Poking My Head Up

Please forgive my long absence. This has been a crazy summer. A few days after my last post in early July, we finally began the final phase of house renovation: new windows and exterior doors, new roof, interior plaster and floor patches, interior paint, exterior insulation, stucco, and solar panels. The project is about 75% complete – the interior work is done, now we’re just waiting for a break in monsoon season so the exterior work can be completed. Fortunately, this time around, the project is not DIY, however, there’s been the chaos that is to be expected when every room of your home is touched by construction. And, to pile on the chaos, in the middle of it all, I underwent a medical procedure and was required to take it easy for the 6 week recovery. We’re just starting to regain a bit of composure and balance, and now that I can lift and dig, I’m starting to work on getting caught up with the garden.

I had to relocate or remove about 25% of my vegetable garden in July, to provide access to the back of our house, so this hasn’t been the most productive year for homegrown vegetables. However, even with the disruption, we’re harvesting a pretty good vegetable supplement every day. Also, this was the first year for a real fruit harvest: 5 pounds of grapes which I converted to raisins, and about 10 pounds of peaches. The last pound or two are still on the tree, but so far I’ve made a small batch of jam, frozen some, baked some into a galette, and eaten quite a few with my morning yogurt and muesli.

As I alluded earlier, we’ve had a somewhat unrelenting monsoon season, which is quite welcome, despite the construction delays. As a result, the yard is quite verdant (a.k.a weedy) and it’s been a good year for spotting garden visitors. This morning, while I worked, there was quite an assortment of birds keeping me company. Besides the usual throng of house sparrows, I spotted a Curved-bill Thrasher: pks_3621A Lesser Goldfinch (his mate was here too):

lesser goldfinch

and, of course, a Roadrunner: pks_3628Oh, and I almost forgot the big news. We have fresh backyard eggs again! Dora started laying a few weeks ago, at the very young age of 20 weeks, and Iris laid her first egg yesterday. Meanwhile, Lemmy is still showing no interest at all in the nest box.


Another Random Recap

Once again, the only thing I have to share is the random collection of photos that have collected on my phone. 2016-06-24 19.25.10As you can see, Dora, Lemmy and Iris have become horribly spoiled. Technically, there’s a no chickens on the table rule, however, somehow, it’s suddenly not being enforced. I really need to rectify that situation. This photo was taken last week, when they were 12 weeks old, and you can see they are looking quite grown up. Their voices are changing- no more peeping and squeaking. Instead, there’s lots of croaking while they hone their grown up cluck.

I’m still enjoying the front yard totem: 2016-07-06 10.04.11This time of year, breakfast and lunch are usually enjoyed on the cool, north-facing, front porch, and the popularity of the totem ensures there’s lots of mealtime entertainment. And finally, it’s truly summer. The first small tomatoes started ripening last week.2016-06-24 18.17.04As is typical for the Less is More garden, the pretty pink Nichols Heirloom tomatoes have been the first to ripen, with the Amy’s Apricot and Punta Banda following close behind.

It Has Come To This

Over the past 10 weeks, I’ve started dozens and dozens and dozens of bean, cucumber and squash seeds. Every time I transplant my nice big strong seedlings into the garden, they are decapitated overnight. Absolute carnage! Believe it or not, it is the work of the roly-polies/pillbugs. I know, I know, supposedly they only eat decaying matter, and hence, are great to have in the garden. However, they also seem to be quite fond of tender seedling stems, particularly this year. On any number of mornings, I’ve come out in the garden to see a golf-ball-sized mound of crustaceans completely engulfing the stem of what was once a happy bean plant. They even toppled two 12″ tall tomatillo plants. Oh, the woe!  I’ve been trying to install ever more stout barriers around the seedlings to protect them. Encircling the stems with a stockade of tiny twigs worked a little bit –  three bean plants survived, but none of the squash or cucumbers.


Finally, I have resorted to a technique I saw recommended on the interwebs somewhere:  drinking straws. I found a box of straws in the back of a kitchen drawer and have started slitting them and installing them around seedling stems. So far, this is working. PKS_3589I think because the straws are a little slippery, the pillbugs are not able to crawl up them. I found with the protective stick barriers, the clever crustaceans would scale the barrier and work their way down if they couldn’t mount a direct assault. Hopefully the straws will continue to work, however, I’m a little nervous they’ll devise a new attack in response.

The Stalk Blooms

The amazing agave stalk started to bloom last week:PKS_3581 It is host to a perpetual cloud of bees – lots of fun to watch from the front porch. I really need to set up the camera on a tripod with a longer lens to capture the action, but for now, here’s a quick snap of the blooms:PKS_3580

Difficult is Good

So, I know they make seed tape to ensure carrot seeds sprout in tidy rows, with an appropriate amount of space between plants, so you don’t end up with this mess:2016-05-22 19.12.27 But, if your carrot plants are all perfectly spaced, it doesn’t give you an excuse to thin them by pulling a beautiful handful of baby carrots: 2016-05-21 14.40.16And without a handful of tender baby carrots on hand, there’a no jar of quick pickled carrots with fennel and green garlic to stash (briefly) in the fridge: 2016-05-21 17.13.43So, I’m ok with a clumpy mess of carrots in the garden.

Odds and Ends

I’ve been meaning to post on various topics for the past 10 days, but things are so hectic here I haven’t had a chance to pull out the camera to snap any decent shots. So, instead, here’s an update based on whatever photos I can find on my phone.2016-05-15 10.00.07
2016-05-15 15.59.33

The new coop is finally done enough (I still need to  build the storm hatches and nest boxes) that we could relocate the six-week-old pullets yesterday.  I’ve moved Ezzie in with them and she seems pleased to have the company, although there was a bit of growling and gentle pecking at first. The little ones have no sense of personal space, of course,  and it took her a while to teach them that pecking food debris out of her mutton chops is definitely not allowed. Meanwhile, the two Wyandottes are all out of sorts about the addition. They kvetched non-stop all day yesterday, to the point that someone (not me, of course) may have threatened them with the stew pot.2016-05-15 13.08.56

The garden is very full and starting to produce small bits of new interesting things. The cool weather greens are starting to wilt in the mid-afternoon heat, despite the shade cloth, so it’s time to start pulling the turnips and mustard greens, whether they’re ready or not. Yesterday I pinched off a handful of shallot scapes (I think this is the first time the French Red shallots have sent up bloom stalks) which, along with a bundle of herbs and a handful of fresh fava beans, made a great pesto. I’ve been snagging an occasional snap pea snack, with the shelling peas only about a week away from the first harvest. Also, I took advantage of the grape vines needing a bit of a trim, and used the nice big tender leaves I scavenged for a small batch of dolmas (the veggie version, typically served chilled). I followed Claudia Roden’s recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food and they were, hands down, the best dolmas I’ve eaten, due in part, I think, to the fresh grape leaves.2016-05-15 16.14.05

Finally, here’s a progress shot of the “giant asparagus” from 2 days ago: 2016-05-14 08.54.39Makes the Jack and the Beanstalk story seem totally viable, no?

So, This is Happening

PKS_3416 The Agave Parryi Neomexicana is sending up a bloom stalk. I thought I might have a few more years before this happened. This agave has been in the ground since September 2007, so maybe a little young for this last gasp, however, it is fairly large, and we did have a nice wet winter, so… maybe it has decided this is an auspicious time. Fortunately, there are several pups at the base to take its place. Anyway, stay tuned for progress photos of the dramatic bloom stalk.

Bath Time

Today was a big day for the three week old chicks! I expanded the brooder enclosure out the garage door, and Ezzie and I babysat the chicks during their first exposure to the big scary outside world. It took about 10 minutes for the bravest chick (Dora) to set foot into the expanded universe, but once the first chick crossed the threshold, everyone turned brave and there was lots of running back and forth. Lemmy took advantage of the patch of gravel to enjoy her first real dust bath:

The chicks will probably remain in the garage brooder for another week or two, with more excursions into the driveway. Having a nice big brooder box means I can delay moving them outside. In the past, when I had much less brooder space, I felt like I had to rush the chicks outside before it was ideal. Of course, moving them into the outside coop is contingent on me actually finishing the construction of the new coop. The process has dragged on for a lot longer than I anticipated due to lots of cool, rainy, windy weather and lots of other demands on my time. Spring is always so hectic. I did manage to get the tomato plants in the ground last week: PKS_3346But I was a few days late getting the garden beds covered with bird netting. Once again, my peas were trimmed significantly:

PKS_3350Fortunately nothing other than aphids seem to find fava foliage tasty:PKS_3347
I’ve been managing my fruit crop by thinning the crop of newly formed peaches and pinching off the extra shoots on the grape vines. I pruned the fruit trees and vines back in February – I’m still not super confident in my fruit management techniques, but thanks to the wealth of Extension publications, I feel like I’m slowly learning. I still need to make a second pass at thinning. It’s easier for me to thin twice. It’s hard to have the discipline to remove enough of the fruit the first time around.PKS_3359
Given all the work required to get the edible plants sorted out this time of year, I’m happy that the front yard can cruise along on its own, without much interference from me. Lots of stuff has started to bloom and we’re only a couple of weeks from the full-on riot of spring color:PKS_3357PKS_3354PKS_3351PKS_3348

Growing Up Quickly

PKS_3332These guys are definitely ready to go in the ground.

Oh, wait a minute, you thought I meant these guys are growing up quickly:

Yup, them too. Soon I’ll need to add a lid to the brooder as clearly they’re already practicing for liftoff (sorry about the out of focus phone vid).

Meanwhile, in the land of big chickens, I’m a bit concerned about Miss Kitty. She stopped laying a couple of weeks after she started, and she’s developed a case of messy butt, to put it politely. Of course, these two things could be an indicator for any number of troubles. I’ve been giving her yogurt and apple cider vinegar regularly in case she has a bacterial or yeast imbalance; I’ve dusted the food and coop with diatomaceous earth in case there’s a parasite issue; and I’ve switched to grower rations, instead of layer, so the extra unneeded calcium won’t strain her kidneys (Bandit has access to oyster shell to boost her calcium). Miss Kitty is still eating well, and she seems to be feeling ok, but my fear is that she has started internal laying due to any one of the many issues that can develop in an older hen’s reproductive system, or has developed fatty liver disease (I now remove all chicken scratch and sunflower seed treats from the feed bin when I go out of town because our well meaning chicken sitters tend to get very carried away with the treats) – neither of which I can really do anything about. So, for now, it’s wait and see. Meanwhile, Ezzie is still holding her own, big feet and all. She likes this time of year when she gets to hang out with the humans on the patio a lot more. And Bandit, well, she’s still a bandit. She defends her territory fiercely (you should see her chase the roadrunners out of the yard) and consistently fails to deposit a shell around about 1/3 of the eggs she lays no matter how much calcium she gets. Ok, yeah, we’re pretty much an all-around special needs flock these days.

A Mad Dash

2016-02-25 11.59.24I’m going to try and use my extra day to catch up around here.

I’m racing to keep up with our unseasonable weather. For the past three weeks or so, we’ve been having full-on Spring, 65-70 degree days and nights above freezing. While I love basking in the warm sunshine, it’s not necessarily a good thing for the garden to be 3 weeks ahead of schedule. My peach tree will probably bloom in a day or two, which means there’s a good chance of frost damage if the weather returns to normal. I also worry that all the early winter bonus precipitation will soon be evaporated and gone, and I’ll be tending a parched yard again. I actually took down my coldframes over the weekend, because it looks like my mustard greens and pac choi were staying too warm – I think they’re going to bolt before making a large leaves. However, on a bright note, almost all those seeds I planted two weeks ago have emerged. The only hold outs are the carrots.2016-02-28 13.49.49Meanwhile, in a sad turn of events, there are currently no honeybees alive at Less is More. I lost one hive in November, over a weekend when I was out of town. I returned to find dead bees littering the ground under the hive. The other hive perished more recently – about a month ago, I think. I noticed a lot of dead bees surrounding the hive, and when I opened it yesterday, there was a tiny dead cluster of bees surrounding the dead queen. Unfortunately I didn’t use my brain when the first hive died – I should have collected some of the dead bees to send off for testing. Both hives showed some signs of dysentery around the entrance, but not so much to lead me to think they were suffering from nosema. At this point my best guess is tracheal mites, but that is really just a guess. If I had suspected sooner, I would have tried to treat with a vegetable oil, powdered sugar grease patty. Anyway, I was able to scavenge about 6 partially full combs of honey from the recently deceased hive. The combs are currently smashed and draining, and I’ll be putting my name on the swarm call list for the spring – hopefully I’ll be able to repopulate.

Oh, and in regard to repopulating Less is More, I’ve also reserved a few baby chicks from one of the local feed stores. They will be arriving April 6th – I have some building to do between now and then. Because the Wyandottes are such terrible bullies, I don’t think I’ll even attempt to integrate the new pullets with the old hens.

And finally, because clearly I don’t have enough pets to nurture, I gave in to non-gardeners “encouragement” and have been developing a wild yeast bread starter. I’ve been following the mash based instructions from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads, and so far it’s been developing really well, right on schedule.2016-02-29 08.48.00 I’m on Phase 4 of the seed culture and the jar of goo smells a lot like a Belgian sour beer – quite sour and just a bit wheat-y and yeasty. For the past two feeds, when the instructions call for removing half of the culture, I’ve been using the discarded bit as a base for whole wheat sourdough drop biscuits. For the first batch, I used the culture to ferment the batter at room temperature for about 6 or so hours, and did get a nice fluffy biscuit with no additional leavening. For the second batch, since I wanted instant gratification, I used the sourdough as flavoring only, and leavened the biscuits with baking powder. The first batch was more tangy, of course, but both were quite tasty and tender. Today’s breakfast: fried eggs with butter and honey on biscuits. The back yard continues to feed us well!