posts tagged with 'farming'

the garden in mid October

As much as I like gardening, and all the delicious food we grow, I also have a fair proportion of relief when the growing season draws to a close. All those plants are so messy from August on! It's nice to clear them out and start thinking about how to do things better next year. That's what we're doing now. We're still getting parsley and arugula and a few beans, and all but two or three of the winter squashes look ripe and ready. Plus the raspberries are having their best fall crop ever—there was even enough to bring a little bowlful inside this evening!—and there are still a few apples on the Northern Spy tree. But everything else has closed up shop. It's strange because it's still so warm, but I'm starting to prep things for winter. The compost pile did amazing this summer, so there should be plenty for adding to the beds; I've just started that. The garlic will go in soon, which I guess means that the 2022 garden season is about to kick off!

the garden on October 15

less tall now

our long straw nightmare is over

A long time ago—last winter? I have no idea—the lean-to that I had constructed on the back of the shed to keep straw dry came down (its construction was stylish and optimistic, so I'm not totally surprised; it did last a good few years, so that was fine). I'm not quick to make repairs, and besides the fallen roof bits were covering the straw a bit, so I kind of left it. But a month or two ago when it was time to get a new bale I felt bad about storing it in the wreckage so I stashed it up on the porch. Fine, at first—it would even have been decorative if it had been a little later in the season! But once we broke the bale open it quickly became a problem. Out of its retaining strings straw kind of gets everywhere, helped by the wind and birds, and in this case the spreading was compounded by the bale's proximity to the middle school hang-out spot that is that corner of the porch. It was a mess, we were constantly tracking hay into the house, and people who wanted to walk through on the porch to the back deck had to clamber over what was essentially a 1/8th scale haystack. Intolerable.

That's why I refused to tolerate it for longer than a couple months. Over the weekend I finally rebuilt the lean-to—much stronger than before, since my construction skills are ever improving, but still stylish cause that's how I roll. Then yesterday evening, with friends due to come by for a visit within the hour, I moved the haystack to its proper location and swept up all the rest of the debris off the porch. "Wow, the porch looks so clean and big!" said Elijah when he saw. Yes, my son. Yes it does.

rhubarb wins the garden

I tend to think of rhubarb as a spring food, like asparagus: one that comes in early but then gives way to other things as the summer moves along. But that's not really the case, in actual fact, rhubarb comes in early and then keeps going strong all summer long! It's just that the novelty of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and apples each in their season makes us forget about it. Now, in early October, strawberries and blueberries are long gone; a few of the raspberries are producing their second crop of the season but not enough to bring inside; and the apples are actually almost done (they were early to begin with and our heaviest tree by far was the Macintosh). And last Thursday I harvested eight cups of rhubarb to make a crisp.

It was the same recipe I raved about in this post, and it remains my favorite dessert that I hardly ever make. Why do I hardly ever make it? Not because the rhubarb is hard to get—clearly not!—but because it's so delicious, and so unappreciated by the rest of my family, that I eat too much of it on each day that it exists (also it calls for orange zest and we don't often have oranges in the house in the non-winter months; I had to make a special trip to get one). At least this time I was able to bring it along to school, where the other adults and children of middle- and high school-age were able to enjoy it.

Funnily enough, just like that first time back in 2016 I had leftover butter pecan ice cream to go with the crisp. That's really a coincidence: we rarely buy ice cream, and when we do it's rarely butter pecan. And I didn't ever realize it until I looked up that old post to link it!

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special delivery

This morning much noise next door alerted us to the fact that our neighbor was having a tree taken down. Last time the tree service folks were on our street our driveway was clogged up with the old minivan, so as much as I wanted to ask for the woodchips I didn't have any place to actually put them. Today I not only had a spot, but with the chipper working in the next driveway over they could even send the chips directly into our yard! They were delighted to not have to cart the chips away but a little hesitant at my delivery plan—with good reason, because when they eventually decided to go with it the hurricane blast from the chipper sent chunks of wood all the way across the deck into the inflatable pool and probably beyond. I understood then why they wanted to be sure the kids and dogs would stay out of the backyard! I was quite happy with the whole process—free woodchips!—but I guess they felt bad for the mess, and after the chipping was done one of the guys came over and gas-blowered everything off the deck. So not only do we have a pile of prime woodchips, the deck and concrete area by the cellar door are cleaner then they've been for quite some time! Wins all around.

my favorite food (this month)

The best thing about August is tomatoes. We have about 20 tomato plants in our garden, between the regular ones and the cherries and the paste tomatoes, but the ones that really matter to me are the three Pruden's Purple plants. Because those big beefsteak tomatoes are perfect for the best food, the tomato sandwich.

a tomato sandwich

perfection

Sometimes people use a slice or two of tomato on a sandwich to add a little extra flavor or, you know, as decoration; occasionally tomato even makes it to co-headline status like in a BLT. But that's just because those folks haven't experienced the delight of a freshly picked Pruden's Purple (or Brandywine, or...) tomato, sliced thickly, on toast with plenty of mayonaise and a little salt. Yum. I confess this isn't my favorite time of year, what with the mold and rot and general decay that pervades the world. But the tomatoes make it worth living through.

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oh yeah, what's happening in the garden?

With so much going on last week I forgot all about the garden report! So here's an interim update. Awesome: beans, kale, zinnias. Parsley. Producing well but suffering from disease or otherwise reaching the end of the line: cucumbers and basil. Starting to come on strong: peppers and (if only we can keep off the blight) tomatoes.

the garden on August 10

producing

Really, it's delightful how much food we're getting out of the garden lately. The majority of our vegetable intake and, with the blueberries still going and the apples starting to get ripe, fruit too. The garlic is all in and it did amazing, though I think I should have pulled it before we went to Maine rather than after, since some of the heads got a little too dry. And we're eating all the cucumbers we could possibly want, so while I'm a little sad to see the vines succumbing to downy mildew or whatever it is, we could also take a break from cucumbers for a little while. The boys and I put in some heavy weeding time after we got back from camping, so things are looking well in that regard too. Lots of work to do each week for sure, but I think it's safe to say that in the beginning of August the state of the garden is strong!

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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!

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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!

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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!