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Archive for October, 2012

With autumn in our midst, many gardeners are focused on their fall gardens of leafy greens and roots. However, now is a wonderful time to create a winter garden of indoor herbs or tomatoes. Adding a little living green to a home during the chilliest of months can be simple.

One of the best ways to get indoor herbs started is to root a cutting—this way you don’t have to play the waiting game for a seed to sprout and develop into a mature plant. Cuttings may be rooted in water, moist soil, or even a damp paper towel wrapped in plastic. Rooting hormone will help speed the process along. Basil, sage, thyme, rosemary, mints and tomatoes have all been known to root and not let go!

Choose a Cutting

When choosing a stem to cut,  it is important to avoid new, immature growth. I prefer to use a woody or developed softwood side shoot. Take cuttings early morning before a warm sun has sapped their stored energy.

It is also a good idea to take several cuttings per chance one doesn’t develop roots.

Remove Leaves

Remove any leaves and side shoots 2”-4” from the bottom to prevent rot.

Dip cutting end into rooting hormone.

Rooting mediums:

  • Soil – make sure the soil mixture is light and retains moisture.
  • Water – root cuttings in a jar of water. Don’t forget to change the water every couple days.
  • Paper towel – dampen a paper towel and wrap around the base of the cutting, then wrap plastic around the paper towel.

Developing Roots

Until they begin to develop roots, cuttings need to remain moist and must not be allowed to dry out. Use a plastic bottle or plastic bag (like a miniature greenhouse) to help retain moisture. Stick the cuttings in a sunny location such as an east or south facing window. Do not fertilize until roots have developed.

Tug Tug Tug

Check weekly for root development. If using soil, gently tug on the cutting—any resistance means it has begun to develop roots. Generally it will take anywhere from 2-6 weeks for roots to develop. If rooting in a glass of water or a damp paper towel, wait until roots are at least 2” before replanting in soil.

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I apologize for the lack of posts on my part. The end of summer always brings a whole host of things that demand my time, some more important than others, but all squabbling for and yanking at my attentions until I give in. For example, one of my roosters has become a little crotchety, so as I collect my daily bounty of eggs, I’m always eyeballed and occasionally bodyslammed by him, and I end up debating his fate. He’s on ‘probation’ as of now – while he’s a beautiful bird, I don’t want him to go after a customer or something.

This past weekend was the peak of the harvest moon. It’s said that this bright full moon was once used by farmers to continue work into the night during the intense harvest period. My own is almost complete here, having mostly ended a few weeks ago. Haying season has been finished for some time, with plenty of bales put away to supply bedding for the chickens for the winter. I dug all my potatoes, beets, and turnips, and they’re now in damp straw-filled bushel baskets in the old stone basement. Only hardy things like brussels sprouts and carrots remain outside, and I’ll deal with them soon (except for the kale, which will be left there – and will probably survive – all winter).

It was a good season, though. After admirable performances on their part, I let the tomatoes go, their vines thin-foliaged and dying, fruit quality suffering from months of early blight and the associated exposure/sunscald. Probably more than a bushel went ‘to waste’, with some of these being fed to my chickens as feed, but it wouldn’t have been worth the trouble to take care of them and cut around their damage when I already have on the order of 6 or more full cases of homemade tomato products to use this winter. You choose your battles.

Just three 40-foot rows of bush beans produced over 300 pounds of beans before I let them go to seed as well, blowing my past years out of the water. I have no more freezer space for them, and lost what remained of my desire to spend the hours required to pick them to sell. I put a 14″ wide head of broccoli in the freezer – the biggest I’ve ever seen, beating my old record by 3″. I also picked the largest watermelon I’ve ever grown here, a 20-pound-plus Jubilee, and have enjoyed (or sold) several other melons in the 15-pound range. Our climate isn’t usually as suited for production of these, but the hot summer this year seems to have helped them, even as it hindered crops like the lettuce (there was still plenty, but it was the sorriest, sparsest looking row of it that I’ve ever grown).

The harvest and transition to fall also brings a number of festivals and other celebrations that conveniently fill the gap between fair season and ‘winter hibernation’. Some are craft shows, others are historical celebrations or giant farmer’s markets, or some may even be a mash-up of all of these. One such amalgamation is one I go to every year – the Busti Apple Festival. Born from the Pioneer Festival that used to be held here, it always happens on the last Sunday of September, rain or shine. This year it happened on Sept. 30th, and though the forecast called for rain, we managed to escape without a drop.

An early 1900s shot of the Mill.

The Apple Fest is held near the old Busti Gristmill. This historic mill, built in the late 1830s, was in neglected disrepair for many years. However, funding from the Apple Fest is used by the Busti Historical Society to restore it while still maintaining period accuracy. Windows and floors all needed replacement – it was basically a start with the bones and building back. They have also purchased some of the buildings around it. This year there were some breakthroughs, with some old equipment being demonstrated, and the once-empty mill channel over the creek being filled with hewn beams and hardware in preparation for a possible return to action in the future.

There are many tents of crafters with things to sell, and there’s always a good selection of fresh produce and other farm products. There are also demonstrations of log hewing, candle-making, spinning, a one-room schoolhouse, antique tractors, traditional music, and more. While I think most people go to this festival for the fair food and other ‘stuff to buy’, and I do like buying certain things myself (ex. maple and honey products, stone-ground flour, cheese), I go primarily to see what’s going on with the ‘old stuff’, and I do enjoy seeing some others who do take an interest in it.

A row of crafters’ tents lines the road, shut down for the day for the festival (Post-Journal photo, article linked).

A particular new thing of note to me this year was a blacksmith that was working on pieces on-site. His operation is called Evergreen Forge, based in Scandia, Pennsylvania – within a half-hour’s drive from my home. He had a number of pieces for sale, most decorative in nature, but a single knife stood out to me from all the offerings on display. It was a fixed-blade damascus hunter. Better yet, it was handmade, and one of a kind by nature. The price tag was intimidating, but it was beautiful, and I kept coming back to it, finally giving in and paying the asked-for sum, which I knew it was worth.

Maybe this knife will one day test a whitetail’s hide, or maybe it will serve me in any number of capacities from a garden vegetable-lopper or a forest mushroom-slicer. Maybe it will not. It’s a hard decision to make after you’ve bought (for a fraction of the price) and used many generic, mass-produced blades for your entire life. I almost always have a knife on hand, though – they’re like an extension of myself, an extra digit I don’t possess on my own – and it’s a new thing to own one this gorgeous that is still so strongly made and could serve well longer than my lifetime if cared for. Given all of what I’ve just said above, it seems almost like a waste and perhaps a denial of its own purpose to simply allow it to sit on display forever.

I could always give it a run with some squirrels. Though some would find the idea of eating them odd or even disgusting, they’re my favorite game animal. They’re abundant this year, probably helped along by the past mild winter. The feast of thickly dropping hickory and beech nuts almost makes up for the fact that spring frosts ruined all the wild apples and other fruit.

Hickory nuts (and some extra heads from my sunflower landrace) spread out to dry.

Cool rains have come, and nippy nights are bringing on the fall colors, along with a host of curious mushrooms and fungi that I delight in foraging for. No great finds so far, just a few blewits and a tiny Lion’s Mane, but there’s time yet. With one season over, and a new one started, it’s time for fall foraging and hunting. Hopefully my downtime will increase as the days shorten, allowing for the inevitable posts that will follow these subjects…

Is this butt a sign of things to come???

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