Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Garlic Harvest: 2017

When green garlic leaves fade to brown, it's time to harvest them. It's important to get them out of the ground before tops get too weak to help pull the roots out. Also, as the leaves fade, organisms start eating away the membranes that cover the cloves, exposing these gems to soil. Although dirt readily washes off, bulbs are much fancier wrapped in colorful membrane layers. Also, it's only possible to braid garlic together if the leaves are strongly attached.
Garlic Bed with Parsley Growing Between Rows
Another View Showing Green Garlic Leaves Turning Brown

This year it took six hours to collect about 200 pounds of garlic and stack them exposed to air to cure them. The bulbs must be oriented separately from the leaves so they dry quickly without starting to make "compost". Our new wagon seems to be an ideal tool for curing because the mesh bed allows air to circulate.

Wagon Full of Garlic, Stacked So Bulbs Are Exposed to Air
Knowing that garlic is harvested before the end of July, in early June I broadcast parsley seeds all over the garlic patch. It's now growing very well and by September will be ready for freezing packets of parsley pesto. Last fall the garlic was planted through inches of leaves and other mulch. This spring, some garlic sprouts needed help getting through the larger leaves. Today the mulch has disappeared, processed away primarily by worms, but there was enough left in June to successfully germinate parsley seeds.
Parsley Now Without Competition from Garlic
This year has been cool and wet so garlic scapes didn't appear until later in June. We picked them as soon as they appeared so that the plants' energy goes into the cloves.
Fifteen Pounds of Scapes from the Above Garlic Bed

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Summer Starting Well

One spring planting goal is to get major crops in the ground by the first day of summer. We have three staggered plantings of sweet corn, more than 100 each of tomatoes and peppers, Swiss chard, onions, basil, cucumbers, beans, winter and summer squash, kale sugar snap peas, cabbage, broccoli, eggplant, okra and salad items. So far only one tragedy: over 100 basil plants were eaten by some critter the day after they were transplanted! Luckily we have two additional beds with better fences that are growing well. Deer browse our tomatoes and peas, but we have more than enough for sharing.
Asparagus Sprouting

Asparagus are our first vegetable harvest in spring and lasts through early June. Our next harvest is rhubarb that we make into pies. At this time our Guinea fowl also start to lay eggs so we have lots to for custard to incorporate the rhubarb chunks. 
Rhubarb Pie
One trick I use to prompt judicious planting is to soak seeds for 24 hours and then moisten them a few times a day until they sprout. This gives them leg up since they don't have to absorb moisture from the soil. It also insures that only viable seeds get planted. And planted in the order they sprout! Keeping the array of cups with a moistened seeds by the coffee machine, prompts me to check them at least three times a day when I brew cups. Most of our favorite Zucchino Rampicante seeds we saved from last summer's crop didn't sprout. Luckily we still had a few mature fruit in the cellar so we processed the largest one and its seeds grew! We also had to make lots of pies and squash meals.

Cups of Seeds Waiting to Sprout

The Seed Cavity of the Above Squash

One Zucchini Pie
Another sign of spring: when it gets hot, our dog melts and hides deep in the garage, lying on the cool concrete floor. We then know it's time to shave her. Though she reluctantly puts up with the noise of the clipper, she's overjoyed when it's over and she zips around, rolling over and over in the cool grass. She now follows me around but takes advantage of shade when I work in sunny gardens.
Belle, Half-shaved

Our Dog, Belle, Happily Sporting Her "Lion" Cut

Some of Belle's Hair to be Made into Yarn One Day
Shiitake mushrooms are another sign of spring: after a heavy rain, they bolt out of the oak logs we inoculated the year before.
Shiitake Mushrooms Growing out of Oak Logs

Many Pounds of Harvested Shiitake Mushrooms
A few weeks later, oyster mushrooms begin sprouting out of their ash-leaved maple logs.
Oyster Mushrooms 1

Oyster Mushrooms 2
As soon as summer begins, garlic scapes pop out the top of each plant. We incorporate them into many meals, chop them for freezing but donate most to a homeless shelter. We have so many garlic bulbs on the way that store well without taking room in the freezer so we don't need to preserve many scapes.
Broccoli and Garlic Scapes for Dinner!

Broccoli and Scape Curry With Rice

First Garlic Scape Harvest: 15 Pounds, 10 to a Homeless Shelter

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Carving Wood Mobiles

Our middle daughter asked me to make a mobile for her son, our first grandchild, who will arrive early this summer. At the same time, the Northeastern Woodworkers Association announced a "2x4 Challenge", a competition to make something using primarily a common lumber stud. I had just joined the woodcarving special interest group who primarily worked on birds. Why not, for practice, make a flock of flying geese? 

Nine Completed Geese Ready for Painting

Painting Complete

 Suspending Geese So They Face the Same Direction and Stay Level Required Fancy Thread Work
The stand that mounts on a table and holds the "Vee" required more time to make than carving the birds. During a two hour video I could finish two of them. The curved stand required ripping half a stud into strips and then sanding them thinner and thinner until they bent over an aluminum form without breaking. The upper part has nine layers, increasing to double as many at the base.

A Different Perspective
 One advantage of working with accomplished woodcarvers is their knowledge of tools and where to get them. Or how to make your own tools. Very good carving blades are available from Warren Cutlery Corporation ( I used a variety of 6 shapes (6SBL for $7.25) and three copies of straight blade (22B for $3.79) that I curved for making grooves. These blades come very sharp and are very hard so they hold their edge very well. To bend them they must be red hot and then quenched in oil while hot to make them hard again. 
A Set of Carving Knives With Ebony and Rosewood Handles That Took a Morning to Make

The Beginning of "Isa", the Dog Before Her Hind Legs and Tail Were Added
 Our daughter and family often visit seashores so most of the characters I chose relate to life in the sea. We had to add a beagle so that we can tease this new little one by mistakenly calling an eagle or a seagull a beagle (or vice versa). And the owl is a nod to the book: "Owl Moon", one of our favorites.
Mobile Characters Before Being Sent to Another Daughter for Painting
 Carving legs with talons are too difficult in wood, so I twisted some copper wire together and pulled out digits. These figures are pretty substantial so that they can be unhooked from the mobile and handled or played with. The type of wood and direction of grain insure that appendages don't break easily. The starfish, turtle and seahorse are plywood.
Eagle and Owl with Wire Talons

The Owl Being Held by a Four-year-old, for Scale

Friday, May 12, 2017

2017 Spring Snakes, Turtles and Birds

The past months I've been carving wood figures in our basement. One day I was surprised to find a small garter snake climbing the stairs. I relocated it to our garden that is farthest from lawn where a mower could hurt it. A few days later, a much larger (30") milk snake surprised me by passing over the foot pedal that controls the carving tool I was using. It too I released outdoors.
Cellar Dwelling Garter Snake

Milk Snake Traveling Over Tool Power Cords on Cellar Floor
Same Milk Snake Released on a Garden Path

We have an enclosed blueberry patch that has fencing all around and netting over the top. It has a few holes large enough for birds to get in and they often cannot find their way out. I then climb in, catch and release them. Our dog, Belle, thinks this is great fun and often helps me by distracting them by running around outside the fence. One day when I was not inside the enclosure, she jumped on the fence and shoved her nose underneath, catching a dove in her mouth. She was very proud when he brought it to me. I praised her and she readily let me gently take it away. After resting awhile, it exploded in a cloud of feathers and flew away.
Mourning Dove Rescued from Our Dog's Mouth
 While walking through our acres of grass, I'm always looking for turtles, snakes and amphibians so I don't step on them. The dozen or more lady painted turtles in our pond lay nests of eggs randomly around our lawn. Though I've tried fencing these nests and moving them inside garden fences, skunks usually decimate every one. This year, one nest succeeded in producing baby turtles. So far I've found and relocated three to our small hidden pond that we keep secluded so that blue herons do not eat the frogs, salamanders and baby turtles that thrive there. These small creatures do not fare well in our large pond with its thriving bass population and visiting herons.
Newly Hatched Painted Turtle (2017 #2)

Same Painted Turtle Showing Plastron (bottom shell) 

Another Newly Hatched Painted Turtle (2017 #3)

Painted Turtle #3 Showing a Different Pattern on Its Plastron 
 A pair of geese make their home on our pond every year. They use our abandoned bee hive platform in the large pond as a safe haven for their nest. This year they had seven eggs and today brought us five goslings. I hurried to see what happened to the other two eggs and found one dead gosling sprawled across the nest but no hint of another. Last year there was a single large egg that did not hatch. Although I relocate every snapping turtle I find in our pond, earlier this spring we saw a very large one pass under our canoe. Maybe it ate the seventh gosling! 
Mom and Dad Geese with Five Goslings Between Them

Goose Nest Remnants Including One Missing Gosling

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Thoughts on Sustainability

This first week of March begins the transition to spring and the last quarter of winter heating. Now there is room for stacking new chunks of wood in our wood crib. It's time to replace the six cords of wood we'll burn for cooking and heating this season. By May we should have filled the crib for a total of 13 cords so next season we can burn wood collected during Spring 2015, letting this year's wood dry for two years.

Wall of 2015 Wood Opposite Room for Stacking 2017 Wood
Fresh 2017 Wood Being Stacked Opposite Wall Above
For me, collecting wood is a welcome aerobic activity. I cut up dead trees and fallen limbs within a quarter mile using a hand saw or battery operated chain saw. They are both quiet and easy to carry. I cut trees and limbs into pieces that are readily carried over my shoulder and make 15 to 20 trips per day to our garage that houses our wood crib. That way I am able to log over 10,000 steps a day that helps get me in shape (and shed winter weight) for planting chores. This year I'll be able to collect about two cords of wood this way before carting the rest from our neighbor's woods more than a quarter mile away. 

I have more than two cords of wood waiting at our neighbor's and will use our electric tractor to pull many wagons full home. I'm still using grid electric power to charge its battery but I'm working on charging circuits that will allow solar panels and a pedal powered generator to charge them directly. Maybe next year I'll be able to power both the tractor and a chain saw with batteries charged sustainably. I do now use a gasoline powered chainsaw for large trees and logs, but prefer using muscle power for limbs and smaller trees. Arm-powered loppers quickly cut anything smaller than a wrist.

Cherry Logs Waiting to Be Cut in Half, Split and Stacked, with the Stove Wood Cart
Our Stove Wood Cart that Carries Enough Wood for a Typical Heating Day

A Single Day's Supply of Wood Cut in Easy-to-carry Length
The Source of All Our Heat and Fall, Winter, and Spring Cooking, Maple Syrup (7 Pots Boiling Away Above), and Plant Germinating (The Four Blocks of Onion Sets on Top)

Eighteen Quarts of 2017 Maple Syrup from Boiling Away 180 Gallons of Sap
It takes time to realize how best to reduce dependence on using fossil fuel based energy. All its forms are so easy to burn and they greatly reduce human effort needed to perform most tasks. But, to me, it doesn't make sense to drive to a gym, fire up a treadmill or an elliptical in order to exercise. It's much more fun to be outdoors, listen to flocks of geese, woodpecker songs and spring peepers serenade spring, or late winter. This February, we've had brilliant sunny weather that's gone from 60F+ temperatures to near zero this past weekend with clear blue skies, visible in the photo above. And I enjoy all of this without leaving home!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Spring in the Air!

This last full week of February, winter transitioned to spring. Two day temperatures exceeded 70 degrees! That never happened in any winter. Broke all records, by many degrees! Inches of snow everywhere and thick ice on local ponds disappeared. Soil turned to mud.

But we're now in my favorite season: replacing wood we've burned for cooking and keeping warm, gathering sap from maple trees for syrup, planting seeds, losing weight and toning muscles. 
Moonrise With Lots of Snow

This Winter We Had Few Opportunities for Cross Country Skiing

February 18 Warmed  and We Tapped Four Maple Trees

 We Use a Gallon Jug to Collect Sap on the Tree We See from Our Front Window

Seven Pots Boil Sap to Make Maple Syrup

The First Batch: Six Quarts Boiled to 104C (219F)

Pond Ice Almost All Gone: February 25, 2017
Now There Are Four Sets of Onion Tubes Sprouting Above the Warm Stove

Many More Plants Are Sprouting in the Front Greenhouse