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Friday, July 14, 2017

Growing differently

The rain this morning revived that fresh muddy and green scent that has been perfectly balanced so far this year. It wasn't much needed, but it also wasn't on the heels of another flood. It feels just like the rest of 2017 so far, where the winter was mild, the spring was pleasant, and the rain comes once a week when it's needed the most.
Canton Farmer's Market Saturday mornings
 We are growing a bit differently this year. With no CSA, our vegetable production has gone toward just the things that we love to eat like platinum cucumbers that we like to pickle and plenty of berries for eating fresh or canning, if we have too much of a flush.

We also have amped up our flower production this year for customer order and to take to the farmers markets. We have years of perennials that have caught our eye and this year I ordered a bunch of cut flower annuals too.
A custom bunch for a baby shower

The fun of planting is that I have started a lot of these blooms the first of January. Our flats were tended for so long and carefully moved outside during the early spring warm days and then moved back inside on the cooler nights.

Now they are almost all in the ground and the blooms are just starting to show. Some of these are true surprises as some seeds take off and others don't work out.
This year, I finally got black poppies and they are beautiful! Next year they will be bigger and better, which is the great thing about perennials!
Black poppy first year blooming

Thursday, August 11, 2016

This year has been potatoes. I'm not saying it's like meat and potatoes, more like growing potatoes:
You plant them in deep trenches and wait as they unfurl unassuming leaves followed by dainty flowers and then you cover up some of the leaves in hopes that they keep growing. You don't really know what's happening under the soil, just kinda keep going in hopes that the tubers are forming.

It's kinda a whistle and a prayer, but for slightly impatient gardeners such as myself, once the flowers form, you can reach under the soil and feel around for new potatoes. That's when you start seeing the fruit of your labor.
I had high hopes that all the trenching, mulching, planting, and hard work would pay off. I hoped the big greenhouse would pay off, the soil amendments to the garden would sprout great crops, and that our raised bed projects would be very productive.

But so far... potatoes.

I have no idea what's simmering under the surface of the soil. As the season creeps on, I'm still wondering what will happen this year.

Anyway, the flowers are coming on in waves of beautiful colors, shapes, and textures. I plant a lot of flowers based on scent alone, so now that my English rose is doing so well, I'm delighted by the fragrance. The nigella have seeded everywhere and some of the annuals came back after the mild winter.

In the greenhouse, my second crop of strawberries is coming on. I need to plant more in there. If I could extend the strawberry harvest, that would be a great crop to have around in the early winter and early spring. I planted a raspberry in there as well, but I think I lost it.
The tomatoes and peppers are just starting to come on, but then the well broke and during the heat of the summer, we were without running water for almost a week.
While I may have been proud of my sister for bathing in the creek and flushing with buckets, the garden and greenhouse did not share my optimistic sentiment. The tomatoes, addicted to irrigation in the heat of this dry spell, cracked open just before harvest.

I stood at my mother's sink, slicing up the first of the tomatoes of the season, super excited to taste the fruits of my labor, albeit, cutting around the split in the skin like a seam that popped. While still warm from the sun, I went to take my first bite but something smelled terrible and all the pressure from this rough year hit all at once and I cried. I couldn't fathom why a tomato could smell like dirty dishwater or where I went wrong so I ran outside with the slice that was in my hand and tears running down my face. And it was outside, in the stifling August air that I realized it wasn't the tomato that smelled, but probably the bucket of dirty dishwater that was in the sink that I was smelling. Hmm. Funny how sensitive we get at times.

Sometimes when everything seems to bear down on me, things I cannot prevent or see like drought or sickness, I like to do something that I used to think was hard.

So I went out with a pair of scissors in hand and sheared the sheep. She needed it. And it's something that is physically very difficult to do, but the more practice you get, the quicker and better you get and the more comfortable the animal is with you wielding a couple of blades very close to their skin.
I used to be terrible at this. I bought the expensive shears, tried the old school manual ones that look like two knives welded together. Neither did much for me.
The cheap pair of scissors was able to cut through the course, Icelandic sheep wool well without giving me blisters. So I would gear up with 5 pairs and run out to the fields to strip down the sheep once a year.
I got my holds down, ewe on the ground with a knee rested securely on her shoulder to keep her calm while I worked my blades from the belly up over the ribs to the backbone before grabbing a hoof and flipping her over to shear the other side.

What I completely forgot was how many muscles are used in such a simple task. Wow. But the sense of accomplishment in getting it done, getting something done that I used to be terrible at with a sense of satisfaction that's almost unparalleled.

So then I checked on my potatoes. Still just leaves. Brown, slightly crinkled and whining leaves. But I hope with enough care, time and learning as I go, I hope the harvest really pays off soon.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Spring stillness

The house smells like lemon butter cookies. This is the newest batch of soap curing. I hope it suds up as well as is smells.
  I found a use for that lard in the freezer from our pigs. Traditional soap making is such a fun endeavor. Albeit, a bit frightening when you have to don safety gear, I love following the process from start to finish, one part chemistry, one part following directions, two parts waiting and a pinch of creativity brings some excellent results. And so useful!

  Bill came out to see grass for the first time. It's februrary and I'm not freezig cold. The grass was tall at the end of the year and I didn't mind. It's almost hay-like now, but our new little lamb still sampled it all the same. Murray, his mother on the other hand just followed me around on a shakedown for some grain. 

  Soon there will be so much to do, but for now I will be happy with what little sunlight and warmth these early spring days yield as I plan with precarious patience at the growing season to come. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Groundhog Day

I love Groundhog Day. Not just the movie, but the holiday as well. A giant ground squirrel is indeed the perfect harbinger of spring. And a shadow is such a telling predictor. It's beautiful.

This is the time of year when winter starts to feel like that bit of sleep in between true sleep and trying to be asleep. Just when you think you might be asleep, you realize you aren't and that frightens you into complete awareness.

Just when you settle into the frigid Ohio cold rituals of scraping your car, putting on woolen socks, scarf, coat, hat, gloves tucked into sleeves and high boots to fight the snow, somehow the weather hints that winter might be just a dream. With eyes half closed, you walk out and the wave of realization falls upon you that it's not cold enough for 2 pairs of long johns. Maybe you were just dreaming.

This is the time when baby goats and lambs appear.

There's nothing quite like the promise of adorable little screaming creatures that make you want to get up early and put your boots on and brave the cold.
I can't tell you how many mornings I've gotten up early just to stare at ewe sheep, fat bellies sticking out uncomfortably underneath winter wool coats, chewing hay as they stare right back at me like they got up early just to see how I was doing that morning as well. They have that blank look like, what?

Exhibit A:
What? How are you doing? You look a bit pudgy with that giant coat on too.

This winter has been spring. I'm not sure when the leapfrog of seasons happened, or if we even had a winter but perhaps that's why I enjoy getting my weather predictions from a marmot. I've been doing winter cleanup in a light sweater, which I quickly lose when I really get moving.

The greenhouse still stands through it's first official winter. And I actually read my first Elliot Coleman book (ok, first two chapters) and quickly learned that my frustration with the lack of light isn't an isolated incident but rather a shared frustration of gardeners trying to extend the season.
He explains, you don't garden all seasons. You just figure out how to harvest all seasons. Growing happens when the sunlight allows for it. After that, you just protect your food until you are ready to eat it. Ahh. I see.
So now we are in this odd limbo of weirdly warm weather, but not enough light to do anything with it. Pepper and I have enjoyed it though as Frisbees still fly, even when daylight is less than 10 hours a day. And as for getting on the boots to bundle up and check on the sheep, I guess when it's nice out and I'm out all the time, the lambs just happen.
And when they happen on Groundhog Day, you can't help but name the new little one Bill Murray.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Storing up for the winter

The wind shifted direction. The dark is creeping in slowly and I don't have much time after I get off work to go outside and get some things done. The summer time in Ohio is great for both weather and the stretching of the daylight.

So like the slowing squirrels scavenging in the lawns, I am trying to put back enough to keep me fed and busy for the winter.

The first thing is, I got out the dehydrator. 

The joy and burden of gardening in season, is the bounty all at once during the growing season, and then the months and months of freezing cold when nothing is growing.
So after CSA finished up, I started packing the dehydrator with everything that came from the gardens. I've been focusing a lot on herbs for tea, salad dressings, soup mixes, and spice blends. I have kale rough chopped and in there too. Jason worked up the best paprika ever by dehydrating a bunch of red peppers and then grinding them up really fine. I had no idea how many peppers it took to make a pinch of paprika!
While I like almost anything that we are drying, I'm most excited when the whole house smells like tea herbs.
While I love freezing, fresh veggies full of water take up a lot of space and use energy. Dehydrating maintains their vitamins while making them easier to store. And bonus when soup season comes around as the flavor punch that dried herbs and veggies adds is a whole new dimension to your favorite recipes.
So out from the dehydrator come these great ingredients straight from the garden. I have been putting them in deli containers and labeling them so I know what ingredients I have from our gardens for our spice and tea blends.
While I love it for cooking, stripping thyme off the stems is incredibly time consuming. Perhaps that's where it gets it's name?
My mountain of deli containers is growing and spreading into mason jars, gallon freezer bags, and whatever else I can store things in and label.
Once the garden is put to bed, the greenhouse should be coming into production with our cool weather crops so I will have fresh things to try all throughout winter.
And certainly nothing warms up a dark winter evening quite like friends, a cuddly dog or cat, and a hot cup of homegrown tea.
The pineapple sage and lemongrass is ready to come out of the dehydrator and stored. Back to the garden for another round. Next up, harvesting oregano to combine with dried meyer lemons, garlic, and shallots for a nice greek salad dressing. Can't wait for recipe perfecting on that so I can share it with all of you!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Modern Barnraising this sunday!

Modern barnraising party this Sunday!

It's finally here. The plastic is ready to be stretched on our 30x72' greenhouse and we need more hands to help! Come by at 1pm this Sunday as we stretch out and stretch on two layers of plastic to extend our growing season to almost year round.

We started last fall with the initial marking of the corners. You need to make sure that your house will be straight or else nothing will work.  

Then in December, as the snow started to fly, we realized that this might be another rough Ohio winter. We tried to make sure our hardware didn't all freeze to the ground, but once the blanket of snow came in, everything was covered for weeks. 

Corina drives the posts in with the carrot canoe in the foreground

Jason finishes up the other side

Then we started laying out the bows for the top. No idea what we were doing so it was a bit of a puzzle, but fun.

The ducks checked our work often on the way to the creek

Grandma also checked our work.

She needed to make sure Jason wasn't doing it wrong.

Then once the growing season hit, we rushed to fill the gardens, get the hops trellis up, put vegetable oil on the apple trees to keep down the bugs, and make sure that all the animals were on fresh grass and well fed.

Now is the time to finish up this project as we start preparing for another Ohio winter. Hopefully this one might be a bit brighter, warmer, and greener. Stretching plastic at 1 (wind permitting) and potluck at 3pm. Volleyball will inevitably follow....

Hope to see you there!