so I thought I would do a quick walkabout with the actual camera and take some photos in a five-minute stretch.  Everybody is in permaculture zone one right now, so it was pretty easy.  I have to say though you blog readers, if you don’t comment or like my posts, I hardly know you’re there.  So without further ado, here we go.  Jane is the first item of interest I encountered.  I sold her calves, and am milking once a day now and she has put on some weight since winter, even though she is giving 4.5 to 5 gallons of milk per day.  Grass is a magical thing for cows you know, I’ve dropped her grain, her production has climbed a bit and she’s gained weight.  All good.

dryland staple garden

dryland staple garden

The dryland garden is almost all planted.  The only thing left to plant is corn, flint and sweet. And rutabagas just before the solstice.  Planted so far:  Potatoes, carrots and parsnips for Jane, beets, dry beans and an attempt at winter squash, some direct seeded and some transplanted.  It’s hard to explain to folks that I plant winter crops before many summer crops…but I do, and I did.

We finished the refurbishing on the brooder/chicken house/greenhouses. The new little pullets are in the small greenhouse to the left, and the mature hens are in the small greenhouse on deep bedding to the right.  I tried to take a photo of them but it was way too humid and the lens fogged up.  So scratch that.  We aren’t doing meat birds this year, finding that we just aren’t eating much chicken, so until our freezer inventory is cleared out, there is no point in adding more poultry.  Things will be quiet on the chicken front this year.

Opie, Chibs and Fiona

Opie, Chibs and Fiona

Here is our blackberry abatement crew, three Large Black weaner pigs from a local farm.  They also are here to take care of any extra dairy products I have, and I have a lot.  Jane did well raising her calf and one extra to seven months of age, and now she’s helping raise these three little baconaters.  Have I ever mentioned dairy cows are a pretty good thing to have around a farmstead? That is if you like cows, and like to milk…

greenhouse 2

greenhouse 2

Next on the walk is greenhouse two with sweet onions, strawberries, peppers, tomatoes and miscellaneous brassicas planted.  One row is left to be planted with melons, squash, and cucumbers.

greenhouse 1

greenhouse 1

Directly adjacent is greenhouse 1 which is where we’ve been spending a lot of time.  Plant starts and our garden is growing here.  Most of the starts for sale have went to their new homes, and we are still seeding for our own use, but not as near the pace as earlier.  When I see the amount of fresh food we have been pulling out here on a daily basis, I always wonder why serious gardeners balk at putting up a greenhouse. If you’re eating every day, your food is coming from somewhere, and most likely grown and transported in ways that you don’t really want to know about.  I couldn’t resist throwing that in there because if one more person tells me that I am using PLASTIC in my gardening efforts I think I’m going to do something bad to them. See?  I’m still here ranting and raving like usual.

full cows

full cows

Cows always calm my nerves, so the last stop on my walk was the cows.  They are full and resting and enjoying our drizzly days.


Always the faithful pup awaiting my return from across the road.  So dear readers if you’re still out there, let me know and toss me a few ideas of what to write about, because from my side of the screen and the camera things look pretty much the same as always.

Garden Tour Sort of

April 22, 2015

I was warned that this would happen…the long-hand blogging would come to a screeching halt once I started posting photos to Instagram.  Yes, I’m still here, and if you check here in the sidebar you can see pretty much how a day unfolds around here.  We’re all over the place, literally, and with two people posting to Instagram you get a little better perspective of the farmstead, I believe.  So without further ado, a quick garden tour this fine April day.

Main garden

Main garden

We’ve got two gardens and two greenhouses and both get different treatment as far as planting, irrigation, and general fussing.

The main garden above gets crops that need or benefit from irrigation.  I also plant seed crops here.  That’s leeks on the left just heeled in after tilling, we hope to eat them, but maybe not.  On the right are selected leeks and parsnips for seed.  Yesterday I got the cover crops that had been mowed, tilled in.  Not much will get planted here until mid to late May except dahlias, which I might plant tonight if I get off the computer.

greenhouse 1

greenhouse 1

Directly adjacent to the main garden is greenhouse 1, a lot happens in here, it acts as a prop house, and our first garden of the season.  Growing in here besides a ton of transplants for sale and for us are: potatoes, carrots, beets, peas, cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, bok choy, arugula, lettuce, daikon, black radish, salad turnips, cilantro, basil, and some miscellaneous greens.

Tokyo Bekana and buckwheat

Tokyo Bekana and buckwheat

greenhouse 1

greenhouse 1

Just a different view from the other end.  Once the transplants are gone, all the barrels and makeshift tables will come out freeing up more space for more successions of quick crops.  This greenhouse is way more intensive, plantings are biointensive and watered daily in John Jeavons style.  There is something about watering plants in a greenhouse by hand that I can’t describe, it’s almost like you can see them grow.  I wouldn’t recommend it on a large-scale though, but we eat a couple of meals a day from this greenhouse, it just feels right to spend a little time in there tending.

greenhouse 2

greenhouse 2

Next to greenhouse 1 is, you guessed it, greenhouse 2.  We’re funny like that, our trucks have simple names too, Green, Red, BRT, Weenie, etc.  Greenhouse 2 is a little more hands off, drip irrigation, plastic mulch and crops that don’t need as much attention as lettuce and greens.  The tomatoes are planted already, and I’m threatening to plant the peppers next week when the freezing level goes back up.  Rounding out this greenhouse will be melons, a few cukes, and some moschata squash (squee).  A girl has to try right?

dryland Staple garden

dryland Staple garden

East of the greenhouses is the dryland Staple garden, big plantings of potatoes, winter squash, dry beans, Jane’s root crops, naked seed pumpkins and corn go here.  We rarely irrigate these crops, just weed and harvest basically at the end of the season. As of yesterday, all the amendments and cover crops have been worked in and now we’re just waiting for the cover crops to decompose and the weather to moderate a bit before planting.

Jane's excellent mowing job.

Jane’s excellent mowing job.

And the last shot of the staple garden shows Jane’s great “mowing” job on the headland and my tilling…not too bad for a couple of girls.

What’s Growing This Week

April 13, 2015

Cooler weather (read normal) has sure caused my gardening efforts to grind to a halt.  Outside the garlic is doing great, but we’ve had enough rainy days to delay any planting or thoughts of planting any crops outside.

Inside the greenhouse though it’s an entirely different story.  I’ve backed off a bit on my weekly seeding schedule because the coolness has slowed the growth and I’m running out of room for flats of starts.  But things are progressing nicely.


More tomatoes.

Peppers of all kinds.


Herbs, onions and leeks.

More lettuce and brassicas.


Bok choy – first succession.

Bok choy – second succession.

Bok choy- third succession.  We do eat a lot of bok choy…and it grows fast and furious.  Mustards are funny like that.

Snap peas.


Carrots with a volunteer calendula friend.

Transplanted daikon and salad turnips sharing row cover.

Direct seeded daikon, black radish and salad turnips sharing the same bed as the transplants.  Direct seeding at the same time I transplant older plants saves lots of labor and gives me a good succession time frame.


Kohlrabi successions one and two transplanted at first true leaf stage.

Kales and cabbages for days.


Last but not least, the first succession of cilantro.  This isn’t everything, but it’s everything I have a photo of this week.  I’m getting the feeling that I will gamble and plant my tomatoes this week in the greenhouse.  Of course, that will be after I get the cows transitioned back to grazing.



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