Did those posts used to be something else?

So, like 5 years ago, I got the idea that I was going to cobble together a canopy bed for the Girl, so I bought some old staircase balusters and did nothing with them. Ideas are sometimes like that- you buy the materials, and then…the materials have to marinate a while.

Time passed, and a canopy bed no longer seemed like a good idea, but I had these 4 turned posts, so I painted them blue and put them by the apple tree, propped up in the holes of cinder blocks. When people asked me if I was going to do anything with them I couldn’t really give them the answer, “I did- look, there they are!” I would mutter something about birdhouses…

3 birdhouses and a finial. Guess which ones I painted?

So I kept thinking.  We had painted some birdhouses a couple of years ago, what if these posts were supports for birdhouses? These aren’t the kind of birdhouses that birds really want to live in- you can’t open them and clean them, they aren’t really “habitat” they are more “decoration.” And I could plant something at the base that could climb them, so they would add some color and some structure. Then the question was how to stand them upright without putting them in cinder blocks. I also didn’t want to bury the bottoms in the ground, because that would make the posts really short.

This spring, I came up with a solution. In the grand family tradition of not spending any money on anything, I used some PVC pipe pieces, some blue duct tape and some rebar (okay, I did buy the rebar, but it was for a different project, so it doesn’t count. I just didn’t want you to think I was going around stealing rebar.)  I taped the PVC to the bases of the posts, hammered the rebar into the ground and slid the pipes onto the rebar.

There's a can of blue spray paint in the garage, I may spray the PVC...

I planted them asymetrically. If I I have learnedanything from making bulletin boards, it is that if something is supposed to be straight, and it’s just a little bit crooked, it drives you crazy. However, if it is supposed to be off-center, then no problem. Unless you are already crazy.

Now, they next step will be attaching the birdhouses on top. The Girl has suggested super glue. Any thoughts?

I (accidently) grew a sweet potato!

Way back last summer, there was a sweet potato sprouting in the bin, so I chucked it into an empty flowerpot, with some soil, of course, and put it out on the patio. Sweet potatoes have pretty, heart shaped leaves, and I enjoyed the greenery all summer, honestly not expecting it to have enough soil or water, or warmth, to produce tubers. I didn’t even check at the end of the summer.
Today it’s warm and sunny, so I went out to do some fall clean-up which I should have done when it was actually fall, and emptied out the pot with the sweet potato plant. Imagine my surprise to see an actual sweet potato. there were a couple of small mushy ones, but one was the size of one you’d see at a grocery store. I’m going to eat it on Christmas.

The leaves froze sometime in October, but the tuber stayed alive in a 10 inch flowerpot.

Why homemade jam? Why not?

You're supposed to skim the foam off to make it prettier, but I didn't.

Our first jar almost finished- 6 days after it was made.

Even though only the girl and I are eating this stuff, we are zooming through it. Looking for excuses to put jam on stuff. You know, I could go for a piece of toast right now.

So, in a world where you can buy jam at the store, where there is a whole grocery aisle devoted to it, why bother making it at home?  I’ve been thinking this a lot lately, as I’ve been making bread, buttermilk, soup stock, lots of  stuff from scratch that my mom, for instance, never made. What do you make from scratch?

The short answer is that I enjoy it, mostly.  It feels good to have stock bubbling away in the crock pot, and then turn that stock into soup. It is kind of fun to stir fruit and watch it bubble and thicken in a pan, then spoon it into jars. 

Cost enters into it as well- buttermilk costs 4 times as much at the store as it does to add some old buttermilk to fresh milk and let it culture. Once you have started a jar, you have a lifetime supply.  I did a little research on line to see what organic raspberry jam would cost, and prices varied from $4-$9. I would never pay that much for jam.  As it is, the berries were from my garden, so free ( ha ha, if you don’t count the labor and the water…) the pectin was about $3 for 6 jars, and it was probably $2 worth of sugar. 

The quality is the last, best answer.  The reason I couldn’t find the price of raspberry chocolate jam is that no one appears to sell it. And it is reallllly good.  To make it, I add a tablespoon of  cocoa powder to the recipe on the insert of the pectin package, and follow the other directions as stated. It could probably be done with cherry or strawberry, too. Experiment.

Pat Daly and the Fukuoka Pumpkin

            The summer I got married, a bunch of my friends were living in a rental on Plum Street in Fort Collins. None of them were college students at the time, but this was a classic college student rental house- old, near campus, big trees, but unkempt. I was over one day, eating a carrot, and got to the stem end of it. I looked around for a compost bucket on the counter, because I knew Pat Daly had had a compost pile at his old house. I asked him, and he took the end of carrot out of my hand and opened the back door and hucked it out into the bushes. I must have looked a little surprised.

“Have you read One Straw Revolution?” he asked. “Masanobu Fukuoka,” he pronounced carefully.  “He’s this Japanese guy who says don’t plow, or turn the soil, just plant everything in mulch, and use everything to mulch with, instead of big compost piles.” That was his summary of the philosophy- mulch everything, and anything can be mulch. There’s probably more to it than that.

We stepped out into the back yard- knee deep in grass and weeds, a squash plant trailing through, tomatoes ranging around.  Later that summer they would get a letter from the city telling them to mow, because of complaints from neighbors. I still haven’t read One Straw revolution”- it was out of print, and I hadn’t come across it in my used book store travels. A quick look on Amazon shows me that it has been reissued, so maybe I need to pay 10 bucks and get an education. http://www.amazon.com/One-Straw-Revolution-Introduction-Natural-Classics/dp/1590173139/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1284220635&sr=1-1

I thought about Pat Daly and his Fukuoka experiments earlier this summer when I noticed a sprout growing next to my back door- when it was little, it was hard to tell if it was a cucumber or sqaush- they look alike to me.  I didn’t pull it, even though I didn’t technically plant it. Sometime last fall when I was emptying the compost bucket, I was  too lazy to walk out to the bin. Maybe it was snowing, or just dark, or…honestly, I don’t remember. Seeds got dumped in amongst the leaves by the veggie bed, and one sprouted this spring. A month or so later, the plant was growing into the path, so I turned it 180 degrees, and now it’s growing behind the bed towards the house. Maybe it’s a weed, but free squash is good squash.

What kind of squash? Who knows?

What is it? We got a lot of different squashes from our CSA last year www.grantfarms.com pie pumpkin, decorator pumpkin, gourd, acorn squash, weird lumpy green ones that tasted really good but made the pie look like baby poop…It could be any of them, or a cross. There were male blooms, and just now, female blooms with fruits growing behind them. Still unidentifiable.  I have my fingers crossed for a bumper crop of mystery gourds. We’ll just call them Fukuoka pumpkins.

Slight digression- one of my favorite sites on the interwebs is One Straw www.onestraw.wordpress.com  the saga of a suburban guy who is turning his lawn into a microfarm. There’s a man who knows the value of mulch.

Accidentally planted, carelessly nourished, cautiously harvested...

More compost than you know what to do with?

"Luke, I am your compost bin..." "NO!! thats impossible!"

“Do you ever find that you have more compost than you know what to do with?’ My colleague Lindsey asked me this one winter day a few years ago. I tried to keep my cool, tried not to frighten her as I thought about how to get this bounty of excess compost into my pick-up truck.  Lindsey and her family are vegetarians, and they don’t garden. They keep a compost pile for environmental reasons.  I am not a vegetarian, I do garden, and I can never get enough. 

            “Too much compost eh? Well, I could take some off your hands…” I didn’t quite rub my hands together and laugh evilly, but it was close. In talking to her, it turned out she didn’t have too much, it is just that her bin is small, and decomposition had slowed down in the winter, but she and her family were still producing potato peels, apple cores and other vegetable matter.  I advised her to move the bin to a new location, spread the half-finished compost under her trees, and put the new material into the bin in the new location.    

            I have two compost piles, and never enough compost for my desires. I spread it on my vegetables, around my flowers and shrubs and herbs. The rough, chunky unfinished stuff becomes mulch. The finished stuff, the compost you read about in garden books, goes into my containers mixed in with potting soil, and it goes in the holes for new plantings, to add humus to the soil and give plants a jumpstart. People say I have a green thumb- I owe it all to compost.

            One of my bins is black plastic- I bought it from the city a few years ago. It looks like Darth Vader is buried up to his neck in my yard. (link to compost bin?) It would look cool, if that were the look I was going for. It isn’t, so I try to hide it behind a tree.(link to self)  The black plastic helps the bin heat up, speeding decomposition.  In the summer, at the height of weed season, I can stuff the bin full, hose it down and put the lid on. In a week, when I have another trash barrel full of weeds, there is already room for it.  The bacteria and fungi in the bin have eaten up the organic matter so quickly that it breaks down by half in only a week.  It’s amazing, even if it is a little gross.

            My second bin is enormous. The design is my brother’s invention- two plastic lattice panels wired together into a circle five feet in diameter and four feet tall.  If you read the same books I do, you know that a compost bin has to be at least 3 feet in all dimensions in order to heat up enough to kill weed seeds.  My lattice bin holds about 2 cubic yards, and heats up so effectively that I have never been able to fill it. I can add bag after bag of leaves in the fall, barrel after barrel of weeds in the summer, and it just continuously boils down. 

            On a  sunny day in the spring, I  spread out the finished compost, move the bins and start over.  This is the only work I do with my compost bins- some people do turn theirs, but I am not one of those people.  For a peek into another world of largescale compost production, see One Straw’s posts at htt[:/onestraw.wordpress.com .  If you have a yard cart that the trash trucks pick up, you probably pull weeds and rake leaves and then wheel that material to the curb. I just wheel my material to my bins and dump it.  The difference is, I get to keep the free compost.