December 28, 2007

There is a reason why no gardening book out there contains a paragraph entitled “Tips for Transplanting a Mature Asparagus Bed”. There aren’t any.

Five years ago, a combination of inexperience and simply not thinking led me to plant a row of asparagus crowns six feet away from a row of blackberries. After the second year, it was pretty clear that this had been a Really Bad Idea. But what to do? Moving a mess like that is a ton of work. Better to ignore it, maybe it will go away…By the third year, the thinking was, “We really should move it, but there just isn’t time”. Fourth year went something like, “We could harvest it if we could still see it”. And this year came down to *sigh* “Just Do It”.

Part of what helped is that we now have a row crop garden to which to move the crowns, something that didn’t really exist at this time last year. Still, it was a huge job. I didn’t want to dig the crowns up manually. If you’ve never seen what asparagus does, imagine that one year, you plant a daddy-long-legs spider with extra legs. Then the legs grow deep into the earth, and make more and more legs, and they go deep as well. Years later, the thing looks like an alien in a budget movie, the roots are 2 feet and longer, and it is this mass that lets a crown produce harvestable asparagus. If you use a shovel, you set yourself back 2-3 years….

So, we borrowed back our old tractor, and four feet at a time, excavated the crowns with the front loader, drove to the new bed, and as best as was possible set the crowns down. This was a tough job even for the tractor, it was hard to dig deep enough to lift the entire crown out. I’m pretty sure I accidentally destroyed the first three crowns I tried to do, and then someone who has a few decades more experience in the driver’s seat figured out how to do it right. Anyway, the transplant is complete, 2 hours ahead of the first rain drops. The only loss is that instead of being a pretty, even bed, it sort of undulates like a bad Chinese dragon…well, maybe the dirt will settle…..

December 16, 2007

I realized yesterday that I had invented a new way to make smoked turkey. Rake up all the mess in the turkey pens into little piles just prior to sunset, add accelerant, light, and watch as the roosting birds vanish and reappear amidst great drifts of billowing smoke. Okay, bad joke. With rain coming, we worked long hours this weekend to do as much as possible before the wet weather. We sowed three full beds of the rare, Afghani black garbanzo beans that I worked last year to grow into a seed stock. We sowed a second solid bed of heirloom lettuce. Transplanted dozens of turnips, chard, fennel, and arugula. Weeded. Cultivated. Harvested and stored yacon tubers and whatever those things are that will grow into next year’s plants. And of course, raked and burned the big poultry pen. In case anyone is wondering why we burn all that mess, the answer is, it’s just easier. In the course of a summer, almond sticks, old vegetable and fruit rinds, weeds, manure, straw and molted feathers create an unsightly layer on the ground. It would take more than 10 wheelbarrow trips to remove the debris, in addition to the extra shoveling, to remove all the mess. And that also implies that the chickens will stay away from any given pile long enough to even get it shoveled into the wheelbarrow…….So although no one really enjoys the smoldering, the mess actually all gets burned up, our backs are a little less sore, and the chickens don’t seem to want to scratch piles that appear to be on fire. During the nights we’ve been weighing, packaging and labeling different dried products like sun dried tomatoes and lavender. Or just trying to cook and eat. And clean the house a little against the next tide of mess. Oh yeah, and Ken is trying to get the heater installed for the greenhouse. Lately I’ve had to light hurricane lamps in there to try to get the temperature up about 5 degrees higher on some really cold nights.

 

The day before, Ken found a turkey that was jumping around on one foot. We caught her and I couldn’t find anything wrong. Upon putting her back down it turned out I had looked at the wrong leg. Some days are like that. Anyway, the poor thing has a broken foot. When I decided to become an EMT I had no idea that I would practice most of my medical skills on poultry. So she now has a spiffy splint of cardboard, duct tape, bandage tape, and a crumpled piece of plastic bag. I’ve found that birds tolerate and even successfully heal broken foot bones if their feet are taped into an orthopedically correct position. In a short time they get used to it, and walk around just like a person would with a leg cast. But if they are left alone, they curl up their toes, and the foot ends up “freezing” in a crippled position, and it just gets worse from there.

 

I expect to spend this coming week in the greenhouse, disinfecting and re-planting the next wave of seeds. There are lots of heirloom lettuce varieties I still want to do for the year, as well as some napa cabbage, and more beets and turnips and fennel. There never seems to be enough root vegetables.

 

Christmas is a week away, but I haven’t felt very festive. Our new kittens, that we are otherwise enjoying a lot, are hell-bent on destroying the house. A decorated tree seems like a dubious idea. We have had to pay ongoing attorney bills, thanks to our worthless neighbor’s insistence on infringing on common sense and easements; we are basically having to deal with them having constructed a fence down the middle of our shared driveway, leaving us and every other vehicle about 6 feet in which to navigate. I was given my first-ever traffic citation on the UC Davis campus (don’t get me started on what a bogus, revenue-trap, frustrating experience this is—I was cited for allegedly failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk when my car and a hedge were blocking the officer’s view of the scene. There was no one near my car, it was twilight, and the ticket noted I was going a whopping 5 mph—clearly endangering life and limb [of thin air]. I can choose to fight the ticket with all the spare time I don’t have, but if I lose, I can’t do traffic school. What a crock. The system is all about gaining a few $$ for UC). And, the ads on TV and in the papers pump out an endless whine of worthless junk from China that we are collectively supposed to want to buy. Nothing out there even seems interesting. I bought a second pair of warm coveralls at Tractor Supply, and if I get some more good socks, I’ll think it was a good holiday. The only festive things I’ve encountered are the few Christmas cards we’ve received, and cookies. I remember when everyone sent Christmas cards…I wish I had more time. We sang our annual Messiah concert in San Francisco last week, which was also a lot of fun…but it still doesn’t seem to feel like Christmas. Well, hope everyone else is feeling it is Christmas, we’ll catch up eventually!