Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Buckwheat Experiment

This year we decided we wanted to learn how to grow and harvest our own grains. We eat a lot of grains in their whole forms as well as ground for flour. We figure waiting until we are starving to learn how to grow something is a good way to die for want of food. Even a small patch can teach a lot of useful information.

Due to seed availability we decided to start with buckwheat. Buckwheat has a unique nutty flavour and I find I really like the grain toasted and used in place of rice in most dishes. The flour is harder to work with than regular flour but the bread, when I can get it to work, is to die for. It also turned out buckwheat was one of the easier grains to grow for the new initiate, at least the books and information on the Internet made it seem so.

Buckwheat is one of the few grains that actually prefers poorer soil. We had just received a load of bland topsoil from a coworker so we used that to created our planting plot. We loosened to top few inches of the soil and scattered the seed liberally over the surface and just brushed the soil over to cover the seeds. Unfortunately, the chickens decided this was the perfect place to hunt for worms and most of the seed was eaten in the process.

The second try began with a fence around the garden and a second liberal coating of seeds. The weather turned on us and got cold. We learned that buckwheat, for all it is a European grain, does not handle cold snaps very well. The seeds had sprouted but the cold killed at least half the plants. Those that did survive did well and I simply added a few more seeds to the empty spots in the plot.

Fast forward to July. The plants are growing very well and are covered with flowers and the beginnings of grain. The books all warned that buckwheat flowers and sets grain at the same time so you have to gauge when to pick to get the maximum harvest without loosing everything to the birds and weather. I looked at the plants and the weather and figured we had a few more weeks before we had anything to worry about. Boy did I miss call that one.

August rolled around and brought in hot, humid weather and bouts of intense downpours. Three days straight of heavy rain takes its toll on buckwheat. By the time it was over most of the grain was gone, washed into the ground. There were still plenty of flowers so I thought we might be able to salvage at least part of the crop, but Mother Nature is a little unpredictable sometimes.

As August progressed the weather began cooling off at night. A real blessing this year for us and the animals. Unfortunately, the cooler nights signalled the beginning of the fall migration for the birds. I've mention before that we are on one of the major North South migration routes for almost every species of bird found in Eastern Canada. Well, it turns out that all those birds really like buckwheat, though I expect any grain would have attracted them. The Sparrows, Blackbirds, and even the Rock Doves all spent the sunny days picking the ripening grains and stuffing their little bellies.

I can't begrudge them, like some farmers do. I made the decision to wait to harvest. It is obvious that I made the wrong decision. The birds, chipmunks, and squirrels just took advantage of my misjudgement of harvest time. But, as I said before this was a learning experiment. I learned a lot in this first attempt, and will hopefully have a more successful crop next year. I'm very glad I still have grocery stores to rely on while I figure out this whole self sufficient lifestyle.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Vacation All Over

Well, vacation is over this year. We did a whole bunch of nothing for vacation this year. We stayed at home, except for the occasional trip into town, and melted on hot days and relished the cooler nights. We pickled eggs and cucumbers, and did a little work on the windows but otherwise a whole lot of nothing.

The garden is doing well. We've given away over 4 litres of cucumbers so far and expect to give away several more before the season is up. I also plan to make some more sweet pickles but I want to use smaller cucumbers this time. The first tomato has come out of the garden and been devoured. There is nothing as delicious as a ripe tomato fresh from the garden with the warmth of the sun still in it. I planted some more garlic but I'm not sure if they are going to sprout or not. They were eating bulbs from the grocery store. I may buy some garlic sets from the TSC this weekend just to hedge my bets.

We've had three hens go broody this summer. One, Red, finally gave up after I took all her eggs away from her and it rained for three days straight. She had decided to hide her nest in the garden and was soaking wet and cold, as the rain came in with a cool front. The other two, Queenie and Wag, are still broody but also sensible enough to nest in the boxes we provided. We take the eggs out from under them every day so they should be coming off the nests soon.

In the last week Queenie and Wag have started sharing the same nest box. For the last couple of days Queenie has been sitting on Wag, or as much of her as she can, and making happy mother hen sounds. I don't know for sure but I think Queenie has decided that Wag is her chick and is trying to sing her to sleep. Wag doesn't seem to mind too terribly much, or maybe she is just not willing to give up her spot.

PeterC and I are discussing buying a couple of chicks next year and putting them under the next hen that goes broody. It will be hard to time it unless we can find someone local who has day old chicks they are willing to sell. We figure it will make the broody hens very happy to have babies to take care of and if will slowly start letting us prepare for the eventual day when our girls get old and start dying. At this point it is still just an idea, but baby animals are always cool to watch grow up.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Potatoes Dug

Yesterday was such a lovely day I decided it was time to get the wormy cabbage out of the garden. While I was at it I decided PeterC needed to dig the potatoes. We ended up with 10 lbs of lovely small to medium size potatoes and even found a few garlic bulbs that had managed to survive being covered with straw. Of course the chickens were delighted with the dirt and helped us dig up and recover anything in their path. They even managed to eat a few dozen bugs while they were at it.

Now I have this lovely patch of garden that is just begging for something to be planted in it. I want to replant garlic and see if I can get a good sized crop off before winter sets in. PeterC wants to try for another batch of potatoes and I agree more potatoes is always a good thing. Of course I also want to try to get a crop of winter cabbage planted but I think that should wait for the cabbage bugs to fly away, or die, or whatever it is they do as the weather gets cooler and the sun lessens throughout the fall.

Perhaps out best course of action is to go to the nursery and see what is available. It may be that neither potatoes nor garlic sets are still around at this time of year. In that case I will look at my seeds and see if there is anything that we can grow in that empty bed, that will actually produce before winter sets in.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Vacation Time

I should have posted this last weekend but, well, time just got away from me. We are on vacation and my posting will be hit or miss for the next couple of weeks. Until then, here are some baby mourning doves to make you go Awww! Actually, they looked pretty ugly when these shots were taken, last week, but they smoothed out like their mother and flew away Tuesday.