Self-Sufficiency Series

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bean beds and herbs

Finally got the green beans planted! I'm racing the calendar here, trying to get the infrastructure for the tire garden in place with enough time that some stuff will actually grow. Smart gardeners in our area don't plant most things prior to June 1, and we can expect our first frost by mid-September (if not earlier), which leaves us about 90 days for a garden. With the peas planted, I turned my attention to green beans. First I had to build the rows.

Tools of the trade: wire mesh, tires, and cardboard boxes.


We had been laying down newspapers to control weeds, but we've been running out. We're using them faster than all our friends and neighbors can supply them, so we've switched to cardboard boxes.


I've been using measure tapes and baling twine to make sure the rows are laid out as symmetrically as possible.


Trundle trundle trundle. That's the story of my life lately, as I trundle composted manure from the pile outside the garden to the tires inside the garden. It took a long time to get those tires filled.


Meanwhile I prepped the beans. I have bush-style green beans (heirloom, of course) and counted out how many I'd need for my tires. Came to about 532 beans. No worries, I have plenty.


I soaked these overnight to prime them for planting.


I planted 19 beans per tire in 28 tires. We'll see if I have to thin them later.


Phew! Another veggie, done.

I also planted my herbs in the tires I had set aside for herb beds. With twelve big tires, you'd think I'd have enough room -- but no! I think I'll need more tires. I planted the usual selections: basil, oregano, cumin, sage, thyme, dill, etc., multiple tires of many of these.


Here's where I confess a deep dark secret: I bought some of the herbs pre-grown. Normally I wouldn't do that, but as I mentioned above, I'm racing the calendar.


I spent several days hardening them off, and finally planted them today: basil, oregano, thyme.


I still want to plant rosemary, hot peppers (it might be too late for those), horseradish (the roots arrived today), etc.

Little by little this garden is taking shape. I hadn't anticipated how much work it would be -- but for all the work I'm doing this year, there will be correspondingly less work to do next year. At least that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Planting hard red spring wheat

Last year we had our first experience (or perhaps I should say, experiment) in planting wheat.

Northern Idaho is wheat country. The grand and beautiful Palouse hills are perfect for growing this most elemental of grains. So my logic was, if they can do it, so can we.

So a couple of years ago, we started prepping a portion of our land for a wheat patch, specifically for hard red winter wheat (which is planted in the fall). (If you scroll down the list of key words on the left-hand side of the blog until you come to "wheat," you can follow our progress throughout the subsequent year.) That first year's experiment culminated in failure, as explained here.

But as with most failures, we learned a great deal. One of the biggest problems we had with winter wheat is we had no way to control the cheat grass that overtook the field. So this year we skipped out on the winter wheat and decided to grow hard red spring wheat. By planting in the spring, this would allow us to disk and cultivate the pasture (which would hopefully get rid of the cheat grass before it got too good a start) before we planted the wheat.

So last fall we bought 200 lbs of DNR (Dark Northern Red) spring wheat. In this photo it looks pinkish-red which is NOT because it's red wheat, but because it's been treated with a fungicide (most seed wheat is). The fungicide is colored red so people don't mistakenly eat it or feed it to livestock. We socked this wheat away in the barn for the winter.


We started prepping the wheat field on May 12. The grassy stuff you see is the early growth of cheat grass. Our hope is that by plowing it at this stage in its growth cycle, we could kill it off without using chemicals.


Don rototilled the pasture on May 28. We were delighted that the cheat grass hadn't grown back!


Next, we wanted to "scratch up" the pasture a bit before planting. Since we're not using a seed drill, one of the things Don discovered last year is that by smoothing the ground TOO much, the seed has a harder time "gripping" the ground and growing. Making little furrows, we hope, will allow the seed to grow better. So Don removed every other tine on the cultivator.


But when he went to cultivate the pasture, it was too muddy thanks to some recent rain. So we had to wait a day or two for it to dry out. We were racing the time because we needed to return the tractor to our sainted and patient friends Mike and Judy, who have been incredibly generous in loaning us their equipment.


The last couple days have been dry and windy, which dried out the pasture. Tonight Don checked the weather and saw a chance of rain and thunderstorms predicted for tomorrow -- which is also when we need to return the tractor. So he came in and said, "If the pasture is dry enough to cultivate, do you want to plant the wheat tonight?"

You bet! So as the sun was setting, he walked along the pasture and determined it was indeed dry enough to cultivate.


While he cultivated, I fetched the 200 lbs. of wheat and some buckets.


The dye in the fungicide left all our hands pink. We were careful not to touch our mouths or eyes after handling the wheat.


Four buckets, ready to go. We're hand-broadcasting, of course.


Meanwhile, the sun went down.


Sorry this shot is blurry, I put my bucket down hurriedly and snatched a picture, but I was trying not to fall behind the rest of the family while broadcasting.


We criss-crossed the field, then criss-crossed again, then criss-crossed again at right angles, trying to distribute the wheat as evenly as possible. We always worked as a single team, moving at the same pace. If one of us emptied his or her bucket first, the rest of us waited while s/he filled it up again.

At last we covered the field as best could. We had just a bit of wheat left over, so we just walked along and sowed the remainder in any bare spots we noticed.


Oops, sometimes too much wheat was broadcast (well, dumped) in one spot. That's a problem with hand-broadcasting. (We're only human.)


But the vast majority of the wheat was more evenly distributed.


Tomorrow Don and I plan to drag some tires over the field to close up the furrows and bury the wheat a bit. We'll see what happens with our wheat experiment this year! However it turns out, one thing's for sure: we're off to a better start than last year.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Parmesan butter pan biscuits

Here's a recipe that Older Daughter loves to make. It's fairly quick and absolutely delicious.


The dough has yummy things like basil and Parmesan in it.


She was using some fresh milk some friends had given us, which first meant she had to skim (suck) off the cream.


Then we could use the milk itself in the recipe.


Mixing...


Kneading...


The dough is divided in half, then rolled into a rectangle...


...and sliced into bars.


Melt some butter (or margarine)...


...then divvy it up between two baking pans.


The bars of dough are dipped and rolled in the melted butter...


...then placed in the pan.


Ready to bake.


Ta da! Delicious and easy.


Here's the recipe. (We normally double it because everyone loves these so much.)

Parmesan Butter Pan Biscuits
1/3 cup butter or margarine
2 1/4 cups flour
2 T Parmesan cheese (we double this amount)
1 T sugar
3 1/2 t baking powder
1 t basil leaves (we add about a tablespoon)
1 T parsley
1 cup milk

Heat oven to 400F. Melt the butter and pour into a 9" baking pan.

In a bowl, add all the ingredients except milk. Stir in milk until just moistened. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead about ten times or until smooth.

Roll dough into 12x4" rectangle, then cut into twelve 1" strips. Roll the strips in the melted butter and place in the same pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned.