"United we bargain, divided we beg."

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fair Photos (Northwest Washington Fair 2011)

I love fairs. Everybody loves fairs, don't they? I mean, who wouldn't - it's high summer, hotter than a longshoreman's armpit, and harvest season is in it's first full flush. If you are a farmer, you've been busting your butt all year and are just now seeing the payoff - whether it is in the form of the year's crop of young animals...

...or the bounty from the vegetable garden.

Finally, you get the chance to take a day off and go see the results of other people's labor. Look around and see the array of skills that you don't have yourself, but appreciate. My favorite is the quilting exhibit.

This was a style I have never seen at the fair before - I think it is Mexican, although other cultures also use this beautiful technique.

This is a detail of the Grand Prize Best in Show quilt.

There are delightful oddities to gawk at...

...and of course you have to buy a few tickets for the kids to enjoy the rides...

After a full day of walking around in the heat in August, eating corn dogs or funnel cakes or gyros (or possibly all three), you're bound to feel a little tired....

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Couple of Success Stories

Kosher dill (US)

A "kosher" dill pickle is not necessarily kosher in the sense that it has been prepared under rabbinical supervision. Rather, it is a pickle made in the traditional manner of Jewish New York City pickle makers, with generous addition of garlic and dill weed to a natural salt brine.[3][4][5]

Whereas in Germany and Poland dill pickles have been prepared for hundreds of years, in the US at least one New York restaurant was serving dill pickles in the nineteenth century.[6]

In New York terminology, a "full-sour" kosher dill is one that has fully fermented, while a "half-sour," given a shorter stay in the brine, is still crisp and bright green.[7] Elsewhere, these pickles may sometimes be termed "old' and "new" dills.

That's from wikipedia. Some people call vinegar-processed pickles "kosher dills," but I'm going with my heart - real kosher dills are lacto-fermented, preserved by the same process that creates sauerkraut and kim chee. Mine turned out fantastic.

After a couple of weeks in the big crock, I tried them. I was at first seriously disappointed - they were almost inedibly salty. I had followed a recipe and used the "correct" amount of salt, but clearly there was a problem with the recipe.

In an effort to save my pickles from the rash heap, I poured off half the brine and replaced it with plain water. Two days later, I noticed that the surface of the liquid was covered with mold. This is, contrary to common sense, a GOOD thing! All sources informed me of the inevitability of mold and of it's harmlessness. Just scoop it off, my sources say. Most likely, the lack of mold before I switched out the brine was an indication of it's excessive saltiness.

The next time I tasted them, the pickles were perfect. Really amazingly good. Absolutely what I was trying for - a near-exact replicatrion of the kosher dills I remember from the New York deli cases of my childhood.

My kids, however, who normally scarf up pickles like there's no tomorrow, were a bit confused and put off by the lactic-acid sourness. It is different from vinegar sourness, no doubt. I explained to them that these were "old fashioned" pickles, and therefore "better" than the ones they were used to. We'll see - if the kids don't eat them, I will do it myself.

I have removed the pickles from the crock, packed them into new jars, covered them with fresh brine, and refrigerated them. The truth is, they were getting awfully sour... -

My other success story is cabbages. This year is my first year growing cabbages - my usual gardening calculus favors growing expensive vegetables like tomatoes and corn, so cabbages haven't rated in the past - and I wasn't expected such success. Eight green cabbages grew to enormous size. We have eaten three, and five remain. It is definitely time to harvest them - the slugs are starting to eat around the edges - but I don't know what to do with twenty pounds of cabbage all at once.

Sauerkraut, I guess!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Canning Tomatoes (Staple Supply)

My tomatoes didn't do so well this year - a combination of early blight and some more recent malady that causes the vines to wither before the fruit is ripe has severely limited my tomato supply. Not that I would have had enough tomatoes to can in any case - I only planted about sixteen plants, of varying type. But I had hoped to have plenty of tomatoes for eating out of hand. Instead, we have only been able to pick a few here and there. There are lots of green tomatoes still, but I doubt they will ripen, at this point. Whatever I decide to do with the green tomatoes, it will not be what I did last year: Canning Wrap Up (Green Tomato Chutney) Green tomato chutney, while delicious in very small quantities, is not a solution for what to do with several pounds of unripe tomatoes.

However, I did very much want to can tomatoes. Canned tomatoes are a staple on my pantry shelves, as I suspect they are on most people's. Usually, I buy a case of diced tomatoes at Costco and go through the eight cans in a month. I have maybe twenty or thirty recipes in my weeknight dinner heavy rotation, and probably a third of them call for a can of diced tomatoes. Tomatoes are a highly seasonal crop - the only place in the United States that produces winter tomatoes is south Florida, and the conditions under which those tomatoes are produced (Warning, Politics Ahead) are such that I choose not to buy them. You can also get fresh tomatoes in winter from Mexico, but conditions there are almost as bad.

I don't go so far as to try and find out where the tomatoes in my favorite brand of canned tomatoes are sourced from. I might be able to do that, with a few hours on the phone, but I feel I have done my duty if I try my utmost to furnish the pantry with canned tomatoes made from fresh local summer tomatoes, canned by my own hands. Then, when I inevitably have to buy tomatoes in January or February, I can at least console myself with the memory of all the home canned tomatoes I used up first.

Therefore, I ordered a crate of organic romas from my local grower. For $30, I got enough romas to make 12 pints of sauce. More, actually, but twelve pints is as many as I can can in a day (I need a bigger kettle). Naturally, I chose the hottest day of the year to do my canning. Why is it that all canning takes place in August? There must be a reason...

My tomato sauce contains nothing but tomatoes, garlic, and salt, to make it more versatile. There are still about 15 pounds of tomatoes on the counter, which I have neither the time nor the jars to can. I think I will follow my sister's advice and simply freeze them whole. She tells me that washed tomatoes can be frozen whole and then, when you want to use them, you simply run warm water over them and skins loosen and can be easily slipped off.

It certainly would be less time consuming, not to mention less energy intensive. But then, would I really feel as industrious, as virtuous, pulling a ziploc out of the freezer as I do opening the cupboard to see a row of gleaming ruby jars?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pajaretas (Goat Milk Cocktail)

Yesterday's goat slaughtering turned into quite a party. It was a gorgeous day but hot, and the men doing the butchering worked up a thirst early on. By the time the two goats were finished (we had originally thought we would process all four but that was just too much work) and one was tucked neatly into a giant kettle steaming away on top of a propane ring, the guys had worked their way through most of a case of Corona.

For myself, I made a pitcher of mojitos - I have a truly splendid patch of mint - and sipped on that while I made red salsa and green salsa, a pasta salad, and the various other accoutrements. My sister and her family showed up for the meal and she helped me out a little with the mojitos. Then our next door neighbors showed up and brought a bottle of whiskey with them.

It sounds like quite the bacchanal, but nobody got too lubricated. There was so much food. We decided to eat outside, and Homero dragged the milking stand over to the fire pit to serve as the sideboard. We simply laid out all the dishes, along with a tall stack of tortillas and some paper plates, lifted the lid off of the kettle, and let everyone make up their own tacos to their specifications. The meat was delicious and tender, falling off the bone. I think I ate six tacos.

Then we laid back in our canvas camping chairs and talked and laughed and drank while the children ran around playing. The hours drifted by. My sister and her family waved goodbye, and sometime later our neighbors walked across the field home. We picked at the food and told stories and threw bones to the dogs. The sun lowered in the west and the mosquitos came out, but nobody cared by that point.

Our friend C. suggested, after we ran out of beer, that rather than drink straight whiskey we try a rustic Mexican cocktail that a friend of his had introduced him to back home in Oaxaca. I have no idea who invented the "pajareta" nor where nor when, but that anonymous Mexican goatherd was a genius. Now I'm warning you, this is going to sound hideous. But trust me, it's actually delicious.

Well, you will just have to trust me, because unless you have an in-milk nanny-goat, you aren't going to be able to try it yourself anyway. C. told me to go get a jar and put a few spoonfuls of chocolate milk mix in it (in Mexico they use "chocomil" or Nestle's quick). I, of course, don't have any chocolate milk mix, but I did have some plain unsweetened powdered cocoa. I used a heaping teaspoon of cocoa and three heaping teaspoons of sugar and brought the jar back. C. added a healthy three shots of whiskey to the jar and swirled it around. Then we brought out the goat and - after clearing the milking stand of the detritus of the meal - milked her straight into the jar. I'd say we aded about a pint of fresh hot goat's milk to the chocolate and whiskey.

Then we divided it up and drank it. It was utterly fantastic ("udderly," ha ha), and no I'm not kidding. Sweet, creamy, frothy, chocolatey, and smooth, with a kick. I know this sounds bizarre, and maybe it is. But it was also the perfect capper for our goat party.

Trust me.


for three people:

1 heaping teaspoon hershey's unsweetened cocoa powder
3 heaping teaspoons sugar
3 healthy jiggers whiskey
mix in the bottom of a quart jar.
1 pint goat's milk straight from the teat.

pour into three cups and share, preferably around a fire outdoors.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Redneck Shopping List

This is how much of a redneck I've become: my shopping list for today? A case of beer, propane, and bullets.

It's goat slaughtering day. Our friend C. is here with his family, and all four baby goats are meeting their end today. One will be cooked up for the taco feast later on, one will go home with C. as his pay, and the other two will go in the freezer.

At this point, we've done this enough times that I no longer feel the need to take a bunch of pictures and post about the process. I've listed some related posts which do have photos and musings if anyone cares to get the details.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Workload (Bitching and Moaning)

Everywhere I rest my eyes I see a pile of work waiting to be done. I literally can't look in any direction without seeing some kind of mess. Everything goes to hell in a handbasket so much faster than I can maintain it. The grass grows faster than I can cut it; the weeds engulf the garden and go to seed faster than I can pull them; the goat's hooves grow faster than I can trim them. Fences get mashed down, paint flakes, deck planks succumb to rot. Clothes get holey and stained. Floors get sticky and disgusting and dishes pile up with incredible speed.

This house is twice as big as my old house, there's more than twice as much housework, now that we have a farm and a mechanic's shop on premises. Take sweeping, for example - just sweeping. It seems there we have about a half-acre of floors in this house, and I can easily spend thirty minutes or so sweeping. And then, fifteen minutes later, it looks exactly the same.
Where DOES all the dirt come from?

Outside, yes, I know.

And the kitchen - this being August, I am naturally doing a lot of canning and other types of food processing. There is a never ending stream of grubby bug-covered produce coming in the door, and a never ending pile of scraps and peelings going out. There is always a compost bucket full of vegetable scraps on the counter, and the fruit flies are having a heyday. No matter how quickly I remove the bucket, it is never quick enough to avoid fruit flies. Canning plus regular three-times-a-day cooking means that there is almost always something on the stove, and sure as God made little green apples, something will boil over or spill every day. Then we have an oil slick on the floor or a shiny patch of irremoveable jam-laquer on the stovetop, or maybe a quietly stagnating milk-puddle under the fridge.

I make no pretense of being a good housekeeper. Even in my smaller house and with only one child, I was a pretty piss-poor housekeeper. Here in this rambling, sprawling old farmhouse with three kids and a farm, there's just no getting around the fact that I'm in over my head. Let me take you on a little tour:

The compost pile needs turning - it hasn't been turned in so long that it is growing it's own cover crop of weeds. This is heavy work for me. I can do it, but only very slowly, and for a half hour or so. After that, my bad shoulder starts to pain me and I will pay for it for a week or two if I try to push it. Mostly, I leave the compost pile to Homero, with the results you see here.

The lawn, covered in false dandelions and thistles. I don't care much for neatly kept lawns, but I do like to keep at least one small patch cut short and relatively weed free, just enough to toss a frisbee or lay down a blanket for a picnic. I have no excuse, because the lawnmower is actually working, for once. This year, Homero only had to fix it twice - a record. Knock on wood.

Can you find the cabbages in amongst the weeds? Hint: there are at least four.

Laundry on the line - er, the fence. The dryer has been broken for a month now. Since it is high summer, there's been no great urgency about fixing it. However, I find that after the seven hundredth load, hauling a big wet bag of laundry outside and hanging it up piece by piece kind of loses its charm. I've fallen behind. Way behind. How far behind? Here, look:

The laundry room - a month without the dryer has caused a backup that totally overwhelms our hamper-capacity. Luckily, the room has pocket doors and I can just slide them closed when it all becomes too much.

There's so much more that I haven't the fortitude to document with the camera, much less actually do something about.

There's a thirty-foot length of fencing that is mashed to the ground and the goats can get out, although oddly, they haven't yet.

It's time to muck out the barn, which is a day's work - hard, sweaty, stinky work.

We need to go to the dump.

Goat's hooves need trimming.

Time to sort out the kid's clothes in advance of the school year, and get rid of everything that is hopelessly worn, too small, or stained beyond redemption. Then shop for new (I mean, new to US of course. Goodwill is my best friend.) clothes.

I could go on and on, but I feel a wave of lethargy overtaking me. I think I need a hot bath... just as soon as I scrub out the tub!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Fermentation Files (Wild Pickles)

I've tried lots of different methods of preserving food in the past four years. I've learned about canning (see last post) and dehydrating; about root cellaring and fermenting. Even the more mundane, mainstream methods - such as freezing - have involved a fair amount of learning. From picking out a chest freezer to buying a half steer, from learning how to wrap home butchered meat for the freezer to discovering how to freeze strawberries without turning them into mush, I found that even freezing isn't quite as straightforward as you might think.

I learned that there's really no reason to buy one of those silly five tray electric dehydrators - it only does what your oven or the dashboard of you car on a hot summer day can do, but slower and less efficiently. Drying is a wonderful way to preserve small, whole fruits like berries and tomatoes, but it's a major hassle to make fruit leather or something like that. I haven't tried jerky. I don't actually like jerky very much. Drying therefore has played a minor role in my food preservation arsenal thus far, but I'm glad to know how to do it right, in case I ever get a truly bumper crop of tomatoes, for example. Also, the kids love dried apples and pears to take to school in their lunches, and I have a pear tree that pops out pears like nobody's business. Dried pears - organic ones - cost somewhere in the vicinity of an arm and a leg, so if you have organic pears falling all over your backyard for free, it seems a shame not to dehydrate a few.

Due to an accident of fate (Mold Monster Update), I now have an excellent cold storage area - a closet with an uninsulated, exterior wall. That is where I keep my dry goods for long term storage (buckets of beans and rice, etc) and where, in season, I store winter squash, apples, and roots.

My relationship with wild fermentation is ongoing... I have had some successes and some failures, just like anything, I guess. My favorite type of wild fermentation is sourdough, and I have become, if I do say so myself, a hell of a breadmaker (Fun With Sourdough). Attempts at Kim Chee and sauerkraut have yielded mixed results (The Alchemy of Cabbage (A Little Knowledge Can Be a Good Thing)). And Brewing has been been an absolute, unmitigated failure
(New To Farm Life: Cider Season). I will try brewing again - I just can't let the process of making hard cider defeat me.

Next up in fermentation: kosher dills. I believe I may have mentioned once or twice that we love pickles around here. We do, we do indeed. And I always make a good quantity of pickles - bread and butter pickles, canned dills, pickled asparagus, dilly beans, hot peas, beets - all kinds of vinegar based pickles. I haven't tried crock-cured lacto-fermented kosher dills yet.

But they are, of course, the very best kind of pickle. When I was a child holding on to my mother's hand and peering into the deli case of a real Jewish deli in New York City, it was the pickles that caught my eye and what I would always plead for. They were enormous - great green zeppelins - and so wonderfully sour. A giant pickle was, for me, a better treat than a stick of candy.

Let's hope for the best - I had a terrible time finding enough pickling cukes this year, but finally I scored enough to make it worthwhile, about four pounds. At a garage sale a while ago, I found a marvelous three gallon glass lidded jar, and that's what I used for my pickle crock. A neighbor supplied the grape leaves - they are in there for their high tannin content, to keep the pickles crisp - and the onions and garlic. I'll let you know how they turn out in a week or so!

Fermented Foods: Fermented Pickle Recipe

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Controversial Canning (A Confession)

These last four years, I've done a lot of canning. In past years, before I moved up here, I know I must have canned at least a few times, but I can't for the life of me remember doing it. I just know that when I made my first batch of jam up here, I wasn't doing it for the first time.

So I guess I can't really remember how I learned to can. I do remember watching my mother can when I was quite small, when we lived in Woodinville before the divorce. My dad put in a good sized garden every year and mom would usually preserve something at least once or twice a summer. My memories are vague rather than specific: standing near - but behind - my mother as she peered into a large steaming kettle; the wooden spoon, stained red with strawberry juice; touching the tops of the hot jars to see if they had sealed properly. I certainly don't remember any lessons happening.

Canning is intimidating; there's so much work involved, for one thing. Another thing I remember is my mom all sweaty and angry with her hair hanging down and tomatoes everywhere. Now I know why - dealing with twenty or thirty pounds of ripe fruit is a lot of work. Washing jars and finding lids and carrying kettles of boiling water around is hard work. Forcing gallons of applesauce or tomato paste through a foodmill is excruciatingly hard work. Hot work, too. And it always happens in August.

Then there's the fact that home canning can kill you. If you read a book on the subject (the Ball Blue Book is the best known and the most venerable: Amazon.com: Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (0797190001428 ...) you will come away convinced that legions of Americans die every year from improperly home canned food. My general impression, when I first looked into home canning, was that the annual death toll from botulism in this country was on a par with, oh, say, traffic accidents. In actual fact, the incidence of botulism from home canned foods between 1990 and 2000 in the united states was approximately one in ten million (Botulism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

Now here's where things get controversial. As anyone who cans, or who has read a book on canning knows, there are two methods for home canning: the water-bath and pressure canning. Water bath canning involves filling sterilized jars with food and then immersing them in boiling water for a length of time. Water bath canning is safe for all high acid foods like tomatoes, chutneys, pickles, and also for high sugar foods such as jams and jellies. Pressure canning involves a pressure canner, which allows the cook to achieve temperatures higher that that of boiling water, temperatures high enough to kill the pathogen that causes botulism.

I have always avoided pressure canning. It just intimidates me. I do OWN a pressure cooker, but I'm not totally sure how to use it, and I think I lost the regulator. Once when I was a child, my mom was cooking beans in a pressure cooker and there was an explosion and boiling beans hit the ceiling with such force that that it rained beans. The stain never left the ceiling. Nor is that the only pressure cooker explosion I know about. In fact, my sister's sister-in-law (got that?) suffered third degree burns over 16% of her body in a pressure cooker explosion. She was in the hospital for a week. I think my brother may also have experienced some kind of pressure-cooker blowout but I'm not sure.

So on the one hand, we have a one in ten million incidence of botulism (which, by the way, has a 4% fatality rate in adults), and on the other hand we have two or possibly three incidents in my immediate experience of catastrophic pressure-cooker accidents, with serious injury. I think I am justified in being more frightened of pressure cookers than I am of home-canned food.

Now to be clear - I am NOT advocating that anyone disregard the United States Government's recommendations on home canning procedures. They are very sensible, free, and you can read them here: National Center for Home Food Preservation | USDA Publications. But I AM saying that I personally am not going to break out the pressure cooker.

That does limit me as far as what I can can. I can can (la da da-da-da-da, la da da DAH- da-da-da, la da DAH-da-da-da dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum...) tomatoes, all types of pickles, salsas, chutneys, and jams and jellies. I can not can vegetables, fish or meats.

But it seems to me there's a little wiggle room there. I know that what matters is the acid level. I should do a little research into what the actual acceptable levels of acid are that permit water bath canning. If you add a tablespoon of lemon juice to your green beans, is that enough? Are you really flirting with a gruesome death if you water-bath can eggplant caponata?

Well I hope not, because that's what I did yesterday. That's a jar of eggplant caponata at the top of this column, and a thing of beauty, too. There was a sale on eggplants at Trader Joe's. They always have the MOST beautiful eggplants there - I don't know why, but their eggplants are larger, firmer, glossier, and purpler than any other eggplants. And cheap, too. I got three for under $5. In the house I had the other ingredients: tomatoes, herbs, and celery from the garden, onions and garlic from my neighbor's garden, raisins in the pantry. Caponata is meant to be rather acid, but to be on the safe side, I added more than the usual amount of vinegar, and therefore more than the usual amount of sugar, too. In fact, I added so much extra sugar and vinegar that I think I can call the result a chutney.... which is perfectly safe to water-bath can....

The fact is, I fudge. I don't follow recipes. I use my common sense, born of experience. Am I an expert? Heck no! But I am a very experienced cook, and I am growing more experienced with canning every year. Also I am a trained nurse, and I know the difference between clean technique, sterile technique, and how to maintain a sterile field. It may be that when I do more research I find I am wrong - hunches are often wrong - but my hunch is that the danger involved in canning comes from inadequately sterilized equipment BEFORE it is processed, and that if great care is taken to sterilize jars, tongs, spoons, etc, then the method pf processing is less important.

In any case, if you are on my Christmas list don't worry - I will only send you absolutely 100% safe stuff like pickles and jam. But here at home I will be eating my caponata. And I may even can chile! Or soup! Hell, I'm a renegade! I already feed my children raw MILK!

But that's a post for another day...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Rest of Yesterday's Post (Garden Update)

I'm not sure what happened yesterday, but the last few paragraphs of the post failed to appear. I got cut off right in the middle of recounting my garden successes, which are few enough that I really want everybody to hear about them!

Let's see, here's the tail end of yesterday's column: My first crop of potatoes - April - rotted in the ground and I had to re-plant in May. Those potatoes are doing okay but the ones that really took off are the late potatoes I planted in mid June. I thought it would be too late but those taters look better than almost anything else! Other things which are doing well are my celery (slow to start but now taking off); cabbage; eggplant...

... and tomatillos - this is the first year I've tried them, too, thinking they were a hot weather crop, but they've done so beautifully that I think I will plant them every year. Of course, I may be jinxing them, because although the foliage is exuberant and they are covered with pretty yellow flowers, no fruit has set yet.

My winter squashes are also looking fantastic, and the buttercup has about twelve fruits set. We also planted one giant pumpkin vine because the feed store was giving the plants away free if you entered the "grow the biggest pumpkin" contest. Normally when I plant pumpkins I plant sweet pie pumpkins, but a free plant is a free plant. Well, that vine is now enormous, almost scarily enormous. All by itself it takes up a full 4 x 8 foot bed and sprawls out over the grass. No pumpkins yet, though. Lots of flowers. I doubt we will bother with the contest - I'd rather have several smaller Jack O' Lanterns and no one giant.

I planted eight green cabbages in the area my neighbor plowed for me, which is another new crop for me. Those guys are doing spectacularly - giant, bright green, and forming heads. Wonder what I will do with eight huge cabbages? Sauerkraut?

My pickling cucumbers are doing the same thing they did last year - lots of vine growth and lots of flowers but few cukes. Not sure what's up there, must be pollinators, no? And the chile peppers were an almost complete failure. Most of the plants died, after a long period in which they just stayed the same size, which was baffling. For like eight weeks I had small, healthy looking, shiny-leafed pepper plants about four inches high. They never changed. Then they started to die. These were the ones in the greenhouse - the few that I transplanted outside are all alive, though not looking very impressive.

My tomatoes are my biggest disappointment. About half of them got early blight, due I presume to the cold wet spring. The other half lived and have set fruit, but the foliage is dying back already and the tomatoes themselves are thick skinned and refuse to ripen. They look dehydrated, but that can't be. I water them obsessively. My sister says they may be in containers too small for them and have stunted roots.

Anyway - I am feeling pretty good about this year's garden. I have even started my fall garden - about twenty mixed brassicas: kohlrabi, red cabbage, cauliflower. There's not much doubt this will be my best year up here so far. I will never be what you might call a stellar gardener, and I'm so grateful to know good gardeners with whom I can trade animal products for vegetable products, but I do enjoy it, and it's very nice to have a few success stories.

Monday, August 1, 2011

My Garden History (August Update)

Every year since I was nineteen years old, I've put in a garden of some kind. Nineteen was the first year I had any dirt of my own to work with, and it wasn't much; just a bit of vacant lot behind the old theatre I was squatting in in south Seattle. I planted peas, and come summer I couldn't tell the peas I had planted from the natural vetch that was springing up anyway.

Some years my garden was only a few potted herbs, which usually died sad and lonely deaths of neglect on hot windowsills. After I moved into my first house one of the first things I did was plow up the back lawn and start planting. My mother gave me two apple trees as a moving in present, and those trees are still alive and doing fine. Just the other day, in fact, I drove by the old house and noticed that the trees are up over the roofline and it's high time somebody did some serious pruning.

In any case, I can't take much credit for the gardens in those early years - most of the impetus came from my Dad, on the one hand, and my then-boyfriend, Kevin, on the other. Where I envisioned a polite twenty by twenty plot with a few tomatoes and beans, the two of them went to town with a rototiller and eviscerated the entire backyard. We must have had some decent soil in that suburban yard, because for several years an extremely good garden arose: I have pictures of twelve foot high sunflowers; sprawling pumpkin vines; respectable corn stalks; and exuberant scarlet runner beans.

As a matter of fact, there is a high likelihood that I owe my happy marriage to that garden. My husband tells me that on the occasion that he first spent the night at my house (a few days after I met him - I work fast), he was amazed and delighted to see a good-sized patch of tall corn stalks in a small urban plot. Being Mexican, he must have seen the corn as a good omen. Or perhaps he thought a thriving garden presaged a hardworking woman - little did he know my father was doing most of the work. In any case, that corn was no small part of his decision to ask me out again. So thank you, Chicomecoatl, Aztec corn goddess.

When we moved up here, we were faced with some serious garden challenges. This land had previously been used as a dairy farm, and most of what was available was compacted and highly over-nitrogenated. Not to mention tons of construction debris that had simply been plowed into the ground and left there. This is some of the debris that came out of the ground when we finally hired somebody with big machinery to dig it all up:
My guess is a couple of tons. And there is no doubt more - every time we wield a shovel we hit some kind of twisted metal. But at least we have finally removed enough crap that we can more or less plow and more or less sow and more or less use the land like land is meant to be used.

I have tried a number of different ways to raise a garden here - far too many to go into right now, at eight o'clock of a lovely summer evening. In some future post I may compare in-ground planting to container gardening and write up a review of my new greenhouse. For now, I simply want to give an overview of this year's vegetable based food production:

1) the orchard - the baby goats escaped sometime in June and in twenty minutes did an insane amount of damage. The four surviving fruit trees from last year's planting are just barely alive. I think three will certainly live, and one looks like a goner. But the ones that live will have been put back a full year or more. Damn goats, I will take a grim satisfaction in cutting their little throats come October. Otherwise, the older fruit trees are doing well - no plums on the bum plum tree, but the pears are producing beautifully and the two cherries have provided a small but delicious crop. The blueberry bushes look like they are planning on producing a bumper crop. The goats ate the raspberry canes down to the ground - and it would have been the first year, too! - but at least the canes will survive. All in all, the orchard is a qualified success.

2) the greenhouse - maybe I need to read up more on how to make use of a greenhouse in this climate. This was my first year with a greenhouse, and it is true that (a) it was never finished properly, and never sealed, and is therefore quite drafty, and (b) this was an unusually cold and wet spring, with nothing like normal weather until mid-May. I am sad to report that the greenhouse didn't provide me with anything like the benefits I had hoped for - I may have gained a week or two on salad greens and I still have hopes for some things I would never have tried without a greenhouse like cantaloupes and eggplants, but for the most part, I have been disappointed. Before the rains start this fall, I will try and force my husband to seal the sucker up with silicone.

3) The garden - My early crops (peas, spinach, radishes, arugula) didn't do very well due to the crazy cold wet spring. Even the ones I planted in the green house did poorly, though exactly why I can't say. Many of the things I plant in containers do poorly and I think it is due to the hard, clay-ey soil that sets up like a rock if not watered five times a day. My first crop of potatoes - April - rotted in the ground and I had to re-plant in May. Those potatoes are doing okay but the ones that really took off are the late potatoes I planted in mid June. I thought it would be too late but those taters look better than almost anything else!

Other things which are doing well are my celery (slow to start but now taking off); cabbage; eggplant;