Country Living Series

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Garden update

Some folks have been asking how our garden is doing, so I thought it might be time for an update.

For new readers, a short recap: we garden in tires. Specifically, big honkin' tractor tires. The reason for this is, after nine years of fighting tough clay soil and massive weeds (this is before we had a tractor), we took a totally different tact for our garden. We paved over the ground with tarps and gravel, hauled in massive (free) tractor tires, and filled those tire with a combination top soil, composted manure, and sand. We set up a drip irrigation system over most of it. As a result of these frugal raised beds, we've never had better success.

We didn't expand the garden much this year, even though we have the room as well as about a dozen new (old) tires ready to install, because we ran out of time last spring. The only addition we made was putting in four new blueberry tires.

So here's how everything is doing.

The corn, despite not getting planted until June 17, is doing splendidly.

This corn is a short season dwarf variety called Yukon Chief. It took a long time to find corn that would grow in our short season windy area -- but this stuff is phenomenal. Last year we harvested about 600 ears, and I'm recommending this variety to all our neighbors (as well as handing out seed with a free hand).

We estimate we'll be able to harvest in less than two weeks.

The garlic is long past ready to harvest (I've just been too busy to dig it up).

Here are the strawberry beds. We got lots of strawberries this year, but unlike last year, we didn't get enough to freeze (last year we put about 60 lbs. in the freezer).

Why not? Oddly enough, the answer seems to be this:

Every area has their pests. For us, it's the ubiquitous chipmunks. As cute as these guys are, they're voracious and industrious, and can carry away entire harvests if we don't do something to prevent it.

Last year, to keep the strawberries from being eaten by birds, we netted the beds:

Netting has a problem in that it can catch and sometimes kill animals, so I don't especially like using it. Last year we caught a couple of snakes and birds, but we were able to free them without incident.

This year the robins didn't seem as inclined to eat the strawberries, so we didn't net. Big mistake. While we didn't have problems with birds, we had enormous problems with chipmunks. I realized in retrospect last year's netting did an excellent job of keeping the little rodents at bay. This year the chippies filched just about every last berry. We had plenty of fruit for fresh eating, but none at all for the freezer.

Live and learn. Next year I'll net.

Here are our tomato plants, lush and full.

The fruit is just coming ripe, so we've been picking and temporarily storing in the fridge until I have enough to start canning sauce. We have both paste tomatoes and larger slicers. Don, who adores fresh garden-grown tomatoes more than anyone I've ever met, is in seventh heaven at the moment.

We had such success with our eight tires of potatoes last year that I planted twelve tires this year. They're growing very well.

These are cayenne peppers. There's nothing Younger Daughter loves more than spicy hot peppers, so she'll dry these and use them over the winter.

Red bell peppers. Growing well, but not much fruit yet. We'll see what we get before the first frost hits.

Here are the herbs. Sage:




(I also have mint and rosemary growing -- sorry, didn't get photos.)

Raspberries. They're past their season, of course, but we got lots and lots and lots of raspberries this year.

Here are some of the new blueberry bushes we planted in the spring. One brave bush even put out a handful of small berries (but very sweet!), however mostly they've put their energy into growth. They're all healthy and strong.

This is our bed of older blueberries, which produced heavily this year.

Lots of new growth on these bushes, always nice to see.


There's something so comforting about the steady dependability of carrots.

Last year I tried letting my carrots overwinter and go to seed (they're biennials), but to my dismay after doing fine all winter they suddenly all rotted in late spring. I'll try it again this year with a few carrots (this time I'll mulch heavily) and see what happens.

These are the potato onions.

You might remember last fall, a reader sent me some potato onions to try after hearing my frustration in trying to grow onions from seed. In the fall I planted every last bulb he sent, mulched them over the winter, and watched as they grew strongly during the summer. I snipped the heads off some of them and left the heads on others (experimenting, of course).

These are just about ready to harvest.

If these onions live up to their expectation as easy and consistent to grow and being good storers, as well as having a bite to them, I doubt I'll ever grow anything else. We adore onions in our family, so having a steady supply of a type that doesn't rot is a wonderful blessing.

This is lettuce, going to seed. The seeds are just about ready to collect. The funny thing is, these plants were volunteers from last year. I figure if something is going to grow that vigorously and easily, it's seed worth saving.

The Brussels sprouts we let overwinter for seed produced a magnificent crop of seeds (most of which were diligently harvested by the chipmunks, of course). I collected a great number of them. I learned Brussels sprouts require a much longer growing season than we get here in north Idaho, so I'll experiment and start some seeds indoors next January or February.

A volunteer tomato. Several plants grew spontaneously from seed that dropped from last year's plants. I'll certainly be saving some seed from these plants this year.

Watermelon. I only planted two tires' worth this year.

I planted them late (hint: don't bother trying to start watermelons indoors, it never seems to work) so we'll see if they mature before the first frost hits.

These melons are called Cream of Saskatchewan and are a Russian heirloom variety brought to Canada many years ago. It has creamy-white flesh. They're thin-rined and so don't store well, but who wants to store watermelons? The thin rinds make them split easily, so that's a drawback. But as long as they grow in our short season and are sweet, I'm satisfied.

Last but not least, our pear tree:

This is one of two surviving fruit trees from our original attempt at an orchard (the other tree, also a pear, is much smaller) and is producing fruit gangbusters. I'll pick these in about a month, let them ripen indoors, and can them.

That's our garden update. Our garden is modest, but it does reflect a lot of hard work we've put into it in the last few years.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Now what?

Well, as many people predicted, today's stock market was a wild and volatile ride.

Stocks dropped over 1000 points moments after opening, then went wild all day, finally closing down around 560 or so points.

These events have generated endless online chatter, as you can imagine. A lot of people are suddenly becoming more interested in preparedness, thinking, "So much to do and so little time!" There's a sense of urgency in the air.

I don't believe today necessarily ushered in the start of the next great depression (history will tell), but it certainly illustrates the kind of mad, rapid changes that can occur between one week and the next.

Which begs the question -- are you doing anything differently in light of the last few days' worth of volatility on Wall Street? Are you adopting a "wait and see" attitude or a "let's hurry up?" position?

(Husband of the boss addendum: I actually do think this is a sign of the coming depression. One of many signs. This "hiccup" had a cause and it wasn't just bad news from China. The equities market has become nearly severed from the real world due to fiat cash infusions, swaps that raise stock prices artificially, and the ever-bewildering and pretty much unregulated derivatives market.

Today wasn't the first sign. It won't be the last. But this I tell you true -- it's all coming down. Soon. No election will change it. No injection of additional monopoly money will stop it. Prepare. Please.

Now back to your regular and much prettier blog poster.)

Hilarious graffiti

I must admit, this is some pretty clever graffiti.

This one cracked me up.

Sadly appropriate.

True anarchy.


A "mini" poke at North Korea. Very well done.

And of course...

See the rest here.

Cheap kid

Older Daughter called on Friday to catch us up on her week at nanny school. Among descriptions of classes, child care, and other pertinent information, she mentioned in passing she'd purchased a pair of jogging shorts at Walmart, and was rather annoyed about it.

Keep in mind Older Daughter doesn't have a car, so all purchases are either done within walking distance, or at the convenience of a fellow nanny who has a car and will take her dorm-mates on grocery excursions once or twice a month, usually to a Walmart located about fifteen miles away.

"There aren't any thrift stores around here," Older Daughter said, "so I didn't have the option to get shorts there. But sheesh, they were ten dollars! I've been feeling guilty about it ever since."

That's my gal. Guilt for a $10 pair of shorts.

Having grown up in a frugal environment of second-hand goods and bulk purchases of staples and no recreational shopping (ever!), it looks like we've launched a cheapskate out into the world. Thank God.

When she begins earning money of her own, I have no doubt our daughter will indulge herself a bit -- it's the nature of being young and independent, after all -- but if there's one critical lesson she's learned while growing up, it's the value of a dollar.

There are two tactics one can take with regards to personal economics: earn more, or spend less. Most people grow up learning that earning more is the way to go, because then your purchases can be commensurate with your income. But few people consider the benefits of spending less. With low expenses, your income can be scaled down proportionally and you can reclaim your life from an insane work schedule.

Clearly this tactic can only go so far, but overall a thrifty lifestyle will always stand someone in good stead.

Which is why the following ad caught my eye today:

The salacious expression on the model's face as she ogles her credit cards is, well, disturbing (especially in light of Friday's stock market plunge). Here's a woman, the ad implies, who wouldn't hesitate to go to the mall and splurge on clothes/makeup/haircuts/shoes/purses/housewares/furniture/etc. and wrack up thousands of dollars in debt. What the ad doesn't say is this woman will then be enslaved to her job as she works to pay off the stupid things she "deserved" because she works so hard. And so the cycle begins.

We've been in debt. We didn't like it. While it's still too early to tell whether Older Daughter will ever fall into the debt trap, I'm encouraged that she feels guilt for her $10 shorts. It bodes well for her future.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Wild day on the stock market

It's times like this I'm so grateful we have nothing to do with national or international finances. Because my goodness, today the stock market got slammed.

A lot of people lost a lot of money, and people around the world are feeling jittery and unsettled.

No one knows what Monday will bring, of course. But one thing's for sure, those jars of peaches I canned up this week are looking better and better.

These are the kinds of events that explain why we've spent the last few years investing our money in tangibles. Bees, cattle, garden, the moment they're more stable than the stock market.

Just sayin'.