Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.   May the season find you peaceful and surounded by love.  Let's hope for the new year that people find their way to a greater understanding.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fall Report

Just a short post tonight, no pictures, to report on what's up.   We've been scrambling to get ready for winter.   Cooler temps, falling leaves and shorter days push us to get everything safe and tucked in for the cold weather to come.   The canning cupboard bulges with delicious tomatoes, pickles, beans and goodies from the garden preserved in jars and more dried and bottled for good meals when the snow flies.   The garden looks bare with all the polebeans and tomato vines taken down and piled on the burn pile.

A few things, cold weather tolerant, are tucked into the raised beds with hopes of extending the growing season a little.  In one bed, a few brave collard plants wave in the fall gusts, while in another the romaine lettuce grows green and fresh.   Covered in two more small beds, are: turnips, radishes, onions, and kale.  Next year's garlic is up about 6".   It'll grow a little more, then rest the tops to grow strong roots underground through the winter to be harvest for delicious bulbs next July.   What a hopeful thing it is to plant garlic in September that won't be pulled until almost a year.  The green tomatoes are packed in tubs in newspaper, and more are spread out in the greenhouse in hopes of ripe tomatoes for a little while at least.  The houseplants are in the greenhouse, along with potted herbs for winter beauty and flavor.

Firewood is stacked along the side of the garage and out back in neat tidy rows, covered with tarps awaiting colder days.    In the root cellar cans, buried out in the woods, we have potatoes, onions, turnips and beets, and in the garage freezer, corn, pesto, blueberries and more.   We just need to get more potatoes and apples, and we're set for winter.

It's a very good feeling, to have much of our food tucked away for winter, as well as the wood to keep us warm.  We've planned for our brains to be fed too, by renewing subscriptions to our favorite magazines, and ordering art supplies to sketch what we see around us.  We made a trip to our favorite stock-up store today to buy 6 cases of wine and some chocolate to finish the necessary stocking up for winter, and as we drove home, a gorgeous sky of sunset and clouds promised a beautiful day tomorrow.  Today was cool, starting about 40 and ending almost 60, with fresh, gusty breezes that have stripped most of the golden leaves off of the maple out back.  Most trees still have a lot of beautiful bright leaves on them, everywhere we look.  It's interesting that that one tree stands alone and strong, dropping the leaves early and close to the garden so I can rake them up and pile them into the garden to nourish next year's crops.

I've been thinking lately about time, and how we choose to spend it.   Each of us has all the time there is, but so many complain that there is never enough of it.   It occurs to me that with all the planning that we do, this use of our time is the most valuable commodity of all.   Since we're retired, we spend our hours in what pleases us, and we're so lucky to be able to make these choices; spending it sparingly on necessary work around the home, some on making money, (our little business), more in celebrating the wonderful grandchildren and the joyous sparkle they bring to our lives.   Then we have a generous time left to settle in with a good book, all day if that's our choice.   Life is very good to us, and I'm so glad we know that and work to preserve that goodness.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Fall's Coming!

What a weekend! It was one of those that was planned to the hilt, something going on each day and evening, then all plans fell through, and other ones came up to take their place and we had a wonderful time anyway. Nice how that works out.

On Friday night we planned to go see some musicians we are very fond of who were performing nearby, when old friends called to invite us to dinner. We ended up after a great meal, laughing and playing Trivial Pursuit with some of the smartest people I know, and laughing until we were all ready to nod off from exhaustion. Great times. And how often can you have fun arguing historical facts with people you respect?

Saturday I went to an estate sale and found some good things to sell on ebay while Jim replaced our kitchen faucet with a high arching one with a great aerator and fixed the drain. Now we have water both coming in and flowing out well--WooHooo! Life is good! Saturday afternoon and overnight we had the grandkids and had a great time. We made pizzas together and talked about our favorite toppings. The little guy helped me break beans and had fun doing it. Who knew you could have fun and laugh so much breaking beans into smaller pieces?
We had a little campfire and roasted strawberry marshmallows, yum, and talked around the fire, while Grandpa watched the Notre Dame game. It was great to hear the 7 year old spin me a long story she made up and strangely told in an English accent? Fun to quietly talk around a fire with little ones. We have been wanting to teach them to enjoy tent camping, and it was finally cool enough, so we pitched the tent and got out the sleeping bags. I bought each of them their own small flashlight to use however they wanted to because they are used to a nightlight. We laid in the tent, all four of us in a row, and talked while they flashed the lights inside the dome and it was great fun. Seeing the little guy all snuggled down with a big smile, holding tight to his flashlight, and close his eyes to sleep was precious. It got too cold for a little one, who kept kicking off his covers, so I took him inside, but the other two slept out there til morning when I almost had the coffee made for Grandpa and me. Both kids demanded oatmeal for breakfast, with raisins.
Their Dad picked them up after breakfast and baths to wash off the campfire smoke and we took the rest of the day off to relax and rest up. I did try to work in the garden to plant some fall crops in the raised beds, but got chased off by the bees, in a surly mood today. I got stung twice and left the garden to them for this day at least. Whew! I have a half bushel of tomatoes to can that will have to wait until tomorrow and we celebrated this cool night with a good bottle of red wine, a pasta meal, and followed it up with our first fire of the fall and good cheese, a pear and some dark chocolate. Life is very, very good. All the garden, firewood and tomato chores can wait until tomorrow, or maybe the next day.

Friday, August 31, 2012

What a summer!

I can't believe it's been over a month since I posted! Where has the summer gone?

Like everywhere else, it’s been a very strange gardening year. It got warm so very early that we actually started planting in April! It paid off, and some things took off, grew well and are done and gone now. Then it got way too hot and dry. Fortunately, we have a little irrigation system, so were able to keep it hydrated and most stuff did very well. We lost our collards (collards!) to the heat when they got verticillium wilt and just keeled over. The whole place is getting jungly now though, with the vines on the gate growing almost all the way to the top, the volunteer amaranth with its red crowns, sunflowers and the tropical castor beans providing the lush backdrop.

It’s been a good year to learn about the tolerances of our plants. When it’s usually hot and dry, it got wet and cool here and powdery mildew took some of the cucumbers, watermelon and summer squash. Others are doing well, pattypans and delicata, in particular.

Particularly surprising are the volunteer things. We don’t till here, preferring to grow most things in raised beds, and others we hand dig to loosen the soil and mulch everywhere. We didn’t plant any potatoes this year, but the ones we missed from last year came up everywhere and we’ve harvested about 30 pounds of delicious red and white new potatoes. Most of the carefully grown from seed watermelons gave up the ghost, but this one volunteer is going gangbusters and has a beautiful big one we will harvest for the family gathering tomorrow.

I built a trellis for the pole beans out of hazelnut branches that turned out to be too flimsy and the Kentucky wonder vines are just running amok. A storm knocked the two trellises together, so the whole mass now looks like some kind of two humped bean monster, with thousands of green beans hidden in the snarl somewhere. They’ll be ready to harvest, I'll can most for winter suppers and dill pickle a few in about 3 days.

The most fun to watch has been the water hill. We wanted to place some water for the bees to get at handily, so built up a low hump of soil, set an old concrete birdbath bowl on top of it and planted it around with moss roses. We added two bricks so they could safely get to the water. We empty the mosquito larvae every 3 days, and refill. It’s become a humming center of activity as our honeybees and all kinds of wild bees and birds stop by for a drink and wallow in the pollen of the flowers.

The Scarlet Runner Beans on the big tripod by the shed are growing onto the top of the shed, and the hummingbirds hover around that like bees. They land nearby and chitter at me when I come to harvest the beans. We always include a few new experimental things. The Ground Cherries will be a permanent addition. They're tough to get started, but I think will volunteer and return each year. Those little husks open up to reveal one delicious round berry each, that tastes like pineapple. Yum, and the grandkids love opening them up like little presents.

With all that’s growing here, I love the SunGold Tomatoes the best. They’re stretching over the fence and I stop there first every morning, harvesting a few handfuls of the delicious orange bites, eating a few before putting the rest in my basket. I have several plastic bags of them in the freezer already, along with the grape tomatoes, and basil pesto, ready for that fresh taste of summer when the snow flies.In every corner of the garden there are peppers growing, some sweet but a lot of hot ones. Jim and his friend made their own hot sauce a few years ago by filling a wooden keg with ground peppers, fermenting them for several months, then pressing and bottling the deliciousness. They plan to do that again this year, and the tiny hot ones look unbelievably productive. The okra is coming on well. We're using it in soups and breading and frying some. I hope to hot pickle some when I get enough at one time to make a batch.My best thing this year has been the garlic. Finally, I was able to get a good crop of garlic out of our garden. I bought some at a local farmer’s market that was grown just a few miles from here, and had been growing on that farm for many years. That means it’s totally acclimated to this microclimate and should grow well for us. I planted it last September, and this month pulled those big generous cloves of wonderful flavor. We eat a lot of garlic in this house, and prize the good stuff, so I pulled it and the onions, tied them into strings and hung them above the window on the back porch, where the air will keep them dry and ready. Yesterday I also cut some of the herbs and hung them to dry in the fresh air too. What a marvelous lot of flavor in that one little space.

I’ve already started planting fall crops, onions, radish and turnips, and plan to add more in the next few weeks, hoping to extend our growing season longer. I planted the onions with newspaper mulch in hopes of keeping the weeds down, and so far, it looks like it's working. It’s just so great to have fresh things available right out there in our own garden. We’re adding more raised beds now and will plant more garlic, of course, kale, turnips, beets, lettuces, spinach and cabbage, in hopes of having some very late crops.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Whooooo has more fun than us?

We love owls. We’re surrounded by tall dark evergreens, and have all these woods on our own property, and most nights, and some days, the woods echo with the questioning calls of barred owls, with their “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” calls.

We named our place Owls Haven and Jim carved us an owl totem pole to sit out front. This year, since we put in the little water fountain and pool, it seems like things have increased, and we get lots more song birds at the feeders, more hummers sipping from their nectar feeders, frogs in or near the water, and more owls. Even though we love to listen to them, we usually don’t see owls, just a rare glimpse now and then.

These last two nights, from almost dark to full dark, there are two who have decided that our back yard is their private hunting preserve. We’ll see them winging in, coasting silently in like big feathered airplanes, to sit on a branch of a tree. They’re making an unusual call I hadn’t heard until recently, kind of a slow rising hiss, that peaks, then repeats in a while. They’ll sit in the pine for a while, looking intently around, then glide down to the ground, pounce on something, then move to the maple, only to repeat the process. Tonight, I even saw the two of them squabble over sitting on the same branch together. During that hour until it’s too dark to see them, we’re inside the back porch with the lights off, eagerly watching for the next move. I tried to get a good picture, but only got one decent one, and that’s pretty dark.

There must be a huge number of little critters wandering around out there in the dry brown grass, because they make many dives each night, dip their heads down and seem to eat something. What a wonderful show, and we feel very lucky to be able to watch these magnificent animals do what they do best.

I wonder if this will make a difference in the annual invasion of field mice that come in each fall? Maybe?

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Toad and I

This is a guest post from Jim.

A couple weeks ago, I hauled home a quantity of paving blocks with which to build a walkway in our garden and stacked them nearby. Today, I finally got around to it, hot and dirty though it was.
At the start, I noticed a fat toad peering out from under one of the bottom-most blocks in a particular stack. It must have been his semi-permanent shelter because he had hollowed out just enough space for him to squat in the shade beneath.
Not wanting to harm him while moving blocks around, I pulled him out and sat him aside. He immediately toadied back inside his nook.
So, I left him be while digging the bed, laying plastic for a weed barrier and doing all the things necessary for the job at hand.
The toad kept his place throughout and seemed to be watching my progress, offering no comment.
At the end, I had 4 blocks left over, so at Karren's suggestion, I made a right turn with 2 of them. 
Problem was, the toad was still under one of the pink blocks, which I needed to maintain the pattern.
I carefully moved that block and just as carefully substituted the one leftover gray block.
The toad is as before and seemingly content.
Glad it worked out that way.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Harvest Monday

I haven't gotten out into the garden much in the past few days, so wandered out there this morning and found bounty out there needing to be harvested.  
Each garlic plant had thrown up a scape that needed to be removed.  That's the flowering part of the garlic plant.   If you leave it grow, it'll make little bulblets that you can plant, but they take much longer to become the wonderful garlic plants we love than if you plant a clove, so it's best to clip them off.  I've always heard about how delicious fresh garlic scapes were, and so I carefully snipped that alien looking growth out of each of the many garlic plants that are growing so well this year and brought them inside.   Now I just have to figure out how I want to consume them.   I can pickle em, blend them into pesto, add them to greens for a mild garlic flavor, or chop and make a pasta topping.   Yummmm, maybe some each way.
 There were a lot of peapods to harvest too, about a cup and a half of strawberries, and a lot of basil.    Turnips, beets, kale and lots of various kinds of lettuce are all ready now too, but will probably wait until tomorrow for harvesting. 

I love this time of year.  Talk about eating locally!  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Whew! What a Week!

Happy Mother's Day to you all, and even to the Fathers who provide love and support so that Mothers can mother.   It is a cooperative venture, and nice to see when it's jointly done.
This has been a good homey week here at the old farm.   Jim's bees are settling in well, and buzzing all over doing their thing on the many flowers cropping up all over, the blueberries, strawberries, rasp-and blackberries, even the wiegelia bush out front and the many little blooms of creeping charlie in the grass.   It's a great sign of life to hear their happy buzzing.
We picked up our chicks this week, just 3 aracanas and 3 rhode island red pullets for enough eggs for our own use and to share.   It's great to listen to their flurries and peeping in the corner of the living room as they grow into their feathers so we can take them outside into their permanent home.
We watched both grandchildren this weekend, and the chicks provided as much entertainment as the tv.   The 2 1/2 year old, spent lots of time with his face pressed to the mesh of the cage pointing and telling us, BABYCHICKIES!    His 7 1/2 year old sister wanted to hold and snuggle them, so she got to, one at a time, each time the much more energetic little brother went down for a nap or outside to play.    She was grossed out because they walked in their own poop, and had a hard time understanding that was just the way it goes for baby chicks.

She's getting to be such a good reader, that she spent lots of time reading to us this weekend, and everyone's favorite was Shel Silverstein's "Where The Sidewalk Ends" with the funny word twists and great drawings.    She even needed to demonstrate what a superior reader she is, finally, by hanging upside down on the trapese while reading out loud to us.    Fun stuff!

The garden is coming along very well.   We have enough lettuce to feed an army now, with the looseleaf kinds I planted outside by seed, and the heading ones that Jim started in the greenhouse.   We also have cabbages, peas, radishes, broccoli, carrots, turnip and corn up and growing.   Plants put in are doing well for tomatoes, peppers, 4 kinds of squash, cucumbers and melons.  There are still a few more tiny plants coming along to transplant, and the irrigation system and mulch needs to be put down, but it's all growing very well.   The herbs and flowers are tucked in between and around everything, so it's got beauty as well as bounty, and delicious flavorings as well.  It won't be long until we're scrambling to keep up with harvesting all the good stuff, and preserving it for future use.   This sure does feel like a productive time of year.   Just thinking about it all makes me want a long, slow nap.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Bee’ing a Little More Self Sufficient

We enjoy our lives here in the country, and the special place we’ve created on our little three acres of sand.    As far as we can, we like to be self-sufficient, providing as much as possible for our own needs.  The garden has a lot to do with that, and each time we open a quart of our delicious tomato juice, or use some of our frozen blueberries in a pie, we smile and feel grateful for what we’ve been able to grow on this old place in Northern Indiana.

We’ve had bees here three different times in the past, and they always got too fragile and died off, or absconded, as they did last year.   The old place just isn’t the same without bees to pollinate the garden, so Jim did a lot of research, and built a whole new type of hive, from plans he found on the net.  It’s called a top bar hive, and has a whole different way of functioning from most standard hives.  This one is made with bars across the top of a space that the bees use to create their own hive base and hang brood and comb from, making it more like the bees make for themselves in nature.  This one is really intended not to harvest honey and comb from, but to establish a more natural base for the bees to build their home base and forage out to pollinate a big area. Since pollination is our main goal, this kind of hive made more sense to us.

So we ordered bees and Jim went to pick them up two days ago, installing them into the hive and hoping they make it a home they’ll love for years.    It’s a fascinating process, picking up bees you’ve ordered.

They come in a wooden screened box, 10,000 active, buzzing bees, clustered in the center of the box, around the queen, who is stoppered in with a sugar plug.   You take them home, open the box, pull out the can of sugar that the bees have been feeding on, and hang the queen carefully in the center of the hive.

Her Highness is in a little wooden cage, fenced in with solid sugar and a cork.   Once you put her in the middle of the hive, you unceremoniously dump the 3 pounds or so of live bees in with her and they set to work, eating the sugar to free her to get to work, raising future generations of bees.   The bees are quite placid at this point, all concerned about taking care of the queen, the future of the hive, and they’ll seldom sting, but set to work building comb for her to lay her eggs in, as soon as they set her loose. 

These pictures show the scene as Jim went out this morning to check how everything was going.   The little white strip holds the queen cage, and you can see the bees, clustered around as he pulled the cage out to make sure she’d been freed.   You can see the cluster of bees inside the hive, and the guards on the bars above. 
The hive is right at the side of the garden, and hopefully the whole area will benefit from these hard workers.   The pictures show what’s up and going at this time.

So far we have Buttercrunch Lettuce, starting to curl into heads, interplanted with onions that we’re already starting to harvest for green onions.    We also have cabbages, doing very well, and loose leaf green and red lettuce, spinach, collards, kale, peas reaching for the fences, and strawberries, just bursting with blooms.   It’s going to be a very good garden year, and it should do much better with our little beneficial guardians pollinating it.

And last but also very important, Jim found morels this week, right in our own yard!   Just 5, but they were so very delicious!    Oh, boy, nothing else quite like those wonderful morels.   

Just two weeks until we pick up our chicks, then we’ll bee really complete—Hooray!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's Always Something!

It figures. Just when we let our guard down and relax, we got invaded tonight!

We'd had a full work day here on the old homestead. Jim pulled out all the tomato plants from the greenhouse and carefully planted them in the garden. Yeah, we know it's early, but they were growing too tall for their little pots and needed to be outside to stretch. So he planted them and we have buckets nearby to protect them from the mean cruel world that might freeze their little rootlets yet.

I planted lots of beans and weeded most of the beds, and wore myself to a frazzle. After a hot bath to soak the knots out of the old muscles and restore myself to a mostly erect posture, we settled into a delicious potroast supper cooked by our resident chef, Jim. It was so delicious, that we then retired to our comfy chairs, wine glasses in hand, for a long slow discussion of what we still need to plant. The wine was so good tonight, and went so well with the cheese and black walnut banana bread, that we just had to open a second bottle. After all, we were already home, and not driving anywhere so.....

We had just agreed on replanting moon and stars watermelon and cucumber seeds by planting in the greenhouse, and okra by direct seeding in the garden, (important decisions, you know) when Jim saw the invader! There, just outside the window, was an adolescent raccoon, black robber's mask in place, shimmying down the river birch tree right outside the window!

Jim jumped up and ran outside to chase off that pesky raccoon, while I ran for the camera, and came out just in time to see him standing under the pine by the end of the clothesline, looking up into the tree and yelling at the raccoon. I should say, at this point, that we have had so much damage caused around here by raccoons, that we are justifiably reluctant to have them hanging around, but the sight of him, mostly tipsy on good wine, yelling at a raccoon, was just so funny, I had to get a picture of it. Here it is, blurry, but pretty good, nevertheless. I'm not really sure if Jim was blurry, or it was the dark and the action, but it's not bad for the conditions.
The raccoon was huddled in a tangle of branches, way up in the tree, and it was a test of the telephoto lens on the camera to get anything.
But isn't it cute? Pesky, but cute. Spooky eyes! Life sure is exciting out here in the boonies, and pretty funny some days too.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Playing in the Dirt. Oh Boy!

Finally! We have a nice warm day today and it's time to go out to the garden and play in the dirt. The snow's all melted off, and the ground is soft enough to be worked in the raised beds. I lifted the black plastic off of one of the beds, and checked it with the soil thermometer. To my surprise, it registered 65 degrees. It's good black dirt, lots of compost piled in there last year and it should have lots of soil nutrition for this year's crops too.
I peeled back the black plastic to find wonderfully warm, moist soil, just waiting for early season things. I planted Sugar Snap peas along the fence, so they could climb, then added a close-by row of half Purple Plum radishes, and half a row of Claytonia, Miner's lettuce. On the other side of that bed I added Spinach and onion sets. They should all do well, even through the cold spells to come.
It was 63 degrees and blowing out there, so I just couldn't quit and go back inside so I washed the sheets from the bed and hung them out on the line along with the blankets and pillows, to blow the musty winter smell out of all of them. By the clothesline, I saw the snowdrops, coming up through last year's leaves.
Then I turned the dirt up in four more raised beds and planted turnips, beets, more peas and lettuces and onions. It felt great to get out there and work in that beautiful black soil. In the greenhouse we've got a couple more lettuces growing for salads before the garden ones come along, and Jim has seedlings coming up for transplanting. This time of year, we've just got to get out there and get something growing, and we treasure each little bit of greenery we find.Happy Leap Day everyone, it's good to see winter loosening it's cold grip.

Friday, January 13, 2012

What a change!

As usual, we spent our holiday week between Christmas and New Year, on the beach in South Carolina, visiting my daughter and her husband. The weather isn’t summery then, but the crowds are less, and the rates low enough to make it affordable. We’ve been going to Myrtle Beach for about 20 years, and this year made the change to the little town of Folly Beach.

What a great place! It’s small, non-commercial and friendly, and kept that way by the residents who carefully restrict development and keep the character of the island. The business strip is just a few blocks long, and only one small, open 24 hours grocery store as the only off strip business. There are no chains and all businesses must be owned by locals. No fast food, no banks, but great seafood and you can buy a hot dog from Bert’s Market 24 hours a day for 82 cents! This is me, watching the sunrise from our own deck.

We rented a little house right on the beach, very close to the downtown. Jim was in heaven because he could walk to the Crab Shack for a half dozen raw oysters on the half shell and a beer almost every night. The people watching was just the best, and everyone asked where you were from, and are you having a good time, and they really cared!

Captain Anton shucking out an oyster for Jim.

We also took a pluffmud tour, (that’s the swampy part of the tidal backwaters) and ate an oyster right out of the shell, walked on boggy ground and picked up shells and a starfish, toured Fort Sumter, and the Hunley, as well as a local winery and distillery, and hoisted a pint at Tommy Condon’s, the best Irish Pub in Charleston. What a great week. We painted the boat with our own message and took about a million pictures of sunsets, sunrises and lots of palm trees, dolphins and lighthouses.

We spent New Year’s Eve walking from bar to bar in the little town area, then walked home when things got crowded, got the sleeping bags out and sat outside wrapped up warm, drinking champagne and watching the fireworks down the beach. It wasn’t really cold, about 50 degrees, but what a marvelous way to break in the new year.

The next morning we went in our pj’s to the local breakfast place, The Lost Dog CafĂ©, for free coffee to go with our delicious breakfast, then later in the day, when it warmed up to about 73 degrees, Jim took part in the Polar Bear Plunge! About 100 crazy people, many of them in costume, gathered on the beach, ran screaming into the water, splashed about a bit, then waded out, silly and happy. We will definitely be back to Folly Beach. It’s a great place.

Now that we’re home, the cold weather set in, and this morning we woke up to snow-lots of snow, from 8 to 10 inches of dry, powdery snow, heavy on the bottom and icy. Jim was prepared though, and went into action.

He bought a snow blade for our lawn tractor this summer, and mounted it, put the chains on, and parked it in the garage with the blade pointing out. This morning, he’s been out plowing for about an hour and a half, and is almost done clearing a wide swatch of driveway. Such a change from trying to shovel the whole thing out by hand, and safer too.

I’ve been doing the usual housework, shoveling a bit on the patio, and taking pictures. The new blade seems to be working well, and it’s amazing how much he’s getting done in a short time.

What a change, from that warm vacation on the beach. Soon as I get my chores done, I’m starting on this summer’s garden plan. I have a stack of garden catalogs I’ve been saving for just…this...moment.