This week

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Black Rasperries

These came from some wild canes I have been nurturing in my back lawn. A bit under two years ago my sister asked me if I wanted to dig up some awful thorny berry canes from her back yard where they were growing in deep shade and forest-like conditions. She said she just cut them back every year and hated having to do it and was going to dig them up herself and throw them out if I didn’t. She didn’t want those nasty thorns in her back yard. So I came and dug them up, and planted them along my fence in the perpetual shade line. Last year the canes were pretty useless as well. Birds ate almost every berry before I could get to them, but this year I hung up some netting as the berries started to ripen. Remember how I have been struggling to fill that shade line, since, well, forever ago? Well now I have successfully turned at least part of it into something productive and delicious!

I collected two bowls of these berries this week. And right after I finished picking them I carried one out to my sister to share since she was outside with her kid. She tried some and proceeded to proclaim how great tasting they were. She said they were just like candy and it didn’t take long for us to finish off the whole bowl. The irony of these amazing berries coming from a plant she hated was probably lost on her but I had a good chuckle over it, and I had a whole second bowl of berries waiting for me at home.

I’ve been slowly filling in the shade line with these awesome canes, and I don’t regret it! A small patch appears to be capable of providing me with a fair amount of fruit, which is something our little homestead lacks dramatically. I am expanding the patch with other kinds of berries as well and I’m looking forward to seeing what they look like next year. All around, these berry canes have been a very good experience.

 

We also have some new chicks this morning! Three weeks ago we were nervous – our oldest hen stopped laying suddenly and refused to move from the nest box. I was worried – was she egg bound? Turns out she was just broody. It’s been so long since I’ve had a broody bird that I almost didn’t recognize it!

So we marked some of our eggs, a full dozen, and tucked them under her. There have been some mishaps. An egg getting knocked out of the nest for hours here or there for example, or some of the eggs that were set were a bit older, or unlikely to be fertile on the part of the particular hen that laid them. But so far at least 5 healthy chicks have hatched! Three yellow, one brown and one black.

The garden is starting to fill in as well. We have one wee little evil groundhog left, marauding for kale leaves. Soon it might start targeting other plants and that’s something I will be striving to prevent. Soon we will be harvesting more zucchini than we can eat!

 

Conveniently for my goal of writing less I don’t have many words for my own farming today. My heart is heavy for the families of the hundreds of agricultural workers in my state that have been ripped from their homes and shipped to concentration camps, their children taken with no plan for reunification. The most recent update to this policy is to hold these people in concentration camps indefinitely.
Not only will these people suffer for it, but so will agriculture in the USA as a whole. Our entire food system that feeds america, especially for poor people, relies on imported labor. Half of all seasonal farm jobs, such as picking vegetables, are done by human without a legal status and many aren’t certain if the USA’s agricultural system will hold up to these policies. They even pay taxes without receiving benefits, helping to fund welfare services that help serve senior citizens, our farm bills and even veterans. Without these folks, our nation will not only be literally factually poorer, but have trouble even feeding it’s people.

I think people often forget that the people who supported Japanese internment camps 75 years ago considered themselves to be patriots simply protecting their country from foreigners who threatened it. The children of those families, who grew up seeing the holding of thousands of humans in concentration camps as celebrated patriotism, are very much alive today. They were people with families, who loved each other, who felt proud of their actions, who felt safer for it. But it was terrible and cruel. You don’t have to be a mean person to support horrible things.

We can do better. Much better. And tomorrow I will join thousands of people across the country to ask for the reversal of these inhuman policies that target people based on the color of their skin or the language they speak. There are no white faces in these concentration camps, no blonde haired blue eyed babies are being ripped from their mother’s arms. It’s clear that this has nothing to do with them being foreigners (note that “improper entry” to the USA is a misdemeanor – legally speaking, taking a candy bar from a grocery store is often a more serious offence), especially the raids in my state. We are on the northern border and most of the illegal entry into our state is done by white people from the Canadian border. Yet it’s only people with dark skin being arrested and confined, even in this state. It’s simply racial profiling, an othering tactic of fascism, and my heart aches for the victims of it.

I can only hope that people in the USA can recognize the correlations between these actions and the history of terrible atrocities in the history of the world stand together and unite for these human beings’ rights.

If you’re out there with me tomorrow, good luck and be safe.

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Yuletide Eve

Tomorrow is Yule. We finally have everything together. I have accidentally baked five pies (I was trying to make 3), and we have two young rabbits in a marinade in the fridge. Two chickens have mostly defrosted in our sink and are ready to have citrus juice poured over them for tomorrow.

The portabello mushrooms have been selected, ready to receive their cashew and chickpea stuffing. Tomatoes have been purchased for the tops.

The sun breads have been baked. Two normal breads, one sweet. The chickens eggs have been stockpiled for the ‘nog. We drink raw eggnog on yule made with eggs from our chickens.

A crate of beer is sitting in the living room. An extra table has been brought in. The presents are wrapped and under the tree.

The most important part, the Yule log, is outside. It’s sitting, suspended off the ground so it stays dry, in the middle of a Goddess spiral. This year Dan will be joining me for my prayers, which will be a little odd. I’ve never had someone to pray with me before. I hope I can remember the lines properly.

At dawn we bless the log. The Yule log is an old tradition with a lot of variations. Many Wiccans for example rely more on the symobology of the log and often burn candles in a log that’s been decorated with objects from nature, or use it as a decoration rather than burn an actual log. One old Nordic variation on the tradition is to cut down the biggest tree in the forest, and burn the entire tree in a bonfire for 12 or 13 days and nights.

But the Yule log has some rules that go with it.

First, the log must be collected from your own or public land, or given freely from someone elses. You may not buy, trade or exchange work for your log. It must be obtained freely and without debt paid or unpaid.

Different kinds of wood have different kinds of symbology attached to them. Ash is considered an old wood, used for protection, strength, good health and visions for the future. That’s our log this year.
This Page has a pretty good list of sacred trees and their meanings. Here are two other links to more comprehensive lists. Some heathen faiths recognize many trees as having sacred properties, but some other only hold a few in esteem. We’re more inbetween.

The log should be blessed. I do this at dawn on the day of the Solstice (the 21st). First, there is a cleansing of the air of evil spirits by burning sacred herbs or incense. Usually this is sage. (This will be awkward because Dan is allergic. Because of this I have to give him permission to enter the circle after it’s cleansed.) We call on Gaia, mother earth, The Goddess, mother of all things, whatever incarnation of her that you prefer, as well as the four directions and their elements to bless our log and guard our circle. Then we make a statement of intention, why you’re there that day (to bless the yule log), what you hope the outcome will be (letting go of the old year, welcoming in a positive new year), and a humble request to the spirits that you choose to invoke that they help those things happen. Then we say prayers, asking specific spirits and ancestors to also bless our log. We reflect on the old year and let it be cleansed from us. then we close the circle. There are candles and incense involved as well.

The log (or candles on the log) need to be lit with the remnants of last year’s log (or candle) signifying the old year giving birth to the new year.

As the log burns, we make wishes for the new year by writing them on a scrap of paper and burning them over the flames. (People who celebrate with candles often burn the wishes in a small brass bowl after passing them through all three candle flames.) The wishes have their own sets of rules. They must be practical, not fantastic, in nature. (Wishing for a million dollars is not OK, but wishing for a new well-paying job would be.) They must not manipulate others. (Wishing that your boss would promote you would not be OK, but wishing to do well enough to earn the promotion yourself is.) They must be ethically sound (wishing harm on others is a big no-no) and positive (Wishing something to happen to you is better than wishing something wouldn’t happen). In general, making a thoughtful and ethical wish is the way to go. Also, spirits are NOT fond of being sucked up to, so if you are disingenuous to earn their favor it will backfire.  Only wish for well upon spirits or other people if you really, truly mean it. It’s OK to make a wish for yourself!

Then the log needs to be burned from night, through to dawn… Either by burning the actual log all night long or letting the candles burn all night. The longer it burns, the better. If it stays lit until dawn it’s considered a very good omen. (Or for all 13 days if you want to cut down a whole tree!)

The Yule Log ceremony is accompanied by all manor of frivolity, exchanging gifts, drinking, feasting, and friendship. Being generous to friends, family, and to the poor in exchange for good blessings and carols are BIG parts of the tradition. The goal is to make the day seem so festive that the sun longs to return to earth. We also decorate with lights, candles and suns, evergreens and other signs of life and light, to remind the sun of what the world looks like when the sun shines on our land.

I know that this holiday means a lot to me. It’s one little part of my heritage that I claim for myself. Yule is a pagan tradition, but a nearly identical celebration is held by the Native Americans as well. In our household when I was a kid we celebrated the quintessential American Christmas. While paganism wasn’t forbidden by any means, it wasn’t what we celebrated. We went to midnight mass, we had a nativity scene cobbled together from several sets, we hung tinsel and angels on the tree. Now that I live alone I absolutely revel in the opportunity to celebrate Yule every year. We go all out for it.

After Yule I go on vacation. I’m looking forward to burning this year away with our log and starting next year off with a fun, happy, relaxed mindset.

Happy Yule everyone! I hope your holidays are great and your plants and animals grow well for you this year! I’ll see you all in the new year!

Yuletide Greetings

Hello! With the advent of December (if you’ll excuse the pun) my mind starts planning out my annual winter celebrations. In our household we celebrate Yule, a pagan and Wiccan tradition and one of about a dozen major religious winter celebrations in the US.

Yule is a really fun holiday, that was subject to heavy Christianization into the celebration we know today as Christmas. Many of the traditions were lost in the process and are hard to understand.  A lot of the history of this celebration has been lost to the ages and is slowly being pieced back together.

Modern celebrations have a few big elements in common with historical accounts of the celebration. The first being the purpose of the Yule celebration. Yule celebrates the spiritual embodiment of the Sun. Yule takes place on the shortest night of the year, and is a celebration designed to be so festive, happy, joyous and bright that it reminds the Sun itself of how wonderful the earth is, and begins the cycle of days getting longer again. This deep connection to the sun is intrinsic to ancient pagan celebrations of Yule, regardless of the specific faith that was celebrating it. In those times, celebrations were shared across cultures and many sects celebrated the same holy days in similar ways, just worshiping different gods. Because of this, nearly every major religion has a winter festival of lights, and it was this celebration that layed the foundation for Christmas as we know it.
The other thing these modern celebrations have in common with ancient ones are many of the broader traditions and symbology for the celebration. Filling the home with lights (in those days, specifically it was candles), and bringing a tree indoors to decorate with candles was meant to make the world bright and inviting and also depict the sun. The exchange of gifts and a grand feast was meant to make the season joyous and festive. Decking halls with boughs of holly, mistletoe and pines were a reminder of the beautiful green growth of spring. Wassailing was singing door to door, which evolved into caroling, but also was an exchange of song and alcohol from the poor for gifts and food from the rich. Usually, the poor also offered blessings to the rich if they received their gifts, and curses if they didn’t. This history lives on in some Christmas carols, such as “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and it’s references to carolers demanding a figgy pudding.

We celebrate Yule with these traditions in mind, and conveniently that’s pretty easy since most Christmas traditions are based off of old Germanic Yule traditions. We put up an evergreen tree (a fake one from my sister) and decorate it with baubles, ornaments, and lights. We hang wreaths of evergreens (Ok… They’re plastic too) over our bay windows, and put lights on the walls.
We also throw a big party on the 21st. This is my equivalent of Christmas, both eve and day, all wrapped into one. We invite a multitude of friends and family over to celebrate, 20 or so of our closest companions. At dawn I wake up to bless the Yule log (another old tradition we have a variation of) which is a massive chunk of wood. After that I spend the day prepping for the party. We enjoy a huge feast, an exchange of gifts, drinks, and a ceremony where we burn wishes for the new year over the blessed log in our fireplace, asking the spirits of the world to grant them to us.

Because of the nature of the celebration, it requires a lot of advance planning and a lot of resources. Like much of America these days, cash is in shorter supply than time, so we DIY many of our gifts. In the past we have given out trays of home-baked goods, home-made candies (including these really great caramels I made), some mushroom jars I made once, apple butter, etc.

Once again we will be giving out apple butter this year (we ended up making 3 gallons of it this year, after-all), but we’re adding some other home-made gifts to the list as well. This year we managed to make 13 half pints of home-made salsa, much of which will become gifts. There are other gifts we plant on making to give away that I will hopefully be detailing throughout the month.

We are also planning our feast and exploring options for our Yule dinner. This year we have two small(er) chickens we were planning on roasting, a pair of rabbits, and chickpea stuffed portabellas with pecans and carrots (for our vegetarian friends), roast veggies, stuffing, and deserts. But specifics are undetermined yet (beyond the vegetarian meal. We don’t eat holiday-worthy vegetarian meals often, so we pick recipes for that dish from the internet). Over the summer we made a Jamaican jerk chicken that was a big hit… Should we make that again? Should we go for something classic, loaded with sage and onions? Should we do a nice citrus pair of birds? Should the carrots be sweet or savory? The mashed potatoes plain and smooth, or lumpy and garlic filled like 2 Chainz famous mash? (We had those potatoes for Thanksgiving by the way, and they were excellent!)

There’s a lot of options but one things for certain, as the ability to leave the house recedes into freezing temperatures we’ll have more time to make those choices.

Do you have a favorite holiday dish? Share it with me! Yule is primarily about community and joy in literally dark times. I’d love to add a bit of your community and joy into mine!

End of a season; Garden notes from 2017

The growing season is coming to an unseasonable close this year. The pepper plants, inherently loving of warm weather, hung on well into the start of November before our first true freeze wiped them out. The colder-hardy crops continue to grow and thrive. The lettuce which died back in the summer and never quite grew is flourishing. The remaining carrots which grew poorly, the parsley, the kale, the green onions and even the radishes are all quite content in their nearly winter gardens, green and perky. Some of them I may allow to over-winter, but the garden design for next year may not allow it.

Though things are technically still growing I am trying to finish up the growing season. It’s not going well. The days are warm and sunny frequently enough that even the bees are coming out of their hive and collecting pollen a few days a week. I would say that from my childhood it was a 50-50 chance of snow on Halloween and by the time Thanksgiving rolled around we’d have probably had multiple feet. Who knows what normal looks like now. I will likely consider a sturdy hoop cover for next fall to see if I can grow some plants clear through the winter.

Finishing up the growing season means more than just getting your garden beds in order for the winter, old plants removed, fed with compost that’s right on the cusp of being ready, mulched or cover-cropped, etc. It also means taking the observations jotted down and filed away in memory banks and text files from the year and compiling them into something useful for growing in the future. So this post is that compilation for my garden beds, edited and clarified deeply. I hope the lessons I learned this year can prove useful to other people who read this in the future.

2017 Weather and Garden Bed Changes

A general note about the environment my plants were raised in. We’re in USDA zone 6a, though that can vary by one zone if you go a dozen miles in any direction. This year had unusually high rainfall during the summer (nearly twice normal rainfall between may and September). It felt cold but temperatures were fairly normal (slightly above historical averages). The beds got built late and seedlings went into the ground late (mid may).

The garden beds themselves were shifted this year to allow for two large beds, one half bed, and a pair of potato boxes. The front-most bed was brand new this year and the soil was rough and unfinished. The potato boxes were also brand new. (See: This post from last winter showing my garden bed layout for this year and where things were planted, roughly.)

And now into

Plants and their 2017 Notes (in no particular order)

Potatoes

We grew two varieties of potatoes this year; Red Norland and Yukon Golds. Both did sub-par and did not meet expectations due to various factors. The beds they were planted in were brand new 4x4ft beds adjacent to one another and were designed to be vertical potato boxes. They had 1″ mesh plastic green deer fencing around them to hold the dirt in. They were grown by layering hay, compost and dirt vertically for about 2-3′. The Yukon golds had large, robust vines that held up well to the vertical planting style. The red Norland vines rotted away at the base more than the golds, though it was a problem in both varieties. The hypothesis is that the hay matted, molded and rotted more than straw would have with it’s more thorough exchange of air.
Both varieties also suffered from wireworms. The wireworms did significantly more damage to the Yukon Golds, devouring huge amounts of almost every potato. Only a few were uneaten, most were eaten beyond human consumption. The red Norlands had incidental wireworm holes inside but very few potatoes were damaged beyond human consumption. The red Norlands also suffered from minor scabbing from fungus but were generally healthy, robust and crisp potatoes. Though they produced fewer, smaller, potatoes overall, more potatoes were whole and edible. The red Norlands proved they could withstand a heavy wireworm infestation and were firm and delicious. The scabbing seemed to have little effect on the crop. The yellows were soft and mild, the reds were extremely crisp, firmer than a fresh apple and had a strong, almost sharp (for a potato) flavor. Over-all the potatoes produced far less than I expected, but I think the reds will be worth trying again, and replacing hay with straw will improve plant quality.

Onions (bulb)

I can’t recall the variety we grew but we got sets of medium yellow onions from Home Depot. The soil they were planted in was rough and they grew surprisingly well despite that. But they needed MUCH deeper mulching (by about 6″). The stalks fell over and died back very early, long before the roots were done growing. This is our third time growing onions and none have been highly successful. Given how inexpensive onions are to buy and difficult to grow, we will be taking a break from them in 2018 to focus on other plants.

Onions (Green)

I believe we grew Tokyo Long White green onions. They grew extremely well in large bunches and HUGE  plants. They only needed to be spaced further apart and harvested more often. We will be growing these again. They are still alive in our garden right now. A single leaf would frequently grow 1-2 feet tall and 2-3 inches wide.

Wild Garlic

This year we cut back the scapes and harvested bulbs which went very well! Next fall we plan on introducing other heirloom hardneck varieties to our garlic beds.

French Breakfast Radish

These grew extremely well. They were very prolific, and grew into huge radishes. Given the space they would grow to the size of carrots with a 1-2″ diameter and several inches long. They started to loose flavor during flowering, which happened as they aged in the heat. They grew insanely fast, and almost all the seeds sprouted. They were edible within a month and lasted in the ground even through light frosts, growing huge as long as it stayed cold. Wireworms and other insects consumed some of them but there were so many it didn’t matter. They did need more mulch and to be hilled/mulch more dramatically. They grow extremely well inbetween other plants and shade out weeds effectively. They were a huge success and will become a staple vegetable for us now.

Peppers

We grew three varieties of peppers this year; NuMex Joe Anaheims, Early Jalapenos and Black Beauty Bell peppers. They were planted close together in new, rough, soil and all three had similar problems and results. The pepper plants all suffered extreme damage from groundhogs early in the season, having all leaves eaten off repeatedly and stems chewed down until they were just sticks in the ground. Surprisingly, all the varieties recovered from this damage and grew back, but they were stunted and small as a result, only growing about 1′ tall. (The groundhogs suffered dearly for their transgressions at the paws of my husky.)  The Anaheims recovered first, putting out lots of big, long peppers. I should have let them ripen longer as they were quite mild and green. The bells recovered next. These peppers start out surprisingly small and dark, absolutely black. As they reach proper eating size they begin to become more like a purple or brown than an inky black. I didn’t realize this and I was picking most of them too early as well, but they were prolific as a result. The Jalapenos were the surprising under performers this year, recovering last and producing little. Normally they do much better. Because we were able to use most of the peppers in salsa and stir-frys (and they generally did well and produced lots) we will be growing all three again next year but letting them ripen more and protecting them more from marauders in the early season.

Tomatoes

Tomatoes were strange this year as we attempted to grow one variety and ended up with another. We tried to grow Bellstar tomatoes this year, but they were started too early and close together. The result was they got severe wilt, grew poorly and died off faster than I could clone them to stay alive. They were a disaster.
However we had very good luck with the San Marzanos that volunteered all across our garden bed from last year. We lost many tomatoes to the ground (and groundhogs) last year and got hundreds of plants sprouting from the ground in late spring this year as a result. We planted them and they grew prolifically producing enough tomatoes to can regularly. They grow EXTREMELY tall, however, and 4′-6′ stakes are NOT tall enough for them. 8′ stakes may be needed in the future. Staking them up and keeping them pruned back made them more manageable but they still got out of hand with growth. They need to be spaced slightly further apart (1.5ft instead of 1ft), staked up earlier than July and their suckers must be maintained more carefully. They did end up with a bad case of blight toward the end of the season and died back early as a result, but they continued to produce despite the fungus, which may have been worse than most years due to heavy rains. They were planted in an older, well-worked bed. Additional calcium in the soil (about 1/2 cup loosely crushed eggshells under each plant) nearly completely eliminated the blossom end rot we have experienced in previous years.
Because of how consistently prolific they are and how easily they grow in our soil we will be growing the San Marzanos again, but with more intense management to control blight and over-grown plants. These are well producing but high maintenance plants.

Zucchini

We grow Costata Romanesco zucchinis in our garden. This year they were planted in rough, newly dug beds. This year we experienced extremely high levels of blossom end rot and powdery mildew and (like the tomatoes) the plants died back early. This was in part due to high rainfall but I also suspect that the rough, less fertile soil had much to do with it. Despite that we grew several 4+lb zucchini which easily carried us through the whole summer and gave us some extra to freeze. We will be planting our zucchini with a lot of extra calcium next year to combat the issues we had.

Cucumbers

These were volunteers of an unknown variety that did OK after first being transplanted but quickly began to have problems after the first few fruits. Since these were not meant to be grown this year not much effort was made towards them. Being in full sun in the new, rough, soil dried some of them out to the point of no return. Later in the season the powdery mildew killed whole plants, but nothing was done to prevent these things from happening because we didn’t intend to grow cucumbers this year. Still, it’s good to know what went wrong so we can do better in the future.

Winter Squash (Acorn Squash)

We grew Table Queen Acorn Squash this year, interplanted near our corn stalks. Winter squashes have traditionally done well for us but this year they vined out excessively, did not cooperate with the corn well (frequently pushing the plants over instead of helping to hold them up) and only gave us 3 squashes this year despite the massive space they occupied. They also suffered from powdery mildew and blossom end rot. Because of this we have decided to try other varieties of winter squash next year and put the acorn squashes on the backburner for future attempts.

Carrots

We grew Touchon carrots this year and they did surprisingly well. We attempted to do the “four day” tri-planted carrot method with limited success. The seeds actually took nearly a week to germinate, and the mess of what grew where meant that the carrots were hardly tri-planted. Our soil across our whole lot is thick and clay heavy, and despite amending with a lot of sand, wood chips, straw and compost, we’ve never been able to make good carrot soil. Despite these mishaps, we ended up getting 5lbs of carrots (after removing the greens) out of our tiny 10 square feet (ish) of carrots. Most were small and straight but a few were large and some were crazy and lumpy. They were all quite short as our soil is so heavy. They were also delicious. Most fresh produce is good but the difference in flavor for the carrots was dramatic. Next year we will be growing carrots again, but a different variety designed for heavy soils.

Arugula

The arugula we grew this year did great. It grew well, bolted early and produced many seed pods after. It was resistant to animal consumption and vined out a lot. Strong flavor and very spicy. Will grow again in smaller quantities.

Lettuce
The lettuce mix we grew got consumed heavily by animals in the early spring and suffered in the heat of mid-summer as it tried to recover. It came back strong in the fall as the rest of the garden started to die back, but there weren’t many other vegetables to go with it any more. The lettuce varieties were all bitter and really needed a sweet lettuce to go with them.

Peas

We grew Cascadia dwarf snap peas this year. Early in the season they were dug up by squirrels and eaten down by groundhogs. They struggled to recover in time to avoid being shaded out by plants like the kale. The remaining and sad plants did produce peas that were the best peas I have ever tasted, however. They were extremely juicy and sweet. We will be trying them again next year with a little more TLC.

Kale

We grow Red Russian kale every year and it’s always a star in our environment. It got munched by caterpillars a bit in the hot summer months but bounced back. We did not eat enough of it, however, and really need to get more clever about eating our greens.

Broccoli

We grew De Cicco Broccoli this year. They germinated very well but were really leggy seedlings. They were delicious plants but hardly produced a head more than a couple inches across and they never did become less leggy. We ended up just letting them bloom over and over again to feed the bees during times when other blooms were few. They never produced enough heads to be worth eating substantially. Next year we will be trying cauliflower instead.

Beans

KY Wonder Pole Beans are staple on our farm. As usual, they out-performed most of our crops, producing more beans than we could actually harvest and eat reasonably. My friends and family members were fed with those beans. They also suffered a bit from the wet as they also got hit with various fungi and blights. The new trellises worked very well but really need plastic twine to stay in place. Sisal/hemp or other natural rope twines break too easily and the trellises fall over. The beans also could have been trained horizontally more effectively to allow them to take up more surface area on the trellises. We also need to clip the branches above the trellises back more as they tried to grow up into the trees! Saving seeds from these beans is also amazingly simple. This will continue to be a staple crop for years to come.

Corn

We grew Painted Mountain flint corn this year. Most years we have tried to grow Roy Calais flint corn to no avail. This year the corn actually grew and each stalk produced an ear or two despite our very small stand. The ears were not well filled out and frankly, we didn’t get much corn out of it… But that which we did get was beautiful! Coming in several colors, some ears being solid and some mixed, it’s gorgeous to look at. It did fall over easily. The stalks were thin and needed to be hilled more effectively. The radishes that were inter planted with the corn needed to be removed earlier and replaced with large amounts of mulch to support the corn stalks. Next year we will be trying this variety again as we’ve never gotten a corn to grow to fruit before and I think a larger stand may solve the problems we had.

Watermelon

Watermelons have traditionally been hard for us to grow. We planted Blue Ribbon watermelon. This year we got one small watermelon, but it was strong and ripe. They really need more shade during the height of summer and a longer season. Also, they were planted in rough soil and (like all the plants grown in the new bed) suffered from mildew and calcium problems. This is our second failed year in a row trying to grow these. We will be opting for a different fruit species next year.

Herbs; Mammoth Dill

The dill was transplanted from a pot and never bounced back the way I was hoping. It was plated in with our brassicas (kale and broccoli) to keep bugs away, which it did seem to at least a bit. Last year our kale was devoured by aphids. This year it wasn’t. But the dill itself never became a useful size. Direct sowing will probably serve us better next year.

Herbs; Parsley

We grew some sort of standard curly parsley, and it took off! It’s still alive and growing well in our back yard and seems to have done nicely for itself. The flavor is good and it’s extremely prolific. We will be growing it again next year. Germinated very slowly.

Herbs; Oregano

Did not germinate. Again. Maybe next year? Anyone have any tips on how to grow oregano from seed well?

Herbs; Genovese Basil

Germinated extremely slowly and needs to have a LOT of dirt space to grow properly. I have never seen a plant stunt itself so badly from lack of space before. We ended up growing this in both beds and pots and it did extremely well in both! Very prolific once it finally started to grow properly! Had to pinch the blossoms a lot to keep it from going to seed too early. Next year we will grow enough to dehydrate or turn into dairyless pesto for storage!

Herbs; Thyme

Our thyme grew wonderfully but was used minimally. Should be good as an inter planted pest repellent herb for the future, but not as heavy production for consumption. Forgot to dry the leftover herbs this year. Also took a long time to germinate.

Blackberries; This year we started a stand of blackberry canes. Unfortunately, there’s not enough to share with the birds as they ate nearly all of them. Next year we may try bird netting to maintain the stand better.

Strawberries; These had a great early season but as late summer rolled around they became so thick and over grown that the fruits weren’t turning red and were just rotting away on the vines. We will thin them heavily this year, possibly to hanging pots, and maintain them a bit more carefully to allow us to harvest more appropriately.

Management notes for next year;

This year was very wet and saw a lot of problems despite overall success. Management of soil quality in newly dug beds proved problematic. It was extremely difficult to get the beds in this past spring and many of the plants in those beds suffered as a result. Low mineral levels and low fertility in general seemed to effect some of the plants dramatically.
Animals consumed a lot of plants early in the season. Excluding wild animals from our lawn more effectively is going to be a requirement for the future.
Wireworms were a new problem that hit our potatoes particularly hard. They are common in freshly dug beds for up to 5 years because they live in grass roots. We can’t wait 5 years for them to decide to leave so we will be using other management techniques instead. The potato beds will be tilled repeatedly now that it’s fall, and again in the spring, to make the beds cold and drive the wireworms out. They will be treated with coffee grounds to make the soil more acidic than the wireworms prefer. We will also use small amounts of coffee grounds to fertilize our potatoes during growth. We will lastly be applying a small number of beneficial nematodes, which kill wireworms. It’s our hope that with these techniques we’ll be able to prevent them from living in the root vegetable beds and our potatoes will be safer for it.
Fungal blooms were a large problem as nearly all the plants experienced some sort of disease or another from fungus. Better, airier, plant spacing and more pruning will likely improve prevention of fungal diseases. Tilling soil, baking soda sprays, thick mulching and calcium supplements will also be used to help control fungal blooms on the plants including blight and powdery mildew.

The Summary

Despite some serious problems in our garden with fungal blooms, pests, and rough soil conditions, the garden went very well and produced a lot of food for us! It really felt like the garden was worth the work load this year. We learned a lot this year and I think next year is going to be extremely promising. We’re already adjusting our land and practices to compensate for and prevent the problems we had this year from effecting our spring plantings. I’m looking forward to the next growing season!

Victory gardens?

In the 1940s, during the Great depression and WWII, wages were similarly unequal to today’s current wage system. The war ended up reinvigorating our economy with military jobs being converted into infrastructure and manufacturing jobs. And while war is ALWAYS terrible, a scant few good programs come out of that war. The best one (to me) being the victory garden program. It helped stave off hunger and high food prices all across the nation, establishing a groundwork for self-sufficiency within cities and as a nation.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, right before the victory garden program was being pushed in cities and the nation suddenly found itself growing half of it’s food in cities, suburbs and people’s back yards, another problem had been brewing in the countryside for a decade. Farmers were going broke, unable to sell their crops for more than it cost to grow them. Overproduction was the new norm in much of America. Agriculture was crumbling. So bills were put into place to stop farmers from growing so much food and to regulate prices by taxing the food industry to provide money for the US to buy grain during over productive years and distribute it during lean times. The result helped to stifle the economic disaster occurring in the US, but was ultimately found unconstitutional and was replaced by a similar bill in 1938. The 1938 bill became today’s Farm Bill, and was designed to help farmers grow crops that we needed more of during the war. Farmers were suddenly being paid to grow crops that were in under production at the time (cotton, wheat, corn, peanuts, barley, etc.) so that the nation would not run short on these crops. But also came with stipulations that only so much could be grown and distributed, to avoid the over production problems of the 1930’s. When WWII ended, the nation’s agriculture stabilized and the economy improved.

Between 1970 and 2000, the farm bill slowly mutated. Regulations on how much could be grown and sold were cut massively while the people making the most money off of the farm bill (mostly corn growers) lobbied hard to keep their crops that have plenty of production in the US on the list of subsidized crops. The goal of encouraging farmers to grow under-grown crops to stabilize prices of certain good was lost to the æther. Now a days, despite huge gluts in the market driving corn prices ever lower and corn being the most grown crop in the US, nearly a THIRD of all farm subsidies go towards growing corn. Why? Because there’s where the money rolls into our government from.

So I have one tiny, selfish hope for this steaming tire fire of a presidency.

Among the nonsensical and unconstitutional policies Trump is proposing, in order to pay for his 25 billion dollar wall, is a 20% tax on goods from mexico that was originally endorsed as the probable plan to generate the funds. Now I will start by saying that this is actually a tax on the American public. Because what’s going to happen is producers of goods are just going to (very legally, mind you) pass that price down to consumers.
Because Joe who grows avocados must make $5 off of his avocados to break even and pay his bills, he sells his avocados to us for $5. If the US taxes Joe 20% to sell his avocados in the US, Joe will still need to make $5 off of his avocados BEFORE that tax to continue to pay his bills. So Joe will either A. Stop selling in the US, therefore generating no revenue for a wall. Or B. Will add the extra 20% onto his avocado prices and sell them for $6, because he can’t give 20% of his $5 to that tax, he needs it to pay his other bills. If he does the second, and you, a US citizen buy his more-expensive avocados, Joe still makes the $5 he needs to pay his bills. You, the avocado buyer, just paid the tax. Not Joe. Because Joe still has bills to pay, and needs his $5. It just LOOKS like it’s coming from Joe. This is a system of exploitation that’s been going on for a very long time and is inherent in our society.

Now that wouldn’t amount to much if it were, like, Tibet where our imports kind of don’t exist. But the US imports 10% of it’s food from Mexico, a large amount of which is fresh produce. Which means 10% of food imported to places without much fresh food (especially inner cities, suburbs and food deserts) is going to get 20% more expensive should this policy go through. Inner cities already struggle massively with problems relating to food scarcities, specifically good, local, fresh, healthy foods like lean meats, vegetables and fruits. It’s hard to spend $5 on a bag of apples that you may or may not get around to, when $5 will get you 5 sandwiches and feed your whole family something with enough calories to get them through the day. Since many people in our nation’s poor urban centers also don’t know how to cook and handle whole foods, since food prep is a skill that was cut from public schools because of budget cuts, and is only able to be taught at home by people who have generational wealth and knowledge, (something that contributes massively to classism and racism) there’s not many options available to them, and it’s not really a wonder that poor people end up fatter while still being hungry and starving. And it’s about to get 20% worse for those people, leading to even more stigma for being in that situation as options for low-priced high-nutrient value food dwindle away and most of America carries on as usual.

So somewhere buried in that big pile of poo is my desperate little hope. A hope that this will spark some agricultural reform, possibly in the amending of the Farm Bill to suddenly stop producing tons of excess corn (which is bad for the environment as corn is awful on soil to grow) that goes into animal feed and corn-based plastics, fuel, and any other market they can desperately dump our massive corn glut into… And instead, it will subsidize farmers to grow the vegetables we need to support inner cities and food deserts with our own American farms with a lower overall footprint. Or, it may spark the urban agriculture movement to work towards urban centers, Victory-Garden style, because with a little help and rising prices on behalf of tariffs on Mexican imports it makes both urban agriculture and victory gardens that much more feasible and financially viable.

And I would be very excited for one (or both) of those things to happen.

So hey, maybe if we don’t descend into a war because of this massivehorriblesoul-crushingunlawfulfear-mongering political bonfire… Maybe farmers in the US and the state of our nation’s food security will be a little bit better for it.

(Please feel free to generally fact check my post, don’t take anyone’s word for anything. I didn’t bother with citations for most of this, but you can always look it up in your own time. Don’t spread fake news.)

300.

300 is how many seedlings I will need to start this year to plant my whole garden. That’s a HUGE number compared to my previous years and doesn’t even cover half the seeds that will be going into the ground, since many of them are direct-sow. For me and most of the people I know, this is some epic-levels of gardening going down.

300garden.png

Ok, I know for some people it’s not that impressive. Most people who do homesteading, hobby farms, farming, etc are planting whole acres. They wield small tractors, horses, or at rolling devices to till and seed. I still do all that by hand. I don’t even have a whole acre to my name, let alone available to plant. But for me, this is a huge step. The kind of step that I am hoping will lead into even larger scale production.

I finally finished the gardening layout. For reals this time. I discussed it with the boys and we agreed that it would be best to just expand the garden beds even further and we came up with the final garden layout below;

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We added a second path, widened the original path (which is currently only 1′ wide and tedious to walk on) and are planning on expanding it to half again it’s current size. (Everything from the second path on will be new.)

We added carrots to the list of vegetables grown, and swapped out some normal onions for green onions. There’s also been some major improvements to the locations of crops grown. The spinach and regular herbs now reside where the kale once did. This helps mix up the crops a little. Kale and spinach, while both similar leafy greens with similar nutritional needs, are in different plant families. (Spinach is an amaranth, kale is a brassica.) This helps deter pests. The kale has been moved far away into the edge of the sun in front of the peas, still surrounded by dill. The dill may get shuffled a bit more into the sun because dill and carrots are not supposed to grow next to each other and they’re a bit close right now. Surprisingly, in my garden, the locations that have mid-day shade are the ones we have the most competition for. Mid-day summer sun and many plants just don’t mix around here. The carrots are taking up residence where the kale usually lives, in rows along the shadiest spot of my garden bed.

We HAVE to use raised beds, or everything floods. Most people are concerned about their raised beds drying out quickly, but we need that additional 6+ inches to lift the plants out of standing water. (Cleveland gets near-rainforest levels of precipitation each year.) We’re going to have some issues anyhow because the path is right in the wettest spot on that half of my lawn, so I have some concern about soil erosion if we get a very wet spring. Because of how massive this garden bed addition is going to be, we’re seeking out more organic matter and dirt to put in that spot. On thursday we’re going out to get bags of composted horse manure, as much as we can fit in the wee little car that Dan drives… It’ll be bagged in black plastic, which from a sustainability standpoint is maybe not so good… But I can reuse those plastic bags on the garden bed this spring to help warm my soil, kill weeds and germinate the 128 pea seeds we plan on growing. Afterwards, standard black garbage bags are recyclable. So we’ll get more than one thing out of that carbon footprint.

We’ll also be placing an order for dirt (leaf humus, sand, topsoil and compost mix) and seeking out some fresh woodchips. The woodchips are a desperately needed long-term addition to help break up the clay. A combination of sand (which I bought a few bags of recently) and wood chips do wonders for our dense, mucky orange clay that’s just 6-8 inches down in most areas. Do note, wood chips do take real amounts of time to break down. Typically I am seeing them break down significantly after 2-3 years if they have plants growing on them, a healthy worm population, and some nitrogen mixed in. Some of the bigger chips still remain, but in general they add a large amount of biomass to the soil that is essential for absorbing water, holding it over time, and draining it during floods. A 4′ high pile of woodchips, removed from my chicken pen floor a few years ago, has broken down into a 1′ pile of dirt at this point that weeds can’t resist growing in. This year, I hope to take the wood chips from my chicken pen floor to trench into the garden beds, then replace them with fresh wood chips to help keep the chicken pen cleaner and healthier.

And maybe, if you have been with us for a very, very long time… You will remember this post, showing where I once tried to grow a root garden bed, very deeply embedded in the shade. It was WAY too much shade, and so the plants never grew. But that dirt is still there, contained, waiting to be tilled up, the bed taken out, and the dirt recycled into the newest parts of my garden bed!

So plans to expand the beds, grow enough vegetables to see our needs met from our own land regularly, and have enough to can, are moving forward! I am excited to make big progress on homesteading this year and improving our over-all sustainability.

Nature magazine study finds “Roundup-Ready” corn to be substantially different from regular corn

That title sounds so click-bait-y. Normally I don’t like to share other people’s articles… But I think this one is pretty important to read about. Nature magazine published a peer-reviewed study in their magazine that tested a variety of roundup ready corn and found it to contain more toxins than regular corn. They also showed that the proteins within the corn are significantly different, and that toxins in the corn could also trigger a stronger allergic reaction than normal. The corn processes energy differently than regular corn and the corn basically suffers from oxidization damage. Ultimately, rats fed GMO corn for two years compared to the control group fed the nearest-genetically-similar non-gmo corn.

Here’s a link to a study summary.

Here’s a link to the actual article.

Incidentally, according to gmoanswers.com, a generally pro-GMO site, the longest safety tests required for corn like this is 90 days.

Now here’s the run down on some things that I think are important to consider about this study;

  • This is a test done on a single variety of corn. This does not speak for all types of genetically modified crops, nor even all types of modified corn.
  • The toxins produced are naturally formed in nature. This does not make them safe, but they are “naturally occurring”. It’s not like Mad Cow is jumping to corn suddenly because an amino acid from cow genes was added or something like that.
  • This study does not state whether similar toxin levels could result from doing a more natural hybridization of plants or from standard development of vegetable varieties.
  • The reason the FDA would not notice this is simple. The FDA requirements are a 90-day safety trial and a glorified nutritional analysis (pro-GMO source). Basically they say if it looks like a corn, has the nutritional content of corn, and feeds for 90 days like corn, then it’s corn.
  • This study HAS been peer reviewed prior to publishing and (so far) has held up to scrutiny. (This could change, but the study seems legitimate as of writing this article.)
  • The person who preformed the study has been an anti-GMO and anti-pesticide advocate for some years, but holds the appropriate degrees and scientific background to comment on it.
  • One study, alone, does not debunk dozens of other studies that show GMOs to be generally safe. However, if the study is repeated and shows similarly higher levels of kidney/liver damage, then the study must be considered valid. A good scientific study is hallmarked by repeatability. If a study cannot be replicated by someone else and get the same results, it’s just a single study in a sea of studies. (This is a phase of research we often lack in the scientific community. Studies are rarely repeated.)
  • A pro-GMO source claims that findings like this which are “pleiotropic” (or, essentially, are complicated and cause multiple problems) would show some sort of significant plant damage elsewhere and therefore would be noticeable at a glance (ex; the plants would grow poorly, which is bad for business). The study published in Nature found plant damage on a cellular level from significant oxidization. Oxidized tissue looks normal at a glance, but the tissue later dies. Plants may not live long enough to die from oxidization.

(This is just very interesting to me because of it’s links to cancer and so it’s something I know a lot about. For example, oxidization is one of the causes of cancer. It’s also one of the cures of it. To help prevent cancer we’re encouraged to consume “antioxidants” to remove oxidization from our cells, because oxidization can damage them. Damaged cells can mutate into cancer cells. If you have cancer and are receiving chemotherapy or radiation you are NOT permitted to consume anti-oxidant rich foods, because you are trying to kill cells because cancer cells die faster than regular cells. So you just kill all the cells and hope the non-cancer cells survive longer than the cancer cells. This is also why you loose your hair and get sensitive skin and lack immune responses, because those sorts of cells also die very quickly. You kill them, in part, by making them super-oxidized. So consuming anti-oxidants makes chemo and radiation less effective. No citations here other than this wiki link about it, but you can look it up. This is just stuff I learned from the five years of caring for my mom while she had cancer. So the tl;dr is, these plants had invisible cellular damage that, if left long enough, may have killed the plant. But plants don’t live that long.)

So in conclusion, this study alone is inconclusive. But it does draw whether GMOs are safe into further and legitimate consideration. Studies like this address concerns that haven’t been well researched in previous GMO studies. For better or worse, it gives a solid piece of science, a real leg to stand on for anti-GMO groups, if it holds up to scrutiny and replication.

(In case you were wondering, I read through the “methods” and “results” part of the actual study myself to confirm that, in my own opinion, it seems legit and that I’m reporting as accurately as I can. But I’m no PHD in biochemistry.)

For me, it’s one of the concerns I have stated in the past that has led to me to support labeling laws and have been attempting to move away from GMO products myself. For example, a different protein structure as shown in this study may mean that a person can develop an allergy to GMO corn that they would not otherwise have developed (and because of the way allergies work, that reaction may spread to regular corn) and now someone can’t eat corn at all. A different set of toxins may cause an animal that normally feeds on corn or corn pollen to refuse to eat it or experience health problems from it. A different set of nutrients (like sugars, which are processed differently in GMO corn according to this study) may cause an animal that normally avoids corn to try to eat it more often, causing behavior changes in wildlife. Frankly, we don’t know all the multi-faceted and subtle (or “pleiotropic”) ways GMOs could effect our lives.
And perhaps most importantly, they have led to a multi-billion dollar industry that regulates itself, relies on illegal labor under nearly slave-like conditions and holds the keys to our nation’s food security. We are limited lifespan creatures and will die someday whether GMOs are helping us along or not. But the nation’s food security, sustainability, and our compassion for other humans, is a legacy that carries on long beyond our lifespan. I’d like to see the next generation own the keys to those things, not a self-regulated company.

So give the study a gander, take it with a grain of salt, and come to your own conclusions about it. It’s a very interesting read.