Even in a not-so-great-garden year, there’s a lot to glean from the garden the day before the first frost. It’s always a little intimidating facing the beautiful pile of veg. Where to begin? By the way, its kind of awesome the way, no matter what else is happening, a good dirt hole is all that is needed to make my feathered friends super happy:
One of the things I love about New Mexico is the diversity – need a change? No problem, in an hour or two, you can be in a completely different place. This weekend, I traveled north a bit, deep into the Pecos canyon, in order to walk in aspen glades, hop across streams and lounge along the shores of alpine lakes. I also got to hang out with all sorts of wildflowers that I don’t see much of down in the warmer, more arid valley:
I’ve been away from Less is More for a while – so much is happening in the garden there’s little time to actually talk about it. I need to get back in the habit of quick drive-by posts, so I can keep posting even when I’m running short on time. To that end, here’s some kitchen eye candy. ‘Tis the season that the snap beans are finally happy, so, about once a week I assemble a quart jar for fermentation. These small batches are great because each one can be a catch-all experimentation of whatever is on hand. Last week’s batch of brined rattlesnake beans was augmented with a couple of okra pods. It’s been going for about 6 days, and it is almost sour enough to be called done. This week’s batch has just been assembled and includes a few small lemon cucumbers. Believe it or not, those cucumbers are from the Less is More garden. They’re small, but delicious. Also, you may have noticed, I picked the cucumbers before they turned yellow. By the time they start resembling lemons, they’ve become too seedy and tough for my taste.
ps: please excuse the blog construction zone – I decided a blog theme overhaul was way overdue, but I’m too impatient to sort it all out offline. Instead, I’m working on it live, which means you may be inconvenienced by some appalling aesthetics for a while.
Well, not here on the blog, obviously. Please excuse the radio silence – I kept meaning to check in to say “hi” while I was here:
My apologies. I was very fortunate to be able to spend a whole month in South America (Argentina and Chile) but apparently I was so busy soaking up the last bit of southern hemisphere summer that I forgot to send a postcard. If you’d like to check out more photos from the month, some of them (and more coming soon) have been posted to harmoniccontent . And don’t worry, there’s still lots happening at Less is More. As usual, I left things in the capable hands of my mother, so I’m barely behind on the Spring gardening, despite my absence. I’ll catch you up tomorrow. Promise!
Like a lot of folks, I tend to spend the last day of the year reflecting on my achievements, or lack thereof, for the year. Unlike a lot of folks, this self-assessment tends to be focused on my gardening life. I’m a little obsessive about record keeping when it comes to the vegetable garden – I have a database in which I keep track of what I’ve sown, when, how much I’ve harvested and what we’ve eaten. Having this sort of data at my fingertips is great when I’m trying to remember when I sowed onion seeds the year I had such a great harvest, but reducing the garden to statistics means its easy to obsess about how the numbers point out the shortcomings – 6 years into vegetable gardening in the back yard and I’m still only growing 15% of the vegetables we consume, which is far short of my 45% goal. This year’s tomato harvest was 75% less than the awesome tomato harvest I had several years ago. And let’s not even mention the paltry garlic harvest.
Of course, I didn’t spend 2 years digging up the yard just so I could harvest 8 pounds of garlic per year. So, ignoring the numbers, here are a few random reflections:
When I was planting garlic a few weeks ago I actually paused for a moment to marvel at how the soil in the established garden beds was brown and crumbly, so different from the clumps of dense tan clay in the new beds. It’s easy to forget to notice, but there’s been a lot going on under the mulch for the past 6 years.
Having access to just picked salad greens means I now live with a salad connoisseur – when I inquired as to what his favorite dish was during the gourmet holiday eat-a-thon, his answer was “the salad”. For the record, “the salad” consisted solely of just picked lettuce, sea salt, black pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Hands down, my favorite way to spend an hour is sitting on the back patio with a cup of coffee or glass of wine watching all the life – there’s always something happening. Even if it’s working against my future meals, like hordes of squash bugs hatching, I love being surrounded by all that teeming insect activity.
Backyard hens may be the only pets that neighbors are actually eager to pet sit. When I get together with friends they ask about the hens before inquiring about the well being of family members.
Parsley does really well in the garden. I let it come up wherever whenever it wants, and as a result, when left to its own devices, it’s prolific enough to become a food group in its own right. Good thing I adore tabouli and chimichurri.
There’s something about the act of gardening that inspires perpetual hope – despite the long term drought, healthy colonies of aphids, voracious caterpillars, I can’t wait to rip open a new seed packet and start sowing.
As perhaps you noticed in my last post, October is one of my favorite times of year here in Albuquerque. The blue skies and gentle breezes have a tendency to lure me away from my desk in the afternoon – it’s finally cool enough to spend afternoons in the garden and the horizontal light provides a most enjoyable interplay of deep shade and golden glow in the garden. Today I stole a few moments from my day to catch up with the vegetable garden. Here’s what I found:
For the first time I have happy sweet potato vines and one of them has started to bloom.
The tepary bean vines are starting to wither and dry – I love the yellow canopy they’ve created and the rustling sound they make as I push through them to harvest some kale.
The dry sunflower heads have been pretty well ransacked by the wild and domestic birds. The chickens spend a good part of every day underneath the tall stalks waiting for the manna from heaven. Occasionally a helpful human will take pity and shake the stalk to cause a rainfall of seeds.
For lots of folks in Albuquerque, Fall means blue skies dotted with hot air balloons, chile ristras and a golden ribbon of cottonwoods snaking through the valley. For me there’s a whole different set of signifiers that autumn has really arrived.
Crazy looking seed pods can be found in odd corners of the house (this one is okra, by the way):
Jars are being filled with dry beans:
And the freezer is slowly building up a stash of roasted tomatoes:
Meanwhile, out in the garden, the poor undernourished plants are finally starting to produce peppers:
And succulent leaves of lettuce peek out from underneath the yellowing bean plants:
My apologies for the silence over here. I spent part of last week on the East coast visiting family which means there was a hectic week preparing for vacating the homestead, then my absence, then several days of languid recovery. However, despite the harried pace of things, the change of scenery was nice, even though I was able to witness the Derecho storm that hit the mid-atlantic and then got to remember how damp Rhode Island can be, even during a drought-ridden summer. However, the whole time I was being rained on while travelling, I had an eye on the NM weather forcasts, wondering if the hints of the monsoon pattern that were evident before I left would kick in. Thankfully for the garden I abandoned for a week, the weather did indeed turn damp-ish. We haven’t received too much rain from the pattern yet – probably about a 1/4″ total, but after weeks of humidity in the teens and single digits, the relief of cloud cover and humidity above 50% is fantastic.
I haven’t really been talking about the vegetable garden much this year. Like every year, some things are doing better than others. I lost a bunch of transplants this year to various critters and the searing sun, but the beans, tomatoes, and winter squash plants are starting to fill in the gaps.
Despite the full-on summer weather, I’m still mostly harvesting “spring” vegetables like chard, kale, parsley and an occasional beet.
Yesterday this small bunch of nibbled on kale became a perfectly welcome spicy soup of kale, potato and peanut, but I think I’ll be able to change the menu soon to something more typically summery: the first cherry tomatoes and okra will be ready in a day or two, and I’m hoping with the recent increase in humidity, I’ll start to see some green beans. Due to various controllable (the usual user-error and lack of attention) and uncontrollable conditions, the chiles, eggplant, cucumbers and summer squash will be very late this year, however, I’m consoling myself with the knowledge that my tomatillos and tomatoes are doing really well. The Marvel Stripe and Cherokee Purple plants are putting out tons of green tomatoes and the Arkansas Traveler and Punta Banda are not far behind. My Principe Borghese plant is laden with small tomatoes, which means I’ll be breaking out the drying racks pretty soon. I’d love to start filling the newly constructed pantry space with some homegrown nourishment.
I’ve been taking photos all week for blog posts I’ve been writing in my head, but with all that is going on here (trying to finish the kitchen reno, getting the gardens filled with seeds and plants for summer veg, making space for the three new little chickens butts, and finally – hallelujah- cooking in the 80% complete kitchen) I haven’t actually gotten around to making words on the screen. So, for now, here are a few of those photos. Feel free to make up an appropriate narrative, as you choose.
Last week when we talked chickens, Harriet was fretting about her abandoned nest. It broke my heart to see her so upset, but the cool bath (don’t worry, it was a toasty 80 degrees out, so she dried lickitysplit) and lockout worked. By the evening she was relaxed and for the next couple of days she brooded for just a few hours each morning, until she got bored, then carried on with business as usual. Unfortunately, during the lockout, she adopted a wallow underneath the rosemary bush as her new favorite nesting site. Who can blame her – smells great and there’s the relaxing humm of bees above. She started laying again on Wednesday, but complains when she has to use the nest box instead of her herb scented nest en plein air. She can be quite demanding and vocal when she doesn’t get what she wants (once again, my apologies to the neighbors), and I just found out that her name means ruler of the house. Oh, isn’t that the truth.
As for the little ones – they’re flapping away madly getting used to their wing feathers and flight. We still have one chick that is a bit under the weather. Her butt issues cleared up in just a couple of days, but then her eyes started to get a bit goopy (you can see one of her sad eyes in the photo above, she’s the chick on the right). For the first couple of days, since she was still eating, drinking and energetically romping around with the others, I just used saline eye wash to clean out her eyes. But when she failed to get obviously better (but yet, not much worse either, just a bit more eye ooze), I relocated everyone out of the dusty brooding box and into the cage. I stopped using the aspen wood shavings as bedding, since slivers of it kept sticking to her eye goo, and put down brown paper instead. I also started to agonize over her treatment: Should I hunt down some antibiotics or keep on with less intensive intervention? From what I read, and I obsessively read everything I could find, since there had been no obvious eye trauma or any other obvious symptoms, the eye puss could either be from conjunctivitis or a low grade respiratory infection like CRD, or maybe something completely different . . . it seems like every chicken illness can show up as eye puss. So, rather than strike randomly with overused antibiotics (which one to choose for which kind of bacterial infection?), for the past 24 hours I’ve been giving her small doses of colloidal silver in her eye and orally, as well as continuing to use eye wash when the eyes get too crusty or gooped up. One eye is starting to look quite a bit better, but if both haven’t improved in another two days, or if she or the others start showing more symptoms, I’ll reassess, and maybe turn to oral antibiotics or a veterinary antibiotic eye ointment, depending on how she looks. I realize that fretting so about a single sick 11 day old chick is totally a first world problem – quite the luxury to be contemplating purchasing medication for a tiny creature that would have been automatically culled in other circumstances, but it doesn’t stop me. I’d be a terrible farmer – remind me of that the next time I talk about getting a bit of land somewhere . . .