Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Cost of Time

Egads. Has it really come to this? Our lack of time to cook, and love of convenience foods can make us seriously sick, or kill us?

After making a friend's refried beans recipe, and finding it a hundredfold better tasting than the canned stuff, I started looking for recipes online for refritos negros, or refried black beans.

Almost every single recipe started with "one can of black beans". One can??? Why would I want to buy a CAN of beans, especially now that we find out they are all lined with Bisphenol A, when I can buy a bag of beans, supplying me with three times the food for the price?

Sure, that can of beans saves some time, but at what cost? How much further have those canned beans traveled in the extra step of going to the processor? How were those beans handled once there (recent botulism recall information here) Did you know that a certain amount of rodent feces and hair are acceptable in your food, and you'd be shocked to realize just how much that is (one rodent hair per 2-1/2 Tablespoons of cornmeal. Beans have no such standards, and are "evaluated on a case-by-case basis".)? How much more energy goes into cooking the beans, packaging them with loads of water in recycled (we hope) aluminum cans with non-recycled paper covering coated in (probably) petroleum-based ink, only to open it and dump out the water?

So, to save a bit of my time (and come on, really, how much intensive time does it take to watch beans simmer?) I get to eat rodent feces and hair-laden, over-salted, possibly botulism-tainted food, sent in heavy cans coated in toxic, cancer-causing chemicals, which require more petroleum to ship?

No thanks. I'll buy a bag of beans. At least I can wash them.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Apple Maggot Traps, and Other Gardeny Things

After so many apples being infested with apple maggot last year, I have decided to take definitive action and have just put up three traps. Already they're grabbing nasty bugs (in other words, no recognizable beneficial bugs), but no apple maggot flies as of yet. I think they don't emerge until June, but I'm not taking any chances. I may also cover each fruit with those disposable socks that you get at the shoe stores. Sounds like a pain, but I'd only have to do it once a year, and the socks are reusable.

I've been pouring over Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Homescale Permaculture, by Toby Hemenway. Oh, the wheels are turning!

I've decided that the area in front of Thing 2's bedroom window needs to be planted to hopefully cut down on the heat that builds up right there. So I've been scouring the local nurseries for plants that will do well with unknown varieties of one climbing rose, and one huge clematis. So far I have a couple of Euphorbia polychroma, some Agastache cana 'Heather Queen', a Lewisia columbiana rupicola, a couple of Helianthemums, and some Salvia nemerosa 'East Friesland'. I'd also like to add some spring bulbs, and maybe some Cistus. And maybe a hebe or two.... And....

I'm also thinking about what to plant under the apple trees. Mr. E can't mow under them without breaking branches, so I'd like to lay down some cardboard and compost, and plant some of the things that were mentioned in Gaia. However, many of those plants are HUGE! Cardoon? It'd be taller than the trees themselves! I've ordered more books from the library, so I hope they'll help out. Any suggestions for things to plant under short apple trees whose lower branches are two feet off the ground or less?

The rest of the garden is starting to look spring-like, although it's almost May. All the snow and cold weather certainly has slowed everything up. I need to get going on more planting, and keeping the weeds down. I kept up with the weeds last summer and did a thorough weeding in the fall, and it really made a difference. I can't let all that hard work go to waste!

Even though it was "80% chance of precipitation" today, the afternoon was gorgeous, and I did manage to weed the strawberry bed and half of an herb bed. I've decided to let my parsley go to seed and make the area it's in semi-permanent. I cleared around the catnip, which our cat, Hg, is thankful for, I'm sure. He needs to leave it alone for a while or he may not have any. I lost one rosemary, so I'll need to replace that, and the thyme needs renewed. I have lots of rooted stems from the Berggarten sage, and as the plants are SIX FEET ACROSS, I think it's time to dig them up and use some of the rooted pieces. After many years of trying, I FINALLY got tarragon to winter over! Woo-hoo!

For those of you who have left comments, thank you! I just noticed them. I need to figure out how to get them emailed to me so I see them in a more timely manner. I never actually look at my web page, just the dashboard. I guess that's something I need to fix!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Back to Winter

Okay. Would someone please tell Mother Nature that it's supposed to be Spring? What's in the weather forecast? Snow on Friday? You've got to be kidding me! If it does, it'll be a record. The latest snow in Seattle was April 17, 1972 (an inch at Sea-Tac). Yeesh.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Is it Spring Yet?

Ugh. I just checked out the latest from the Climate Prediction Center Two more weeks of cold and wet??? I'm starting to grow moss on my head!

My sprouting broccoli isn't sprouting. I planted it to have something from the garden in March/April, and the plants are just sitting there, taking up space. Did I do something wrong? The plants look healthy enough, but no sprouts.

The onions are finally starting to emerge, along with the leeks. I planted them in late March, but then it snowed, and until this last weekend, it's been rather chilly. I was about to give them up for lost, when small bits of green started poking their way through the soil. Hurray! I am out of seed, and don't want to have to buy plants.

The tomatoes are under lights in the garage and doing well. I would like to move them to the shed to toughen up, but it still gets to 40 degrees in there, and that's a little too cold for my babies. The potatoes are in the garage as well, but I think I need to move them to some better light, as they aren't sprouting as well as I would like them to.

Lettuce and spinach are slowly growing. I think I'll have greens to eat in a month, maybe less. I tried transplanting some spinach, and the direct-seeded spinach has almost caught up. I won't bother next year.

The peas are about two inches high now. They seem to be waiting for warmer weather before they take off, too. I planted a soup pea, Amplissimo Viktoria, from Fedco, and they emerged stronger and are taller than the Early Frosty shell peas.

Mmmm. Split pea soup.... Sounds really good right now, which, given that it's mid-April, is not a good thing. I should be thinking BBQ, tacos, at least warmer-weather foods.

All the fruit trees have been waiting for their chance to burst forth in bloom, and are popping a few small blossoms, as if testing the waters. Our usual succession of bloom (pear, cherry, apple) is going to be one huge explosion this year. I hope the bees wake up in time.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Review of A Fine Fleece: Knitting with Handspun Yarns

I've been knitting up a storm lately (yes, that's what I've been up to the last couple of weeks...). I managed an advance copy of A Fine Fleece: Knitting with Handspun Yarns by Lisa Lloyd. Although I don't spin yarn (someday, though...) Lisa Lloyd's patterns work well with commercial yarn. She has photos of each project in commercial and in handspun yarn.

This is her Narrangessett sock in Patons Kroy Socks yarn. I only have one finished, much to Mr. E's dismay.

And I've just finished her Espresso cardigan in Patons Classic Wool Merino. I just luuuuuuuuuvs cables!
Here is a photo of the front.
Here is a photo of the sleeve detail.
And one of the collar.

There were lots of thoughtful finishes on this sweater, and it was by far the most complicated pattern I've attempted. The shoulders were shaped using short-rows. The sleeve was made by first cabling the cuff side-ways, adding a finished edge, and then knitting up the rest of the sleeve. The collar was knit up, the edges finished, and then attached. I'm now making her Portland sweater out of Chuckanut Bay Perendale 10-ply yarn. Ooodles of cables!

The patterns in the book are fairly straightforward for an intermediate knitter. Watch your gauge, though. I found that many of the patterns really require aran weight yarn, and I had to go a needle size up even on the Patons Classic Wool. Normally I'm dead on guage. If in doubt, use heavier yarn. That being said, there are some gorgeous sweaters in the book, and as soon as I finish these projects up, there are several others in the book I want to do. And I rarely do that many projects from one book. I highly recommend it if you love patterned knitting.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

What To Do When Your Pear Tree Won't Bloom

For six years I have not-so-patiently waited for my other pear tree to bloom. I bought two, one a burly Harrow Delight, which has bloomed its little heart out since year one, and the other, Highland, which bloomed only its first year.

I made certain that it wasn't getting too much nitrogen (read: forbidding Mr. E to fertilize the lawn anywhere near the orchard area.), it had the most sun of the two trees, it had ample amounts of phosphorus. So why wouldn't it bloom?

The Harrow Delight has an open habit, which Highland doesn't. All the branches were tightly bunched, vertical, and made the tree look like it was huddling for warmth. So last summer, I took some 12" pieces of lath strips, cut notches into either side, and spread the branches until they were at a 45 degree angle. The thinking is, that it simulates fruit load on the branches, and then the plant is reminded that it's actually supposed to be putting out fruit. Otherwise it'll just happily grow, huddled.

And this spring, for the first time since I planted it, the Highland pear is going to bloom. Pears this fall!!!

If you've never grown your own pears, I highly recommend them. My Harrow Delight was once freakishly pollinated by a neighbor's tree, some 300-400 yards away, and out of line-of-sight. The three pears I got were the most juicy, tender, melt-in-your-mouth, buttery pears I have ever eaten. So you'll understand how frustrated I've been at Highland not blooming, and how excited I am at the prospect of 25-30lbs of pears this fall, and up to 200lbs of pears in the future.

I'm not the only one. Thing 2 has already put in his order for Spiced Apple Pear Freezer Butter from The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, a double batch, thank you.