And just like that

it’s Autumn.

I went out of town for a week. When I departed, it was still unseasonably hot and dry here. By the way, I think unseasonable is an adjective that I probably need to stop using, because unseasonable is the new climate change norm, right? Anyway, I returned to full-on gloom. We’re in the middle of an entire week of cold drizzle. I’m trying to embrace the change – we certainly need the rain, and the fall roots and greens are drinking it up and growing like mad.

 

However, no matter how many cold-hardy greens I plant, I get anxious when I contemplate the long cold season ahead. I figure we’re about two or so weeks from the first frost, and then it will be mid-May until I can set out the 2018 batch of summer annuals. Seven months. Eeek. I also become nervous when I think about the effect of the long winter on the honeybees. There’s not much in bloom right now, and they’ll need to rely on their stored honey for food, and for hive thermal mass, until March. I’m thinking each colony needs to occupy 18-20 bars going into Winter. My youngest colony was only half that size a month ago, so I gave them two bars of honey from another hive, and I started feeding them sugar water. Additionally, I participated in the Mite-a-thon a few weeks ago and conducted the sugar shake test on my two oldest hives. My mite count came in at 6 and 9 mites/100 bees. Very concerning, but I have not yet decided if I will treat. Most of the treatments seem to succeed primarily in creating treatment-resistant mites. Ideally, I’d really like to work on creating a mite-resistant apiary, which may mean rebuilding with hygienic honeybee genetics through re-queening or capturing new feral survivor swarms. My current colonies seem to contain some Russian honeybee genetics due to their dark coloring, tendency to build up quickly and love of swarming. I’m hoping at least a couple of colonies will successfully overwinter, despite the mites, due to the winter-efficiency of Russian honeybees, and that the long break in the brood cycle (all the colonies but the youngest have already dramatically decreased the amount of brood they are raising) will help lower the mite load. I guess that’s one benefit of the long winter nectar dearth. I’m also considering adding some screened bottoms to the hives to give the bees a hand at eliminating the mites if they already have some grooming instincts. If I do treat, it will be within the next two weeks while it’s still warm enough to open the hives. With very little capped brood in the comb, most of the mites will at least be vulnerable to treatment if I decide to go that route. Decisions, decisions.

Meanwhile, I’m scrambling to catch up on post-vacation garden chores, and to keep up with preserving giant harvest coming in from the garden right now. I came home to plants laden with ripe tomatoes, tomatillos, chiles and squash.

 

Also, another reminder that soon I will be clearing out my summer vegetable beds: my planting garlic order arrived yesterday. Since I left all my garlic in the ground in Albuquerque, I’m starting from scratch with new varieties this year. I selected a mix of hardneck and softneck varieties that seemed likely to put up with both wet/cold and hot/dry. It will be fun to see which do well here.

 

Flash Forward . . .

. . . and it is snowing again. Although, in the intervening two weeks, we’ve had all the various iterations of weather: hot and sunny, cold and windy, rain, thunder, lightening, sleet and hail. Lots of hail. It’s been a fairly comprehensive introduction to Front Range weather. When the sky allows, I’ve been outside, wrangling with the dirt. I have zero patience to take it slow. I want instant garden. I admit, that’s not really a practical approach. Normally, I advise design clients to take their time, live in a house and yard for a while to get a feel for the new place. But, I’ve never been good at following my own advice. Plus, I missed most of last year’s summer garden due to the various disruptions, and I don’t want to forgo another year. So, I’ve started digging.

Actually, I broke down and rented a power tool for a day; I tackled a significant portion of the back yard with a gas powered sod cutter. Yes, it was loud, polluting and stinky; a crazy shaking beast to steer; and I was just barely strong enough to set it up and wrestle it from one spot to the next. The end result is not a tidy row of rolled sod as you would see on a professional job. Instead I’m left with lots of missed strips and some areas not cut at all due to the uneven ground and grass length I was working with. Most of the cut sod is still laying where it was cut because I just didn’t have the strength and stamina to move it as it was cut. Also, the belt on the cutter slipped with about an hour of cutting to go, so I returned it before completing the job and just couldn’t bring myself to schlep another one home to finish the work. However, even with all that, it was worth it to get as much sod removed as possible in the shortest amount of time. I’m still well ahead of where I’d be if I were removing the grass by hand. Yeah, ideally I would have sheet mulched over the grass for a year to build great soil for future gardens, but please refer to my earlier statement regarding lack of patience. However, all of the cut sod is staying on site. I’m flipping some of it over and using the strips to raise grade where appropriate. The rest of it will be relocated to my compost piles.

Now that the sod is cut, I’m starting to delineate planting beds, fence lines and future patio areas. There’s a ton of work ahead, but I’m tackling the most critical areas first: I’ve edged and dug the herb garden (the half-circle area in the above photo), and started on the vegetable beds. I’m hoping to bring in a couple of loads of compost and manure next week, so, you know, if it stops snowing, I can start transplanting my stockpile of plants. I have a considerable collection of plants waiting for a home. I have several batches of vegetable seedlings I started prior to the move and drove up here. There are all the herbs, perennials and shrubs I mined from the Albuquerque garden. There are also the plants I purchased here. I took a day off last week to attend the Denver Botanic Garden plant sale. There was a great variety of plants for sale, and I was able to procure a good selection of both perennials and annuals. There were a few things that I didn’t find at the sale, of course, so I took a field trip to Boulder over the weekend to check out Harlequin’s Garden – a great small nursery that smells like dirt and flowers, not that chemical odor prevalent at so many garden centers. It is a bit of a drive, but worth it. Ok, well, there’s a lot more to catch up on, but don’t worry, with another snow day in the forecast for tomorrow (sigh), I might actually have some time at my desk again.

This is why …

… the safe planting date isn’t until mid-May. I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around the much shorter frost free growing season here.  Although, actually, I believe Albuquerque saw some flurries today, so I’m sure many folks were scrambling to cover the tomatoes.

Today’s Harvest

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? 2016-11-16-11-08-29By 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:2016-11-04-16-35-02

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.

 

The Tease of Warm Weather

I don’t know about you, but it only takes one or two sunny 60 degree days for me to catch a wicked case of spring fever. And clearly, lots of the plants feel the same way:PKS_3018The tarragon, and some of the other cool-weather-friendly herbs, are starting to send shoots up through the leaf litter. That’s a good sign that I should start getting some seeds in the ground. Today I pushed the coop litter mulch off of the garden beds so the sun could warm the soil. After loosening up the seed bed, I sowed beets, carrots, peas and a few other odds and ends.2016-02-11 10.35.15Last year I sowed a few days earlier and the seeds took 3 – 4 weeks to germinate, however, I ended up with a pretty good harvest, so I’m going with an early planting date again.

Meanwhile, the once empty looking coldframes are starting to seem crowded. The earliest sown lettuce is already passed its prime, while the pac choi seedlings, along with the mustard, spinach and later-sown lettuce, have just started to grow vigorously. It’s nice being able to temper the heavy winter fare with the first bits of spring green. PKS_3022Today I pulled the last of the 2015 parsnips to make room for the peas, and what might seem like a carb-loaded heavy bowl of sauteed roots, lentils and orzo, was actually a great base for the vibrant bits of mint, fennel and chive that I was able to scavenge.2016-02-11 12.13.16

Looking Forward

PKS_2842Hallelujah! I think we’ve turned the corner. With day length over 10 hours and a return to more typical weather – sunshine and afternoons reaching 45 degrees, I think I’ll start to see some more serious plant growth. I took advantage of the warmer weather this weekend to pull up the row cover to check on things. About 2/3 of the favas have germinated (with lots of volunteer arugula, too), so I watered and mulched with some soiled straw from the chicken coop. I also used the mild weather to do a more thorough cleaning of the coop. It needed it!PKS_2836Meanwhile, indoors, kale is popping up, along with other greens and onions. In about two weeks I’ll start indoor sowing pepper seeds. I’ve learned my lessons with peppers. Since germination is often not great, I like to work in an extra couple of weeks in case I need to resow. Tomatoes are more of a sure thing, so I’ll hold off on those until mid-February. I’m such a dork! I still get excited every year with garden anticipation.

Surviving El Nino

Accustomed to (some would say spoiled with) over 300 days of sunshine in an average year, New Mexicans don’t handle dreary weather very well. So, in this mega El Nino winter, even though we know we should be celebrating the deep snow pack that will be replenishing the water supply this summer, we are cranky about the long, long stretches of damp, cloudy weather. For instance, on days like today, when every possible form of precipitation has fallen from the sky (right now, it’s frozen balls of ice) it takes strong medicine to keep us from throwing in the towel and taking to bed indefinitely. Fortunately, I made a large vat of vegetarian tortilla soup for a party this week, and have been able to buoy my mood daily with the leftovers. I have a particular affection for tortilla soup. I love the mellow spiciness and the way the strips of fried tortilla soften into silky noodles. Plus, there are all those choose-your-own-adventure garnishes.2016-01-08 12.01.39

In case you, too, need a bowl of comfort food to gird your loins for facing another winter day, here’s my method:

For each quart of vegetable stock:

  • De-seed, toast, soak and puree 4 dry chiles (for this batch I used half ancho and half guajillo, since that’s what I had on hand)
  • Chop, saute and puree one small-medium onion and two cloves of garlic
  • Puree about a quarter pound of roasted tomatoes (these come out of my freezer stash of course)
  • Combine the purees and vegetable stock in a large pot and bring to a simmer.
  • Thin with extra water if necessary (I like my soup just a bit brothy) and season with a generous tablespoon of freshly ground cumin and salt to taste.
  • Allow the broth to simmer for a half hour or so, while preparing the garnishes
  • Cut 8-10 corn tortillas into 1/4″ wide strips and pan fry in oil in batches.
  • Chop about a cup of fresh cilantro
  • Cut a lime into wedges
  • Crumble a half cup of cotija cheese
  • For even more optional awesomeness, cube an avocado and slice some radishes
  • To assemble, place a handful of crisp tortilla strips in the bottom of the bowl and ladle in some broth. Garnish with cheese, cilantro and any extras, and squeeze some lime juice over everything. Enjoy!

Hibernation

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.

Final Picking

2015-11-04 17.05.46

This evening I braved an unpleasantly cold rainstorm (I’m definitely not acclimated to the seasonal change yet) to clear out the summer veg. It’s not a bad haul: over 6 pounds of tomatoes, along with a nice variety of chiles, a few handfuls of lima bean pods and a few other odds and ends. Perhaps tomorrow we’ll have a celebratory meal of chiles rellenos and fried green tomatoes.