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!

Dried summer beans.
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!

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

December – Making Cookies is Exhausting

It’s that time again – time to make the cookies. We make a lot of cookies around here, mostly to give away because otherwise I would eat them all. And we make a wide variety of cookies from boring oatmeal-raisin, traditional chocolate chip, favorite chocolate covered peanut butter balls to “fancy” decorated sugar cookies.

While I can tackle most of the drop style of cookies, it’s always nice to have extra hands for making the decorated sugar cookies, and fun to have little (and big) hands helping with all the “sprinkling” of colored sugars, tiny snow-flakes and silver balls. I had help this weekend and we tackled a double batch! The cookies look beautiful, but I think we wore out the youngest helper.

Arianna and Rebecca helped with the “sprinkling.”
We made buckets and bags full of cookies!
And then someone needed a nap!
Happy Holidays!

November – Let the Sun Shine

We have an old stone farmhouse. It was built in 1853 with thick stone walls, deep window sills and small windows. We love the charm, but we don’t necessarily love how the stone walls stay cold in the winter, the lack of sunshine that comes in the small windows or how stuffy the house can be in the summer. Just because they didn’t have solar energy panels in 1853 doesn’t mean we can’t have them now.

We embarked on this process back in the spring – hoping for “free” electricity to keep the air conditioning cranked low all summer. That didn’t happen. The application process took a long time and PECO took issue with the plans. Eventually we got a modified plan approved and it was installed a few weeks ago.

The solar panels are on the roof of our the garage. It faces south, has no trees obstructing it and it’s not affecting the historic look of the house. It’s now connected to “the grid” and whatever electric we are not currently using gets sold back to PECO. I can’t wait to see that meter rolling backwards! And – the handy little app that came with the system says we’ve already saved the equivalent of 8 trees from our own power production.

Now we just need sunny days to keep us powered up – and on days that it’s not so sunny, we’ll just fire up the wood stove. Buckle up – here comes winter.


Getting the rails up
Then the solar panels
Almost finished
Now we just need a sunny day!

November – Move over Jimmy Carter

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!

One of our peanut plants growing.
Drying the peanut plants.
Picking off REAL PEANUTS!

November – A Chicken Play Pen

We’ve had mesh netting around the chicken coop for a year or so now. It gives “the girls” a safe place to roam during the day when they aren’t on their supervised excursions into the yard-at-large. We always have to be vigilant because the fox and hawks like our chickens as much as we do! Chris decided it is time to build something more substantial so that if we are away for part of the day, we don’t have to be concerned that something can get to them.

It’s been a big project – digging holes to sink the 4”x4” fence posts, building a supporting framework at the top, building a door – and last but not least – getting the fencing around the side and over the top.

But that wasn’t enough – we decided they need to have fresh grass. But anyone who has a pen full of chickens knows you can’t have fresh grass unless you move them every day before they peck, scratch and claw their way to the dirt. Not to be outsmarted by a bunch of chickens, Chris built a raised bed for grass, covered by hardware cloth that they can’t peck through. This way, the grass will grow up and out the top, the girls can keep their lawn “mowed” by chomping away each day, and the underlying grass plants are safe from their voracious appetites.

Now they have a nice, big, safe space – which should soon have green grass.  They should be quite content in their new playpen.

The mesh fencing worked well for a while, but the girls needed something more permanent.
And they needed fresh grass – all the time.
Finished Chicken Coop
So they got this beautiful, big chicken pen with a grass patio.
Chicken Coop with Chicken Grass Box
And everyone seems happy with their new chicken yard.

November – What IS this thing?

A cucumber? An out of control zucchini? Actually – it’s a sponge. A loofah sponge; and it’s growing in my garden!

It’s taken a bit of persistence. Loofah’s need a long growing season. I tried growing these last year and I got the tiniest little sponge that I harvested right before our first frost. This year, I started my loofah seeds in February, in the basement, under a grow light. They were soooo slow to germinate, and even slower to grow. I planted them outside in late May and they sat there for months, barely rising above the weeds around the edge of the garden fence. Slowly they started to climb the fence and I kept training their tendrils higher and higher. All of a sudden – they took off climbing over the six foot fence and FINALLY made some tiny loofahs. For as along as it took for the plants to grow, the loofahs seemed to double in size over night.

Our growing season is still barely long enough and frost was approaching; not all of them were ready to harvest. A few had turned yellow, they felt squishy and noticeably lighter than the dark green ones. I chopped them down, peeled one open and there it was – a perfect – sponge! Hopefully the others will dry a bit more so I can harvest a bathtub full of sponges.

It’s bigger than some of the zucchinis that grow in the garden!
Slowly it turns yellow and gets squishy-soft.
I peeled it open – and look! It’s a sponge!