Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Timing for Fall/Winter crops

Just planted fall crops
            Despite Steve Soloman’s recommendation to leave half of Pacific Northwest garden beds for fall/winter crops, I have always struggled with the timing.  Seeds planted after the Summer solstice never grow well, if they germinate at all. Plants put in later do not thrive; they know that my energy is pulled off, towards the new school year, when September begins. And, if I do get the sowing times correct, there is never a real space for the plants in late July, when they have to be in the ground.  This year, however, I think I have figured it out --and I am praying that writing about my success does not bring on a horde of locusts or hungry chickens in the early morning.

Step one: plant early varieties of potatoes together in one bed, as early as possible, like when the volunteers start to push up in early March.  Not only will this give you a nice July harvest of taters, and eliminate some watering, it will also  free up a bed just when you need the space.

Step two: plant the seeds in six-packs in early June, as part of the last round of seed starting. They can sit on the potting bench, in the shade, right on the pathway between bike parking and the house. It is easy to cheer them on and keep them moist.

Step three: after about three weeks, bump them up into four inch pots. This, I think, is key. Trying to keep young plants in a tiny pot makes them rootbound and retards their growth. In a four inch pot, they have room to move around and develop some nice roots while waiting for a space in the garden beds.

Step four: harvest the early potatoes in late July, after they have dried down. While digging the potatoes, turn in all of the straw and leaf much that has surrounded them for months, thus increasing the organic matter in the soil.


Step five: plant out, tossing a handful of Biofish fertilizer into each deeply dug hole.  Water in, and place your signs.  I was so pleased with the final results that I even corrected the misspelling of “cauliflower” on one of the signs….although it was washed off the next day.

Apple Butter

Gather a laundry basket full of apples, preferably from an abandoned/unloved tree. Rinse them off, let them dry in the sun, and haul inside. Chunk the fruit, cutting out bruises, worms, and rotten bits, but not worrying about peeling or cores. Toss into a big pot as full as possible, add about a cup of water, and cook quickly down to mashed apple. Set your food mill, with the medium hole screen, on top of the crockpot and send the pulp through the mill. When the crockpot is full-- and mine just about matches a pull pot-- add a cup of sugar, a tablespoon of cinnamon, and turn it on low. Leave on for about 24 hours, stirring whenever you walk by. Preserve in half pint jars-- hot butter into clean jars, then  canned for 15 minutes-- and eat on toast all winter. My crockpot, full, makes eight half pints of apple butter. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Blueberry Picking



          Blueberry picking….the ultimate July experience in the Willamette Valley.  Our valley is packed with farms—berry, vegetable, fruit, nuts, wheat and oats, mint—and many have farm stands and u-pick sections, but, everyone agrees, blueberries are the best. They are tasty, there are lots of subtle variations in the flavor, they have a long season, and, best of all, there are no thorns to dodge while you pick.  I went out to pick earlier this week, armed with two large Nancy’s yogurt containers (just enough for a pie, with some table nibbles left over) and a bucket.
            In was a warm, sunny morning and the place was hopping. Everyone picks early here, to avoid the mid-day sun. A little breeze blew across the fields.  I wandered  to the far corner, searching for the perfect combination of ripe berries, loaded bushes, and quiet.  I started to pick.
 Plonk, plonk, plonk. The berries landed in the bucket as I stripped them from the laden branch. Nearby, two college kids discussed the relative merits of small, but flavorful, berries versus large, easy to harvest berries.
              Plonk, plonk, plonk. My bucket began to fill. In the distance, I could hear a small family picking. Two women  discussed the merits of various elementary schools in Corvallis (a preferred topic in our town), while their kids ran around eating and picking. As always, one small boy was on the constant look-out for the biggest, ripest patch and called everyone over every time he found a new one. “Look at these!” echoed over the fields.  “Don’t eat them all,” his mother admonished.
               Plonk, plonk, plonk. My mind drifted from the deeply philosophical to the pragmatic. Picking berries is one of those perfect occupations that require just enough of your brain so that you can think. A pie. Dried berries. A bowl for eating…is there enough to can as well?

        
        Plonk, plonk, plonk. The big bucket was filled. Onto the pie and traveling containers…I tucked the bucket into the shade of a bush. Cars hummed by on the secondary highway near the farm, creating a quiet background sound. The family left. It was only me and a few other serious pickers left, the people who pick fifty pounds for the freezer and eat our local berries all winter long on their cereal.  I could hear their berries hit the bottom of the bucket as well. “Good picking this year,” someone comments. “But early,” someone else replied. Climate change hung in the air for a moment, but we all brushed it aside. It was warm, and sunny, and the blueberries were ripe.

Blueberry Pie

Make a double crust.

Six cups of blueberries
1/2 cup of sugar
peel of one lemon
3 T flour
pinch of cinnamon

Mix it all together and pour into crust. Either weave a lattice top or use a small cookie cutter to create an attractive top. (Stars or hearts work well.) Back in 350 oven until bubbly.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Planning forSolar Panels/greenhouse, Part Two




The garden bed before construction
The greenhouse/solar panels project is progressing. We have determined that we will need eight solar panels to cover our energy use for the year, and they will be laid, in two rows, landscape, over the greenhouse, about twelve feet in the air. This will minimize the visual impact and raise them well above any local shrubs and foliage, thus increasing efficiency.  The greenhouse itself will tuck underneath, with an asymmetrical bay window in the front, projecting a little beyond the edge of the old flower bed and the raised beds of the vegetable garden.  It is already creating more of a room around the dining table, which is tucked into the ell of the house and ties in nicely to the flourishing gardens in the back. There’s been considerable geometry used in the back yard this week.


Once the frames are all constructed, the green house will have a clear plastic roof and walls made from old double paned windows from a farm shop, then framed simply in fir. There will be a narrow green metal band around the bottom to mimic the garden shed, and a red wooden door on one end. Inside, we’ll set a claw foot tube, Mark’s tea plant, and all of the starts for next year (along with a folding chair and probably a high up cat perch). Although the solar panels will have a much greater impact on our energy use, we are far more excited about the greenhouse!
C
Cleared ground

Two days in

four days in

Sunday, July 5, 2015

     It is hot—mid to high 90s every day by 4 in the afternoon. In some parts of the country, this is normal, but in the Willamette Valley, it is not. The only other heat spells like this we have had have been tied to the three times I’ve rented power sanders to refinish floors, and they only lasted a few days (until I returned the sander, each time). It is, too be fair, a dry heat, but still, we lack strategies  to deal with heat.

  1. Dress appropriately. I am always amazed by people who deny the weather, wearing nylons and suit jackets on hot days, flip-flops through the snow, and sweatshirts in the rain. As a well-prepared hiker, I have mastered the art of the layer and dress for the weather. When we are in the South, the Land of Frigid Air Conditioning, this becomes a bit of a problem, but as long as I am here, it makes a huge difference.  Loose shorts and cotton tank tops are my preferred style when the temperature rises.
  2. Open, then shut, the doors and windows. When we are home, we play games with the front door and the side windows. In the early morning, we open the house up wide. When it is hotter outside than in, we close down the house, especially in the west-facing front. We draw the curtains and shut up the windows and doors during the hottest part of the day. When the temperature flips again, we open everything back up.  We also have a fan that can bring air up from the basement, which is always cooler than the air outside.
  3. Sleep outside. We have rediscovered this lovely lifestyle this summer. On the first hot night, we hauled the air mattress out, made the bed with several layers of light blankets, hung up a sheet to block the bed from the eyes on the back alley, and settled in. By ten-thirty, the air was cool enough for one blanket; by morning, we had several. Our bodies start the day cooler and that lasts for several hours. We are much better rested than we would be tossing around inside. The cats love it, too.
  4. Timing is everything. Because we are outside, we wake up around six thirty. I like to start on the physical projects early in the day, baking bread, canning pickles, cleaning house, digging up plants, well before the heat rises. Then, when the day is too warm for labor, I can take to the hammock with a book or do some work on-line. In the evening, I complete tasks.  Everyone in the back yard lays low by three thirty. The cats and rabbit sprawl on the ground, pressing their tummies into the cool earth. The chickens perch in the shade and nap. Even the bees are quiet, fanning the entrance to the hive.
  5. Just deal. In 1988, I was a baker during a very hot summer. Looking back at the records, the day time temperature did not drop below ninety for six weeks. Add East Coast humidity to the picture, and it was muggy. We had all sorts of cooling tricks as we worked in front of the huge black ovens. We froze wet towels and wrapped them around our necks. We had cooling mint and orange blossom sprays in the refrigerator.  We drank lots of water and mixed all sorts of juices with seltzer on ice. We pinned our hair up off of our necks and occasionally thrust our heads under the cooling spray of the sink. Occasionally, you would find someone sitting in the walk in for a minute. But, mostly, we worked. And we nodded patiently when a customer leaned over the counter to ask “Hot enough for you?”  Yeah, it was hot, but people still have to eat, so we kept on. And we had a rule—no complaining. 

Macaroni Salad, Aunty Marilyn’s style


So, this was my first discovery that not everyone made their macaroni salad the same way. I went to my first “adult” potluck while I was in college. It was late May, and warm, so I made this salad. When we arrived, three other people had also made macaroni salad and all three were different.  We were all astounded and spent the rest of the dinner comparing notes. I still think mine is the best.

Cook a box of elbow macaroni. Don’t get the fancy imported stuff, this is not that kind of dish.

While the macaroni cooks, chop up a medium sized red onion. Strive for a fine chop. When you have finished, open a small jar of sweet gerkin pickles and chop them the same size. Toss in a big bowl, along with about 2/3 of the pickle juice. Add a can of tuna fish.

Drain the macaroni and add to the bowl. Stir it all up. Then take out the mayonnaise jar and toss in a good sized glop. Stir. Consider. Add some celery seed if you are feeling fancy. Add some more mayo. Remember, this is a mid-sixties dish. This is not health food. Stir.


Refrigerate. It really is best made a day ahead.  Eat at a cook-out with charred hamburgers. Eat the remains for breakfast the next day.