Sunday, October 3, 2010

Season of Plenty

October has slipped in through the side door.

No fanfare, rain blowing sideways, wind ripping dun colored leaves from the big maples, or ditches overflowing. It’s our little secret here in the northwest: October is Mother Nature pausing to catch her breath, that big inhale we will likely get back in spades come November.

October offers excellent riding opportunities: The kids are back in school so most of the Winnebagos are safely stowed away in the storage lots till next season, the seasonal road work is winding up so those construction crews are moving out, leaving decent pavement behind, the days are fairly warm and often sunny, and the nights though cool are generally still.

Yesterday afternoon’s ride was a good chance to survey the stays of agriculture here in our neighborhood. Perhaps it’s the harvest that caused me to nice the collection of barns I have ridden past so many times but never noticed before. These are all located within a 30 mile radius of Rocky acres:

Of course, barns would just be an inexplicable extravagance if it were not for harvests. The land is coming to fruition out in farm country, you see it in trucks going down the road, sometimes you can smell the harvest if you are traveling on two wheels.

But it's not all work and no play out on the farm:

(watch where you step, that may not be just a divot!)

Here in Oakville we have a Zucchini festival each July. Seems almost ironic from the gardeners perspective, the lowly zucchini is the Huffy mtn bike of garden vegetables; you almost have to purposely sabotage the zuke to keep it from taking over everything; what’s to celebrate?

Around the neighborhood it is almost impossible not to notice the bounty on a smaller, personal scale. Of course it is east to get a peek at the gardens and flower patches up and down the lane. There is more than can be consumed so of course neighbors come bearing gifts. Gardeners can’t really trade zuch’s back and forth over the fence. I know that a fresh loaf of bread given feely will often come back over the fence in the form or a pint of homemade jam, a slab of home smoked salmon, or a jar of pickled green tomatoes or sauerkraut. A pan of homemade dinner tolls will beget a dozen brown eggs or a pint of fresh honey the following week. That’s what it’s like here in Oakville. They say that good fences make good neighbors, but a pint of homemade strawberry jam will make those fences a lot less important. My neighbors may not be the people I go to movies or on vacation with but they are certainly the people I trust to watch over the place when I am away at the movies or on vacation. They know that they can trust us too and this sense of community is only strengthened at harvest time.

So much for the Norman Rockwell moment, on with the cavalcade of bounty. We had a moderately successful harvest here at rocky acres. As per usual; an outstanding crop of rocks. From a ROI POV it could be considered a banner year. Though our returns were modest, our investments were minuscule. It was a tough spring for planting; cold, wet, and drawn out. I planted peas twice, got no beans, only a few squash. I don’t plant zuch’s, nothing makes friends faster than asking a neighbor if they could spare a zucchini or two. We only got three cucumbers, I like fresh cukes and I should have made more efforts there.

The garlic was small, the onions and leeks did fine. 

The Blueberry bushes were the big showoffs in the garden. Like that new couple down the block with the little red sports car; hard not to notice among the pick-ups and Dodge min-vans. They were VERY prolific, and of course fresh, sweet berries have it all over cole and root crops.
I really punted with the apple tree, my bad. We had an excellent crop of apples but we get lots of scab and I should have taken a more industrial approach in the late winter-early spring. I am generally averse to spraying but I won’t let this happen again. The crappy cool early season did not help. I also should have watered that apple tree better. The fruits may have been scabby, but at least they were small! The neighbor’s two new beehives were a great help however. We picked the apples and Mrs. C made some nice apple turnovers … with filo dough! We might have left them on a bit longer but just as they were ripening, birds with large beaks had taken to hacking away at the apples. I guess everyone thinks they are entitled now.

This recent drying pattern in the weather has been a blessing for the sunflowers.

I will cut the head off soon and hang them to dry out in the shop. We’ll have enough sunflower seeds to feed all the Jays and raccoons in Grays Harbor County. The sun flowers brightened the scene considerably and gave the grounds a more festive look. I started them in peat pots out in the shop and given the cold wet spring I am sure this made all the difference: While it was cold and rainy rotting the peas in the ground the sunflowers sat on the shop window sill and just grew long and leggy.

Probably the best ’get’ was the potatoes. Potatoes are the ‘truffle of the masses’ and given my peasant genes I feel in my element among the ‘pommes de terre’. I purposely bought the ‘last of the season, give em away or throw em away’ seed potatoes. I knew there would be a high failure rate with these soft and sprouty spuds, but then again at just a dollar for two bags you can afford that. Call me McCubbin but our spuds are faboo. Even though we had a lot of starts that didn’t, those that did produced prolifically. I like to cube and steam those little red new potatoes and then sauté just enough to get a little color on them: butter, garlic and a little parsley: Nom, Nom, Nom! The white potatoes of indeterminate variety have been great too. Mrs. C uses her southern skills to make mashed potatoes like I remember as a kid. Glorious! Peasants, eating like kings.

The pond also ‘produced’ this year. We had a steady crop of dragon flies through the summer. Chairman loves those things, little birds that buzz, low! He always jumps fantastically to snag them in mid air, but without success so far as I can tell: funny cat acrobatics. I found two body cases stuck to the iris stems just above the water line where the larvae had crawled up out of the water and morphed into iridescent acrobatic flyers. In the heat of the summer Chris’s bees loved the pond and in the evening I would often see as many as 100 or more honey bees on the lily pads drinking. I once saw our biggest fish swallow a bee!

I expected trouble, I watched the fish for nearly a half hour but nothing ever came of it. I also took the time to separate and replant a big clump of water iris’s.

I completed the fall pond maintenance and clean up, and so removed multiple wheelbarrows full of floating plants, Water lettuce and water hyacinth, and of course lots of duck weed. These tropicals grow like crazy once the water temp gets above 65 degrees and the night time temps don’t drop. But they die and rot at the first sign of 59 degrees. Most of these were removed from the upper pond where the water had been completely covered by plants. I had left it that way to help moderate the water temps, help with oxygenation in high temps, and to reduce algae growth that comes with too much direct sun. It is a nice effect and also gives the fish some cover.

I was stunned after removing the plants to find nearly two dozen goldfish fry in the upper pond! These appear to be from multiple hatches as they range in size from about 1/8th inch to maybe ¾ of an inch. They all look pretty similar and I think it is safe to say that our cream colored fantail comet is the ‘stud’. He chased female comets throughout the summer as the spawned among the floating plants.

These little fish, if they make it through the winter, won’t be incredibly beautiful, (it would help if the fan tail was a little more colorful) but there are a few that have interesting red and black color patterns, and one has great potential: it is a light colored fish but has the makings of a lacy black fantail. Let me know if you or your kids need a new pet: free goldfish, half off!

Chairman Meow is having his own great ‘harvest’. I’ve taken to locking him out most days when we are at work. If we don’t there is likely to be a present in the hallway (where we can’t miss it). Usually a dead vole, but occasionally a dead garter snake or sparrow. He’s getting his technique down to a fine art, so much so that he occasionally practices ‘catch and release’. Try getting a slippery little garter snake out from behind the washer! A meadow mouse took up residence in my cycling togs chest of drawers and I had a fine time catching the little devil. He made a nest of the instruction sheet for my cyclocomputer and gnawed the salty parts off the knobs on our tandem talk radios.

We had a family get together this summer and as part of the tradition I got a sour dough starter and made various sourdough treats. I thought that would be that but the wild yeast apparently turned on my baking gene and I have since been sliding down that slippery slope that is the quest for the perfect sourdough French loaf. I have made some good bread, and some that may even have been ‘good enough’, but none has been as good as I’ve wanted. That is until this weekend. I tweaked my technique a bit, a little less time here, a little more there, slightly different oven temps, … et voila!

Se magnifique! if I do say so myself. I fully expect that my next few efforts will come out like door stops that taste like store bought breadsticks but it is just that little bit of success that encourages a fool to take his bicycle further than he has gone before. So far, the baked goods have made good trade stock along the lane. We’ve learned to keep no more than one loaf and a dinner’s worth of soft rolls; the stuff is just too edible, but it is fun to make. See more bread pics at the Flickr page here:

I am mourning the passing of summer, but if it as to go, what better season to transition to than fall?

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