Monday, March 29, 2010

The hay came in and the cow went out

Somehow, in the process of getting the hay in the barn we left the stall door open and Mattie escaped. She didn't mind one bit. She found the greenest, lushest grass on the other side of the fence and proceeded to eat it as fast as she could because she KNEW we would find her and put her away. Guess what, she was right. You should of heard the ruckus she made when we put her back. NOISY. Oh well, at least she is in out of the rain, which is more that Moose (her baby) can say. He is patiently waiting on the other side of a different fence for his mom to come back after milking tonight. He doesn't have a roof to stand under so he is wet. It's been RAINING all day. A lot.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Calling in the troops....wanna spread some rock dust?

We're still here working on the mineral brigade. We asked Becca and Seth out to come help spread more rock around. Grace was also here working on wedding planning so we got her dusty too. And finally after weeks of weekends, we are almost done. I say almost because we were missing a few bags of magnesium and one of manganese so those will have to be applied later--later after we order them, after we drive to Olympia to get them from Black Lake Organics, after we get back from vacation, after we get the taxes done, after Steve teaches next month, after the new bees get hived. Later meaning as soon as we can.

Spring is a busy time around here, especially if we want to do any new projects rather than just maintaining the old. Actually maintaining what we already have going is more than enough but it is so easy to spend the dark, cold winter nights thinking of exciting projects to do come spring. My list was long this year, probably too long. Oh well, at least the biggest job is almost done.

Last night at dinner, Steve, Becca, and Grace were all commenting on the odd physical effects of spreading minerals. You end up with one muscle in your non-spreading arm that is very sore from holding the bucket under your arm. It is a peculiar muscle that doesn't much use. It must be under the arm or something. Maybe we should inform all the personal trainers of this eccentric activity that creates beautiful definition of this very unused muscle. I am sure Steve could tell you its name. I sure can't. Meanwhile, people are reaching for the vials of arnica cream and looking at their buff armpits.

While they were busy spreading rock dust, I was inside preparing for the second night of the wedding salad tasting extravaganza. We are testing a BUNCH of salads. Last night was the biggest lot. We invited a few people (in addition to the kindly rock dust spreaders) and made official ballots and fed people 7 different types of salads. I should have taken pictures but honestly I was too busy. Here's what we tried maybe you can use your imagination to see the colorful spread we consumed: Moroccan Carrot and Ginger Salad; Paprika Cucumber Salad; Romaine Hearts with Avocado, Jicama and Orange; Guiditta's real Italian Salad; Fennel and Orange Salad on bitter greens; Grandma Hall's potato; and Sir Wasano's Infamous Indonesian Rice Salad. There were no big winners, but everybody does love Grandma Hall's potato salad. Tonight is night three of the salad bonanza. Hopefully, after dinner tonight Grace will have the wedding menu all nailed down. So many decisions, I do not envy her.

Okay, enough blathering. Must get back to work.

ps latissamus dorsi is the name of that funny muscle. I asked Steve.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

What a day!

Yesterday was a big day. We are still in the middle of laying all that rock dust on the pastures and orchards. Steve and I spent the day mixing and spreading 1500 pounds of dust. He spread, I weighed, measured and mixed (well, he helped with the mixing as it is a two person job).

The way it works is I measured out the specifics for each dust and each pasture: 9.8 pounds of Iron sulfate, and 13.1 pounds of manganese oxide and 17.4 pounds of copper sulfate and 44 pounds of redmond mineral salt and 47 pounds of azomite--the list goes on and on. Then I put this all on an enormous plastic tarp. When the mix was compete and all piled high on the tarp--hundreds of pounds by the time I am done, Steve and I mixed the goodies by each taking an end to the tarp and walking it towards the other side. As we pulled the tarp along the rock dust mixed itself up by folding into itself and around. We folded it back and forth and up and down about ten times and the dust was mixed, which is much easier in theory than it is on the body. It's heavy pulling that much rock dust along. But we did it and while I made the next batch Steve shoveled and then spread the old batch. Poor guy, I felt for him out there...that is a LOT of work. Just the kind of thing that diesel machines were invented for. But ole' mighty man did it with a smile and even seemed like he was having fun.

After he was done, I sent him to the shower to wash off all that dust and then put him in a warm bath tub full of relaxing essential oils to take the wear and tear out of his back. I wanted a chance to try out this new gadget I just got (for my birthday but it just arrived through customs this week). It's a fancy German oil diffuser for the bathtub that has some German name I can't pronounce or even begin to say so I call it the oil thingy. It is both terribly fragile and terribly expensive.

The oil thingy works by connecting the water from the bathtub to a tube and running it through a fancy glass machine that looks like something straight out of a mad scientist's laboratory. As the water processes through the machine it absorbs micro amounts of the oil by breaks up all the oil into teeny tiny droplets (which thereby allow it to go into your skin WAY better) and it spins the water into an vortex which further allows the healing energy of the oil to penetrate the water. Pretty fancy stuff that has pretty amazing results. My doctor prescribed these baths for me and I have been blown away by these baths (though the prescriptive baths are more complicated than I did for Steve). I have been lusting over this machine for months. And now I have my own...yea for birthdays! Can't wait to try it for myself too.

Anyway, today is the day after and Steve is still sound asleep (a sure sign of how much work that was yesterday) and it is raining which is so perfect for the soil after a rock dust application I would be dancing a jig but I am too tired. Way too tired. Guess the next installment of rock dust is going to happen next week. All we can say is where are the wwoofers when you need them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St Pat's day

Wish I could say I had corned beef cooking in the oven right now. I know I must have the right cut of beef out there in the freezer somewhere. Problem is, I don't know what cut of beef that would be and so, we are just having some kind of beef we haven't tried yet. See the thing about butchering a cow and then having an entire cow in the freezer, if you are as ignorant about meat as I am you get a whole lot of things you have no idea what to do with because they never (seldom?) sell them in the store. Tonight we are having one such cut--top round something or other--which sounded like hamburger to me but is some kind of rectangle shaped piece of meat. We'll see. It looks okay waiting to go in the oven.

To go with it we are having baked yams (my favorite) and roasted collard greens with lime. That's pretty good for March--2/3rds of dinner will be homegrown.

This time of year is the hardest to be eating from the garden. I have LOTS of plant babies out there. They struggle valiantly against the elements to grow in the wind and the rain and the hail and sometimes even snow. Takes a lot of fortitude to be a spring plant, I think. I go out everyday to cheer them on and plant a little more, dig a little more and generally just get my hands dirty after a winter of no gardening. Feels good to have dirt roughened hands again. But the problem is there is precious little to eat out there. We have a titch of over-wintered lettuce left--maybe one salad's worth, and a few dinners of kale, collards and parsnips. And of course, the nettles and chives are coming up but that's about all.

I am missing cauliflower and brocolli and brussel sprouts. I have them growing but they are so small it is hard to imagine ever getting to eat them. Just like my plant babies have to imagine there there will someday be sunshine and warmth, spring gardening requires a lot of imagination on my part. I have to imagine my garden full and lush so I don't plant things too close together (like I did the swiss chard today). I have to imagine what is tall and what is short so I don't lose plants in the shade of other plants. It is so easy to throw things in willy-nilly (esp if you garden like I like to) and then be sad in a few months because all that beautiful kale you have growing is surrounded by a particularly vital squash plant that has encircled the kale like a fortress.

Hopefully, this year I will have a lot of what it takes to be a spring plant--imagination and fortitude and that will yield a particularly wonderful garden. All those plant babies make me happy. Let's just hope I make them happy too.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Moving the marionberries

Marionberries, in case you don't know, are a cross between a Chelelum blackberry and Ollallieberries. Renown for their complex flavor, they are beyond delicious...and as luck would have it, they are exceptionally nutritious too. Click here to read more about them (and see some luscious photos).

For years we have had a small patch of marionberries growing at the back of our raspberry patch. I planted them there because I didn't know any better. I knew I loved eating marionberries and that they cost a fortune in the store. Seriously, half a pint can cost upwards to $4. Unfortunately when I bought the plants, I didn't really understand what growing them would be like. And I REALLY didn't understand what picking them would entail. I should have done more research. These plants are ferocious. Seriously. But, as is often the case with me, I do something first and learn about it second. I think I like to learn from experience. But sometimes, this causes problems. And believe me, our marionberries were a problem last year.

Last year, you could not walk down the aisle to pick them. Last year you couldn't walk by them to get to the rows of raspberries and strawberries behind them. Last year, picking them was a lot like going to the dentist--something I really need to do but never want to.

When I ordered 3 plants 5 years ago from Raintree Nursery I had NO idea they were going to grow into a monstrous hedge of thorns that jealously guarded each and every one of its berries. I didn't know that they would grow in such a way that I would loose serious amounts of skin each and every time I went out to pick these little treasures. What I did know was that I LOVED marionberry pie and that they grew well in this climate.

Once the plants arrived, I naively planted them a tad bit closer than the directions suggested (what's one foot, I thought!). and then we waited for them to grow. The first couple of years they were manageable and we got very few berries... The third year they grew a reasonable number of berries but we hadn't trellised them correctly so many of the berries rotted for lack of air flow.

Last year we figured out how to better use the trellis and suddenly we had oodles of berries. The only problem was we also had oodles of berry plants that were covered in fierce thorns. OUCH. Picking was no fun, just ask cousin Frank who was almost hospitalized for blood loss after he was seen crawling on all fours across the ground and under the mass of plants trying to get to the berries and away from the thorns. Sorry bout that Frank.

Apparently, marionberries follow the old gardening adage for groundcovers...first year they sleep, the second year the creep and the third year they leap. Being this was the fourth year, they had leapt and then some. In four short years they had gone from spindly little plants to a completely unmanageable mess. This year we knew had to do something.

That's why (thanks to the efforts of the mighty man, yet again) we now how an all new, completely separate marionberry hedgerow that is accessible from both sides but has no other plants growing near it that we can't cut back. It's way down in the lower pasture. Steve rebuilt an even better trellis and carefully relocated the entire berry patch out of the raspberries and down to where we HOPE picking them will be much less painful. Who knows, it might discourage trespassers too. I can vouch for the fact that nobody in their right mind is gonna wanna walk through those babies.

Somebody else must not have liked the thorns because Raintree no longer sells marionberries but rather sells a thornless berry they promise tastes the same. I wonder if that's true.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Planting sweet peas in the sunshine

How good does life get when I get to go outside on a sunny spring day, get my hands dirty and plant 4 big rows of sweet peas. I say, mighty good. And then when I come back inside and make a big pot of chowder to bring to a potluck with my friends it only gets better. And then when I get to throw some chocolate in a bowl and bake up dessert, well, I am just here to say life is good. And delicious.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Saturday we had nothing but sunshine out there. Hot too. Nice. Today though, the weather is another matter completely.
In a word, you could call it unpredictable.

In the short time it took for me to look outside see sunshine and decide to go work in the garden, the skies changed from clear blue to a threatening black and down came the rain. Hard. So I set aside my garden plans and grabbed the absolutely delicious book I am reading. Three pages later I looked up to see that the torrent of rain had stopped. i quick jumped up and ran outside to start digging up the sweet pea bed I had hoped to plant today. But before I could even get more than a couple of feet dug, out came the clouds again only this time they starting snailing (hard). Snailing, in case you don't know, is what my family calls that dubious form of precipitation that is somewhere between snow and hail. It drops white pellets that are cold, wet and white but not quite hard. Determined to get a few sweet peas planted I persevered. The clouds were not cooperating. Not only did I not get anything planted, I got very cold and very wet.

I trotted inside once again to wait out the weather. I read about ten pages of my book this time and then out came the blue sky AGAIN. Great I thought as I threw back on my boots and headed out. This time, I dug as fast as I could and finished preparing the bed. Five minutes later, it was dumping again. By this time, I didn't care. I stuck it out and got all the sweet peas planted. And guess what, the second I was done, the sun came out again and has been out ever since. Go figure.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


Thank heavens for the mighty man is all I can say. I was feeling a little disheartened about being able to spread all those minerals after my first attempt earlier this week. I enjoyed doing it but was sooo tired afterwards. It was hard to motivate myself to do more knowing it would wipe me out for a few days.

Steve on the other hand woke up raring to go this morning. After drinking is powerpacked superfood smoothie, he went outside and laid down HUNDREDS OF POUNDS of the heretofore discussed minerals. Thank you Mighty Man. When I said that to him he smiled and showed me his muscles...his bicep looked just like Popeye's! He seemed pretty happy out there with his arm in a bucket sowing rocks.

This whole mineralization is a many step process. Right now we have two steps in front of us. Yesterday Steve finished one and we will start the next one in a couple of weeks...The first step is laying down the rock phosphate and borax that will in essence prepare the soil to receive the calcium and other trace minerals it needs. If the two are laid down together they would bind each other up (this is where a little more chemistry would make this clearer to me) but by putting some time between applications we will get optimal availability of all the minerals we need.

What this means for the animals is they are going to be cooped up in the barnyard for six weeks or so looking at the grass that will literally be growing greener on the other side of the fence.

While Steve was busy with that project I got to work in the gorgeous sunshine and planted out some broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts (I know, too early) and cabbage. I also spread out a big bed of spinach and lettuce seedlings. Today I am back to the hoophouse to do the same thing in there with all the many lettuce and kale seedlings I have going in there. No going back on spring now.

Aidan spent the day earning money for a school trip to the Ashland Shakesphere Festival by picking up the winter's dropping of branches and sticks from the areas we mow, hauling a huge pile of kiwi prunings down to the bank and knocking down molehills. Today he plans to clean the cars. He's got a couple of hundred bucks to earn so if anyone has a job, he might be interested.

By the way, if anyone is interested in learning more about mineralizing your garden you might want to check out Black Lake Organics. They know their stuff and are happy to teach you too. It's a drive to Olympia, but well worth the time and effort.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Spring, sprang, sprung

Well, it's official. We are having an early spring! No going back now. While the rest of the nation is battling snow and ice storms, our fruit trees are blooming. The daffodils have popped. Even the magnolia tree is blooming. Those seeds I ridiculously planted in January are now fine little seedlings--small but mighty and strong enough to weather those chilly early spring nights. All this earnest growth outside has me ready to garden. But first, I have to attend to the soil.

In a couple of hours 3400+ pounds of minerals are arriving. Add those to the 700+ pounds that are already waiting in the barn and we'll be ready to tackle a major soil-remineralization project.

Encouraged by the members of a biodynamic list serve I am on, I decided to dive into this foreign world of borax and azomite and epsom salts as a way to build my soil. And while not strictly biodynamic (a system where the farm or garden is a closed loop and which you strive to never add any inputs), I am excited about the possibilities that remineralizing our soil can do for our food (and our bodies).

When we moved here in 1999, we didn't know squat about caring for any farm animals other than chickens and we certainly didn't know about pasture management. Our pastures were sorely overgrazed from the last owner's 30 year tenure on the farm. We knew we needed to do something to bring them back to health but we weren't sure what. With all the learning curves we had to master, the pasture found its way to the bottom of the list. Finally, it has made it to the top.

Last year we sent five soil samples away to Logan Labs in Ohio testing the two pastures, the two orchards and the garden. This year we sent in two, the garden and the hoophouse. Basic soil testing is pretty cheap considering all the information it details. It's usually around $20 a sample. From that you learn how well the soil takes up minerals and which minerals are available in your soil and in what quantities. A balanced soil profile produces healthier plants and healthy plants make gardening a whole lot easier.

But as we found out last year, soil tests are wonderful but only if you have somebody amazing to analyze them. Last year I did the tests and then stared blankly at the results, clueless as to how to interpret them. Even Steve with his degree in Chemistry wasn't sure how to translate the test into practical action.

We heard rumor of an amazing guy (Michael Astera) who knew how to rebalance worn soils with organics and minerals but we didn't quite know how to find him. Eventually, the soil tests found their way to the middle of a pile on my desk--lost but not forgotten--and gardening season began.

Unable to solve the mysteries of our soil tests, I took a class from Steve Diver about raising high nutrient vegetables. He talked a lot about the importance of remineralizing the soil and activating the soil organisms that make the minerals more accessible to the plants. I applied just a few of simplest things he said to in my garden and kept up with my usual biodynamic practices. The results were astonishing. We had the BEST garden we have ever had and the taste of the food was phenomenal. Taste is directly correlated to nutrition so I knew we were onto something.

So, this year when Michael Astera appeared on my biodynamic list serve and said he was looking for people to participate in a study about using soil minerals to raise the nutrition in food (as measured by the brix level with a refractometer and tissue samples and more soil testing) I ignored that fact I didn't really understand what he was saying and that science is not part of my vocabulary and quickly said I'll do it, I'll do it. And this is how I find myself with two tons of minerals arriving on our doorstep.

Oh please, cosmic muses of mineral distribution appear in the night and instruct me as to how to do this monstrous task of distributing these many pounds of rock dust with ease of back.

I will figure this out because just the simple remineralization I did last year made such a radical difference in soil tests from last year to this. I can only imagine what will happen when we follow an individualized prescription such as the ones given to us by Michael as his part of the study. My part of this study is buying the minerals and then doing the actual work of applying them and then recording the results--oh how I wished I had paid more attention in those high school biology labs.

One reason I am willing to haul two tons of rock dust around the place is that nutrition, and specifically the declining mineral status of our foods, is directly correlated to the rise in chronic, degenreative disease that runs rampant in our culture. Since Steve and I are of an age when these diseases start appearing, I am thinking the more minerals we eat the better off we will be in the long run. I look at Steve's poor aching back and think what an even better diet might do. I think of me and my RA and think, yes, this might be an answer (or at least one step in the journey), so heavy, mineral laden wheelbarrow here I come.

I will let you know how we feel AFTER we lay down two tons of minerals. It will be interesting. All I have to say is where are the wwoofers when you need them!

Oh and by the way, at the very least you could add 14 oz of borax to every 1,000 feet of garden you have. (Twenty Mule Team borax from the grocery store works fine.) Borax will help your plants have more access to calcium and silica, both of which are basic building blocks of healthy plant tissue. (And if I got the reason why wrong, I got the amount correct. Sorry, science is not my basic language.)