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Mathew Trotter

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since May 27, 2019
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Recent posts by Mathew Trotter

Barn cat status achieved. More pics after he's acclimated.
2 months ago

Nancy Reading wrote:It does sound like our winter is very similar to yours (give or take a bit of daylight due to lattitude) Our temperatures are very similar, just light frosts occasionally for about three months, although penetrating -12 Celsius every 5 years or so. Constant wet, yes. It may be that the extra light is a benefit for you growing things. I would say that growth slows right down here...



I have a couple of local planting calendars that I use as a jumping off point for when to plant things, though I'm leaning more and more towards throwing seeds on the ground throughout the year and letting them sort themselves out. I'll see if I can remember to post the calendars when I have them in front of me

I'm far from a master of when and how to grow root crops. I'm finding that without irrigation, spring planted carrots reach a certain point and then go into stasis while they wait out the drought and then get up to a good eating size for fall/winter. The stuff that gets planted as the fall rains return doesn't really size up until we get into spring. There's kind of a mixed bag there. Obviously they want to flower, though I tend to remove any that flower excessively early. Some of them also tend towards getting woody when they go to flower, but I found that was a relatively small percentage... I just cut into them with a knife and if I get any resistance, that one goes to the chickens. Overall, I've found that the majority hold well in the ground throughout the season. A few split or get attacked by pests. Those are the one's I exclude from my breeding program.

Mud is definitely a nightmare with roots and did discourage me from eating them on many an occasion. A good stiff brush and a bucket of water does a decent job, though it's certainly not a quick or pleasant task. I'd get the majority of the mud off that way and then peel them and rinse in fresh water. Much better, now that we have running water, is to set the sprayer on the hose to the "jet" setting and that allows you to blast the mud off pretty quick and allows you to return all the nutrients and other good stuff to the garden.

The plus side is that roots/tubers tend to improve soil quickly, so mud tends to be less of an issue in successive seasons. I can't believe how clean the turnips are coming out this year.
2 months ago
I have a variety of mustard that I didn't know I had. Must've also been from the sprouting mix I inherited from my friend. It blended in with the turnips so well that it's only now that it's getting larger leaves with clearly identifiable wavy leaf margins that they're starting to stand out. I don't know that I like the flavor as much as my red mustard, but it does seem to have thicker and thus probably hardier leaves.
2 months ago

Mark Reed wrote:
When I first came here I made a small garden about 20 x 30 feet and I didn't have any fences. There was a giant patch of thistles across the road. I put on my gloves and harvested them for mulch between the rows. An unexpected result was less damage from the rabbits so I went and got more thistles and piled them all around the perimeter. Over a few years I ended up exterminating that thistle patch. Maybe they could help with the rodents in your garden? I'm not sure what kind of thistle those were but they were large plants that make a purple flower.



I was definitely using the thistles as a defensive mulch through the dry season. I don't know if they were were especially effective... thistles are ubiquitous, so I think most of the wildlife has figured out how to work around them. Now that we're in the set season they don't stay rigid and sharp... they disintegrate into a soggy mess.

Thoroughly dried blackberry canes might be more effective this time of year, the only problem being that they're just as effective against the humans managing the space as they are the wildlife.

Bad smells and tastes are generally effective against mammals, but it's challenging to get anything to stick around in the rain.

There's an old native saying... possibly Hidatsa in origin... something about planting for the worm, the crow, the thief, the neighbor, and the self, or something to that effect. Ultimately, I think quantity is a better solution than any fancy tricks... I'm just in that nebulous state where I can't quite grow the quantity that I'd like to get.
2 months ago

Nancy Reading wrote:Wow, that stonehenge video was great - not seen it before.
Nice to see things growing - so you get most growth spring and autumn, between the dry and cold seasons?
Hopefully the critters will leave you some beans!  I had the same problem a couple years ago with my broad (fava) beans, the crows had almost every one as it germinated. I think I got two survivors out of the whole seed packet, and those didn't make it to maturity. Yes, if only they knew the meaning of sharing it wouldn't matter.



Things grow well through the rainy season... September-ish through May-ish, depending on the year. Things grow just fine through the winter, you just have to pick species and varieties that can handle the cold... though the last two seasons have been especially mild. It's rare that we drop below 20ish Fahrenheit (-6ish Celsius.) The coldest I've witnessed here in my lifetime was around -14 Celsius. That was a freak winter. One of the local seed suppliers actually has a turnip that's a result of the 5% or so if their crop that survived that year. We get snow once or twice a year, but we skip years. It's probably as common, or more common, that we get freezing rain. And I find that it's the constant freezing and thawing that plants tend to struggle with more than outright cold. This is the first year that I'm trying mustard over winter, but all of the brassicas do well. Cabbages don't tend to head up until spring unless you can start them mid-summer-ish. My lettuce handles the cold just fine... I lost maybe 25% the first year, but what survived passed on its cold hardiness.

Things certainly slow down as the days get shorter, but if you can get things to a good eating size before growth slows to a crawl, pretty much everything gets through the winter just fine. Granted, there aren't really a lot of high-calorie things that can be grown this time of year. I haven't done much work with parsnips, but they're one of the few things that should work this time of year and provide more than 300 calories/pound. Salsify/scorzonera are also in that club. You can produce a lot of biomass, but most of the calories are coming from animal products and whatever grains/legumes/tubers/nuts/fruits/etc. you grew over the summer (if you can get stuff through the drought.)

It's way easier this time of year and moving into the colder months, though. There's no shortage of moisture. Most of the pests and diseases die, migrate, or hibernate for the winter. Few new weeds will germinate in the cold. Everything tastes sweeter (because sugar is a natural antifreeze.) Probably the only bad thing about it is that you have to go out in the rain to harvest (or carefully plan your harvests around the rain.)

So yeah. Most of the critters should be gone or holed up for the winter soon. There are always exceptions, like deer, but they usually maintain a respectable distance unless they're desperate.
2 months ago
Lepidium sativum. Cress. It's cress. I'm like 99% sure. It's not the same species of cress that I'm used to seeing, but the microgreens mix that I included did contain a generic "cress" and this must be that. Maybe there was more than one species of cress in that mix, since I'm definitely seeing so much of the stuff that's naturalized here that I assumed that was the cress that I planted. It also didn't taste especially peppery, but I was also just barely nibbling on it in case it ended up being something toxic.

One more mystery solved.

https://www.westcoastseeds.com/products/peppergrass-curly-cress
2 months ago
Ugh. Well, the favas are actually starting to sprout. And some asshole is eating them all. I'm guessing it's a combination of birds and rodents, since in some cases the seed has clearly been eaten, but in others the sprout was eaten and the seed left. Birds were hovering and getting territorial while I was out working, and based on that I threw row covers over the area with emerging seedlings. If it's rodents that are causing the majority of the problem, then row covers might be a deadly mistake, providing said rodents with protection from aerial predators. Even if the cat does come home tonight, rodents will have done their damage before she's able to go outside. We're supposed to get a couple of genuinely sunny days, and that might be a good opportunity to apply another round of nettle tea, though I anticipate that it would wash away before the favas were big enough to tolerate being nibbled on. I don't know what the actual damage is yet. There are lots of spots where I can't tell if something's been digging around or if I just didn't fill in the holes where I planted the seeds very well. I might plant a little more after I see what the damage is, but I don't want to dip into my reserves if I don't have to. I mean, I'd love to believe that I'm selecting for bird/rodent resistance, but realistically I think it's just luck of the draw (though, they don't seem to like the skins of the beans, so there might be something to select for in that regard.)

It really is just fractals of history repeating itself. Like my ancestors, I'm happy to share, but it'd be great if that wasn't taken as an invitation to commit genocide. 🙄

In better news, growth on the pre-existing veggies really feels like it exploded overnight. It helps that more and more brassicas are getting their true leaves and are finally recognizable. Some of the kale is getting massive and it was genuinely indistinguishable only a few days ago. I'm seeing more and more dill popping up. Not sure it'll do much as we move into cooler weather, but it'll certainly make for a nice snack while it lasts. I'm seeing a lot more cress as well. There's new stuff continuing to sprout as well, and still plenty that isn't big enough to be distinguishable yet, but the stuff that is is really starting to look gorgeous.

I'm accidentally running a bit of an experiment that I hadn't consciously intended to. I started pulling thistles at one end of the garden and dropping them as mulch, figuring anything that didn't survive the root disturbance qualified as part of my thinning for that area. The next area I pulled the thistles but did not drop them as mulch there, but rather in the front of the "terrace" instead. My concern was that they were a little too effective as mulch and were smothering an excessive number of the smaller seedlings. Then the final area is everything that hasn't been weeded yet. Some patches of thistle have really started to senesce, while others look relatively healthy.

Without any kind of measurement, my gut feeling is that the first area (weeded and mulched) has the best final plant spacing but also has the lowest plant diversity... Only the toughest species would have been able to survive that treatment, and so they represent the bulk of what's left. A new round of germination is taking place now, so it'll be interesting to see how things even out.

The second area (weeded but not mulched) definitely has more plant diversity and a plant density that leaves me plenty of options for making selections, whereas in%1 the previous area it feels like I'm doing less selection and more just getting stuck with whatever survived. I'd say the weeded and mulched section has the largest average size per plant, but it doesn't have the largest overall plants, and just visually, the weeded and not mulched area just looks healthier as a whole and on a plant by plant basis

Which leaves the non-weeded area. This area has the best plant diversity of all (even excluding the weeds), and in the areas where the thistles are senescing, this is where I'm seeing the largest individual plants and what, by my estimation, is the fastest rate of growth. It's super crowded, but that seems to be having minimal impact. Part of that is likely just from the lack of root disturbance, but some of the best looking plants exist in some of the densest but most diverse clumps of plants, just like the research suggests would happen.

Of course, it's still too early to call one genuinely better than the others, but so far I'm leaning towards not weeding as the winner, and if not, then at least close enough that the reduction in labor makes up for whatever I'm losing in the process. I'm curious to see how things work out as the season progresses.

The final picture is the one plant that keeps cropping up and I can't place at all. I've been leaning heavily towards something in the apiaceae family, but it's not carrots, parsley, or cilantro. I've thought that maybe it was the edible chrysanthemum I included in my mix, since that's one I'm not super familiar with. As they get bigger, I'm less sure of that. There are some California poppies with a similar phenotype (though more dainty and frilly leaves seem most common.) I've nibbled a bit of leaf and haven't gotten a particularly strong flavor. Google suggested that it was a particular species of buttercup whose leaves are dissimilar to other species of buttercups, and does share a striking resemblance, but doesn't appear to be native or naturalized here. If anyone thinks they know what it is, I'm all ears. Otherwise I'm just going to have to keep watching it and see how it develops over time.

There were definitely lots of things in my mix that I haven't seen clear signs of yet. Lots of maybes, but nothing big enough to be certain about yet. At this point I'm still mostly just observing and not intervening, hoping that some of the things I haven't ID'd are there and will present themselves in time.


2 months ago
The timeline for cats has moved up. Woke up to mice having gotten onto a shelf 4 feet up and and devoured a 5 pound bag of rice. That's after already destroying a water heater. Apparently this is the push that the landowner needed to realize that cats aren't optional out in the boons, and that they're throwing money away by allowing mice to run rampant. Was going to get cats through a local barn cat program, since that's certainly more economical, but there's no saying if or when cats would be available in our area. Instead, found a promising cat through the humane society that's listed as a good mouser (which I've literally never seen listed in one of the profiles before.) With the pandemic, everything requires appointments now, but with luck the landowner will be bringing her home tonight. It's literally double the cost of the barn cat program, which hurts even though it's not my money, but certainly it'll be easier than dealing with feral cats. We'll see how it goes.
2 months ago
Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and live amongst the world's great stonesmiths (you know, real masters of stone—beyond stone aged people and mere masons.)

I've seen this video before, but damn if it doesn't always make me want to go out and start building things out of big rocks.



And this one...

2 months ago
It's been a stormy couple of days and power was out briefly. There's finally a break in the rain. The main path through the garden is finally turning into a muddy mess from the constant rain and foot traffic. Since there isn't much I can do with the soil this water logged, I'm taking the time to spread a bit of wood chips over the main path to eliminate the mud. My supply of wood chips is limited, so this is likely a one time application, after which I'll likely start using the weeds from the garden as the primary mulch.

Here's video. It's not especially exciting, but it does show just how green this area has gotten in the past 2-3 months. Granted, most of what you can actually see in this video is grass and thistles, since this is the end of the garden I haven't weeded yet. The grasses are actually getting thick enough in some spots that I may have to set up the rabbit tractor at some point to knock them back down to something actual vegetables can compete with.

https://www.instagram.com/tv/CVi7C5ElEn5/?utm_medium=copy_link

The other thing I've been working on with the break in the rain is filling in a section of one of the ditches that the landowner arbitrarily dug, at great expense, to drain away all the water we need ahead of the worst drought we've ever seen. The actual cutout is about 2 feet deep now that it's started to erode, but it's about a 4 foot drop from the spot I took the picture from. It literally dissects the property and makes it impossible to get to the top half of the property any way other than on foot, and even on foot it's challenging. This is my quick (or not so quick?) and dirty way of creating a walking path across this monstrosity. It doesn't have the finesse of a Bill Zeedyk design, in which you'd key in the structure by cutting in perpendicular to the ditch and carefully stacking rocks so the water can't just move around the structure and wash out the soil on either side. And that may be an issue that I have to contend with at some point in the future. At this stage, though, I'm just trying to create a stable base that can hold up to foot traffic using wood and stone, the idea being that as the wood rots it will act as a kind of mortar and stabilize the stone. This is just to the west of the garden, so the idea is to slowly fill the rest of the ditch back in with spent stalks and such from the garden in much the same way that Amazonian civilization created terra preta through a kind of pit composting (obviously hoping to also include lots of biochar and fired clay into the mix.) Over time it will build back up to the original level and I'll be able to expand the garden further westward. Of course, I want something more stable than what is essentially 4 feet of topsoil to walk on, hence concentrating the stones where the original path crosses the ditch. With luck, the building up of organic matter throughout the ditch further stabilizes the stone, making a more time-consuming design unnecessary. Or it will all fail with time. But I expect it to be usable for some time at least, and I don't expect any eventual repair work to justify over-engineering things from the start. If the past two years has taught me anything, it's the kind of large scale designs that would be more typical on a piece of land this size, but which require a massive input of labor upfront, just don't work when you're a lone person. You can't sacrifice short term needs for long-term goals, and you can't invest energy into projects where most of your effort will erode before you have an opportunity to capitalize on them in any meaningful way. Good enough has to be good enough sometimes, and more work shouldn't be done unless there's a significant labor savings to be realized in perpetuity. In this case, just having the path is the time saver. Over-engineering it from the start is more work than any repairs are likely to take.

Ultimately the clay subsoil is still shaped into a channel designed to take water away, and it will still do that, though hopefully a giant pile of organic matter can soak up a great deal of the water that passes through. Long-term, if long-term is even still in the cards, I'll need to come up with strategies to keep that organic matter from washing out, and perhaps some kind of catch for the soil that does wash out.

In other news, the garlic is starting to sprout. Just barely. I only found a few cloves that are just starting to pop out, but it's at least starting. No sign of favas yet.
2 months ago