Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Uh-oh a rooster.

This is actually old news at the tiny farm, but I never got around to posting about it. It turns out that the cute little Easter Egger Chick above turned into Dazzler, the handsome young rooster you see below (named after the less-than-popular Marvel character whose superpower was to turn sound into light). Unfortunately for urban farmers, roosters are not allowed, so he had to go.

Most pets have a certain knack for inconvenience and Dazzler was no exception. As we were loading up the car at dawn on Thanksgiving morning to go out of town and visit my family for a few days I hear an unmistakable "Cock-a-doo" (he hadn't mastered the "doodle" yet). I had been having suspicions for awhile, since Dazzler was a bit bigger than the other birds and had longer tail feathers, but since Easter Eggers are mutt breeds, I thought maybe s/he was part large breed. My neighbor happened to be outside as well and I explained that the rooster was an accident, that we would be leaving town for a few days, I was sorry and I would take care of it when I got back. Lucky for me, a friend who has more land and less strict animal laws was able to take him a week later. He still may end up in the pot (a shame for such a handsome and friendly rooster) but at least this bought him a few more weeks. So now we're down to 10 hens, which is about 10 more than my husband wanted, but it's about 20 less than I wanted, so by my calculations I can still get 5 more and have it be a fair compromise! I'm trying to hold off another year and a half so we always have birds that are in their prime laying seasons but this is going to be tough...
Also, I want a turkey.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Seeds are on the way!!

After crying and grumbling about my $3,000 hospital bill I realized there was only one (realistic) way of cheering myself up: the 2009 heirloom seed order. Up until now, I've preferred heirlooms but would occasionally buy an early girl tomato on a whim when walking through the garden center. I think those days are over, there are just too many benefits to growing heirloom seed. I usually order from heirloomseeds.com, but I saw that they have about a month turnaround time right now because they're so flooded with orders. That's fine for people in cooler climates, but I wanted to get my tomatoes, peppers and eggplants started indoors in mid-January, so this year I ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I spent several hours looking over my choices and here's what I finally decided on:

Ivory Egg Tomato
70-75 days. Sent to the United States by a seed saver in Sweden, this rare and attractive ivory-cream colored tomato is the shape and size of a chicken egg. The creamy flesh is both sweet and rich; great for making a lovely sauce, or in salads. Plants are very productive.

White Queen Tomato
70-75 days The favorite white variety of many tomato collectors, this heirloom is said to have been introduced in 1882 by A.W. Livingston, though many people question the exact date of introduction. 4-8 oz. fruit have one of the best flavors of all tomatoes, being fragrant, fruity and intensely sweet. It's creamy white in color and very attractive. A productive variety that has become very rare.

Bloody Butcher Tomato (My response to Early Girl... take that patented varieties!)
60 days. A small 3-4 oz ‘cluster’ tomato. Fruit are deep red in color and have a nice tomato flavor. Production is really good, but where this open-pollinated tomato really shines is its earliness. It ripens in only about 60 days, making it ripen about the same time as Early Girl, but this tomato is much tastier.

Roma Rio Grande Tomato
Vigorous plants produce many 4"-long, pear-shaped fruit with dry flesh, perfect for fresh use and sauces. Productive during hot, dry summers.

Yellow Pear Tomato
78 days. Very sweet, 1 1/2" yellow, pear-shaped fruit have a mild flavor, and are great for fresh eating or for making tomato preserves. Very productive plants are easy to grow.

Applegreen Eggplant
70 days. An early light green eggplant, good yield, very tender and delicious, smooth oval-round fruit growing on small plants. Highly recommended. Developed by the late Prof. Elwyn Meader, UNH 1964.

Casper Eggplant
75 days. Medium size, very attractive, smooth ivory-white fruit, that have a very mild mushroom-like flavor. Prolific plant. Fruit ripens early. An excellent variety for specialty growers and gardeners.

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli
An English heirloom variety, bred for overwintering. Produces lots of purple broccoli sprouts in the spring. Grows slowly through the winter; very frost hardy. A great variety that is very hard to find in this country; delicious!

Boston Pickling Cucumber
50 days. An old heirloom dating back to 1880. Vigorous vines give large yields of smooth green fruit. It is excellent for pickles, very crisp and good quality. A very popular variety at the turn of the century.

West India Burr Gherkins
65 days. (Cucumis anguria) Not a true cucumber, but used much like it. Will not cross with C. sativus-Very beautiful long vines and hundreds of small tasty fruit. Yields better than any cucumber. These are becoming rare. They do great in hot humid [yeah, I know Phoenix is a far cry from humid, but we do have the hot! I thought this was worth a try anyway] weather. Introduced to the USA in 1793 from Jamaica, and used pickled or boiled by the Colonies in Jamaica.

Ground Cherry (Strawberry Husk Tomato)
Huge yield of tart-sweet berries. This is the common type, used by the Pilgrims; excellent for pies, jams, and preserves of all kinds, also delicious fresh. The fruit grows inside a paper like husk, (the same as Tomatillos.) Grow it the same as you would tomatoes.

Lemon Balm
Deliciously lemon-flavored; great in tea. A vigorous, hardy plant.

German Chamomile
(Matricaria recutita) Beautiful, small flowers; makes a relaxing tea with a sweet, fruity fragrance; medicinal. Attractive plants.

Tigger Melon
The most amazing melon we have grown. The fruit are vibrant yellow with brilliant fire-red, zigzag stripes, (a few fruit may be solid yellow), simply beautiful! They are also the most fragrant melons we have tried, with a rich, sweet intoxicating aroma that will fill a room. The white flesh gets sweeter in dry climates. Small in size the fruits weigh up to 1 lb. - perfect for a single serving. The vigorous plants yield heavily, even in dry conditions. This heirloom came from an Armenian market located in a mountain valley. It was the most popular melon at our Garden Show last August and makes a unique specialty market variety.

Orange Bell Pepper
Super sweet, brilliant orange fruit are blocky, and good-sized thick flesh is flavorful and among the best tasting of all peppers. Plants produce large yields of this most magnificent pepper.

Red Cheese Pepper
80 days. Candy-sweet, round, flat, 3", pimento-type peppers that have thick, red flesh, great for stuffing or fresh eating. So good, they are almost addictive. Very productive plants. Once used to color cheese.

Red Malabar Spinach
70 days. This beautiful plant is not a true spinach but a different species (basella rubra). This heat-loving Asian vine has lovely red stems and delicious, succulent leaves that are great in salads and stir-frys. A delicious green that can be grown as an annual in many areas or as a perennial in sub-tropical areas. [I've seen this at the farmer's market and have known people who grow it locally and it seems to do well here, it has a flavor that's a bit too lemony-tart for my taste, but it produces greens in the summer in Phoenix, so you take what you can get :)]

PLUS a surprise seed pack! I can't wait to see what kind they'll send me. I am so excited to get these growing!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hospital and updates. Anyone have desert toads?

I ended up going to the emergency room about two weeks ago for something that I think was related to the original illness. I had *extreme* stomach pain, they thought it was appendicitis, a CT scan said it wasn't and they never really figured out what was wrong. The best part of the hospital (the least bad part maybe?) was that I happened to be wearing some brand new underwear, so I wasn't embarrassed about the open-back gown. :) I am sure my insurance company will screw me over on this, as they do any other time something expensive happens, so my husband and I got an odd job that lasted for 10 days helping to build a large scale electrical spectacle artwork for another artist. I'm crossing my fingers that it will be enough money to cover the hospital bill. My mother-in-law is also very generously putting some money into our bank account to help out.

We have had lots of rain (well a lot for Phoenix, the rain gauges here got up to six-tenths of an inch) and unseasonably cold weather, no freezing yet, but I think that will come around new years. The early cold and short daylight hours have made everything in the fall garden slow down. I'm getting some lettuce and radishes, but those just aren't as exciting as the fall crops. The coldness has cut off my black-eyed pea production and I'm losing hope of having vine-ripened tomatoes this fall. There are still a few eggplants and lots of peppers, but they seem to have stopped growing. I'm hoping that I can keep them warm enough so that they'll last through the winter and I'll have a head-start on spring. The chickens all molted and stopped laying for the winter except my Rhode Island Red who is giving me about 5 eggs a week. I'm spending a lot of time looking over heirloom seeds and rare-breed chicken varieties, there's so many I want! There's a slim possibility of raising some Muscovy ducks this spring, but a more realistic animal addition to the tiny farm is toads. I've read that they love squash bugs and it seems like a fantastic pest control method. I just have to find some that do well here. I remember growing up there was a giant toad that lived by our pool filter where it was damp. I have no idea how it got there, but it stayed for some time. Anyone in the Phoenix area know where I can get some toads for the garden?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sick and crappy randomness

That headline pretty much sums up my last few days. I had what I thought was food poisoning Sunday night from some expired but "still probably okay to drink despite it's slightly unpleasant taste" milk. In the name of not wasting money I drank something I probably shouldn't have. To skip the ensuing details, I will abbreviate and just say, I lost a lot of weight the following 12 hours. I felt pretty bad the next day too, which led others who are more knowledgeable about illnesses to believe it wasn't food poisoning but something more flu-like, and now two days after that, I still feel not so great in the stomach, less like the flu, more like ulcers. Who knows. I wonder if this is what would happen to a longtime vegan force-fed surf and turf.

In unrelated matters, I had some fantastic bread at Thanksgiving that my parents' neighbors/friends made, and it turns out it was the New York Times bread that everyone has been raving about. (Here's the recipe link in case you haven't gotten to it either) When I first saw it popping up all over the blogosphere I looked at it and thought, that looks a little messy, takes a long time, and what the hell does the New York Times know about making bread?? Apparently they (or rather the guy that originally wrote the recipe that they printed) know a lot. I will be making it as soon as I can stand up straight again.

There isn't a whole lot of tiny farm news to post this time of year. The seeds have all been planted and I'm just starting to get to the harvesting point for the swiss chard and mixed greens. I'm still getting bell peppers, eggplants and even a little okra and I'm hoping the tomatoes ripen before our first frost hits (usually around December 15th though I think it will be later this year). It seems like they almost never do though, I always have to go out and pick a bunch of green tomatoes and let them ripen inside.

I guess this was a pretty random post, I'm distracted by my stomach and my unrelenting desire for nachos, which apparently "aren't appropriate food for sick people".