Monday, September 27, 2010

Equinox is here. Clean up the garden.

The autumnal equinox -- the day the sun crosses the equator on its way south -- came and went. (Yes, I know. The Earth revolves around the sun. But if you have only two bodies, it doesn't much matter who revolves around whom. Much of the literature has the sun revolving around the earth!) The sun crosses the equator on Sept 21 -- by tradition, but it is somewhere between 21-22 March. However, the next day it froze. Not much a frost, to be sure, -0.5C. But Uh-oh, time to finish up in the garden. So we went out with the scythe and got the oats.
With Maximilian the scythe in good form, it took less than ten minutes to get it all cut. Then we raked it up and put it in a container:
It was a pound of oat seeds, "naked oats" (or avens nuda to latinists) to begin with. It is not commonly grown in Alaska, which surprisingly is a good place to grow oats. But you don't have to hull it, and I have no machinery, so it appealed to me. We will see. I haven't flailed it yet, but I think we will barely break even. I am following Gene Logsdon's Small Scale Grain Raising book (google!). Next year we may do a better variety for Alaska. I will then be faced with the problem of hulling my oats. In the old days, oat-hullers could be bought quite cheaply; nowadays they are really hard to come by. Nowadays, they are still built, but for astounding prices, like $1000 a copy. Grrr.

In Italy, there are a great number of small-scale farms. So appropriately scaled machinery is still made. Just google "walk-behind tractor" and you will see what I mean: all Italian. But by the time you import it into this country it is prohibitively expensive. So stuff you could buy reasonably from a 1905 Sears Roebuck catalog is deader than a dodo. Dear me, I suppose I am ranting. So be it. It's my blog. But just try to find, for example, a hand-operated shredder (leaves, kitchen scraps, and garden wastes). It pays to shred before you dump it on the compost heap. But a chipper-shredder with YAICE (Yet Another Internal Combustion Engine) is upwards of $1500. Far too much. And too many Internal Combustion Engines at Chalupy anyway.

There is hope, however. There is a wonderful magazine called Backwoods Home
In one of their issues, an ingenious gentleman by the name of Rev. J.D. Hooker takes a lawnmower and converts it into a shredder. You frequently find inoperative lawnmowers at yard sales really cheap. Usually a spark plug replacement is all they need. So next year...

And my daughter came out and helped me with a great number of chores that require more than two hands, and sometimes more than two brains. So we pulled some of the leeks and all the parsnips:
The leeks should be left to overwinter (covered, of course). But we pulled some anyway, and they were great. We put them into the by-now-traditional fall borscht. Borscht could well be called "harvest stew" -- wonderful stuff, especially with sour cream.

And the minimum temperature next day was -4C. This harvest was what the computerniks call JIT (Just in Time).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A capital ship/ for an ocean trip...

Well, no, it isn't the Walloping Window Blind, as the song goes. And we're not going out on the ocean. But my trusty kayak, Mi Gaviota has spent all summer sitting around, because it has been much too rainy for kayak jaunts. But we have this sort-of-strange spell of good weather, so I put the kayak up on the car and off to Little Lonely Lake.
Miss G. is a Folbot Aleut, derived from a German tradition of folding kayaks. In German, Faltbot, or folding boat. She will come apart and fit into a package that could be put on a bush plane. You can still get Faltbote in Germany. The Rolls-Royce (or Mercedes-Benz, if you prefer) of folding kayaks are the Klepper series, made out of wood -- a marvellous (and very expensive) series. Kleppers have crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Folbot is a South Carolina outfit, and they make very well-engineered models. Perhaps a Ford, but a good kayak nevertheless, and extremely stable. Most kayaks, alas, are very narrow beam -- 60cm or less. Miss G is almost impossible to upset. This saves you from many an Eskimo roll. At my age, I think it wise to pass on the rolls. Anyway, Miss G has been out on the Inland Passage in Juneau many a time. She never shipped a drop of water. Slow, perhaps. In a headwind very difficult. But safe.
Being a weekday, there is no one on LL Lake. We can get into the shore, because we draw less than 15 cm of water loaded down. Lovely fall colors. There are houses on the lakefront; the satellite antenna looms on the left.
Some of the lakefront houses (all of them, in fact) have docks and assorted craft attached. Miss G slips on by them. We turn toward the uninhabited side of the lake.
At this point I rigged up my fly rod (in vain, as it turned out). This makes it much harder to take pictures. You have the paddle, the fly rod, the wind, the chop, and the camera; it takes six hands. But it's fun. It's quiet. The sun is shining. Can't ask for more. Well, maybe a bite on the fly! So eventually we head for the put-in place.
Note the fly rod. Note the complete absence of fish. Oh well, you can't have everything. A kayak is far from an ideal fishing vehicle; it takes both hands to do the paddle. You are quite cramped, and I always wonder how the Aleuts and the Inuit did it!

Eventually we get back to the put-in place, manhandle 20 Kilos of kayak up on the car, and drive a few minutes home. A wonderful day in the sun, even if we caught no fish. And Miss G is happy -- back in her element again.

The barometer falleth. We may not have a day like this until next year.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Meteorology and the garden

The year 2010 has had very unusual weather conditions. It was wet, wet, and wetter all summer long, after about June 10. So now we have yet another unusual phenomenon: fall fog. Usually September is very wet (hence my haste to get the winter wood cut, see previous posts). But so far, what we have had in September is fog. Early in the month we got a high-pressure system overhead, most unusual. No wind, you see, in a high. The high has persisted until today. I note the barometer has fallen about 3 mb since yesterday. But the ground is sopping wet still. So the water turns to vapor and goes up into the air. At night the ground cools off, and so the water vapor condenses. No wind, as I said. Voila, fog. Today was really thick, so much that the Weather Service issued a "fog advisory." I find the terminology ridiculous, since "advisory" is an adjective and not a noun. Perhaps NWS (National Weather Service) needs the services of an "expert dialectician and grammarian" such as Prof. Henry Higgins. The NWS uses "warning" for "really serious stuff" and "advisory" for "be careful." Why they couldn't use "alert" instead of advisory is beyond me. End rant.

But visibility this morning was about 400m in good places and 100m in bad. Eventually the fog lifts as the sun evaporates it again, but today it didn't lift until about 3PM.

As I have said before, this has nothing to do with the so-called "Global Warming" fraud, but instead has everything to do with the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO. The really interesting question is what causes the PDO. However, fog it is. It is so thick that it's like rain, you get wet going outside. The garden doesen't seem to mind.
The carrots at left are the best I have ever had, even though they are warped. There were even a few radishes lurking, so I pulled them. Garden almost at end. There are still the oats, the year's big experiment. In spite of all the rain, some of them have oated! Oats are supposed to grow well in Alaska. I am leaving them in the ground as late as possible while we still have sunlight. Pictures next time.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Garden end games

So we've got a few days of sun coming up. After some agony, I decided to dig up the potatoes. This is a job for the spading fork.
You go down the row and try to get the spading fork under all the potatoes. You can see a couple of potatoes brought to the surface for this maneuver. Then you get in there with your fingers and winkle out all the stragglers. When the sun is shining, this is a joy. You work your way down the row. Sort your potatoes, large and samll-to-medium. Slowly your containers fill up. Occasionaly you impale a potato with the fork. Tough.
At the end, I decided the cabbages were a go, most of them; so up they came too. Cut them off, pull the roots up, stuff them into a container.
So there we are. Cabbages and potatoes for the winter. The potatoes will last all winter. The cabbages are great, in spite of the wet summer; the traditional family borscht awaits. We have lots of beets, no problem.

There are still a few things left in the garden. The new garden was not so productive as the old; I expected this. It takes a while to build up the soil. But still, the new garden has been a success. Another small step on the road to self-sufficiency.

Sun shining, fall coming, scenic shots

We have had two (count them, two) days of clear skies. I feel that I ought to call my doctor and report hallucinatory symptoms. "Er, doctor, the sky is this peculiar color, light blue, and there's this big bright ball up in the sky. I have to be going crazy."

Instead I took the camera and went out in search of likely victims. One such was Little Lonely lake at dawn.
I love the reflection of the lenticular cloud on the lake. I am a sucker for reflection shots! More seasonable was the birch tree in fall colors:
Right at the end of Bery road. Appropriate, because "Beryozova" means more or less "of the birches" in Russian.

It has been a very difficult summer for scenics. It has been dull and gray most of the time, and the colors just don't come through. So I'm glad to get these shots. I have news from the garden. Next post coming up.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Midweek: Capt Hook debuts; garden harvest.

As I mentioned previously, the hook tool is finished. Well, maybe. It of course rejoices in the name of Captain Hook. I think the oil quench does not do the thing entirely. I think it is too hard, and I will have to retemper. But this is the way we learn, by making mistakes. If you made no mistakes, you would learn nothing.
OK, we have to give Captain Hook a try. So I cobbled up a mandrel and a the bowl blank; I think I mentioned this before. Capt Hook works. He shaves (as opposed to scrapes). I am astounded. But he has to be sharper, I think. Which means I will have to temper him again. Because only the diamond stones will work. No good. Too hard to get a good edge. However, it is my first forged tool; I am quite pleased with Capt. Hook.

In more midweek news, a big piece of the garden came indoors yesterday.

There's cauliflower, turnips, carrots, (can't see them) and the odd beet. Cauliflower tends to bolt unless you tie up the leaves -- or do what my neighbor does: bend over anough leaves to cover the head. A lesson from a pro! Next big job: dig up the potatoes. The cabbages are doing nicely (cabbage is an Alaska standby) and I can get them anytime. A few carrots, and some parsnips still in the ground. Let 'em go. Broccoli will be weak. It has been a very wet summer. But we did get some quarter (twenty-five-cent) sized tomatoes in the greenhouse. Some late-planted snap beans are doing astoundingly well, but won't be more than one meal. Herb garden rescued by cloching (as were the carrots). Lots of parsley and oregano. Basil ... no, not outdoors. Maybe with cloche? Amazing what cloches will do for you. So, almost through. Lots of veggies against the winter.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

By hook and by crook

A rainy day in the Mat-Su valley (not to mention the Kenai peninsula, the Alaska range, Talkeetna and north, and even the Talkeetna mountains). Bother. I was in danger of losing momentum. I had seen this coming and so had the weather service; they were "spot on" as they say in the UK. So I went out to the shop and fiddled about with my stick chairs; some progress made but it was clearly not what the Universe wanted me to do. OK, Universe, what is it you want? Aha! Forging today. Trouble with this is that I cannot use my Dragon Lady Forge when it's raining. Were I to move it into the shop, I'd burn it to the ground. My shop is one big inflammable object. I can't use Dragon Lady outside, because it will burn my awning and indeed, already has. So I was reduced to the humble propane torch as a heat source. Slow and limited in area, but safe. So after a very engrossing while, we had a hook and a crook.On the right, the hook. It is a hook tool, used to turn bowls on a pole lathe. I believe I mentioned it before. Anyway, today I gave it a preliminary grinding. Then I bent it, which was quite difficult (bending is easy, but bending into the shape you want is much harder). Then I got it heated up and gave it an oil quench as an experiment. Some authorities claim you can skip the tempering step if you oil quench. I heated it carrot-red and stuffed it into my pail of old motor oil I keep around for just such a purpose. Did it work? Don't know yet. In fact, it depends on the type of steel. The hook is a broken-off tine from a spading fork. Who knows what type of steel it is? I don't.

On the left is the crook. A garden tool, made from a piece of snowmobile or ATV that I found on my walks. It is known as a Maine hoe. I didn't know the Maine-iacs had invented this thing, I came up with it all by myself. It will be used to de-weed closely planted crops, which means all of my crops. It is an L shape with chisel edges everywhere. It will get a long handle (also found on walks). I may bend it into the 70 deg angle recommended by Eliot Coleman for collineal hoes. Since this is a garden tool, I don't think I will temper it. It has to cut weeds, not woods.

Progress made. Chalupy has another good day.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Midweek: firewood and beets

Fall is rushing in. Some of the birches -- the small ones -- have started to turn. So the prudent sourdough, defying skies the color of lead, must look to endgame in the garden and also to his firewood pile. It has been a very wet summer, as is (unfortunately -- sigh!) to be expected from the cold cycle of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO. I think I said it before, but it should be called PTO for Pacific Tridecadal Oscillation. Unfortunately this could be confused with the Power Take Off on your tractor. Maybe PDTO? Anyway, I went out to the garden, weeded (it never ends) and pulled some of the beets and all of the onions. The "new" part of the garden has, as I expected, not yielded well; it needs much more manure! However...
...what I got was good. Last year I simply forgot the beets. Before that, I pulled too late and the beets were huge, but not as tasty. Root crops are great in Alaska, rainy weather or no. Alas, the onions were a washout (literally). The raspberries are from a volunteer patch that came out of nowhere. I am encouraging them. They are spreading. We will have to watch them, but this is good. Cultivation is simple: don't scythe them or use the lawnmower near them! There will also be cauliflower; it was touch and go but the plants finally decided to cauliflate (a word I have just made up). Broccoli is weaker. Tomatoes, miserable. Oh well. The garden is in end-game mode, as I said:
The lettuce, front and left, is still edible even if it is running away. I dread the return to store-bought lettuce. I think the potatos are ready to dig.

On the firewood front, I have never had so much wood since the stove was put in.
Five droob rows! Almost two full cords. And there is more waiting for Mr Jack, the Splitter. Jack has made all this possible. No matter what they tell you, it is much, much easier to use a power splitter than a maul. Now, understand me, I love to split wood with a maul. But it takes a day to get my eye in. Plus you need a good block. And the wood goes all over the place when you hit it. And your block rots. And lifting a nine-pound (four kilo) maul is no joke. No... Jack has made a huge difference in (to quote T.H. White in Mistress Masham's Repose) in my domestick Oeconomy. The O and the e in that last should be run together; don't know how to do that in Blogger. I have still had to use the maul on wood so gnarly that St. Peter himself would utter obscenities. But this is nature. And there is still this one birch on the power line right-of-way (PLRW) . It is jackstraws. When my neighbor decided to clear out his front yard, he used a gigantic machine with a power claw-like tentacle and hydraulic whatzis all over the place. The trees are piled up just like giant jackstraws on the PLRW. The logs are all connected. Most of them are Aspen. I'd much rather burn birch. The tractor could resolve the problem. instantly. So maybe it is time to investigate Lysander's starting problems. We shall see.