Picking and choosing for 2012

Not only is this the time of year to celebrate the return of the sun and the start of a new year, it’s time to quit thumbing through catalogs and clicking through websites and make seed and livestock choices for the upcoming year.

It may seem counterintuitive to be thinking about baby chicks and seed potatoes on New Year’s Eve, but ordering as soon as possible means the varieties we want aren’t sold out, and we have more flexibility in planting times, when our pullets will start laying, chitting our potatoes, etc.

Now that we’re starting on our 8th growing season here, we have a ‘body of work’ to draw from in terms of what grows well, what tastes good, what preserves well, and so on. Keeping good records, by means of our handy log books and this blog, means we can go over notes from years past and repeat successes and (hopefully) avoid repeating failures.

But before moving on to our list of choices, here’s Stewart, modelling his wonderful new custom made coat. It has a tough outer layer, insulation, and a soft fleecy inner layer. Since he never grows a thick coat of hair like Fergus does, he really loves keeping warm on chilly days in his coat. Thanks to Claudia at Cozy Horse for doing such great work!

Seven Trees makes 3 main choices each year – crop seeds, seed potatoes, and hatchery chicks. Here is what we’re growing in 2012:

Potatoes –

  • Caribe: A purple-skinned, white-fleshed early variety that also keeps well. It matures early enough to avoid the blight and stores as long as the so-called keeper potatoes we’ve grown. This will be our 3rd year growing Caribe, and probably not our last.
  • Ozette: A fingerling potato, brought to the Makah tribe by Spanish explorers travelling up the west coast of the Americas. It’s dense and flavorful, we like it best tossed with herbs & olive oil then roasted in the oven. It also keeps very well.
  • Butte: A russet variety with higher protein and vitamin C content than most other potatoes. We grew it once here, the year our spud crop was wrecked by wireworms. It was a superb baking potato – dry and fluffy.
  • Crackled Butterball: This is a newish cross between German Butterball and Agria that is supposed to have the great flavor of the first variety and the size & scab resistance of the latter.

Chicks –

  • Barred Rock: There’s a reason this breed has been popular so long. They are good foragers, not flighty or too broody, they lay nice big brown eggs even in winter, and when they’re done laying they are big enough to make great soup. We have a few in our flock now, and will transition to having these as the main hen from here on out.
  • Ameraucana: Also known as Easter Eggers, they lay eggs in beautiful shades of blue & green. They are small, and don’t lay much at all once the days get short, but their eggs are too pretty not to have a few of these hens in the flock each year.
  • Japanese Bantam: OK, we admit it….we miss our little guy Toshi, and though we don’t usually keep a rooster at Seven Trees, we’re going to order some for 2012. The hatchery has a 5-chick-per-breed minimum, and Japanese are straight run (meaning we won’t know how many boys or girls) so we may end up with a spare rooster to share.

Seeds (new for 2012) –

  • Easter Egg Radish: Not too hot, and comes in shades of pink, purple, red, violet and white.
  • Andover Parsnip: Parsnip seeds don’t keep well, so we’re ordering more. Our concern about carrot flies damaging the parsnips we left in the ground(still have a few left) came to naught. They grew well and had minimal bug bites, and we like them so much oven roasted with potatoes that we’ll grow more.
  • Varsity Onion: We have grown Copra onions for years because they are large, sturdy and great keepers. But after reading the description of Varsity in the Fedco catalog, we decided to give them a try.
  • Joi Choi Pak Choi: Dark green leaves and thick crunchy stems. Sounds like a great variety for kraut-chi and stir-frying.
  • Bartolo Cabbage: Fedco Seeds says “…consider Bartolo if you need an excellent hybrid storage cabbage that will last and last…”.
  • Afina Cutting Celery: We love growing soup/cutting celery! None of the hassles of growing regular celery, but all of the flavor. We grow it like an herb, picking some whenever we need it, and making one or two large harvests for drying. The dried leaves & stems have lots of flavor too, great for winter soups & stews. Just don’t plant it near your carrots because it draws carrot flies like bears to honey.

The rest of our seeds are repeats from last year –

  • Nantes Fancy carrot
  • Blue Lake pole green beans
  • American Purple Top rutabaga
  • Olga romaine lettuce
  • Red Sails leaf lettuce
  • Magenta Sunset chard
  • Bright Lights chard
  • Tyee spinach
  • Painted Mountain corn
  • Sweet Meat squash
  • Sweet Dumpling delicata squash
  • Marketmore 76 pickling cuke
  • Black zucchini
  • Peppers – Ancho, Poblano, Jalapeno & baby bell
  • Tomatoes – Stupice & Roma
  • Dry beans – Hidatsa Shield Figure, pink kidney, speckled kidney, navy, and assorted Bosnian beans & peas.
  • Garlic – we now produce our own seed stock and hope to have some for sale – Chesnok Red, Lorz Italian, and Kettle River.

We will also be adding to our small-fruit garden (more black currants) and moving some pear trees to join our newest apple trees in a section of grazing paddock that currently grows brush. Once it’s properly fenced, the hens will use the area as part of their forage rotation.

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