Monthly Archives: September 2013

Time to Plant Cover Crops

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There was a 50% chance of rain predicted for today (which resulted in 100% chance upon awakening this morning!) so yesterday I raced out into one of my flowerbeds and tucked away some fava beans. The ground in this flower bed is okay, but I can tell by the flowers that it certainly needs a boost. With hard clay soil, we need to stay on top of constantly amending and improving it. Just the other day I opened up a sketch book to find that I had made garden notes from when we had only been married a month! That was 11 years ago. I wrote that we had planted favas in October and by April they were only 3″ tall. That’s not tall above the surface, but I know by growing other things over the winter, that the roots had gained a firm foot. I remember to this day how big and healthy those favas grew once spring hit.

Since the idea of cover crops is to let the crops root system do your hard work, planting the seeds in fall is a good idea indeed. Many cover crops are called ‘accumulators’ meaning they draw nutrients up from deep down in the soil up to the part where the majority of roots are. In the case of favas, they draw up nitrogen. In years past I did a longer post on cover crops, even showing the nitrogen balls the fava roots collect. We try and plant cover crops every year, but last year, who knows, we must have gotten too busy or lazy. And we paid for it. Two early springs ago I went outside for 10 minutes at a time and dug up new ground and planted favas as I went. It was slow work, but we were rewarded with an incredible garden in that spot the following summer. This past summer, without a preceding fava cover crop, the garden was pale in comparison. This year, we won’t make the same mistake.

Cover crops also crowd out weeds. One daunting task of the spring garden is weeding the darn thing before you can start planting. If you have the foresight to plant cover crops in fall, the winter & early spring weeds will be crowded out. Since I was planting in my weed prone flowerbed, I planted an extra thick border along the back to aid the amaryllis in keeping the weeds at bay.

Yet another job of cover crops is to break up hard packed soil. As you probably know, there are some very devoted people who don’t believe in tilling the soil. There are others who break out their trusty rototiller every spring. And yet others who advise double or triple digging your garden bed with a shovel. As for us, we are experimenters. We try a little of everything and with this section of gardening I’m going with the no till method. My idea is to layer on compost and mulch and build from the top up. It’s still helpful to get down deep however and to do that, you can plant cover crops. Their roots will shoot way down, all those thousands of tiny root hairs. Then in spring when you cut it down, all those roots will die and wither creating little pockets of air in our hard clay soil. This will make it easier for worms to dig down further as well as new flower roots to grow down further.

So that’s my plan for these little bean seeds. Are you planting a cover crop this year? Which kind and do you plant in fall or early spring?

more about our cover crops

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grape harvests inside and outside the fenceline

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If you were to look outside our windows this morning these are views you would see. It’s harvest time in our neck of the woods. In case you aren’t familiar with wine grape harvesting, they do it in the middle of the night when sugar and acid levels in the grapes are the most stable. It’s also much more favorable conditions for the work crew as temperatures can still get blazing hot during the day. It’s an exciting time around here, tractors and giant trucks carrying grapes are a constant on the road (usually right in front of you, going a third of the speed limit). Soon, maybe in another month the smell of fermenting grapes will hit you as you drive by wineries. This is a good time of year.

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On our side of the fence line, we have our fair share of grapes, but not wine grapes. We have various types of table grapes growing. They faired much more productive than our poor Concord grapes so we decided to turn our excess into juice. Unlike with apple cider making, you don’t have to grind the grapes before you press them, which makes grape juice making much quicker. The hardest part was picking out the bad grapes from each bunch and making sure we had washed off all the spiders. Ick! But then we just loaded up the press and twisted and twisted and cranked that handle until we had pitchers of juice.

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My initial intention was to can our excess juice, but it was too good, we drank it all right away. Maybe next year we’ll show more restraint and have it last longer. But for this year, we enjoyed every drop of that nectar.

As I said, this is a good time of year!

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Preserving Fish

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The past couple of years Scott had really grown his passion for fishing. When salmon season starts, he takes a day off about once a month and wakes up at some ungodly hour to drive to a Sausalito dock to jump upon a fishing boat. Then out under the Golden Gate Bridge to take to the salty sea. On a good day he’ll bring back two 15-20lb salmon. We always eat well that night. Then some fillets go into the freezer and at least one fish a season will go to Angelos for smoking. Smoked salmon on a bagel with cream cheese and capers is well coveted in this house!
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Last month when he came home with two fish, it was right on the heels of us smoking our second round of bacon when we thought, let’s give our own smoked salmon a try! Miracle upon miracles it worked! It is quite delicious and now we don’t have to pay for it to be smoked and we can control the amount of salt and know without a doubt that there aren’t nitrites in it.
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Monday Scott went tuna fishing, as I mentioned that day, and came back with two 25lb bluefin tuna. Now unlike salmon fishing, where you stay near the coast, with tuna you need to go straight out into the ocean. Far out into the ocean. Far enough to make a wife nervous. He was gone from 2:30am until almost 9pm so we saved most of the butchering for the next day. He cut the tuna into steaks and we portioned them into dinner sized sections and vacuum sealed them.
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Years ago we had a friend give us his home canned tuna. Now, canned fish does not look good in a glass jar at all. There is a reason the tuna you buy in the store is in a metal tin! However, it tasted absolutely delicious. Since we graduated into pressure canning world a few years ago, we decided to give it a try. The tuna went into clean jars packed with salt and olive oil and into the pressure canner for 100 minutes at 11 pounds of pressure.
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12 meals worth of tuna steaks + 15 jars of tuna + 3 meals worth of fresh tuna last night and today = success

This might have been our most disappointing vegetable gardening year yet, but we won’t be swayed from stocking up our pantry full of summer’s bounty for the winter months.

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Thoughts on the Present

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thinking :: this labor day trip to sea ranch seems a lifetime ago

hoping :: that scott is safe & happy far out in the pacific ocean fishing for tuna

also hoping :: he catches his limit

feeling :: so happy to see smiling faces on my boys as they came home from their first full day of school

thankful for :: a cold pool on such a hot day, what a mood changer

keeping fingers crossed :: that the fire on mt. diablo gets contained soon (too close to where my parents live)

recovering from :: coming back over the hill from Petaluma to see billows of dark black smoke yesterday and thinking it was coming straight from our neighborhood, luckily it was further east

planning on :: buying a fire proof safe and doing a rain dance

contemplating :: that I might just feed my bees some syrup, last inspection shows they had more honey last month than they do today

oh this dry, dry year…

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