Adventures in Country Living

Archive for August, 2011

2011 Garden: August 26th-28th

The Great Tomato Disaster of 2011: Then there was the wind. We’ve dealt with the effects of the Ridge Wind out here but this has to be on the top of the disappointment list, right next to losing the 50ft white spruce this last winter. We came home the evening of Aug. 24th to find the wreckage from a 30+mph wind that decided to take aim at the tomatoes. The corn had minimal damage but the poorly supported tomato plants, some of which were approaching the 6ft mark, packed with heavy fruit did not fare so well. Row after row were toppled over onto one another, green tomatoes strewn about on the ground and stems bent and broken. What was once 6ft tall lay close to 3ft. So we went about figuring out what to do regarding the problem. Stakes were procured and placed, support structures were erected and the plants re-supported. Unfortunately this process took us a handful of evenings and was mentally/physically taxing. It’s our own fault frankly, we put so many plants so close to one another and didn’t prune or train the plants much, a simple flimsy cage to get them going and we ended up with way more than those cages could handle. Personally I got frustrated several times as I untangled a plant only to have multiple branches break off, borderline mad. Mad at my ignorance, like you could just put them in the ground. Next year careful consideration will be taken when dealing with tomatoes and the wind, pruning will occur regularly and the plants will be dispersed amongst more beds rather than all contained in one or two. Significant support structures will be put in place prior to planting, learn from your mistakes.

After a couple of evenings struggling to get the tomatoes back to their former glory we had close to twenty pounds of green tomatoes and with them the first batch of ripe tomatoes on many of our plants. The bright light at the end of this tunnel? Learning. We know what went wrong and I’ll be hard pressed to see it happen again next year. Despite many broken and damaged branches the plants should come back alright and will provide us with a bounty of tomatoes. As a result of the Great Tomato Disaster we were forced to clean up and deal with many of the dead and dying branches on the plants exposing us to fruit we couldn’t see before as well as exposing that fruit to the healthy rays of sunlight that couldn’t penetrate the thick canopy.

The rest of the garden was fairly untouched by the strong winds, things are rolling along well. Our fears that a late start would result in less edible fruit has faded with the ripening of the corn and the later varieties of tomatoes. Our zucchini and summer squash continue to give up a healthy bounty daily. The cucumbers are giving us a handful of good-sized fruit each day as well as the peas. The big bright spot for the weekend: pole beans. Liz and I were hoping that we might be able to harvest enough beans to freeze a bunch for over winter, with our poor success with the bush beans we put all our stock in the pole beans which up until this last weekend had grown large and full but hadn’t shown us any signs of beans. Where there is a flower… and now we have the first of many beans growing. On the long list of things to do this week: mulch. Mulch everything, the garden paths, the tomato beds and especially the onions and carrots.



Canning Dill Pickles

Having a garden means alot of work, working the dirt, tending the plants and the harvest. What one does after the harvest can extend the reach of your garden far into the winter months. Liz and I have decided that much of what we grow will be canned for use over the colder months. Tending a garden, composting and now canning? The skill set out here is ever increasing. Canning, sweet. We watched a handful of video’s on and discussed ideas with other canners we know and settled on the cold pack method for our first attempt at canning pickles. Timing here is clearly an important element, something we hope to improve on over the next few weeks as we work on more ambitious canning projects. For now these five quarts of pickles gave us a good idea of what canning is all about and the confidence to continue. One of these jars will end up with my sister as I’ve never met anyone else who enjoys a good pickle more than her.


August 27th/28th: Sunsets at the BRB

August 27th, 7:48pm

August 28th, 7:46pm

Country Challenge #36: The Mole (Update)

The BRB: 1   The Mole: 0

Composting: Round 1

Sustainability. I remember eating dinner with my grandparents when I was young, I remember grandpa scraping any acceptable scraps into a milk jug that had the top half cut off. The jug was used, re-used then used some more. I remember it being stained and kind of stinky but every morning grandpa walked that jug somewhere and emptied it. This is my first memory of anything compost. Composting out here is going to be a necessity, reading more about what my future garden is going to need to be as productive as I’d like is going to require massive amounts of compost. Liz and I have been discussing the location and size of our compost area for a while now, knowing that anything we put in place will serve for a long time we didn’t want to rush things. After a visit to a friend’s compost site I had the motivator I needed to start this task. This was going to require some serious weeding, earth moving and a bit of construction.

My reading has me constructing a three bin composting area made of wood pallets we got for free. For now only two of the three bins will be constructed with the third coming as soon as I can get the remaining pallets needed. My friend Heath joined us for the initial site clearing, with a sharp machete and a weed whacker things were trimmed down to size in short order. The 8+ft tall barn weeds were piled in a trailer to eventually become my (seemingly) annual 10ft tall bon fire. Once cleared Liz and I arranged the pallets and used screws I had on hand to fasten the pallets together forming the first two bins. To promote air flow we used pallets to form the base of the bins as well as the sides, once fully assembled and in place we proceeded to begin constructing our “hot” compost pile.

My limited understanding of the composting process has led me to attempt a “hot” compost pile which if constructed properly should heat to an internal temp close to 160°F and will break down the materials in short order, if done right this process could take as little as a month to complete. To construct the “hot” compost pile we used the lasagna method by layering consecutive “brown”, “green” and soil/compost components making sure to moisten the “brown” layer each time. Our “browns”, which provide the carbon for the pile, came free from the loft of our barn. Old straw and hay remnants layered with aged pigeon droppings should make for composting gold. This was layered roughly 2inches thick each time, my reading says it can be as thick as 3 inches but this straw/hay has been compacted over the years and I did not want to impede air flow. Before building the pile up we inserted a wire mesh cage (made from left-over deer fencing) in the center with a diameter of ~6inches to allow for additional airflow.

The “greens” which layer after the “browns” provide the nitrogen needed, my information says you’re looking for a 30:1 ratio between “browns” and “greens”. The “greens” layer can be between 1 and 6inches thick depending on the materials used, materials that are loose will provide more air pockets can be piled thicker whereas fresh grass clippings which get matted and block airflow can be only an inch thick.  Having let our rhubarb plants go too long we cut them back to the ground and used the leaves and some stems for the initial couple layers of “greens”. The soil component that can be supplemented with compost and topped with just a bit of manure (if you have it on hand) is layered after the “greens” and should be no more than 1/2inch thick, this provides the needed bacteria and organisms that will break the other layers down. We used half composted sod left-over from the initial garden construction. The proper way to compost sod is simple, layer it with the root side up and make a nice neat pile. I did not do this, rather I picked a site out of view and simply dumped load after load of the into what turned into a huge long pile. Despite my “piling” method I removed all the surface weeds to find a moist, almost composted under-layer.

For a “hot” compost pile to heat up to temp the pile must be of adequate size and depth, we are shooting for ~4ft deep. After the first layers we quickly began running out of “greens”, weeds (that hadn’t gone to seed) were pulled and layered along with some fresh grass clippings to help get the pile closer to the 4ft mark. Liz came up with an easy to install and remove front panel consisting of a handful of 1X6 slats of wood (all from scrap wood we had lying around). This allowed us to build the front edge of the pile up without it spilling over onto the ground. When the pile is ready to be turned we can easily remove the slats and turn the pile into the next bin. With the basis of the first pile in place we are now set to install the third bin and continue adding to the pile we’ve constructed with the same scraps my grandpa toted to his pile years ago. The goal for us is to use and not waste any of the energy we have growing or existing here at the BRB. Now weeds and other seemingly nuisance items can serve a purpose and eventually help my garden. Waste not…


August 21st: Sunset at the BRB



Country Challenge #36: The Mole

Here at the Big Red Barn we are learning all kinds of new things, living out here you’ve got to be your own everything. Mechanic, roofer, plumber, and as we’ve found… trapper. These are the Country Challenges and they test your wits and resolve. So today we tackle the mole problem, after coming home from a week away we found a large hole next to a handful of what I could only assume were mole runs. They made their first real appearance when my mower got a nice taste of loose earth from the burrowing bugger. Not wanting to see more lawn disaster I went straight to the store and looked at mole traps. I opted for a slightly more expensive trap because it is harder to set off from above ground, an issue I was concerned about with respect to the dogs we have running around here. After a bit more research I came up with these simple things to keep in mind:

  • Determine the most active location: Look for a Mole mound, not a hole.
  • Do not press existing mole runs into the ground, leave them until you’ve trapped your target.
  • Place the trap in the early evening around 5-6pm. Moles come out at night and early morning.
  • Check and reset your trap after 48hrs if you haven’t bagged your target.
  • Be vigilant, keep your grass cut short and areas around trees clear to spot activity before it becomes an issue.