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Four times 275 gallons. The two closest empty as yet. Peas in front.

From the beginning (2008), I have gardened organically – better than “organically,” actually. For instance, I always refused to use the hose, that is, tap water, in my gardens. Even as the garden grew larger and more labor intensive, I insisted on watering with buckets and watering cans. Some relief came when I installed drip in my big vegetable and berry gardens two years ago. And whenever I ran out of rain water, earlier and earlier each year even as I added more and more catchment, I still refused to use that tap water. That is because, in our town, the tap water is full of chlorine and fluoride, which are detrimental to the life in the soil.

And so, year after year, usually in August, I “lost” my gardens. Vegetables didn’t grow so lush, fruits didn’t ripen, berry bushes stayed small, hunkered down. But I insisted: the soil is more important than the plants that grow in it, because the soil is the long-term bank account, the wealth of nutrients, life and diversity that makes the plants possible in the first place.

I realize that I have the luxury of other food sources (our CSA, mainly) that make this attitude possible, and I am well aware that such a situation can make a body complacent.  Truth is, I’d rather be a good tender of the soil and a good farmer/gardener, to triumphantly raise a handful of dark, thick, sticky soil shot through with worms and mycelium and a plump, juice, deep-red bell pepper or even a five pound water melon.

My first concern (but only for starters) was water. Our droughts have been getting worse and none of us expect it to get any better. So a friend and I arranged for another order of those second-hand 275 gallon IBC totes ($75 each), and soon other gardeners, schools and churches got in on it. One day a month ago a big trailer pulled up to my house and we shoved no less than twelve of those massive, ugly totes onto my driveway (the neighbors are used to it.) We rinsed out the left-over vegetable oils and then they were picked up, one by one, till I was left with four. We installed two of those next to my original two, making for 1,100 gallons of water storage. I plan to add a couple more smaller rain barrels in several places. As for the other two totes, the idea was to use one as a watering tank, the other as a dunking tank for mushrooms – about which later – but the mushroom inoculation season escaped us while we waited for logs to become available. I may hook them up into another tower in the chicken yard… One can never have enough rain water stored away!

{UPDATE 5/28} One can have as much storage as one wants, but first of all it needs to rain! Since I wrote this post, no rain has fallen, and I am down to 1/8 of the first lower barrel. Tomorrow let’s dance for the rain gods.

 

 

A commenter asked if things are growing. Are they ever! Winter ended quite suddenly, with feet of snow melting away in a matter of days. So it was time to get growing.

Here are the seedlings in the basement:

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If necessary (I’m also growing seedlings for friends and school gardens), I can add an extra shelf below.

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Some are hardening off on the porch:

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In the garden, the sorrel was the second to look all alive and ready to go:

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First were the onions, overwintered. They looked so dreary and slimy emerging from the snow, but then:

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I’ve got gardening nails again:

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As our trusted reader(s?) know, we grow all our vegetables from seed, and now that it is spring (on the calendar at least) the time nears to sow the seeds. We do this in the basement, where we have a large “seedling bank” of lights and a heat mat.

But most of my plastic trays are pretty beaten up, and I didn’t feel like buying more flimsy plastic. So we decided to make our own seedling boxes out of wood. They’ll be sturdy and long-lasting, made of biodegradable material (mostly), and I was able to design them so that the containers that I use most often (the plastic boxes that mushrooms and berries come in) actually fit well in them.

Amie helped me shop for wood and nails at Home Depot, helped design the box, then helped saw and hammer and glue the sides together and cut out the bottom. She had the most fun hammering the bottom on, then sinking the nails in.

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The mead I made in September has cleared a lot. This is the bottle (front) in September:

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It’s much lighter now. Here’s the bottle next to the year-old, wholly clarified mead:

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The bottom is a moonscape of dead yeast people and quaintly coalesced beeswax. But something else in the yeasts must make them consume and break down the color. I need to learn more about this because a bottle of homemade mead is always an occasion for storytelling.

Not wanting to disturb the sediments, I used the thief to extract some and tasted it: just right, still enough sweetness left. I filled a couple of glasses and here’s to all of you: Happy Thanksgiving!
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In the middle of October we had a warm spell, hovering around 70F for a week. Still, firewood was on my mind. Our friends Kath and Paul joined us in renting a log splitter and doing the work. First we worked at our place, splitting all those old rounds that had been cut last year and were cluttering the side of the driveway. Then we hooked the splitter to my car and drove over to their house, about six miles away, where fresh cut rounds awaited the brute force of the hydraulic monster.

It’s noisy and stinky (gas powered) but oh the gratification when the wedge explodes those knotted ones that no maul work can budge! I had told my mom that we were going to do this and she expressed her envy. My parents helped us two years ago and she remembers the joy of that hard and so all the more satisfying work.

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Over here we added about a cord of firewood to our stash.
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It’ll dry for over a year while we use up the dry wood that we still have left from that earlier cutting: some of the middle stack and all of the right stack in this picture of warmer times:

All this wood is from our own property, mostly from that massive tree work we had done in 2011. We still have ten or so of those downed logs in the front garden, but now, after a lot of whittling, they’re like mikado (pick-up) sticks and not easy to buck anymore. Maybe, with one good weekend, we’ll get those done too. That wood is getting old and is in the way of other plans.

Last week I split some of that dry wood into smaller pieces and started the stacks in the porch, so they can dry extra before the time for a fire begins We had a couple of cold nights, when the fire in the stove was welcomed for another season.

The yard smells of split wood, the house of apples. Of my 120 lbs of apples only one box (20 lbs) was left and I turned it into more applesauce. The rest has been eaten, sauced, juiced, dehydrated, and some bartered away for hive-over-wintering supplies. And I’m paying my friend, who picked up the tab at the orchard, with eggs, by the way. Gotta love that!

Aside from eating the lunch and dinner I prepared, I was busy in the kitchen for eleven hours (11 am to 10 pm) and it was wonderful. I had a lot of accumulated CSA produce to use up, and I’d bought a lot at the last Farmers Market in town. And then there were eggs. The result of a day of peeling, slicing, chopping, frying, boiling, steaming, stirring, sterilizing and canning with Arvo Part’s Fratres (*) on repeat:

huge stack of crepes, had with homemade peach butter and yogurt.

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20 trays of apples in dehydrator

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most time consuming of all: 24 8oz jars of applesauce (my friend A and I bought 120 libs of apples, each, at a local orchard)

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vat of sauerkraut (white cabbage from CSA)

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large quart of colorful kimchi (all kinds of radishes and beets from CSA)

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for dinner: big omelet with eggs (our hens), kale (CSA) and garlic (friend’s), huge salad of steamed beets (CSA), slightly boiled sweet corn (Farmers’ Market), fried garlic and kale and yellow beans (CSA), with a glass of wine (not local).

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(*) Maybe Part’s haunting music was the reason why everyone stayed away?

Today, I wore my Green Team cap and handed out kale chips in my local elementary school’s lunchroom. I had mixed the kale with lots of olive oil and salt and pepper and dehydrated the leaves at 110F overnight (10 hours). They were cri-ispy! A big bunch of kale shrank to just about enough to give every kid a taste.

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I like taking the kids out to the gardens, and even helping them with recycling at lunch, but serving them the food that grew in their school garden is the best. Interesting too. At the school they sit at round tables, about eight kids a table. I visited each, offered, and maybe one kid would raise their hand. You know that kale, no matter how crispy and oily, is *green*. The horror! And some don’t know what kale is. But the one kid would take it and eat it and say it’s good and want more, and – hop – all the hands would shoot up.

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Each table also got a ball jar with marigolds from the garden, and my fellow parent volunteer distributed the other veggies from the garden – rainbow carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, and herbs harvested by the first and second graders. Two hours and five grades later, all this was gone!

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