Many months ago we planted a vegetable garden at our old house. We got a truckload of good soil, rented a rototiller and hoped for a great growing season. All those plans fell apart when we bought our new house, started packing and moving everything. Keeping the garden watered and properly fertilized wasn’t very high on our list of things to do, so the plants were all left to their own devices.
The Weather Service was predicting a hard frost over the Interior on Friday night (and it came—it was 16°F at our new house this morning and all the ponds in our driveway are frozen), so I harvested all the above-ground produce on Thursday night. The photo on the right shows the entire output from six broccoli and six cauliflower plants. They were tasty, especially the cauliflower, but not exactly the quantity I was hoping for. I also harvested two six-inch zucchinis (also far below expected production) and the cabbage. All ten cabbage plants produced some reasonably sized cabbage (bigger than a softball, smaller than a bowling ball), so I’ll have enough for a couple gallons of sauerkraut. We’ll probably harvest the potatoes in a few days. I don’t expect to find many large baking potatoes (we grew Russets this year), but we’ll probably have enough for making hash browns on Saturday mornings.
The other photo shows Piper on her new bed. We didn’t make this one, but it was “assembled in USA” and is composed of a minimum 90% postconsumer recycled plastic. I’m not a big fan of plastic products, but creating a market for recycling the stuff is certainly better than letting it all go into the landfills and waterways. And Piper really seems to like it, which is the most important thing!
Yesterday we planted the garden. The plan was:
Plant Spacing Num Feet Actual Number -------------- --------- --- ----- ------------- cabbage (cb) 24" apart 10 20' 10 potato (pt) 24" apart 13 26' 17 greens (lt) 6" apart 6 1.5' 6 broccoli (broc) 12" apart 6 4' 6 cauliflower 16" apart 6 6' 6 zucchini (zchn) 36" apart 2 6' 2 rhubarb (rhub) 36" apart 1 3' 1 Top bed: 32' (scale: 2 characters / foot) +-------------------------------+-----------+-------+-----+-----+ | . . . . . . . | | | | | |cb |cb |cb |cb |cb |cb |cb |cb | caulif | broc |zchn |zchn | | . . . . . . . | (6) | (6) | | | +-------------------------------+-----------+-------+-----+-----+ Bottom bed: 32' +---------------------------------------------------+--+--+-----+ | . . . . . . . . . . . . | | | | |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |pt |cb|lt|rhub | | . . . . . . . . . . . . | |6 | | +---------------------------------------------------+--+--+-----+
We wound up planing the potatoes fourteen inches apart, rather than twenty-four because that’s what we’ve done in the past and we were reusing the landscape fabric from last year on that section of the garden. So we actually got seventeen potato plants in the ground. We also squeezed another cabbage in between the lettuce and the potatoes, so we were able to plant all ten plants. In past years we’ve had problems with the potatoes getting green from exposure to light, so we’re going to hill the soil around the plants as they come up. The two potato plants on the end are spaced 24 inches apart, so we can find out if a more generous spacing improves the yield.
I also got a new pair of boots to replace my Redwings. I bought my first pair of Redwings when I worked at the steel mill and I wore them every day on that job. They lasted seven or eight years. My second pair only lasted three or four years. The sole came unglued from the leather part and the instep section also separated and cracked. This time around I bought a pair of Hathorn boots, which are the economy sub-brand of White's, and like White's, they're made in the United States and are re-buildable. Hopefully they're better built than my last pair of Redwings.
This weekend we spend a lot of time getting our vegetable garden ready for planting. The first plant date here in Fairbanks is June first, so we’ve got until Friday to get everything set up and ready to go. We spent most of the day on Saturday removing the top layer of dirt from the garden, and replacing it with a pickup truckload of soil we got from Great Northwest on College Road. They support the Dog Mushers, so we support them. We replaced five wheelbarrow loads on the upper bed, eight loads on the lower bed.
Sunday we rented a rototiller and rototilled both beds. We did three passes on each bed, and only had the tiller out for a couple hours. In the past I’ve always turned over the soil by hand, and I can say without reservation that using a rototiller is a much easier way to go. I think it churns the soil up better too, so hopefully we’ll have fewer problems with clay this year.
We got plants from the Farmer’s Market, Alaska Feed, and some from Calypso Farms. We’re growing Russet potatoes, basil, and several varieties of cabbage, zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, and salad greens. I had hoped to grow beets, but we didn’t see any starts for that, which may mean we need to start them from seed directly in the garden. Andrea also got some flowers that should help keep pests away from the crops, as well as improve the soil.
Last week we ordered a side of beef from the Delta Meat & Sausage Company in Delta Junction, Alaska. They’re about two hours south of Fairbanks and raise their own beef without antibiotics or growth hormones. I’m not sure what percentage of their diet comes from grass, but since the farm doesn’t use antibiotics, corn must not be a very large part of their diet (cows aren’t designed to eat corn, so corn-fed beef require loads of antibiotics to keep their guts functional). Relatively speaking, it’s a local business, so significantly less petroleum was consumed getting our meat to us that would be required for the meat trucked up from the lower 48 to service our local megajumbomarket. It's a good thing.
Delta Meat butchers the meat into a “supermarket” cut, which means the labels conform to what you’d expect to see at the meat counter. Before our steer was cut up, we talked to the butcher about what what we wanted done with it. We found that we used the ground meat more quickly than anything else on the moose I shot a few years ago so we geared our cuts toward producing more hamburger meat.
We picked up the side at the Sears parking lot. Five boxes.
Here’s what she wrote on the receipt regarding the cuts and whether we wanted them or not:
- Arm—No (I'm not sure what this is)
- Chuck roast—Yes
- Chuck steak—Yes
- Short ribs—Yes
- Stew meat—No
- Rib steak—Yes
- Round steak—No
- London broil—Yes
- Bottom round roast—Yes
- Rump roast—Yes
- Tip roast—No
- Cube steaks—No
Anything listed as “No” was turned into hamburger meat. Keeping the brisket whole was the only thing we asked for that unusual enough that they didn't have a sticker for it on the package. We're going to turn some of the brisket into corned beef, and Andrea will cook the rest using a family recipe.
The “standing side weight” was 291.5 pounds, and the cost is based on that weight. We paid $2.65 / pound, or $772.48 for the whole thing.
Here’s what we got:
|2 pound packages||59||118.0|
|Boneless sirloin steak||6||7.8|
In total, that's 212.5 pounds of meat, for an average cost of $3.64 / pound. Cheap, and I believe it is much better quality meat than we can buy, and is better for the cows, the environment, and for us (grass-fed beef is better for you, with better omega fatty acid ratios than corn-fed, feedlot beef).
Michael Pollan was interviewed for the April 2007 issue of The Believer magazine. I've been a fan of his writing since The Botany of Desire, and although I haven't gotten around to reading The Omnivore's Dilemma, from reading the interview, I'm sure I'll like it.
You know, compared to the early 1960s, the percentage of our income that goes to food has fallen from 18 percent to less than 10 percent today. We're paying less for food than anyone on Earth, anyone in the history of our planet, in fact. But in that same period, the percentage of our national income that goes to health care has risen from 5 percent to 16 percent today. Some of that increase, not all of it, is the result of eating terrible, cheap food. If we spent a few more percentage points of income on food, we could surely spend a few percentage points less on health care. What I'm suggesting is that spending more on food, as a society, will not end up costing us more overall.