Als ich wisse das Morgen der Erde enden wuerde, immernoch wurd ich mein Apfelbaum pflanzen.

Even if I knew the world would perish tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree. - Martin Luther

"Factory work's easier on the back, and I don't mind it, understand, but a man becomes what he does. Got to watch that. That's why I keep at farmin' although the crops haven't ever throve. It's the doin' that's important." Madison Wheeler in Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Slow Going: Garden Almanac July 2013

After such a promising, and bountiful spring - the early summer garden isn't very impressive.  Everything seems so, very, very slow.  It was really wet and cooler for a long time; now it's just humid.  Of course, it could be that the garden is performing about the same as normal.  We're around a lot more this summer, so it's easier to be impatient.

The strawberries are done, but they're sending out lots of runners so I should be able to fill in many bare spots come fall.  

The early corn is short, but putting out tassels - I anticipate small ears.  Not surprising as that is the poorest soil in the garden.  

The peas are done and those beds are ready for my fall planting.  This week I'll put in broccoli and cabbage seed in one bed.  Then, in a few weeks I'll do a winter planting of kale and winter lettuce.  As we get closer to fall I'll cover them with double row cover.  

The beans are doing well, but are covered in bean beetles. I've managed to freeze about a gallon and we've eaten fresh beans multiple times.   I'm attempting to have a no spray garden this year.  I always use organic methods - but this year I'm trying to see what happens if I don't use any pesticides.   I'm hoping that the beneficial insects will be more bountiful and in the long run I'll have less bug damage.  So, for the moment I'm just squishing the bad bugs and removing eggs.  I may crack and spray right before we go on vacation.  Have any of you done a pesticide free garden?  How did it go?

Bean beetle in the pupae stage

Bean beetles in the larval stage.

Scarlet Runner Bean Tipi - loaded!
 The tomatoes are loaded with green tomatoes.  I did pull two plants that looked like they had late blight, and I sprayed with liquid copper.  Late blight is terrible.  A few summers ago it killed all of my tomatoes.  This summer has been so wet - perfect breeding conditions for late blight.  Hopefully, a weekly spraying of copper will keep it at bay.  Just one summer I would like more tomatoes than I know what to do with.  Maybe this one will be it.  I'm so eager for that first real tomato.  But, so far, only green.

The garlic has been harvested and the lettuce is finished.  I planted fall beets, carrots, turnips and parsnips last week in their place.  Those seedlings are up and looking great.

The onions, look pathetic - they're all very small.  Blah... guess I'm buying onions again this year.

The Swiss Chard is performing better than anything else in the garden.  We've been doing a lot of chard based dishes.

Only a few of the sunflowers germinated this year (old seed).  But the ones that did come up look great.  I don't think there's anything that's much more optimistic or joy filled than a sunflower against a blue sky.
 The sweet potato vines are growing like crazy.  I hope that means that there are lots of sweet potatoes under there.

The eggplants and peppers look great.  I'm just waiting for the fruit to get bigger.

The cukes and winter squash have taken off.  We should be harvesting cucumbers in a few days, and it looks like the winter squash will be a bumper crop.  That is if I can keep the squash bugs at bay.  Hands down squash bugs are my most pernicious pest.  I hate them. They are so hard to kill, and they reproduce so rapidly.  At the moment I'm winning.  I'm going out almost every day to remove eggs and squash the squash bugs.  The summer squash and zucchini are not doing well.  They both looked good at first, but all of the rain started causing the fruit to rot before it could grow large enough.  Now, something is killing my zucchini.  It's not squash bugs or squash borers, and it doesn't look like any disease I've had before.  At this point, I'm hoping that one of my local garden friends will have too much zucchini and they'll share because I think those plants are gonners.  I haven't totally given up hope and ripped them out yet, but I think their demise is imminent.

We've been harvesting a little bit of broccoli, and a very little bit of cauliflower. I think this is the last year I try to grow cauliflower - it just doesn't do well for me.  I'll load up at the farmer's market in the fall instead. The cabbage is almost ready to pick, and the bok choy is growing fantastically.  Looks like there's some sauerkraut and kim chee in our future.  Soccer Boy will be thrilled.

The potatoes will be ready to pull in the next week or two.  I've already dug into the ends of the hills a few times so that we could have new potatoes.  They are so, so very delicious.  Last year's potato harvest was pathetic.  I'm hoping for a few bushels from this year's planting.  We returned to the hill method, so hopefully the crop will be good.

Most of the eating corn did not germinate, and it was too late (and too wet) to replant.  However, the dent corn (Bloody Butcher) came up fantastically. We're going to try to eat some of the dent corn green, and see how it tastes.  If it's a bit too corny and tough then I'll just have lots of homegrown cornmeal this year - nothing wrong with that.  Farmer Dan grows much better corn than me anyhow.  I'll just stock up on my end of summer trip to the farm.

Optimising my space:  Three Sisters Hills growing in the bare spots in the strawberry patch.  I allow milk weed to grow for the bees and the butterflies (especially the monarchs).

Egyptian Walking Onions - I'm hoping eventually these will solve my onion issues.
We're still getting a few red raspberries, and some of the bushes look like they'll set a fall crop.  The blackberry bushes are humming.  We're picking those every other day, and lots of berries are making it into our mouths and into the freezer.

I haven't done much canning or freezing yet.  I've put up a few quarts of sugar snap peas and a few freezer meals (mostly quiche).  Overall, the garden looks good - I'm just impatient to be have enough to harvest for most of our meals.  Hopefully it will pick up soon.  I'm eager to fill that freezer and replenish the pantry.  How's your garden growing?

Monday, July 15, 2013

How in the World Did It Get to Be the Middle of July?

I can hardly believe that it's already the middle of July.  The summer has just flown by for us.  I feel like it's just gotten started, when summer is over half-way finished.  I think it has something to do with the fact that it just hasn't been hot around here - I am NOT complaining!   The coolness, and even the rain, has been just fine by me.  Any day around here that we don't hit the mid 90s or higher is a blessing.  Here are the highlights of our summer so far (I'm excluding most garden and processing updates - that will have to be in another post).


For the first time in memory, we had loads and loads and loads of berries.  We ate to our heart's content, made dessert, put them in cereal, on  and in pancakes, over brunch souffle, made jelly, made strawberry daiquiris and still froze a ton for the winter.  I'm still in awe.  Even if the rest of the year's harvest winds up being pitiful I'll be grateful for strawberries.
Gram's Strawberry Rhubarb, Rhubarb Cinnamon, Strawberry

Six Gallons in one picking

 Family and Fishing

Right before school let out my cousin (Auntie Flip Flop) came for a weekend stay.  Really, she was the highlight of June.  We just can't get enough of her sunny presence and easy going personality.  We went to Soccer Boy's next-to-last soccer game, then took BBQ chicken and Reading Girl's Potato Salad (the winner of our Family Potato Salad Cook off) to our local state park (Trout Pond Recreation Area) for a picnic and a swim.  Welcome summer!

 Then, when my cousin headed home, my parents arrived.  They stayed for over a week.  It was a wonderful, relaxing and fun filled visit.  We talked and lingered over good coffee in the morning, and good beer around the campfire at night.  We also went to The Frontier Culture Museum.  The Woodsman and I were still working, so on one of our work days Pap Pap and GeeGee took the kids to Luray Caverns.  This is one of their special trips.  The kids had been begging to go again for a long time.   In between all of that Pap Pap and Soccer Boy got in some serious fishing.  We paddled the North Fork of the Shenandoah (A guardian angel must have been with us on that trip - the river was really running high. I thought for sure we would all go for an unintended swim in some very cold water.)  They also spent quite a bit of time fishing from on Lake Laura (flatter, safer, calmer, not so hard for the angel). 
The day my parents left, another cousin and her family arrived and spent an overnight with us on the way to the beach.  The girls had a great time running around playing with the chickens and the rabbits. 
Finally, a few days after my parents left our house, we headed their way and spent a day fishing the Raystown Branch of the Juniata in Western Pennsylvania.  We stayed at the farm for a visit and family reunion with my Godparents, their children and grand kids. 
Over July 4th we headed to PA again and visited with another set of cousins (my "Uncle" J and "Aunt" M).  We spent the day with them at Hershey Park.  We rode almost all of the coasters, and no one got sick.  I must say though, that I enjoy amusement parks so much more now that they kids can ride almost everything without me.  There were a few times when I sat out for a needed brain break.   Hershey has definitely been the highlight of the summer to date.  I think we all could go there once a week.

Soccer Boy decided it was time for his summer hair cut.  Despite my (and his sister's) begging and crying to please, please, keep the curls, he shaved it all off.

Breading the fish - flour, salt and pepper

A frying lesson from Pap Pap

Mittens make good hand protectors when working with hot bubbling oil

Happy 69th Daddy!  Reading Girl made that cake all by herself.  I didn't help a bit.

Monkey Berry (blueberry banana) pancakes with a favorite cousin

Swim Team

We're not usually around enough to do swim team, but since we're not doing much traveling this year the kids decided they wanted to compete.  They had a great time.  They really learned to be better swimmers.  We enjoyed watching them compete and improve their individual times.  We also absolutely fell in love with our coaches.  You couldn't have asked for two more caring, understanding teachers.  The one negative with swim team - time.  Practice ran four days a week for an hour (which really meant a 2 hour time commitment till you factored in drive time).  Then there were the meets (six of them - all four hours or longer).  I got really creative at packing dinners that could be made and heated at home, then kept fairly warm until they were wanted in between races.  
After the first meet.... ribbon showing

Next to the last meet - ready to swim

Post season pool party with the best coaches in the world.  Go Ducks!

 A New Cat

So, we had a cat adopt us.  I know - it looks just like the other cat.  But trust me, it's not.  This is Toliver (so named because he was an orphan - like Oliver Twist, but with the T added because the kids thought he was so tiny).  He's a real lovey.  Twines around your ankles constantly, but he doesn't purr much and he's still very scared of fast movements or loud noises.  I think eventually he'll relax. 

 Home Improvement and Household Chores

We have...
 - redone the kitchen:  ripped up the old linoleum (1970s special with olive green and bright orange), scraped and sanded the floor until we thought our arms would come off, peeled off the old wallpaper (more of the 70s show), sanded the walls, spackled the holes, primed, painted, put in new tile and then cleaned, cleaned and cleaned until all of the sanding dust was gone.  Finally, we moved all of the kitchen furniture back from its temporary home (in the living room and hallway) to its rightful place in the kitchen, rehung all of the pictures and sorted out all of the mess left behind from two and a half weeks of a non-functioning kitchen and home office space.
 - We replaced rotten boards on the deck, then cleaned and re-stained the whole deck.
 - We finished several more raised beds in the garden.
 - We completed some minor repair on the chicken house.
 - We tore up the floor in the master bath and prepared it for a tile job to be completed later in the summer.
- We bought school supplies and got ready for the madness that is September.
 - I've deep cleaned, and de-cluttered most of the house.  I've managed to take a lot to the dump and the thrift shop, and there's more to go out the door.
 - The Woodman has split almost all of the wood on the property - he says he thinks he's set for four years.  I told him that's great - now we can travel the next four summers!   He didn't answer me - that's a yes, right?

She did so much better with this stencil project than I would have thought - I actually let her take over after a few practices.  I was very willing to get down off the ladder.

Summer School and Family Time

The kids are both working through Summer Bridge Books. These are, for the most part, review books they can do themselves. Both the kids and I like them.  They're not so easy that they get bored, but yet not so difficult so that they're frustrating.  The activities are varied and interesting and broken down into an easy to follow format.   Both kids are doing Word Study work with me (Reading Girl is doing Greek and Latin and Soccer Boy is doing Complex Consonant Clusters), and we're trying to do at least two writing workshops and science experiments together every week.  They're also both doing math work with Daddy.  Then, for some creative learning, they're doing Perplexors (mind puzzles).  Piano practice also happens most days - but certainly not with the kind of regularity we have during the school year.
We're doing Genre Studies as a family this year.  Everyone picks their own book from the same Genre.  So far we've done Fantasy, Biography and Historical Fiction.  We have Mystery, Realistic Fiction and Informational left.  We've all really enjoyed this.  It's pushed us all out of our comfort zone and has given us a reason to do some book talking together.
Of course, our favorite things in summer are the simple ones.  Soccer Boy and I have a regular cuddle date in the early morning.  Reading Girl and I have long chats before bedtime.   There's almost always time for a game or another chapter of the read aloud.  This is what I love the most about summer - time.  Time to spend without rushing from one task to the next.  How about you?  Done anything wonderful this summer?