Saturday, November 14, 2009

2009 season

We finally had our first frost, which, to me, signals the end of the growing season. It came a month late, so I had plenty of time to prepare for it.

Only hardy crops left now. With a proper greenhouse or cold frame, I could protect more tender vegetables through winter. I have some lettuce, spinach, and arugula still going, so I hope to finish up a few cold frames to keep them alive.

Purple sprouting broccoli leaf showing off some frost (and some slug damage).

We had an amazing spring and summer this year. By far the hottest and driest since I've lived in Whatcom county. Up here, rain can be just as much an enemy as an ally. In a wet year, we fight mildews, molds, and early blights, and plant twice as many tomatoes and peppers as we think we need to make up for pitiful harvests. In a dry year, we don't complain - just water a bit more and enjoy the sun!

Frost free from March 10 - November 14; that's 249 days, or 8 months and 4 days, an extra long season for us. You can see that we have a pretty reliable wind, primarily a breeze from the SW in the summer. Note the change in wind direction from late summer into fall. We get our fall and winter "Nor'easters" (cold and powerful NE windstorms from the Fraser Valley in Canada) pretty regularly that time of year. In October and November, it's pretty clear that the spikes in average wind speed fall on the days of NE winds. Also of note is the rarity of rainfall this year - only 3 or 4 days of measurable (and it was barely that) precipitation from mid-May through mid-September.

For me, keeping track of the weather each year is crucial. I plan when to start my seeds in late-winter based on when our last spring frost will occur. I calculate at what date in summer I must plant fall crops in order to mature them before cold weather sets in based on our first frost date. The length of the growing season helps me determine which varieties of certain crops to grow, based on whether or not our season is long and hot enough. For a real farmer (one who depends on farming for their livelihood) favorable weather can mean keeping the farm and poor weather can mean bankruptcy. Yikes!

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Two weeks ago we had some friends over. We were showing them around the house and property and they wanted to see the pigeons. I opened up the door so they could look in the coop and out of NOWHERE, Buk (our dog) darted his head in and grabbed a pigeon! I grabbed Buk and he dropped it right away, and it flew up on the house. I caught it a day later. The strange part was that it was sitting in the front corner of the coop, where there is no perch, so I couldn't even see it there when I opened the door. Fast forward to a few days ago, when I was feeding them in the morning, I stuck my head inside and was surprised to see two yellow fluff-balls in a feather-nest in the corner! The bird was in the corner sitting on eggs!

These are about 4 or 5 days old, with eyes still shut. I thought the back one was not alive, but I watched and it rolled over. Unfortunately, it didn't make it for too long, and was still the next day. It was probably the second egg to hatch, and I read that the second, weaker pigeon of the two will sometimes not make it. So we will have one baby pigeon this winter.

The doting parent. I have nest boxes, but I didn't want to put any in until the spring, when warmer weather would make it easier on the chicks, but the birds were resourceful and made their own. I also read that I shouldn't put in a nest now, or move the baby into a nest, or the parents may reject it. So I'll just let them be. Exciting though!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cover crops

The cover crops/green manures are up in both the main garden and the field plot. They need to get established before it gets too cold, but they won't do a lot of growing through winter.

Crimson clover is in all the beds in the main garden. It's mainly a nitrogen fixer, but will make tons of growth in early spring and add plenty of organic matter when it's turned under before planting. You can see the winter crops that are left (not as much as I'd hoped with no cold frames).

The field plot cover crop mix is slower to establish, and won't put on much growth at all over winter. In spring it will start early, and grow into a thick, waist-high stand before being cut and turned under in late spring before planting summer crops. This mix contains Austrian field peas (nitrogen-fixer, organic matter), hairy vetch (nitrogen-fixer), cereal rye (deep, penetrating root system and tall stalks for legumes to climb), and canola/rape seed (organic matter). All four will decompose quickly (~2 weeks) after turning under in spring. During the winter, they'll help control erosion and runoff, and keep nutrients from leaching out.