posts tagged with 'farming'

rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb

Last year a garden reorganization brought all the rhubarb in our yard into one garden row, united from various far-flung and suboptimal spots. Since it was newly installed we didn't harvest much last year, but this year the plants are working at peak capacity and I have to keep picking to keep them healthy. So we're using lots of rhubarb. Besides a pie a week, I also made rhubarb syrup the other day. Some of us had it on pancakes (others objected vehemently to the very idea). Then yesterday after a hot afternoon of working outside we cooled off and re-hydrated with some rhubarb soda—syrup and tonic water on ice. Delicious! I just wished I had some lime to go with it.

pink fizzy stuff in half-pint jars with ice

pink refreshment

This morning I was going to make rhubarb muffins, but we had some pear that needed to be used up. Pear muffins were good but it was sad to break the streak. Harvey and I could eat (and drink) rhubarb-sugar concoctions all day. The other two boys aren't as enthusiastic. Oh well, it'll be strawberry season soon. The strawberries plants, in the row next to the rhubarb, are looking good! Do you think they'll like strawberry rhubarb pie?

a rhubarb pie on the table

I wonder how many pie pictures I've posted on this blog?


hardcrabble for real

One of our favorite picture books is Hardscrabble Harvest, by Dahlov Ipcar. Leah bought it for me at a bookstore in Maine on vacation a few years ago; she could have bought Ipcar's Lobsterman, to be more thematically appropriate, but when she saw Hardscrabble Harvest she knew I had to have it. It starts, "Farmer plants early in the spring. He'll be lucky if he harvests a thing." It's hard for me to refrain from quoting the whole thing; many of the lines are favorites, and we bring them out as the situation demands. "Chickens in the garden, scratching up the row. Run farmer run, chase them with a hoe" is one that sees frequent use. The story runs through one farm season as a young farming couple deals with one setback after another. Because that's what farming is, setbacks. Maybe my favorite couplet is, "Summer almost over, harvest drawing near. Most of the cauliflower eaten by the deer."

Ipcar knew what she was talking about: in her twenties, she and her husband survived for a few years as subsistance farmers in Maine. The daughter of artists William and Marguerite Zorach, she was also painting in between farm jobs, and she had her first MoMA solo exhibit at the age of 21 (art doesn't pay much better than farming, even for "the first woman and the youngest artist to be featured in a solo exhibition at the museum"). She illustrated Hardscrabble Harvest using only mixes of red and green (and black and white) which gives it a unifying feel, and the pictures are a blend of symbolic and realistic.

Leah thought the book would appeal to me because of how much I moan about things going wrong in the garden. It's interesting, now that I think about it, how well-constructed the story is: the first three-quarters are a series of things going wrong—all kinds of animals eating the crops, mostly—then the last part is the farmers' amazing bountiful harvest, capped with their Thanksgiving feast. Because that's what it's like: all my attention is focused on the trouble I'm having with seedlings, and meanwhile we're getting as much asparagus and rhubarb as we could ever hope to eat. Yesterday I made some rhubarb syrup, and today I'm doing the second rhubarb pie of the season. After all, what's all this food for but to eat up? As the book ends:

Stuffing in the turkey,
cranberry sauce.
Sit down to eat it,
hungry as a hoss.

Sit down to eat it,
hungry as a pup.
Here come the relatives
to gobble it up!

the last page of the book: cat and dog stealing pie off the counter

the last page


my poor battered hands

Our lifestyle these days is tough on my hands. Looking at them now I see that only three out of ten fingers are free of marks of recent injury. Thorns, splinters, and fencing wire have all done their minor damage, compounded by the stress of dry skin and all the handwashing. On Tuesday, though, I got a couple headline wounds while putting a new roof on the chicken coop run. First, while lifting the rafter assembly I jagged a fingertip on a splinter. It didn't break off, which is of course better than the alternative but also means that it was pretty big! There was some blood, which I think now will permanently adorn the rafters of the run. A memorial, like. After they were up I had to get a bandaid.

Then a few hours later I hit my thumb with the hammer. So embarrassing, so stereotypically clumsy! But I have an excuse, which is that it was a challenging situation. I was putting up hardware cloth—which, I have to say, is about the worst thing ever invented when it comes to dealing out small scratches. But never mind, I'm used to that. No, the real trouble came when I was putting in one of the many poultry staples needed (if you've never worked with poultry staples, they're basically curved pieces of nail with points on both ends: staples that you put in with a hammer). I was reaching up above my head, holding the hardware cloth with one hand, the staple with another hand, and the hammer... wait. Alright, hold the hardware cloth and the staple with the same hand? Which is how, in the tapping-in phase, I got my thumb. I guess I tap pretty hard, since it instantly raised a blood blister and moments later a welling of blood around the nail. I asked Leah to put a bandaid on that one; two, actually!

Those wounds kept me from doing any more damage to myself yesterday. Today the bandaids were off, but I still stayed pretty safe: the only issue was a bleeding blister from some over-enthusiastic work with the axe. Life is good!


the garden in early May

May is an exciting time in the garden: things are changing so quickly! I've been going out early in the morning to get some work done, but I also find myself standing around and taking in the beauty. It's really my favorite place! Of course, I've also been taking pictures. Here's the general view at the beginning of this week.

the garden beds

this is what it looks like

Of course, it looks different now as both plants and our work races forward. In just a few days the asparagus went from this:

the tip of an asparagus spear


To this!

my hand holding a bunch of asparagus

the first bunch of the year

The crabapples are in full bloom, with the real apples are only few days behind.

white and yellow flowers

too bad the internet doesn't have a smell procotol

The boys are pushing me to make a rhubarb pie; we just had to finish Zion's birthday cake first.

rhubarb growing

do you like pie?

The first kale starts are in the ground, with more to follow.

a baby kale plant

so many vitamins

The strawberries recovered better than I could have hoped from the chicken assault in early April, and are growing well. We're giving them lots of love and water, anticipating that we might not be able to get out to the farm to pick this year. How many do you think we can get from this row?

strawberry plants

berries in straw

And the chicks have had their first forays outside, and thoroughly enjoyed scratching in the dirt. It's amazing how they take to eating bugs even without a mama to teach them!

three chicks out in the dirt

what a cheerful sight!

Ironically in the midst all this prospective bounty, we haven't been able to get to the store in a while so we have almost no vegetables in the house. Grow, garden, grow!


good fences

Even though it's still wintery cold—by our standards, at least—spring is on its way and it won't be long before we're planting in the garden. And there's already things going on: garlic, asparagus, and strawberries are getting started, and we're eating chives and spring onions. So I started to notice that we don't really have a fence right now. Fences are always a work in progress, but this spring is especially bad since in the fall I took down one segment as I was building the new deck and another to forward plans of expanding garden a little further around the back of the house. So we had some work to do!

The most important thing at this stage is to keep the chickens out of the garden. In the winter I don't mind if they're in there—I'm glad, in fact!—but once things start coming up they're just trouble. This year I didn't notice they were scratching in the strawberry row until they had pulled up probably half of the new plants I had put in at the end of the summer. That's pretty much taken care of now, with a reinforced fence between the lawn and the garden and a new chicken-proof railing along the deck. But of course they can still fly over the fence into the street and come around the other side of the house, so there's still more fence needed!

That's about half-done now, and in putting it up I had one of the finest moments in my (not very illustrious) carpentry career. I've made lots of gates and doors as our need for fences and sheds evolves, and most of them are pretty half-assed. These days I'm trying to commit a little more ass to things, so I took the time to measure and actually think the whole thing through, and I'm proud to report that the gate I created works very well indeed.

a new gate in a new fence

a great gate

It doesn't really show in the picture, since it melds with the rest of the fence so seamlessly; you'll have to trust me when I tell you that it fits perfectly, opens with the touch of a finger, and swings closed on its own. A masterpiece. The only bad thing is that I've set myself a high bar not only for future gates but for the whole rest of the fence. More work tomorrow!


winter squash this winter

The boys have been asking for squash soup for, like, a week. Squash soup and garlic biscuits, to be precise. But there were some snags in making it happen: most notably, the fact that we didn't have any squash. After four or five years of great squash crops we had a complete failure this past summer. Animals ate all the initial seedlings, then I wasn't able to get replacements in until much too late, so despite some healthy-looking vines at the end of the season only a single squash was able to reach maturity. Naturally we ate it a long time ago, along with all the ones I bought at the farmers market to compensate. So the centerpiece of this evening's soup had to come from Whole Foods, and sadly it wasn't that good. Not terrible, mind you—it's a butternut squash, how much could go wrong? But it wasn't bursting with flavor, even well-roasted, and it lost out to the celery in the final taste profile. So sad.

It's the time of year when we're starting to think of the new farming season. This year I'm teaming up with my friend Angel: she's going to order and start all the greens and things, and I'm going to do tomatoes and peppers. This is catering to our core competencies, and I expect it will make both our gardens stronger. After the dinner this evening I think I'll add winter squash to the list of things I start indoors, just to be on the safe side in case we get a repeat attack from the critters. Because you know we need our squash!


why I can't get anything done

This afternoon with the rain holding off I thought I could mow the lawn. Only, earlier in the day we had bought straw and marsh hay for the winter bedding (animals and plants, respectively) and the bales were on the lawn in front of the shed. When I went to put them away I found that the rack I built to hold the straw was broken—probably by kids playing on it. As I worked on fixing it I found what was left of the poor black hen, who had been eaten under the back of the shed. So I buried the remains. Then I raked up all the loose straw that had fallen through and around the slats of the rack over the past three or four years, then I finished fixing it. Then I put the four new bales away. Then I mowed the lawn. Although I had to take a break in the middle to do a recorder lesson, because it was time for that. Happily, the rain kept holding off the whole time, and the lawn got mowed! Maybe I won't have to do it again before the snow... because Lord knows I have enough else to do around here!

the joys and heartaches of tomato farming

Some of the time I put a lot of energy into gardening. It would be better maybe to put a consistent amount of energy in, but this is where we are now. And besides garlic probably my favorite this to grow is tomatoes. There's nothing like a sandwich made with a tomato fresh from the garden, a little salt, and plenty of mayonnaise... (this time of year I regret our picnic lunch days because you just can't pack up a tomato sandwich). When everything goes well, life as a tomato farmer is just amazing.

Lijah holding a big tomato

almost as big as his head

But sometimes—often—things don't go as well. Lots of things can go wrong. Gardeners everywhere live in fear of the fungal blights that can devastate a previously healthy crop in just a couple days; and then there's less dramatic afflictions like blossom-end rot and tomato hornworm. Besides all those we have another challenge: our chickens. They like nothing better than to get in to the garden and peck bites out of every single one of the almost-ripe tomatoes in the row. It's brought me close to tears before. Today I finally just went and put a fence around the tomato bed. I should have done it a couple weeks ago but it makes it a pain to weed, and to pick tomatoes ourselves. But it was either that or kill and eat all the chickens.

We've still been able to pick plenty of unpecked tomatoes. And even the ones they got too still have food on them, if you're not too picky. Which I'm not. After all, these are home-grown tomatoes we're talking about!


browsing greens

Today as part of my lunch preparations I dashed out into the rainy garden and snatched up a bunch of green things: some kale, some collards, arugula, a couple little heads of broccoli. Back inside I just dumped them on the table. Who needs a plate?! And who needs washing—the rain takes care of that, right? We're very formal here. Zion and I enjoyed them the most, he the kale and I the arugula and broccoli. Harvey and Lijah will always eat broccoli too, Lijah nibbling only on the very tips of the buds. I don't know why he doesn't like the stems—those are the best part! I don't know that we have enough of anything to make a real dish of it, but that's fine. We'll just keep browsing.

garden update

As always, gardening this year has had its frustrations. The boys and I went to both the local nurseries today looking for butternut squash seedlings to replace ours, nine out of ten of which were eaten within a couple days of sprouting. Also nearly all the kale was nibbled in the same time span, which was pretty discouraging. Clearly we need better fences. Fences at all, actually; right now there are giant gaps where I took down wire or even posts in order to improve the construction. With my dilettante sort of farming it's tough to plant and weed and make infrastructure improvements, so I guess this year the priority is the latter. Besides the fence I also finally upgraded the raked raised beds with actual wooden sides. I was doing that while I was also trying to get plants and seeds in, which wasn't optimal... but next spring they'll there all ready to go! And this year, even with all that, we're still getting lots of good things.

Zion holding a bowl of strawberries in the garden

the first this year

Those were the first strawberries, which Zion and Lijah picked yesterday. (You see they're not in an enclosed raised bed yet, since they were already growing. But this should be their last year in that spot, so we'll move them to one for next year.) The peas, well-protected with their own private fence, are also doing well, and so's the arugula and mixed greens. Tomatoes are looking strong. We ate all the asparagus we wanted, and lots of green onions. The garlic looks like it'll be the biggest ever, and none too soon: last year's crop is almost gone. And, while we failed to find any butternut squash plants, we picked up a bunch of pickling cucumbers instead. The boys like pickles better than squash anyways.

the garden beds

the beds back in May