Sunday, October 7, 2012


Even giving most scraps to the chickens, we are still amassing an unseemly compost pile in the yard faster than I'd like. The pile is also not becoming finished compost as quickly as I'd like. Enter red wrigglers! We purchased the worm factory (I prefer worm apartment, if you'll excuse me) online and set it up with some in-process compost, shredded newspaper, and coconut coir. Then when the worms arrived last week, we added a small amount of food and let them at it.

If you want one of these bad boys, you can purchase it here:

For the first few days in a new home, their impulse is to escape. Makes sense to me. We lost a few, but most seem happy and healthy inside. Ideally, they'll process about one tray's worth of food per month, meaning that at planting time next year, we're going to have a wonderful amount of worm poop black gold.

The only things you can't feed them are: bay leaves, oily things, meat (eww), citrus, and garlic or onion. That's basically the same list you can't feet the chickens (although meat is actually ok for them.) Garlic & onions aren't a problem, since they go into the stock bag. We rarely have meat, and when it's around, Alex eats all of it. It's just oily leftovers from our plates that go into the garbage now, and that's ok with me.

One attempt at winterizing the house - failed.

Our home is big, old, and therefore it only stays about 10 degrees warmer than outside temperature naturally during Winter. On a day like today, with no sun and spitting cold rain, that is noticeable. The thermostat reads 58, and outside it's 48. Burrrr.

So we've been researching heaters for the living area and attic (although right now, the attic still holds heat really nicely.) I've also been thinking about solid curtains for the living room and dining room, so we can form a barrier between the holes in the walls (aka windows) and us. Our windows are new and double pane, so we don't really have to worry about drafts. Still, I want to seal all leaks possible before I cave and turn on the furnace. One thing I really miss about apartment living was when wimps  neighbors above and below me turned on the heat nice and early and kept my house warm for free.

But back to the curtain search: we have perfectly serviceable (albeit faux bronze) pinch pleat drape hardware. The pulls work, so you can open and close the drapes easy. Cool! I'd rather reuse than replace any day. Unfortunately, pinch pleat drapes seem to have gone out of fashion. People who still demand them seem to only buy horrifying, gauchely-patterned maroon monstrosities. I just want something solid in color, preferably a luxurious velvet or unobtrusive cotton, but no.  There is no fabric store in Pittsburgh, or I'd just make them myself. Apparently there is tape you can use to make drapes pinch pleat easily. I don't have a sewing machine, but neither did the pioneers.

Pinch pleat drapes, it seems, are out.

So I decided I could break off the end of the curtain rod, remove the hardware, and just use ready-made window panels with grommets at the top. These ARE in fashion presently, and are overpriced-but-available everywhere from West Elm to Pottery Barn. I have a weakness for eggplant, so I bought four eggplant panels from West Elm, assuaging my sweatshop guilt by reminding myself that I'd be saving energy with these drapes.

They arrived, and these drapes -- so pillowy and vividly aubergine in the pictures online -- are thin, chintzy, and BROWN in real life. They are awful. I hung one just to see, and they are the absolute worst. So I'm back at square one. Anyone want to offer me their old pinch pleat curtains to dye a cool color as a present? It is my birth month soon...

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Rounding out the end of the season

A few weeks ago, it started to reach the low 40s at night. We were seeing highs in the low 70s, but it was a little horrible for the tomatoes and peppers. As a result, I did the right (but horrible) thing and snapped off all the new buds. This way, the plants could concentrate on ripening the fruit they already had rather than setting new fruit that probably doesn't have enough time to ripen before the temperature permanently drops below 65 degrees and then freezes. As a result, we got three more, gorgeous black krim tomatoes, and two more pints yellow cherries. The jalapenos gave 6 more little beauties, and we squeezed another bell pepper out just in time.

Tonight, however, we have a freeze warning. It may sink below 32 overnight. This means we need to prep. Pineapple plants and rosemary all come indoors for the winter. I pulled up the basil, which was really past its prime anyway since garden snakes have been using its root system as a house for about a month. That became one last bit of pesto. In fact, even the hardy herbs I took i big chunk from, since you never know.

This seems like a good time to reflect on the productivity of different varieties so I don't forget entirely by next year.

The two big shocker producers were both yellow: the yellow cherry tomatoes and the lemon cucumber. I had only one plant each, but got dozens of pints of yellow cherry tomatoes. The tomato plant was taller than I am. The lemon cucumber gave me at least 30 lbs of veg. I had two russian pickling cukes in there, and they gave me about half the volume of the one lemon cucumber. Good to know. All cucumbers did succumb to some kind of disease at the end, and I think they would have appreciated more scaffolding to increase air flow.

Corn, broccoli, onions, and beets were a wash. I tried to get some beets and broccoli this fall, but the broccoli is 4 feet tall without any flowers and the beets are still as big as a pea.

The french climbing beans had only 3 square feet, and produced twice what the purple dove beans produced with 4 square feet. HOWEVER, I love the purple beans  a lot more. I also suspect the purples were a little light starved due to the yellow cherry tree.

We ended up with only one Black Krim tomato bush. It stayed too close to the ground, so I need to be more diligent about staking and pruning. We only got a few lbs from it, but there is another whole crop, green on the vine, that would be great if they had another week or two. Bummer. This is why I'm not just pulling them now. I'm gambling that it won't freeze, and that we'll get red tomatoes soon.

Amish paste tomatoes were slow to produce, but I got another 2-3 lbs this week. From 3 plants I wanted the yield to be more like the insane Early Girl. Not sure how much total that one gave, but we have 20 lbs frozen whole in the deep freeze.

The potatoes in the first barrel were a little disappointing - about 5 lbs worth. On the one hand, this only came from 1 potato, but it's not really enough to warrant the space. The second tower had about double that, so that's encouraging. Next year I need to stack the towers higher and plant a few different varieties.

Our squash vines were unhappy. We got one Blue Banana and one Butternut before things went down hill. However, we have two more little fruits on the vine now, so we'll see what happens in the next month or so.

The brussel sprouts gave us about a gallon, but attracted many pests. And unless I'm seriously mistaken, neither Alex nor I love them anyway, so it seems silly to try them again.

I want twice as many beds next season, so wahoo! And production isn't over by any means. We're trying to grow greens behind the retaining wall and will set up a cold frame in one of the beds in the next 2 weeks for more greens.