Thursday, August 8, 2013

Pumpkin Time!

The Summer garden has reached the point where things have mostly been harvested and plants are getting the crispy-and-brown-around-the-edges look.  The black cherry trees have begun to show yellow spotted leaves and the pastures are rank with bahia grass gone to seed.
Even in the very hot, humid weather these days I have felt a cool, dry breeze blow by that reminds me that the light is waning and Autumn will be here.

It was time to harvest the pumpkins last week.  We got a Potimarron (little orange one), a Burgess Buttercup (dark green, second from left in top row), a small Strawberry Crown, but mostly we got pumpkins from a volunteer pumpkin vine.  They are some sort of blue pumpkin, and they are very sweet-flavored.  I am wondering if it is a Triamble-Australian Butter Pumpkin cross, or perhaps a Strawberry Crown-Burgess cross?  I planted so many different kinds last year, we will never know.  

The next day, Mirin and Rose came out.  I had saved the largest pumpkins for them to pick, and they ran excitedly through the rows of fading sweet corn to pull them out.

Clothilde also thought the pumpkins were amusing.  She loves to climb. 

I love Cinderella pumpkins (or were these Rouge Vif D'etamps?), and my only Amish Pie pumpkin we got this year.  The vine is still setting more fruit, but I'm afraid the stem borer moths will likely get them before we do.

I can't wait until cooler weather makes baking pies a joy!  We always read Carl Sandburg's The Huckabuck Family:  And How They Raised Popcorn in Nebraska and Quit and Came Back before we open a pumpkin for pie.

A few other things we pulled out:
The last of the sweet corn, cow peas, long beans; a huge, hidden cucumber, eggplant, a massive marrow we had missed, some okra, a few yellow squash, some ailing tomatoes and Tulsi, or Holy Basil for tea.  We are finding it very refreshing during these very hot late summer days.

The cassava and sweet potatoes are still going, along with the okra and cow peas, but we are turning more and more to our lacto-fermented pickles for our vegetables these days.

I am looking at meal planning again.  During peak gardening season, the meals plan themselves!  This week I have been trying to be very creative with different forms of squash, corn and beans.  I feel like this year I have really started to understand how to cook from a garden rather than the store.  It is such a different thing to do.

The winter garden starts will be planted next week (I am attempting to plant by the moon, to see if it does anything special like they say).  I am still busy building beds and obtaining moldy hay, cardboard and horse manure.  Soon it will be time to dig up the sweet potatoes and cassava, pick Roselle and put the Summer garden to bed.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A wistful wave hello and a garden update

It has really been a long time since I've written here--so long that I'm not even sure what my last post was about!
Sooooooo much has been happening, I'm afraid I won't ever be able to catch up.  Things have been going so well, but not necessarily documented and written about.  I have kept up my hand-written journal, but I have found it so hard to be on the computer this year.  The reason:  Clothilde.

She is so sweet, and so cute and so wonderful, but in short she is also a total maniac.  I mean, look at her--she is all ready to ride off down the street on her tricycle.  She never stops moving and getting into things.  Our house, long accustomed to older children, has been desperately child-proofed.  One long week of rainy days, I moved 50 lb feed bags into stacks in all the doorways.  It makes getting around the house a real pain, and isn't very sightly.  It doesn't even stop her.  It only took about a week before she could climb up and over them, but it slows her down enough for me to catch up.  At 10 months old, she is already able to hop on two feet, climb things (yes, climb) and take steps by herself.  She will be walking--nay, running, far too soon for her old and slightly decrepit-feeling mama.

So that is my excuse.  Back to my post!
This year the garden has been fabulous.  Not the winter garden, that is pictured above.  I pulled it all out and re-planted it with potatoes.  The summer garden is the wonder garden.  It was going to be my super-simple, super-tiny garden.  Oh well!
The Permaculture beds I learned about from Susanna at Salamander Springs farm have been wonderful this year.  I worked on them all winter long, and so planting in the spring was a breeze, even with "Clonan the Destroyer," which has been Clothilde's popular nickname around here lately.

In march, the garden started out looking like this.  I had seeded rye and fertilized it with the fertilizer from Midwestern Bio-ag.  It turned amazingly green and lush.  We need to get our winter pastures seeded down like that!
I think this also helped control weeds.  Someone recently told me that the rye has allelopathic roots and secretes phytochemicals that keep other seeds from germinating.  The roots on it were incredible.  I just smushed it all under cardboard, compost and hay when it was around time to plant.

Here it is, all mulched and seeded!

Most of the garden started off like this, in pots, but I did direct-seed beans and corn, of course.  I do have a rabbit problem out there, and when I direct seed things, often they will get nipped off.  Giving them a start until they have a few true leaves seems to make them not as tasty.

Here was the side view with the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.

This was the first year the potatoes did something other than die.  We actually got some really nice ones out of this plot.  It was such a nice surprise.

This is about what the garden looks like now!  Jungly, but different from all my other gardens in that there isn't a weed to be seen!  I did have an army of army worms come through and try to eat everything, but I hand picked them into soapy water and eventually they gave up.

Here is a side view with the tomatoes.  The tomatoes are huge.  They are as tall as I am this year.  I unfortunately don't have a picture of the Dudley farm corn I had planted.  It is about 10 feet tall.
For a month and a half we have been consistently eating out of the garden.  We got so many sweet peppers, it was hard to keep up with them.  We just got our first taste of sweet corn, the cow peas are ready to pick and it looks like the summer squash is getting a second wind.  Soon there will be pumpkins to pull out (some are already very large, lurking in the corn patch).  The long beans have really been producing, and I have come to really appreciate the Malabar spinach.  The other day Rose was helping me in the garden.  We were harvesting long beans and she turned to me and said, "Mama, your garden is just like a grocery store!"

It is so wonderful to have the opportunity to have a big garden.  There is a completely different way of meal-planning and cooking when you are cooking from a garden.  I love the seeming dance or parade of vegetables that weave in and out in abundance, and I feel so connected to this little spot.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Peeking In

I'm just peeking in here.  I feel bad I haven't posted in so long, but my hands have been full--specifically full of Clothilde.  She really can't stand it when I'm on the computer.  In fact, she screams her face off if it looks like I might be working on the computer.  I've tried setting her up with new toys, but they become unbearably boring the instant she hears the keyboard clicking.  In fact, the only reason I'm touching a computer right now is because she's deeply asleep--and even then sometimes she can sense it.  At least my email is down to only two not-spam messages a week, so it's do-able.  I keep wanting to head over to Bliss Beyond Naptime to watch Kathy's inspiring videos on simplifying and carving out mama-time, but it's just not possible--it's definitely a Catch 22.

But we are doing well--if perhaps kind of chaotically--these days.  We've necessarily had to scale back our plans and projects for this year.  I've started going out to the farm again and I've been busy putting in the tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and ground cherries.  I've also started melons, watermelons, cucumbers, gourds, squash and pumpkins.  Next I'll be putting in the corn, beans, cow peas, okra, sweet potatoes and lima beans.  This year I've got a snap bean that my great-uncle sent me that he has kept going for years.  He got it originally from my great-grandfather who was from Italy, so I am very excited to grow this bean.

We have a new batch of the Freedom Ranger meat chickens going.  I love these birds.  They are always so healthy and vigorous (and eventually, tasty).  Raising them is so easy--unlike the poor Cornish X Rocks that only seem to want to eat themselves to death.  I'm looking forward to having chicken again.  All we've got in the freezer are stew hens, and even after being boiled all day for broth they are tough.  There's hardly any meat on them anyway.

The cows and goats are all doing well (as far as I know).  We had to dry off Geranium for the same reasons we did last time.  She just doesn't make much milk and she's very antsy.  She is very disappointed.  I wish we could have gotten a film of her coming down to be milked, because she looked like a rodeo bull.  She is so wide, but she would still toss her head around and kick up her hind feet and buck all the way down to the milking paddock because she was so excited about it.  Chestnut, who was originally called "Chestnut-case" has really settled down and makes a lot of milk.  She has become very sweet, in stark contrast to Matilda, who has never gotten over Mairie getting milked, too.  She looks like such a psychotic animal because she kind of hunches over a bit and pokes her horns out at the other cows.  Her posture is very dictatorial and dogmatically in charge.  I wonder if there's a homeopathic we could give her to help her relax.

We also dried off May.  She was just being too ornery.  Ethan's back couldn't handle carrying her into the milking paddock every day, since she absolutely refused to go in for him (she was always fine for me, but the goats really just don't like Ethan.  He doesn't know how to tame them), so we have no more goat's milk until next year.

Just keeping up with the milk we are getting now has been like a part-time job.  I have to churn butter and skim cream every other day, but it is nice to have our raw cultured butter and all the milk and cream we want.  I can't really complain, because churning butter mostly involves pressing a button on my standing mixer, so it's not like I'm actually doing anything.

This year we have already gotten all the fertilizer spread--thanks to our wonderful neighbor Bernard.  He has a tractor and a spreader, so we just paid him to do it.  Yay!  Last year it was such a huge job to spread all that--and even seeding the rye this fall was huge because I was doing it all by hand.  It is really a lot of work to sow or fertilize even just 8 acres.  There's still lime to put on, and we are hoping to order more fertilizer to have the whole grazing area done.  We would have so much more good forage.  The animals would love it and it would save us so much in hay.

Anyway, so much still to do always, one thing at a time.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

First Piglets

Here's Bee, the magical escaping pig (she literally ripped apart a hog panel--have you seen how sturdy those things are?) and her five sweet little piglets.  They look a bit like little dalmatians, because they turned out so spotty.  Our other Glouchesershire Old Spots are not at all as spotted.

We were worried about the piglets, as we've had a cold snap just after they were born, but they've been fine.  Bee is a wonderful mama, and they curl up with her and nurse.  There is one male, which we were hoping for--we named him Trespassers William.  For those of you who don't read children's books, it's an A. A Milne reference (for those of you who don't read, he's the guy that actually wrote Winnie the Pooh back when it was a book and not a Disney cartoon).

This isn't Trespassers William, it's one of the girls.  He's got a black eye patch over one eye.
They are the cutest thing out there right now, since the calves and baby goats have grown up, and Belle got sprayed by a skunk.  Little Clothilde and I have spent such a long time watching them play and play fight and run about and fight over where they get to nurse.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


The last post was not a happy one--truly that week was just awful.  Not only did we lose Mairie, but a Glouchestershire Old Spot sow we had just bought busted out over a hog panel and through another fence and escaped.  She was due to have piglets in just a couple weeks.  We were hoping to have a boar from her.  She isn't related to our other gilts, Star and Black-ear, and we've been trying and trying to figure out how we are going to breed them.  They are so huge, moving them somewhere to another boar isn't really an option.
Anyway, the sow--named Bee at the other farm--was expensive, and I felt awful about losing her and her piglets and Mairie.

But the post I had been working on that very day that Mairie took ill (from eating horse chestnut--or also called red buckeye) was actually a positive one.  I had been looking at my winter garden (pictured above) and realizing it was the best winter garden I've ever had.  It was so small, simple and manageable.  That's my mantra this year.  I have also realized I need to way lower my expectations of the garden so it's more fun.  I get so upset when things get eaten/frozen/trampled/dug up by dog, it's silly.

Back then, there were all kinds of new spring things popping up.  Some of them have frozen again, since we've had a cold snap.  Here are cleavers--also called Poke's Little Sister.  We used some cleavers tincture just a few months ago to help get rid of a cough and cold yuckiness that just wouldn't go away.

Here were vibernum flowers, like little stars, among the red oak leaves in the yard.

The plums were blooming.  Now they have all leafed out.

Late frosts happen.  Bad things happen.  Things die and escape. But good things happen, too.  Babies are born, flowers bloom, seeds sprout. 
 And guess what?  We found the sow again.  We caught her easily and two weeks ago she had five piglets (one is a boy!) and they are busy growing and rooting.

And another good thing--we found an alternative feed company to the horrific Countryside Organics.  And they have the agri-dynamics products we've always wanted to try, and they're nice.  And helpful.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Aesculus pavia.
Did you know this plant is highly toxic to cattle?
Yesterday something very tragic happened because we didn't know it was poisonous.

The cows were on one of the far-off lines with a bale of hay, when they busted out again (I swear they haven't for a long time, only we're weaning the babies!).  They got through the latest cow-proofing on the barn and ate all the barley--only about a bag's worth between them, so it didn't seem unusual that Mairie was not interested in eating her milking ration that day.  The next day--yesterday--I finally came out again to take some pictures of my winter garden and help Ethan milk four (yes four!!) cows, when we discovered that Mairie wouldn't stand up.  We thought at first it was bloat, but it wasn't.  I noticed her leg muscles were twitching and she was groaning a little.  Tetanus?  Low magnesium? Snake bite?
No, she could open her mouth, they've had their lick and kelp the whole time, and we couldn't find any sort of injury or bite on her.  Her eyes were not like they would be from a snake bite, either.  Even as she lay on the ground, groaning a bit, her coat looked sleek and coppery.  Her eyes and nose were clear.  She had been so healthy until this moment.
She finally stood up and walked very stiffly towards the water.  I offered her hay, which she didn't want.
She slumped over again and was groaning, and her leg muscles were twitching again.
We couldn't figure out what was wrong with her.  I called my friend Karen, where we got Mairie from, and asked her.  She had never heard of anything like it.  She called someone she knew to ask, and they said it sounded like Mairie had eaten a neurotoxic plant.

We gave her some probi, which is the only thing we could think to do.  At home, I looked up poison plants of Florida and found out about horse chestnut.  It usually is only a problem in the early springtime, because it is one of the first plants to leaf out.  It explained her groaning, leg twitches and lack of appetite and everything, particularly the strange way she was walking--not really limping or staggering, just like her legs were stiff.  And, I realized, there's a bunch of it on that line.  I had no idea it was so toxic.  For simple stomached animals like humans, it causes vomiting and severe gastric distress, but for ruminants, the toxins are converted in the rumen into a highly soluble neurotoxin.  Just a small amount can be fatal, and there is no antidote.  Mairie died this morning, and there was nothing we could do to save her.

It's amazing, with farming, how everything can seem so fine--and then suddenly something awful happens.
We are just thankful that our other cows didn't eat it, too.  We could have lost our whole herd in such a stupid way.