posts tagged with 'farming'

light already

It seems like just last week we were celebrating the solstice, but it's clearly long behind us now. I headed out this afternoon at quarter past four to walk the dogs in the woods, and I didn't even think to take a headlamp along with me. No need: it was still totally light when I got back half and hour later, and even well past five. The times are changing!

With the longer days we're starting to talk about seeds. Leah and I were talking yesterday about it, thinking about if we're going to try anything new or just plant the whole garden in kale, tomatoes, and butternut squash. That sounds good. Today my best seed-starting friend and I were vowing each other that this year—this year—we were going to get our seeds in on time, and take care of them right. So many things can go wrong! With gardening—with seeds especially—it can be hard for me not to focus on the negative. At least the January sunshine always feels positive.

signs of fall

Changing leaves are very well—very well, this year—but there are other more impactful signs of fall around here lately. Saturday night saw our first freeze of the winter, so the garden looks a whole lot different now than it did before the weekend. I'd taken out the slicing tomato plants and the romas already, but the cherry tomatoes were still going strong. They did fantastic this year: I kind of wish we had been able to quantify how many we picked, but even if we'd been willing to take the time to weigh all the tomatoes we brought inside, that would still have missed the hundreds that we ate right there in the garden. But I think its fair to estimate that we enjoyed hundreds of dollars worth of tomatoes this summer. They took up a commensurate amount of space, too, as they kept growing and sprawling from May through October. Now they're gone, and the garden looks flat and empty. Neat, too. (There's still some greens growing, but they don't bulk nearly as large.) Now it's time to start planning for next year! The garlic will need to go in before the end of the month... where should we put it?

It's also the season of cold mornings in the house, which means morning baking! Today I made pumpkin muffins to share with our school friends. Only I noticed something with our new oven. See, when our last one broke it was the electronics that went wrong: the heating part was still fine. But since they're connected we had to replace the whole thing. To keep that from happening again we bought the most basic, no-frills model, with no kind of digital components to possibly go wrong. It works great! It also doesn't have a window in the front: I guess that also counts as a frill. Only, without the window, I find it hardly heats up the kitchen at all! Great in the summertime when we're baking bread, but in the winter heat in the kitchen is half the point! It makes me wonder how much energy we wasted in all the other years—heat that wasn't cooking our food! It also makes me wish for a wood-burning stove... now that's fall comfort!

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this is not a problem I expected to have

So the dogs aren't yet doing the best job of guarding the farm here. They bother the chickens enough that we don't let them out together, and they aren't particularly observant about rabbits or squirrels in the garden (though the certainly notice them when they're out on walks!). That's fine; they're young yet. But over the last few days I've noticed something even more troubling. Far from protecting the garden, the dogs are now joining the wild animals in its despoliation! Specifically, they've started eating tomatoes off of the plants.

So far they've mostly take roma tomatoes, and maybe one or two cherries, so it's not the end of the world. We have lots of both. But it's the principle of the thing! And if they start in on the slicing tomatoes—the first two of which have only just about ripened—I don't know if I'll be able to endure it. This has indeed been a tough year with the animals in the garden...

oh the disappointment

It's a good thing we picked up some farm produce the other day, since our own harvests have been a little problematic. The most stressful thing has been the the competition from animals—specifically squirrels. We've never had a problem with them before, but this year they're going crazy on our fruit especially. They ate all the strawberries, then almost all the blueberries, then all the pears, and now they're working on finishing up the unripe apples. It's especially disappointing because all those crops were looking great... but the squirrels keep getting the jump on us. The honeycrisp tree is breaking our heart: we must have had forty or fifty good-looking apples on there a week or two ago, less than a month from ripening, and then they started disappearing at a rate of about five a day. Now there's one left. Lijah is holding out hope that they'll leave it alone, but I don't think the odds are good. And now we got home today from a trip to the ocean to find that something has started in on the roma tomatoes. I don't know if I can cope with it all.

pickles!

We like pickles at our house. When they're part of a meal we're limited to one each, because our production levels don't support the kind of consumption that we'd have absent that rule (I know the damage the boys can do from those times when they have free access to a jar of store pickles at my parents' house!). Still, we try and make a lot each summer to last us through the rest of the year. Yesterday morning our entire stock was limited to three dill spears in one jar in the fridge, so it's a good thing that we have cucumbers growing. Yesterday we picked enough to make the first few jars of 2020 pickles.

four quart jars of pickles on the picnic table, cucumber vines in the background

the finished product

Sadly, the cucumber plants are also suffering from what probably is bacterial wilt. Besides the 13 or 14 pickling cukes we processed yesterday we've had four or five delicious slicing cucumbers to eat, so the planting wasn't all in vain. And we'll probably get more before the plants succumb entirely. But it's so sad to see such a promising row of big healthy plants—plants just covered with flowers and baby cucumbers—melt away into nothing we can eat. Farming is a hard business, especially when you're bad at it like I am! Oh well, at least I can console myself with a single pickle at suppertime.

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strange pandemic shortages

With the Covid 19 and all we figured we wouldn't be getting out to pick berries this year, so we want to make sure we're taking good care of the ones we're growing here. And after all the strawberries got eaten by an animal that got through the netting, we want to make sure the blueberries are protected! I've never netted them before, but since the pandemic has also given me lots of time for gardening they're doing better than ever, with lots of fat almost-ripe berries that are apparently very tempting for squirrels, chipmunks, and robins. A few days ago I built a frame to put netting on, but our supply didn't quite cover it and on Sunday I headed out to the hardware store to buy some more, plus some chicken wire to run around the bottom for extra security. They didn't have either—no chicken wire or bird netting of any size. OK... today I went to Home Depot, where I was sure to find at least chicken wire. Nope: they were cleared out of both items as well, plus pressure-treated 2x4s, the other thing I wanted to buy.

The flour shortage I can understand, and the toilet paper thing has been explained to me in a way that I suppose makes sense. And both of those supply chains are pretty much back to normal now anyway (except that Market Basket has mysteriously stopped stocking whole wheat flour or bread flour, boo). Now I guess everyone is gardening? It seems strange to me, but I suppose it shouldn't be unremarkable that other people have planted berries and, I guess, started raising chickens for the first time? And the hardware stores didn't anticipate this? Whatever reason it's happening, I hope the supply gets sorted out soon because I hate seeing all those almost-ripe berries disappearing! Plus the frame looks pretty dumb with the netting stopping three feet short of the ground...

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raising the stakes

When I started gardening I scoffed at the stakes offered for sale at the hardware store. Close to ten dollars for a length of wood? Ridiculous! I just used all kinds of things I scavenged here and there: branches, broken tool handles, marking stakes picked up from parking lots in the spring, old hockey sticks... Then later I came into possession of a bundle of proper garden stakes and I realized that they were actually pretty good. They're cedar, so they last, and they're cut with attention to the grain so they stay straight year after year. I had eight—so I've been using them by choice for all my staking needs. For the tomatoes especially. This spring one of them broke for the first time, from rot, and at the same time garden expansion meant I needed more, so I was forced to consider if I needed to actually buy some for myself.

Maybe I will one day. But for now I've found another solution, one that I can't believe I never used before. See, I have some power tools, and also lots of old lumber, and it takes maybe 45 seconds to turn six feet of old pressure-treated decking into two or three top-quality professional-looking stakes. A run through the circular saw to strip a one-by-one length, then zip zip on the miter saw at a 45° angle for a little point. I made some yesterday to stake up the corn which, unexpectedly, mostly blew down in a violent thunderstorm the other night. Not all the stalks broke. I don't know how long my new homemade stakes will last, but they look pretty nice now and even if they do fail to go the distance I've got plenty of wood to make some new ones next season!

don't you have your own food?!

The most frustrating thing about gardening is having animals eat the plants. A woodchuck has found a way inside the fence; those kale plants he ate half of? They'd been growing for close to two months, and he ruined them in one snack (he didn't eat half of the plants; he ate half of each plant). The lettuces have also suffered. Maybe most disappointing is the disappearance of so many of the strawberries. We have netting, but constant assalts by squirrels, chipmunks, and gray catbirds have revealed some weaknesses. Zion and I did what we could to secure it this morning, but I don't know how much difference it'll make. In that case, if they eat the strawberries all we can do is wait til next year! It's hard.

I don't begrudge the animals what they need to stay alive. And I recognize that my house and yard are taking up space that their ancestors may have occupied for tens of thousands of years before me. But I can't help but think they're getting a little spoiled, taking only the ripest strawberries or the most tender greens. Aren't there acorns or something for them to eat?!

salad days

You may have noticed in our garden video that we're growing a whole lot of lettuce. That's because of a misunderstanding: Leah was going to a garden store and asked if I wanted anything, and I asked for a thing of lettuce. I meant "thing" to refer to a six-pack; she brought home an entire flat of romaine starts. It was fine. We found room for lots of them, gave some more away, and let one six-pack die as a symbolic sacrifice to the spirits of garden store gardening. 19 of the 20 we put in thrived and grew large and beautiful.

Only the trouble with planting 20 lettuces at the same time is they all are ready to eat at the same time. Over the past couple weeks we've been picking young leaves for sandwiches and the occasional salad, but now we're fully into lettuce season and I'm cutting one whole romaine head a day. Luckily we've got some other salad greens going too—baby kale and arugula, plus some self-seeded leafy things—to add some variety. We get some different dressings going too. Zion likes vinegar, Harvey prefers a ranch type of thing. Sadly, Elijah won't eat salad. And worse, Leah, though she makes beautiful salads for herself every day, doesn't care for romaine. So the other three of us are working hard.

the garden in early June

I took some time off from working in the garden to make a video about it. I wanted to actually get out there with the kids and walk around doing the narration in real time, but we were just too busy. Never mind, Harvey did an awesome job with some voiceover work!