July – New members of the farm family

We’ve added five more members to the farm family. After the problems we have each year when we do this, I’m surprised we both said – Yes, let’s do this insanity again.

We added five chickens to our existing flock of nine. Right now things are peaceful. The new peeps are living in a big crate in the garage. They have their own space, a heat lamp for the cool evenings and they are happy as can be. That’s because they don’t know about the chicken drama that will happen when we introduce them to the older hens. It’s never a good thing.

We added a lot of outdoor chicken run space so there is plenty of room for the 14 of them to spread out. We give them plenty of kitchen scraps, fresh water, cracked corn every afternoon for a treat and a coop full of clean wood shavings every week. You’d think everyone would be happy. But no, hens are never happy when you introduce new peeps into their territory. Maybe there is safety in numbers and having a flock of five newbies might go better than last year when we introduced two new chicks. We’ll wait until these chicks are almost as large as the hens and devise a temporary fence with chicken wire to keep the new chicks separate (and safe) for a couple of weeks until everyone gets to know each other – and then one night after dark, we’ll slip the new chicks in with the old hens in the roost and hope for the best.

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They are so cute when they are little balls of fluff.
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Now they are starting to look like real chickens – I just hope they can hold their own when we put them in with the old hens.

June – Two Tomatoes

Yes – I picked two tomatoes already – right at the end of June. But this year, I am also trying two different ways of growing tomatoes to see which works better. So far, I can’t tell.

The tomatoes in the garden on the east side of the house are growing on strings that help to keep them tall as they climb higher and higher. The tomatoes in the garden on the west side of the house are in traditional tomato cages. And they’re doing just fine too. They are both setting fruit and so far I picked one tomato from each garden.

I’ll probably weigh how many tomatoes I get from each garden so I can compare which side did better by the end of the year – but it’s not a fair comparison. The ones on the east side get more sun, got planted too early and were stunted by the Mother’s Day cold snap and are planted in rocky soil. The ones on the west side get afternoon shade, were planted once the weather had warmed up, and the soil is much nicer. So it might be difficult to say whether strings or cages make a difference. So far, I think I like the strings, even though it takes a bit of time to always keep the top of the plant twisted around the string – but it’s easier to move about between the plants.  In the end, as long as I have enough tomatoes to put-up a lot of tomato sauce, pizza sauce, vegetable soup – and make a summer’s worth of BLT sandwiches – I don’t really care whether they were grown on strings or in cages!

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The garden looks like a plumbers paradise with pvc piping running up and down and across. The perfect frame to tie my strings so the tomatoes can climb.
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I just keep wrapping the top of the tomato around the string as it grows.
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And the tomatoes in the cages are just doing their own thing.

June – It’s Sticky around here

Two weeks ago the hives were getting full of honey. We had 15 frames that were ready to extract, so Saturday morning we set up all the equipment and got to work. By the end of the day, we had 45 pounds of honey. That’s a lot of honey.  But wait, there’s more…

This Saturday we did it again. We got another 60 pounds of honey. That’s 105 pounds so far this year. But wait, there’s even more…

The Linden trees are blooming and they are covered with honey bees. We’ll probably be extracting more honey in another week or two. So far, the honey we have extracted is VERY light – a white clover honey from all the clover flowers growing in the yard. It will be interesting to see if the Linden honey is as light, and how the flavor differs. But you know what they say… don’t count your honey until you have it in your jars (or something like that), so I don’t want to predict what the outcome might be.

Linden tree blossoms also make a very nice tea, so just in case we don’t get Linden honey, I picked some of the blossoms from a low hanging branch (along with the bract leaves attached to the blossom), dried them in the dehydrator and ground them up into tea. Some chilly night this fall, I’ll have a cup of Linden blossom tea – hopefully with a spoonful of Linden honey to go with it.

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A gorgeous frame fresh out of the hive and packed with honey.
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Once the wax coating is cut off the top, the frames go into the centrifuge extractor.
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The wax we cut off the top gets saved and we will melt it down – maybe we’ll make candles one day.
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Our very light honey!
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The Linden flowers and leaves for tea.
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Into the dehydrator they go to get dried out to make tea.

May – Finally!

We had snow flurries two weeks ago. This week it’s 80 degrees. It’s been a rough spring – cold and wet and dreary. It made it hard to get my garden started. Not strong on patience, I jumped the gun, planted some of the things I had raised in the greenhouse too early – and lost them to the early May frost (even though I tucked them in with warm blankets, plastic tarps and up-side down buckets to help them through the cold nights). But…I guess that’s why I “accidentally” grew 248 tomato plants – I had a few extras.

The gardens  look amazing, the weeds have been (temporarily) banished, and there is still space between the rows. In another month it will look like a jungle out there. Let the growing season begin!

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The squash garden with tomato cages for the vines to grow, and a piece of PVC piping to keep them from blowing over in the summer storms.
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Peas, garlic and tomatoes. This year we are trying to grow them on strings – you wrap the plant around the string as it grows taller – especially since I used the tomato cages for the squash!
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A LOT of tomato plants!
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Corn, rhubarb, peas, carrots and spinach.
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1 Potato, 2 Potato, 3 Potato MORE?!
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Garlic, squash, peppers – all conveniently located by the bee hives – so the bees won’t have far to go to pollinate my garden!
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Raspberries and a few flowers on our “pretend door” to nowhere (it hides the heat pumps).
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And Rice! Why not?!  Do you think two buckets of rice plants will give me two buckets full of wild rice this fall?

May – Swarm Frenzy

We have three bee hives. One survived the winter, the other two needed new bees this spring. The one that survived the winter is strong and busy – too busy. They raised a new queen and split. Half of the hive took off looking for a new home. They got as far as a tree about 40 feet from the hive – and 40 feet in the air. So we watched and we waited – for days. They just hung there.

Finally we decided to attempt the impossible. Chris attached a bucket sprayed with sugar water to a really long pole, I grabbed a rake – and we both “suited up” with gloves, a bee veil and in my case – just about all the clothes I own. The first problem was getting to the tree. It’s up a steep hill, overgrown with berry brambles and wild roses (the only thing those wild roses grow is thorns!). Then we had to fight through vines that were climbing the tree. Once we were on the “up-side” of the tree, Chris could reach the swarm with the bucket. But just holding the bucket in place next to the swarm apparently wasn’t enticing enough. I reached up with the rake, snagged some vines and started pulling – hard enough to make the branch shake and the bees to fall into the bucket – except for the ones that didn’t fall into the bucket. Those took flight, and seemed to most enjoy the flight path around my face. Worse yet – there was no easy escape. For as difficult as it was to fight the hill, the brambles and the vines to get in there – it was even harder to get back out with bees flying around your face – yikes!  Oh, and did I mention while doing all of that I was also trying to film it on my phone. I’d share it with you, but most of what you would see is the ground as I was trying to run away – and the audio (I definitely shouldn’t share that).

In the long run – we had success! We captured about 3/4th of the swarm, poured the bees into a small hive, put the lid on – and sighed a big relief. We weren’t really looking to add a fourth bee hive, so this one will stay in the small hive and hopefully live over the winter. That way, if we have a hive that doesn’t survive ’till next spring – we will have replacement bees ready to move into a full-sized bee hive. Here’s hoping!

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Our bees – just hanging out – way up in a tree.
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A five-gallon bucket full of bees – need I say more?
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“Pouring” them into the hive.
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We hope they make this their home and don’t take off on any more adventures!

April – We dug up a barn and planted carrots

Every year when it’s time to start digging in the garden, we hit rocks – more like boulders, and we dig them out. This year was no different – in fact – even worse.

I bought a broad fork – a pitch fork looking contraption with an ergonomic handle that’s made for gently lifting, fluffing, aerating the soil so that you don’t disturb the soil layers and all those earthworms as much as you would with a tiller. That was the plan.

Last weekend I started with just one bed in my vegetable garden – it’s 4′ x 20′. With the first thrust of my broad fork, I hit a rock so I went for my favorite shovel – the pink one that my sister gave me. It’s narrow, pointy and just the right size for me to get some leverage. I dug down and pried and prodded until I got the rock out. Whew. And then it happened again and again and again and again. I don’t know if the broad fork tines are longer than the reach of the tiller, or if the winter weather had heaved the rocks closer to the surface, but I think we dug up the foundation of an old barn. The rocks ran in a straight line – right down the entire length of the bed.

Chris said I was digging too deep – that vegetable roots only go so far, and the vegetable bed would be just fine if we left the rocks there. But I rotate crops in the garden – and this year – carrots need to go in that plot. And carrots won’t grow if they hit a rock. He pulled out his tractor with the front end loader – and as we dug, we filled the bucket – four times!

And then I started on the next bed… and there were more rocks, more tractor loads to haul out, and one rock in particular that won the prize. It was too big to haul out. We worked for about 4 hours and finally got it upright to take up less space, but now it looks like a tombstone in the garden.

The soil is gorgeous now. All the digging and prying and prodding may have disturbed the soil layers, but we mixed in compost and wood ash and planted the carrots. They better appreciate all that hard work and grow like never before!

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Prying up a rock with my favorite shovel.
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I needed help getting some of these out.
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The broad fork just kept finding more and more rocks
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We filled up the front-end bucket 4 times and hauled those rocks out of the garden. They better not be back again next year!
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This rock got the better of us.
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It was bigger than we could haul out.
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These – we hauled out.
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This one is staying put – right smack in the middle of one of my garden beds. It looks like we buried someone there!

A rainy day with no place to go

Not only are we stuck here with a stay-at-home order for our county, but it’s pouring rain so I can’t even go outside. I have nothing better to do than bake.

This morning started with a loaf of sourdough bread. I’ve been keeping a sourdough starter alive since early December and we bake a loaf about once a week. Today was a good day for another loaf. The thing about sourdough starter is that to keep it alive you discard of most of it and “feed” it with fresh flour and water almost every day. I save those “discards” in the refrigerator and use them for making other things – like sourdough waffles. Today, I skimmed off a cup of the discards and made sourdough crackers with rosemary and sea salt.

But what kind of a baking day is that? Bread and crackers sound kind of boring – we needed something sweet. So now we have a pound cake too. And it’s only 12:00.  What am I going to bake this afternoon? Maybe an angel food cake.  Our nine hens lay about 8 eggs a day now which gives me plenty of egg whites – and no place to go.

If this keeps up, I’m not going to fit through the front door by the time the quarantine lifts and the sun comes out.

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Sourdough bread, sourdough crackers, pound cake – and feeding the starter so I won’t run out of things to bake.

 

 

 

 

March – Are 168 Tomato Plants too many?

I may have started too many tomato plants.

I love this time of year. I get to play in the dirt in the dry and relative warmth of the basement. I work at a folding table with a bucket of potting mix and some little black plastic seed trays. This year I got a little carried away with how much fun I was having.

I have seven varieties of tomato seeds I want to grow – three are paste tomatoes (San Marzano, Amish Paste and Salvaterra), three varieties are for nice big slicing tomatoes (Brandywine Red, Beefsteak and Mortgage Lifter) – and just one cherry tomato variety. That’s not that much – right?  The seeds are so tiny and I thought they might not all germinate, so I put two little tiny seeds into each cell of the six-packs. One six-pack of each variety didn’t look like that much – so I did two six-packs of each. That’s just 14 little six-packs – not that much, until Chris did the math.  Apparently I planted 168 tomato seeds. The garden can only accommodate about 30 tomato plants – if I want to save room to grow the 60 pepper plants I also accidentally started, and the 30 Loofah sponge plants.

I put the trays on the heated mat under the grow light, and guess what? ALL 168 tomatoes came up. I should pluck the weaker of the two sprouts from each cell to allow the stronger plant to flourish; but I can’t just throw out 84 little seedlings. Once they get a little bigger, I’ll be busy transplanting 168 plants into individual pots – and at some point I’ll have to pick my favorite 4 or 5 of each variety and give the rest away.

I’d be tempted to plant them all – but I still need room for beans, cantaloupe, carrots, garlic, onions, potatoes, watermelon and lots of squash. I have seven varieties of squash too. I hope I use more restraint planting those than I did with tomatoes!

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Our neighbors may wonder about the plant light glow that emanates from our basement windows – but it’s only tomatoes, peppers and Loofah sponges.
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Yep – 168 little tomato plants
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I’ll have a lot of transplanting to do – but think of the amazing tomatoes we’ll have.

February – Where Summer Meets Super Bowl

We grow a lot of beans in the garden – mostly green beans. Last year, I decided to try to grow some dry beans. You just grow them – and don’t pick them! During all of those hot summer days  when I was busy picking fresh green beans and freezing them on a daily basis, I would look at those “other” beans and think – wow – this is so great! I don’t even have to pick them. They can just keep growing and dry up. How easy is that!

Until it wasn’t. All of a sudden they did dry up – and there were a LOT of them. Black and white Calypso beans, red Kidney beans, red and white Christmas beans, Black Valentine beans, purple-ish Cherokee Trail of Tears beans and dried Navy beans. But, they still needed to be picked (at least all at one time), set to dry a little more on a shelf in the greenhouse, and then shelled.

And now, it’s a cold, dreary February day with snow flurries and there is nothing better than our dried Kidney beans, frozen diced peppers and canned tomatoes – all from the summer garden – to make an awesome chili for Super Bowl Sunday!

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Dried summer beans.
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And a pot of chili for a cold winter night.

January – It’s time to garden – right?

We have several black walnut trees on our property. One tree in particular is huge, it slants at a precarious angle, shades my garden and drops those hard green balls all over the yard where we walk between the house, the chicken coop, the barn and the garden. Even worse, the tree has a substance called juglone which is toxic to my fruit-bearing trees and bushes like apples, pears, raspberries, blueberries AND toxic for some of my annual vegetable plants, too. So the tree had to go.

This was no easy project. Not one that Chris could handle with his chain saw. This required a crane, a crew and a monkey. It was both fascinating and scary to watch. Even getting the crane up the driveway threading precariously through our tall Linden trees had me holding my breath. Then it had to get turned around in the tight space between the greenhouse, garage and house so that it could back across the front yard and get positioned next to the tree. Then the monkey showed up – this guy who climbed to the top canopy of the tree with a chain saw in his hand, wrapped ropes from the crane arm around the branches and started cutting. The crane then swung huge limbs and 12′ lengths of trunk up and over our porch roof to the driveway. The crew chipped and shredded the small stuff and left Chris with MOUNTAINS of logs.

Now we have STACKS of logs and a shed full of split wood ready for the wood stove and the fireplace. We are all set for a toasty-warm winter in front of the fireplace, and I can’t wait to plant my garden with full sunshine!

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This tree has to go.
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The crane came rolling in – and it was just about as big as our house!
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This guy just climbed up the tree and started cutting.
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The “small” branches were cut into fireplace logs and little stuff got shredded
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One big branch to go – and then it’s just down to the trunk.
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The trunk was so long it had to be cut into three lengths and lifted to the front yard.
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Three big logs got sold for black walnut lumber.
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What a difference it makes having the tree gone.
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Enough wood to last for years!
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More logs to split – and a wood shed full of firewood!