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.
We added two barn cats to the farm about a month ago. Toby and Teddy spent three weeks in a double-decker cat condominium/cage in the barn so they could become acclimated to their new surroundings. Moving from the SPCA to a barn with all the noises that a horse and four goats make – could be a bit disconcerting until you get used to it. We fed them every day, gave them fresh water and clean litter and talked with them so they’d get to know us.
We were apprehensive about the release day approaching as we’ve tried this before and the cats took off so fast they were like a blur on the way out (one eventually came back a week later and stayed with us for three years). This time, we opened the door and these two refused to leave.
We started feeding them outside of the cage to entice them to come out, we set up a cat igloo so they’d still have a place to live, and finally we took the cage out of the barn. They still refused to leave. Finally, this weekend, they started making short expeditions outside the barn – but only if they were together. They are just as happy to go back inside the barn, lay on the straw and wait for feeding time.
I hope they’ll soon get the idea that they are supposed to be on mouse patrol – but so far, they won’t even venture into the pasture to meet Pono (the horse) and Peter, Heidi, Beauty and HeiHei (the goats).
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.
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’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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!