Wednesday, July 28, 2010


When I set out to prepare the raised beds this spring I discovered just 'how firm a foundation' we really have around here. Too firm, in the sense of having too many rocks, but also not firm enough. Take away the rocks and you're left with mostly sand, some silt, and very little organic matter. I submit these two pictures to illustrate my previous plight and some solutions I've developed in response.

In the image above you can see the tools and maybe get an idea of the method I use for sifting out rocks. Leaning against the wheelbarrow is a home-built screen of 1/2" hardware cloth fastened to a 2x4 frame. When I was making this screen a few years ago, I was surprised to learn that hardware cloth isn't really fabric, but screen. Well, why don't we call it metal screen? 'Hardware cloth' seems to be one of those terms developed to create a crowd of those in the know and those who've yet to learn. Like dimensional lumber. Whose idea was it to make a 2x4 smaller than 2 inches by 4 inches? Just another method of exclusion and tradecraft skill/knowledge protection, if you ask me.

So I lay the screen on the wheelbarrow, then shovel on some dirt. After shaking vigorously (sliding the screen back and forth) I dump the remaining rocks behind the wheelbarrow over the handles. The sand/silt and pea gravel that remains gets mixed with compost about 50/50 and dumped back into the bed or simply dumped into the bed then later amended with compost. Hard to believe this picture was taken on April 10 of this year (2010).

In this picture above you can see the 'threshold' I made using a few fine specimens of stone I found during the raised bed excavations. This was a fun little project I decided to do one afternoon when the berry beds had been completed.

The compost you see between the beds and the grass is area that used to be weed cloth and pea gravel just like the paths around the raised beds. In fact, if you look into the raised bed just beyond the threshold you can see some weed fabric (it really is fabric, not metal screen) laying in the bed frame. This image was captured on March 20, 2010.

The composted area has since been seeded and has grown in nicely. I need to add more fine compost to raise up the ground level to match the existing ground. The new ground settled more than I thought it would.

In an upcoming post I'll share what I've been reading about (hint: the soil food web) and how hay mulch fits into that picture.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Summer Update with Broccoli

Compare the first two photos with the ones from the garden tour post. These were taken Thursday, July 15, 2010.

The largest corn stalks are the three from the seed I had planted. The rest are from the Wells' garden. The little cuke plant has a tiny 2" cuke developing. That monster broccoli plant yielded a 1 lb 3 oz head. The largest carrots are about pencil thick but long and straight and well formed. Notice also two more tomato plants. A third nestled in with them is for a topsy turvy hanging planter. I may put some beans in that space where the dog dug up two corn plants, between the corn and the cucumber/broccoli, and between the corn and carrots. Double-dug beds allow closer spacing.

The potatoes have recovered from their fall now that I've braced them with wire (thanks Frank!), the broccoli plants are producing well, lettuce is still going (hidden beneath the broccoli and potatoes) and the sweet potatoes are really taking off in this warmth.

This broccoli became stir-fried Broccoli Beef. Thanks to Kathy M. for raising the beef. New York Strip makes a nice stir fry beef when thinly sliced. It's so nice to know where your food comes from in this age of lax corporate quality control (e coli on lettuce?), and pesticide & herbicide laden soil.
This was what I found inside the stalk of that 1 lb head of broccoli. Don't worry, the stalks are so good roughly chopped and stir fried with the rest of the florets. What didn't make it into the dish goes back into the soil via the compost. Very little is wasted.
The broccoli I planted was started from seed. It was a Territorial Seed Company blend of four varieties, if memory serves. So I'm not really sure which was which, but the smaller head shown above was a different variety than the larger one. The smaller one had a spicier kick to it raw than the larger, and the stem was a darker green. Both were delicious.
More to come as the summer continues!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Potato Surprise!

Since we each had to preach this Sunday (on the 4th of July) my wife Kristi and I were both pretty well spent yesterday afternoon. This meant we ordered pizza instead of fixing a meal. But today we were busy in the kitchen again. Kristi canned peaches in brown sugar syrup as well as making a peach syrup from the skins & juice. A jar of peaches plus what didn't make it into a full jar went into a casserole dish followed by a box of cake mix and some butter. After a half-hour at 350, she poured some of the peach syrup on top and back it went for another 15 minutes. It's the classic campfire peach cobbler and it sure is delicious.

I harvested our spinach. This was washed (see photo) and became creamed spinach. I sauteed a small onion finely chopped along with a clove of garlic, pressed. In bacon grease, of course. Then I wilted the spinach in batches, adding another handful once the previous had settled down. After it was thoroughly wilted and dark green I cooked most of the water off. Next I stirred in probably 2/3 a cup of half n half. To finish, I added freshly ground nutmeg, salt and pepper. It's amazing how a great big bowl of spinach, some leaves nearly as big as my hand, turns into a scant skillet of soppy green goodness.

But that's not all. The main course was a rack of ribs from Tony Romas. These are the kind you let out of the package into a hot oven then pour the sauce over once they're warmed. Real good, real easy. Also corn on the cob. We cut off the ends, wrap in saran, then microwave for 5 minutes. Yum.

The surprise came from the potatoes. It was a double surprise. The first came when Kristi suggested baked potatoes to go with the rest of the meal. Fine. Surprise - the potatoes in the pantry had long since begun to sprout. So I thought we'd just make do with spinach, corn & ribs. Surprise #2 came from the garden. After harvesting the spinach I decided to sneak a peak at our own potato patch.

Lo and behold I found spuds! In an area not more than a foot square I found eight little beauties, shown here washed & peeled - all one step when they're this new. I just reached down under the earth until I found a round thing and pulled it out. I had already cleared away the rocks so it was truly wonderful to find actual spuds (not 'spanaway spuds' - a local nickname for the rapacious river rocks found throughout our soil). These I cut into chunks, boiled then mashed with butter and half n half.

That's all for today. Thanks for reading!


Saturday, July 3, 2010

Fruits & Berries

One of my early childhood memories is sitting in a strawberry patch. Naturally, in the Northwest, we must have fruits and berries. At our home in Kelso I had planted 20 feet of everbearing raspberries, an unknown variety passed on to me by a semi-retired pastor who had received them from his daughter, who took possesion of them when she moved into her home in Port Angeles, I believe. It was a shame to leave them behind. However, I managed to bring two cat litter tubs full of healthy canes with me. They had established well enough to be quite fruitful and multiply.

We also brought with us to Puyallup a pair of blueberry bushes. These are Ellicott and Northland varieties we had purchased as bare root plants from Costco. One of them is pictured below.
Also making the journey to our new home were three half-barrels full of strawberry plants. Again, I have no idea of the variety, but the barrels and the berries came from a friend in the congregation where I served at Longview, WA. One barrel still contains second-generation strawberry plants from the originals I was given. After they are finished this year I'll pull them out to make room for another blueberry bush I bought for my wife for Mother's Day. The other two barrels have already been cleaned out and will take the other two blueberry bushes after they finish fruiting and before the plants go dormant.

As I mentioned previously, one of the small 3'x5' beds contained strawberries. These are quinalts. Very tasty. In order to make room for other veggies, I created a strawberry patch in our front yard, pictured below. This strip gets good morning sun and even late afternoon sun shining between our house and the neighbor's place. It's about 4'x10'. I transplanted 48 strawberry plants - 24 quinalts and 24 of whatever it was we brought with us.
We gave away many strawberry plants after clearing out the barrels and the small raised bed. This year has not produced as many strawberries as the last. Last year gave us enough to snack on and make a pie. (Before we left Kelso, the raspberries there had given us enough for 4-5 pies that summer!) But this year we are getting blueberries off our bushes, and last year we harvested 3 dozen pears from our pear tree!

With that segue, we have two pear trees and two apple trees in our back yard. There's also a cherry tree that seems to be doing better this year than last. Last year I got approximately a dozen cherries off the tree. We'll see how this year goes. The pear tree that produced so well last year only has a half-dozen fruit so far this year. Neither apple tree has done well yet. I think they're not in a good spot. We'll put manure around them and wait another year, otherwise they may become applewood chips for barbeque!

Last year at a local farmer's market we purchased a couple thornless blackberry canes. They have established well. Also, I have received many new raspberry canes from a family member of a church member at my current congregation, Bethany Lutheran in Spanaway. They seem to be doing very well, with signs of fruit as well as new canes emerging.
Here's to a fruitful summer!