Monday, July 25, 2011

our homestead: garlic harvest 2011

My husband and I harvested our “wedding” garlic at last. I’ve been both lovingly and jokingly calling it our wedding garlic because it was planted about a week before our wedding last October. I remember a year ago I wasn’t stressing too badly about the actual wedding, nope, I was worried about getting my garlic in the ground before we left for our honeymoon and it would be too late when we returned to plant it. Garlic is planted about the same time tulip and daffodils need to be planted- during early autumn when it’s not so hot that the garlic will sprout, but certainly well before the first killing frost so the cloves get a chance to acclimate. The garlic, planted clove by clove and shielded by layers of good compost and mulch (I used wheelbarrows and wheelbarrows full of crushed, fallen maple leaves), will lay dormant in the soil over the winter until awakened in spring, when its first little green sprouts will emerge. These little sprouts become leafy green tops as the clove continues to develop into a full head of garlic.

Anyway, last year I remember having a lot to do in regards to my garlic while also preparing for our wedding. My planting bed was to be the abandoned bed underneath one of my parent’s old greenhouses. I spent the morning of the day I was to retrieve my wedding dress from Portland, Oregon, clearing the entire bed, ripping up all the weeds and removing the skeletal remains of dead tomato plants. As soon as I’d cleared the bed, I jumped in the car and drove to Oregon to get my dress.

Now here’s where I became a true Bridezilla. My husband’s friend, Steve, came into town to stay with us a few days before the wedding. He was to be one of our groomsmen and, boy, was he a good one! While rushing around trying to finish wedding stuff I was lamenting about how I wouldn’t have time to till the soil of my garlic bed. Steve volunteered…even though he didn’t exactly have work shoes with him. I have this memory of looking out the window, watching Steve rototill my garlic patch in a very nice pair of shoes. He did an excellent job too! Thanks to Steve’s help, I was able to get my garlic planted within a couple days of the wedding. *Phew!*

As far as the results of the harvest, my husband and I pulled up two overflowing wheelbarrows of garlic this past week. We knew it was time to pull the garlic as the tops were wilting and turning yellow. Last year I planted elephant garlic and two varieties of hardneck garlic: Spanish Rojo and Spicy German. My plan is to replant 2/3 of the harvest this September and to eat the rest. To cure my garlic for storage, I’m letting it all lay out on a table where it can be exposed to light and dry out for about two to three weeks. Then, I’ll either trim the greens from the garlic bulbs and toss them in a burlap sack or braid them and hang them in my basement pantry. My husband and I have been enjoying heads of roasted garlic nearly everyday, smeared on bread or chicken. You can bet we’re keeping the vampires away!

Friday, July 8, 2011

our homestead: look what elsha and I made this morning

I had my friend, Elsha, over early this morning for biscuits with honey and some pickling. We made spicy pickled garlic scapes using the recipe I posted a while back. All of the produce used (scapes, elephant garlic cloves, dill and one baby cucumber per jar) came from my backyard. Elsha did a very good job of packing the scapes into the jars, shaping them into pretty little fact, she did most of the work. In about 4-6 weeks, they'll be ready to enjoy! Yum!

You can view the recipe we used here:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

our homestead: the arrival of a wild queen

My mom has kept bees for years. In fact, I have a childhood memory of sitting in a pasture watching her tame a swarm with smoke. With the reassurance of my mom, I wasn't afraid at all. A swarm is a beautiful sight to behold: a large, humming cloud drifting along. Bee swarms seem to have such frightening or negative connotations. In reality, a swarm is usually the result of a queen bee feeling squished into too small of a space, so she'll move her hive. The bees will capture up as much honey as they can in their bellies and then surround the queen as she searches for a new, larger kingdom. Most times, the bees are docile and non-aggressive. I don't know about you, but I think it's hard to go into attack mode when you're full of food.

Anyway, last year my mom and stepdad moved to a new house deep in the woods with more cleared pasture for them to work with in growing their tomatoes. My mom had brought along a few of her hives to their new home. One morning she went down to check up on her hives and one had been torn apart by a bear! Really, really sad. She loves "her girls" as she calls them, so that was really hard. The bear kept coming back night after night and my family had to shoo him off. We still see the bear once in a stepdad watched him run across their pasture in the middle of the day on the summer solstice this year. Fortunately, after the first attack, my mom decided to move the bees back to the slough. So, last summer, I had a few hives along my hillside. Then, winter came and they didn't make it...which is often the case for bees. Although, some hives are hardier than others and can withstand winter. A lot of bee hives have been dying off lately. My neighbor lost 100 colonies this year. But that's another story.

A few weeks ago I was heading down the hill to checkup on my lower garden patch when I noticed bees hovering around one of my hive boxes. I told my mom about it, wondering if a hive had in fact survived the winter. She didn't think so, but said we should go investigate to see if it was indeed a new hive that had taken up residence in the box or a group of robber bees (bees will rob honey-stores leftover from empty hives and bring it back to their hive). We both dawned bee suits and "knocked on the door" of the hive with a bee smoker (the smoke relaxes the bees) and sure enough, there was a thriving hive living in the box. My mom then went through the frames searching for the queen, as a hive cannot survive unless they have their queen. There she was! A beautiful, wild queen (there's a white frame around her in a photo above). We could tell she was wild because she had no paint on her back abdomen, absolutely natural. Purchased queens will usually come with a paint stripe on their back; a color for each year. This allows for beekeepers to keep track of how old their queen is. For example, a 2010 bee might have a red stripe or a 2009 might have a blue. The hive was already developing lots of brood (baby bees) and honey stores.

My mom gave them a few jars of sugar water with a little lemon balm mixed in. The sugar water will act as replacement nectar on rainy days when the bees are less apt to go out looking for flower nectar. I've been giving them jars here and there. I'm hoping that the bees have been finding lots of nectar during the sunny days we've been having. Today is a little rainy, so I'll be making them some sugar water in a little while. I usually do a half/half mixture of sugar and water and lightly dissolve the sugar into the water over low heat. I'm happy to have a wild hive on my property and I hope they'll stay here a little longer.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

DIY almanac: what to plant in the garden in July

July is a very busy and very rewarding month for vegetable gardening. This year we've had a long, cold spring but I'm hoping that summer is here at last. According to the forecast we're supposed to have 10 straight days of sunshine, so I've been working hard outside to take full advantage of the light, doing more intensive-weeding, feeding my already established plants and sowing lots of seeds (mainly beans and winter squash) in preparation for growth. It's funny because every time we have a sunny day I swear my Hop vines grow half a foot! Along with the work I've been enjoying lots of homegrown peas, potatoes, cucumbers, kale, turnips, early onions and more at my dinner table.

Anyway, a big part of planning for July planting is considering when the next major killing frost will be and how this compares to the length of time it will take for vegetables to mature (usually noted on seed packets in days unless you've memorized the planting rhythms). Last year, the earliest frost we had was in late October...I remember this because I made the mistake of leaving some of my harvested sugar pie pumpkins out on the porch. The frost hit them and they became mushy. Sad story. At least this was after I had had the chance to make a few batches of pumpkin chili, a pie, bread and "pumpkins stuffed with everything good" (a recipe I heard on NPR), so I did get to enjoy most of them.

Another planting consideration to make is to anticipate what kind of weather we'll have from July through October. Most vegetables can be planted and grown now, but some might not do as well with the raising temperatures. Potatoes, for instance, prefer a long, cold start and are usually best planted around the end of March. I've heard of folks having some success planting them late, but I suspect that yields won't be as much as they could be. However, one should consider that we've had a funky spring, so maybe planting potatoes now could be like a game of catch-up. Peas are another crop that are usually planted in early spring. I have heard of people planting a second crop for fall. Yields, again, might not be as good as the prior crop, but if anything, you're building up the nitrogen in your planting space and controlling weed growth, so the peas are acting like a green manure. Pea vines are also delicious sauteed in a hot pan. If lettuces, spinach, and arugula get too hot, they'll bolt (go to seed), but it's good to throw them in the garden anyway. I usually try to put them on the shadier side of my garden, or plant them as living "row covers" between plants like squash and corn.

In early July you'll want to plant the following:
-beans! get them in now
-corn (it's a little later to plant corn, but we have had a weird spring and some local farmers have had to replant their corn too)
-winter squash (pumpkins, delicata, acorn, spaghetti...I'm holding sugar pie pumpkin seeds in the photo above)
-second-crops of summer squash (like zucchini, patty pan, crookneck, etc)
-salad greens, chard
-root crops like beets, carrots and parsnips

In mid July you'll want to plant the following:
-cabbage family members like kohlrabi, cauliflower, broccoli and kale for overwintering (a touch of frost makes them taste extra sweet)
-arugula, spinach

Monday, July 4, 2011

trail setters: happy 4th of july!

Happy 4th of July everyone! Above is a pie plate full of fresh dug red, white and blue potatoes from my backyard. These will be turned into a festive potato salad shortly with the addition of some homegrown candy onion, celery and peas. I also have a Pacific Northwest bing cherry pie in the oven right now. Yum!