posts tagged with 'farming'

growing garlic

Since I want to be a garlic farmer when I grow up, the beginning of November is an exciting time for me. Back in the first week of the month I took some time a couple of days to put in this year's crop: about 90 cloves, of five different varieties. Lijah helped me with the planting and, knowing we were working on a culinary crop, insisted on having a taste. Really insisted: I put him off for as long as I could before finally giving in and letting him have a bite of an interior clove that was too small to plant. "It's yummy!" he told me hoarsely, then wiped his eyes vigorously with the backs of his hands for a bit.

me holding a just-pulled garlic bulb, in front of the row of the rest of the plants

beginning the 2016 harvest back in July

I like eating garlic, and the garlic we grow is delicious. Besides that, though, I also appreciate the simple multiplicative nature of the endeavor. You plant one clove in the fall and then in the summer you pull out a whole head, five or eight or twelve cloves. Then you break those up and plant them to get even more! I've never played Farmville or any of those farming simulator games, but I think the garlic planting business captures something of the same appeal. It's a little bit slower, I guess, but never mind—plenty other aspects of my life are rushing by too quick to manage.

I've also heard that garlic is the best crop small farmers can grow, on a dollar-per-square-foot basis. While I don't know if that's really the case—seems like heirloom tomatoes would be tough to top—it's certainly true that you'll pay a dollar a head at the farmers market for garlic that's much punier than what we grow here in our well-composted garden. I bought about $40 of seed garlic this year to broaden the diversity of our crop and we'll only harvest the $90 worth next summer; but we'll be able to eat or give away 70 of those heads and still have enough left to put in over 100 cloves next fall. Then 150 the year after... and 400 the year after that! Assuming we only keep back the 70 each year, that is. We may have to do better than that, or our whole yard will be garlic plants by fall 2022...


feeling abundant

One of my delights at the farmers market is checking out the prices for things that are growing well at our own farm. Seeing that raspberries—which we have so many of that they're a chore to pick—are going for $4 for a half-pint eases the pain of having to buy kale, because I didn't plant nearly enough. Seriously, I think we've brought in four or five quarts of raspberries so far; say $64 worth, at the low end. Not counting my labor, of course, but any real work (besides the trouble of picking) was so long ago I hardly remember it anyway.

some raspberries

two minutes' work

I've always felt that way about crops that do well here—in this culture even we anti-capitalists like to reference market economies to help us feel our efforts are worthwhile—but this year there's a new extreme: purslane for sale, at $4 a bundle!

purslane for sale at the farmers market, on a table next to some basil and mint

can you believe it?

Now, we've been eating the stuff every now and again for a while, so I won't argue that it doesn't belong on that table next to the basil. Lijah wouldn't either; he's a big fan. As we were picking some the other day—and I was trying to pick faster than he could eat—he exclaimed unprompted: "I like purslane... ice cream and purslane!" (I assume he didn't mean together).

But if you want to count dollar values, we've probably eaten about $8 dollars worth, fed $20 to the chickens, and thrown $60 or $70 on the compost pile. Probably because I always let it grow a bit here and there, purslane is a serious weed on our farm. I wonder if there's any chance we could get in on the market! Actually, as I think about it I assume it's pretty win-win for the farmers: they can set aside a few bundles of the stuff each market day and if it doesn't sell, it's no loss. If I had more space in the garden I'd have at least one dedicated purslane bed and would be willing to sell to all comers.

As it is, I'll pull out most of it and rest happy in the knowledge that, whatever else happens, our garden will always be full of something that somebody, at least, thinks is valuable. And we also have lots of zucchinis.


our rhubarb this year

It's past time for my annual rhubarb appreciation post!

a piece of rhubarb crisp

plenty of rhubarb, plenty of crisp

The last few days I've been appreciating a new recipe for rhubarb crisp. I made it for our friends who come over for dinner on Fridays:I wanted something to go with the leftover butter crunch ice cream we had in the freezer and went with the best-looking of the first few search results for rhubarb crisp, Allrecipes' Ginger Rhubarb Crisp. It's a winner, and I'll definitely be making it again. Maybe not right away though, since I'm the only one in the house who likes it—and it's a 9-by-13 pan so I've been able to like it a lot!

Of course, I wouldn't be making it at all if I didn't have a couple of big healthy rhubarb plants in the garden. The eight cups of rhubarb the recipe calls for would set me back between $10 and $15, the way prices are around here now. It's good, but it's not that good! But as it stands I have plenty to go around for free, so I'm always on the lookout for new applications. Sunday morning I made muffins.

a couple of rhubarb muffins with struesel topping

more rhubarb goodness

And of course, there's pie (the one pictured below from a couple weeks ago).

half a rhubarb pie on the back porch table, with the garden in the backround

rhubarb morning

If you have a year-round garden and don't have rhubarb in it, you totally should. Come by in the fall and I'll give you a little clump to get started!


at least we have asparagus

As seems to be the case most of the time, we're feeling pretty busy and exhausted around here. I've had many moments during the day when I blinked and I'm pretty sure I fell asleep for a couple seconds. Which is why it was even more frustrating than usual when, at the beginning of the week, I had a couple nights where I was up for what felt like a considerable amount of time, too stressed to fall asleep. What was I stressed about? Oh, work, some; and homeschooling; but mostly the garden. There's so much that I should have done and haven't! Amateur farming is hard work. Luckily, there's always the asparagus.

a bundle of asparagus on the kitchen table

one day's take

I think I planted our asparagus patch back in 2008 or so (and then I added some more plants in 2011). As I've mentioned before, it was a little work to get set up, but now we just sit back and let the deliciousness pour in. It's lovely, and all the sweeter when I see how much asparagus goes for in the stores. I think I've picked about $40 worth so far, and it's still coming in! Do you have an asparagus patch in your yard? You should!

(In researching for this post I find I write nearly the same things almost every year. I don't remember any of it. Must be memory loss from never sleeping. Stay tuned: more excitement about asparagus coming May 2017!!!)


best intentions

I had grand plans for making this the best year of gardening yet at our house. It's only the second week of March, and they're already all in tatters. Turns out that transitioning to two parents working part time and dealing with a toddler who sleeps like a newborn negatively affected my abilities to focus on necessary early steps. Like ordering seeds.

Back in the fall I made a chart of the things I thought we should grow, ranking them by their interest to me as plants, by how much we actually eat the crops in question, and by how guilty I would feel paying for non-home-grown alternatives this summer. And I was delighted to see the first seed catalogs arrive in December. Only then I never had any time to really look through all those catalogs, and when February rolled around I just randomly threw together an order of whatever caught my attention in the five minutes I was able to concentrate on the project. I don't even know what I have; I've barely looked in the box yet.

I did get out the onion seeds, though, since I know you have to start them in February to make growing them worthwhile—otherwise they don't have time to get big enough. But my second, bigger, mistake, was deciding to build a new seed-starting setup, which of course necessitated tearing down the old one. And... the new one still isn't done. Maybe 15 of the onion seeds—sowed in such fine style—germinated just kind of sitting in the basement waiting for me to get my act together, and I assume the rest rotted. If those 15 survive to be planted out we'll call it a test crop.

In the meantime it's 70 degrees out and I don't have anything to put in the ground. Last year I vowed to start some cold-weather greens early, but I had no idea how early I'd need to do it to get a jump on this ridiculous weather. Not only do I still not have a seed-starting setup—if I did have one, it would have been colder inside it that out in the garden this afternoon!

I suppose all is not lost. I can still get a few tomatoes and peppers started, and direct sowing the greens in the next couple weeks would still leave me well ahead of last year, when there was still a foot of snow on the ground at this point. And I manured in the fall, and finally got supports up for the raspberries, two years after a falling tree crushed the first set. But overall my feeling is one of failure.

Oh well, there's always next year!


bridging the seasons

Mid-February, and we're down to just five butternut squashes left out of the summer's crop. I made the sixth-from-last into soup for Friday's supper.

butternut squash, halved and seeded

making squash soup: first steps

I'm pretty happy with how many we grew this year. I neither weighed nor counted, but it was a fair number; we're maybe not eating one every day or even every week, but up to this point we haven't felt any lack. We certainly haven't felt the need to buy squash!

I'm thinking about it because it's almost time to start the first seeds for this year's garden. It's hard to imagine, looking out at our tundra-like yard (not much snow this year but historically cold weather for the last few days) that in a few months the squash and corn and everything else will be green and growing like crazy.

a jungle of squash vines and corn stalks

where the squash came from

2016 is going to be our best gardening year yet! On that note, I'd better think about where we're going to store the squashes this year; Leah wasn't too happy with the box in the upstairs hallway this winter...


the season's waste

What delightful jack-o-lanterns are to Halloween night—and really, folks in our neighborhood have some impressive skills and creativity in that regard—smashed left-over pumpkins are to November 5th. Some folks get them into their trash; others just toss em to the side of the road. Either way, I'm appalled at the waste! And I'm not the only one: even real writers now have something to say on the subject.

I wouldn't want to eat a jack-o-lantern pumpkin. Pumpkin cultivation is now so focused on the decorative market that even sugar pumpkins are often disappointing, never mind the big field pumpkins. But when I see one tossed carelessly aside, I wish I could grab it and bring it home to feed to the chickens. And if we had a pig I'd do it! As it is our hens were delighted with the guts of the jack-o-lantern we carved on Saturday, and we'll see how they like the waxy, slightly toasted pumpkin itself in a day or two.

What do you do with your used-up pumpkins? If you want to keep them out of the trash—where, as they decompose, they release gases that contributes to global warming—we know someone with a big compost bin who's always looking for more organic matter to turn into dirt!


squash inflation

yellow squashes on the table

Success PM Yellow Straightneck

We have summer squashes in the garden after an absence of a year or two. Five types, because I was using up the ends of a few different seed packets (and then bought one more when I had bad germination on some old zucchini seeds). They're growing fine—not at the amazingly productive level that gives rise to jokes, but respectably—but I do have one problem: I can't tell how big they are.

The thing with summer squash is, you want to pick them fairly small; wait too long and the seeds mature and harden up. But the plants are in the midst of our new section of garden, cheek-by-jowl with winter squash, corn, and beans, and it's hard to get in there and really check how big they are. Even worse, they all grow at the same rate. It's like with kids: your own kids never get any bigger, but when you have a toddler babies get smaller; and I imagine when your youngest hits college age high-school students are looking pretty young to you. With all the squashes growing at the same rate, I keep checking them and thinking, "yup, almost ready".

I picked a few today (pictured above) and they were a bit too big. They were tasty enough cooked in lots of butter along with salt, pepper, and parmesan (if only I could get my big kids to eat them). But I'll try and pay more attention and get the next batch smaller. Maybe keep a ruler outside?



As I mentioned the other day, two years ago we planted two little elderberry bushes. They were just little things their first year, in real danger of being destroyed by kids playing ball, but the next year they shot up wonderfully, and produced lots of flowers and then berries; only I didn't know what to do with them. This year the yield looks to be double what it was a year ago, and even though I still don't know what I'm doing I went ahead and cut the latecomers among the blossoms for elderflower syrup.

an almost-full quart of elderflower syrup

finished product

We followed (roughly) the recipe on this page. The first step was pulling all the flowers off their stems, and Harvey and Lijah set to the task with a will.

Harvey and Elijah stripping elderflower clusters

one more helpful than the other

(OK, so Lijah was more interested in eating the flowers, but he was still totally part of the process.)

I'm not clear what I'm going to do with the syrup, besides give it away (two half-pints already gone!), but I tried some in some soda water and it was pleasantly refreshing. We'll make more next year.

Naturally, the flowers we picked means that many fewer berries from the plants. But there's no shortage, so in a month or so there will also be elderberry syrup and jelly available for interested parties.


weather insurance

One nice thing about gardening is that it makes it easier to be ok with a range of weather phenomena. Sure, the hard rain Sunday morning ruined our church picnic, but it was just the thing to keep the peas going after a few hot, dry days. And when that dry weather slows down the growing plants, at least we can enjoy an afternoon at the beach (after a half-hour of watering...).

a macro photo of a newly-sprouted bean plant

baby bean

Within the farming sphere, a diversity of crops is it's own sort of comfort for the weather's diversity. We love those snap peas, and they don't love the hot weather we've had this spring—but on the other hand the tomatoes and peppers are going great, and we might have a chance at watermelons! And hopefully I'll have enough greens in later this summer so if things turn cold and wet, to the detriment of the tomatoes, there'll be an upside there somewhere. Besides just the joy of relaxing inside on a rainy day, of course!