Monday, August 31, 2015

Escaping Cows

It never fails, every year as the grass in the pasture peters out, the cows start poking holes in the fence and wandering the country side.  Luckily the only neighbour this year is Mom, since the farm down the road is still sitting vacant.  In previous years it was a daily battle to keep them out of the fresh cut horse hay.

This year, the worst they do is walk over to Mom's and trim her grass, which she really doesn't mind except for the fertilizer deposits they leave.

As the days shorten and the rains come more steadily, the solar electric fence charger weakens to the point that the electric fence is really just a suggestion, not a rule.  After several years of use the built in battery just doesn't have the oomph to hold a charge after a couple of rainy days.

Yesterday morning I discovered the mangels have been decimated.  There's been a wayward cow in the garden. 
Luckily the mangels are just critter feed anyway, and the human food is ok.  A couple of bean plants were trampled, and a couple of romaines.  A few turnip tops had been sampled, but obviously didn't taste as good as the mangels.

Today I am off to buy a new fence charger and try to get the beasts back under control.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Busy, busy, busy

It's that time of the year now.  The garden is in full swing, the rush is on to get everything done before fall, and only one week left until school starts!
I am so pleased with the garden.  Even the back half is catching up.  It's kind of funny how I've been so focussed on how poorly the back half was doing, rather than on how well the front half was doing.  In truth, the back half has been doing almost exactly what it has done for the past eight years.  All of those tiny plants will be harvestable, but not great, before frost.  I should have been more focussed on how great the front half is, and given myself credit for finally getting the soil amended to produce like this, instead of looking at the back as a failure and a short coming.  I see it now!

The beans are producing like crazy, and I love and curse them as I pick them.  I love them, they are my favourite vegetable, and the only vegetable I really ate for years.  But I curse them as I'm picking and my back hurts, and I look up and I still have another half row to go...  and I'm thankful that there are only two and a half rows growing, and two short rows in the greenhouse, rather than the six or eight rows I used to plant!

I am seriously considering switching to pole beans in the future though.  #2 and I were discussing it the other day.  Getting the pea fence in before the peas come up is always an ordeal- they're heavy with four log posts and metal fencing, and require more space to walk between once they start to sag from the weight of the peas.  Pole beans would need more fences.  He suggested permanent posts at the end of the rows, and removable fencing or ropes between.  Intriguing.  That could work.

So my question to all of you- what types of pole beans produce long slender pods, taste like green beans, and grow well in a short, cooler season?  What are your favourites and why?

The turnips are growing fairly well, though most have long thick roots rather than bulbs.

I'm pulling 6 to 8 plants per day, intended to be pig feed, but I can't help but add a couple to our meals as well.  They're just so sweet and tender right now.  We're also eating the tops as greens.  They aren't any of our favourites, but they're ok.  Mostly, I think the issue is just that they're a little tough.  The longer I cook them, the better they taste.  Maybe the canning idea might not be so bad after all.

The greenhouses are looking better and better each day.  Sunflowers are flowering, cucumbers are climbing and little fruits are growing.  Melons are forming, romaine is making heads, and carrots are getting bigger and bigger all of the time.

We ate one of the cauliflowers.  This is the one still in the greenhouse.  It's just starting to get a little purple into it.  I think it's cool, the boys think it's weird.

The one broccoli plant is continuing to produce what seems to be side shoots, without ever really producing a main head.  Cabbages are getting big and beautiful, making me half want to harvest them now, and half want to leave them be to see how big they'll get.

I trimmed off some brassica leaves- the finished cauliflower, some broccoli, and Brussels sprouts- and cooked them for supper one night.  Again, far too tough, almost inedible.  I'm debating leaving them for frost to see if they improve, or just canning a bunch to see if the long cooking time makes them edible.

Hungarian sweet banana peppers are doing well, and I enjoy them.  There aren't many though, and I don't like to share.  The long slims (hot) are producing real well- they're for the boys, and for making salsa and sauce later.  The California Bells have yet to produce a single pepper.  The plants are big and healthy looking, and they've flowered well, but no peppers.  Notes for next year- skip the bells, only 3 hot peppers, and plant more sweet Hungarians.

And then there are the wild tomato trees.  One thing I really notice this year, is how useless tomato cages are.  I know my cages are old, most are small, and I'm far to cheap to buy new ones, but I've never had so many plants just knock the whole cage over before.  I've been tying baler twine on the greenhouse beams and looping it over tomato branches here and there to keep them mostly upright.  Lots of green tomatoes now, getting bigger every day it seems, and the plants are still flowering.  I'm ruthlessly pinching suckers and lower leaves.

One of the great mysteries of life in the garden (or is it life in the north?) are these two weird tomato plants with fat leaves.  I don't know what varieties they are.  The plants are compact, mostly within their cages, and short.  They never seemed to be doing particularly well.  They have a fair number of tomatoes on them, but aren't over loaded.

But nestled under the leaves, they both have tomatoes turning orange, and I've even picked three already.  They're small to medium sized, nicely flavoured, more meaty than juicy.  It would take at least two of them to make a tomato sandwich, but by golly, they're ripening in August.

I'm saving the seed from them, but I don't really know if I'd be happy with a greenhouse full of them.  At one time I'd have rejoiced for ripe tomatoes in August (and I am enjoying them), but since I've learned the secret of green tomato salsa and summer sauce...  I'm not sure that they would be abundant enough for winter storage.

I do think it's time that I started 'sorting' my saved tomato seed though.  I usually just squeeze juice and seeds from assorted tomatoes into a glass jar and write the date on it.  In the spring I  plant a mixture of saved seed, as well as several varieties of seed still in my seed box.  This is the first year in about six that I have no roma type tomatoes at all.  So I will keep these short, potato leafed, early ripening tomato seeds separate from the jungle inducing monsters that crowd the greenhouse.

Still no quads, and the truck has had a few hiccups, so we're still not into the swing of firewood.  The wood we ordered has not arrived.  We strung semi permanent electric fence on the hill behind the house, #3 cutting a trail through the brush and bramble.  He's becoming quite the young man.  A little bit of wood from there.  Brother is up visiting and he and #2 have cut a bit and piled logs at the house.  There's more to cut in the new pasture, which fortunately is close enough to the house to drag up in chunks.

Raspberries are winding down now, blueberries are picking up, but neither is high on priority this year.  Choke cherries are ready to start picking and will be made into wine.

Manure clean up is also still behind, with no suitable transportation.

It feels somewhat overwhelming to be so far behind and not have a plan of action in place.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rainy Weather Fun

Keeping busy during three days in a row of rain really isn't too hard.  There's always the cleaning.  The cleaning gets neglected when we're busy outside.  The floors have been mopped, the dishes all washed, the boys' rooms cleaned.  But then there's the laundry... 

Indoor clothes drying to the rescue.  It takes a little longer, but it's free!  The heavy stuff I hang on hooks on the bathroom wall.

The lighter stuff goes on the drying rack.  I used this method all winter, rarely turning on the dryer at all.  I think when the dryer kicks the bucket, I'll replace it with a big wooden Mennonite drying rack.

#2 cleaned up the basement and piled the little bit of firewood we've brought in so far this year.  We ordered wood - a dump truck load of birch logs - and 5 weeks later we're still waiting.  If it doesn't come soon we will be freezing this winter!

We took a break and went to the Flea Market/Feed Store.  They've been doing a lot of cleaning this year, so now you can actually find stuff.  Before everything was so stuffed and over flowing, I was afraid to touch anything lest it fall all over the place. 

I bought a bunch of glasses, coffee cups, wine glasses, and measuring cups.

A pair of wall candle sconces.

 A nice big mirror - which I originally thought I would hang in the livingroom, but after bringing it home I think I will probably put it up in my room.  I would like to fill the house with mirrors to reflect more light, and I love the black metal frames.

Sadly, the Flea Market will be closing in September.  They've been struggling since the Mennonites moved into the area and opened their feed store.  They're more centrally located, while the Flea Market is out here on the edge, like me.  The owners bought a general store in one of the smaller towns to the south, and their parents and son have been running the Flea Market this summer.  I'm hoping they will return in the spring.  I suggested they turn it into a Flea & Farmer's market.

I went to a Farmer's market last weekend in one of the bigger towns to the north.  I was just killing time, waiting on the boys, and already halfway there, so I thought I'd go take a look.  It was truly unbelievable.  Most of the vendors were selling hand crafts.  There were two vegetable vendors, both with outrageous prices, and both very busy!  $2 for a cucumber, $3 for a small bag of lettuce, $4 for a tiny romaine.  $3 each for cauliflower and broccoli the size of my fist!  $3 for a tiny bunch of carrots, $4.50 for a pint of raspberries, and $4 for a tiny dish of blueberries. 

I admit I don't often buy any of that stuff, since I grow my own, but still, I was astounded by how busy they were.  I looked in the grocery store afterward, and sure enough, their prices were dramatically lower.  I regret not going to the farmer's market when I was down south.  It would have been interesting for comparison.

Don't get me wrong, I don't begrudge the farmers earning a living wage.  I just don't understand where their customers come from.  I remember going to the farmer's market with my parents, always looking for deals.  We shopped there because it was cheaper than the grocery store.  We would get a deal by buying in bulk, and then Mom would can and freeze for winter.  If I had to pay $6 for a little basket of pickling cukes, I'd just buy pickles in the grocery store.  It's cheaper and the work is already done.

On the other hand, if I sold my carrots 6 to a bunch for $2.50 (grocery store price), I could make close to $200.  That's pretty impressive for my little companion plants.  Then I start thinking about all of the extra stuff I could grow...  and then my garden is huge again and I can't keep up with the weeds...  Maybe someday.

At any rate, I think devoting some of the parking lot space to a farmer's market would help draw people in to the Flea Market, and help keep them afloat.

I made another batch of butter, and a small batch of Farmer's Cheese.  That will be used in a lasagna tonight, as it's not too hot to have the oven on today!

And while it's cool, I also thought I'd make a little room in the freezer.  These three birds are simmering on the stove and will be ready to can this evening.  When we raised turkeys I'd always save a little bit for future soups, pastas, and salads.  I rarely get to do that with chickens, since they're gone in two to three meals.  I catch myself looking at chicken parts in the grocery store, thinking I should buy something to make taco pasta.  It's just not the same with beef.

The garden has been left to fend for itself.  The weeds will be growing like mad again next week.  I still go out to the greenhouses daily, and I've picked my second batch of green beans.  I'm still getting a few peas, carrots every day, my first tomato!!, nasturtium flowers, peppers, and a couple of missed radishes. 

I pulled a few turnips from the garden yesterday, for Piggy and to thin them, but we ended up eating them ourselves.  #2 had asked what to make for supper since we were almost out of potatoes, and I told him I had carrots and turnips on the table.  I found him in the kitchen chopping them up.  He made a pot of mixed veggies - carrots, turnips, and potatoes.  They were delicious.  Piggy got the leftovers for breakfast.  I'll go out and pick some more roots for her once the rain eases off a bit.

I also cooked the turnip greens.  That was a first for us.  I just shredded and boiled them, served with salt and butter.  They were nice.  I've been looking at canning greens for winter.  Everything I've read says 90 minutes for processing, and they turn out like mush.  I really don't have a lot of extra freezer space right now, but it seems that that's the recommended way to go.  I'm thinking that 36-52 bags of assorted greens would be sufficient for winter. 

So, back to work now.  Enjoy the rain!

Monday, August 17, 2015


First pick of the year - beans from Greenhouse#1.  Still waiting on the beans in the garden.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Garden Progress

One of the biggest differences between greenhouse gardening and traditional gardening is the lack of production outside.  Every day I go into the greenhouses, pull a few weeds, and harvest a little bit of something.  Meanwhile, outside in the garden it's a lot more work (weeds) and a lot of waiting.  It's weather dependent and uncertain whether there will be a crop to harvest, fighting late spring frosts, early fall frosts and dry spells.
I'm almost caught back up on the weeding again.  I might even manage to get the strawberry bed done before I have to start over.  The potatoes are looking good.  The Littles hilled them for me for the second time.  A few are even flowering.

I took these pics from the back of the garden to show the size difference and spotty growth better. 

The beans have tons of flowers and the first wee pods are on their way.

The mangels at the back are particularly small and stunted.  The turnips are much smaller at the back than at the front, but starting to catch up.  The sunflowers are too tiny to amount to anything, while the romaine is slowly getting there.  That's not too bad though, somewhat like succession planting.

The sunflowers at the front are getting ready to flower, and we're harvesting enough romaine from the outside leaves for a salad every 3-4 days.

Some of the pumpkins are looking pretty good, while others are just as sad and stunted as inside the greenhouse.

The peas are starting to die off now, despite the cooler weather.  I'm still harvesting some, but many plants are dry and yellowed.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Greenhouse #3

Greenhouse #3 is the most productive right now, with the least variety of plants.

The tomato plants have lots of flowers and quite a few small green tomatoes.  I've been pinching off suckers for about a week now.  Sweet Hungarian Banana peppers are producing slowly.  Long slims are producing well.  The carrots are crazy!  I'm still harvesting 4-5 every day, and they keep getting bigger and bigger.  I've started pulling a few from around the tomatoes now, which are smaller, but I'm afraid the tops are blocking too much sunlight from the bottom of the tomato plants.

Cucumbers are climbing and flowering nicely.  Peas are good.  Radishes have been removed.  Nasturtiums are huge and sending runners off into the tomatoes.  Lots of flowers to harvest, though I'm leaving everything on one side to hopefully set seed.
And the sunflowers are flowering!  I love those beautiful rays of sunshine!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Greenhouse #2

Greenhouse #2 is a funny little mess of contradictions.
The melons are mostly climbing and flowering nicely.  There are a couple which are still tiny, and just starting to reach the bottom of the wire.

Cabbages come in three sizes...

Small (with the 'invisible' tomato plant between)


Large.  I could harvest this one now and it would be the largest cabbage I've ever grown.

Other cabbages have yet to form heads in the jungle of beets, dill, and kale.

 Two tiny heads of cauliflower are making an appearance, with no signs of the cabbage worms they attracted the last time I planted them.  Their leaves are so huge I had thought these were the collard greens and was about to start harvesting them when the first head appeared.  So where did I put the collard greens?

No signs of heads on either the broccoli or the Brussels sprouts.  I need to do more research on Brussels sprouts next winter.  I've only had one mildly successful year with them, which seems odd given that others proclaim them to be so easy to grow and high yielding.  Obviously there is something lacking in my soil that they need.

I have a few new shoots of spinach coming up, so some of them managed to set seed before I pulled them.  Next year I think I'll just leave one or two plants on each side to go to seed to avoid the overcrowding.

Radishes have all been pulled.

I'm still harvesting beet tops and will soon start harvesting brassica leaves and kale for greens as well.

And outside Greenhouse #2, the yellow flowers (coreopsis tickseed) are taller than they've ever been.  The chickens weaved trails through them when they were smaller, kind of thinning them out.