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Our Italian Tenant

We have an Italian living with us,

in the barn–

the same as we had an Australian go on a car trip with us one year.

Both are machines, the latter a GPS device and the former a spiffy, new, shiny, Italian-made tiller–oh boy!!

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Bruce finally bit the bullet and bought a brand new tiller because digging in the garden dirt was a lot more work than he wanted to do.  He had rented a tiller last year, but he found he needed it several times throughout the season, so this seemed to be the best solution.

We went up to Eugene to pick it up, got it home, and then the fun began.  It looked like it would be dangerous exciting getting it off the truck, so I took photos.

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This is a BCS tiller.

Produced in Italy for over 50 years, BCS ranks as one of the world’s best selling tillers. BCS tillers have up to 4 forward and 3 reverse speeds. All models are direct-gear driven and offer the best power transfer in the industry. Other tillers use high maintenance, inefficient belts or chains, instead of precision high quality steel gears, to transfer power from engine to tines. BCS tillers also have an automotive-style clutch joined directly to the crankshaft.

In addition to the obvious benefits for power transfer, this clutch design positions the engine so that the tiller’s center of gravity is placed low for maximum maneuverability and the least wear and tear on the operator. High quality engines are used throughout the BCS line. They have solid state ignitions, extra-heavy flywheels and are certified for California emission standards. BCS tillers have lock pin adjustment of tiller depth up to 8″. They have rear tines (widths from 18″-30″) for even digging and reduced vibration. Tines rotate up to 290 rpms, or up to 50% faster than other brands for softer, finer soil.

BCS tillers have adjustable handles allowing 180° swing and BCS’s power take-off (PTO) can be controlled independently of the wheel speed. The tilling unit detaches easily so you can use your tractor for dozing, mowing, cutting, chipping, shredding or throwing snow. BCS offers many attachments for all these tasks; it has the widest selection of PTO attachments in the industry.

http://www.groworganic.com/garden-tools/garden-tiller.html

What do the initials BCS stand for?  Beneath Ceaseless Skies?  British Crime Survey?  Bayer Crop Science?  It could be any of these, but in this case it’s Bonetti, Castoldi, and Speroni, probably the men who founded the company…

It’s here on Wikipedia, but I don’t read Italian.  http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/BCS_%28azienda%29

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Mushrooms

Stropharia ambigua    Stropharia ambigua

Do you ever think much about mushrooms, except as an ingredient in dinner?  I never did until this year.  After the summer when it started raining again here in Oregon, I noticed that there were a large variety of mushrooms growing on the farm.

I picked them, cut them in half and photographed them, tried to identify them and thought they were all very interesting.  But then I started researching them on-line and found all sorts of fascinating things about them, almost in the realm of the supernatural.

 

Uses for Mushrooms

1.  Enriching your diet with Vitamin D

  In a 2012 Huffington Post article, Paul Stamets, founder of Fungi Perfecti, wrote about the ease of increasing the vitamin D in mushrooms simply by exposing them to sunlight.  It doesn’t seem to matter if they are store bought or wild, fresh or dehydrated.  Simply expose them to sunlight for a couple of hours and the high vitamin D levels will last for more than a year.  1 cup of diced mushrooms has 9 IU of Vitamin D.  The same amount exposed to UV light has 313 IU of Vitamin D.  Mushrooms treated with UV light or exposed to sunlight are the only whole food vegetable source of vitamin D.

2.  Fighting pollutants

  • Several newspapers have been bringing attention to the cleanup of Sequoia Creek in Corvallis, Oregon where volunteers with the Ocean Blue Project, an ecological restoration nonprofit, have been blending mushroom spawn with coffee grounds and straw, placing the resulting mixture in burlap bags, and then setting the containers so that water entering storm drains is filtered through them.  How ingenious!  The approach is seeking to take advantage of the mycelium’s natural ability to break down toxins (such as oil and pesticides) and to metabolize harmful bacteria (such as E. coli).  More information on this project as well as future possibilities, which may include assisting in the cleanup of the Willamette River, can be found at   http://www.oceanblueproject.org/
  • May 23, 2014 is a day that about 700,000 citizens in Portland, Oregon may long remember (Sara does):  they were instructed to boil their tap water before consuming it due the detection of a dangerous form of E. coli bacteria in the regional water supply.  An article by James Trimarco of Yes Magazine online details research previously done by Paul Stamets, founder and owner at Fungi Perfecti, that considers “an out-of-the-box solution: running water through filters that contain fungi specially selected for their antibiotic abilities.”  In his study, Mycologist Paul Stamets found that “the best-performing species turned out to be the species from the genus Stropharia, commonly known as the wine cap mushroom. The wine caps—which are not only edible but considered a delicacy—consistently removed more than 20 percent of E. Coli that flowed around it.”

3. Cleaning up radioactive contamination

  • In the fall of 2014, diverse news sources, including www.Telegraph.co.uk and USA Today are reporting that Germany’s forests may be plagued by radioactive boars, thanks to the animal’s habit of scarfing down mushrooms and truffles that could be storing radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of nearly 30 year ago.  Saxony boar hunters are currently required to test the boar carcasses for radiation, and alarmingly “in a single year, 297 out of 752 boars tested … have exhibited high levels of radiation that make the meat unfit for human consumption.  Sadly, experts believe that the radioactive boars could be roaming Germany for up to 50 more years.  Similarly, it is believed that many mushrooms from the areas affected may also be unfit for human consumption. Saxony boars are particularly affected because of heavy rain in the region directly after the disaster, and “their diet of mushrooms and other plants that store radiation.”  Wild boar dig up soil in search of food such as mushrooms and truffles. This is probably why these animals are so affected since the radiation that swept over from Chernobyl contaminated a lot of ground soil. Furthermore, mushrooms and truffles are known to store radiation, and many that are growing in the affected areas are also thought to be unfit for human consumption.  
  • http://www.iflscience.com/environment/wild-boar-roaming-forests-germany-are-too-radioactive-eat                                                                                                                                         
  • Many people have  asked more or less the same question: “What can be done to help heal the Japanese landscape around the failing nuclear reactors?” The enormity and unprecedented nature of this combined natural and human-made disaster will require a massive and completely novel approach to management and remediation. And with this comes a never before seen opportunity for collaboration, research and wisdom. The nuclear fallout will make continued human habitation in close proximity to the reactors untenable. The earthquake and tsunami created enormous debris fields near the nuclear reactors. Much of this debris is wood, and many fungi useful in mycoremediation are wood decomposers and build the foundation of forest ecosystems.  By sampling other mushroom-forming fungi for their selective ability to hyper-accumulate radioactivity, we can learn a great deal while helping the ecosystem recover. Not only will some mushroom species hyper-accumulate radioactive compounds, but research has also shown that some mycorrhizal fungi bind and sequester radioactive elements so they remain immobilized for extended periods of time. Surprisingly, we learned from the Chernobyl disaster that many species of melanin-producing fungi have their growth stimulated by radiation.  The knowledge gained through this collaborative process would not only benefit the areas affected by the current crisis, but would also help with preparedness and future remediation responses.    http://www.permaculture.co.uk/articles/how-mushrooms-can-clean-radioactive-contamination-8-step-plan                                                                            

4.  Mushroom materials

What do you get when you combine agricultural waste with fungal mycelium?  Mushroom materials, and the many products of Ecovative which are natural, renewable and biodegradable…they are grown products, not manufactured.  Interestingly, the mushroom materials may end up as surfboard blanks, fins and handplanes as well as more ordinary products such as packaging and insulation.  Ecovative uses agriculture waste products, including corn stalks and leaves, to grow biodegradable alternatives to foam and plastic products. A fungal material called mycelium is used as glue to hold the materials together.  The company molds these products to make packaging for the computer manufacturer Dell and chair backs used by The Gunlocke Co., a furniture maker from Wayland, New York, among others.  http://www.bizjournals.com/albany/news/2014/11/19/ecovative-designs-newest-product-encourages-diy.html?page=all

5.  Textiles

Mushrooms can be used for dying wool and other natural fibers. The chromophores of mushroom dyes are organic compounds and produce strong and vivid colors, and all colors of the spectrum can be achieved with mushroom dyes. Before the invention of synthetic dyes, mushrooms were the source of many textile dyes.

 

Mushroom Facts

  • There are 16 million spores contained in each mushroom.
  • 90% of a mushroom is water.
  • About 2,500 varieties of mushrooms are grown worldwide.
  • The exact number of species of fungi will vary somewhat, depending upon which classification scheme is followed. Generally, however, it is estimated that there are about 60,000 valid species of fungi. Over 100 new species are described in the scientific literature each month, so the total number increases steadily. The British mycologist, David Hawksworth, however, has estimated that there may be as many as 1.5 million species of fungi. If true, this means that we have discovered only about 4% of the fungi that exist. http://naturalhistory.uga.edu/~GMNH/Mycoherb_Site/FAQeng.htm
  • 80% of mushrooms are consumed by 20% of the population.
  • The Mycena family of fungus contains more than 70 species of mushrooms that glow in the dark. These mushrooms produce light by a chemical reaction called bioluminescence. In the past, people illuminated their way through the woods using these glowing pieces of fungus-colonized wood.
  • Some mushrooms are so rare that they only grow for one week during the year.  In April of 2014, the English online version of The Asahi Shimbun published a brief article about a pair of small matsutake (with a combined weight of less than 5 ounces) that sold at auction within a second after the event opened with a winning bid of $1,170 at the famous Tsukiji wholesale market in Tokyo.   http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201404220005
  • Many of us tend to think that mushrooms are passive seed spreaders, releasing their spores and allowing the air currents to distribute them.  But, how do some mushrooms seem to disperse their spores even when there doesn’t seem to be any breeze?  The answer may be simple:  they cool the air around them by releasing water vapor, creating convection currents strong enough to lift the spores into the air and even move them away from the mushroom, reports UCLA researcher Marcus Roper.
  •  Armillaria solidipes or Honey Mushroom underlies 2200 acres east of the city in a remote corner of eastern Oregon’s Blue Mountains at an elevation of about 6500 feet in the Malheur National Forest near the Strawberry Mountain and Monument Rock wilderness areas according to the US Forest Service.  Most people walking by would never know the fungus lurks just below the ground’s surface, occupying its time in the quiet business of sending out rhizomorphs and wrapping them around tree roots.  It’s roughly the size of 1600 football fields, and Forest Service researcher Catherine Parks, who has spent 10 years studying it, suggests it could be 8000 years old and the total mass of the colony may be as much as 605 tons. The only obvious signs of its presence are the gaps created when it kills trees.  If this colony is considered a single organism, then it is the largest known organism in the world by area.                                                                                                                                      Oregonian Newspaper, June 10, 2007; Wikipedia 

http://www.madaboutmushrooms.com/mad_about_mushrooms/fascinating_fungi_fun_facts/

 

 Mushrooms from our farm, and what we think they are:

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Phycomyces blakesleeanus

A filamentous fungus that Bruce found growing in the vegetable  garden.  It became the primary organism of research of the Nobel laureate Max Delbruck starting in the 1950s for the variety and sensitivity of its responses to light and its reaction to a variety of environmental responses including gravity, touch, wind and presence of nearby objects.  It has an avoidance response in which it avoids solid objects in its path, bending away from them without touching them and then continuing to grow upward again.  This response is believed to be due to an unidentified “avoidance gas” emitted by the sporangi.  Wikipedia; http://genome.jgi.doe.gov/Phybl2/Phybl2.home.html

 

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We think these really oddball growths are false truffles.  They are growing in the road that runs from the house to the mailbox, emerging from the ground.

 

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Puffball, although I could be convinced it’s a bird egg.

 

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More puffballs, I think.

 

 

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Meadow Mushroom- Agaricus campestris  These were growing all over the yard near the house and some were very large.  They are edible and found in fields and pastures, lawns, especially those rich in manure, usually after a rain from late fall to early winter.  They are one of the most common wild mushrooms that people eat and are closely related to button mushrooms.

 

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Mycena is a large genus of small mushrooms, with the common name fairy bonnets.  They are the most abundant mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest and are often produced in large numbers (troops) over large areas of forest floor, especially on conifer needles.  Over 33 species are known to be bioluminescent, creating a glow called Foxfire, or “fairy fire”.  It is a bluish-green glow that is the same yellow light that comes from fireflies.  Notes from  Aristotle, in 382 B.C., refer to a “light that, unlike fire, was cold to the touch”.  Although generally very dim, in some cases it is bright enough to read by.

We went out one night to see if the ones near the house were the glowing Foxfire mushrooms, but they are not.  Maybe there are some in other areas of the farm, but we really don’t want to be walking around in the woods at night.

 

 

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Possibly a Vascellum pratense,  or Meadow Puffball

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Bolete; Some boletes are among the best-tasting mushrooms in the world.   Virtually all boletes disseminate their spores through pores, tiny holes on the undersides of their caps.  Spores travel down closely-packed, vertical tubes to reach the pores.   If you look closely at the right-hand photo you can see the tubes.  http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/Mushrooms.Folder/Bolete%20Overview.html

“Gold and silver and dresses may be trusted to a messenger, but not a boletus, because it will be eaten on the way.” Martial, 1st C. A.D.

 

 

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False Truffle

Mushroom Guide

Besides finding out that mushrooms are multi-dimensionally  interesting, I found out some other interesting facts from my handy mushroom guide, Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest by Steve Trudell and Joe Ammirati:

  • They are extremely difficult to identify, and should only be eaten if an expert tells you they are okay to eat–even then, be suspicious.
  • On average, about one person per year dies of mushroom poisoning in North America.
  • Touching mushrooms will not cause poisoning, but you may get contact dermatitis.
  • You can taste any mushroom in order to identify it.  You should nibble a small bit from the edge of the cap and chew it using your front teeth, then spit it out.  In order to be poisoned you must swallow a much larger amount of mushroom.
  • Mushrooms are classified into easily identified (usually) classes–Gilled mushrooms; Boletes; Spine-fungi, club-,coral-and fan-like fungi; Polyspores and crust-fungi; Puffballs, earthballs, and earthstars; Jelly-like fungi; Morels, false morels and elfin saddles; Cup-fungi; Truffles and false truffles.  Finding a mushroom and fitting it into one of these categories is not too difficult–beyond that it takes a great deal of study.

There are two Truffle Festivals coming up next year.  The first is in Portland on January 15-18 and the other is in Eugene on January 21-25.  We are hoping to go to one or the other and taste some truffles at the marketplace event on Sunday.  http://www.oregontrufflefestival.com/

And lastly, isn’t it strange that nuclear explosions are described as mushroom clouds and mushrooms are now being studied for use in cleaning up nuclear accidents?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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2014 Gravens Gardens Pepper Report

This is my first season growing peppers in southwestern Oregon and my first season gardening on this property.  From Google Earth, I know someone has been gardening on this plot since 1994.  The 1994 image of the garden seems to show a well-established garden plot so I am assuming the garden was established before 1985.  I had the soil tested in the spring of 2014.  The soil was a little too acidic and needed a little nitrogen.  I tilled in about 1/3 of the recommend lime, 4 to 5 wheelbarrow loads of mint compost, and no nitrogen.

The peppers were planted fairly densely in two rows 18-inches apart on 8-inch centers.  The plants were planted in early May.  I started the seeds about 3 to 4 weeks too early so the plants were very leggy (1’ to 2’) at the time they were planted.  I planted them very deep with two thirds of the total plant placed below the soil level.  I used two lines per row of T-Tape (Emitter Spacing: 6″, Flow Rate: 0.25 GPH) on a 20 PSI regulated line operating 45 minutes 3 times a week for irrigation.

We had a warmer and drier than normal spring so the early planting worked out okay.  After a few weeks the plants shook off transplanting shock, started growing well and looked good throughout the growing season.  I provided a shade structure made up of PVC pipe and light-weight row cover.  This structure effectively eliminated sun scald, yet provided enough light to produce a very nice yield.

I decided to grow the same pepper varieties here that I grew in San Jose, CA.  I was very encouraged with the results, all varieties produced well with the exception of the Bhut Jolokia, which fruited very well but did not ripen before the rains started.  In the end, I grew 2 to 4 plants of 43 varieties of peppers.

I grew these sweet pepper varieties: Belecski, California Wonder Orange, California Wonder Red, Chervena Chushka, Coral, Corno di Toro Giallo, Corno di Toro Rosso, Cuollarici, Early Sunsation, Espelette, Garden Sunshine, Giallo di Cuneo, Goccia d’Oro, Gourmet, Karma, Marconi Golden, Marconi Red, Orange Bell, Quadrato d’Asti Rosso, Romanian Gogosari, and Wisconsin Lakes.  The red lettered varieties are very nice peppers developed in Europe after 1500 AD.  These varieties were developed for flavor as well as growth and vector resistance and resulted in great varieties for the garden.  The Corno di Toro and Marconi varieties have great flavor both for eating out of hand and as sweet-pickled.  Belecski, Giallo di Cuneo, Goccia d’Oro, Marconi Golden, Marconi Red, Quadrato d’Asti Rosso, and Romanian Gogosari, are very nice bell-type varieties that are great fresh and they freeze very well.  The Chervena Chushka and Espelette are best dried and ground for paprika.  Finally, Cuollarici is an Italian frying pepper.  The Corno di toro, Marconi, Quadrato d’Asti, and Romanian Gogosari are our favorite sweet peppers.

I grew these mild peppers: Ancho 101, Baby Pepper Chili, Chilhuacle Negro, Mariachi, Padron, Pasilla Bajio and Szentesi.  Baby Pepper Chili is the unpatented open-pollinated version of the Papadew pepper found sweet-pickled in the supermarkets and salad bars.  This is one of our favorite mild varieties that we sweet-pickle and serve stuffed with soft goat cheese.  Padron is a well-known fryer.  Mariachi and Szentesi are very nice paprika-shaped peppers with a nice bite.

 

I grew these hot peppers: Aleppo, Big Bomb, Hinklehatz Yellow, Jalapeño, Manzano Orange, Manzano Red, Santa Fe Grande, Serrano, and Thai Hot Black.  The Manzano and Big Bomb are great sweet-pickled and stuffed with soft goat cheese.  The Aleppo dried and ground make a very flavorful spicy paprika.  The Thai Hot Black is a very hot Thai pepper grown by a family of Hmong people living in the California central valley.

 

I grew these extremely hot peppers: Bhut Jolokia, Habanero Saint Jacobs, and Trinidad Scorpion. The Habanero and Trinidad Scorpion did very well.  We make jelly from the Habanero, and hot chili sauce out of all three.  All three are great dried and ground into an extremely hot paprika. When making these hot paprikas, I grind the seeds and the pods together.

 

I save seeds for Aleppo, Baby Pepper Chili, Belecski, Bhut Jolokia, Cuollarici, Habanero Saint Jacobs, Hinklehatz Yellow, Romanian Gogosari, Szentesi, and Thai Hot Black.

 


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Apple Cider Pressing Party

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What:  Apple Cider Pressing

Where:  Our house

When: October 21, 2014

Why:  Because we like apple cider

Who:  Bruce and me, our oldest daughter, various friends we’ve met in Oregon

After much anticipation and preparation the day finally arrived for our 2nd annual cider pressing party!  Last year was the first, but the previous owners actually did all the work and we just showed up for the fun.  This year there was a long list of things to do to prepare for the party:

1.  We had to decide when to press the apples, according to when we thought they would be ripe

2.  Pick all the apples and store them in the garage

3.  Find enough boxes to hold all the apples

4.  Invite people to come and help

5.  Get out the press and make sure it is clean

6.  Clean many, many plastic, gallon jugs

7.  Figure out how to get the juice from the press into the jugs

8.  Make a nice meal for everyone to enjoy afterwards

We were a bit worried that the apples wouldn’t be any good or wouldn’t ripen, but they all came through for us.  The apples actually looked much, much better than we had hoped for.  There was some scabbing on the outside of some, but we didn’t see any coddling moth.  The Golden Delicious and Melrose ripened about 2 weeks earlier than the Granny Smiths and Winesaps.  We thought for awhile that we would only have a two variety cider, but with 4 types of apples the juice was delicious. 

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Golden Delicious apples in the garage;  Melrose, Winesap and Granny Smiths on the porch

There were 10 people altogether at the pressing, and everyone found a job to do–cleaning and mixing the apples, carrying them to the press, grinding them up, pressing them to get the juice, dumping the leftover pressed apples into the wheelbarrow, carrying the juice bucket over to the jugs, putting the juice into the jugs,  dumping  the wheelbarrow full of pressed apples out in the backyard for the deer to eat, and taking photos–Thank you Barbara for the great photos!

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        Washing and mixing the apple varieties;  The cider press;  The lined bucket under the grinder

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              Ground up apples ready for pressing;  Closing the top of the bag;  Bruce pressing the apples (2013)

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Cider flowing into the bucket;  Pouring the cider into the juicer;  From the juicer into the jugs

We came up with a neat plan for filling the jugs.  We got out our steam juicer and lined the top with cheesecloth, poured the juice into the juicer and used the tube to fill the jugs.  It worked great!

We ended up with about 35 gallon jugs of cider, and everyone took home as much as they wanted.  We had a nice lunch afterwards, with a lovely cider-raisin bread from Ed, delicious Kimchi, sauerkraut, and  fermented pickles  from Dave and Paulette, and yummy cheesecake bars from Barbara!  Thanks everyone for all your help and the great food!

For dessert, I brought out the caramelized cider sauce I made from last year’s cider.  I had boiled 2 gallons of cider until it was thick and dark amber colored.  It developed an intense sweet/sour apple flavor that is great on ice cream.

Bruce and I ended up with many gallons of cider.  I boiled three gallons and ended up with a very dark, caramelized sauce that will be good as a component in meat sauces.  I boiled up another 1 1/2 gallons and got a lighter colored sauce that didn’t thicken but is great on ice cream.  We also canned an apple cider glaze, apple cider marmalade with thyme (it’s like a grown-up version of applesauce)  and many quarts of  juice.  And after all that, I went downstairs to the basement and found many more boxes of apples.  Maybe I should make some apple pie fillings.

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Apple cider and caramelized cider sauce

As an extra bonus and because we have so much cider I decided to try a new recipe because it looked good and it was something I hadn’t ever tried before–caramels.  Only this recipe was for Apple Cider caramels!  It called for 4 cups of cider boiled down to 1/2 cup and since we already had that the recipe was easy to make.  I used the darker caramelized sauce that I thought was only good for meat dishes.  Boy, was I ever wrong!  We ended up making two batches.  The recipe called for 2 teaspoons of salt, which turned out to be too much for me.  The second time around we didn’t add any salt, but sprinkled some on top of the semi-hardened caramel.  That was much better.  And oh boy, they taste divine!  I put most of them in the freezer in hopes that they will last longer, but I think it won’t slow us down much.  I found the recipe here, http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2012/10/apple-cider-caramels-the-book-is-here/ ,on the Smitten Kitchen website.

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All in all, I’d say the Apple Cider Pressing Party was a success!


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2014 Tomato Report

This is my first season growing tomatoes in southwestern Oregon and my first season gardening on this property.  From Google Earth, I know someone has been gardening on this plot since 1994.  The 1994 image of the garden seems to show a well-established garden plot so I am assuming the garden was established before 1985.  I had the soil tested in the spring of 2014.  The soil was a little too acidic and needed a little nitrogen.  I tilled in about 1/3 of the recommend lime, 4 to 5 wheelbarrow loads of mint compost, and no nitrogen.

The tomatoes were planted densely with 4 plants per 3-foot diameter cage.  The plants were planted in early May.  I started the seeds about 3 to 4 weeks too early so the plants were very leggy (2’ to 3’) at the time they were planted.  I planted them very deep with half to two thirds of the total plant into the soil.  I used two lines of T-Tape (Emitter Spacing: 6″, Flow Rate: 0.25 GPH) on a 20 PSI regulated line operating 45 min. 3 times a week for irrigation.

We had a warmer and drier than normal spring so the early planting worked out OK.  The plants that shook off transplanting shock started growing well and looked good throughout the growing season.  I got about 5% blossom end rot on all varieties and toward the end of the season there were noticeable levels of late blight effecting all varieties.  Other than blossom end rot and late blight there were no other notable issues.

Not knowing what would grow well here I went with a lot of variety to insure that I got something.  I grew 36 varieties of tomatoes.  We usually can mostly tomato sauce and soup base, so I grew 16 varieties of paste tomatoes, 16 varieties of classic/beefsteak tomatoes for eating fresh and canning, and 4 varieties of cherry tomatoes for early tomatoes and cooking.  All together I grew 82 tomato plants.

All varieties grew well, were equally affected by disease, and produced fruit that ripened well before the end of summer.  Our favorite classic tomatoes are Brandywine from Croatia, Kellogg’s Breakfast, and Virginia Sweet, they all grew and produced very well.  Our favorite paste tomatoes are Goldman’s Italian American Paste, Jeff’s Plum, Opalka, San Marzano, and super San Marzano.  They all produced very well. For cherry tomatoes our favorites are Black Cherry, Sun Gold, and Sweet 100.

As all varieties did well, I decided to judge the varieties on the size of the fruit and robustness of the vine.

 

TomatoReport


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Fall Fruit Harvest

It is autumn and the leaves are turning beautiful colors of yellow, orange and red.  We know winter and the rains are coming, but first we have the task of gathering all the beautiful fruits of the season and preserving them into something equally beautiful to last until next autumn.   The autumn fruit is ripening and so far we’ve been successful in reaping the harvest before the birds and raccoons got to them.   Surprisingly, the  raccoons only ate the fruit from one tree, early in the summer, and I think they ate all the grapes that we left on the vines that we didn’t like.

The first fruit to ripen was the Asian Pears.  Oh my, they tasted lovely, fresh and ripe from the tree.  I never really liked them before, because in the stores and farmer’s markets they are not ripe, and not delicious, and they don’t ripen on your counter.  They are the one type of pear that ripens on the tree.  They are also one of the few fruits with a low acid content, so we had to be very careful in choosing recipes for canning.

So, instead, we decided to dry the Asian Pears even after the dried grape, AKA raisin, debacle.  The grapes took forever to dry and did not look at all appetizing, and they had an odd flavor.  One of the things we should have done was to dip them in fruit fresh to give them a more pleasing color.  We also had them in the dehydrator too long and it was just not good.  I didn’t even take any photos–too scary.

So we cut up the pears in exact 1/2-inch pieces and dipped them in a fruit fresh solution and dried them until they were pliable.  Oh my….they are like candy.  What a treat! This fruit is wonderful fresh and dried!

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Asian pears in the front of the basket; dried Asian pears in the jars

At the same time we had a large amount of Italian plums so we dried them also.  They are very good; a lot more tart than the pears, but chewier.  The two complement each other very well.

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Next up were the Bartlett pears, and we had so, so many of them, and even after picking bushels of them, we still had some left on the tree.

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We seem to have a bumper crop of pears, or maybe it just seems like it because we don’t like canned pears.  So what to do with them all?  I looked through all the canning books and came up with a list of what seemed to be the most interesting and unusual recipes.  We started with Pear and Rosemary Preserves which have a beautiful color and a delicious flavor.  Second was Ginger Pear Chutney.  Third up was Pear and Chocolate Jam, then Pear and Port Compote and lastly Pear Caramel.  Okay, I like sweet foods, but this was ridiculous.  Everything tasted so good and I tasted too much of them all.

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from left to right:  Ginger Pear Chutney, Rosemary Pear Jam, Chocolate Pear Jam, Pear Compote, Pear Caramel

In between all the pears and plums we also processed huge amounts of grapes–the fore-mentioned raisins and also grape juice.  We used the same red flame grapes at two different times but the two batches of juice turned out to have different colors.  We had to buy a steam juicer at Bi-Mart for this operation.  The grapes go in the top third, the boiling water is in the bottom and when the steam hits the grapes they release their juice and it goes into the middle chamber and out through a tube.

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We ended up with many quarts (I forgot to count them).  We keep meaning to buy some sparkling water to mix with it, and I think it will be a nice refreshing drink…if we ever remember to buy it.

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Red Flame grapes; we think the green grape is used for making wine.  It is not good for eating or making raisins

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We now have a big basket of plums cooling down in the basement and I am determined to make Plum Sauce.  A friend gave us a jar last spring and it is fabulous!  So I want to make as much of that as possible.  It’s just that we are also busy preparing for the Master Food Preserver Salsa and Tomato class,  working at the class, then working at the Sauerkraut class.  I hope we can get to those plums before they go bad…

 

Several weeks later:    The Salsa and Tomato class went well as did the Sauerkraut class.  We brought home 3 big jars of sauerkraut-to-be.  It takes quite awhile for the cabbage to turn into kraut.  We also made the wonderful Plum Sauce.  It is a savory sauce, used on meats.

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In October, the apples finally got ripe enough to pick and we have boatloads of them!  Good thing too, because we wanted to continue to tradition here of having an Apple Cider Pressing Party.  Our friend, Dave, volunteered to come over and help us pick the apples and we had a great time.  Thank you, Dave!  We picked the Melrose and Golden Delicious, but decided the Granny Smiths and Winesaps were not quite ready yet.  They did get ripe about a week and a half later, just in time for the party.  There will be a separate post on the party.  I have to say though, that the Melrose apple is just about the most perfect apple I’ve ever tasted–crisp, not too sweet, not tart, and juicy.  I haven’t tried baking with it, but I did read that it is good for that also.

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Golden Delicious and Melrose apples

 

We had one last crop; kind of a surprise, but a good one.  We have an old hazelnut tree and a new one that we planted this year.  I had gone out to see if there were any nuts on the old tree, but didn’t find any.  Bruce came in a few days later with a handful of them.  Oh boy!  We put them in the dehydrator and dried them for a couple of days and with much anticipation cracked them open.  Cracked every last one of them open.  They sure looked good on the outside, but there was no meat on the inside.  What a colossal disappointment, especially when we went to a local U-Pick farm and they had TONS of them.  So, we are hoping for a good crop next year.  We know we can grow hazelnut shells, now our goal is to grow some nuts!

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“Bittersweet October.  The mellow, messy, leaf-kicking, perfect pause
between the opposing miseries of summer and winter.”
–   Carol Bishop Hipps


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Vaux’s Swifts

I joked with my daughter the other day that “there’s lots to do here in Roseburg.  You can go and see the swifts fly into a chimney!”  While I don’t think this is going to cause her to move here from Atlanta, it actually turned out to be a very interesting thing to do…you know, for us old folks.

The Vaux’s Swifts (Chaetura vauxi) are a fast flying relative of the hummingbird and were named after Sir William Vaux, an Englishman.  So the bird’s name is pronounced “vawks”, not “voh”.  The one time I get the French pronunciation right…and it’s not French.

They are similar to the Chimney Swift but a different species.  The Vaux’s species is found west of the Rockies and the Chimney Swift is east.

Their bodies are 4-5 inches in length and appear like small, dark, fast-flying cigars with wings.  Their wings are crescent shaped and beat with swift, rapid, bat-like movements.  In fact, the previous owner of our farm told us he saw bats flying around at dusk and I thought that maybe they were swifts.  He said, no, they were bats, but they do look alike, especially at dusk.

The Vaux’s lack a hind toe and cannot perch.  When not flying, they cling to vertical surfaces such as trees or chimneys–something that has a rough texture.  Vaux’s Swifts have historically nested inside large, hollow tree snags.  Because suitable snags along the migratory routes have become harder to find, the swifts have begun occupying brick chimneys, but these types of chimneys are no longer used in new construction or the existing ones are being torn down.  The nests are made with twigs pasted together with saliva on the inside of the snag or chimney and disintegrate soon after they are abandoned.

They spend much of their time in the air and forage, drink, court, collect nesting materials and copulate all in flight.  They have a voracious appetite for flying insects and ballooning spiders.  Each bird eats up to 20,000 insects a day!

Vaux’s Swifts arrive in Oregon in late April, mate in May and June and have their eggs laid and hatched by July.  They depart beginning in late August.  In the fall swifts congregate in large groups as they prepare for their migration southward to Central America and Venezuela.  During September large groups of swifts pass through Oregon and commonly use chimneys to roost in during the night, settling down inside the chimney just around sunset.  Once a population of swifts locates an appropriate chimney they are likely to return year after year.  The size of the groups can range in size from just a few birds to several thousand.

Umpqua Valley Audubon Society @ http://www.umpquaaudubon.org

The “Chapman swifts” are part of a migratory population of Vaux’s swifts that roost seasonally in the chimney of Chapman Elementary School in Portland, Oregon.  This is North America’s largest concentration of Vaux’s swifts.

Every evening from mid-August to mid-October, thousand of swifts gather in the sky over the school shortly before sunset.  Count estimates of 1,700 to 35,000 swifts have been reported.  Shortly after sunset, over a period of 10 to 30 minutes, they fly into the top of the brick chimney (constructed c. 1925) to roost on the interior surface until they depart at sunrise.  The school is on the birds’ migratory route to their wintering sites.

The birds began using the site in the early 1980’s in response to the loss of much of their natural roosting habitat–old growth Douglas-fir and forest snags.  Vaux’s Swifts prefer roosting in standing hollow trees.

To protect the swifts, the school stopped using its heating system during the weeks of roosting.  Students and teachers wore sweaters and jackets, especially toward the end of September when classroom temperatures can drop to 50 to 60 degrees F. (10 to 16 degrees C.)  Around 2003, the Audubon Society of Portland, school fundraisers and corporate sponsors donated $60,000 to $75,000 for an alternate school heating system which is independent of the brick chimney.  The chimney is now maintained solely for the use of the birds.

Wikipedia

In Roseburg, the swifts use several chimneys in town but the one we went to was the Clay Place chimney behind the Arts Center in the Fir Grove section of Stewart Park.  The migrations last two weeks to a month and Audubon members are on hand for several of those nights.  They are a great source of information about the swifts.

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We arrived at the park at 630 p.m., with our chairs.  The chairs are important, because there is no place to sit and it can be a long wait.  One of the Audubon members came by to talk to us about the swifts and gave us some pamphlets.   A man sitting behind us was a birder and kept us up-to-date on what was happening and what would happen.  At first we saw small groups of a few birds flying overhead.

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Those small groups gradually became larger and larger.

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All the Audubon members were getting anxious because sunset had come and gone and the birds were not anywhere close to going into the chimney.  I figured that Bruce & I had jinxed it.  Some more rational explanations were that the weather has been hotter than usual and the birds were waiting for it to cool down and/or finding lots more insects to eat because of the heat.  But, whatever the reason, the birds finally got it together and we heard more and more bird calls.  Large groups were flying overhead, swooping down like they would go into the chimney and then flying off, only to return minutes later with even more birds.  We were beginning to feel like extras in a Hitchcock movie.

At long last, the birds started circling around the chimney and formed the ever important vortex, which happens just before they go in.  They were circling around, constantly changing direction.  Occasionally one or two would go in, but soon enough they all decided it was time and they funneled into the chimney.  Birds were flying in a huge circle and then swooping down and into the chimney.  It was like passengers getting on a Southwest Airlines flight!  Hey, there’s room for everyone, no need to push!

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After they all stuffed themselves in, we got the final count.  There were two Audubon members actually counting how many birds went into the chimney.  Their counts were very close to each other and the final tally was about 2,500!  Wow!!

 

If you’d like to see video of the swifts going into the chimney or what it looks like inside, click on these links:

http://www.vauxhappening.org/Movies.html–some movies of the swifts in the chimneys…and other disturbing videos involving crows, with crow solutions.

http://www.vauxhappening.org– lots of info here about the swifts

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxJnjTfkslY– a video of the swifts going into the chimney in Roseburg.  As the videographer wrote in the video, it’s better to see it in person.


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Vegetable Garden, August 2014, No. 1

 

The garden continued to produce through August.  The peas and green beans finished up and the newly planted green beans have not really gotten with the program. We canned and froze lots of both peas and green beans and pickled green beans.  Tomatoes are really going and with this heat will be done soon.  With help from our friends from San Jose we have canned the living daylights out of them. I now have 21 quarts of sauce and 12 pints of whole tomatoes.  I plan to can another dozen pints of whole tomatoes and freeze enough tomatoes to make chili sauce with my own hot peppers once they get ready.  The zucchini are nearly done, but I noticed that one of the local U-pick farms had young zucchini plants growing and looking good.  Next year, I will try a staged planting of zucchini in an effort to extend the harvest season.  This is more of a “learning how” effort vs. a “need more zucchini” thing.  We have a tough time eating what we grow now and are well done with zucchini by now, but still it would be cool to have young producing zucchini plants in the garden now.

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The melons produced very well and we have enjoyed the fruit.  The corn is a bust.  They did not produce any viable ears.  I am certain that soil conditions are the main issue.

The dry beans and watermelons are getting ready to harvest.

Aleppo peppers for seed and powder!

Aleppo peppers for seed and powder!

The big news is the peppers.  After not looking great for most of the season, they have sorted themselves out and are now looking good, growing, and producing. Not all of the plants recovered, but most are doing well.  It looks like we will have enough to pickle some and freeze some.  The Aleppo, Espelette, and Hinklehatz peppers are producing well enough that I should be able to get some mild pepper powder.  And the big news for me, the Bhut Jolokia, Habanero, and best of all Trinidad Scorpion all have fruit and are growing well. This means a fresh supply of extremely hot chili sauce and pepper powder!  I really wondered if we were just too far north to grow these hotter varieties.

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Fall and winter vegetables:

The onions, broccoli, cabbage, and lettuce I started in late July are all doing well. I up potted about 150 plants which is about half of what I started.  The double digging is not going well.  I would like to say hot weather, visitors, canning activities, and other priorities were the main issue, but the truth is the ground is just too hard!  Of course this means it needs to be done even more, but still it is very hard.  My current excuse is that I should wait for the early fall rains to soften the soil a bit.

 

Plan September

  • Harvest tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, melons, and eggplant.
  • Up pot/plant winter vegetables
  • Double dig at least one of next year’s tomato rows maybe if I have the stamina to do it.

 

Notes:

  • Plant beans zucchini, lettuce, and spinach in at least two maybe three waves.
  • Plant more pole beans as they are easier to harvest than bush beans.
  • Plant more of the bigger variety eggplants.
  • Plant the bigger paste tomatoes. The small varieties have no advantage over the bigger ones.
  • Double dig beds that are not planted with winter vegetables during the dryer spills in the winter.


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Tuna

It’s tuna season and we were determined to take full advantage of it.  We had been told for months from various people that if you can your own tuna it can’t be beat for flavor and it’s extremely easy.  Well, it’s also intimidating–where to buy it, how much to buy, how much is a fair price…and the list goes on.

We were over at the coast in July and saw the signs for fresh tuna–straight off the boats.  We went over to the docks and found some fishermen selling the tuna, but really, we had no idea of how any of it worked.

Not to worry though! Our friendly neighbor and veteran Master Food Preserver (MFP), Rusdee, came to our rescue.  She volunteers each year to help the new MFP’s (that’s us) learn how to can tuna.  She told us who to call and we put in an order for how much fish we wanted.  This was amazingly confusing.  In the end we found out that you have to tell him how much fileted fish you want.  You actually pay for twice this amount because you are paying for whole fish, and the filets are half the amount of the whole fish.  Since there was a lot of fish ordered we got a break on the price, but the actual price came out to about $2.5o a pound for the whole fish, or $5 a pound for the filets.

Next, Rusdee went over to the coast and picked up the fish and paid for it.  She picked up 400 pounds of fish at a price tag of about $2000.  That’s a lot of fish!

We went to her house for the canning.  Our fish was very nicely fileted and put into bags.  The fish had no odor which was a pleasant surprise.

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The tables were set up outside with trays, cutting boards and knives for putting the tuna in the jars and the stoves were there for pressure canning the tuna.

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There were six of us learning to can tuna–Bruce and me, our friends from California, Jeff and Nancy, plus Barbara (another new MFP) and Leslie ( a former MFP).  There were two veteran MFPs, Rusdee and Maureen.

The first step was to measure the tuna against the size of the jar and cut the tuna into those sizes, then stuff as much of it as you can into each jar.  Jeff, Nancy and I did that part.

Oh, wait, the first step was to put on some gloves!  No one wants to actually touch raw fish (not me, at least) or smell like tuna the rest of the day.

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Jeff and Nancy–Nancy makes it look like fun, and it was.

 

 Bruce kept us supplied in jars, wiped the rims and put on the lids and rings.

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It all went very smoothly and efficiently; we were done in less than 2 hours.

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Since we had dragged our friends along for this canning session and we didn’t know if they would enjoy it, we had decided earlier to do the pressure canning at home.  This entailed a new batch of problems.  We didn’t want to can indoors because of the potential smell, but we didn’t have a way to do it outside.  The week before canning we went over to our local, friendly Bi-Mart and bought a single burner stove that hooks up to a propane tank.  We took the empty tank over to the U-Haul place and got that filled.  Now we were set, or were we?  Bruce and Jeff checked it out the day before the canning and found that the wind played havoc with the flame and it was very difficult to control the pressure on the canner.  They ended up piling large cement blocks around the burner as a wind break and that worked great!

So we were finished with putting the tuna in the jars, but we weren’t done yet.  Rusdee took us all on a tour of her walnut farm.  They have quite a few walnut trees and it gets to be a huge operation picking, hulling, drying and shelling the nuts.  She showed us all the necessary equipment and the drying rooms.  The equipment is all hand-made from many years ago.  We thought it was so interesting that we volunteered to come out and help with the harvest in October.

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1) The walnuts with husks are put in here where the husks are broken open; 2) the walnuts with shells drop down into the center box and the fan to the right blows away the stems and broken husks, they go up the conveyor belt, then 3) the walnuts go into the white round chamber for sizing-the small pieces are sifted out; 4) the nuts go up the conveyor belt and fall into  a box; 5) nut cracker-takes the shell off the nut; 6) drying room 7) walnuts in the husk

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Back at home we set up the pressure canner outside and loaded it with half the jars of tuna.  We used half pints and the total was 64 jars.  You have to bring the water to a boil in the canner, wait for the steam to come out of the vent in a steady stream, vent for 10 minutes, then start the time for canning which is 100 minutes, or one hour and forty minutes.  If you let the pressure fall below 11 psi at any time in the process, you then have to start all over.  Bruce was in charge of this part of the operation and it involved constant monitoring of the pressure and constant moving of the gas dial to increase or decrease the amount of heat.  After the 100 minutes are up, the canner needs to cool until the pressure is zero.  That took about an hour.  Then you take off the petcock and wait another 10 minutes.

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Finally, the jars of cooked tuna came out and the rest of the jars of raw tuna went in for another round.

Now, for the smell.  Yes, it was well worth it to do it outside.  The tuna inside the jars does not smell at all, but there was residue on the outside which had a very strong fishy smell and they all got a good cleaning.

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All in all, this was a very interesting canning project, we all enjoyed taking part in it, and best of all,

the tuna looks and tastes wonderful!

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Summertime

It’s been hot this summer, too hot for me to work outside and almost too hot for Bruce.  But he’s been out digging in the garden getting ready to plant the fall vegetables.  We’ve been canning and freezing lots and lots of vegetables with no end in sight.  Right now we are getting loads of tomatoes, so we’re canning spaghetti sauce, whole tomatoes and slow-roasting San Marzano tomatoes.

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Sauce reducing on the stove; Jeff grinding up the tomatoes; finished sauce in quart jars; San Marzano tomatoes ready for roasting

In-between all the canning we’ve been somewhat busy with volunteer work with the Master Food Preservers and lots of visits from friends and family.  Bruce’s parents were here in June through July.  His dad helped him to finish his barn, which still needs to be painted.  Our daughters, Sara and Laura,  were here in July.   Our former neighbor, Anita, and her friend Dorothy came to visit in late July and our friends from CA, Jeff and Nancy, came to visit us a few weeks ago.  They were very helpful with a few of the canning projects.  We enjoyed all the visitors and it gave us an excuse to go out and see more of Oregon, instead of slaving working out in the garden.  Ahhh…Bruce does love to dig, but I think he may have met his match in this new garden.

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Dorothy and Anita up above the valley on Coos Bay Wagon Road.

The weather is starting to be very cool in the mornings, but we’re in for another very hot week.  Summer isn’t over yet, but fall is surely coming.  I went out to the garden yesterday morning and picked a few fruits to see if any were ripe.  The Italian plum is almost ready for harvest, the Red Gravensteins are ready to go and the grapes are getting sweet and turning red.

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from top: Granny Smith apple, Red Gravenstein apple, Asian pear, Melrose apple, Winesap apple, Italian plum, Crabapples, grapes, hazelnuts