Saturday, September 28, 2013

Putting Up for Winter

Phew! Nearly every day that I'm not working I'm doing some sort of preserving or crop processing. Recent events:
Canning tomatoes, tomato sauce, pears, peaches, green beans.
Seed saving quinoa, peas, beans, dill, mustard greens.
Unfortunately, all this doesn't leave much time for blogging but, rest assured, we are very busy around here.

Upcoming tasks: transplant winter crop sprouts, plant winter peas, finish greenhouse, seed goat pasture, cover creeping grass in orchard.

We got a beautiful sign!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Exciting Progress

We began processing tomatoes for canning this morning then I went to the garden and helped dad with covering the greenhouse (isn't it gorgeous!) then we went to the fair again and picked up the most beautiful sign I could ever hope for! Phew! Time for bed. Enjoy the pictures!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Recent Happenings

Dad is making progress on the greenhouse. He is planning to make a "rocket furnace" to heat the greenhouse and run the hot exhaust through a floor of gravel and cement chunks. I'm pretty excited! I'm also very pleased with the crabapple tree. It is doing so well and the apples are almost ready! Do you have a favorite crabapple recipe?

Today I harvested a single head of quinoa. I'm amazed how much is in each head! But I will definitely need to work on the efficiency of separating the seeds from the flowers since they don't pop out like many other seeds. Mom and I worked most of the day to prep and can two boxes of fresh green beans from Carpinito Brothers. Next up: peaches and tomatoes.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Momentous Occasion!

Shoshana had her tracheostomy tube removed this morning! She now has a gauze dressing over the hole and it is expected to simply close on its own. If not, a simple procedure will help it close. We have to stay one more night in the hospital to make sure that she will breathe easily while asleep but then we go home! Already, we have walked to the playroom without bringing 20 lbs of equipment with us, there is no extra breathing hole that we need to suction and two other machines at home are now obsolete. Besides, she has been eating a lot more just in the last few weeks. I wonder if capping the trach had something to do with that? Maybe having that tube in made it uncomfortable for her to swallow? In any case, she is doing wonderfully and I expect we'll be home without any issues tomorrow.

In discussion about Shoshana's care plan the hospitalist mentioned that her sister in India was recently diagnosed with stage III breast cancer. Our efforts with Shoshana opened a long conversation with her about diet and cancer and I had the opportunity to share about the Sustainable Renton gardening session at the Community Farm this weekend as well as the resources I've found most helpful. Though it still hurts to relive some of the most stressful times of my life it is a beautiful thing that my experience can help make someone else's experience easier. And I may get to see her again!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fall Garden

I can't believe it's already been a month since my last post! Things have been very busy here, obviously.

There have been a few clinic visits.

New friends.

Lots of snuggles.

Many various garden salads. This one is lemon cucumber, cherry tomato, purple bean, and balsalmic vinegar. Yum!

The Pristine apples ripened first and the 15 or so of them were eaten in two days, they were so delicious!

The first flying in a long time.

And hair do-ing.

And lots of canning! Dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, green beans, beets, pears, and peach jam.

The crabapple tree is so heavy-laden we might actually be able to preserve a few pints of jelly.

The quinoa is growing so prolifically it's having a hard time standing up.

In fact, during a thunderstorm a few days ago the heaviest heads snapped off. They're not quite ready so I strung them up in hopes they could dry out enough to be useable.

Almost every day that I'm not working I am spending time either in the garden or preserving produce. One of the new things I'm adding to the tasks this year is harvesting seeds so that I don't have to keep buying them. Yesterday I did my first threshing and winnowing of pea seeds. Unfortunately, many of them had cracked seed sacks which makes them unable to germinate.

We have transplanted the last of the fall sprouts: broccoli, cabbage, fennel, carrots, beets, peas, lettuce, kale, and overwintering onions. I have yet to plant the garlic sampler I got from Nichols Garden Nursery to help me decide which kinds to cultivate; I am especially excited about that experiment!

Once the weather turns sour enough that grass stops growing we will add another layer of newspaper and wood chips to the area in the orchard that wasn't done quite properly and is now overtaken by grass. We have found that in the areas covered properly weeds are almost non-existent! Only one certain kind of grass manages to grow from underneath and it is exceptionally easier to pull out from wood chips than dirt. Also, any weeds that float in are shockingly easy to pull. I've pulled more giant dandilion roots this season than in all of my gardening seasons before. One of these days I'll actually videotape how easy these wood chips are to manage. Some areas I haven't touched once since laying them down and they are still weed free!

If you are interested in seeing how the wood chips are laid down Sustainable Renton is hosting a Back to Eden Gardening clinic hosted by me! This Saturday, Sept 7th, 1-4pm. Meet us at the Community Farm location in the Highlands:
11840 148th Ave. S.E., Renton, Washington 98059
We will be building a plot for the community farm and you can learn along with everyone else!

Other events coming up I am really excited about are the seed saving lesson on Sept 13th at 6pm and the Harvest Mayhem party Sunday, Sept 15th from 4-7pm at the same location. Will I see any of you there?

Saturday, August 3, 2013

State of the Farm

My previous attempt at posting this update was a very sad failure so I'm hoping to not repeat the experience.

The last weekend in July we walked in the Renton River Days Parade with Sustainable Renton. We had a grand time passing out hundreds of packets of seeds. Earlier we had hoped to staff a booth for the weekend but we simply didn't have enough people to staff the entire weekend. We sure hope to have our first booth next year!

Stella, Lara, and I waiting for the parade to start. 

Walking down 3rd street!

My outfit. Fresh veggies from the garden carried in the Roo, a product by my
 beautiful and talented cousin!

In the garden we continue to dress the potatoes with wood chips. I've also done a second spraying of the braeburn apple tree for aphids. The most exciting thing so far is my first harvest of bulb onions: white, yellow, and Walla Walla.

I also helped coordinate a group of high school age Japanese exchange students (and two American students) in building three garden beds for Apollo Elementary just behind the Community Farm land thanks to my friend Michelle who works for States 4H International Exchange Program. You can see a post by the Sustainable Renton president, Chris, here. Special thanks to Jim Doty who was also there the whole time and volunteered the use of his truck and several pieces of vital equipment. We built "lasagna" beds which consists of alternating layers of compost, grass clippings or straw on cardboard. Since we didn't have straw we topped the beds with wood chips. This required a heck of a lot of wheelbarrow-hauling. The poor kids were massaging their forearms and sweating up a storm by the end despite the cool weather and even periodic rain. We are ever so grateful! Can you imagine five of us at a time loading wheelbarrows and pushing them over a couple of acres at least 50 times per bed? It would take us years!

Besides the work party that day was pretty darn hectic for me. I had to get up super early, pick up greenhouse equipment from the King Conservation District warehouse in Maple Valley, drop the equipment off at my house for storage, head to the farm to harvest things for the Red House in Renton, deliver said produce, return to the farm to prep for the students, coordinate the students, then head over to my sister's house for her surprise birthday party! Phew! But also very exciting!

Since my last post a lot of things have happened with the goats. Chestnut and her remaining kid, Latte, are looking fantastic. Rosemary's kids are generally better though they continue to struggle with abdominal pain after the damaging effects of the infection. Rosemary, however, never did recover. In total we have lost half of the herd. Rosemary had such an advanced case, we were very close to putting her down one day, that her gut was too damaged to recover. She looked and felt better for a few days but continued to have runny poop to lose weight. Finally, despite constant treatment including hand feeding, probiotics, electrolytes, and herbal supplements she simply couldn't continue. My mom saved me the trauma of putting her down and Tim buried her. Tim wrote about it. She was very dear to me.

Next on the to-do list:
- Transplant fall crop seedlings.
- Harvest heirloom apples on my lot and make applesauce.

Also, please pray for my colleagues at work. We have six nurses on our Wound Care team covering Tacoma General, Allenmore Hospital, and an unofficial outpatient service. However, two of our colleagues are having family and health troubles which explains much of the delay since my last post. For the near future I will be working much more than usual trying to cover as much as possible for them so please understand that I won't be able to make updates as frequently as before.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rosemary's Death

Another rough day at the farm.  Here's what I posted on my personal blog: In Hope.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


I'm going all Trogdor over here because I was ALMOST DONE with a long update post but then a piece of spyware which we've been battling with for a few weeks shut everything down and reinstalled itself. In the backgrount it apparently prevented blogger from saving my progress. Going to go to bed and waffle between being extremely pissed, crying, vowing to write it again tomorrow, and giving up on it.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


We lost the other two sick boys today. As the rest of the goats began developing symptoms I was increasingly suspicious of a gut parasite infection called coccidiosis. A few hours after wrestling two full size goats and three kids with horns to force feed antibiotics and electrolytes they are already looking better. The infection is also known as "the silent kid killer." Strangely, it does make me feel better since that means I didn't miss signs over several days. This infection can kill in 24 hours.

Full report to come later.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Risks of Animal Husbandry

We've had a very difficult and sad day on the farm. For the first time we lost a kid to illness. One week ago three of the six kids, one from Rosemary named Alpha and two from Chestnut named Mocha and Americano, developed some severe diarrhea. The sort of thing we have seen before when a goat eats a little of a bad thing or too much of a good thing which imbalances their digestive system. We did what we could at the acute phase then waited it out overnight. They were much better the next day and more improved the following day. They were even nursing from the moms again.

Then yesterday Tim noticed (remembering in hindsight) that the moms had more milk than usual. Some variation is normal and it wasn't enough at the time to trigger any special warnings.

This morning when I peeked my head out there to give them vegetable scraps I could tell something was wrong. The two older ones were sluggish and the youngest didn't even stand up to come over. Alpha was dehydrated and surprisingly skinny. If you think you can handle animals on an average day don't forget to take into consideration the very sick days. Water, bottle feeding, and warm mash for three hours was too little too late. As I carried him out of sight of the herd with my .22 ready he breathed his last in my arms. I was even too late to pull the trigger.

We have lost two adult goats to accidental poisoning but to lose a little one to illness feels very different. Things have been crazy around here including spending a lot of time in the garden several blocks away and I just didn't go see the goats regularly. There are standard tasks twice a day, every day, and recently Tim has been doing both instead of just one. I probably would have noticed something was wrong sooner since Tim has no experience with such animals but...

This is not the first time I've dealt with goat illnesses but the first where I missed the signs and intervened too late.

Mocha and Americano are looking the same or slightly better than this morning after a dose of probiotics, three bottle feedings of milk, offerings of fresh alfalfa, water, and baking soda. I am hopeful about them.

Thanks to a co-worker needing to trade shifts I got tomorrow off and instead work on Saturday; a huge blessing since time flew by and I didn't think to call my boss to request tomorrow off until after hours.

I'll definitely update you on the status of the kids tomorrow.

Pic #1: the healthy kids. Very difficult to get a picture of since they're constantly moving and coming up to me.
#2: poor Mocha.
#3: Americano resting after his second forced bottle feeding session.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pickled Beets

Wow! It's already canning and preserving time! So much about this season has jumped up on me like the local strawberries. It only occurred to me to check the picking availability the week after everything died back. Good thing one of the vendors at the Renton Farmer's Market today had beautiful strawberries from Skagit Valley! Blueberries and raspberries have already taken up residence in the chest freezer. Tomorrow I will be processing four half-flats of strawberries. Next week a vendor has agreed to bring an extra box of pickling cukes just for me and later in the season I'm planning to can blackberry jelly, green beans, peaches, and sauerkraut at the very minimum. 

Growing good food is a lot of work and preserving that good food for the rest of the year is also a lot of work. But in our case I'd much rather be doing that than shuttling ourselves back and forth from a hospital for yet another bout with cancer (Shoshana is not the first in my immediate family to deal with cancer and the majority of the last two generations dealt with cancer or died of it). Not that diet is the only cause of such things but when your genetics are already working against you then the extra time and care will probably be worth it.

But back to yesterday. While doing other things mom spotted beautiful red beets at Carpinito Brothers in Kent so we bought twenty pounds and pickled them. 

For those who are interested in the pickling process...


One of the more difficult things about picking and canning is you need to plan ahead so as to have all the equipment hot at the same time. In this case, the beets need to cook first then you just slip the skins off in a sink of cold water.

Next is slicing them into manageable pieces and packing them into jars; I prefer thin slices versus wedges.

Then you fill the jars with the hot prepared picking juice, get the air bubbles out, apply the lids, and process in your hot water bath for 30 min.

Just before going into the hot bath.

A thing of beauty!
(Cooling in a non-drafty place)

 And, for good measure, half of a box of blueberries also from Carpinito Brothers. The other half was already in the freezer before it occurred to me to take a picture.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

More Fruit Tree Pests

The other day I noticed we have aphids proliferating on one apple tree and one pear tree (out of 14 trees). At this point they are only attached to the youngest buds at the end of the main branches. My plan at this early stage is to spray the effected leaves with diluted dish soap in a spray bottle on the sharpest spray. If I hold the leaf while spraying then about half the aphids are knocked off and the other half will have to deal with the surfactants in the soap water and should either suffocate or dehydrate. You should also spray off the soap residue from the plants as it may burn your plants. This is less of a concern with the tougher leaves of fruit trees but certainly an issue for more fragile plants like peas and beans. If the aphid problem is more widespread you may have to consider more aggressive treatment or they will spread everywhere and start sucking the energy from everything so early detection and treatment is key.

Pear tree pre-soap spraying. Both green and black aphids.

Post-soap spraying.

 Apple tree post-spray. I first noticed the aphids because these leaves began to curl.

 Beautiful first flush harvest from the second generation of Oregon Trail Peas. Just ordered some more from Nichols Garden Nursery.