Thursday, May 22, 2008

Catching up time, for real this time! Also Growing Challenge

Whew, what a busy last couple of months.

I've still been cooking and living as local as I can, but I just haven't had time to blog about it. Around the time we had a death in the family (early March) I was also looking for full time work because my husband's job that's sustained us for the past four years and allowed me to very nearly complete my own degree, ended with little fanfare. Unfortunately, that's the way it goes with grant-funded research, and to be honest we were expecting that might happen with the economy and government expenditures being what they are at the moment. But finding out for sure kind of kicked everything into high gear over here for me.

So for several weeks I was working part time, going to school full time, and seriously looking for work, in addition to all the things I do here at home. Long story short, I finally found a great job! AND, it's close enough I can walk to work! AND I go in early - early enough that when I get home there is still plenty of time to garden and putter around the house if I want.

At any rate, I was all set to get back on here and update all my challenges and such, and then the computer I was using blew up. No warning whatsoever - just...dead. I had backups - I'm a career geek, you see - but I still had to move everything to a borrowed computer for a few weeks and then from there on to my new work computer, reinstall all my programs, reset all my passwords, import all my old bookmarks and also finish up some final work at my old job, and then take a bunch of final exams for school, and then get everything ready for going back to work full time...and then there was the garden.

The garden, I'm happy to say, is doing wonderfully. Despite all the challenges this spring brought (including freakishly long winter weather - you can see three inches of snow out in the yard behind this snapshot of one of our early tomato transplants - and this was during the first week of MAY) we managed to start, grow and transplant pretty much all of our own starts this year. We started about a dozen different kinds of tomatoes, including some heirlooms we want to trial this year, about 6 different kinds of peppers, two kinds of eggplant, red and gold coin onions, two kinds of broccoli, heirloom watermelons, and six kinds of basil! We already have tomatoes - yes, little green ones the size of the end of my pinkie finger - showing on the vines we planted out just last week. Those tomato transplants are some of the nicest ones I've ever grown and in spite of the really late start everything is getting and the over 90 degree weather we had the week we set them out (necessitating twice or three times daily watering until they "took") we should still have the earliest ripe tomatoes we've ever had here. If we're lucky, they'll be ripe by the end of June!

One of the funner parts of the whole garden thing this year has been trading extra transplants and starts with my friend AtomicWombat. I thought *I* was growing a lot of seedlings this spring - I swear she started enough this year to supply a small nursery! So she and I are trading a few tomatoes and some peppers that we have extras of, thereby increasing the variety in our plantings, and some of my wayward chives, raspberry canes, oregano, mints, and shallots starts found a good home in her new garden.

I bought a pressure canner this spring as well, so I can can local meats and homemade soups and stews and low-acid vegetables so I can have room in the freezer for all the stuff that'll be coming out of the garden soon. So far I have canned several jars of "pulled pork" (a southern delicacy my husband just loves) from some local pork roasts I got earlier this year, the rest of the elk stew meat we bought this winter, some red trout that I wanted to can and see how we liked it, and various other odds and ends. I'm planning to can some lamb stew meat that we bought locally just a couple of weeks ago from Lau Family Farm, plus some ready to eat sloppy joe mix from the local ground beef we have left - also from the Lau's. With my going back to work full time this summer, we'll need some convenience food - and making it ourselves from local foods is better for our health and better for our budget.

Right now I'm researching the sorts of herbal teas I can make here at home from things we are growing in the garden or in pots. This year my big thing will probably be raspberry and strawberry leaf tea. We have raspberry shoots shooting up all over the place, so if I have to cut them down I'd prefer to make something yummy out of them rather than just compost. Compost is good, but it doesn't warm your belly in the middle of winter like a nice pot of homemade herbal tea. :-)

I'm going to post this and see how many other pictures of the garden I have that I can put online tonight. So, brb with more pictures....


Liripoop said...

You really seem to have a passion for home grown produce. I'm trying to develop a green thumb but struggling with the Australian climate. I guess perserverance is the key?

valereee said...

Oooh, a pressure canner! I'm jealous!

Idaho Locavore said...

Hi Liripoop - I've killed lots of plants, believe me! But over the years I've learned more about soil, and about what sort of plants do well in the areas I've lived in, and also about ways to push the odds a bit more in my favor.

In Texas, for instance, where I lived for 20 years, the big challenges were severe and unpredictable weather and summer's triple digit temperatures and drought. I don't know if these are the sorts of challenges you are facing, but I'm guessing they might be similar.

The best advice I can give is to pick plants and growing methods that are right for your climate. This can take some research and some testing to get good results.

In northern Texas, for example, we often got three or four episodes of 70-90 mph winds every spring. Getting knocked to the ground every few weeks and uprooted definitely isn't very good for tomatoes! So I started growing more dwarf or compact varieties and letting all my plants sprawl on straw mulch - with some short supports scattered throughout the rows - instead of putting them into tall cages to catch the wind. This kept them from getting uprooted and kept stem breakage to a minimum.

The three best things I found for triple digits and drought were lots of organic matter in the soil, a heavy mulch and drip irrigation in the form of soaker hoses. I'd lay soaker hoses down in the rows and zigzagged between the plants and put 4-6 inches of hay or straw mulch over the top of that. The humus in the soil kept things moister than they would have been otherwise, the drip irrigation watered more evenly with less waste, and the mulch kept the water where I wanted it and kept the sun from stealing it away. It also kept the soil a lot cooler, which kept the tomatoes producing longer into the hot season. As a bonus, there was also very little weeding.

Here in the US we have agricultural "extensions" staffed with agricultural scientists who often do education and host gardening events aimed at informing the public. We also have something called the Master Gardener Program with seasoned home gardening volunteers that serves as an outreach to the local gardening community. They also conduct gardening seminars and classes. If you haven't already, you might check to see what sort of resources you have available to you through the government and through your local universities.

Good luck!

Idaho Locavore said...

Hi valareee!

I love my pressure canner - I wish I'd gotten one years ago! If you don't have one, maybe you could ask around and see if you have someone you know that's willing to let theirs come "visit" you for a week or so now and then? :-)

Melinda said...

Wow, it sounds like a whirlwind. Congratulations on your job! We're job-hunting here as well, and my husband just found a job. Now we can breathe a little easier... and he's walking to work, too! It will be really nice.

Also thanks for the reminder to back up my blog... yikes.

Your garden sounds like it's doing great, considering the season just started for you!

And I love that you traded transplants. My mom and I were talking about doing that this year, as we have so many tomatoes and peppers. Since everything is in the ground by now in everyone's garden but ours, I'm afraid we'll have to do that next year instead...

Glad you're back!