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Morning Thoughts in the Garden

June 14th, 2009

It really feels like summer with the warmer and humid weather.  Finally a good bit of sun for the garden to really take off.   I’m more excited by the day to see the vegetables growing.  Some may wonder, “Can you really be excited simply by watching a garden grow?”  To which I say, most assuredly, yes. It’s like God is present all around you with the beauty of the moment, day, season… It’s an enjoyment or appreciation perhaps, but to see food grow from seed where none grew before is almost magical.  And it represents other things too… hope, simplicity, tangible results of effort, even saving a few dollars here and there.  And it’s fun to remember how much you can actually do at home.

hollyhocks

 

The hollyhocks are in bloom too- these grew on a couple of stalks last year, but now there are three times that many growing very tall- reaching past six feet.

 

Everything is starting to produce, so now it’s a matter of keeping the weeds down and the bugs away from the goodies.  In another experiment I’m going to try training cucumbers (below middle) on a wire fence.

 

 

I supported the top of the fence because cukes can get somewhat heavy, but we just don’t have a lot of room for them to spread out.  If you’ve grown cucumbers before you know they could take over the whole garden if you let them!

beets-cukes-and-peas

The sugar and snow peas are finally here and even the beets look halfway decent with the tops filling out.   The beets don’t seem to get very large though, and I’m wondering if that’s because our soil is too compacted? I didn’t till this year, but instead topdressed the rows with a couple inches of mulch and organic compost.  Much of that probably washed off in the rain.  Perhaps I’ll do the same next year, but only after tilling the row to loosen it up.

potatoes

That may also be better for our potatoes (above). They’ve come along really well, but the soil is pretty thick.  Some of you professional potato growers have figured out that loose mulch works very well and makes  harvesting that much easier.  Maybe we’ll try that next year too.

snow-pea

 

This morning I went out to pick some of the peas- they grow so fast once they get going!  Fortunately the spring has been cool and wet, but I don’t know how long our pea harvest will be.  This will be the first big week for them.  Last year we grew beans that lasted almost all summer.  But I enjoy peas so much more than beans!  Maybe we’ll plant them again in September for a fall harvest?  Never tried that before.

 

 

 

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On a different note in recent gardening news, a lot of folks are worried about looming passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (HR 875).    While the idea and intent make sense in terms of safer foods for everyone, some organizations (here with comments) and people (here and here) believe small farm and livestock operations, organic gardening, farmer’s markets, and even backyard gardens could all be affected negatively by government regulations run amok over time.   In some areas of the blogosphere the subject nearly incites panic.

With all due respect to our most principled and esteemed lawyer friends :),  I find one of the comments to the Slow Food USA Blog posting from April 10th particularly appropriate:

“The fact that Rep. DeLauro is “shocked” that people have taken notice of her piece of ambiguous and questionable legislation should be a wake up for our nation that our politicrats are expecting us to continue being sheep. There is nothing wrong with the American public demanding greater transparency and a much more well-defined bill to be set on Obama’s desk once the legislative process is complete.  When politician’s don’t hear from anyone but corporate lobbyists, lawyers, and special interest groups is when the legislative process goes awry.  Kudos to the radicals and the misinformed public for asking questions and demanding clarification…if even they are “inflammatory”, “hysterical”, or “misguided”. ”   Glenn Grossman

After a little reading and practical reasoning however, the fears don’t appear to be justified.   But fears are borne from lack of clarity and/or transparency of intention.   There are simply too many questions left unanswered and that’s where the concern arises.     I have to say I’m squarely in the camp that opposes bigger government intruding into our lives.  Meaning I don’t enjoy seeing more government… more regulations… more laws to juggle and comply with and obey.  I don’t believe the government can protect us from all evils, including ourselves, nor should it attempt to.   But hey, the folks on capitol hill just want to do what’s best for us, right?  I have visions of FDA inspectors running around looking for ways to justify their existence…

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Here at home the leaves on the trees are becoming that deep summer green once again.  It’s nice to see shade, and places where dappled sunlight falls through the trees.  Somehow it brings thoughts of quiet afternoons or exploring places not seen.

sunlight-through-trees

While I walked around early this morning I saw that the heron was back again.  It had an even bigger fish in its bill as it flew away.  I just shook my head…  the dogs wandered around with me, looking for the rabbit that haunts the garden.

basset-and-lab

Old man basset hound tells the yellow lab  “Woo…woo…wooooo… this is my spot!”  How about those ears!?

 

Pile-O-Piglets and Other Critters

October 21st, 2008

Last Friday we went to a fun night for families at the elementary school.  It was great seeing the kids go crazy, and enjoy some silly activities.  They even had a mini-petting zoo with a cute “pile-o-piglets.”  These little guys were pretty tuckered out from all the attention.  It would be neat to raise some  pigs as Ron’s family has done this year, but I’m not so sure we could, uh, invite them to dinner if you know what I mean! 

Pile of piglets

It has been wonderful weather outside, and a chance to get a lot done.  Of course it’s nice to just enjoy the outdoors as well, and after school yesterday we jumped in a little paddleboat on the pond.  The boy loved paddling around collecting leaves, while the basset hound followed around the shoreline going “Bowwooo!”   We saw a few of our large Koi swimming around.  There should be five in the pond, but we’ve only seen four recently…  we call this one “Orangey.”  I’m not sure how big they’ll get, but compared to those oak leaves this one is really growing.  I’ve heard they can live for decades.

Big Koi named Orangey

 

The big garden news:  After planting 3-4 watermelon starts and watching dozens of vines grow and flowers bloom this year, we finally have our ** ONE ** watermelon for the year.  Yipee! I don’t know why the plants didn’t set more fruit… they were in full sun and really nice soil. We’ll see how this one ripens before we try it.   Our pumpkins didn’t set this year either.  Maybe it was too much rain?

 Homegrown watermelon

But the tomatoes are doing great- and I put up another 3 quarts of spaghetti sauce.  We’ve got enough green tomatoes on the plants still for another 3-4 quarts of sauce, but I may have to pick them all before we get our first frost.  For now we’re enjoying cool nights and warm days.  The frost can just stay away, thank you very much!

For the bug aficianados out there, here’s blue and black butterfly of some kind.  I thought it was a swallowtail of some type, but can’t quite identify it.  ***Update***  Beetle Doc was kind enough to tell us this is a “Red-Spotted Purple” butterfly.  That’s what I was going to say! Not… :) 

Unknown black and blue butterfly

And here’s a Comma butterfly, or maybe a Question Mark (yes, that’s a butterfly name!).  It’s the first one I’ve seen here.

Comma butterfly in October

Okay, one more bug today. This little thing is really strange.  It’s a wood wasp of some type I think, and was flying along just above the ground.  It’s about 2 inches long!  That long part is normally an ovipositor for laying eggs.  But again, I tried and was not able to identify it.  Anyone? The wings are a blur as it is flying along in this picture.  *** Update ***  Beetle Doc got this one right too! It’s an Ichnuemonid wasp, and lays eggs into larvae of beetles, caterpillars and other wasps using that long ovipositor.  Strange critter…

Uknown Wood wasp

More Gifts from the Garden

September 30th, 2008

It’s one of those beautiful early fall days today, crisp and cool with bright sunshine.  Can we have a few more months of this please?  I love summer for the warmth, the garden, the outdoor fun… but the cooler weather is so invigorating!

The garden is slowing down, but there are still vegetables to be found.   The beans are almost finished, but I keep picking them here and there.  The beets have grown through the summer and I’m collecting them now.  I was hoping the beets would grow a little larger. I think I didn’t space them out enough, and I need to augment the soil a little better probably.  The cucumbers have finally given up for the year, but the tomatoes have come into their own.  There are many larger red and green tomatoes on the vine, so hopefully we’ll have a few more weeks for them to grow before the first frost.

Vegetable bounty in September

When is the frost in your area?  We usually get it about the middle of October.  Just enough to snap the annual plants for the year.  I suppose we need a month or two of this weather because it helps us clean up the garden and everything else before winter.  The leaves have begun to drift off the trees, slowly and gently falling with the wind.

A Cool Morning in August

August 12th, 2008

There are few things like coming home.  The familiar, the comfortable, all the sights and sounds and… the work to do!    We’ve been blessed with cool weather this summer, and for being almost mid-August it’s amazing to see the grass and landscape so green.   In years past the grass would be brown and not require cutting by now.   But it’s beautiful in the early morning, especially with the air so cool and refreshing.

I walked down to the pond and enjoyed watching the wisps of fog move gently across the warmer water.   What is it about mornings that I love so much?  The quiet awakening of the day?  The promise of things to come?  I really don’t know, but its always been my favorite time of day.

The pond on a summer morning

Our little apple orchard seems to be doing well, meaning that the trees have received enough water and the deer haven’t chewed them to pieces this summer.  That may change quickly in the fall, but for now I’m spraying deer repellant around the leaves and base of the trees to discourage the deer from browsing.  The next plan is to wrap the trunks and install some fencing to protect the little trees.   We even have a few apples developing still, the first for a small apple tree planted two years ago.  I’m not sure who will get to eat this apple first, us or the deer… but it looks pretty good!

Home grown apple

For now it’s time to catch up on chores (and writing and reading too).  It was interesting to be without internet access for much of our trip the past two weeks.  Sure I missed the convenience and instant information available, yet it brought back awareness of simpler times and was kind of nice to just “be” if that makes any sense.  More to ponder, but while I do the garden is still producing a bunch of tomatoes and cucumbers, and even a few beans.  It’s about time to put up some pickles again too!

The Garden, the Lab and the Honey Bees

June 22nd, 2008

My goodness the weeds and grass can really grow while one is gone, and to see how fast it all grows in the space of a couple weeks is amazing. We’re catching up at home this week after a trip with the family, and have returned to see many parts of the central U.S. inundated with flooding from the Mississippi and other rivers. The rivers are cresting now, and several towns are waiting to see how much more flooding there will be. Many of the levees have failed, but others are still holding with water right to the top. Our hearts just go out to those who will begin working to recover from all the flooding this week. There are also a few thunderstorms about, but strangely in much of our area the topsoil is becoming quite dry.

We are thankful to live a little higher and have started watering the plants around the house and garden now. And it’s time for vegetables as we’re picking the peas, beans and lettuce that is doing so well. I’m surprised the peas and beans have not grown higher up the supports, and I wonder how long they will produce this year. But it has been a cool week in terms of temperature, so that helps keep them flowering and producing.

Fox Haven garden in late June

I think the corn looks great in the garden and I thought of a dumb question today since we have not planted hybrid corn before… How many ears of corn can we get from one stalk with our garden variety hybrid? I’ve seen some of the field corn growing in our area with 2-3 ears per stalk. But a little web research indicates we’ll probably get 1-2 ears from most smaller hybrid plants. We’ll see how it turns out in a month or so as the tassels are just forming at the top of the stalk now. But the tomatoes are also coming along- small and green, and soon we’ll have more than we know what to do with.

An early morning yesterday as we went across the pond dam to check the property. The yellow lab was like a kid in a candy store after coming home from the kennel. He did very well while we were gone, and didn’t miss a beat when returning home. Maybe a little too much energy saved up for romping around the property. Come to think of it I could use a little of that extra energy… the grass on the pond dam needs cut for the year again!

Yellow Labrador Retriever on pond dam

By the way, the bees are doing pretty well so far. I’ve put on a second super (hive body) for both hives and the bees are working like crazy each day. One of the hives appears much stronger in terms of numbers of bees, so it will be interesting to see how they do this year. Today I removed the entrance reducers I had placed last month while the new hives built up their strength in numbers of bees and stores of food. They didn’t fuss too much and (all anthropomorphism aside) actually seemed to enjoy the opening being wider. I probably left the reducers on a little too long while we were away, and today it was like seeing a little traffic jam of bees getting in and out of that smaller 3 inch entrance slot.

Working with honey bees at Fox Haven

So to remove the wooden stick that blocks the entrance, I took my hive tool and pried up the corners and under the reducer to loosen all the joints. Then as I wedged and held up the hive slightly, I slid a stiff hooked wire through the hole and gently pulled out the wooden reducer. The bees didn’t seem to mind a bit. So now both hives have a full entrance on top of the bottom board (actually a screen) to come and go. And it was fun watching the returning bees covered in pollen… a welcome sight. It’s also great to see them covering so many flowers around the property. Keep working little bees!

 

Growing Daze

June 3rd, 2008

Everything is growing like crazy now as the spring season transitions to summer.  These are the growing days, although in some parts of the region the farmers are having a difficult time getting corn and other crops in the ground.  It has just been too wet and muddy.  But the rain has really supported an abundance of growth and the flowers are blooming everwhere. 

The bees are very busy coming and going and have a wide choice of flowers from which to obtain nectar and pollen.   It’s been so wet however that some of the garden plants are a bit waterlogged.  We planted a vibrant eggplant start that now looks yellow and soggy, but its still hanging on.  Yet the temperatures are increasing as well as the humidity, and the heat will eventually take over.  It’s so strange that we haven’t even needed to water anything yet this year. 

So the garden is coming along with the beans and peas climbing slowly up their supports.  We put the plants and seeds in the ground a little early this year and it seems to be working out. The corn is coming up nicely and the lettuce is really growing too. But the tomato plants have just been plodding along.  As soon as it gets really warm they will probably leap up!

The garden shines in the morning sun

We’re going to lay out some sprinklers and drip irrigation this week so it’s all ready for summer.  As much as I don’t like soggy ground everywhere, I know we’re going to miss the rainfall every few days. 

In the dry summers I usually drive around with a water barrel to give smaller trees and shrubs enough water to make it through the season.   But the pond is still full and with enough moisture and a little luck, we may even have a few of our own apples.  It’s amazing how fast they grow! 

Apple growing in spring

Almost Time for the Garden!

March 18th, 2008

Okay, raise your hand if you’re starting to get the gardening itch!?  I’ve been looking longingly at seed packs, and we’re trying to decide exactly where to plant everything this year.  Frankly I’m a little distrurbed that it seems so exciting to me!

But it’s all part of the season, and knowing that if you grow plants and take care of them that you’ll put fresh, healthy food on your table… well, how could that not be exciting!?  Maybe it taps into some aspect of our long-ago agrarian forebears.  In an age in which we have and use every conceivable technological invention, it’s nice to simply “play in the dirt” once in a while.

Of course I like shovels and hoes just fine, but when I really want to play in the dirt, nothing beats a 23hp tractor.  Except maybe a bigger tractor.  :) 

John Deere 2320 tractor 

I’m thinking of planting a few rows of something special this year though.  I’ve always wanted to grow giant pumpkins!  Don’t ask me why… I don’t really know.  And what will I do with a few giant pumpkins after they’re grown?  They’d make a nice display for a while, then you better have someplace to let them, well… decompose I suppose.

Maybe a nice big row of sweet corn?  With the price of fuel and ethanol production these days, it may get harder to find good eating corn at a reasonable price.  I remember 10-15 ears for a dollar years ago, but last year it was a quarter each.

Have you ever been to the Garden Web forums?  It’s a wonderful place to read and learn about so many things involving gardening, plants and landscaping.  I’ve always ended up there while looking for answers, so now I just go there first.  They even have a section on tractors :)

For now I look around at all that is still so brown. But not for long!  Soon we’ll be covered in greenery, and chasing ourselves around trying to get things done.  The change of the seasons… before we know it we’ll be muttering about the bugs, but that’s okay, I’m ready!

Fox Haven Pond

The Garden Gives Back

July 13th, 2007

The garden is really coming along. It sure takes a lot of water! Yesterday we picked some tomatoes and our first cucumber. Oh, and some jalapeno peppers :) The little ones are nice, but some of them are really hot! I’ll have to find some recipes for them, maybe pickled jalapenos. Aside from keeping the weeds and bugs out of the garden, we’re just trying to help it along. We put some fertilizer down, and may try a few different products. But we’re trying to keep it organic and not use any chemicals for the bugs or weeds. It’s nice not to have to worry about what might be on the food we eat, and sometimes we can simply pick something and eat it right away. Soon it will be time for pickles also! I love pickles of all kinds and made eight jars last year. We have more cucumbers planted, so hopefully we’ll have a lot more pickles as well.

These are Sweet 100’s tomatoes. They did so well last year that we brought some starts home again. They produce dozens of little tomatoes per plant, well into the Fall season. And they’re delicious!

Sweet 1000™s tomatoes

I planted several zucchini plants also- they don’t look too well, but have started producing. Last year we only had a couple of zucchinis all summer… between the “squash bugs” and the hot weather, they just didn’t do very well. Here’s hoping for a few more this year…

The zucchini is growing!

The jalapeno peppers are really doing well though! One small plant produced these four peppers… while other plants don’t have any yet. They are tasty little things, but a little on the hot side! Anyone want a few? :)

Yummy little jalapeno peppers but hot!

And the Yellow Labrador is no dummy! He’s seeks a nice shady spot under the bench during the heat of the day.

Yellow lab seeks shade

Garden Makeover Project

May 15th, 2007

We had great weather this last week to get things done outdoors.  One of the goals this year was to give the garden a new look.  It has always been very beautiful and had many raised beds, roses, lavender and other plants that had grown for many years.  But somehow I couldn’t keep up with the variety of plants… and the weeds!  I don’t know how my folks did it in the past… determination and passion I think!  But we’re seeking something simpler perhaps, and a little easier to care for.  But also I wanted to move many of the established Lavender plants to a newly tilled row across the pond, and transplant a few other shrubs.  So now we have more room… but what to do!?  Actually I hope we can make a larger single space or garden bed with rows for planting.  Maybe where we could walk between rows and around the borders.  But for now it’s piles of dirt everwhere… the tractor was very helpful but has done about all it can.  Now it’s back to rakes and manual labor!

From the back the garden is full of plants and weeds… I didn’t keep up with the weeds this spring, but waited until now to clear it for a new garden project.  The short plant in the foreground is a butterfly bush… I transplanted it near the pond spillway.  Behind the post is a willow bush, also transplanted by the driveway to control erosion.  The large Boxwood at the right was also moved and planted near the driveway.

The back of the garden before beginning the clearing project

The back of the garden is cleared and shrubs transplanted.  Now to transplant the Lavender plants and begin removing the raised beds. 

The garden from the other side the back is cleared but much awaits!

The John Deere 2320 tractor helps carry many old boards from the raised beds.  They are destined for a bonfire at some point- almost all were rotted after many years of service in the garden.

The John Deere 2320 tractor helps carry the old wood from the raised beds.

This part of the garden is mostly cleared now.  The small Crabapple at the upper left was also transplanted… just a few feet outside the fence.

The garden is mostly cleared, at least in back!

It doesn’t look much differnet yet, but the soil is mounded up in back to prevent washing away.  We had a good rain today but the soil soaked it up pretty well.  In a couple days we can begin raking and leveling the soil.

The soil is cleared and pushed to the sides to prevent erosion now for the rakes!

That’s all for now… but it was about three days work with the tractor and by hand removing the wood.  The soil is wonderful after many years of composting and loving care by the previous owners!  Hopefully in a week we’ll be ready to plant for the year… a little late, but there’s still time enough to grow some vegetables!