the july garden

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Our new, improved and smaller garden is in full swing as July comes to a close. We have already harvested and pulled our shelling peas and sugar snap peas to make room for our winter beets. As much as I enjoy pulling peas right out of our backyard, the time, energy and space that they take up is hardly worth it when I can buy peas locally for a nominal price. I think we will most likely forgo planting both types in the future.

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Yellow squash, zucchini and round zucchini are all producing abundantly. PJ has become skilled at identifying when each is ripe and can be trusted to harvest all three on his own. Now if only we could get him to eat them as well!

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Mountain after mountain of green and purple beans have been vacuum sealed and tucked away in the freezer for winter. I also planted a row of wax beans so that we could make my great-grandmother’s cold bean salad for lunches .

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The baby lettuce and Kohlrabi are both doing well and thanks to the small-scale of the garden this year we have been successful in decreasing our garden workload by laying down grass mulch in between the rows. My dad, very kindly, sweeps up the clippings after mowing and makes me a pile which we (usually with the help of PJ) distribute; laying down a nice thick layer after initially weeding each individual space. This year I also think we finally figured out the correct schedule for succession planting of our carrot patch, which should mean we will start harvesting full-grown carrots this fall and continue well in to next year with proper mulching and over-winter care.

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The potato plants have grown lush and green in this year’s steamy weather. I am hopeful that all that beautiful growth above the mound is a sign of things to come at harvest time. Our early season Yukons are beginning to die off, so by next month our potato diggin’ treasure hunt will commence. Next door the corn is also growing tall and green and I have spotted ears on some of our earlier varieties.

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Cherry tomatoes have slowly been ripening and PJ has enjoyed them for a mid-afternoon snack most days. As much as I wish my kidlets would pick up their own messes, I secretly love finding little tomato stems laying about the house; evidence of some nutrients being consumed by the same child that has firmly entered the “all beige” dieting stage.

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The most exciting news coming out of the vegetable garden this year is the presence of cucumbers. With total crop failures the previous two growing seasons, we are finally, once again, swimming in cukes! Granted, I had to buy our starts from a local organic nursery (all of mine died this year) but I’m still going to count this one as a win. We have eaten them fresh at almost every meal but we have also canned dill pickles and sweet pickle relish. Next on the agenda is some bread and butter pickles. As there is no end in sight, I would welcome any and all cucumber recipes that you might be willing to share.

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We are still pulling everbearing strawberries from a few rows in the patch and a handful of raspberries from our tiny plants. The weather here, in our part of the world, has been perfect for fruit growing this year. All around us local berry farms and orchards are have a fantastic year and bumper crops. Happily, we finally found a huge area at the back of our property covered in wild black raspberries that we have been harvesting and freezing and we will soon be gathering wild blackberries from a neighboring spot as well.

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What are you harvesting, foraging, pickling, fermenting, canning and/or freezing this month?

*It’s been one year since I started on the adventure of writing this little blog. I am grateful for the people it has introduced me to and the insight and reflection that it has afforded me. Happy Blogiversary to us and thank you for all the love and support you have shown us over the last year!

Much Love -L ❤

December 3rd

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The moment right before we all sit down to a dinner of (mostly) homegrown goodness.*

Our sweet potatoes roasted in butter and brown sugar then topped with flaked salt, just before serving. Canned dilly beans from the garden. Homemade baking powder biscuits, canned applesauce and, depending on whose plate, pan-fried venison and onions or grilled pork chops.

Those minutes just as dinner is hitting the table usually feel rushed and stressed, with patience running low and emotions running high. But once we all sit down and gather (whether the blessing gets forgotten or not) we all calm down (obviously low blood sugar issues run rampant in this family) and share these meals, happily, together. I want to remember this moment when I get tired of weeding or fighting off pest in the garden next season.

*She is always the first to show up when I call everyone to the table. She knows where it’s at!

Where we’re at

“The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”  -Laura Ingalls Wilder

The past few weeks have been a blur and the next few promise to be more of the same. It’s a busy time here on the farm, especially since it’s our first Autumn. No big posts are on the horizon but I like checking in and keeping everyone updated, so here is what we have been doing…

>Celebrating not one, not two but three birthdays. PJ, my mama and Kevin are all another year…wiser!

>Preparing for two new arrivals. It is very exciting and extremely nerve-racking, all at the same time.

>Anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first little calf, trying to soak up all the information and knowledge that we can about birthing and milking. All the while, knowing that we won’t truly “know” anything until we are in the thick of it.

>Picking, reorganizing and constantly shifting sheep breeding groups, on paper, in the hopes of getting spring lambs with the characteristics we are looking for.

>Desperately trying to get the girls back to laying after a sudden cold snap that made them stop, overnight!

>Trying to come to terms with the fact that we now have not one but two roosters in residents. Which is quite funny considering we paid extra for sexed chicks. (As long as they continue to behave and be respectful they can stay. If that changes they will quickly become dinner!)

>Working on getting Mum and Poppy to eat out of our hands and to let us give them a good pat or scratch.

>Thinking that the time spent last week carefully monitoring the weather for frost advisories was a complete waste of time. We were trying to strike that balance of soaking up more time to ripen the produce without losing it.

>Feeling fooled when we awoke to a frost, considering the weatherman said it wasn’t supposed to drop below 40 degrees overnight. Our best guess is the windstorm that unexpectedly blew through brought with it a windchill that dropped temperatures below freezing.

>Feeling sad that I lost all of the remaining basil to said frost.

>Feeling irritated that a good amount of squash got compromised by the frost and now, rather than tucking it away to use later in winter, I need to process it immediately.

>Prepping for next year’s sweet potato plot and how we are going to fight what ever it was (rodent?) that gnawed on     almost half of our crop, which rendered that half inedible for those of us of the human persuasion.

>Patting ourselves on the back for buying the pigs because they, my friends, ate all of those previously nibbled sweet potatoes after a careful trimming by us. In the end, we will eat that produce one way or another!

>Processing bushel after bushel of apples from our local apple orchard. Juice, applesauce and apple butter, oh my!

>Watching Kevin’s first go at hard apple cider bubble away upon the kitchen counter…teasing us!

>Searching for a local provider of organically grown pears and striking out.

>Desperate for those pears because I whipped up a delicious dessert this week and I need to tweak it so I can share it here.

>Finding others around us who are striving to live the way we are and feeling comfort in the fact that there are kindred spirits “nearby”.

>Considering adding a breeding flock of heritage breed turkeys to our motley mix of livestock.

>Contemplating other heating sources to use in the house, in order to alleviate our dependence on oil. I personally wish for a woodstove to sit beside and knit (or just create in general) at.

>Composting, plowing up and preparing to plant next springs garlic plot.

>Using the last of the previous years venison just as opening day of bow season arrived.

>Sending the hunters out with high hopes, feeling like it is still too early to expect any venison to be coming back in with them.

>Remembering that we have to stop at the local sugar house (who also happens to be a neighbor) to stock up on maple syrup since we’re almost out.

>Walking around our little bit of woods thinking that we should mark our own sugar maples and try our hand at tapping them this winter, just for fun.

>Savoring the last warm weather days that are sprinkled throughout fall, while also looking forward to the coming winters activities.

>Working hard at re-instituting a family rhythm that allows us to feel connected and grounded during these busy days we are now living.

>Feeling the pull of our quiet, winter routine and looking forward to attending to indoor activities that desperately need to be done. As well as, giving time to each of our individual creative outlets that we have missed so much during this busy summer and fall.

What is new and exciting in your neck of the woods?

My ode to the tomato

Until I started growing my own, I had no idea there was such a thing as heirloom tomatoes, nor the huge spectrum of colors they came in!

Ok, in the name of full disclosure, I need to tell you all something. There is a good chance that a large percentage of this month’s posts will contain tomatoes, in one form or another, for a myriad of reasons. First there is the simple fact, that here, it is officially tomato season. We tomato freaks lovers planted seeds indoors, in March, tended the tiny seedlings that sprouted, until they were strong enough to head outdoors, where we then protected them, supported them and worried over them for months. (Honestly, my tomato seedlings took a beating this year, so we saved what we could and supplemented with seedlings from our local, organic greenhouse.)  I personally have a hard time waiting for the first ripe tomato. Whenever I head out to the garden, the tomato patch is the first place I go, to both check in on everyone and see what offerings are waiting for us. Second, we can grow awesome tomato plants. I don’t mean to toot our own horn…well at least not too loud…oh what the hell, toot-toot. We have been known to grow 8 foot tall paste tomato plants and the only tomato failure that Kevin and I have suffered, occurred during our absence and was due to my father’s overzealous watering (we were in the middle of a drought and he thought giving them all the water they could take would insure their survival) which caused Blossom End Rot on all but the cherry tomatoes. Lastly, nothing, and I mean nothing, beats the taste of a freshly picked homegrown tomato. One bought at a grocery store, may look and feel like a tomato but they, most decidedly, will not smell or taste like one. 

The first heirloom of the season, this one is a Cherokee Purple.

I love tomatoes and I love eating them, in any form. Whether they are sliced up in a salad, slapped between two pieces of bread with a little mayo, salt and pepper, as a quick, just pop in your mouth, afternoon snack, sun-dried on homemade pizza, tossed in olive oil and served with fresh-cut basil and mozzarella or made into my great-grandmothers yummy tomato sauce, I just can’t get enough.

Just as pretty on the inside.

I think part of my tomato prowess, and borderline obsession, is due to my genetics. My family is almost completely Sicilian and Italian. After wine, garlic and macaroni (yes, they always called it macaroni, never pasta) tomatoes are the most important sustenance in our lives. To further prove my point, PJ, ever since he first had solids as a baby, has gobbled up tomatoes in any form. It’s the Sicilian in him, I’m sure of it.

Diced and ready to go.

So, to honor tomato season, I wanted to share my salsa recipe. I know, I know, it’s not an Italian tomato recipe, but right now, in our garden, all of the ingredients are ripe so, this is the one you get! Plus, it’s not really salsa, I think it would be considered more of a Pico de Gallo, but it’s what we eat as salsa because I, personally, don’t like the taste or texture of the conventional stuff. I have also been experimenting with canning it. If I am happy with the results, I will share that process next season, after I am sure that it truly has a shelf-life of a year, and a decent flavor when finally cracked open.

You can’t make salsa with out these little hotties!

Homegrown Pico de Gallo

3 medium to large heirloom tomatoes, with seeds removed, and diced. (I sometimes throw in cherry tomatoes too, to add different colors.)

1 small to medium yellow onion, diced.

6-8 cloves of garlic, minced. (Yes, I know my Sicilian is showing through, and this is what makes the whole house (and us) stink when I whip up a batch, but it just doesn’t taste the same with less.

1 small jalapeno pepper, with seeds removed, diced.

1 handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped. (I usually add more because I’m a cilantro junkie, but a handful should do.)

1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.

1 tablespoon of lime juice.

Salt and pepper to taste.

If Kevin is around when I make it, he tends to walk by and throw in some Frank’s Red Hot and a half a shot of tequila. This, right here people, is the only downside to being married to a cook. I think it is delicious and fresh tasting without these additions.

If I’m not canning it, I store it in a container, with a tight-fitting lid, in the fridge. (The bit about the lid is very important, otherwise your entire fridge is gonna stink.) It doesn’t usually hang around for more than a night anyway, so this is rarely ever a problem. We enjoy eating it on chips, as a snack, or over some chicken, rice and black beans, as dinner. I also like to take two fresh avocados, mash them up, and throw in 2 -3 tablespoons of the finished salsa. Voilà, we have instant guacamole! I bet it would also be delicious, over some eggs, in the morning. Ha! There! You can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now, as my grandmother used to say, “go, eat…manga, manga!”

If you try it, let me know what you think. Do you have any special ways you like to prepare your tomatoes?

The weekend

The storm rolling in.

Is there really ever a weekend when you live on a farm? Certainly not in the sense of two days off at the end of your work week, but on the other hand, we never suffer from a case of the “Mondays”, so there’s that! The past two days here have been low on productivity with Saturdays highs reaching the mid 90’s and the heat index reaching well into the 100’s (not feasible with two babes that must follow us everywhere.) Sunday brought a, much needed, downpour that chased us all inside. 

The view out of our kitchen window.

We did manage to move the mobile chicken coop to a new swath of pasture, which ended up taking two extra people and two extra hours and ended in us darting for the house before the sky opened up. Because really, who wants to be handling electronet fencing in a thunderstorm? It is all quite hilarious looking back on it now, possibly even post worthy. I also harvested some produce, the most notable being 2 pounds of beans destined for pickling and was able to put up 8 jars of pesto. Outside of those accomplishments, and the usual daily chores, nothing else got done.

Waiting for a trim and pickling.

It has also been hard getting back into the swing of things after being away for 4 days. Upon arriving home, it seemed as if, the only thing that had grown were the weeds and I think we are both struggling with being extremely overwhelmed by how far behind we feel. So in that vein, and to please my Type A personality, here is our “To Do” list for the upcoming week:

  1. Make and can Dilly Beans.
  2. Weed herb garden.
  3. Harvest some lemon balm, parsley, basil, cilantro, sage, thyme, tarragon, and marjoram.
  4. Dry, freeze or otherwise process said herbs.
  5. Weed, weed, and more weeding of vegetable garden. Problem here is, by the time we get done weeding the entire garden the weeds are growing back in where we started.
  6. Create some kind of support for the sweet corn.
  7. Tend slicing and cherry tomatoes – prune, snip, re-tie/support.
  8. Come up with a way to trellis paste tomatoes. These have gotten quite out of hand and we are at a loss for a good way to support them that also allows us to easily harvest the ripe fruit.
  9. Try to train pole beans back onto their respective poles. I have never had a problem with this in the past but this year they just seem to have a mind of their own.
  10. Pick and trim swiss chard.
  11. Freeze what chard we do not use this week.
  12. Pick lettuce, beets, eggplant, peppers, squash, possibly fingerling potatoes.
  13. Weed sweet potatoes.
  14. Plant fall crops. We are kind of late with this but I would like to throw, at least, some peas and spinach in.
  15. Weed asparagus and rhubarb bed.
  16. Fence in pine trees in front pasture and move sheep into said pasture.
  17. Move Lilac out of front pasture, break-up middle pasture and move her into first section.
  18. Move pigs to other end of, what will become, the garlic patch.
  19. Lay down manure to “bake” in sun on the section pigs just rooted.
  20. Muck out chicken coop and lay down new litter for “deep bed method.”
  21. Muck out stalls and big section of barn.
  22. Pick up peaches from local orchard.
  23. Jam, can and freeze peaches.
  24. Pick rest of boysenberries off bush by barn and process.
  25. Name lambs and send in registration for all sheep.
  26. Find a Ram that fits all of our criteria and set up a plan for getting him here by October 1st, to use for breeding in November.
  27. Order hive and have beekeeper relocate the bees that have taken up residence in barn wall.
  28. Place grass-fed beef order for winter. Hopefully this will be the last time and next year we will be running our own steers.
  29. Go over budget and accounting for farm books.
  30. Work out plan for winter food storage.

Well, what do you think? Can we get it all done by next Sunday night? What is on your “To Do” list this week?