Archive for November, 2015

Green Thumb Up My Nose: Plans for 2016

November 25, 2015

We are in an El Nino cycle, probably a strong one. That means the NENW will likely be warmer than usual (precip probabilities are split between less and more). And that means we can try planting out even earlier. Like early to mid April. In keeping with earlier approach, I’m rotating the fields again. This time, Section 4 is in the main rotation.

Crops to be grown
Tall crops (including climbers)
Green Beans (small planting)
Lima Beans

Short crops
Greens, of course
Squash (winter, summer, pumpkin)
Cucumbers (Lemon)

Lemon cucumbers
Peppers (not-chiles)

New Ideas
Cucumbers (European)

Section 1
Brassicae. Yes, I know. Trying some clever timing tricks.
See the Gantt Chart
Carrots. Maybe the amaranth goes here

Section 2
Peas and beans. Maybe cucumbers.

Section 3
Squash. Maybe melons

Section 4
Tomatoes.* Asparagus.

The Schedule

early Feb – Start seeds indoors
early April (60 days later) – move to greenhouse
mid March — transplant cabbage and bok choy
early May — transplant other things
early July (70 days) – early varieties ripen
late July (90 days) – late varieties ripen


Garden Gantt 2016

Garden Gantt 2016

*We did a tomato tasting this evening, before the last of the tomatoes goes off. Conclusions were:

The red tomatoes were OK, and mostly indistinguishable — Brandywine, Celebrity, Champion, and Early Girl. The only small red tomato, the Zebras, were tart and very thick skinned. The small yellow Lemons were not as tart as the bigger yellow Cougars. The yellow Brandywines were Brandywine-sized and knobbly, and didn’t taste that much different from the run of the mill reds. Note — although it said Red Brandywine on the tin, I expect the labels got switched, because they were nowhere near as big as the yellows, and were shaped nothing like them. I’ll have to think on this when Spring comes.

Green Thumb Up My Nose: Lessons Learned – 2015

November 22, 2015

Looks like the garden is done for the year. I don’t think the peas will survive 18hrs of frost, dipping to 18F, three days after the 18th.  Here’s a commentary on this year’s plans:

1. Hit hard by powdery mildew this summer. Garden plants, ground cover plants, and plants in the front yard were infected. Go for mildew resistant strains of everything.

PM wasn’t a problem this year. Maybe it was drier. I put up a shield so my neighbor’s sprinkler wouldn’t dampen the squash, and that helped.

2. The small greenhouse worked well to get the plants through a variable Spring. Was positively humid inside, which attracted mosquitoes. Try hanging flypaper.

Didn’t need the greenhouse much, and never got to try the flypaper.

Yard Crops
1. Can’t do much with the area that’s in deep shade. Avoid next year (although part of that might have been the mildew).

I didn’t avoid, and it didn’t go well. Just don’t, OK?

2. Hops netting worked well, but was too narrow at the top. Need to reposition the hooks, or add new ones.

Added hooks, but it hourglassed in the middle. Gonna hafta build a full sized frame

1. Plant long beans and lemon cucumbers earlier

Long beans tended to go from freshripe to dry and crumbly in a couple of days. Had more lemon cukes than we could eat.

2. Try more miniatures

Couldn’t find any

3. Work even harder on getting the labeling right

Yeah, right

4. Daikon are not container plants, not even in big containers.

Or, as far as I can tell, not even in KHG’s. Give up.

Keyhole Garden
1. Abandon Section 4 as a berry farm. Too much work for too little return. Plant to peas and beans this year.

Got one good crop of beans, but the second planting didn’t make it

2. First pick of one pea plant last Summer gave about five pods, with four or five peas each — call it twenty peas per plant. One serving seems to be about 80-100 peas (I’ll confirm next dinner time), so we need 4 or 5 plants per person per meal. Which means I plant at least 20 plants next time. Six lima bean plants made two small servings.

Peas do not do well in deep shade, which is what we had behind the Santa Maria beans. Keep that in mind for next year. Beans and peas and tomatoes should go on the north end, and lower plants should go on the south end of each KHG section. In other news, we like limas better than green beans.

3. Replace all the covers with the redesigned versions.

Didn’t need them

4. Re-do all of the irrigation hose. Set it so each section can be watered individually.

Done, except the individually part

5. In early Spring, rebuild the SW corner of Section 1. Consider re-coring the center basket as well.


6. Plastic bottle cloche covers worked well.

Didn’t need them.

What didn’t work:
Pumpkins in the shade.
Amaranth. Planted too late, wrong varietal.
Brassicae. Any kind. Any where.
Santa Maria beans (pinquitos).

What did work:
Peppers out front.
Lemon cukes.
Hanging Zebras.
Wire shelving as an anti-squirrel measure.
Last minute summer-squash-inna-box.

Next week: next year

FOMC Follies

November 20, 2015

The release of the 27 October Federal Open Market Committee minutes shows them edging towards an increase in interest rates. This, despite the fact that we have not fully recovered from the Great Recession, and that history, in the form of the Great Depression, shows that a too-early tightening of the government belt can kill a recovering economy. One part of the summary deserves closer inspection.

A number of participants pointed to various reasons why the Committee should avoid a delay in policy firming [AKA interest rate increase]:

One concern was that such a delay, if the reasons were not well understood by market participants, could increase uncertainty in financial markets

And the FOMC is certainly not cabable of explaining things in a way that hedge fund managers could understand.

and unduly magnify the perceived importance of the beginning of the policy normalization process.

So if the process is so unimportant, what’s the harm in delaying the interest rate increase?

Another concern mentioned was the increasing risk of a buildup of financial imbalances after a prolonged period of very low interest rates.

But so far, as far as I know, no responsible person has suggested that such a buildup is occurring

It was also noted that a decision to defer policy firming could be interpreted as signaling lack of confidence in the strength of the U.S. economy

And of course the fact that we still haven’t closed the gap between current employment and output and the potential employment and output lost in the last near decade is no reason to have a lack of confidence in the current state of the economy in this fragile recovery

or erode the Committee’s credibility.

Because our image is more important than the US economy.

Some participants emphasized that progress toward the Committee’s objectives should be assessed in light of the cumulative gains made to date without placing excessive weight on month-to-month changes in incoming data.

And the overall cumulative progress is nowhere near what it should be or could be, even though we’ve had a good couple of months. It’s almost like the FOMC wants to raise interest rates because they want to raise interest rates and they will grasp any shred of evidence that will let them pretend to have a rationale for doing so.

Blowing in the Wind

November 18, 2015

Well that was fun, じゃない. Our little corner of the Great NW Windstorm of 2015 started about 4PM on Tuesday, when the gusts hit 45 and our power went out. Power outages in this area are infrequent, now that the city’s supply of dud transformers has run out, and when they happen they are usually limited to one half of the town and a few hours, max.

This one stretched on and on, into the dark, while the winds hit 60 and heavy objects skittered about the back deck. Fortunately, we had pretty full charges on our phones and tablets, so we spent a quiet evening at home, basking in the cold light of the screens. But that gets old after a while, and little by little the power drained away, and we wanted to keep some for emergencies.

At 9PM we gave up and went to bed. OK, we read some more. But by 10PM we turned out the flashlights and went to sleep in the darkest night we’ve ever had here. Darker even than the night they took the entire town of Cheney off line to refit a major substation, because on that night, we still had the glow of Spokane. Not so last night. It was, as they say, as dark as the inside of a cow.

We slept well and woke refreshed and it was still dark. Part of the reason it was still dark was it was just after midnight. Dawn was still six hours away. I went out on the back deck. The stars were amazing. The wind had died down, but the temperature was still in the 40’s. Cheney was dark. Spokane was dark. The stars were bright enough to navigate the deck obstacles. I stayed out a while with the binoculars, learning things about the night sky and the heat retention efficiency of pajamas in a 30kt wind on a chilly night.

Dawn came, and no power. The outside temperature was down to 30F, and the house had cooled to 54F. I figured we might have one more night before the interior temperature got cold enough that we had to worry about pipes freezing. We decided that this was likely a bigger outage than we thought (latest word is that WA had twice the number of outages of any previous storm), and sat down to do some serious planning. We had just gotten to the point of discussing how to use the portable gas BBQ grill inside the house without killing ourselves (put it in the fireplace) when the lights came on.

Even the NWS had problems. Here’s something I’ve never seen before, a data drop in temperature readings:

Eight hours, no data

Eight hours, no data

It was only 14 hours for us (others are still out), but it was enough to move us from inconvenience to disaster planning. I started thinking about things like worse windstorms, and Carrington Events, and how fragile civilization really is. We need to do some disaster prep.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

November 8, 2015

Garden Report for 151109

We are in full autumnal mode here, with ten hours of frost on Tuesday night and twelve hours on Thursday night. Wednesday was originally forecast the same, but clouds moved in and gave us twelve hours at 33F. Next week is more of the same (except when it rains), and by mid-month we will hit the point at which every night will see frost.

Scarfed up a handful of late zucchini and summer squash, plus one baby butternut and a pie-pumpkin-sized jack-o-lantern. About the only thing left in the garden is the peas and carrots and chard (oh,my).

Harvested the Santa Maria Beans (pinquitos). Got half a basket from half a section of the KHG. Spent a happy hour standing in the cold wind separating the beans from the non-beans. Harder than it looks. Beans don’t want to be picked. It’s like paper towels — the seam is stronger than the towel. I figure I lost about 20% of the pods, because they were too small, too well hidden, too attached, or too far out of reach. My half-basket included a lot of attached non-bean stuff, and the total weight was ~5lb.

Beans and non-beans

Beans and non-beans

I’m not sure the SMB experiment was a success. A couple accounts I’ve read said they just left the beans in the garden until they dried on the vine. Twenty weeks in, only a quarter of the picked beans looked mature enough to have beans inside them, and none of them looked to be drying out. I might run them through the dehydrator and see if that helps. Meanwhile, the 75% that are young and tender might be cookable like regular old green beans.

It may be that pinquitos are just not suited for the NENW. I may have to give up and order packages of the dried beans from Amazon, the way our forebears did. We’ll see. I’ll report.

Here’s the final scoreboard.

Week Ending 11/09 Vegetable Count Weight oz Unit Weight oz Total Total Weight lb
Tomato  573 68
Bush Buttercup  5  5
Zucchini  1 3  3  23 31
Summer Squash  7 7 1 9 2
Butternut 1  11  11  5  4
Cuke  39  8
Spaghetti  7  14
Pumpkin 1  38 38  5  7
Beans  –  –  5lb  –  9
Peas  –  –  – 1
Bell peppers 4  1

Grand Total 150 pounds. Maybe not the largest harvest ever, but it’s among the top two. Next week, Lessons Learned.

Oatgurt 2

November 5, 2015

Experiment 1: What a difference a broth makes. I spent most of last week and last post complaining about the blandedness of oatmeal and yogurt made with either water or store-bought beef broth. This week I tried oatmeal and yogurt in chicken broth. Specifically, in plain old store-bought chicken broth (the plastic bits in the valve on our pressure cooker have disassembled themselves and it’s now only good for slow-cooking, and we are back to the old ways, at least until Amazon comes through with a new lid).

Turns out that the creamy acid in the yogurt is just the thing to set off the chicken-noodle-broth flavor. The only thing I did to it was add some poultry seasoning, and a few grinds of pepper.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of chicken broth, sugar. Let sit at room temperature overnight, salt in the morning.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  No potato.

Results: Smooth and creamy. Not bland. Almost like chicken gravy. This is a must repeat, on days when I have store-bought broth and a spare container of yogurt.

Rating: *****

Experiment 2: What a difference a night makes. For my second experiment, I didn’t let it sit overnight. Instead, I built it first thing in the morning, as per normal. Because I wasn’t trying to feed the little yogurcules, I used a single packet of sweetner, instead of a teaspoon of sugar. As with the first experiment, I added some poultry seasoning, and a few grinds of pepper.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of chicken broth, sweetner, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potato when you take it off the stove.

Results: Quite different, and not as exciting. Soaking overnight let the oats absorb some liquid, which then helped them break down into something smoother. Without that, there was more of an individual oat texture to the meal, and it was quite a bit soupier. The potato helped it come together, but it was, as might be expected, more like regular oats. What surprised me was how sweet it was. A single packet of Splenda provided a lot more sweet than a teaspoon (well, a teaspoon-sized mound in my hand) of sugar. Where the first experiment tasted like chicken gravy, this one tasted like creamed corn.

I suppose one could try splitting the recipe, and only soaking half the oats in half the broth, etc, but that’s too much like cooking.

Rating: *****

Green Thumb Up My Nose

November 1, 2015

Garden Report for 151102

Forecast frost forestalled by rain. Lots of rain. Half an inch in 24hrs on Friday, and another half inch on Saturday and a quarter inch on Sunday. The forecast for next week, once the clouds clear, shows lows of 37F, 29F, 24F … Do we see a trend here?

Meanwhile, I dashed out in between showers to bring in the crops. Twenty pounds of tomatoes from the main KHG. Lots were small, but a dozen were the big yellow Brandywines, running 8oz. each. The regular Brandywines, grown right next to them, are a quarter that. Our total for the year is 68lb, well down from our first KHG season (2012), which saw near a 100lb of tomatoes. A couple of medium-sized spaghetti squash. Half a dozen white radishes.

In 2012 there were five boxes like this

In 2012 there were five boxes like this

I don’t think the amaranth will make it. There’s still no seeds, and Thursday night is forecast to be 24F. But there’s still the Santa Maria beans to bring in, plus whatever peas make it. This may not be a record year, but it’s among the top two.

Here’s the semifinal scoreboard.

Week Ending 11/02 Vegetable Count Weight oz Unit Weight oz Total Total Weight lb
Tomato  135 344  2.5  573 68
Bush Buttercup  5  5.0
Zucchini  1 10  10  22 30.8
Summer Squash  1 15  15 2 1.65
Butternut  4  3.7
Cuke  39  7.65
Spaghetti  2  28  14  7  14
Pie Pumpkin  4  5.6
Beans  –  –  –  –  4.0
Peas  –  –  – 1.0
Bell peppers 4  1.13

Grand Total 143lb, not counting the late stuff.