Tales of Cover Cropping

We started using cover crop on our garden two winters ago, and have evolved our approach and process. The first year, we used a 3-way mix of rye, vetch and peas, and simply broadforked the matured greens into the soil when it was time to plant. This year we are taking a slightly different approach.

Our 5-way cover crop is TALL this year…like shoulder height (!) and beautiful and lush thanks to a long spring with epic amounts of rain. Instead of broadforking this year, we are going to try a direct plan totally no till method. First step is cutting the cover crop (I used some old hedge trimming shears…a scythe would be MUCH better!) close the ground and letting it dry out for a week or so in place. At 32 1/2 weeks pregnant this was a hard job but not impossible. Then we will plant starts directly into the soft moist soil below. No tilling, no broadforking. It “should” keep in the moisture and retain the lighter soil structure that the cover crop helps develop. Also, the fallen greens will be a natural weed barrier for the growing season.

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Honestly this plan is coming 50% from farming practice research, and 50% from a lack of time. Our garden is usually a huge focus this time of year, but this year with baby around the corner and the remodel taking 100% of Matt’s time…well, we are lucky to have a few things actually get in the ground.

If this green mulching, no till method works it will really change how we work with our garden in future years. We are already loving that the areas where cover crop was planted all winter has ZERO weeds (!) and the soil is soft and dark. After breaking down all this decomposing cover crop  it should just continue to get better and better…not bad for what used to be a lawn!

State of the Garden

Two years ago we rebuilt our garden from scratch. Installation of a 45×65′ 8 foot tall deer fence was only the start. We then had to rip out well established grass, add tons of compost, and start to figure out a useful layout.

That first year we only planted about half of our usable space. Last year we changed prep methods again and planted 3/4 of our fenced area. Winter cover crops became part of our routine and the soil is dramatically different than when we started.

What is also dramatically different this year is the amount of time we can devote to this garden. We are 9 weeks out from Grain’s due date (eek!) and we are pouring 100% of our time and focus into the house. So, as you might imagine, our garden is a bit neglected. The cover crop is waist high and very happy (and thankfully doing good things for our soil and keeping weeds at bay!), our garlic that was planted in the fall looks great, and the raspberries are taking off like crazy. We have been harvesting the spring greens from our over wintered kale and chard…but the whole thing looks pretty messy. Bolting kale “trees” are tall and buzzing with bees.

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Messy, overgrown garden this spring. but check out those second year asparagus in the raised bed! We are looking forward to our first harvest next year.

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Matt taking a house project break with Alki

We do have roughly 70 tomato starts in our living room, alongside zucchini and pumpkins. We plan to get them in the ground towards the end of May (it is still pretty chilly at night). Tuck in some of our favorite beans and call it good for this planting season. Whatever we don’t plant we will (hopefully) at least scuffle hoe to rip up weeds and throw down some more cover crop. It may not look “pretty” but will be a garden that still works to improve the soil and make next year even better.

If anyone wants to come work in a garden, you have an open invitation!

PS – baby Grain update. We are 31 weeks. Baby is moving a TON, and I felt hiccups for the first time today!

Wood Floor Inlay & Garden Planning

While the rest of the country is running straight to summer, our little corner of the PNW is having a much colder winter than usual. Cold and wet to be more specific. Even this morning I saw snowflakes as I was waiting for the bus. I want to get out in the garden but it is just not quite the season here yet.

This weekend Matt finished laying the wood floor inlay around the fireplace and built ins…such an accomplishment and it looks A-MAY-ZING! We can now move on to the next area of the house, and will come back for final painting of the mantle and trim when it is warm enough to open windows. And for good measure, a cute photo of me and the baby bump checking on daddy’s progress.

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I spent my weekend dreaming of the garden and working on a crop rotation plan. We are starting to hone in on the crops we like to grow that we actually use…which is not always obvious when you start. Spinach for example? We did not reach for it. Bush beans were prolific but we preferred the climbing romano beans so bush beans are out. Matt does not like beets. All the learning that goes into a maturing garden! This year we are focusing more on sweet corn, tomatoes, squash, kale and beans. Those are our staples and I want to optimize our soil and production with lessons from crop rotation.

I am still refining this model in Excel, but here is the basic idea that I am working from. First box is last year’s garden, with the second box one option for this year. For some scale, our garden is 45×60 feet and has been divided roughly into quadrants.

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Native Hedging: Pacific Wax Myrtle

Last summer our neighbors to the south underwent a massive yard overhaul. Unfortunately, it resulted in us loosing a lot of our privacy…grrr.

Since then, Matt and I have considered fencing, shrubs, evergreens and every other kind of hedge/barrier/privacy screen possible.

After calling some nurserys and doing some online digging we found the ideal plant for us: pacific wax myrtle. This native plant is deer resistant, hardy, evergreen, and grows FAST…exactly what we wanted! However, it is hard to find. We called nursery after nursery, looked online, everything was not in stock. Our island nursery said it had been over a year since they could get any in because they are in such low supply.

Then finally, I found a supplier. Local guy, super friendly, and he set aside twenty, 1 gallon pots for us. I loaded them up in the mini (this poor car gets a workout!) and took them back to the island. Since they have been in pots, they needed some trimming this first season to encourage bushing out.

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We planted them along the property line and are so excited for them to grow up and bush out over the next few years!

Adventures in Canning: Italian Prune Plum Jam

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Last weekend we brought home a huge box of fresh picked Italian plums. This weekend I decided to try my hand at canning plum jam. Result? Awesome.

I initially decided that I did not need nearly as many plums as I had, and gave them away to two women in the community. It seriously made my day to share this bounty. The downside…I gave away more than I wanted! I quickly learned that plums do not go NEARLY as far once they are jammed and canned as one would expect. Rookie error. Luckily we found two other sources of plums on the island so another batch will be happening this week.

I learned so tips for this jam, including macerating cut plums overnight and a different low sugar pectin. Both gleaned from this recipe. The resulting product in the BEST jam ever! I recommend these extra steps. We ate our first batch (the frothy skimmings) with fresh homemade bread in the backyard with guests that afternoon. Perfect summer treat we will enjoy for months to come.

Italian Prune Plum Jam

Makes 5 pint jars of jam

Start with:
8 lbs plums (pitted, quartered with skins on)
3 lbs sugar
mix together and macerate overnight in the fridge in glass bowl. the mixture should be soupy and sugar melted with plum juice.
Pour sugar/plum mixture into pot, and cook until fruit is soft. Smash hot fruit through china cap or food mill to remove skins.
Return to pot and add:
2Tbs Pomona universal pectin (seriously the best kind. Go find it now)
2 Tbs calcium water (mix found in pectin box)
1/2 cup lemon juice
Cook until thick and bubbly. Skim off froth (save this in a pyrex container to eat right away, not pretty but still yummy!)
Ladle into hot, sterilized jars and process 20 minutes per water bath instructions.

House Renovation Updates

What makes it a remodel vs a renovation? I was thinking of that in the middle of drafting this post.

Well, whatever it is, we are in the middle of it! This weekend we really hit some major strides and milestones. I unpacked all the plastic sheeting in the kitchen…that has been up since we took the wall down in February! We decided that there were enough steps between now and actually demoing the backsplash and counters that we could use our stove and hood for a while. Major horray for not cooking on a hot plate for awhile!

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We are also making huge changes in the living room. Matt has the fireplace (new hearth, mantle) framed out and covered in plywood. Brick veneer has been selected and is on order. We ordered sample tile for the kitchen and are narrowing it down. The table saw from the Tool Library has been working hard in the driveway and Matt is getting lots of practice. Next up: cabinets and cubbies for the kitchen! And a new light, and, and and…the list goes on!

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Two thirds of our potatoes are harvested, garlic is curing in the laundry room, bush beans are coming in by the handful and the Spanish beans are less than a week away from first harvest. Kale is going bonkers but areas are plagued by powdery mildew (boo!), and zucchini has been rolling in for breakfast, dinner and chocolate chip zucchini bread. Raspberries are a daily treat. And we have so many sweet peas for bouquets everywhere. We are in harvest time and it feels amazing.

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While the rest of the country is facing a massive heat wave, the temps this year have been much lower and wetter. It is a welcome break from last summer. The grass is even still green!

And we are working on a name for our little farm. A few names have come up, but we are trying really hard to make it just right.

Happy July…we are already counting down the days till fall vacations arrive! Better get moving on these house projects…or renovations whatever they are called.

Memorial Day Goals

Memorial Day snuck up on me this year. What? Three day weekend? I will gladly take one of those!

The weekend looks wet and cool, then next week promises sunshine and warmer night temperatures…perfect for my garden goal of tucking in 50+ tomato plants! This year I saved seeds from our three favorite varieties (Old German, Milano and Sun Sugar) and every single seed I planted has now grown into a beautiful strong plant. We transport them from the deck to the living room every day and they are now ready to plant outside. I plan to tear out the last of the chard and kale plants (all are bolted…perfect for chicken treats and harvesting seed!), put down a thick layer of compost and broadfork it all in.

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We also have a massive pile (if you can even call it a pile…more of a mountain) of sticks and branches that need to be chipped. If we can get the chipper started that would be a great thing to tackle this weekend. Some of the larger sticks may get repurposed thanks to this inspiring fence idea.

Matt is finishing up the hardwood floors in the expanded kitchen and then it will be on to finish coating the drywall, adding texture and building cabinets. Time to pick up the tool library table saw!

This three day weekend is going to fly.