Posts Tagged ‘growing onions’

Wednesday, April 24:

   Rainy today and cooler this evening.  We are grateful for the moisture, and for the roof water in the tanks.  The black-faced Jersey, Poppy, is bagging up; her rear elevation discloses an udder in which the vertical folds of a dry cow are giving way to a well-filled-out bag. It doesn’t look as if labor were immanent, but at two a.m., when one of us comes home from an hour of worship before the Blessed Sacrament, we will run up the hill and just make sure she isn’t in trouble.

   Shawn’s father used to say that his last good night’s sleep was the night before he bought the farm.

   Finally, the onions are up.  Sowing onions from seed directly in the garden is a dicey business, as they depend upon moisture in the ground for their germination; but starting them in pots indoors and transplanting them has been indifferently successful for us.  The tiny little green hairs that are seedling onions have a surprising resilience, but their miniscule root systems can only draw water from a small area, and the disturbance of soil caused by transplanting leaves air pockets that can dry out roots in no time.  Seed sown directly and well-tamped into damp soil should have a fair chance to avoid this difficulty.

   Last year we put out over five hundred row feet of onion seedlings which had gotten off to a good start in the greenhouse; in about three weeks the numbers were reduced by almost half.  We filled in the gaps with onion sets, watered them with the creek hose through a long dry spell in May, June, and half of July, and in August we harvested about one hundred fifty pounds of beautiful round, firm, yellow-skinned storage onions.  We hung them in braids in the cool room and ate them through January, losing very few to spoilage although sets are said to store less well than onions grown from seedlings.

   This year we will try again to grow our onions from seed purchased from Berlin Seed and Southern Exposure.  Direct-sown onions are planted thickly; when we thin we’ll take up the seedlings gently and hold them in a pan of manure tea until we can transplant them to other garden beds.  We calculate that we need at least three hundred pounds of onions for the year, so if anything happens to these seedlings we will have to go buy sets again.  We are not fond of spending money on things we can grow ourselves, and we don’t like eating things grown with chemicals.

   This week we had pity on the two milking Jerseys which were nearly dislocating their necks straining under the wire for any possible blade of grass within reach.  The barnyard, an acknowledged sacrifice paddock — meaning we know the animals are going to trample the ground mercilessly, drop too much fertility in this one place, and graze any green thing to extinction — looks as pale and spiky as a new Marine’s haircut, and the cows have been wearing a path around the perimeter.  In addition, from the barnyard the cows can see and hear the eight-week steers which are let out onto the lane during the day to graze on new forage, and the intensity of their interest in the little animals made us wonder about the security of our fence.   The little calves were fascinated too, and spent a good deal of time sidled up to the fence looking helpless and appealing.  Better for everyone that we turn the cows onto largeish paddocks at the bottom of the pasture where the grass comes on the earliest and grows the thickest, and let them get their tonic that way.  It’s too early for proper mob grazing – for that the grasses should be mature – but it won’t be long before we can take the cows up to the monastery and turn them in on those pastures, giving our home forages time to mature again before the sheep are put out in May.

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Sunday, August 26:

Three days of rain on the second cutting of hay has taken a lot of the good out of it, but at least it is baled and in the loft.  Three hundred bales in nothing to the big guys but to the family scale farm it may be half the winter’s fodder, and we are grateful to have it.  The loft of the big barn is almost full, and there may be fifty or sixty bales in the calf barn as well.

The three young steers – about four weeks old now – are frisky as kittens and filling out nicely, although dairy calves are never stocky animals.  We remember the first few years we were raising bull calves and lost so many, and think with complacency that our baby bulls do pretty well these days; it has been a long time since we lost one.  Fast on the heels of that thought is the knowledge that luck, as much as good culture, probably has a lot to do with it.

Forty quarts of tomato sauce, rich with oregano and garlic, weigh the basement shelves, and twenty quarts of salsa; four gallons of dill pickles almost ready to eat, and jars and jars of peach jam and apple butter.  And we are just getting started:  more apples will be coming in almost immediately, we need at least three times as much salsa as we have, and the hens must be culled and those not laying put up in wide-mouth quarts for pot pie and chicken soup.

Our experience confirms the wisdom of our gardening books that onions grown in well-composted garden soil will grow round and fat; lean soil produces flat cippolino onions.  The same bag of sets, some planted in the “big” garden, at home, and some in the bigger garden at the monastery, produced large, fat, glossy round onions in the home soil; at the Franciscans’, where the soil has raised two years’ of potatoes, the onions are small, flat, and more likely to spoil.  Most of the onions, the best ones, are hanging in braids from the lowest shelf in the pantry; questionable ones are sorted out to be chopped for salsa and sauce, and small ones will be hung in mesh bags alongside the braids.

Other vegetables, however, prefer the new soil of the bigger garden.  In the home gardens, where tomatoes have grown for sixteen years, septoria leaf spot is slowly mummifying the vines, but at the monastery the two or three dozen tomato plants are stout and thickly leaved, and producing beautiful beefsteak tomatoes for our bacon sandwiches.  The pumpkins and winter squash are unbothered by insect pests, not to mention marauding chickens.  And in both gardens the heirloom Golden Bantam corn has outproduced the hybrid sweet corn many times over, growing to ten feet even without rain, whereas the hybrid corn, stunted by the unfavorable conditions, reached only four or five feet, its ears tiny, many incompletely pollinated.

And the recent rains, not heavy enough to fill the pond, but enough so a person can drive in a step-in post without too much effort, have made the pastures thick and green as spring.

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