The beginning of August is rough around here. It’s like drinking from a water hose – too much, too fast, all at once.
The tomatoes (yes…45 tomato plants) give me about six to ten pounds of tomatoes per day – some are paste tomatoes, some are slicing tomatoes with a few are cherry tomatoes thrown in for variety. I have three varieties of green beans and pick about two to three pounds per day. The zucchini – well, let’s just say I can’t even keep track of them. The cucumbers get hacked up every day or two and turned into pickles. The beets are pickled, the onions are drying, the cantaloupe and carrots are still growing. And our freezer is full.
It gets pretty intense trying to keep up with all of this. It takes a minimum of two hours early each morning to pick whatever is ripe. It takes longer if the weeds bother me enough to make the time to start pulling them out.
And then there are hours in the kitchen to freeze the beans, turn tomatoes into spaghetti sauce and pickle the beets.
I’m not complaining, we are fortunate to be rewarded with a good harvest (what the groundhog didn’t eat). But it would be just a little bit easier if it wasn’t everything at one time.
I believe in live and let live. In general, we love the wildlife on the farm – the deer, the birds, the squirrels, the rabbits. What I don’t love, is wildlife in my garden. Each of my gardens is surrounded by fencing. Of the three gardens, two have six foot tall fencing, the third garden has a picket fence. As it turns out, it’s not the height that a problem, but rather the groundhog that’s digging under the fence.
I have corn, squash, pumpkins and cantaloupe growing in that garden. Actually, I “had” corn, squash, pumpkins and cantaloupe growing in that garden. It’s been decimated. The corn has been knocked down and the squash has been nibbled on – not completely eaten, just half of each – so I can’t use it. The cantaloupe leaves and vines have been eaten to the point that there isn’t much but stubble left.
I don’t expect the groundhog to starve. There is plenty to eat around here. In fact, there is a squash that volunteered from last year and popped up outside one of the other gardens – free for the picking. I even planted a pumpkin patch on the front hillside with some left-over plants. But I guess they don’t taste good without a challenge.
At first we tried blocking the groundhog tunnels with rocks. He just dug a new tunnel. We added reinforced chicken wire as a “bib” at the bottom of the picket fence that extends a good foot or so into the yard and nailed it all down with U-pins. He just started digging further out and made a longer tunnel.
Every day there was more damage, until we gave up and got a have-a-heart trap. We set the trap with cantaloupe (apparently one of his favorites) – and within hours, Gus the Groundhog was on his way to a park far away from here.
Truly, I hate to do this. I’m sure Gus has a family here, and I don’t like to upset the balance of nature. But, we actually rely on our gardens for food throughout the year. Winter squash is one of my favorites! I don’t have to freeze it, I don’t have to can it – it just goes in the basement and lasts all winter long. Squash will be a rarity this winter. I have five left (if Gus doesn’t come back). He already ate 23. He had to go.
We are always digging up “treasures” around here – broken glass, pieces of barbed wire, an old button. Every once in a while there is something a little more significant – a horse shoe, an old padlock, a drainage grate. As they say on Oak Island, a “top-pocket find” if it could fit it in a pocket. I hate to throw this trash away. It somehow belongs on the farm. So I came up with another of my crazy ideas that makes Chris roll his eyes – mostly because I needed his help.
I decided I need stepping stones in the garden. A square pizza box is just about the right size for a stepping stone – so after polishing off a pizza with mushrooms on Chris’ half, we got busy. He mixed the cement, I sorted through the box of “treasures” and created our first – of many more to come – stepping stones.
I have a lot of broken glass in all shades of the rainbow – from green to purple to blue to amber. I have old hinges, door latches and bucket handles. I don’t have a lot of pizza boxes. So every time we eat a pizza, we need a bag of cement. It may take a while, but eventually I’ll have the most unique garden walkway – ever.
Last year I tried plastic bags on my apples and grapes, but they got hot in the sun, created condensation, and the fruit I was trying to protect – rotted.
This year I made little mesh bags with drawstrings to protect our harvest. I made larger ones for the grapes, and little ones for the apples. I didn’t have to make that many though. I have one apple – yes ONE – on each of three apple trees. Despite a nice showing of apple blossoms, a late frost and snow flurries put an end to the apple harvest this year – almost spitefully leaving one apple of each variety so we can taste what we are missing. Before any more mishaps can befall my apples – I put each one in its own drawstring net bag.
I did the same with our crop of grapes – because I have yet to successfully get any grapes from these vines. This year is doubtful as well as we have spotted lantern flies, and they particularly like grapes. I covered each little cluster in its own little bag.
We also have 5 peaches hanging precariously on two peach trees – I covered them too. The raspberries and blueberries are were safely covered with bird netting over PVC frames. We got some blueberries this year, but the plants are still young. The raspberries have been the star of the fruit show this year – with a bowl full every day, but even they are slowing down in the heat of the summer.
Now all I can do is wait – or go to the grocery store.
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!
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!
There’s a new peanut grower in town. Yep – we grew our own peanuts this year. I bought a small packet of peanut seeds – well – not exactly seeds, just raw peanuts in the shell. We planted them and they grew! Peanuts aren’t really nuts; they don’t grow on nut trees. They grow in the ground – like potatoes. Makes you wonder why no one has potato allergies – they grow the same way.
Our peanuts didn’t produce a whole lot – maybe slightly more than the amount we planted, but this is No Rhyme or Reason Farm. We do things for no rhyme or reason around here. Actually, the reason was to prove we could do it, and to show Arianna where peanut butter comes from (besides the jar)!
Will I grow them again next year? Probably not. But it has given me a new appreciation for where my food comes from too. It takes a lot of peanuts and a lot of space to grow enough peanuts for even one peanut butter sandwich!
We are finally starting to show some signs of warmth around here. The snow is melting, temperatures are flirting with the 40’s some days, and it’s almost time to start my garden!
The blanket of snow on the greenhouse roof was headed south, so I started seeds. It’s too cold in the greenhouse to give them a good start, so this year we are starting them on a germinating mat under a grow light in the basement. Things are starting to pop already. By the time they are ready to transplant to larger pots and harden off under some real sunlight – the greenhouse will have warmed up – I hope!
Another sure sign of spring are the blue hoses attached to two of our maple trees. They aren’t sugar maples, but they are maples – so that’s close enough. Last year we started too late and got about one cup of maple syrup by the time we boiled down all the sap. This year I may have jumped the gun, but so far I have three gallons of sap – and the whole month of March ahead of me. Maybe this year we’ll get two cups!
Things are a little topsy-turvy on the farm lately. My zinnias are THIS BIG.
And my eggs are THIS SMALL.
We’ve had so much rain this year that my plants just won’t stop growing! It must be helping the granddaughters grow too – because they won’t stop growing either!
And the eggs? We have six peeps that we got in the spring. We’ve nurtured them through their teenage years and now — they are turning into real hens. Their first attempts at laying eggs have been a bit meager, but I guess they will improve with maturity. An egg that is only 1.5 inches doesn’t quite compare to what we are used to. I’m not even sure how to use that in baking. Do two baby eggs equal one normal egg? Hopefully they will get their act together soon and start laying real eggs.
Well, Happy First Day of Spring. It doesn’t matter that it’s going to snow today. And it doesn’t matter that it’s going to snow even more tomorrow. If the calendar says its the first day of spring — then it’s time to get things going in the garden.
In an effort to instill a love of gardening in Arianna — we’ve had a tradition every spring. We plant jelly beans. For some reason, this only works in early spring up until about Easter time, after that, the jelly beans just don’t seem to sprout. We water them and then check on them in the morning.
This year, the garden was muddy, and since I have a perfectly good greenhouse just waiting to sprout seeds, it seemed like the perfect match. We took a selection of good looking jelly bean “seeds” and a few candy speckled eggs, just for good measure and planted them in the flower pots left behind from my herbs last summer. And it worked — just like every year!