Archive for July, 2011

Best Varieties for Fall and Winter Gardening

admin July 29th, 2011

Ok, we’ve already talked about the fact that a variety that overwinters beautifully in, say, Oregon or North Carolina won’t do well in Saskatchewan or Maine, so let us begin with the assumption that varieties are regional and specific, and use this thread to share widely our wisdom about what grows well in cool seasons in our particular region and place like it – that is, I’d be really grateful if you’d tell us what has overwintered well for you, or done well in fall, and also where you are and what your climate and soils are like “ie, high desert climate, cold winters, hot, dry summers, alkaline soil zone 5″ or whatever.  There’s not enough of this information out there.

Here are some of my own observations about growing here, in zone 4/5 (5 official, 4 for elevation), on my wet, thin soil in my wet, cold climate ;-) .  I had a good chance to experiment with varieties during the years we ran our CSA.

Best cold tolerant salad greens: Forellenschuss, Winter Density, Red Oakleaf  and Marvel of Four Seasons Lettuces, Mizuna (too bad I find the taste boring), all arugulas, vit and big seeded maches, beet greens (start a new crop since the little ones are best), sorrel, any mustard, pinky lettucy gene pool mustards, Fedco’s “ice bred” arugula and Collards.  Rainbow Collards, Prize Choy Bok Choy.

Best spinach: Vert and Bloomsdale Winter

Best cold tolerance in broccoli: Umpqua (OP) and Blue (Hybrid)

Best cold tolerant root varieties: Flat of Egypt and Lutz Longkeeper beet, all parsnips, Diamante Celeriac, Golden Ball and Purple Top White Globe Turnip, Oxheart and Meridia carrots (the latter are designed for overwintering – they didn’t quite for me, but did very well), any salsify and scorzonera, Gigante Kohlrabi.  Also Yellow Mangels lasted quite a long time in the ground for me – and I thought they were tasty, if a little mild.  Goats liked ‘em too.

Best fall producing pea varieties: Alderman (tall vine shelling) and Sugar Ann (snap)

Best cold tolerant leek: Blue de Solaize

Best cold tolerant favas: Lorraine

Best cold tolerant cabbages and kales – All kales  (red and white russian  are pretty hardy – red has even overwintered for me, but they do winterkill before the Tuscan and Siberians for me), Winterbor and Redbor are probably the hardiest.   Coeur de Blue, Glory of Enkhuizen, Stein’s Late Flat Dutch Cabbage, Even’star Collards, Vates Collards

Best Mustard: Osaka Purple and Green Wave

Brussels Sprouts: Oliver

Parsley – Curlys stand longer than flat, I find.

Best tomatoes for overwintering in pots: Red Robin, Balconi Yellow

Best hot peppers for overwintering in pots: Fish (this is the only one that doesn’t end the winter looking sad), Korean Dark Green, Thai Hot

Best basil for overwintering: African Blue

Best eggplant for overwintering – Pingtung Long, Fairy Tale

One important thing to do is talk to local farmers and extension agents about what they’ve tried – and check out local trials at universities.  Lots of good research going on there.

Ok, how about the rest of you?  Share your wisdom!


Starting Up the Fall Garden!

admin July 21st, 2011

Just to let you know, I’m starting another class this week – this one helping people get started with fall gardening and season extension. If you are like most folks, you probably start out enthusiastic about your garden, but around the middle of the summer, you get focused on harvesting, or overwhelmed by the heat and the weeds and let the cool season garden peter out.

That’s a mistake, because with very simple and cheap methods of season extension and a little attention right about now (for those as northerly as me, a bit later for folks south of me in this hemisphere), you can be eating fresh produced well into winter.

Moreover, cool season gardening is satisfying and a lot of fun – fewer bugs, cooler weather, usually more rainfall – the conditions are optimal, the air is crisp and cool and there’s just no reason to watch things peter out when you could be enjoying your garden until snowfly – or longer in many places. While a perfectly ripe tomato is one hallmark of the gardeners art, another is a fresh salad in the dead of winter straight from your garden.

Getting the timing right of fall crops takes practice, and learning what techniques work and don’t to extend your season, or how to deal with hot weather at planting time can be challenging. This class is for people from beginners to advanced gardeners who need a little help (or motivation) to move forward.

Like all my classes, this one is online and asynchronous. It lasts four weeks, from July 21 to August 11. You participate when you have time, and while I put up most of the week’s material on Thursdays, I’m available regularly through the week. The class includes weekly readings, lots of discussion and planning help and guidance, and one 15 minute phone conversation to talk about any questions or problems you are having, or strategize on designing how to get the most out of your garden.

Cost of the class is $100, and I also have two spots still available for low income scholarship students. I ask that if you are applying for scholarship you give me a brief explanation of why you would qualify. Anyone who would like to donate a part or whole of an additional scholarship spot can get in touch with me about that and 100% of the cost of your donation will go to making the class free for another low income participant.

To join the class or get more information, please email me at [email protected] Here’s the syllabus:

Week I, July 21 – Introduction to the basics of cool season gardening and fall planting, garden planning, choosing varieties, estimating planting dates, finding space in your garden, designing for a three or four season garden.

Week II, July 28 – Introduction to Season Extension, strategies for extending your season, dealing with heat and cold, water and irrigation, cheap and dirty season extension techniques, timing for preservation.

Week III, August 4- Cover cropping, using containers to extend the season, seed saving, Greenhouses, hoophouses and more advanced season extension, winter harvesting, recipes from a cool season garden, nursery beds, troubleshooting the fall garden.

Week IV, August 11 – Mulching, making the best use of small space, using vertical space in the winter, tropicals and pushing your zone hardiness limits, Choosing perennials to extend the season, Winter seeding and stratification. Menus from the snow.

Hope you can join us!


Hey, Check this Out!

admin July 19th, 2011

I’m a great admirer of FEASTA (Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability), and was pleased and flattered to see a review of Depletion and Abundance. Check it out!

What used to be called “women’s work” or “home economics” will and must gain respectability and appreciation. Astyk notes that women have “historically inhabited the space of private life where food, clothing, cooking and childrearing were the work of women, and that men inhabited “public life — the world of economics and politics and other ‘important things.” Women’s work was devalued and still is. Many still believe that the clarion call for change in light of the serious challenges we face today are only resolvable in the big public arena of government and economy, in the world of men. This devaluation of domestic work and the private life of women essentially, she argues, perpetuates the belief that “private actions have minimal public consequences.” Yet, she admonishes, it is women and “women’s work” that will spearhead real change, and the subsistence economy or “informal economy” as opposed to the formal or official economy (“where the rich of the world live”) will take on increasing importance as a source of sustenance in our everyday lives.

How cool is that?


In High Summer

admin July 19th, 2011

We shared two cherry tomatoes this morning, the first ripe of the year, and that, to us, is the proof we’re fully into high summer.  If I don’t pick the zucchini every day, I’m sorry.  The weather is hot and sultry, the apricots are close to ripe and the peaches are following.  The boys drown in fruit every day – it is the one thing I can’t say no to.   The fireflies sparkle like fireworks.  The kids live in the creek and under the sprinkler, and seem to stretch out daily, getting taller, stronger, learning new things.   Tonight we’re headed to a baseball game (local minor league) – what more perfect summer evening activity is there?  Without precisely planning to, we are replicating the idyllic American farm summer of nearly everyone’s childhood dreams.  Even if you didn’t live it in your youth, you know this somehow.

The calves have moved from being wobbly babies to young cattle, busy at the important work of grazing.  Most of the summer crop of babies are born – seven so far, Midori, Amaretto, Margarita, Tequila, Kahlua, Grog and Stout.  Only Selene and Calendula are left to kid in the next week or two.  The pregnant goats waddle crankily in the summer heat, ready to be over with this nonsense, while the new moms call anxiously back and forth to their little ones.

The first crop of pickling cukes has turned to jars of pickles, the second is fermenting in buckets.  The blueberry jamming will start this weekend.  The raspberries have been coming in for weeks, but I never get any – the boys regard our plentiful canes as their own private snack bar.  Raspberries, what raspberries?

The boys grow lean and strong on summer the way goats fatten on browse.  Their knees are always scabbed, they are nearly always dirty, but it is rich, healthy dirt, like the best soil.  They grow like zucchini in wild excess.  The younger boys earned their pocketknives at the end of June, and I watch 7 year old Isaiah cut the twine on a bale of hay or carve a stick to a point.  Asher lifts a full water bucket and staggers to the goats with it.  Simon tells me airly that this year he can help me load hay, and is strong enough to lift a bale.  ”Feel my muscles!” they beg, and I do!  Eli cracks 5’5.  Simon masters lighting a fire with a flint and steel “I can show you how, Mom.”  He’ll have to – I never could do it without the magnesium.

Dinner makes itself.  Take some sweet corn and tomatoes (the farm stand in the valley has plenty already – they are always 10 days ahead of us or more), a sprinkle of basil, the last of the snap peas, some sliced zucchini… there’s so little that is needed after that.  Don’t know what to make?  A vast salad of mixed greens and herbs, into which go what you have – some new goat cheese, crumbled, a couple of handfuls of blueberries, a hardboiled egg,  tiny new carrots, cukes,  a fresh pulled beet…  Sprinkle with flower petals – sweet daylilies, cucumber flavorted borage, licoricey anise hyssop, bergamot flavored bee balm – and devour.

Ravenous boys and adults will eat anything fresh and delicious, particularly if they pick it themselves.  Asher gnaws on a raw zucchini – I wonder who taught him that, and taste it.  The Costata Romanesco zucchini are delicious raw!  The livin’ really is easy.

And not.  There’s so much work to do on the farm in summer.  Move fence and animals.  Barn the hay.  Pull the weeds, scythe the grass, put up the blueberries, ferment the cucumbers, fix the gate, make cheese, feed the calves, move the chicks, pull the bolting bok choy, dry the herbs, make the tinctures, cut back the tansy, move the rabbit tractor, side dress the kale, transplant the last broccoli crop, and always, always look ahead.  Because even though it seems on these long, hot days that it will always be summer, winter is coming – darkness and cold are on their way and the more summer we can contain in jars, the more growth we put on the animals with fresh grass, the better we prepare, the better the living will be when it isn’t quite as easy.

Everyone knows this, not just us.  There is a purposefulness in all this biology – or so it seems.  ”Eat, darling, winter is coming” say the mother goats.  ”Outside and scratch – the grasshoppers won’t always be here” calls Mama hen to her babies.  It is fanciful, of course, but true as well – they know, we know that these days can’t last.

The kids know it too – they revel in summer, and are mostly old enough to know that it won’t always be like this.  Brown like nuts, they hurry to make the lists of the things we want to do yet.  Can we build a tree house?  Can they climb to the top of the hill in the woods all by themselves to pick blackcaps?  Can they follow the creek back a whole mile?  When is the fair?  When is camp?  When are swimming lessons?  When does Daddy go back to work?  When does the pool close for summer?  Will there be time for everything?

We’re not there yet, of course and we mostly live in the present, but they know that August is close, and then as August winds down, so will the summer idyll.  Not into winter yet – fall is our favorite season with cooler weather and the delights of harvesting.  We’ll be ready for pumpkins and apples by then, for new backpacks (ok, well, new-to-them, anyway) and crayons, for days at the creek when you don’t want to be in the water, just nearby, for colored leaves and busier schedules.  There won’t be quite so much time to just pick berries or climb trees.  We’ll be ready for butchering and getting wood in and the rest.  But it is impossible to live on a farm without seeing the cycles of the year and nature come ’round and ’round and always be thinking about what’s next.

You have to.  The beets that will nourish us in the fall have been seeded.  I’m thinking about when the spinach and arugula crops for overwintering will go in, now that the turnips and kale are set.  When best to plant the broccoli for late fall – it doesn’t love the heat, but it has to go in at the end of July.  A fall pea crop is always a challenge – but hey, worth a shot!   The meat birds for fall arrive any day now, and we count weeks for butchering dates.  We must build more rabbit housing for growing out the young ones – they’ll be ready soon and will be butchered in September.  Time to think about breeding dates for next year and where the garlic will go.  Right now all is lush and abandoned with endless hours of light and infinite heat, but the hours and the heat will gradually decline – the thing about being at something’s peak is that the slide is downwards.

I don’t mind, though.  Autumn has never looked depressing to me, as it did to Keats.  The Jewish year begins in autumn, and that always seemed right to me – everything starts anew, refreshed by the cool breeze.  And in truth, who could keep up this pace all year ’round?  Almost all places have a quiet season, whether it is the heat of summer when little grows, too hot, too dry, or the cold of winter when the ground is frozen.  By the time the jars have been filled and the treehouse built, the salamanders caught and released a thousand times, by the time corn is no longer new and you long for pumpkin and hearty things, well, it is time.

We live looking forward.  We move on to the next season as the work we do now itself lays the groundwork for the fall, winter and spring crops that we will subsist upon.  We are watching the boys grow big and strong in summer, envisioning the next year and the they next as they mature.  We live looking back, remembering as I pull this crop of bolted lettuce the cold, wet spring day I transplanted it.   As each goat delivers, we recall the February day that I released does and bucks to their mutual delight, and always remember the summer farm childhood we all lived or dreamed of.  We live in the moment, delighting in the full milk pail, the first harvest, the sweetness of berries, the warmth of the sun, the cold beer in the shade, the first time the boys use their pocketknives or climb to new heights.  At high summer, more than at any other moment, past, present, future come together and simply are.   The days are so long, they seem to be infinite.  We know it is merely an illusion, but we revel in summer, stripped of limits, timeless and beautiful.


The Great Muppaphone expansion, Riots and Classes

admin July 15th, 2011

What, you ask, has Sharon been duing, besides getting mud and manure on her? (I feel like there’s been a theme to some of my recent posts, no?) I’m sure you have nothing but this on your mind – the doins a’transpirin at my house being the focus of whole tens of people (well, maybe one ten on a good day ;-) . Still, I’m going to tell you.

Well, what we’ve mostly been doing is getting ready for the fall garden season, and getting ready for the family expansion project. As of this week, our house is open as a foster home, but of course, in our usual “doing at the last minute something we should have done weeks ago” fashion, we’re not quite there yet. Still awaiting the stair gate (I stupidly gave ours away when the kids got big), still awaiting one of the mattresses for the beds, etc… and most of all, we needed a larger vehicle.

For the last few years, our sole family vehicle has been the “farm truck” – which is our joking name for the 1994 Ford Taurus we inherited from Eric’s grandmother. When we got it, it was literally the car that the little old lady only drove to the supermarket on Sundays. Since then, it has carried six passengers regularly, and driven chickens, turkeys, ducks, goats, calves and bees in the back (and occasionally front) seat. It can carry four bales of hay if you really push it, and close to a ton of feed, if absolutely necessary. It has developed a permanent depression on the roof from where the goats have sat on it, and constantly has little baby goat hoofprints on it.

Grandma (whose memory is always a joy and a blessing) was a very tidy sort of person – she once confided gently to me that she could not sleep if she thought there was dust under her bed. I, as those of you who have been to my farm can attest, am not. There are way scarier things than dust under my bed, or would be if I didn’t sleep on a futon on the floor ;-) . We sometimes theorize that if there was a way to harness the energy created by Grandma spinning in her grave, we’d be able to run the farm on it, but she was also such a kind, loving and practical person that I know she’d be grateful her car went to good use.

It has been good use – it has been reliable and energy efficient. But we have outgrown it – we need a vehicle for going to market, and since we were certified to take up to four foster children (gack!), that means we need a vehicle that can seat 10 at least some of the time. Since that lets us out of the minivan category and firmly into the “big wonkin’ vans that if you are lucky get 18mpg” it will be interesting to see how we manage to hit our gas use targets (we have pretty consistently hovered at using 85% less gas than the US average, except for Eli, who is bused to a school for autistic children and runs about 75% less). We will still use the “truck” for Eric’s commute (on days he can’t carpool) and for any occasion when a subset of us can travel.

We looked at a selection of large passenger vans, including my favorite, the one that was a state prison transport van (they didn’t leave the logo on, sadly) and ended up with a 14 passenger vehicle – horribly and ironically, I am now the proud owner of something called a “suburban.”

Meanwhile, we’ve been trying to get our lives in order before 2-4 more people join in them and disrupt our managed chaos into less managed chaos. As much as we want to do this, it is a little like being pregnant for the first time, I think – the slow realization that this might be harder than you think kicks in. My husband deals with this by looking on the bright side. Discussing what we would do if we suddenly doubled the number of children in our household, Eric pointed out cheerfully that “hey, I could tune them to a full octave and use them as a muppaphone!”

(Just in case you don’t know what a muppaphone is. Simon has already claimed low C ;-) ).

This, of course, is the kind of thing that makes me adore my husband, and is also the kind of thing you probably don’t want to mention to social workers evaluating the merits of your family. Corporal punishment is absolutely forbidded in foster families – I’m pretty sure that includes musical performances as well ;-) .

Having the van does make it real. It also will make the Riot for Austerity more challenging – which is good. After all, just cutting your energy usage by 90% over the national norm is totally easy, right? Good – I’m adding a gas-guzzling tank and a few new household members to make it interesting. Remember, the Riot will re-start on August one.

Miranda Edel and I took the title of the Riot from George Monbiot’s book _Heat_ – in it he wrote “nobody ever rioted for austerity.” He argued no one will ever march saying “we want less!” – and that’s true. On the other hand a whole heck of a lot of us might march saying we want more for our kids and grandkids, to leave a better legacy, to honor and value what we have. There were more than a 1000 participating households around the world last time – I’m hoping to make it 5000 this time! Lots more information coming!

Also, if you wondering how to keep the garden produce coming into fall and winter, I’m teaching my Fall Gardening and Season Extension class, starting on Thursday 7/21, and running until mid-August. It will be a four week class focusing on everything from growing in containers to hoop houses, low tunnels, cold frames, timing your plantings, root cellaring, in garden storage and winter harvesting. You can take the class with a greenhouse or if you’ve just started your first garden and aren’t even sure what these words mean ;-) . Keeping the garden going – all year long or late in the season – is one of our keys to food security. Email me at [email protected] Cost of the class is $100 or equivalent barter. I also have five free spots for low income participants. Email for details.

Finally, on Sunday July 31, from 1-4pm, I’m running a class at my house in Knox, NY (about half an hour west of Albany) on growing, preserving and using herbs – from the culinary to the medicinal to the truly unusual. The class will involve a garden tour, tools for plant identification and both history and present uses, a snack of tasty herb-based treats and a demonstration of preservation techniques. Everyone will get herbs and herb products to take home as well. Cost of the class is $75 and includes all materials. Limited space available, so please register soon. Email for details, directions, etc…

On Sunday August 21, from 1-4, we’ll be having another class at our place – “mini goat camp.” Learn to milk a goat, trim hooves and the basics of goat care and housing including basic home vet work. Find out what it takes to keep dairy goats, including safe milk handling. Learn about feeding and kidding, and then do some basic cheesemaking and dairying. Sadly, in this case, everyone can not take home a goat ;-) , but you will get a valuable skill set. If you do want to get into dairy goats, I also have goats for sale -email for details. Cost of the class is $75, space is limited, so please email at [email protected] Older children (10 and up) are welcome in both workshops at a reduced rate ($45).

Ok, hope you are all having adventures too! Please tell me about them if you are so inclined!



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