Thursday, June 18, 2015

Getting Closer!

To building the new shop, that is. Brad burned the pile the day before yesterday. Here it is mostly burned already. It was over 6 feet tall in the center and easily 15 feet across. Now it is nothing but a small pile of ashes. Yesterday we borrowed a truck and went to "the big city" 45 minutes north of here. Trying to farm without a truck is a pain in the you know what. Anyway, we got all the plywood, cinder-blocks, the roof cap, and roofing screws. Today we need to get the treated lumber and roofing tin at the local shop and hopefully tomorrow we can pull all of the untreated lumber we will need from his parent's. After a hurricane years ago they has a portable sawmill come in a cut up all the downed trees on their property and have been trying to use up the lumber since then. We have been a big "help" with that. I am always thinking up some kind of project and very few around here would have been done without their generosity. Bill, Brad's dad, decided we needed "an old fashioned barn raising" and is planning on coming over on Saturday with one of Brad's brothers to help us get it built. They are amazing people and we are thankful.

 Speaking of amazing people, my wonderful Mom bought me a Bing Cherry tree and had it shipped to me. I have always wanted a cherry tree! My mom planted two in our yard when I was growing up. They didn't produce until shortly before we moved so we only got to enjoy them for a couple of years. I hope that we will be around here to enjoy it for many years. Keegan helped me plant it. It is in an area that I had been dreaming of putting bee hives for a couple of years so have kept clear. But I thought, what better thing to locate next to a bee hive than a flowering fruit tree! When my brother was staying here for a bit he had a bonfire pit there, originally to burn a stump out, and the soil there is considerably better than most of the property. It seems to like its new home. I need to buy another to go with it because apparently cherries need to cross pollinate. While we were in town yesterday we stopped by a couple of garden centers to see if we could find any ailing fruit trees late in the season that they would be willing to give us for next to nothing. After talking to the store manager (at a big box store... yes they haggle you just have to ask for a manager) we came home with two apple trees for $6 each (normally over $20 each). I'm not sure how they will do this far south but I'm willing to give it a try! We are beginning to collect quite the little orchard! Our count right now is 3 pear trees, 2 peach, 2 fig, 2 pomegranate, 2 apple (1 yellow, 1 red), 1 cherry tree, and a bunch of blueberry bushes that are bigger than any of the trees (although not quite as tall as a couple of the pears).
 This is a terrible picture and it hardly shows, but some of the tomatoes have reached the top of the trellis. This was 2 days ago and they have grown noticeably since then. The garden gets full sun for most of the day but I always manage to take pictures in the late afternoon when the sun/shade makes it impossible to see anything. I mowed in there the other day so it looks much better. Just take my word for it. Much more mowing needs to be done, but alas I have injured myself... again. Actually it happened a couple weeks ago. Because we cleared a bunch of trees from the property when we first moved in, periodically, a hole will open up where a root had been but has since rotted out. They are usually found by stepping on what appears to be solid ground, which then gives away to leave you thigh deep in a hole. I found a hole while mowing a couple of weeks ago. The leg that went into the hole was fine, buy the ankle on the other leg crumpled under me when I went down. It wasn't that big of a deal at the time, but has been getting worse instead of better. I don't know what I have done to it. I took the "walk it off" approach, which apparently was the wrong one. Since mowing the other day on it I have been hobbling around with an ace bandage on it and have been having to keep ice on it. I feel like I'm still too young to be falling apart already!
 I have been resigned to to a lot of canning, instead of the outside work I really need to be doing. Lots of beans have been put up. More in the fridge to do. I have run out of pint jars and finances after buying shop building stuff won't allow to buy more right now. Beans will have to go in quart jars until I run out of those.
 These are just a few of the jars of sauce I canned from the you-pick tomatoes. I also made some kosher dill pickles. Per my mother in-law's instructions, instead of canning them at a rolling boil I heated the water to 180 F and then processed the pints for 5 minutes and quarts for 10. Instead of getting the mushy soft pickles I usually get these are so crunchy and delicious! I am going to dump the rest of the soggy pickles I made last year out and refill those jars with some of these ones.

It hasn't rained in a couple of days (NOT complaining) so I am off to water my garden, which I hope I can manage without hurting myself... Hope everyone has a beautiful day!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Bean Picking Tips

As much time as I have been spending picking beans, I have a lot of time to think. Many times it is of peaceful things. Or planning what needs to be done. Liam joins me in his sling sometimes when the evil biting things aren't too prevalent. I have learned a thing or two about picking beans while I have been out there. 

1. Unless you would appear to be attempting acrobatics to anyone who should happen upon you while picking beans, you are doing it wrong. Put your basket down and dig in with both hands. Move every leaf and vine, tossing beans in the basket as you go. When you have looked everywhere, bend all the way over, turn your head upside down, and do it again. Can you pick beans while doing a handstand? Try it. Perhaps yoga would be useful. You can look at the same exact place 3 times from 3 different angles and you WILL still miss beans that are right in front of your face. They are elusive little buggers. 

2. If you see a bean, pick it. Immediately. Don't think that you will get that one when you make it to that section. Pick it now or you may not see it again until a week later when it is monstrous and inedible. See the last of the above statement for why. 

3. Pick beans at least every 2 days. Perhaps more. It stinks to spend all of that time and picking only to end up with huge, unusable beans. 

4. Don't try to use those huge beans. I know it is heart breaking and maddening to take all of that time and effort to grow them, tend to them, pick them, and then not be able to use them, but they aren't worth it. I throw them out for the chickens and rabbits and even they won't touch them! That should tell you something. Definitely don't waste time canning them. You will end up with a hard stringy mess, no matter how hard you try to get every last string. Those that are on the edge about liking beans will turn away from them for good and those that love them will still lose their liking for them as much. We spent the winter eating beans like that. 

5. If you don't have enough beans for a canner load or aren't ready to eat them right away snap them, put in a pot of cold water and place in fridge. They will last like this for a couple days. If the beans were left for a day or two without being snapped and are a bit wilted this will also perk them back up. They are wilty because they lost water and once it is replaced they firm back up. Or blanch them and feeze them. 

6. Don't forget to use your beans! That was a LOT of time put into growing, tending, picking, and snapping! If (when) this happens you may go through the 7 stages of grief . It is normal and you will get through it. It will instill a whole new determination to never let it happen again. It will happen again...

7. There will be a new level of appreciation for a jar of green beans that would never be understandable to anyone who buys the limp beans in cans at the store. Like all food grown and/or preserved yourself, that little jar will be beautiful and nearly priceless. While most canned food is stuck in the back of cabinets, these seem to deserve a place of prominence. Perhaps on a shelf for all to see and admire. It is hard to even open them initially after a summer spent working to get them to that point, but once that first taste is had those jars go like the wind. Gifting them to someone is a big thing and should not be taken lightly. Nothing is more insulting, hurtful, and anger inducing than to gift these treasures to someone and then have them cast aside or wasted. Blood, sweat, and tears. Enough said.  

Rainy Days

It has been raining every day here for at least a week. The grass is growing up outside. The garden needs to be tended to. The pumpkins that are taking over the greenhouse need to be planted... somewhere. I really want to crawl up beside Liam and take a nap with him. The dreary skies leave me feeling drained. It probably helps that Liam hasn't went more than 2 hours without waking me up at night since in at least 5 months. He slept through the night as a newborn, but that has long since past. Maybe someday I will get to sleep again. Until then seeing his smiling face and getting baby snuggles will keep me going.

Lots of canning has been happening. All of the tomatoes from the you-pick have been turned to sauce. Last count was 15 quarts and 2 pints, plus several jars and a 2 quart bowl that either didn't seal or make it into the canner. The bell peppers were cut up and frozen. I believe we ended up with 6 gallon bags full. I have been sneaking outside long enough to pick green beans between storms and managed to make a canner load last night. 13 pints of green beans put up. Many more to go. The onions that were put on the back porch to dry were not brought in before the rain started. Major fail on my part. I covered them, but since they were damp I left them out to dry... except it hasn't stopped raining long enough for it to happen. The chickens are helping the situation go from bad to worse by taking bites out of each of the onions. They don't even like onions! They just have to taste them and do enough damage to let the water seep in. Many are getting soft and rotting. Tomorrow it is supposed to stop raining. Once they are dry I will survey the damage. Hopefully most can be saved. I may be doing a lot of dehydrating. I had hoped to be able to do that in our new shop because the dehydrators really heat up the house, which needs no help. And the whole house smells of onions complete with burning watering eyes. Alas, the shop has yet to be built. We need sun for that too. The giant pile of brush hasn't even been burned yet.

So much to do that it is overwhelming if I think about it. I think instead I will be lazy today and not stress about it. I will enjoy playing with my sweet baby, share some jokes with my son, maybe do some planning with my husband, and perhaps even partake in a much needed nap. Or maybe what I really need is a big cup of coffee... or two. Groceries should happen today. Be still my mind.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


Yesterday, Keegan and I spent the morning at the you-pick. Liam and daddy stayed home. Even though it is nice to eat local, hand picked veggies, they are not organic and little man didn't need to be in the middle of all of the pesticides. I washed all of the veggies thoroughly before bringing them inside (and then bathed immediately). I may be paranoid but pesticides scare me and I actually considered not going this year because of them. It isn't any worse than what we get at the store once they are washed though, and I'm always paranoid about the garden not producing as much as we will need so better to be safe than sorry.

We had fun! The onions are on the back porch in the sun drying. My table is completely full of tomatoes waiting to be turned into sauce. A clothes basket of bell peppers are sitting in my kitchen floor waiting to be diced and either dehydrated or frozen. First I need to cook a giant, left-over creating meal and something else to put in the fridge to alternate it with. I'm thinking meatloaf with lots of sides of veggies and Tuna Pasta Salad. Both will use up a ton of veggies and keep everyone full long enough to process all of this stuff! This is when the real work begins. I always get so happy when I am picking and bringing stuff home and then when I see it all piled up and waiting on me I start getting overwhelmed. Well I know how the next few days will be spent. Better get started! Hope everyone is having a beautiful day!

"God Grant Me The Serenity...

 To accept the things I can not change

Courage to change the things I can

and Wisdom to know the difference."

My favorite prayer.

 I finally took the time to give my Serenity Garden a little love a few days ago. Still needs more work, but some weeding and leaf mulch seems to have gone a long way. My plants look happy. I even saw a hummingbird eating from one of the Canna lillies.
Everyone needs a little serenity in their life.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

As the days get longer

 The tomatoes have been tied. It actually happened a few days ago, but I just managed to get pictures this afternoon. I love the way these plants are trellised. It takes a bit to tie each plant but after that it is so simple to keep up. Each plant has a piece of jute twine tied beneath the first set of leaves and then tied off to the top of the trellis. Every few days I just loop the twine around the new growth. As they sprout side shoots I will tie those off too. It keeps them fully supported and allows me to direct their growth where I want it. While it may seem like a lot of work, it really isn't. Especially when you consider that I have to inspect each plant carefully every few days anyway to keep on top of all of the eating things that seek to destroy my garden.
It is so hard to get a good picture in the dappled sunlight. When I tied them I also planted the last of the tomatoes out of the greenhouse that were too little yet to be planted last time. I finished out the rows and replaced a few plants that didn't make it. I only have 4 little egg yolk tomatoes left in case some of these don't make it. I tried to gift them to a couple of people and nobody was interested. That doesn't compute in my brain. They are beautiful heirloom tomatoes, grown from seed. Grown from the seed that I painstakingly saved from the most perfect tomatoes off of the most perfect plants I harvested out of my completely organic garden last year so they are a well adapted to our area. I'd rather keep them myself then give them to people that wouldn't appreciate them anyway.
These are some of the egg yolk tomatoes. The first tomatoes to produce. These aren't even in my tomato rows. I keep finding them sprouting all over the yard! They are hardy little buggers. I only planted maybe 9 of them this year because I don't use the little tomatoes as much. I have an entire row of amish paste. One third of a row of beefsteak tomatoes that my father in-law gave me, most of the rest of the row are Cherokee purple plants, and then there are 6 egg yolk tomatoes at the end of that row. A couple others were placed in spots to replace plants that didn't make it. Some were volunteers like these that I found sprouting.
 These huge tomato plants coming up in the middle of the weeds taking over the other half of my garden are examples of the volunteers. I stuck stakes in the ground to help them but other than that they are just surviving on their own. I have even found them in the front yard and under my shed. I assume that the birds spread the seeds last year. It is really impressive. At some point perhaps I will bring my piglets home to clear this part of the garden. Until then I might get tomatoes.
 This is what the area looks like where we are building the shop. Those logs to the right are designated to replace rotten logs around the small garden beds. It has been too wet to move them with the tractor without damaging the yard. Today was the first rain-free day in over a week. Maybe tomorrow we can move them out of the way and try to burn that pile.
 My herb bed got new border logs too. It looks like an actual garden bed now instead of a dug up spot of yard. Now if I can keep the chickens out of it and find some good topsoil I can try to get some more herbs plants. So far there are only two mint and two oregano plants. I hope the mint spreads like crazy like it is supposed to. Being out in the center of the yard means that I can mow down any runners that escape from the bed.
 The pumpkin plants that I planted in anticipation of a pig-tilled garden to plant them have started to take over the greenhouse. I'm not sure what I'm going to do with them but whatever it is it needs to happen soon. From what I hear, squash don't do well being transplanted so the sooner the better. The lady that has the piglets has reassured me that she has 3 earmarked for me and if they get too big she will bring them to me. She just hasn't had the time for us to come pick them up yet. They are free-range and have to be caught first.
 Liam likes helping mommy in the garden. He likes to taste test the produce. We have high quality standards around here and can never be too careful. He especially likes to taste the sugar snap peas and cucumbers. He gets excited when we get near that part of the garden and starts bouncing in his sling. The cucumbers I wipe the spikes off of and take a bite off of one end. Liam can handle it from there. The peas he chews down to the shell with no help at all.
The bean arches are doing wonderfully. I have to pick beans every other day. I still haven't managed to get enough at once to make a pressure canner load. Now that the vines are spreading over the top of the arches I hope to get more beans at a time. The cucumber bed looks bare. What I thought were huge, vigorous cucumber vines sprouted white flowers. Apparently, despite my best efforts to eradicate the invasive gourds from that part of the garden, they got through my defenses by pretending to be cucumbers. I pulled them all up. Now the cucumbers have room to grow and are doing much better. I wish the same could be said for me poor zucchini plants. They were so big and pretty. Until a stupid chicken managed to hop the fence. A few minutes of scratching caused major destruction. I hope to get a few more zucchini before they succumb to the diseases they are sure to get with all of those open wounds. The chickens should be very very happy that I haven't figured out how to acquire to superpower of shooting lightening bolts from my eyes.

 Do you see what I see? Momma guinea has been sitting on a clutch of at least 20 eggs for over a week. She chose a wonderful location. My wildflower bed. She is really close to the house so the dogs will hopefully be able to protect her at night. And she can enjoy the pretty flowers while she sits day in and day out. I hope we have lots of guinea babies! We are down to 6 adults now. I'm sad to say that I had no luck at all with the turkey eggs in the incubator. When I find Tabby's new nest I will try again.
 The figs are doing great!
 The blueberry bushes are about to explode! I have found two ripe berries this week. Both were given to Liam. Soon we will have more than we know what to do with.
 The strawberry bed has never looked this good! Apparently the chickens did more damage to it than I realized. Just keeping them out has allowed the plants to take off. The berries are tiny though. Perhaps number will make up for size next year.

My canna lilies are blooming. My poor serenity garden desperately needs love and attention. I have been hyper focused on the food producing parts of the homestead, animals, and keeping the grass mowed when I have any baby free time. Baby-free outside work time is very limited. Liam still likes to be attached to mommy at almost every second (including all night long and while he is sleeping during the day). Farm chores are more like a triage. Assess what needs to be done most urgently. All other things get looked over. Flowers are non essential. They make me happy though. I should give them higher priority. I love how different flowers bloom at different times. I have flowers in bloom all year long. Serenity is much needed.