Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Last of the Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes and other holiday yummyness.  November 2014  
We polished off the last of the 2015 potatoes a few days ago.  Matt and I love potatoes served in pretty much any fashion--baked, mashed, fried, scalloped, wedges--you name it.  We eat them easily five times per week, usually for breakfast.  We started to eat our 2015 crop in late June, but the majority were dug in late October.   That is more than half a year of homegrown potatoes.  Someday we hope to make it the whole year round.
A fairly typical breakfast burrito.  October 2015
Its sad to see the potato sacks fall empty, but there are wee green things sprouted for our 2016 garden and so the cycle begins again.  Its quite satisfying.
Cabbage seedlings.  March 2014

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Row Cover and Low Tunnels for the Greens

Our garden has been periodically (and in some seasons, relentlessly) attacked by a wee little bug called a leafminer, going back to the rental, going back years.  While we may have hoped that moving across town four years ago would have changed the tide that proved not to be the case.  Our first year gardening at the new house our greens got gobbled up--or we spent our time manually removing the eggs (since we don't use sprays in our garden).  Matt did a little research and purchased a roll of row cover through an greenhouse supply company and decided to give that a try that as a deterrent.   It made sense.  Rather than kill the little buggers after the fact, why not just try to prevent them from taking up residence at all?
Row cover is a lightweight, white cloth which lets almost all the sunlight and water in, but which keeps bugs off the plants inside.  Matt made some hoops--out of wire, PVC, and irrigation tubing, all of which work and have their pros and cons--and transformed our raised beds of greens into little covered wagons.  Okay, not really, but they do look a bit like that.  Wooden boxes with white hooped cloth covers stretched over top.
It works magnificently.  We had, quite literally, no leaf miners on the plants inside the low tunnel of row cover.  I had a little test plot of spinach just five feet away that was quickly infested with leafminers.  We were immediately convinced.

The only negative, in my opinion, is aesthetic.  Exposed, open plants looks more attractive to me than beds with low tunnels over them.  Still, exposed, open plants look more attractive to pests like leaf miners, too, apparently.  I can't really blame them.  For me, its well worth it to sacrifice a little in the way of aesthetics in the interest of not having to deal with leafminers anymore.  Also, I suppose they may not work well with crops that need to be pollinated by flying insects.  I am not certain about that from my experience as most of it has been with leafy greens and other non-flowering veg.
This will be our third year using the low tunnels. We've made some refinements as we've had more experience using them.  We laid a long board next to each side of the beds which we use to pin down the edges of the row cover, making a tight seal with the ground.  By stapling the edge of the row cover to the board we were able to use it as a handle so we can more easily cover and uncover the bed in one motion when we need to harvest or thin.  That was a good innovation.

After the success with the leafy greens the first year we started using the low tunnels over additional crops in the following year.  Cabbage is another vegetable that frequently attracts unwanted insect pests and the covering works well at discouraging cabbage moths, too.
The row cover offers just a couple of degrees of protection against frost, too.  This is nice in the early season when we still get the occasional snow.  Spinach are tough and can handle it, but the extra layer of protection sure doesn't hurt.  Later in the year, we take the row cover off when we replace the early, cool-weather crops with a second wave of warm weather crops.  Even still the low tunnel set-up can come in handy.  We take the row cover off, but leave the skeleton frame of hoops as is.  In this way we can quickly and easily cover the peppers or eggplants against the early frosts of autumn.
Its definitely a practice we will continue to employ in our garden.  Its effective, simple, non-chemical, low-maintenance, and multipurpose.  There was some upfront cost in purchasing the roll of row cover and the hoop materials, but the hoops are good now for a decade or more, I'd bet, and I suspect this row cover will hold up well to reuse, too, at least for a few seasons, depending on weather.  They don't hold up to hail, we have learned.  Oh well, nothing last forever...

We'd totally recommend low tunnels of row cover for pest prevention.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Yellowstone River Picnic Area Trail

Here is another well overdue hike write up, one that had been kicking around half finished as a "draft" for more than a year.  I am sorting through five years worth of digital photos in the interest of making a Yellowstone Shutterfly album.  I saw these and thought, "That was a good hike.  I should really go back and just finish that post."  So, here we are.
Townsend's Solitaire
Matt and I had stopped and used the Yellowstone River Picnic Area, about 1.5 miles east of Tower Junction, a handful of times for a lunch spot before we actually took off on the Yellowstone River Picnic Area Trail.  The trail is an easy, but enjoyable one with only about 200 total feet of elevation gain total.  Much of the hike rides right along the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone which ups the excitement level, I thought.  What a canyon!  It was a splendid trailside companion.  The view is incredible, but I suppose that someone with a fear of heights would probably find it dreadful.  It was a grey, drizzly May day and this was a perfect hike for it.
Starting out from the picnic area parking lot the trail picks up almost all the elevation gain straight off, in about the first half mile of the hike--after that its smooth sailing.  The trail follows the natural rise of the grassy hillside climbing up to the rim of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  It passes through boulder strewn, sage covered expanses with those glorious Absaroka mountains rising up in the distance.  Like the Hellroaring Creek hike the landscape has a glacial legacy with large boulders--erratics--scattered around.  Some were truly huge!
Trees frequently grow next to these large erratic boulders as they create a micro-climate which offers additional advantages to a hopeful tree seed.  They protect from the wind and offer shade--both of which are critical for a tree to have enough moisture in this arid, seasonally scorching habitat.  They're referred to as Nurse Rocks or Nursery Rocks.
Before long the waters of the Yellowstone made themselves heard and the trail started to follow along the rim of the canyon.  I was so pleased.
The canyon is, of course, a remarkable illustration of the power of water and time, but the closer I looked the more amazed I became.  While lacking massive waterfalls and not nearly so colorful as the canyon becomes a few miles upriver, the rock formations in this section--known as The Narrows--were incredible.  There were towers of awesomely geometric basalt as well as other rock pillars, overhanging ledges, and deep crevasses.
The pillar-like structures on the left are examples of a geologic wonder that I quite enjoy called columnar basalt.  They are formed when basalt lava cools and shrinks forming peculiarly polygonal shaped blocks stacked one on top of another.  They're super neat.  Sheepeater Cliff is a better known example in the park.
At about 1.5 miles into the hike we reached a high bluff where we stopped and rested a while, taking in the surrounding views.  They were excellent in every direction.  Mountains in the distance, sage covered hills surrounding, a the winding Yellowstone river running through the canyon below.  We stayed until the rain picked up and then decided to head back.  Walking in the rain is considerably more enjoyable than sitting in it.
Near the larger of the two islands in this photo, the one near the bend in the river, is a place known as Bannock Ford.  Its named after the Bannock Indians who used to cross their on their trips to hunt bison.  I enjoy little historical tidbits like that.  They add a depth to the experience.  They make me feel humbled and honored to be following in so many footsteps. 
We opted to return along the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone as it was so lovely.  Our guidebook also suggested making a loop of the hike by joining up with the Specimen Ridge Trail.  That involved walking more than half a mile on the highway to get back to the trailhead though.  I generally love loop hikes, but we weren't interested in that when the hike in had been so pleasant.  We were happy to retrace our steps.  The rock formations on the walls of the canyon did indeed look different from this reverse perspective.  We saw new spires we'd not noticed the first go-round.
Passing over the rolling hills, as we neared the end of our adventure, we encountered a nursery herd of Bighorn Sheep, one of the lesser known large mammals of Yellowstone.  They were grazing among the sagebrush, oblivious to the drizzle, though occasionally one would lift a head and look around, making sure all was well.  The grasses was starting to shift to green, but the high mountains were still blanketed in snow.  It was a beautiful contrast--and an equally beautiful backdrop to the contented grazers.
Ain't life grand?  Its amazing that three little miles can hold so much wonder.