Sunday, January 31, 2016

Garden plans for 2016

Got all our garden seeds ordered, and have received nearly all of them now. All told, we will be planting 25 different veggies. While we are not expanding our garden (much) we are trying a few new things each year, and here are the 2016 additions.

"potato" or multiplying onions- These onions are supposed to have multiple bulbs, and if subdivided at harvest, can provide both onions to eat and seed bulbs for the next planting. Never have to by onion seeds or sets again! Kind of like perennial onions. That's the claim anyway. We've tried both sets and seeds, with fair results, but onions from seed take forever.  It's actually getting close to time to start onion seeds. They are best planted in the fall, which we did. We'll see what comes up this spring.We will still be starting onions from seed as well.

Flint corn- Corn takes up a lot of room, and is a heavy feeder, but we are trying various corn types because sweet corn is a traditional summer food here in the midwest, and can be canned or frozen and preserved. But flint corn is the best for making your own corn meal, so we are trying the Floriani red variety, as I read a good review in Mother Earth News. 

Beets- Can't believe we hadn't got beets in the system till now. Finally going to plant them. We chose Red Ace variety, but just picked it more or less at random out of the Johnny's catalogue, and don't know how well it will do here. 

Hot peppers- We've done cayenne, jalapeƱo, and regular sweet peppers, but thought I would try poblanos to make our own chile rellenos, maybe make some ancho powder. The Tiburon variety is supposed to be medium hot.

Tomatoes- We'll try Mortgage Lifters this year. This is a classic, and we enjoyed the big slicers ( don't know the variety, we bought transplants from an Amish vendor) we had last year, so we'll do some again. Most of our tomatoes will be Roma tomatoes again, for canning sauce.

Seed starting in the sunroom- we did not do a good job of setting up the trays for warm loving plants last year, will do more to protect them on cool spring nights when the sunroom cools off. Our tomatoes from seed did terrible, that's why we bought additional plants from a local farmer.

The brassicas and other cooler weather plants did fine, but we'll use heat mats for the tomatoes and peppers more than we did last year. It was also a dilemma whether to move them back under lights for those long cloudy stretches. I think we'll just have to be more attentive and move them as needed more this time. A future project might be to install insulated blinds on the sunroom windows to close at night, but that will be a big project, and need to study the cost/benefit more before committing to.

Other new stuff for 2016- 

We are ordering some Korean pines to plant in strategic places. Korean pines are supposed to handle the cold here, and have large pine nuts, suitable for eating. I also want to beef up the windbreak west of the house, to help reduce winter winds.

Double dug spading for the potatoes and other root crops- I've heard about this John Jeavons promoted technique, but it's a lot of work. Will try to use the broad fork more as well, as most of our garden has fairly heavy soil. 

Bees- More on this later, but I'd love to reduce sugar purchasing, and use our own sweetener as much as possible. The box elder syrup worked fine last spring, so we'll do that again, but honey would have the bonus of boosting the pollinator population here. Just ordered the queens, and will be going with two top bar hives this spring.

Meat chickens- yes, we are going to try some Cornish Cross. Our first chickens, Black Australorps and New Hampshire Reds, did ok, but took forever to get to weight, and so the roosters were a bit chewy. The hens we kept are doing great as egg layers this winter, with production only dropping off a little bit. For the meat birds this spring, we'll plan to be careful with feed rationing and get them out on pasture as soon as possible to minimize the problems with Cornish Cross.

Rain water- will be collecting rain water off the pole barn roof, and gravity feeding to the garden to reduce well water usage. The north roof is already plumbed up and will water fruit trees, but the south roof will be for garden use. I have the storage tanks, but will wait till spring to install the piping from the gutter to the tanks.

As usual, I don't have much in the way of photos, but thought this might be fun to show. Off topic, but the pheasants around here are
the goofiest. I'm not sure if local hunters periodically stock the area, or what, but they are almost tame acting, and wander around seemingly aimlessly, making me wonder how they survive. They are happy to forage below our bird feeders right outside the window.

Days are getting noticeably longer now! Can't wait to get those first trays filled with potting soil.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

making hard cider

While it's known in other parts of the world as simply cider, here in the U.S. it's called hard cider, to designate that it has alcohol in it. For a few years now, has been making a comeback. Domestic production has risen 264% from 2005 to 2012. Cider was the drink of choice at one time, but the weird experiment in government overreach that was Prohibition ( 1920-1933) killed the cider industry. 

Good cider apples are different than your typical eating apple, so orchards switched to eating apples during prohibition. When Prohibition was over, grain based alcoholic beverages could ramp up a lot quicker than orchards, as trees take years to reach production. The profitability of eating apples is also hard to overcome.

Any way, cider seems like a very good option for permaculture, as it preserves the crop and the trees do not need annual tilling, planting, herbicides, etc... Currently, some mavericks are planting cider apple trees, but the demand is outstripping supply. Our farm has a few eating apple trees, and several large old "wild" apple trees that we need to clear around, prune, and see what they might be able to provide.

This fall, a nearby neighbor with an apple grinder and cider press invited all to bring their apples and make cider. We saved up several buckets of our apples and added to the mix. The resulting cider was a blend of whatever people brought, with most having no idea what variety they were bringing. We ended up with eight gallons ( 30 liters) of fresh squeezed cider, and needed a plan for what to do with it.

Coincidentally, the prior week we had finally bought home brewing supplies, and were getting ready to make our first batch of beer. So instead of beer, we put five gallons ( 19 liters) in the carboy, slapped on the air lock, and sat it in a back room. ( The rest was drank fresh or frozen for later drinking)
For anyone in South or Central Wisconsin, these folks were helpful and have a very well stocked store for home brewers:

The cider started working, but was very slow. As best I could tell from the hydrometer, we could theoretically end up with 5% or 6% alcohol. These were wild yeast, and you get the luck of the draw in how good they would be at converting the sugar. 

And even more coincidentally, a couple days later I was talking to another neighbor who had recently built a small ( micro?) cydery, and had been making cider for actual sale. He gave me some yeast nutrient, and said it would perk things up. It did. The yeast got to work and did bubble more quickly. After a couple weeks, things slowed down, and we got ready to bottle.

I'd read about the process, but reading and doing are two different things. I don't even remember all the terminology unique to home brewing. You rack bottles with a cane, as an example. When I do start cooking malt for beer, there will be even more terms to forget.

It took us a while to get the tubing to flow down to the bottles, and get a good routine down for filling and capping, but overall, it went rather well. We decided to experiment and put 1/4 teaspoon of sugar ( 1.25 grams) in each of two dozen of the bottles to get a little carbonation. All the others would be still cider, as the yeast had eaten up all the sugar, and would be generating no more carbon dioxide. 

At Christmas, we tried the carbonated bottles, and they did have some carbonation, and were drinkable. The cider we made was dry, tart, and not too bad, but the flavor profile was kind of plain. The still cider tastes the same, just no fizz.  I am getting used to it. Overall, a successful experiment, and now we have to empty the bottles so we can make beer. 

Always things to be done around here!

No photos of the process this post, I need to get better at capturing our escapades as they occur. For why it's worth, here is one of our better apple trees, in mid summer, with lots of apples ripening.