[Homestead] Notes From the Farm (June 2005)
billj at harborside.com
Sat Jul 2 15:07:45 EDT 2005
Happy 4th of July!
The biggest news this month is my sudden gall bladder attack. We had
been eating way too much brie and butter, and one day it all hit the
fan. After a handful of jalapeno potato chips before lunch, I got a
resounding pain in my upper right abdomen that just wouldn't quit. For
a couple of days I was ready to go to the hospital at any moment. I
went on an extreme low-fat diet and started taking milk thistle extract.
When we poured cement round #19, Lee had to do most of the work,
because sudden movements caused a gall bladder pain. The day I planted
the new 'Fuyu' persimmon was surely the worst, as I sat there on the
ground thinking of my father's words to me long ago about his own gall
bladder surgery. Finally after almost a week, the pain subsided and I'm
back to normal. On the solstice I didn't feel like having a bonfire,
but by St. John's Day (June 24, the ancient day to celebrate the
solstice) I did, and I recall vigorously toting boards from the old back
steps to the bonfire site in celebration of the miraculous healing. I
have no plans to return to my old lifestyle.
Rain has certainly gone on too long. We had several more inches during
the first half of June. The cool weather has been great for getting
We reached a landmark of sorts, pouring the cement round for the 20th
raised bed. I've focused on little else, since summer only comes once a
year. We put in one newly-built bed each of tomatoes and cucumbers, and
re-used a bed for squash (and pole beans behind the squash in the same
bed). The 19th bed is to be planted in Andean tubers this morning, and
the 20th bed will hold lettuce and parsley. After that we need to move
on to other things, but we will have met our goal of finishing the new
summer garden beds before the 4th of July.
The next big goal is to finish the guinea pig house and cut materials
for compost. The two activities go together, because I like to layer
the guinea pig manure with berry vines and willow and such. When we put
the males in the new large greenhouse, I'll be cleaning those awful pet
shop cages for the last time. I've decided on a burrow design. Picture
a concrete fire ring with one or two doors in the side, only a little
smaller. The roof will just be a square piece of plywood. Inside the
round space the guinea pigs will have small wooden shell houses. This
design is easy to clean just by lifting off the cover and removing the
little houses, whereupon the manure can be easily shoveled.
The sugar snap peas are really performing. We found a recipe for snap
peas with Asian dressing last summer, and the other night we made it
again. It's just out of this world. We also had an artichoke, which is
nothing new, but Lee made a fat-free mayonnaise that's really great to
go with it. I suggested he try mixing a well-seasoned fresh farm egg
yolk with some yogurt in the double boiler, and thickening it over low
heat. Since then he's used it to make the best fat-free (virtually)
potato salad that I've ever had.
I've come up with a contingency plan for what to do if the shed doesn't
get built this summer. The upper greenhouse needs to be reorganized,
and the berry vines are taking over, so I'll keep the livestock in there
for the winter. That will result in a nicely manured greenhouse that's
ready to go. The female guinea pigs in their new bookcase cages won't
have their solarium, so they'll have to live on the front porch, but at
the end furthest from my bedroom and with a plastic tarp draped over
them at night. Hay and straw bales can be stored on edge so that they
surround the guinea pigs and muffle the sound, while the tarp will keep
the inevitable GP urine from damaging the bales. With this arrangement
they won't even need a heater, and I won't hear them, despite the echo
chamber inside the sun porch.
The new water system will definitely be done, as I'm taking matters into
my own hands. One day I decided that it would be harder to clear the
berry vines well enough to get a ditch witch in here than it would be
just to dig the 350' trench myself. We've acquired a trenching tool and
I'm starting on it ASAP after the lettuce planting. The clay is just
now making its transition from slime to concrete this time of year, so
we have the ideal conditions for digging.
We finally got a new chicken coop built, but it's still been a fiasco
because it's been hard to get them all to go in. At first we didn't
even have adequate perches. We really need to get them a window so that
it's not such torture for them. At this point it's a race to regain
control before the new roosters mature, since after that it's really
pandemonium. The other night we actually took to squirting hens out of
their tree with a hose in order to capture them. I think we have about
four dozen eggs to give away, especially now that I've basically quit
One day I must have had a major collision with a fence gate, as I
vaguely recall. Such things happen all the time, and I don't even pay
them much attention if I'm involved with something. But the evidence
remains, in the form of a painful bump on the inside of my left thigh,
about 4" above the knee. It feels like a bruise, but there's not much
discoloration, and mainly it just itches. I sure hope there was a
collision, because otherwise it's some exotic tumor! But I honestly
can't remember where or when. I guess what makes this story worth
telling is how intense involvement can make us oblivious to pain, like
the time I was stung by a yellow jacket on the tender inside of my
thigh, and I barely even noticed because I was busy fiddling with oven
The fuzzy kiwi vine planted by the original galvanized compost bin is
amazing. It seems that it was pollinated, but I didn't have any male
kiwi in bloom yet, I thought. The little fruits are not falling off,
and if they all remain, we're headed for several hundred of them. It's
quite a valuable fruit, as it keeps for a long time in the refrigerator,
and you can enjoy them in the middle of winter. This vine was just
pathetic until I put the compost bin next to it, so now I've taken to
deliberately planting trees that need lots of fertilizer next to bins.
My father used to tell me about his grandfather's cherry tree next to
the pig pen, and how numerous and huge the cherries were.
Today I decided at the last minute to plant another bed of tomatoes,
since a garlic bed is finishing up. This is significant because
normally summer crops must be planted early here, before the
overwintered crops like garlic have matured. If you could follow one by
the other, then you could have two full harvests per year. And
apparently we can, with old enough transplants.
But there's no way to hurry overwintered fava beans, and they won't ever
finish in time for a real summer crop to follow them. Fortunately, for
that there are fall crops. This year I'm doing a bed each of Brussels
sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, collards, kohlrabi, celeriac, carrots,
and beets, and two beds of potatoes. There are so many beds finishing
up (mostly garlic) that I won't have to make any new ones for a while.
Today I transplanted Brussels sprout seedlings, and tomorrow I have to
start the collards.
I really want a blue elderberry west of the house, to shade it in
summer, but to order a gallon pot from Forest Farm requires three others
to ride along. We've decided to try loquat (in the new greenhouse),
sausage vine, and the exotic Kiril Island bamboo (all edible broad-leaf
evergreens). The bamboo is part of an evergreen screen for the west
property boundary, consisting also of 'Red Tip' photinia and
rhododendron. There are just a few places where the privacy comes to an
end when the willows lose their leaves in winter.
We planted our first 'Chop Suey Tree' seedling outside. It's the most
protected plant ever. It has a cylindrical clear plastic wind guard and
a Reemay shade cloth on the inner cage, and a more robust outer cage
with T-posts outside to deter browsing. There's also a ring of Deadline
for the slugs.
I'm really proud of my plan for geese. The area where the beds are
needs to have small animals to walk around it and eat grass and slugs.
This will be their permanent home, and it's where I'm putting the new
concrete pond. During winter they'll also be allowed into the small
fruit area to eat grass around grape vines and currants. During summer
this area will be closed off, but they'll have access to all the rest of
the property. By summer the pasture has firmed up and they can't do it
as much harm. Fortunately both the other areas are contiguous with the
garden bed area, so they can easily be led in and out. If there's still
a problem, then I can limit their access time to the end of the day,
just as I'm planning on doing with the chickens, who get into too much
trouble if they stand around bored all day.
Have a nice summer!
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