July 2021 – Groundhog War

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.

June – Time Warp on the Farm

A time warp has settled in over the farm – has it really been six months since my last blog update?

We survived a winter with several snow storms. The first one was pretty, the ones after that became progressively less beautiful and more of a nuisance. This storm was pretty.

As the snow melted I started my garden seeds under grow lights in the basement. I moved them to the greenhouse in March. It happened again this year; I accidentally planted 192 tomato plants. The seeds are so tiny, and I had eight varieties I wanted to try. I planted 12 of each, but it just didn’t look like very much in the potting tray, so I decided I better do 12 more of each variety… just in case.

In addition to planting too many plants, I ALWAYS say I will be more patient and not start my seeds so early. They tend to outgrow the greenhouse before our official planting date. Two weeks after the last frost generally falls around Mother’s Day for us, and invariably, there are still a couple of chilly days, but I just couldn’t wait any longer. Those 192 tomato plants, along with peppers, squash, cucumbers and herbs had the greenhouse bursting at the seams. I only planted 45 tomato plants in the garden and I gave the rest away (such self-restraint – or maybe it was lack of space). They looked so nice all freshly planted and trained to their string trellis system.

By the end of May, the strawberries started to ripen. I was determined to finally get a good crop of strawberries. I worked hard on the strawberry bed; yes – the one that I have relocated 4 of the last five years that we’ve been here. But this time, I think it is finally in the right place. We picked over 40 pounds of strawberries this year – sometimes 4 pounds a day! Strawberry season is finally over – but now the blueberries and raspberries are ripening faster than I can keep up.

We added two barn cats to our menagerie. “Meow” our previous mouser – who ironically had no voice and never meowed went on to greener pastures. We missed her presence on the farm, especially when the mouse population increased. We now have Toby and Teddy – two year old males from the local SPCA. They are currently residing in their cat condominium while they become acquainted with the sights and sounds (and smells) of the barn where they will live. Hopefully after several weeks acclimating themselves, they will choose to stick around when we open the doors for more than feeding and cleaning the litter boxes. They look like twins – I’m not sure how we will tell them apart.

Here we are at the end of June and I’m already busy with the harvest. Today I pulled garlic, red onions and shallots so they can dry on the porch for a while before I hang them in the basement. There are peas, zucchini and patty pan squash to pick daily.

But what I’m really waiting for is that “race to the red.” Yes, the first red tomato of the season. Those 45 tomato plants are loaded with green tomatoes – a few are starting to blush a light pink. I’m hoping for a plump, juicy, red tomato to accompany the burgers on the grill for our July 4th picnic.

And the best news of all on the farm???? I officially retired from that “real” job three months ago. You’d think that being retired I’d have more time to keep up with this blog, but we’re busier than ever!

September – It’s Fall already?!

It’s hard to believe, the gardens are coming to an end – we had a light frost on the roof the other day. The house is decorated for fall with corn stalks and ornamental corn from our garden. The pantry is full of home-canned goods. I still have loofah sponges hanging on the vines, they need every last growing day they can get before a hard frost. It’s been a good summer but I’m not done gardening just yet – the garlic and onions need to be planted so they’ll be ready next year.

It’s always fun to put out the pumpkins and corn stalks.
We grew Glass Gem corn this year.
Part of the summer bounty – I think I overdid it on carrots this year.
Even the barn is ready for fall. These vines just won’t stop growing – they are loaded with loofah sponges, I just hope they finish ripening before the first heavy frost.

August – Arts and Crafts and a lot of Pizza

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.

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Just the right size.

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A horse shoe, some odds and ends – and we have our first stepping stone.

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The cat signed her name on the left. I added 2020, because what else do you do during quarantine other than make up silly stepping stones.  It’s a good excuse to eat more pizza –  I need a few more to cover the walkway.

 

 

July – Maybe I should just buy fruit?

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.

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Each apple gets its own little bag.

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Three apple trees, three little apples.

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And some bags for the bunches of grapes too!

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!