Thursday, October 29, 2009

Roofing and Soil Quality

Lately we have been pondering the potential impacts, real or imagined, of various roofing materials and potential impacts to garden soil quality.

Because about 80% of our watering supply is from roof-fed rainbarrels into a very intensive small-sized vegetable plot, the roofing material we choose to replace our battered asphalt shingles could theoretically have some long-term impact on our garden soil quality. However, there does not seem to be much readily available data on the topic (or at least not that I've yet found).

I have started to compile some info but thought I'd throw this post out in case some passer-by could recommend some info related to this topic. We are leaning toward a metallic roofing material, for several reasons. Metal roofing generally seems to be the preference for rain water collecting, provided it does not use large amounts of lead in the coating.

More to follow on this subject.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Homemade Pea Sheller

Having grown up on a farm, I can appreciate the labour-saving advantage machines provide for larger-than-backyard scale agricultural work. As a child I was fascinated by the various machines littering our farm in all their mechanical complexity and glory (and sometimes lack of).

Gradually with age I have come to avoid mechanical complexity as much as possible (for various reasons, esp. $$$) and enjoy the simple but effective, quiet, non-motorized hand-held tools of the backyard garden. But I must admit my aunt's homemade pea sheller seems like a great idea for both rural and urban agriculture. Shelling peas from a large garden can become tedious!

Step 1: Load peas into inner threshing cylinder.

Step 2: Set wire-mesh door in place onto the cylinder. The wire-mesh holds the pods while the peas fall through.

Step 3: Close outer screened hatch and slide pea collection tray below the wire-mesh cylinder. The outer screen keeps the peas from flying all over the place.

Step 4: Turn crank (various methods, see below).

The pulleys on the right side spin the inner paddles inside the threshing cylinder at a speed faster than the hand crank. The pulleys on the left turn the outer paddles & wire mesh cylinder at a slower speed than the hand crank. This causes the pea pods to get a real paddling, gradually split open and separates the peas from the pods. The peas fall through the wire-mesh onto the collection tray below while the pods remain inside the wire-mesh cylinder.

The pea sheller was built using plans from Saskatchewan Agriculture's website.

I'm thinking this could be a great project for a community garden. This is one option of many for such a device, but seems to be effective.

For those overwhelmed by the thought of turning a crank for a lengthy time, they can always try my aunt's method of attaching an electric drill to the crankshaft. Even my uncle was convinced after first scoffing at this method. My aunt left to pick some more peas leaving my uncle to operate the crank. When she returned, she found him using the drill!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Carrot Varieties

Below is a summary from my cousin with photos and descriptions of his experience growing various carrot varieties this year in the Pigeon Lake area in Alberta. Some options to ponder before selecting seeds for next spring! I have added some additional random information about each variety to learn more about them, shown in italics. This info was pulled from various sources on the web, some referenced. If any errors, please let me know.

Sweetness (hybrid)

Even though it is a hybrid (and not an heirloom), it is probably the best all-around carrot for taste and sweetness (hence the name). What people expect a carrot to look like.

NANTES type carrot.

Napoli (hybrid)

'Nantes' variety of carrot, can be identified by it's shape. Good all-around taste and sweetness.

This F1 Hybrid "sugar carrot" a favourite grown by author Eliot Coleman for the upscale country stores around his home in Harborside, Maine. Fantastic as an early bunching carrot due to its sizing up at least a week earlier than other varieties. [>]

Yellowstone (hybrid)

Heritage style variety with crisp carrot taste, not too sweet. Can taste a bit bitter when stored for a while - best eaten in the fall.

The first yellow, F1 Hybrid Carrot.

Royal Chantenay (open-pollinated)

Wide, tapered carrots, but without the woody core you'd expect in a carrot of this nature. Very crisp, good keeper.

DANVERS type carrot. Good for freezing and canning. Popular for juicing due to its darker colour and shape. Well suited for bunching* and winter storage. Royal Chantenay is one of the best for storing in a cellar or at cool temperatures. [>] Excellent for heavy, clay dominated, shallow soils.

*"...a bunching carrot is a carrot that can be sown early, not thinned, can be picked in a bunch, matures quickly and is best suited to eating raw, unpeeled in salads etc Sow little and often for a succession!" [>]

Nevada (hybrid)

Nice dark-orange carrot with intense carrot flavour and minimal cores (even texture).

Tops are well attached and Alternaria tolerant. [>] Alternaria is one of many potential carrot diseases.

Touchon (open-pollinated heirloom)

Another Nantes-type carrot with even cylindrical shape. Good keeper, especially for sweetness (as with most Nantes varieties). Easy to pull!

Rare old French NANTES type with roots growing 15-17 cm long deep orange colour and little core. Very sweet and juicy. Good for bunching and winter storage.

Rainbow (hybrid)

Heirloom carrots ranging from white to orange. Thin and long, similar taste and texture to Yellowstone.

A single hybrid, not a mixture of varieties, therefore the carrots are uniform in size and appearance. [>]

White Satin (hybrid)

Heritage-style carrot roots, all white...what the original carrot looked like.

DANVERS type carrot. Good sweetness. F1 hybrid.

Purple Haze (hybrid)

Long thin carrots, with purple flesh that turn orange when cooked, and your water blue! Not too sweet, but nice carrot flavour. Best eaten in the fall.

Sweetest raw. Imperator-shaped carrot. Lightly stir-fry to retain a deeper purple colour. Purple carrots possess an entirely different class of pigments—anthocyanins—which act as powerful antioxidants. [>]

Berlicummer (open-pollinated)

A good all-around carrot, but smaller in size this year due to where they were grown. A favourite.

 NANTES type carrot. High yields. [>]

Some extra advice from my cousin: "...carrots need lots and lots of water; do not add fertilizer while they are growing (unless your soil is really depleted - and of course it should be organic). [We] made the mistake of adding some almost-fresh manure to the area where the Berlicummer's were growing and they really really did not like that...the manure stole too much nitrogen out of the soil while decomposing and they didn't grow very big. Grow and learn is the moral of the story!"

Some links with more interesting info on carrots includes:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Harvest Conclusions

The tomatoes dramatically wilted with the first frost a few days back (Oct 1) and have been sent to the compost. The kale, brussels sprouts and swiss chard endure, despite the recent frost, and as of today, snow.
Above photo: Lovage (upper left), swiss chard and brussels sprouts.

One of the stranger looking carrots, between tomatoes and swiss chard. Most of the carrots were of similar diameter but a few inches longer (conically shaped).

Due to a sudden surplus of tomatoes with the mass picking before the frost, some were boiled into a yummy sauce, with lemon juice (citric acid) and salt added to help preserve while stored in the refrigerator.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Happy First Frost Day!

Thanks to El Niño replacing his sister La Niña , we have enjoyed a delayed frost this fall, well beyond the average first frost day of September 14 for Calgary. We almost surpassed the extents of the Freezing Date Adjustment Factor Chart, with less than 10% probability of a frost this late!

Of interest to note is that the Average First Frost Day does not necessarily correspond with the Average End of Growing Season for perennial crops such as pastures and forages (see previous link for blow-up of map below). This map is based on an average daily temperature of less than 5°C after July 1.

This late frost is a good balance to our late Last Frost Day earlier this year, a welcome relief for many plant growers. I've heard some gardeners have even managed to grow corn this year, which can be hit and miss, depending on the location and variety of corn. Now to see how long the frost resistant kale and swiss chard hold out for!