Thursday, May 29, 2008

what else is new

I started reading a new book called Homestead Year, written in the early- to mid-1990s when many of the back-to-the-land folks had since gone back-to-the-yuppie-suburbs and Al Gore was just a boring vice president. At least to me--but I was about ten years old during the title year and really wasn't concerned with a lot more than how many different colors of slouch socks I owned.
Anyway, so far, so good. Although I would like to say I'm a little tired of authors who talk about farming on a humble acre of land. With all due respect, cry me a river, guys. Come take a look at our streetcar suburb lot of about a sixth of an acre, plagued by a north-facing slant, too much shade, and the ever-encroaching bamboo and ailanthus, and maybe you will feel a little better. Not only that, but this is the most land I've lived on since I lived with my parents. Up until this year, I was lucky to have a rooftop or a balcony for a little outdoor space. But I suppose the point here is that however small our space may seem to us, we've got to try to make the best of it. (Jacob often refers me to the story of the cow in the house).

One way I found to use less space is potatoes planted in an old trash can:

This is one of many, many experiments we've got going on in the garden. It's pretty much all experiments right now, because we barely know what we're doing, and this is our first season living here. But the potatoes have been pretty easy so far:
I just scrubbed out an old trash can and rinsed with hot water and distilled vinegar, drilled several holes in the bottom, planted some seed potatoes in some soil at the bottom of the trash can and they've gone from there. Every time they get a few inches taller, we cover them with old dead leaves, coir or light soil. I planted these in March, so supposedly in a couple more months, the plants will flower and die back and we'll have a trash can full of potatoes. I'll believe it when I see it...potatoes and root crops make me nervous because you can't see what's going on! But I really hope it works, because this has probably been one of the easiest projects.

The collard greens were an impulse buy of Jacob's at the co-op one day, and they were really suffering for a while, but now they are doing well. I love collard greens. I just want to bite 'em. (Upon further inspection, it looks like something has, in fact, bitten them. Hm...)

Here's another experiment. We had an old birdbath lying under our deck, so I thought I'd plant something with shallow roots in it, like lettuce. Cute idea, but kind of stupid, seeing as how birdbaths do not drain. I don't want to use this as a real birdbath, though, because we have a crazy mosquito problem around here.

What else is on the deck?
Ah, yes. As you can see, we do not have a clothesline yet. It seems like money evaporates when the weather gets warm. It's on the list, and the drying rack works fine for now.

In front of the house is Khymi's flowerbed, a lesson in delayed gratification. There are zinnias, cosmos, and...some other stuff. We take care of it when she's not here, but we still let her take most of the credit.

I have been waiting and waiting for these lovely peonies to bloom. See, I am not a pink hater.

The newest thing out front is our tomato trellis. We saw a blurb about tomato trellising in Organic Gardening and thought we might as well get some use out of that damned bamboo. We'll be growing cucumbers, and maybe pole beans, on the tripods. The bed is a lasagna garden with layers of coir, municipal leaf compost, decomposed horse manure, and our backyard compost. More experiments!

Here's something we did not grow:
Mulberries! There is a big, huge mulberry tree, and we didn't even notice last summer because it was later on when we moved here. Naturally, it is over the the driveway, so we have had to park our (white) car on the street for the past few days. Anyway, you can see that a lot of them are just about to ripen! A few have ripened already, and I got about a pound this afternoon just by shaking the branches within my reach:

(The white petals are from an adjacent tree).

I don't adore the taste of mulberries, but they're good, and there are so many that we thought we ought to do something with them. I've read that they make good wine, but we don't have the equipment for that. Any other suggestions?

Remember how pleased we were when we finally conquered the bamboo back in February? Sure enough, it's back with a vengeance:

Ugh. It's growing faster than we can keep up with it. Let's talk about something else.

Like jam! Look at those little jars. They just look happy. I didn't think it would be possible, but almost all the strawberries are used up or frozen.

Well, that's where we're at, and it's almost June. With any luck, I'll have much to report in a month or two. Hope you're all enjoying these sunny days.


Howling Hill said...

Last year I saw the tops of my potatoes popping out of the ground so that's how I knew when to harvest. That may not work for you since you have yours in a barrel and mine were in a garden bed, although you can dig a little bit down to see how the potatoes are doing.

For the clothesline is it possible to hang rope from one tree to another or the side of your house? Rope is cheap.

maria said...

the layout of our yard is tricky; it would be hard to hang a regular rope in a place that would also be relatively out of the way. ideally what i'd like to do is have a pulley line going diagonally up from a corner of the deck to a higher point on a tree, so the clothes would be up above our heads. but...the drying rack works for now. it has 20 yards of space, but eventually i'd just rather the clothes weren't all next to each other.

and you're right, i'll be able to reach in a root around for a potato in a while...

Bill said...

All farming basically boils down to three things:

1 - Making the best use of the resources that you have

2 - Adapting your cultivation practices to your environment

3 - Making mistakes and learning from them

It looks like you are well on your way to becoming farmers.

Allie said...

Wow! Your gardens look great!