Enjoying the Home Garden

July 1st, 2008

The garden has really come into its own this week.  We finally have a good crop of beans this year, and they’ve grown more than enough to eat each day.  For the last week they’re making almost too much, which means we get to save some for winter.  We’re still learning how to grow an abundant garden, finding out what vegetables we like and understanding how best to manage weeds and pests naturally.

The lettuce has done very well this year, probably because we got an early start.  We planted mixed varieties of leaf and butterhead lettuce and some of them have grown very well.  I’m not partial to softer leaf lettuce, but since it grows so well we may have to get used to it.  And we haven’t tried yet, but I’ve read that the crunchy types of lettuce such as iceberg don’t grow as well in the midwest.  Anybody know?  

Red leaf and butterhead varieties have grown nicely this year, but what is the red speckled type?

Red leaf and Buttercrunch lettuce     Red leaf lettuce with speckles

I’ve enjoyed making canned pickles and peppers the last couple of years, but we have not used a pressure canner yet for other vegetables.  Maybe we’ll freeze some of them?  For beans we’ve been told that it’s best to blanche them quickly before freezing, to help maintain flavor and freshness.   That will be great to have nearly fresh beans for the colder months, yet I also like the softer canned beans. They just have a flavor and texture that I love.

Beans, sweet peas and snow peas, yum!  Nothing like home grown, but it makes you appreciate just how many peas are in a can at the grocery store.

Green beans, sweet peas and snow peas

Of course the internet is a wonderful resource these days, and there’s many sites that offer helpful information.  Here’s a great site at PickYourOwn.org that provides a wealth of how-to guidance on canning and freezing.   Very helpful especially since we’d like to make some jam or jellies from berries, as well as put up a lot of other vegetables.   We’re still learning, and with grocery prices skyrocketing it helps to do more things at home.

Have you ever made anything out of elderberries?  We have a couple plants growing on the property and I hope to pick a bunch of them. These Elderberry flowers will grow into a bunch of blue-black berries, hopefully picked before the birds can get them!

Elderberry flowers

The tomatoes are about to start producing too; lots of small to medium green tomatoes are all over the plants now.  If we can keep the moles from digging them up we may do well this year and even have tomato sauce.  

And have you ever thought about corn pollination?   It’s an amazing process that we really take for granted.  Hopefully we’ll have some corn to feast upon in the months ahead.

Tassle of corn plant

The garden can be a lot of work but it’s also a wonderful place to learn about plant growth, especially when it provides so much food!

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

Gardens, Critters and Clouds

May 22nd, 2008

Isn’t it strange how fast everything grows?!  A little rain and warm weather and we find ourselves in a jungle.   Lots of activity these days, especially working hard to get the garden finished up.  This is the first year we’ve had plants in the ground by late April and early May.  The tomatoes were a little nipped by a late frost, but are coming back.  And this year we put up a green fence and posts for peas and beans to climb. Hopefully.  And corn!  I’ve always wanted corn but avoided growing it since it’s so big and kind of messy.  This year with grocery prices we figured what the heck, and planted a bunch all over.  

Garden in May

It doesn’t look like much, but this is about half of the garden.  It’s small as country gardens go, and the rows are only about 20-25 feet long.  But the rows are perpendicular to the sloping hillside that leads to the pond.  This way the water doesn’t race across and wash everything out.  I’ve planted a few surprises around the corners this year, so we’ll see what happens. Now I’m wondering, if we’re trying to keep the bunnies out, why do we have that cute little bunny sign?!

I think the raccoons are going to be regular visitors.  Otherwise let’s see… we’re trying to grow cucumbers, a dozen tomato plants, eggplant, zuchini, watermelon, peppers and beets.  I’ve wanted beets the past two years and they simply would not grow… or the tops were chewed off by something.  They’re supposed to be the easiest things to grow!  Oh, and we even cut a bunch of potatoes in half and stuck ’em in the ground.  They’re already up and growing like weeds.  Now if we can keep it watered and relatively weed free, and the little bunny critters away, then maybe we’ll have a chance at a veggie harvest!

By the way, ever see one of these critters before in the picture below?  That little hanging down thingy on the cedar tree is a Bagworm moth cocoon.  The female bagworms crawls up a tree, preferably an evergreen of some kind, and picks apart the needles to make a nice little house.  Then they crawl to a nice cozy place to spend the winter and when spring comes they hang out waiting for the male bagworm moth, who actually flys around.  They two of them do their thing together and then all kinds of little bagworms crawl out over the whole dang tree.  Since the needles are green when the little bagworms make their cocoons they are hard to see at first. 

Bagworm cocoon

It would be kind of neat except they practically denude the whole thing!  They can really damage and even kill a tree or shrub, so they have to be controlled.  We didn’t pay close enough attention last year and had small spruce trees and juniper bushes that were covered in them.  We literally pulled several hundred bagworms off the plants filling up two milk jugs and then disposed of them. I don’t like spraying chemicals, but I had to treat the pine trees to make sure they survived.

If you notice the worms before they make the little bag cocoons you can just spray them directly.  This year I haven’t seen many yet, but when I do I tug the cocoon off the branch.  Oh, and if you just throw it on the ground, the little worm will poke its head out and crawl back up a tree!  Nature is pretty amazing sometimes, but I’m not very fond of these guys.  Once they’re in that tough little cocoon they’re like indestructable superbugs. 

This morning on the way to the bus the young one said “Daddy look! The clouds look like the ocean!”  That was a pretty good observation.   They looked like storm clouds at sea, ominous and rolling quickly through the sky as a front passes.  It rained briefly this morning, but not as much as you would think from the picture.  That was okay by me. But then it poured and poured. 

Storm clouds rolling by

Growth and Change

May 20th, 2008

The wind was really blowing the past weekend, and the grassy fields looked like an ocean of waves.  We were up early spreading mulch around trees and shrubs.  I came upon a solitary daisy in the field.  It looks like a common variety of asters, but it makes me wonder how it ended up in the field.  Dandelions are supposed to be very good for the bees, especially in early spring.  But rather than thousands of the yellow little blossoms, I would much prefer some more of these!  But what do I know, apparently the bees don’t take as much pollen or nectar from asters compared to other flowers.

A daisy flower in spring

On the subject of the bees, I checked on them this past weekend.  The queens were out and about, and the bees were building new honeycomb for the queen to lay eggs.  So far so good, although until yesterday it was so windy I was concerned about how they were doing.  But nature seems to just do fine, and as the wind calmed and the day warmed up they were coming and going. 

We checked our apple trees and found apples growing!  The bad news is that on one tree all the blossoms dropped off, and on this one only four apples were developing.  I remember when they were in full bloom, I didn’t hardly see a bee or insect on the apple flowers.  It was also very cool and windy during the early spring bloom, so perhaps they were not pollinated successfully.  We also had a light frost that may have caused the drop, but maybe still we’ll have an apple or two by fall.

Apples growing in spring

Lots to catch up with these days, but really are we ever “done” doing anything?  So much of life is just a journey from one project or phase of growth to another.  My nature likes to find completeness with things, often very quickly.  But my nature has little to do with Mother Nature, for which completeness is a varying transition from one state of being to another.  In our rush to and fro I sense the irony of it all in the grass and weeds that grow, and the trees that sway in the wind heavy with leaves that will begin falling before I can finish my little list of projects. 

We orient our lives around the rhythm of the seasons, trying to join a cadence that fits.  Eventually I find myself sighing deeply, throwing up my hands with a knowing smile, and joining the flow to embrace what simply is.  I watch the birds dart around the trees, and the dogs chasing each other.  I marvel at the energy of a boy testing himself and chasing imaginary creatures. I see the bluebirds catching insects and watch a fish rise to the surface of the pond.  I see flowers bloom and fade, sharing a few days or weeks for the year as they slowly grow. 

I look at trees that have fallen over in the wind seemingly too soon, because I was not yet ready for them to leave.  And I think of family and friends that have left in much the same way.  Sometimes acceptance is a difficult thing, but if we don’t embrace what is, then I think we hinder so much in our own lives.  For me life is about growth and managing change.  I’m constantly trying to manage the growth and change that occurs right around me from an external viewpoint.   Of course that’s not really what I mean.  Everything about that external context is part of my journey too, and it’s really about managing the growth and change within.

Apple Blooms

April 27th, 2008

How have I gone through life without experiencing the beauty and fragrance of apple blossoms? The simple apple that we enjoy so much- it’s so easy to forget how that apple grew. Maybe this is the year we will grow our own?

Apple blossoms in April 

We planted our first apple trees about two years ago, and they are just covered in white flowers.  Somehow the picture above reminds me of the soft, sweet fragrance of the flowers. 

Picking Dandelions

April 16th, 2008

asparagus-beds.jpgTime to get to work it seems as the weather is really nice. Stopped at the store to look at plants yesterday… oops, now we have more planting to do. But as the boy grows older he is becoming a lot more help around the house.

Of course I have to compete with his imagination and a tendency to run wild around the place. Which brings out the tendency in me to smile. But while I was using the tractor to dump mulch on the asparagus beds the other day he asked, “What can I do?”




Picking dandelions

Now I have a bright idea: “Well, how about picking dandelions?” I say. The little yellow flowers are blooming all over the grass, driveway and wherever I don’t want them. And I don’t like spraying chemicals everywhere, so we usually just try to cut them with the mower before they go to seed. Which never really works anyway.

But I tell him, “I’ll give you a penny a piece for each yellow flower you pick, okay?” I think he won’t get further than 50 or 60, but that it will keep him busy for a while. “Okay!” he says. And he spends the next hour filling up a small bucket.


“Guess how many I picked?” he asks. “Umm, well, a lot… maybe a hundred?” I say. ” Nope. I picked 469 dandelions!” he says with a smile, “And that’s four dollars and sixty-nine cents you owe me!”

“Holy cow… I never knew you’d pick that many, and where did you learn to figure that out anyway?!” I tease him.

I wonder how long he’ll pick dandelions for a penny?

Ghostly Sentinels and Daffadown Dillies

March 30th, 2008

It would be nice if the rain would pace itself over the next six months.   If you’re from the midwest you know we’re in that cycle of rain every few days that results in very saturated ground.  Which is good for the plants and water table… but not so good for the soil that erodes off the slopes.  What was protected by grass in some areas has now washed away this year, and the challenge will be to grow grass again before the summer heat (and lack of rain) begins again.  But the spring has a wonderful start!

There is beauty in all the rain and moisture.  After a night of rain, the gray morning reveals the trees standing as ghostly sentinels in the fog.

 Trees in the fog at Fox Haven

And a garden angel sleeps peacefully near some new blooming jonquils. I enjoy these smaller cousins of the larger daffodils.  What’s the difference?  Perhaps the old explanation that all jonquils are daffodils, but not all daffodils are jonquils.  If that makes any sense… meaning that they are both of the genus Narcissus, but the jonquils are a separate species of smaller flowers, usually very fragrant.  And of course daffodils are the many larger varities of yellow and white Narcissus that announce spring with fervor! 

Angel sleeping with jonquils

Do you have a different name for daffodils?  Whatever they are called, it’s interesting to read some possible history about the origination of the names:

“The name Daffodil is derived from an earlier “Affodell”, a variant of Asphodel (flowers). The reason for the introduction of the initial “d” is not known, although a probable source is an etymological merging from the Dutch article “de,” as in “De affodil.” From at least the sixteenth century “Daffadown Dilly” or “daffadown dilly” has appeared as a playful synonym of the name.”

As I was writing this the young boy awoke and sat with me looking at the flower pictures.  He remembered picking one of the first daffodils the other day, and told me what I should write… years from now, I hope the strength of his imagination will carry him well, and like the daffodils, to bloom every year and see life anew.

 “The first flowers of the spring ever to be picked in full bloom.”

Daffodils 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

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Raking the Garden, but Snow Coming!

January 31st, 2008

The other day we went from 70 degrees F down to 15 degrees in a matter of hours.  I was out working in a t-shirt, raking compost on the garden, and then the temperature begain dropping.  We even had snow for a few hours… and tonight we should receive 6-8 inches.  Looks like a snow day for the kids tomorrow!   But that touch of warm weather for a couple days was really nice.

 Sparky the cat loves to wander around while we work outside.  As I raked the mulch in the garden he “meowed” for attention…

Sparky the cat surveys the garden from the fence

In the morning it felt like spring, but by evening the snow began.  The garden will have to wait…

Rows of mulch in the garden before a snowfall



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