Saturday, September 26, 2015

Three Little Pigs and Alternative Homebuilding

In the familiar story the three pigs each build a house. So far so good. I'm on board with designing and building your own house -- I have scads of graphed paper with floor plans I've doodled over the years.

One pig builds with straw. Now, tradition does not tell us if this was a strawbale, or a straw daub (straw with mud, sort of like cob) method. One can surmise that it was probably not post and beam with strawbale infill, since timber seems to be in the second pig's domain. Given the climate in my current location I believe it would be huffs and puffs of mold, not a wolf, that would destroy any home first piggy wanted to build round here. In a drier climate though, could a wolf really have blown through a rebar-enforced, clay plastered straw house? I don't know.

It seems the second pig went with a traditional "stick-built" home. The lemming of homes, but in some ways really quite clever when trying to hide from wolves. With so many other stick-built homes around how will the wolf know which of the many tasteless lemming houses contains a tasty piglet? As a lifestyle choice, I don't know that second pig really was on track though. Blending-in has never really been my style. True, I live in a stick-built now, but I didn't spend the time and money to design or build it.  If I built, and built with wood, timber frame with a thick cordwood infill is more in my line and strikes me as a more solid option even in the wolf-teeth of, say, a hurricane.

Of course masonry seems to me an even more solid choice. And piggy number three is to be commended for not only building with the more durable (and imo beautiful) material, but also for having the foresight to build it big enough to house assorted refugee family members. If he was anything like me, that third pig was using real Flemish-bond brick or two foot thick rough dressed fieldstone for double thick walls. No scrawny brick veneer will give you the same lovely deep windowsills for setting assorted not-winter-hardy potted citrus trees in. SAd that nobody builds like that anymore. It will be a shame if we as a society lose the skills to build such lovely wolf-safe sanctuaries.

There are a fourth and fifth little piggy too though -- often forgotten -- the ones that didn't buy the roast beef at market and ran wee wee wee all the way home. Folklore is unclear what sort of home they ran to, but extrapolating from the whistling sound made while running, I suggest they may have been "whistle pigs" (one of many local names for groundhogs). This also answers questions about why the fourth and fifth pigs do not appear in the story with the wolf. The wolf, though he may have given chase when they ran from the market (leaving the roast beef behind), lost them as they bolted for home. They could have been right under his nose but the wolf did not even see their house, nor could he have huffed and puffed it down if he had. Whistle pigs live in underground homes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Tomato Results

So the tomatoes I grew this year were a mixed batch of older and newer varieties. Some more successful than others, and here's what I decided about each:

Yellow Pear Tomato: Decent tasting tomato and pretty prolific. Fun mostly because of it's colour and shape, but at end of season it drops a lot of the tomatoes and the flavor gets a bit hit or miss. It was one of the varieties that lost a plant mid-way through the season due to wilt followed by blight, and although the other Yellow Pears tried to hold on they were heavily hit and are now all pulled out. For next year, if I plant any, One should be enough and it can be ripped out when the late blight hits before it gets all messy like they did this year.

Thai Pink Egg Tomato: Fun shape and colour. That's it. It was an average producer until it was wiped out with blight and some sort of tiny dark tomato eating worm that obviously found it way better tasting than I did. Should have ripped out all the vines when I had to rip one out mid-season from the bight. Didn't really get much more after that from the other vines and it attracted the worms which spread to the rest of the tomato patch then. Will not be growing again.

Sunrise Bumblebee Tomato: This year's Taste Winner. Fun striped cherry tomatoes that pretty much always got eaten straight from the vine, never making it into the house. Did have problems with it initially as it was VERY attractive to the slugs and I lost all but one of the plants I set out. That one plant, once protected with diatomaceous earth, produced heavily though to make up for it. Ironically, I had started too many plants and given several away (before I realized they were such slug candy) so I have report from my sister that in her garden Sunrise Bumblebee was a winner for them also. Her boys loved the taste and the fact that they were striped, and kept the plant picked clean. One of the little ones very cutely thought there might be "bumblebees inside, but there weren't." Will definitely grow again. And next year I'm going to try the Pink Bumblebee and Purple Bumblebee tomatoes also.

Oregon Spring Tomato: This small beefsteak type tomato was just not brilliant. It wasn't a bad tomato, but it wasn't anything special either. The pronounced ridging did make it easier to chop into sauces but that's hardly a reason to grow it again. Especially since in my garden, my mom's garden and my sister's gardens it seemed to be a bit of a poor performer. For me, it just didn't set very much fruit. The plants succumbed the blight and have been pulled from my garden already. My sister, I think got more fruit set but it was plagued with assorted rots and wilt and blight. Will not grow again.

Money Maker Tomato: Mistakenly thinking it was the same as Mortgage Lifter, I bought this tomato variety. This is a salad size tomato, not beefsteak. I think if it was not named Money Maker I would not have expected it to be better tasting than it was, or a more prolific bearer than it was. So although this is a good little tomato, really, and held on fairly well through the blight... I'm just not into it. It didn't live up to its billing so I won't be growing it again next year.

Mountain Princess Tomato: Heirloom variety that is supposed to be blight resistant. Good flavor, good size. Not really blight resistant, but held on pretty well and kept producing tomatoes -- which is pretty decent. I will grow a few of these again next year.

Iron Lady Tomato: F1 Hybrid developed specifically to resist blight... and the first to get it out of all the plants. Though I am forced to add, it has yet to succumb to blight and the plants are still holding on in the garden even now.  It was also one of the first to set fruit, but then it was the last to ripen. Seriously, tomatoes that hadn't even flowered yet when Iron Lady was sporting green golf balls, still were ripe sooner. In theory they should have a good shelf life. Which brings me to the major problem, Iron Lady Tomatoes taste like supermarket tomatoes. Exactly like supermarket tomatoes. That's a major fail. Will not grow these again.

Indigo Apple Tomatoes: Happy. Happy. Prolific, yummy, still going strong despite some blight damage. These were the best performers in the garden this year, and second runner-up for best flavor. Will definitely be growing these again next year.

I have a few Silver Fir Tree Bush Tomatoes in pots planted for the fall garden which have already set fruit but are not ripe yet, and (garden trialing is addictive) I have about 20 more new-to-me varieties in seed packages ready to try in next year's garden... including one that is supposed to get over 15 foot long/tall. I'm thinking I want to build a tomato arbor to train it over. Won't that be fun?

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Simon Says: Break Time

The pole beans can wait, Simon says. They will dry just as well on the vine. When was the last time you updated the blog?

Er... It's been a while, but there is so much to get in from the gardens.

Playing fetch, Simon says, is the only good reason to not go blog right now. And I don't see you tossing this toy.

Naturally, my response was to keep working but toss the squeaky carrot a few times and hope that would distract him. It did not.

Shouldn't you be headed back inside now? Simon said. I'm getting hot out here. Come on. Inside. Good mommy. Now, blog while I nap.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Success with Small Fruits by E.P. Roe

This book was recommended to me recently and I was delighted to find it is available on Project Gutenberg. You can follow this link to Roe's "Success with Small Fruits" on Project Gutenberg.

I have only read a few chapters so far, and the philosophical outlook (pre-1900) has been making it more entertaining than informative for me.  I'm sure there will be more information as I get into chapters on cultivation and varieties. Here are some of my favorite quotes so far:

"In June, of all months, in sultry July and August, there arises from innumerable country breakfast tables the pungent odor of a meat into which the devils went but out of which there is no proof they ever came. From the garden under the windows might have been gathered fruits whose aroma would have tempted spirits of the air."

"There is one form of gambling or speculation that, within proper limits, is entirely innocent and healthful—the raising of new seedling fruits and the testing of new varieties."

"...let no one imagine that horticulture is the final resort of ignorance, indolence, or incapacity, physical or mental. Impostors palm themselves off on the world daily; a credulous public takes poisonous nostrums by the ton and butt; but Nature recognizes error every time, and quietly thwarts those who try to wrong her, either wilfully or blunderingly."

"Anything can be raised from a farm easier than a mortgage."

"The number of people, however, with the digestion of an ostrich, is enormous, and in multitudes of homes Wilsons [a commercial variety of strawberry], even when half-ripe, musty, and stale, are devoured with unalloyed delight, under the illusion that they are strawberries."

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Good Advice

"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody."
1 Thess. 4:11-12

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Basil and Asparagus

Basil growing happily in the asparagus bed.
Sometimes I stumble on great things entirely by accident. This year, with a new asparagus bed going in I was thinking about the use of garden space and wondering if I couldn't just squeeze a little extra room by companion planting some annual goody into that perennial bed. It is very hard to wait 2-3 years for asparagus, and as a rather large portion (2' x 12') of my garden expansion this year was dedicated to said veggie, I wanted to maximize the return on that bed with some more immediate results. And I needed to plant my basil somewhere.

A quick google indicated that they were not enemies, and one site even listed basil as an acceptable companion plant for asparagus. I decided to trust that one site (which I did not bookmark, and now wish I had) and went back to the garden with my packet of basil seed.
Basil from the third cutting.
I am happy to report, Basil and Asparagus are BFFs in my garden. The asparagus, purchased from a box store, has also thrived in spite of it's dubious clearance rack origins. I have never had box store baggies give me a 100% survival rate before, especially on something as fussy as asparagus can be. Clearly a beneficial relationship. And this summer has seen the best basil harvest ever, so it would appear to work both ways.

Basil is most effective as a cut and come again herb crop. If you wait to cut it until it gets "big" it will simply get leggy instead. Taking regular cuttings from the top of the plant keeps the stems stocky and sturdy and produces more leaves. It also puts off flowering, keeping the basil sweet.

The top clippings can add up faster than you think. After harvesting several pounds in one day I realized I was not going to be able to fit everything into the dehydrator. That one cutting created about 2 ounces of dried basil.  Plus:

Basil: better than lettuce on my lunchtime sandwich.
A portion of my steak and tomato sandwich (okay, it was really a roast sliced up to make "steaks").

A pint of roughly chopped basil preserved in olive oil. This ready to go infused oil keeps extra long in the fridge. (I have never managed to go longer than 6 months before it gets used up, but I think it could last longer than that even.)

A pint of Pesto Base, which is just the nut-free paste of fresh basil, cheese, olive oil, and salt. It does oxidize a little so I wedged out the air bubbles several times as I filled the jar, filling it level to the rim. As I use it the top will begin to show oxidation but as it will discolour from cooking anyway that won't matter. In the meantime it will show a nice pretty green through the glass jar.

And about three cups of fresh leaves frozen in a baggies because I got tired and decided not to get any fancier than that with the rest of it.

Pints of basil chopped in oil for cooking, and a nut-free pesto paste.
With all of that there was still enough basil left to make a very basil heavy "fresh spaghetti" for dinner (and leftovers for the next several days) with more sheep cheese and some tomatoes from the garden.

"Fresh Spaghetti" is made by dicing uncooked tomatoes into a saucepan
with cooked noodles and assorted seasonings, and tossing it only long
enough to get warmed through so the finely grated cheese will melt.