Sunday, January 29, 2012

New Beds

I’ve expanded the garden this year by dragging in three more bed frames that once lived in the backyard of our rental house down the street. I thought I’d be able to care for two gardens, one half a block away, but it did not work. We could never really sort out the watering and plants that are not checked on every day just do not thrive. Even potatoes grew better here, rather than at The Annex. The move has changed the backyard dynamics fairly drastically. The chickens have a reduced summer run—but they never used the full sun area anyways—and, more significantly, the perennial beds that were once the edge of the garden are now the spine, with perpendicular beds, like ribs, on either side. I’ve been working on integrating the plan for about a month now.

The first step was a new crop rotation. About five years ago, I’d worked out a seasonal system for the five beds—Spring, Climbing beans, Summer, Fall, and Vines—which worked well. I could send Mark out to pick lettuce from Summer and he could be confident that he was harvesting the right plants (he accidentally harvested several cabbages as a child and the event left him with a fear of wasting food by accidental harvest). Beds filled and emptied out in a systematic way, so the chicken tractor could rest on an empty bed earlier in the season—by Fall Equinox, most years. Adding three potato beds and winter onions and garlic threw the system off. After hours on contemplation, I decided to keep the potato together, so, this year, the beds move from garlic/onions (later winter veg), three potatoes, beans, vines, around to the other side: summer (including cucumbers, which used to be a vine), roots, and spring. The only problem is, we need an eight-foot cold frame….

The other consideration was more visual. After years of empty space, the new beds looked odd sitting in the middle of the chicken run. So I spent yesterday building two new trellises out of hazelnut trimmings, nailing the uprights to the beds then lashing the rest together with twine. Scarlet runner beans and morning glories will cover them this summer. It is not as sturdy a system as nailing everything together, but this is merely a seasonal experiment. If it works, and the two light trellises, which now indicate where the gates to the chicken run will be, bring the space together, I will build sturdy ones next fall—I was thinking of making one, at least, flat with a cat perch platform…

I like the new look. There’s a lovely focus down the yard to the back gate. There is a new sitting area under the kiwi arch. There will be a lot more food growing in the backyard in July. And the chickens will still have the run of the bushes and compost piles, back pool and, unfortunately, some of the thornless blackberries. Changes are good.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cabbage Days

It is Cabbage Season. Steve Solomon, in his great book Growing Vegetables West of The Cascades, mentioned these seasons, but I was skeptical. Cabbage years—that can’t happen. There's always something else to eat. Well, it is here. The long dank spell in December, followed by Solstice, has shut down green growth. Sunbow has been closed for three weeks.  We went to the co-op today looking for local greens from the larger farms. Nothing. No chard, no spinach, no kale! There was a small bowl of salad greens, which Mark scooped up. No broccoli, no cauliflower, no….wait—there is cabbage. In the corner of the produce shelf, piles high—red and green cabbage. Locally grown. Still looking lively. Cabbage.  “What,” Mark asked apprehensively, “Are you going to do with that?”
            What am I going to do with it? I looked in the cookbooks. Alice Waters and Deborah Madison, the Grand Dames of local food, had no thoughts on the matter—except for sautéing it in duck fat. Cabbage is clearly a low-brow vegetable.  Molly Katsen—not much. There’s a Creamy Cabbage Soup in Moosewood….and there’s lots of lovely variations of coleslaw in my book of winter vegetables. In comparison to say, corn or tomatoes, it's pretty slim pickings.  Here’s the plan…

            Monday: burritos with chipolte slaw
            Tuesday: Cabbage sauteed with onions, a ton of dill and black pepper, and served over noodles
            Wednesday: Onion and  Olive pizza with steamed cabbage and a scrap of broccoli
            Thursday: Squash Gnocchi  and salad, stretched with shredded cabbage
            Friday: Fried rice with old carrots, new cabbage, onions, and some frozen peas
            Saturday:  Salmon and peas—no cabbage
            Sunday: White Dinner—cabbage and potatoes mashed together with butter and maybe a bit of paprika for color  and seared tofu with red pepper and lots of garlic

            I’m hoping for some red mustards, at least, next week!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night was Friday. The Twelve Days of Christmas are, actually, the days after the holiday, which was never clear to me as a child, although I was fascinated by the concept and the song. When I was eight, my mother constructed a little paper mache tree with twelve small presents for the days before, thinking that Advent and the Days was approximately the same thing. It was lovely, but backwards. The Twelve Days run about the same length as the pagan Yuletide and about as long as the sun takes to begin hanging around a little longer each day, and, in some Northern traditions, each have their own meaning.

We have a small series of rituals to close out the season of Yule and begin the New Year. First, I build a dinner fire and. Kayli the Sun Kitty is always happy to hear the crackle and slips peacefully into my chair when I leave to check our food. After dinner in front of the fire, we take down the cards hanging around the door. I trim off the fronts to use as tags for next year and Mark places each on the blaze. We think about each person for a moment as the card burns. Once the cards are gone, I clear the mantle of greenery and place it, branch by branch, on the flames. The rapid shoots of flame remind us to be careful with candles. The blaze is so hot that we move our chairs back several feet. Slowly, the signs of the season melt into ashes.

The next day, I clear out the ashes and throw them on a garden bed. I pack away all of the mantle figures; only two white candles in clear glass holders will sit there until Candlemas. The tree comes down and Mark hauls it to the brush pile for next year’s “Yule log.” The Christmas table runner is thrown into the wash and we spend a few weeks with the bare wood. I place a new beeswax candle that Margi gave me several months ago at the Pie Social on the table and light it before dinner preparations.

The house feels spare and clear when we are finished. Winter Break is over for everyone and the Long Winter has begun. We are ready.