posts tagged with 'farming'

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.

more

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...

more

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!

corn is amazing

I love having corn in the garden. Never mind that I've just about never eaten any that I've grown; I just think it's so lovely to have the corn plants for their beauty and for all that they represent about growing food. It's been a couple years since I found room for any though, and I hadn't really planned for corn for this year either. But that doesn't matter, because we still had a jar full of flint corn seeds from, oh, three-four years ago that we never made into corn meal. I planted 1/100th of them just a few days ago, and look what they're doing now!

corn sprouts a day after they emerged

new old sprouts

Once they get going a little bit I'll plant black beans around them, and the winter squash will get in there too a little bit later. If all goes well, that is; last year lots of the squash seeds didn't germinate, and all the plants that did emerge got eaten. Some things are hard... not corn though. Corn is amazing.

more

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?

more

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

more

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!

more