posts tagged with 'farming'

the garden mid July

the main part of the garden on July 16

lots of green

The first half of July had a lot of rain—the only days it didn't rain were the 5th and the 15th. So I haven't needed to water much! Of course, when the sun started shining yesterday and the temperature shot up into the 90s the plants were a little shocked. And tomatoes and peppers are probably a little behind schedule with the lack of sunshine. But everything that's just leaves is doing great: kale and basil are everything we could hope for. With all the water the blueberries are also giant, just like the ones at the store but better tasting. And I had the weeds under control before the rainy season started so, in the absence of sunshine, the garden is also fairly weed-free despite all the wet. The second round of peas I put in after the first one failed may have failed, but so, apparently, did all the weed seeds! Or maybe they're just waiting for next week's sun. We'll soon see!

we done berries!

Blueberries, to be precise.

Zion and Elijah eating new-picked blueberries at the picnic table

and now they eat them

We bought two blueberry plants pretty soon after we moved in, and then got four more a couple years later, and yet until this summer we haven't been able to pick more than a handful of blueberries a year. The first two plants were too close to the woods initially, then we moved them to a sunnier spot but had to move them again when we built the deck. The newer four plants were in the sun to begin with but were then overrun by forsythia bushes, to the point that one of them died. Clearly I wasn't taking care of them enough! But it was hard to be attentive, because as soon as the berries reached any size—before they even got ripe!—they were all eaten by birds. But we've now figured all that out, and I'm pleased to present you with the following tips for growing a measurable quantity of blueberries:

1. Put them in a good spot. Lots of sun. Don't let trees or overbearing flowery bushes grow up over them.

2. Mulch and water. Blueberries like acid soil, so put your kids to work gathering pine needles and spreading them around the plants. The mulch will keep the weeds down, and also help with water retention. Then water long and often. Watering makes the berries bigger, and it also encourages the plants to put out new growth that will let them make more berries the following year. Of course, we haven't had to water in a while since it never stops raining, but that just makes the plants even happier!

3. Build a fortification. We had steps one and two under control last year, and I thought I had this one handled as well. But despite the work I put into building a netting frame, there were gaps that let the critters in to eat almost all the berries. This year we made it better, and now we laugh from the back porch as we watch the jays, robins, and squirrels try and fail to get at our precious berries.

Then all we need to do is pick them. We're getting plenty to eat; the next goal is enough to preserve. That'll happen when there's so many the boys start feeling sick before they finish them. Getting close!

more

the garden late June

the main part of the garden on June 30

most of it is green at least

I failed to post an update on the garden at the end of May because I was so discouraged by all the losses to woodchucks and rabbits. And then I failed again in mid June because there were so many other things I wanted to write about I never had time. But after that I blocked out a day to put something into the record about our farming progress to this point in the summer. Because it's important stuff!

Some things are still discouraging. Woodchucks ate the peas down to stems, and while they finally recovered a little bit and started climbing, over the last week they've dried up, right after they formed the first pods. The lettuces, also critter-plagued a month ago, recovered a little better and we've eaten some, but they're now bolting. And while we got lots of strawberries, something has been eating the strawberry leaves to the point where I'm worried about the plants' health for next year.

close-up of cucumber plants climbing a fence trellis

happy cucumbers

That said, there are a lot of positives! The cucumbers look the best they ever have at this point in the season. Most of the tomato plants recovered very well from being nibbled and are starting to set fruit. I finally figured out how to fence off the beans from the rabbits and they're growing well. And those blueberry flowers from the mid-May post are living up to their promise!

a cluster of blueberries in varying shades of ripeness

we've even eaten a few already!

more

lost week

Last week was rough. On Monday morning—before breakfast, even!—I made a poor life choice going over a jump and smashed into a tree. Besides cutting up my face wonderfully, I did something to the nerves in my neck that left my hands numb and my arms sore. That slowed me down some, I can tell you! Then just as I was feeling better on Thursday it was time for our second Covid vaccine. Welcome, of course, but when I woke up on Friday I found that the post-vaccine fever had combined with the nerve damage to leave the about the most uncomfortable I've ever been. Sleeping especially has been really hard. And then on top of all that, adding insult to literal injury, the woodchucks and rabbits have been absolutely destroying the garden. It's extremely discouraging.

me, bloodied and bruised

trying not to let the bastards get me down

But we're alive, and enjoying seeing more and more friends in person, and I imagine I may one day start to feel better again. My shoulders don't hurt so much I can't type, at least!

the garden mid-May

One thing I enjoyed about some of the hippy blogs back when blogs were still a thing was regular updates from their gardens. You know, like: here's what things looked like two weeks ago; this is what they look like now; here's what's growing... that sort of thing. I've always wanted to do that too, but I've never been organized enough. I'm probably still not, but at least I had a second Saturday, on the middle day of May, to take a couple pictures. So who knows if we'll see a followup come June, but here's what the garden looks like halfway through May.

the main part of the garden on May 15

still lots of dirt

From that angle there's maybe not too much going on. But it's not completely barren! The garlic is looking great, and we're picking plenty of asparagus and rhubarb and spring onions. And a couple beds are filling up. The peas, arugula, and lettuce mix we direct-sowed are coming up, and we transplanted out a bunch of kale starts.

baby greens and peas in their beds

stay away, rabbits

There's also the boys' bean seedlings planted for school way back in early April or something—not really seedlings because they were maybe four feet tall by the time we planted them out the other day! Now they're struggling to get used to the unseasonably hot and dry weather and suffering from sunburn, but they're so big I do believe they'll pull through.

Of course, at this moment the most exciting things of all are the baby berries! The first green strawberries are out and the blueberries are blooming beautifully, even after their hard winter. Plus there are tiny little pears and apples on the trees... Never mind that last year animals—squirrels, mostly, ate all of all of those fruits. Right now hope is still uppermost!

blossoms on the blueberry bushes

blue-tiful

more

home-made dirt

I don't count myself as being any good at making compost. When I read gardening books that talk about how to do it properly, I'm totally intimidated. Combine equal parts high-nitrogen and high-carbon material? Chop to one-inch chunks? Keep wet, but not too wet ("like a wrung-out sponge," we're told)? Turn weekly? I don't do any of those things. But I do pile up all the weeds and leaves and garden waste, with a little extra helping of food scraps, and let it sit for four to six months... and it turns out that's good enough, at least for our purposes! Twice a year we dig into the pile and pull out the dirt at the bottom of it; dirt that looks like a clumpy, straw-filled mess until we put it through a sieve made out of hardware cloth and sift out all the uncomposted bits. Then all of a sudden we've got the softest, blackest soil you could ever want! It's so gratifying to me, because that's how I want everything to work: don't worry about the details, just wait and it'll all come out fine!

Anyways, we've just prepped a couple beds in the garden so far: it's cool enough that I don't think the summer plants will grow at all if we plant them out now, even if there's no more frosts to threaten them (I count mid-May for our last frost date, so we're getting close!). But they're getting big in their cell packs, so yesterday I transplanted some of the tomatoes into individual three inch pots. I buy seed starting medium, but for potting soil it's just our compost mixed with some perlite from the store, and it looks just like the real thing. Since the one of the purposes of this whole operation is to save money, I appreciate not having to pay big bucks for dirt when we can just make it at home! Of course, watching the potting soil production Harvey was asking about the perlite: where does it come from, he wanted to know, and is there any chance we could make it or mine it or whatever ourselves? Ah yes, the self-sufficiency dream! We may be some ways off, but at least we've got home-made dirt.

foraging in the garden

It's starting to look like garden season around here. The office—the warmest spot in the house—is filling up with seedlings, the raspberries and blueberries are leafing out, and the kids' breath is heavily scented by chives and spring onions. But besides those alliums there's not a whole lot to eat out of the garden yet. But it's not nothing! I didn't pull the kale stalks in the fall (which the rabbits really appreciated, feeding on the insect-riddled leaves we left all winter long) and now the hard-working plants are putting out new bunches of leaves. And the paths between the beds, where I didn't cultivate in the fall, are popping up with volunteer arugula plants in between the weeds. Between those two things there were enough greens to make a little salad last night. Only, it was maybe a bit too little: Zion ate it all up himself. No worries: Harvey doesn't care for vinegar (balsamic is the only dressing for a baby kale and arugula salad!), and Elijah had a leaf or two which was all he wanted. As for me, I'll just keep on doing what I have been the last few days and browse straight off the plants!

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!

more

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...