Closing in

The turf on the field at Eastern Washington is red. Blood red. Or, if I were in a jollier frame of mind instead of becoming more miserable by the second because I feel like total crap, a holiday-flavored red. It isn’t enough that I’m watching FCS football on a Friday night while fixing someone’s photo gallery that they’re completely hosed, but my eyeballs have to be bleeding as well? I thought the Smurf Turf at Boise was bad, but this is even worse. Too bad it isn’t snowing out there to cover it up a bit.

The late-round attempt at tomatoes and peppers was a failure, unfortunately. Things were going fairly well, but then we went to Disney for the day, and although I’d left the ends of the hoops open to get some airflow, but keep things toasty inside, the winds were horrendous and picked up the (weighted down) plastic and flung it up and off the hoops. By the time we arrived back at the ranch, it had already been freezing for several hours, and the unprotected plants were history. The sugar snaps seems to be hanging in there, and I pulled up all the peanuts yesterday and today¬† – a fine crop of late round peanuts, too, it appears.

For the rest: the garden has been put mostly to bed for winter, such as it is. We’ve had several weeks now where we’ve had at least three straight nights of freezing weather – the last round took us into the mid-teens, in fact – and experimentation for the season is over. The garlic is fine beneath its cover of hay, and the sugar snaps we may begin harvesting in the next ten days or so. Other than that, there are some leeks and carrots in the ground, and a few stay cabbage or broccoli plants (I’m not quite sure what those tiny plants are and I’m too lazy to dig out my planting roster). I’m debating whether to start some more cabbage and broc and cauliflower, but I know one thing I must do is get the parsnips in before the real winter blast comes in late January/early February here, as the frosty weather will make them sweeter than they usually are.

An aside here…I know the most overused/overrated word this year was “whatever”, which for my money only narrowly beats out “Palin”, but could we vote “Are you kidding me?” as the most overused/overrated phrase? Perhaps as a tie with “I know, right?” as a top annoyance? Thanks.

No progress on the garlic steppes as yet, but there’s still almost an entire year to get that put together for next year’s garlic season. Right now I’d like to get the remaining frames built out and filled so things will be ready to go as immediately as possible for spring. I’m planning more sweet potatoes next year, fewer varieties of tomatoes, just a handful of pepper varieties, and only a couple of varieties of cukes – all things that performed well and tasted better than others, and in many cases, varieties that took tops in both categories. I’m ever hopeful that there will be no disasters (deaths, cancers, surgeries, etc.) to knock another season out of whack, so in addition to my please regarding overused words or phrases, how about we add a little cooperation from the universe to that?

Reprieve

I just noticed that last post is number 500 on this incarnation of the blog.

A reprieve from winter today: glorious, spring-like day, with a light breeze, a clear sky, and the scent of air that makes you want to draw in breath after breath, deeply inhaling some of the best Mother Nature has to offer. It was me and the boys today, traipsing out to turn off the taps and uncover everything so the plants could enjoy our one day stay of winter weather. We’ll start up again tomorrow in our quest to get summer loving plants to survive through what will be a brutal week here on the ranch: we expect to get into the upper teens here around mid-week, which will be a challenge in protection under the covered wagons. I have no idea if things will make it through, but that’s sort of the point in all this, isn’t it (until I can build a real greenhouse, that is): experimenting.

Another experiment we’ll be trying here on the ranch: growing garlic for seed stock, not just for our own use. It occurred to me while chatting with some folks that this would take expansion, but what if we went vertical rather than horizontal, terracing it much like the rice paddies at the feet of mountains in far off lands? There are seven eight foot fence panels at the back of the pool, and over that fence is nothing that’s in use. The failed attempts to grow corn in that area gave way to a massive effort to rebuild the sand/clay into real soil – an effort that has worked, I might add, since I worked to break up the area and then sow it with alfalfa, clover, buckwheat, and other good nutrient-dense vegetation. There is no question there will be no corn planted there in the immediate future, but a series of steppes along the back of the fenceline would provide more area to grow a crop that is tasty, economical, easy both in terms of maintenance and growing, and that yields good prices when sold for seed (especially if grown naturally, without chemicals as we would be doing). With that, of course, will necessarily come some meetings with my accountant and lawyer, as no doubt there are rules about this sort of thing, and why do that research on my own when that’s why I pay them?

I started five horseradish roots a couple of months ago. Someone helpfully dug the holes for me and filled them with a nice mixture of soil and compost to give them a fighting chance. At first, I thought they’d died right off, as the roots had been languishing in the fridge throughout the summer of surgery and recovery. As it turns out, the roots will last practically forever if they’re kept chilled, and they have turned into quite healthy things indeed, with giant leaves soaking up sun and moisture. The boys, though, keep peeing on them, so a fencing adjustment is in order for those and for the berries that we put in along the main fenceline (grapes, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries).

We’re also considering selling seed – organic only, if possible. This and the garlic would be a good starting place for Lazy Dog Ranch branding, I do believe. At least, the dogs don’t seem to be presenting any particular objection.

Letting go

The okra gave up the ghost.

I knew it was simply a matter of time. After all, between the laws of diminishing returns and the downward creep of the thermometer, it was a given that even the hardiest of summer-loving plants would not survive the onslaught. And so it goes for the okra, finally giving in to the inevitable. They now stand in place, like guardians cursed to remain in one location until relieved by those who never arrive, becoming more gaunt and weary as time passes.

I haven’t pulled them out of the line yet, unlike the jalapenos, from whom I took the last fruits and then took to compost yesterday. I’d like to see how long they can stand before collapsing entirely, but will probably take the shovel and dig them out tomorrow – the shovel is absolutely required, as anyone who has grown okra can vouch for the rather strong roots the plants put down, anchoring them to the earth even as they reach toward the sun they adore. I suppose they could be tested as greenhouse-type growers, but this seems counter-productive, and it would be very difficult to cover them every night and uncover them each day, since they are taller than me at this point. There is also the promise of starting anew next year, planning for which has already begun in conjunction with the arrival of the seed catalogs for next year.

Now, we settle in for what passes for winter here, but which would be laughed off as mild by our counterparts to the north. For us, though, it is no laughing matter to be faced with shorter days and languishing temperatures when for at least some of us, the warmth is what brings us seriously to life.

Preparation

This afternoon, it was time to break out the plastic once more and create covered wagons everywhere. With a forecast low of 27 at the ranch, and with my continuing quest to have one ripe tomato in the winter here – one that will get to red or purple without cracking – wrestling with plastic to cover for the impending weather is just part of the routine.

I know some people poo-poo the idea of growing tomatoes in winter. “I won’t eat things out of season,”, they say, pointing to the additional environmental issues involved in raising things out of season, like the transport of the item from wherever it’s grown (South America, for instance) to the local market, or to the energy consumed in forcing things to grow outside their usual time. In this case, however, I am not transporting the item anywhere – except potentially to a tasty meal on my table – and we are expending no additional resources to keep the plants alive beyond the human energy necessary to pull out the plastic covers and get them set in place. That particular energy is fairly significant, because I have to say, high mil plastic is rather heavy. But, from an overall standpoint, beyond the initial purchase of the plastic, the environmental impact is pretty much zero, since it can be reused, likely for years with proper storage, without then sending it off to the recycling center.

Thus, the quest for summer vegetables in winter continues here at the ranch. I’m certain the weather will finally kill the okra that has been so productive for us, but that staunchly held up through previous freezes without benefit of protection. It’s a hardy beast, and as of this afternoon, still flowering with beautiful buds signaling another round of fruit. If it is still there in the morning, it will be a most pleasant surprise, although I’m aware there is still the issue of diminishing returns even for what was the star performer of last season.