Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Great Rain Barrel Dump

It has been very dry - the understatement of the year - 80% less rain in May than normal, little in June, almost none in July - still we consider ourselves lucky that we live in an area that does see  it's share of thunderstorms which enable us to water most of our gardens, most of the time, using rain barrels.  When we built our home we had the foresight to get our septic installers to install pipes from each of the downspouts around the house and pipe the water back into the garden areas - we have three stations quite a distance from the house with multiple rain barrels connected and then two up near the house, front and back for the gardens there - in total we have 11 barrels.  We should probably have 15. 

 Most mornings finds us outside early slogging to water the gardens - we water by dipping in watering cans into the barrels, pulling them out, then walking to the nearby garden and repeat AGAIN and AGAIN.  It is an awesome arm and shoulder workout but can be more than exhausting when the temp hits into the 30's before 9.  Every year I ask Jerry to put in taps or hoses so we would have less work but recently I have been watering a friends garden while they are away and the tap from a rain barrel takes FOREVER to fill a watering can! So we continue the old fashioned, fast way.  

We have run out of water in the barrels a number of times this year and have had to resort to watering with the hose - after the hard labor of the watering cans it is kinda nice to just stand there holding the hose, no upper arm workout, just time spent gazing around but the well water is cold, not good for the plants and it feels like 'wasting' to us when we use the hose.  We try to get every last drop from the rain barrels. 
When the forecast suggests an 80% chance of rain on the way (like they are today) we take a look at our rain barrels and if there is still water in them we do the big rain barrel dump.  We would rather that water go into our gardens then overflow once the storm hits and just run into the vegetation around the rain barrels.  We did not have the foresight to put the rain barrel stations directly INTO the garden areas mostly because we had no idea where the gardens would be.  That would have made the most sense and we may have to consider changing things up if the summer droughts become standard procedure and I have a horrible feeling that they will.

Anyhow, the forecast is calling for rain and so today was a rain barrel dump day - We have watered and watered to empty out all 11 barrels into our veggie gardens.  Our thinking is that by watering just before the storm there is more chance of the ground being moist and allowing for greater penetration of the rain - these violent, quick storms drop a lot of rain but little seems to be absorbed, instead running off the gardens and taking soil with them. While there is a bit of a risk that we will not have water for days ahead if the rain does not materialize, the "extra" water on the garden is not a bad thing at this point and we can say they have all had a good watering and we may actually have a break from watering if the rain arrives. 
                                             The good news is the clouds are rolling in...

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Garlic...We have Garlic!


For the last few years we have grown a bit of garlic (2,000 heads) to sell to a couple of local markets.  It  was my idea to try it and net us a bit of money that we could put towards a vacation each year now that we are living on a pension.  Last year was a brutal year for us – both of us were injured, we had a long drought and our garlic crop ended up with a rot from the cold, rainy May and we lost half of our crop.  I spent way too many hours looking at pictures of disfigured garlic and reading about the many diseases and how difficult it was to eradicate them.  So it was with great trepidation that we planted our fall crop still using our own seed and in different garden beds.  This year we had a record dry May instead of a rainy one and we did not water the garlic very much worried that we would kick-start the fungus.  Two weeks ago I went out and pulled up a few sick looking garlic and sure enough it looked like the same rot as last year.  I was sooo disappointed and really trying to avoid going out to actually harvest.
 The garlic is planted in October, November  - each head separated into individual cloves and each clove is planted to yield a head of garlic the next summer.  Hard-neck varieties like ours – Music – send up scapes in June, early July that need to be trimmed off.  We sold some of our scapes to local markets a few weeks ago (the earliest on record for us) and as of July 1 the scapes we left on were standing erect, a sure sign that the garlic was ready to harvest.  July 2 is the earliest we have ever harvested our garlic – four years back we were harvesting the end of July!  Last year we started harvesting July 11.  This year July 2! 

 We went out and started pulling the garlic and lo and behold – we had great garlic!  Some really nice large heads and a fair number of smaller heads due to the lack of water but almost no rot!  I was doing a happy dance and starting to count the dollars I can tell you (we already have a week booked in Myrtle Beach in August ya see).
Harvesting garlic is pretty labor intensive and best done by hand – while Jerry loosens the soil with a pitch fork I do an initial quick clean and look to remove most of the soil and make sure it looks healthy – any suspect garlic goes in a separate bin right away.  Once we have a wheelbarrow full we head up to the garage where it gets a further cleaning, removing more soil, some brown leaves and another look to make sure the bulb is sound.  We then tie a dozen together with a string and then hang them from nails we have placed all over the garage so they can dry for another 2-3 weeks.

Once they are dry we will then cut off the leaves, stalk and some of the roots and do the final clean with gloves or toothbrushes.  It is then we will also do the big separation of keeping back seed stock for next year, then dividing the rest to sell by size.  The largest we will sell individually and the smaller stuff we will bundle in ½ pound or 1 pound bundles.

We also planted a fair number of bulbils in the fall – bulbils are garlic seeds from the flower (scapes) and they are super tiny.  It takes three years of successive planting to get the bulbils to be big enough to plant for garlic heads but it is a great way to get “clean” seed (without any disease) and a cheap way to increase your seed stock, albeit cheap and looong way to increase your seed stock.