Sunday, September 4, 2016

Harvest 2016

This was our first year growing yellow onions. We've always had bunching onions, but this was new for us. We planted about a quart of tiny sets that cost about a dollar. We ended up with over 40 pounds. Great return on investment, right? We hope this will take us through most of the year. Next year it will be more. We have a bunch more still growing that we started from seed last winter. They are similar in size to these. I'm happy I've saved all my mesh produce bags which are very handy for onions.

We've got over 220 pounds of chicken in the freezer now and are out of room, so the rest is getting canned. They were huge again this year, with the males averaging around 12 pounds. The pullets are about 8 pounds each. I'm thinking it will be wonderful to have canned chicken on hand this winter when I don't feel like cooking much.

So I'm in the house canning the chicken while the rest of the family is harvesting tomatoes this evening. We're having another terrific harvest this year and as usual planted way too much of some things. I always seem to be optimistic in the spring, overwhelmed in the fall. We have hundreds of pounds of tomatoes out there. Friends can sure give me a call and come get some if they want! If you take some, I won't have so many to can. (I like to can several years worth at a time of any one thing. This harvest should take us through the next few years for tomatoes!)
This is the first variety we're picking. They are Black Beauty. These were prolific! They grew into fantastic strong seedlings, then vines and matured earlier than all the other varieties. We began with these and we have 3 more varieties left to gather in.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Mighty Broadfork

The broadfork. I had heard about them but had never seen one in real life. They are used for loosening the soil waaay down deep which is exactly what's needed for carrots and some other root vegetables. It's also a low-tech grid-down muscle-ready substitute for a tiller.

Last year we bought ourselves one. It's a monster and it's not even the biggest they have. I was a bit concerned about using it myself because it was so heavy I wondered if I would be able to handle it.
Turns out to be a piece of cake. Even though Tom is pictured here demonstrating it, I was the one who did a 14 x 6 foot section myself with hardly any effort. It couldn't have taken me more than 15 minutes. The toughest part was carrying it back and forth from the garden shed. It did a great job!
Balancing on the crossbar I moved the handles slightly forward and back pushing it into the ground, then pulled back to lift the soil. It was quick and rewarding. The chunks that were left raked out easily.
Tom plans to use it to loosen the soil for harvesting potatoes also. It worked great in preliminary testing. I love this thing and am grateful for it.

Harvesting Mint

Beautiful early summer weather, check. Lush growth, check. Absence of disease, check. Low insect burden, check. I kept tabs on my very small mint bed to find the factors for optimal harvest and I believe I did well this time. I have one small (18") circular bed of "Chocolate Mint" that I got as a small start from a friend last year. It's been prolific!
I asked Isaac to cut it all down for me to 4 inches and gather it in. This is the haul. I thought it was pretty impressive for such a small patch.
I began by clipping off the leaves using a scissor but decided just ripping those leaves off was much easier and faster. I used my trusty garage-sale dehydrator for about half of it.
The rest of them went on to these pizza pans (I picked up a bunch at auction a few years ago), then into the oven at 100 degrees. This temperature is reached by using a feature on my oven for raising bread dough. Very handy.
Here's the final product, after twirling in the blender for a few seconds. The scent is a really intense peppermint. I need to have about twice this much to get us through the winter with our homemade teas, so I'll either increase the patch size for next year or see if I can harvest a second time this summer.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Garden progress

Planting is mostly done and weeds are under control. We've been working hard on our garden but enjoying every minute. 

The pole beans are reaching for the sky and trellises are going in this weekend. These are Purple Podded Pole beans. I am trialing these because I thought it might be easier to pick beans that don't blend into the color of the leaves.

As usual, I have a pretty poor pea crop. I never seem to get them in early enough, sprouting was poor, and they succumb to powdery mildew every year. I saw a couple of plants going south this week so took raw milk mixed with water (33/66) and sprayed it on all of them. The enzymes are supposed to help the plants fight off the mildew. Last year I tried a baking soda mix with limited success. This year I also selected a variety (Kelvedon Wonder) that is supposed to be mildew resistant. We'll see how it goes. I sprayed the beans and squashes also since they would be vulnerable if the mildew continues to spread.

The peppers and tomatoes are growing well. The larger tomatoes to the rear in this photo are "Black Beauty". I have been astonished at how well they are growing compared to all the other tomato starts I did this year. They were expensive and only 15 seeds to the pack, but wow, have they been terrific so far. I am excited to see how well they produce.

Here are the potatoes you saw us planting a few weeks ago. They were in trenches and have now grown so much they have been  hilled into, well, hills. They look incredibly healthy and strong. These are Kennebec.
I'm growing enough yellow onions to hold us for the year, I hope. Two 45 foot rows. This is my first time growing onions for storage. Every year we try to add at least one more food source to our little farm. This gardening stuff is fun!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Ready for Summer

The garden is in, the pool is finally up and filling, the deck pots are growing their herbs, greens, tomatoes and peppers. We've been eating some fine salads. I grew radishes for the first time this spring and am loving those right out of the garden. I never liked them as a child, but the palate improves with age. 
There are a lot of advantages to older age, I'm discovering, and I don't mind growing older one bit. But I would like to be able to squat in order to better weed my garden. Note to youngsters. Practice squatting so you don't lose the ability. Even if you never seem to need it. Someday you might discover yourself in a lifestyle change that requires squatting.
The chicks arrived this morning. Thirty-five meat birds and twelve for the flock. This year we selected six Partridge Rock which fit well here due to their gentleness, foraging, and mothering abilities. Their brown color also helps protect them from aerial predators. We also selected three Araucana for their beautiful aqua and green eggs and, new to us this year, Whiting True Blue for their blue eggs. It's always fun to have a variety of colors in the egg cartons. 
For our freezer, we chose Murray McMurray's "Cornish Roasters" again this year, as we have had great results with them, and they are capable of moving around, foraging, and living their lives well until the very last when it is time to butcher. We are well satisfied with these beautiful birds which produce a huge breasty carcass for the freezer.

We've still been "harvesting" our 2015 garden from the root cellar. The potatoes are still holding out, and these beautiful "Cosmic Purple" carrots held up better than the "Danvers Half Longs", which began to go south in February/March. These are beginning to lose some of their sweetness and flavor, but are still fine for soups and such. I am trialing a few other varieties this year, aiming for storage ability. 
We hold our carrots and beets in bins and layer them (not touching each other) with damp sand. The potatoes, once thoroughly dried in the sun go into mesh bags and are stored as they are. Any that begin to go bad need to be pulled out so they do not affect their neighbors. And they stink.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Potatoes and Canning Beans

We planted potatoes yesterday. I'm grateful for a strong husband. This year we're using the Kennebec variety. Last year, even though we harvested a whopping 450 pounds, some of the larger potatoes had hollow hearts. My organic gardening book tells me that it indicates a shortage of phosphorous which can be alleviated for the long term with the application of granite meal. These seed potatoes indicated they were "hollow heart exempt" so we'll see if we can eliminate the issue. We may do the granite meal also.

We planted 15 pounds of seed potatoes into 6 forty-five foot trenches so we're hoping for another bumper crop like last year.

We replanted our Kelvedon Wonder peas as the first planting mostly failed. I did not soak the peas that time and we were hit with a very long cold rainy week. So we're trying again. We also planted 90 feet of onion sets on  Friday. They are a yellow onion, bulk purchased but I do not know the variety.

I canned up 14 quarts of dried beans this weekend. The varieties I canned are some we grew and dried in the last two years, and some were purchased through Azure Standard. I used my tattler re-usable lids with 100% success this time. There is a bit of a learning curve with these lids, but once you understand what's required it's as easy as the single-use lids.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Blossoms and Sheep

I love apple blossom time. The smell is pure delight. This one is a "Sweet Sixteen", a prolific bearer of sweet juicy apples. They are great for juicing or for applesauce. 

The blush white apples and

the pink crabapples. This beauty (Spring Glory) is gearing up for a huge crop this year. We use the juice from these as well. The red cherry-sized apples from this one are so beautiful it is hard to harvest them and lose the view.  

 The "President Lincoln" lilac rarely fails to perform. It is the most beautiful lavender blue and has a wonderful lilac fragrance. I bought it several years ago from a roadside stand. I wasn't sure if it would survive, it was so pathetic looking. But wow, it turned into a treasure!
Aunt Bea and Mavis were sheared today. Tom did the job for me as I was having trouble getting a shearer to come out. It was not a professional job by any means, but the sheep are much more comfortable and I am relieved. They are much blacker underneath than I thought they would be, and I'm happy about that.

They produced a LOT of wool. Most of it is really not suitable for spinning this time, but they will do much better on these warm days.

The rhubarb harvest is going great. This is only the second year for this new patch, a split into 12 from 3 very small plants. I've picked 3 times so far and already made a quart of concentrated juice, 2 desserts, and frozen 8 quarts raw.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Dandelions and Sugar Maples

It's early spring in central Minnesota and gardens are only beginning to be planted with the earliest crops like peas, radishes, lettuce, and cole plants. Cheerful dandelions have sprung into bloom and the little plum trees as well. This is such a satisfying time of year as we re-energize with the now stronger sun. We love the useful dandelions that provide early pollen for the bees, blossoms for wine, leaves for salads, and roots for teas and tinctures.  

We planted Sugar Maples along the east side of the driveway this week. There are 25 of them, planted 30 feet apart and 3 feet in from the existing pasture fence. I've always admired Sugar Maples and am excited to see a line of them finally planted the way I envisioned it 20 years ago when I was buying this land. This planting is also a gift to the future owner of this home who will have an easy row of trees to tap for syrup, as well as a glorious fall display.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Ellie's Warning

Tom was greeted with this note when he returned from work early this morning. Ellie had a dissection unit in her CC class yesterday and elected to bring the project home for further study. I suggested she warn her dad about what was in the refrigerator.

We don't suppose he would have eaten it once he opened the bag and smelled the formaldehyde, but one can never be too careful!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Planting Begins

Isaac waters the peas we planted a couple of days ago. There are two 50' rows of Kelvedon Wonder here. I am trying this variety because my peas (with the exception of field peas) have been succumbing early to powdery mildew. This variety is supposed to be resistant. I sure hope so.  The same day we planted Early Scarlet Globe radishes - a salad variety and Pusa Gulabi radish, a "winter" variety that is new to me. It is supposed to store well if planted late summer and is harvested and used like parsnips they say. I'm trying them out and will replant later this summer if we like them. The orange fencing is protecting fifty new strawberry plants (Seascape) from the sheep, who are temporarily sharing the garden area.

The rhubarb is growing like crazy. almost doubling every two days. It won't be long and we'll be enjoying rhubarb slushies, tea, sauce, crisp, and cake. It's the first fruit of every spring, and very welcome!

Isaac has completed his regular classes for this school year and will concentrate this summer on getting through more math lessons and finishing his memorization of the multiplication tables - we've been a bit behind. He's also tearing through our collection of "Hank the Cowdog" books now that he has more free time.

Ellie is finishing up her last two weeks of classes, and preparing for her "Blue Book" exams which will document what she has learned this year. Some of that will include a large freehand (from memory) drawing and labeling 700 major features of the world map, including countries. She will also be drawing, (also freehand from memory) 9 different human body systems with labels, including the eye, the circulatory system, etc. 116 points of information in all. The rest of the exam will cover latin, writing, and rhetoric, including logic. She's looking forward to a summer of only reading and math, like her brother.

We're all looking forward to eating from the garden though, as the real highlight of the summer!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Spring planting

The garden is getting prepped and ready for planting. 16,000 square feet here in the main garden. We neglected to plant our cover crop in most of the garden late last summer so we'll be fighting a lot of weeds this year. We have the garden divided in half with a walkway down the middle to facilitate rotation and to have a "field crop" on the opposing side every year. Things to grow there are flint corn, sweet corn, field peas, sorghum, grains, etc.
This summer though, it will be successive plantings of buckwheat to choke out weeds and improve the soil. That's a row of roses on the left that have to be moved to the front of the house. Lots of plans, but the laborers are few.  
Speaking of laborers, the chickens are assisting in scratching out weeds around the rhubarb. The raspberries behind them are slowly coming to life.
We planted five more apple trees, another grape, and an apricot tree this weekend. It was a perfectly beautiful spring weekend.

I also repotted all the pepper seedlings into larger pots. I'm not quite ready to trust the weather to plant them outside covered yet.
I'm running out of room by the window. Looking forward to a greenhouse next year. It's coming along!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Spring is Coming to Minnesota

It took me a few missteps, but I am finally able to consistently sprout all my own seedlings.

I have peppers, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and herbs so far. I am trialing several new-to-me varieties of tomato and pepper. This year I'll also be canning up a lot of tomatoes and peppers to last a few years. I like to concentrate on bulk production of a few items for massive canning marathons which makes it easier for me.
Our area has the average last frost at the end of May, so we have a while to go yet. I'll be getting radishes and peas in the main garden soon though. We're hoping for another great garden like last year's. Here are some images from that 2015 garden.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Fiber Arts

Feeding my need to dabble in artsy stuff, I have been exploring the world of fiber arts for the last several years. Here are some of my more recent creations, rag rugs. I am a new weaver and learning fast.
My first little rug attempt. It's a denim rug from old jeans. I learned a lot doing this one.

I like this rug much better. My warp spacing was much improved and I like the warp striping. I made this one from old sheets.

Made on my newly acquired Cranbrook countermarche loom. Much easier to make a rug on this loom. This one was for the family room. We had to rip up the carpet and have cement floors right now. This rug was made from old T-shirts (cotton knit)

And a matching pillow. I like this.

A boot rug for my daughter. There were a couple of mis-threadings in the warp, visible here.

I like this rug. Especially the color. Made from old sheets.

This rug is also from old sheets. Tom picks them up at garage sales for me. I did this one with doubled strips so it is thicker.