The Half-Assed Homesteader

This is what it looks like. June 1, 2012

Filed under: baking,fruit,Growing,Uncategorized,vegetables — halfasshomesteader @ 5:38 am
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Nine months ago I wrote here that I would keep you all informed about what it looks like to be a grad student, mom of a 4 year old, good friend, wife, half-assed homesteader and blogger.  Well apparently what it looks like is nine months of silence.  The truth is that for the last nine months I have not made all my own bread.  I have not made any bread.  I didn’t run out to my garden and pick fresh kale for a salad from under a cover of snow.  I did not once make toothpaste.

What did I do instead?  I taught kids where their food comes and how to grow their own.

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I taught my daughter how to write her name.  I went on dates with my husband, and went out dancing until really late at night with friends.

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I spent Christmas in Arkansas with my grandmother and Spring Break in Palm Springs, laying in the sun drinking mojitos.

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I got a tattoo of a hazelnut.  I wrote a thesis proposal.  Obviously, I got an iPhone and got addicted to Hipstamatic.

What else did I do?  I ate that failed strawberry balsamic jam on toast every other day or so, and a couple of months ago I started eating eggs in the morning from my chicken friends.  I watched with pride and wonder as my apple trees bloomed profusely for the first time since I planted them four years ago, and as those beautiful flowers swelled into the delicate tiny green apples out there now, just tinged with rose. I also watched as the peach tree I planted last year withered and nearly died, and as my quince tree developed a rust that will almost certainly pass over to the apple trees that I am so proud of.  A month ago I planted an entire vegetable garden in one day, a week ago I freed my strawberry plants from the clutches of those evil creeping buttercups again (just like last year), and just today I looked outside and noticed the teeniest hints of green all in a row – the carrots that my daughter helped me sow are coming up, finally.

What didn’t I do?  I didn’t write about it. Mainly, because I was writing a thesis proposal and extra writing suddenly seemed a lot less fun than it normally does.  I suppose I am the half-assed blogger as well, which I was well-prepared for.  But I love that today is the day that I finally decided to devote a few minutes to writing.  Today, I used my first harvest of this spring – rhubarb.  A rhubarb crumble is cooling on the stove right now, of course with  one quarter rhubarb from my garden and three quarters from the market.  Who would I be if I grew enough of any one thing to do anything with it?  The crumble is to be shared tomorrow at a potluck, with all the friends and colleagues I’ve developed relationships with during the last year – a celebration of having come so far together.  And a celebration of it being over!  I have one more week of classes, a final, and then I’m done with my first year of grad school.  Three weeks later, I start the second part of my program.  Not much of a break.

I am absolutely certain that over the summer, and over the next year, my half-assed homesteading will continue.  Soon I’ll be harvesting snap peas and strawberries, then will come the inevitable deluge of zucchini, and with any luck in a few months I’ll have more apples than I’ll know what to do with.  I’m sure I’ll make some cheese here and there, and I have been thinking I really miss sewing lately and I’d love to try to make a dress for my daughter.  My fingers are crossed that I’ll have the time and the inclination to share those adventures here, but if the airwaves go silent for awhile again, it’s probably because I’m too busy sitting outside in the sun with my friends and family, trying to figure out how to use up all that zucchini.

 

The Half-Assed Harvest October 16, 2011

Filed under: Cooking,Growing,Preserving,vegetables — halfasshomesteader @ 8:55 pm

My goal, for some far off point in my future life, is to be one of those super productive gardeners who has something going all year, and can trudge out through the snow to pick something fresh for dinner.  Unfortunately, that’s not yet a reality.  So a couple of weeks ago, with the start of my first term of grad school looming terrifyingly ahead, I realized it was time to assess just how pathetic my garden was this year, and to try to salvage and preserve the last dregs of produce out there.

Tomatoes:  I have had the same tomato strategy for the last ten years or so, and it always works out very well throughout the season, but at the end of the year I always have tons of tomatoes left over that I never get around to using or putting up, and I was determined this year not to let that happen.  I grow five plants: an early variety, a delicious heirloom I’ve never tried, a plum, a Green Zebra because I love it, and Sungold because it is amazing.  This year I used most of my remaining Early Girls to make a tomato sauce that I froze.  I grew something that was yellow and super sweet and tasty, I don’t remember what it was called, and those I blanched and skinned, then froze whole along with the Green Zebras. The Sungolds I am eating off the vine still. And then there are the plums.

I thought I would oven dry them.  It’s becoming apparent to me that I need a dehydrator because all my dried stuff is just turning out super janky.  I halved them, and put them in the oven for a few hours, then it was time for dinner so I had to take them out. I repeated that process, slooooooooowly drying them out over a period of maybe a week?  Just leaving them in the oven and turning it on to dry them some more whenever I remembered to.  Until yesterday, when I turned the oven to 350 to preheat for a carrot cake (from a box) and about fifteen minutes later my husband came in and said, “Why does it smell like burning tomatoes?”.  Dammit. So, I’m not sure if they are usable or not.  They are kind of black in some parts, but they seem dried out?  Typical half-assedness.

Eggplants:  Even more half-assedness!  I grew two eggplants, one had a bunch of really pretty little streaky purple and white guys and the other grew one big regular dark purple eggplant.  Yep.  One eggplant.  I decided I would do this thing where you preserve eggplant in olive oil with some of them and make baba ganoush to freeze with the rest.  I didn’t have all the ingredients for the baba ganoush, so I put the ones for that on the counter with the plan of purchasing the ingredients the next day and making it then.  The eggplants are still sitting on the counter.  The ones I was going to preserve in oil were sliced and salted and sat in a colander over a bowl on the stove to drain their excess liquid.  The next afternoon, I found that my awesome husband had, without asking, dumped them into the compost.  So, basically my entire eggplant harvest was a bust.

Carrots:  I know real gardeners grow some carrots and then harvest them and then grow some more all summer. I sowed two lines of carrots, ignored them all summer, and then dug them up the other day.  But what a bunch of carrots!  How can your heart not be warmed by these little straggly knobby guys who were out there fighting for their lives in my unamended, rocky soil?  There were like, eight carrots, so I’m just eating them.  Sadly, they’re not even all that sweet because they are ancient at this point, and also they are so knobbly that it is impossible to wash them really well so there is a definite grit factor, but I don’t care because I love them.

Peppers:  I grew a red bell, a little hot thing, and anaheims.  I have never had success with bells.  I grow them every year, and every year they suck.  This year was no exception.  They grow all distorted, and different parts of the pepper ripen at different rates, and they are just generally pointless.  Of course, the little super hot looking guys grew great, because I don’t even like them, I just grow them for my husband.  Harvest day I decided I’d oven dry them, but I didn’t want to do it with my kid in the house because I was afraid they’d exude a toxic gas that would kill us all.  I was going to buy gloves the next day too, because hot peppers make my hands hurt for days. I forgot to buy gloves, and all those lovely peppers are still sitting on the plant.  The anaheims also grew way better than expected, but they never developed any heat at all.  So we basically used them as green peppers throughout the season, and then I did a quick pickle with the end of season harvest.

Zucchini:  Ugh.  We know all about zucchini.  Let’s not even talk about it anymore.

Acorn squash:  My first time growing winter squash and it did really well!  I am harvesting it for actual use right now and really happy about it.

Broccoli:  Most people grow broccoli only in spring and fall, but I grow it straight through and just hack pieces off periodically when it looks like it’s about to bolt.  It’s a really weird, nontraditional way of doing it, but it works for me.  I did hack a bunch off that day and it’s sitting in the fridge right now waiting for my husband to make this awesome Nigel Slater (my boyfriend) lamb and broccoli stir-fry (scroll down).  Suck it aphids, I had a productive broccoli season anyway.

Kale:  Why in the hell do I even grow this stuff?  And why does it mock me by growing better than anything else?  It’s out there, right now, the stuff I planted in March.  It’s full and lush and dark green, calling to me about how nutritious it is.  And I just hate it.  I tried this kale and ricotta salata salad recipe, thinking, If I just smother it in cheese I will like it.  But I still didn’t.  The stuff is nearly as tall as I am right now, never bolted, and looks like it will grow into a tree by the end of winter.

Cabbage:  Wow.  I really dropped the ball on this one.  I had four beautiful cabbages out there and I just ignored them completely until they got all weird and cracked and eventually stuff started growing out of the middle of them?   I don’t even know what that is?  And I like cabbage, a lot.  It makes me sad to think of all the okonomiyakis we could have made if I hadn’t flaked.

Radishes:  Look at this thing!  What the hell is this?  I’ve never really grown radishes before, and I know they are quick and should be sown and harvested multiple times, but I thought I’d try my carrot strategy out on them.  Yeah.  It doesn’t work.  I went out to harvest them and realized that the poor things had gotten so big that they’d heaved themselves out of the ground.  I think they were trying to walk away.  Inedible.  Next year I’ll know.

Cucumbers:  So, I planted these cucumber seeds and forgot about them and then one day I was like, Holy crap!  Look, there’s cucumbers over there!  We harvested a couple, but I could never really wrap my brain around the variety.  The internet said they were supposed to get like 8″ long, but whenever they got more than 4″ or so they’d start cracking and turn yellow and get all weird.  So we just kept harvesting these teeny ones, but eventually we sort of forgot they were back there.  I was hoping there’d be at least a couple I could pickle on harvest day but there weren’t.

Raspberries:  This is the saddest.  I have an absolutely enormous patch of Autumn Gold raspberries, and they produce twice.  We really made the most of our first raspberry time, my little lady would run out and pick them every day and come inside with raspberry smeared all over her face and I felt like a good mom.  The second time, I knew they were coming on, but I kind of forgot about them and the other day I looked and they had all just shriveled into nothing and I felt like a total failure.

So, this is where I am.  The garden is basically dead to me right now, until I get news that a frost is coming at which I point I will run out and salvage everything one last time.  I found an amazing recipe for pasta with a green tomato sauce that I’ll make.  I’d link to it but this is the one case in which the internet is failing me, but if you are interested let me know and I’ll put it up.

I’m somewhat satisfied with what I accomplished as the half-assed homesteader over the summer.  If I look at it as a lifelong process of building skills and knowledge, I feel like I took some good steps.  And now it’s fall, and I’m in school an insane amount, and I have to look at this as a good thing, a challenge.  It’s easy (?) to run a cool productive household during the summer when you don’t have a job.  Now we get to see how it works when you have 21 credits of grad school, a 3 year old to raise, a family to feed well, friends to see, and volunteer work.  Oh, and a blog!  I’ll keep you posted, or at least I’ll try.

 

Me versus the weeds… July 7, 2011

…and the bugs. And the fungus. And the sun. And maybe a little bit of laziness too.

I’ve worked hard on my garden this year, harder than I’ve ever worked on a garden in my life.  It might not show to the outside world, because there is a long way to go still, but I have to admit that I feel the best I’ve ever felt about this particular garden. That is why it is a particularly cruel twist of fate that I am having more problems with it than I’ve ever had.  Perhaps benign neglect truly is the best method after all.

First off, I have aphids.  I have never in my life as a home gardener had aphids.  As a professional horticulturist back in the day, I saw plenty of the teeny green bastards, but they have never invaded my home life until now, and I am pissed.  I first saw them on my Shasta daisies.  Yes, I know Shastas are a magnet for them, but they are also my favorite flower.  (Of course, I’d never grown them before and while I still love them, I have to admit that they are not worth all their unruly, floppy trouble.) I also saw some ladybugs, so I hoped that they would do their job and I left it alone.  Days later, I noticed that they’d moved over to my hellebores. I started to get a little more concerned, but because they were still only hitting ornamentals, and my vegetables are way in the back yard, I did what any good organic gardener would do, and hit them with a powerful stream of water and hoped for the best.  And then today, oh my goodness today, the saddest day.  The bastards found my broccoli and my cabbage.

I know what you’re saying, because I’m saying it too.  How did it get so out of control??? I don’t know.  I’m ashamed.  Today was the first day I’ve really put some quality time in out in the veg patch, and I was mostly happy with what I found, but this was a total shock.  This is my cabbage.  One of the poor things was so overcome it just flopped down and died.  I thought it wilted due to my 3 year olds ineffective watering, but it was the aphids, sucking out all its sweet cabbage bloods.

Another depressing discovery?

This beautiful, apparently perfectly formed head of broccoli.  My incredible child was so excited about this that she immediately started shoving florets into her mouth, barefoot in the midst of the garden.  At which point I thought…oh God the aphids.  Who knows how many she ate?  Ugh.  Barely on the leaves, they were concentrated deep in the florets, where you could barely see them, and where they are proving nearly impossible to remove. After several passes of individual florets under my kitchen sink sprayer, they are currently soaking in a bowl of cold water, but I have little hope.  Honestly, if I can’t get all the aphids out I’m going to eat the damn things myself, because I grew this broccoli and I refuse to give it the chickens.

…and the fungus.  My very, very poorly espaliered apple trees (more on these someday, I am sure) have finally *FINALLY* put fruit on.  I was ebullient when I discovered the petite little apples growing on one of the trees.  At the beginning of the year, I had said, If they don’t give me some dang apples this year I am ripping them out of the ground.  But I didn’t really want to.  So, of course, bitter fate again, along with their tiny apples they’ve also developed powdery mildew. Thus far I’ve taken the extremely effective tactic of ignoring it, but it’s getting worse, so soon I’m going to have to pick off all the infected material and chuck it and see what happens.  Obviously, I should have already done that, but that would not be my style.  Again, lazy.  I almost kind of sort of don’t want it to work though, because I’ve read that cow’s milk can treat it, and I think that would be kind of fun to experiment with.

…and the sun.  After a very long, wet, cold, dreary, downright interminable spring, it would appear that summer has finally decided to show up in Portland. I still have one foot in dreary and the sudden increase in watering needs has resulted in the death of my lovely hanging basket, my cheerful back porch Gerber daisies, two of the lettuces in my little mesclun pot, and the crippling of my nasturtium basket.  You will be missed, friends.

…but…the weeds!  I actually have a handle on the weeds, somewhat, this year, for the first time ever.  Which is part of why I’m feeling that weird pride feeling that I don’t often experience.  And this entire long-winded post has really been kind of a way for me to tell you about some things that I’ve been using that have kind of been rocking my world.  My weed treatment strategy kind of sounds like the recipe for a tasty snack, which I think is a good sign: salt, boiling water, vinegar, corn gluten.  (And a circle hoe too, but that sounds less delicious.)

*My driveway, the driveway from hell, is covered in a thin layer of gravel over dirt.  Thus, it is constantly besieged by weeds, too many weeds to handweed, and too annoying to hoe. Sometimes, honestly?  I mow it. I have dreams of this lovely permeable driveway interplanted with fleur de lawn, but that’s a major project that I am not sure will ever happen.  In the meantime, this year I decided to demolish the weeds with horticultural vinegar, and it worked, pretty well at least.  I did it when the weeds were tall and I wasn’t able to get the roots of everything, but over the couple of weeks since I did it the driveway has started looking browner and browner.  I mowed it last week and I am going to re-vinegar it, and I think I may finally tasty sweet tangy pickley success.

*I also put down corn gluten after the vinegar, and I’m not seeing any new seedlings yet.  That may be the corn gluten, or it may be that I’ve completely demolished the soil.  More corn gluten experiments to come.

*Salt and boiling water are my new best friends.  A week ago, I ran some little trials out in my front walkway on the dandelions that love to push up through the cracks.  1/4 of the plants got no treatment.  1/4 got just boiling water.  1/4 got just salt.  1/4 got both. Obviously the control just sat there happy as larks. The plain salt did nothing at first, but a week later they are pretty much withered away.  The boiling water immediately shrank and looked terrified, and were out the door about two days later.  But the salt/boiling water combo, wow!  It was like time-lapse how quickly they wilted, shrank, withered, turned brown and basically disappeared.  It was unbelievable.  I did some more tonight on the patio and here are the results:

And then, the magic happens:

Okay, so it hadn’t actually turned brown or crispy yet, but this was literally seconds after I scalded it, and I am willing to bet that by tomorrow it will be a crumbly delight.

Finally, just because, my beautiful first ripe strawberry – saved so that Hazel could discover, pick and eat it herself.  Pure 3 year old joy.