Friday, September 30, 2011

Fall Gardening

Yes, I still have things growing. The temperatures have been below normal, and they even used the "S" word for this weekend's forecast. But there is still activity in the garden.

I am enjoying the fall planting of lettuce in the bed which held the first planting of cucumbers and bush beans. There are three short rows of carrots on the far end.

Tim and Neighbor Mike constructed an extra hoop house that fits over the lettuce. The cloth will give me frost protection down to 26*. Next summer I can replace the cloth for shade cloth and keep the lettuce cooler hoping to delay the bolting. I cut this cloth out of a larger sheet, hemmed the edges, and added gromets to fasten it to the frame.

There are still seedlings coming up and this bed will soon be a lettuce jungle.

The Nasturtium, which stops blooming in the heat of summer, always rallies and offers billows of bright fall color.

In the "paste tomato" bed, the only thing left is the Sungold which is being nursed along to provide salad tomatoes.

The third planting of bush beans is still lush. It produced a couple of gallons of beans to freeze, and now is keeping us in dinner beans. Now and then it gets ahead of me and I have to freeze a small batch. The Purple Queen beans are reverting to their pole bean ancesters and taking over the remaining cornstalks.

The "slicing tomato" bed still has some tenants, but they will be pulled this weekend. The bell peppers on the far side are going strong and I will have to freeze some.

The Serrano pepper looks very festive. We are going to try drying these.

The chard looks gorgeous!

But this is one ugly summer squash. The growing end keeps generating new growth as the old leaves die off leaving an ugly snaking stalk. I keep having to wind it around and back into the bed. Thre are still a few small squash coming on.

Plan for this weekend is winterization. I've done my "ungardening" gradually instead of all in one day. It feels like less work that way. But soon we will be battling leaves and anything left in the beds will just be an obstacle. The compost bin is full, but there is still work to be done to get everything cut down and protected, and the equipment clean, disinfected and ready for a smooth start in the spring.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

An Exciting Day to be a Rock

Imagine you’re a rock. You’ve just been sitting around since the last Ice Age. Doing nothing. Now and then an animal walks by. The animals change over time from wild to domestic, then you start seeing humans occasionally. The humans cut the trees and change the view, but for the most part they leave you alone. Now and then they run into you with something and make a lot of noise. Some of your neighbors have had pieces chopped off or have been pried out of the ground and hauled away. But not you. You’re a big rock.

Then one day a big machine comes and plucks you out of the ground. Talk about surprise! Next thing you know, you’re whizzing along at high speeds of oh, 3 or 4 miles per hour, over hill and dale. Whhheeeeee! That glacier was nothing compared to this. Then you’re dumped on a big pile of rocks. You’ve heard tell about rock piles and now, finally, you’re part of one. And that fetching igneous rock with the elaborate lichens that you’ve been creeping toward for the past, oh ten thousand years or so, is suddenly mere inches away. Yes, indeedy, it is an exciting day to be a rock!

In order to accommodate and encourage the farmer who rents our land, and anyone else who might want to brush hog it now or in the future, we spend a day now and then picking rocks. It's expensive and time consuming enough to keep the land in shape without adding the variable of ruining a blade or worse on a grass covered boulder. This year, the target was the area I've come to refer to as "Hell's Half Acre". I've seldom gone back there, as it's a good hike from any direction. In my childhood I remember it as being little grazed, rarely mowed, and generally avoided, usually chin high in weeds.

A few weeks ago I realised why. I made it back there on my rock scouting expeditions, and found that Bruce had actually managed to brush hog it. And it looked as if the glacier went through last month. I could stand in one spot and count at least a dozen boulders, some sitting right up on top of the ground. Obviously no one has ever picked rock back here. Add to that the fact that it appears that at one point a tornado came through and knocked the woods down because there are so many hillocks which are usually caused by root balls being turned up. This was not a place where the land was carefully cleared of rocks and stumps, and no one has ever plowed it. I can guarantee that! This must be what Bruce was referring to when he said he'd like to see a dozer smooth out some of the pasture. This must be heck to mow.

I took the day off. I was actually looking forward to playing outside all day. Tim drove one of our tractors out, 45 minutes, because we needed the big tractor with the back hoe. I got the easy job. I drive from rock to rock and Tim digs. There is still a lot of on and off and twisting and looking. The next day I simply could NOT turn my head to the left.

We worked for 7 hours (not counting drive time) and gathered 197 rocks ranging from the size of your noggin to the size of your large appliances.

Here is a photo of the BIG rock from our last rock day two years ago. And one of the rock piles from that day.

On to the next one...

Behind us, the boulders littered the pasture like dinosaur poop.

This was fun for the first, oh 4 or 5 hours. Really good fun. Lots better than sitting in an office! Then as 5 o'clock neared, we realised we were never going to see the end of the rocks, and we had two dozen not piled, and no good spot to pile them. We had added to 3 or 4 existing piles, and started 3 of our own in out of the way places. Last time we had piled the rocks near the gates and sold them. This wasn't plausible this time. The price of rocks would not have covered the diesel and time it took to get them near a gate.

So at 5 o'clock when Tim asked if that was all for today, I fibbed and said yes. There are two other areas we didn't get to, but those rocks have been there for a really long time, and they will still be there next year. Along with whatever else heaves up through with the frost. My uncle said one year he counted how many field stones went into a trailer load, did some calculations on the acreage, and estimated that my grandfather had moved over 750,000 in his lifetime. With those numbers, we've only just begun.

Imagine doing this without a tractor. I'm a pretty active person, and Tim works outside all day long, so we were ready for a day picking rock. I remembered to take some Aleve before I, uh leaved the house. We covered the outer path of about 50 acres. There was a lot of rock rolling and rock picking up. Some of them we just pried out of the ground with a spud bar. How this works is you are standing around, leaning on the bar (used to help roll the rock into the bucket) waiting for whomever is driving to get back from dumping a load of rocks on the rock pile, when you spot another rock hiding in the grass. You take careful aim and jab the bar into the earth next to the rock and pry. You watch the earth around to see how much of it moves, and by this you calculate the approximate size of the rock and your chances of getting it out by hand.

Sometimes you are still jabbing and prying when the tractor comes back, and you gratefully step aside and make room for the back hoe and the front end loader. My grandfather had no backhoe and no front end loader. He had a tractor and a trailer. His father before him had a stone boat and a team of horses. The folks before my family likely had a stone boat and a team of oxen. We have found ox shoes in the fields. Imagine clearing rock all day with a pry bar, a stone boat, and a team of oxen. It would take more than Aleve to get me through that!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Strawberry Rhubarb World Domination

It was mere months ago when my strawberry rhubarb bed was fresh and manageable.

That has changed.

Despite pulling yellow leaves from the rhubarb each week, it has gotten HUGE and threatened to take over the world. The strawberries are right behind it sending runners through the wire of the cages with intent to blanket every useable growing space for a 3 mile radius. I've sort of let it go. It's something you can do every day, or once a season. It used to be easy to "renovate" my berry bed. I would just turn Tim loose with the lawn mower (deck at it's highest setting) and he would mow it.

The time to renovate a strawberry bed is just after the last harvest. My berries are supposedly everbearing, so I waited until now, since they should produce a second, smaller crop in September. They sort of did. It wasn't a harvest, more like an occasional "oh there's a berry. Is it worth going after?" I've opted to let the rows fill in between each other. I can easily reach through from both sides. We'll find out whether or not this is a mistake in regards to air circulation later. Now that things are under control, I may go back in there and work on it some more.

I trimmed the plants to 3-4" above the ground, but my main goal was containment. I ruthlessly pulled and weeded out all the runners on the sides and ends so the cages fit back over, and raked and tidied the mulch on each side. All is now in order. I will mulch them after the first frost in preparation for the snow.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I'm tired.
I'm tired of fruit flies.
I'm tired of every basket and enamelware bowl, bucket and pot being full of potatoes and onions and tomatoes in various stages of ripeness. Apples in various stages of rot. And summer squash.
I'm tired of my tables, Hoosier, countertop and every available flat surface from the side porch on through to the dining room being covered in baskets, buckets and pots.
I'm tired of fishing peas/tomato skins/bean ends out of the sink drain.
I'm REALLY tired of cleaning my countertop composter. That is one stage of composting that is really.... vile.
I'm tired of washing pots/pans/strainers/casserole dishes and cookie sheets. And the stove top.
I'm tired of rearranging my freezer.
I'm tired of cleaning the tomato seeds out of the Foley food mill.
I'm tired of trying to optimize the usage of every bag, box, and bushel basket I've hoarded.
And I'm tired of my refrigerator looking like a disaster zone and being on my feet until 10:00 three or four nights a week.
But I'll never get tired of beautiful, colorful vegetables...

Or Mom's apple pie....

Or gardening in general.
But it sure is time for autumn.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

After Apple Picking

This is going to be a banner year for apples in our neck of the woods. Every wild apple tree you pass on the side of the road is loaded with apples. We have a Yellow Transparent, a Cortland, and a Macintosh in our backyard, but the crows and the squirrels stripped all but a couple of dozen apples off the trees. Not to worry, on my farmland we have an Orchard, and I was pleased to discover that there were much more than enough apples for us.

My Great Uncle Doug planted the orchard in 1938. When Great Grandpa Fred came on the farm in 1905, there were old orchards (as was common on farms then) on both "upper" and "lower" farms. Some farmers in the 19th century and turn of the century grew a lot of apples. Some were sent to apple driers in nearby Ashville and put in barrels and exported to Germany.

Photo of the Apple Drier in Asheville from "Chautauqua County - A Pictoral History"

The orchard on my farm was across the cow lane from where it is now, on a two acre field. The severe winters of the 1930's and age killed off the old orchards. Some winters were so cold the trunks of trees would freeze and burst and that sounded "like rifle shots" according to my Grandfather.

Uncle Doug planted the new orchard with more modern varieties. It was one of very few, if not the only orchard in Busti planted that late. He ordered the trees from the Stark Brothers  mail order nursery. My uncle Norman used to have to count the trees and report the number along with how many bushels of apples he saved and how many he took in for cider to the government.

By studying an aerial photo I’ve determined there may have originally been as many as 84 trees, and fewer than 30 remain alive. My Grandfather never trimmed or sprayed it. One year neighbors with a cider mill rented it and trimmed it up and tried to put it in commercial condition for a year or two. I believe my Great Grandfather used to graze sheep in there to keep the grass down, and I remember my Grandfather keeping a couple of hives of honey bees in the back. Other than that, the orchard has been left to it's own devices and is in need of some clean up.

My uncle tells that in the 1970's they used to bag up many bushels of apples and have cider made in several batches. They brought it home in milk cans but put it in big 20 gallon earthenware crocks and kept it out in the snow to have cider into December. I remember them laying tarps under the trees to catch the windfall apples.
My Grandmother also canned and froze cider in gallon jugs: glass for canning and plastic for freezing. We drank a lot of cider! We also had applesauce made from the Yellow Transparents, and dried apples dried on cookie sheets beside the wood stove. My sister and I learned to make apple dumplings, and that was all the rage for a year or two.

They stored apples in baskets in the root cellar. A few times in the winter someone would have to go through the remaining apples in the cellar and cull the rotten ones. I remember the cellar smelling of dried leaves and the faint smuttiness of rotting apples.

The past few weeks I have been keeping an eye on the trees, and have been tormented by loads of ripe apples falling to the ground to be enjoyed by the deer and woodchucks. There are McIntosh, Cortland, a Greening for cooking, Double Red Delicious which are still starchy and hard, Red Spies, Northern Spies and one King tree which is covered with large pale apples.

These are BIG trees. You can only reach a few from the ground, and my attempts at picking them from the back of my horse (who knew I was picking apples and therefore wanted to help) were frustrating at best. Around here, if you want to get to something up high, you grab a Kubota!

I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall,
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised, or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.

~Robert Frost

All this bounty makes us greedy. We hate to see it go to waste. But of course, there are only so many apples you can eat or cook in a week. So Tim immediately began to think of cider. He doesn't even drink cider! I drink plenty of cider in the fall. I began by warming it and adding a shot of Captain Morgan Rum for a spicy drink. There is a restaurant that we frequent who has put me on to a few other combinations. Add Butterscotch Schnapps for a drink that tastes like warm apple pie. Add Peach Schnapps and the peach almost totally takes over for a wonderful zingy peach drink.

My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
And I keep hearing from the cellar-bin
That rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking;
~Robert Frost

I actually do have an antique orchard ladder (they are narrow at the top) but that would have been useless in this situation. Mom's apple picker DID come in very handy. Although I knocked off quite a few, sending them pelting down on Tim and Mom's heads.

Apple Orchard Gothic
Mom and I pose with our bountiful harvest.
There's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now
~Robert Frost

I talked to my dad the next day and at Tim's insistence I asked him what had become of PaPaw's cider press in Kentucky. He didn't know, but he said he had one in the garage that had followed him home from a garage sale. It needed a new drum, but I told him I would stop by and see it because I know you can buy the new drums online.

How long do you think it takes a guy to load something very heavy into his truck and drive 7 miles? Before I knew it, my father was hollering my name through the screen door, and this....

....was sitting in our driveway. Never balk at a chance to get rid of some junk.

The mechanics of it are clean, well oiled, and crank with ease. It has a grinder which Tim didn't think would do much in the way of chopping an apple, until we dropped a couple in and were rewarded with a pile of apple shards on the driveway. An efficient grinder it certainly is!

But this will probably be next year's project. Tim naturally wants to sand blast it and pretty it up, and we still need a replacement drum, a pusher (for lack of a better word) for the top, and I'll be sewing some sacks to go in the drum.

After all that excitement, I began to cook apples. I made both applesauce and apple butter (more on that another time). And this is just the beginning! There are more apples ripening every day!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Thank You for the Cow Paths

Dear Farmer who rents my land;

Thank you for the cow paths. When I walked the pasture today, marking boulders for removal, I was delighted to find that your cows have made paths. Granted, they are not in the same places that my grandfather's cows had them, but they are nice just the same. I am hoping with time they will become as deeply etched among the buttercups as I remember them and that they will fill up with the fine powder of dirt that feels good to toes or becomes slick in the rain and make a satisfying smack under bare feet.

There is a lot of work history in that land. There are pits that springs have carved around piles of rocks stacked by men generations ago who foolishly thought they could stop the erosion. Every now and then I come across an unexpected gully opening up beneath my feet in seemingly flat land, but most of the creek banks still feel familiar as they did 30 years ago.

I am surprised that the old fence line where we took out the wire this spring has blended in so well, and that the new fence line has already aged to match it's surroundings as if a clever decorator "distressed" it with golden rods and dried grass to make it look old. The pasture has already moved on and forgotten our hard work with a casual shrug at the whims of humans and their boundary lines. I think my newer coils of wire look nice on the old wire pile.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know I had noticed the improvement. The pasture looks good, and somehow satisfied to be grazed by cows again. It has been nearly a century since my family arrived, and close to two centuries since settlers brought the first cows here. I wonder what will be here in another hundred years. I hope they keep the cow paths.

Your Farmer Neighbor

Monday, September 5, 2011

Today's Theme: Out 'er Space

We are, errrr... outta space.

My hod was in the basement full of potatoes. All my yard sale plastic strainers that I pick into were full of Shelly's extra tomatoes which she wanted not to have to deal with. But I found one more and heaped the beans in.

I realised after the beans were picked that , due to last weekend's lasagna making spree, I had no room in the freezer to put a tray (I am also, coincidentally, out of Gladware, but that wasn't a problem at the moment). After some juggling I made room, and realised that a gallon of beans was not going to fit onto one tray. But if I used the deep tray of the broiler, I could stack them and not have beans freezing to the bottom of the top tray.

In the meantime, on the other side of the kitchen, I was running out of both casserole dishes AND oven space.

And when I ground down all Shelly's surplus tomatoes, I was precariously near to running out of space in my 4 qt pot.
In the end (at 11pm), it all got into the freezer. It just took some engineering.