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
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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?


2015-12-08 13.22.28Yes, we’re in the midst of the lazy days of winter. Ok, not technically, as it is still autumn, but Ezzie (yes, bigfoot chicken is hanging in there and doing surprisingly well) sums up my mood very nicely – I just want a comfortable place to take a nap until the days return to warm and sunny. I’ve been enjoying a respite from garden chores. The coldframes don’t require much attention this time of year2015-12-08 13.24.35

and the rest of the garden beds are in a holding pattern – the seeds and garlic cloves I planted last month are nestled in under a layer of mulch. I won’t need to water or fuss over them until I see some green poking up in 6 weeks or so. Although, already next week, I’ll sow my first soil blocks for 2016 planting. I’ll start with early season onions, then move on to the hardy brassicas. Vacation over.

Delayed Gratification

It’s been a very bountiful Spring here in the vegetable garden. I don’t know that it looks like much is happening out there right now, but every day I go out scavenging and I’m able to return to the kitchen with a nice handful of something. Mostly we’re eating salad greens, kale and herbs, but other days I’m able to harvest a wider variety of items. Today’s small haul:


I never pulled the cauliflower that made button heads two months ago, and now I’m getting another round of minis. There was also a baby leek tempting me and a small bunch of juicy carrots. All this stuff is possible because I got my act together way back when in September. Eventually I’ll be able to start eating all my late winter sowed greens and peas, but for now we’re eating all the hardy plants that hung on through the cold months. The tiny frost burned carrot tops that were barely peaking out of the wind blown dirt in January didn’t look like they’d ever grow into anything, but lo and behold, now they’re feeding us.

Happy Daze

The beginning of August is a little bittersweet. Somehow, half of the summer has disappeared already. On the other hand, the best of summer is still ahead. There are big garden harvests to anticipate and we’re having a real monsoon season this year, with lots of cool cloudy mornings.  Last week’s “storm of the century”, or whatever the news mongers were calling it, unleashed some fierce wind and rain, but we were lucky here at Less is More. We were mostly unscathed by the howling wind gusts and we only received about an inch of rain here, which can be captured handily with our dips and swales. We don’t mind a little bit of standing water in the yard. And oh, how the water has been welcome. Several plants that were crispy with heat and drought stress have already started putting out tender green shoots, and everything in the vegetable garden seemed to grow a foot overnight. I hate to jinx myself, but I think I may get a few cucumbers from the garden this year. And maybe an ear or two of corn:


For the moment, everything is making me happy. My fall seedlings are mostly thriving:


I’ve harvested my first few snap beans with more on the way:


I harvested a nice little bundle of yellow shallots:


(I planted the yellow this year on a tip from the folks at Chispas Farm. I’ve had trouble getting the red shallots to cure and store well – they were molding before I could use them up, or get my planting seed in the ground in the fall, so now I’m trying the yellow, as apparently they are much less fussy)

And the sunflowers are blooming like mad:




Starting the Fall Garden

So, it’s the last week of July and I still haven’t gotten my first garden-fresh tomato and my cucumbers are still a week or so away from flowering. Fortunately, I am getting a small but steady stream of tomatillos and padron peppers, and in about a week I should have my first few snap beans. Meanwhile, I’m already focused on what’s for dinner in November.

Sixteen days ago I started a flat of seeds (mostly brassicas, alliums and some herbs in the Apiaceae family, with a couple of other odds and ends) using my new mini soil blocker. Germination was fast and furious. This is what the mini blocks looked like 10 days ago:


It looks like the mini blocker has solved the germination problems I’ve had for the past couple of years using the larger soil blocks – the only fertilizer I typically use in the blocks is compost, and to get the blocks rich enough to support seedling growth, the blocks end up too dense to get good germination. So, when I made the small blocks, I used only coco fiber and sand, with just a bit of compost tea to enrich it.  I figured they’d be transplanted to the bigger blocks before they needed much additional nitrogen, and it looks like that system is working. Here are the seedlings today:


All of the seedlings, except the leeks, have been transplanted to the larger blocks, which are composed of my usual mix, except I didn’t bother sifting the compost (which hopefully will work to keep the blocks from being too dense). If everything continues to go well, the seedlings should be ready to be planted out in the garden my mid-August. Until then, they spend their days outside (sun in the morning, shade in the afternoon) and inside at night. When they get planted out, they will go in under a leafy plant canopy, or under shade cloth to give them a better shot at survival. I’ve also been trying to get some beets and carrots established in the shadier parts of the garden. They’ve been germinating well, but the beets always seem to be taken down by a predator a few days after germination. The carrots have fared better, but about half have shriveled in the hot despite the shade. I’ll probably try another batch next week, when I’ll also start sowing my fall and winter lettuce into mini-blocks.

What’s Happening Inside

In January, even here in Albuquerque, where the sun shines most days and it’s not uncommon for me to bundle up and dine alfresco at lunchtime, a good bit of the urban-locavore-homesteader-gardener focus turns to indoor activities. For me, that means obsessing over garden plans – redesigning, analyzing data (I obsessively track all sorts of harvest and weather data) and concocting new schemes (fruit trees, new garden beds and pvc hoops, this year). Part of fulfilling those schemes means browsing the local stores and online gardening catalogs (yes, as much as I try to salvage and reuse, some things are just better new). This year I don’t need many new seeds, but I did order row cover, bird netting and, finally, some nursery style propagation trays (trying to start hundreds of seeded soil blocks per year in non-uv resistant plastic storage boxes just wasn’t cutting it anymore). And even though I don’t have those fancy trays yet, a good bit of indoor seed starting is already well underway. The first batch of onion seedlings have been  hardening off in the cold frames all week and are ready to be transplanted, while the second batch is still being coddled in the south-facing office window, along with the collards, kale and other brassicas planned for the spring garden. The indoor winter gardening activities aren’t just limited to planning and starting the outdoor garden, however. During some winters I’ll grow sprouts or herbs inside, however, this year, thanks to a gift from a friend, I’m finally experimenting with growing mushrooms inside with one of those inoculated “log” kits – honestly, I’m not doing a great job, as growth seems to have stalled, despite a promising start. However, I did harvest one delightful shitake the other night – which was a revelation. I’ve never been foraging for wild mushrooms, and hence, had never consumed a mushroom that fresh. This one received a quick caramelizing saute and became the minimalist filling for a couple of small backyard-egg omelets. Yeah, food just doesn’t get better than that. And I’m definitely hooked on growing mushrooms – I think I just added one more thing to my planning list.


I Think They’re Winning

Despite inspecting daily, the squash bugs are proliferating faster than I can eradicate them.

Hopefully the plants are strong enough to survive the onslaught.

Meanwhile, it’s not all bad news. For the first time I have onions germinating out in the garden. In the past I’ve only been successful starting onions inside. Why did it work this time? I think it was a lucky confluence of events. The seed is super fresh, having recently been collected from an onion that flowered in my garden this summer, and not only did I remember to water, but we’ve had a bit of rain several evenings in a row, and I also remembered to shade the soil with a piece of scrap lumber.

Free Rangin’

Yup, in case you were wondering, life here at Less is More is still all about the chicks. They are so much more fun than all the other stuff needing attention. Every evening I let them out of their run for some closely supervised free range practice. For the first few days they would not venture more than five feet from the run, and would dart back into it whenever startled, or sometimes, just to make sure the food and water were still there. Other than a scare with a roadrunner stalking them from above, there haven’t been any mishaps, and now they are quite comfortable roaming out into the garden beds. I know it won’t be long until they are quite capable of decimating a garden bed in mere moments, but for now, they are still small enough they don’t do much damage and spend most of their time exploring and getting their bearings. They ignore most of my favorite edibles, and instead make a beeline for the mock orange shrub whenever they’re released from their “prison” (you’d think I kept them penned in substandard sloth, rather than the luxurious custom-built chicken palace they inhabit, based on the complaints I hear when I herd them back into the run).

So, watching a couplah birds figure out their world is how I’ve been spending the twilight hours lately. Oh, and in between, I’ve managed to get a bit of gardening done. We’ve finally received just the tiniest bit of rain (.04″). While not enough to soak the earth, just the extra hint of humidity in the air has taken the crispy edge off of the garden, and reawakened my interest in spending time digging and sowing. Seeds for fall crops (various brassicas, lettuce, onions, peas, carrots and beets) are going into the ground, and into soil blocks inside. And this week the big garden harvest was a nice big bunch of shallots:

All that from just a few planting shallots and almost no special attention. I must do that again.

Summer Daze

It’s been a low key holiday here, all stay-cation-y, at Less is More. There was a little no-heat cooking this morning to prepare my new favorite thing: green onion (from the garden) pesto. It pretty much works on anything and everything. My recent batches have used raw green onions (I suppose for a milder version you could blanch the green onions first) and pepitas, in lieu of pine nuts. I love the color, which is similar to guacamole, but a bit brighter.

In addition, not atypically, my morning involved compost – turning, sifting and dispensing it onto the garden. You’ll notice that there haven’t been a whole lot of garden beauty shots recently – mostly because there’s not a whole lot of beauty in the vegetable garden right now, thanks to a deficiency of nitrogen. My garlic harvest, which ended up being about half the weight of the previous year’s, is good evidence of how tapped out the soil is this year. Fortunately, things are starting to green up and grow. For the past two months I’ve been adding whatever finished compost I can scavenge from the bins every other week, and finally some improvement is visible. However, this should be the last year I find myself with an inconvenient compost shortage, thanks to these two:

Yup, the chicks have arrived. Even though the coop still wasn’t quite done, I picked up the chicks on Wednesday. And, as it turned out, it didn’t matter that the coop was a wee bit incomplete, as the chicks were a couple of weeks younger (and smaller) than I had anticipated. I was expecting 4 or 5 week old pullets, and instead I found out they had hatched only 3 weeks earlier. So, despite the fact that I had declared that there would be no box of chickens in the house, that is exactly where they ended up for the first 4 nights. Yesterday, with the coop finally complete, Esmeralda and Harriet, who had both acquired a few more feathers and a bit of weight in the interim, were relocated outside, with the comfort of a cardboard box to provide a little extra shelter. So far, so good. They are already quite spoiled with two humans obsessing over their every comfort. Harriet, the Buff Orpington, is very friendly and comes bounding over whenever one of the humans comes for a visit. Esmeralda (advertised as an Araucana, but more likely an Americauna) is bit more independent and active. Both are adept aerial escape artists and can get up to a bit of trouble if allowed. I suspect both will be providing this household with a good bit of entertainment, besides all the other chicken-y benefits.

Well, back to some holiday afternoon enjoyment. It’s that time of day when I hit the NOAA website to see if there’s any monsoon-like wetness coming this way (a great excuse to put away the tools and take refuge on the porch). Two days ago some big fat raindrops and a pelting of hail fell from the sky. Not enough to even dampen the ground, but an indication that some real rain should arrive soon. Happy Summer!