Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Weed Potatoes

I had to weed the squash bed again (last year's potato bed).
I swear if you don't keep up with these things they get away from you!. 

 And I'm glad I didn't over plant potatoes this year.
This is the main crop.
There's another storm brewing in the south...

The Northern Spy apple tree has held a half dozen nice apples on it 
( and dropped about 20).  I'm glad I didn't worry about hand pollinating it!
The heavy fruit and constant rain have bowed it over in the middle with the weight and we had to  stiffen it with a bamboo pole wired back to a stake
Otherwise it would be reaching towards the ground.  It sure is an over achiever!
It's mate is a much shaplier tree, but a ne'r-do-well who only set a couple of apples and those aren't growing at all.  Our older trees are laden too but the squirrels will get those I'm sure.  They always do.

The main lettuce bed is thinning out.  I have a few heads of bib lettuce left and then two rows of younger plants down each side.  The second planting of cucumbers will go in down the middle shortly.  

I have a third row of lettuce ready to use along the edge of the bean bed.

The first two rows of peas need to be pulled as well as that lettuce that is bolting. There are nice carrots on the other side.  It was a very productive bed but will rest the rest of the year.

These peas are producing now.  This is the first time I've ever had to pick UP peas.  They are higher than my head, almost higher than my reach.

.....and then it started to rain again.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

In Between the Rain Drops

I generally take the Weather Channel's forecast with a grain of salt, but today they were right on target.  It has rained ALL day.  Two inches and counting.  I haven't added up my rain chart lately, but this is puts us over 6 inches this month.  And our June average is 4.5".  TWC has us down for 3.5" month to date and they are behind in their count,  We're floating.

Even the wildlife is waterlogged

Nasturtium and Marigolds

Nasturtium and Portulaca

The first Sweet Pea blossom

...and here come the zucchini!

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Apple Orchard - Mowers Behaving Badly

Long time readers may remember our Apple Orchard.  The orchard used to be overgrown and unkempt which we remedied with several day's hard work.  And we have been trying to keep on a mowing schedule so that level of disaster never happens again.  With this in mind, we have collected a fleet of farming equipment for maintaining the orchard.

The Orchard in it's previous disheveled state 2011

In the past, Tim had been driving his tractor over 8 miles and back whenever we needed to do work on the farm.  Or, my step-father, always helpful, would take time out of his busy schedule to run through with his brush hog.  This winter we bought a Ford Jubilee tractor, old Oliver brush hog and acquired, through charitable swapping with a neighbor, a pretty good 24hp lawn mower which had been used and abused to the point that it no longer either started or mowed but was quickly resurrected in Tim's Tractor Triage.

Then we cleared out space in the family barn across the road, brought a selection of tools and equipment to store there, and set about to farm on a regular schedule.  The idea is we have a free afternoon with nice weather, and we just show up and have all the equipment we need all ready to go: shovels, rakes, pruners.... metal detector.  Booze. You will understand why in a minute.

Shiny New Radiator (and gas cap chain)
 It hasn't been easy.  We've mowed the heavy spring grass in the orchard twice this year and it's taken us about.... six weeks.  There seems to be some sort of mower curse over the property.  I know my uncle always seems to be having lawn mower breakdowns, and now I think - it's not entirely his fault.  The only piece of equipment that is behaving herself up there is the little dump trailer Tim picked up at a Tuesday auction.  Everyone else has been behaving badly.  Very badly indeed.

The tractor liked to boil over whenever you shut her off, and has cast off her gas cap.  The day after we gave her a whole brandy new cooling system (yesterday), she promptly sprung a serious oil leak (today).  The brush hog pooped out it's blades one day.  Just dropped them right off - KaBLAM!  Tim went back with the metal detector two days later and found the main castle nut three circuits of the field back.  How that 75(?) pound disc and blade assembly managed to stay on, and cutting, for about 15 minutes, with nothing but sticky old grease and centripetal force to hold it up, is anybody's guess.  And the next important question was:  How is one man supposed to lift the blades back up on the nut and screw it back on under there?  Well, it takes an engineering mind, some determination and not a little bit of BamBam

Gas cap #1 is still MIA and evading the metal detector (gas cap #2, also rattley, has been chained to her post like a prisoner).  The weekend after that, the lawn mower picked up a rose root, jammed the blades, bent a spindle, smoked the belt and then vibrated the main engine pulley right the heck out.  Tim reinstalled the pulley, and replaced the spindle, but the battered blades are just going to have to do their job as best they can,

The Oliver bush hog with blades safely contained.... for now
It's just one thing after another.  And these venerate old gals have been gone over, sweet talked, adjusted, greased and pampered. There is no reason for them to be shedding parts and fluids, like dirty underwear, all over the orchard!   We have not gotten through a complete mowing without some sort of problem or annoyance.  When we do finish we can't even admire our accomplishment, we're too busy making a list of parts we need.  And the parts....  after you figure out what you need (it was very helpful to find that old worn out castle nut so we could hold it up and say "I need one of these") ...after you figure out what you need, you can be sure that the new parts, even OEM parts, won't be exactly the same as 60 year old parts.  And if they are, they still won't fit right or the threads will be worn, or the nut will be in an impossible spot.

Tim says that's the risk you run when you're using old equipment,  Quite frankly, the orchard isn't something you would subject new equipment to.  It's hillocky and rolling.  There are hidden rocks and roots and fallen limbs in the grass and woodchuck holes big enough to swallow a wheel (a big one).  The bottom quarter is wet and the upper quarter is rutted.  It's not your typical lawn mowing job.  It's a bit of a challenge.

Still, when the mower fleet is running well, things are great.  And half of the orchard is flat and wide open, a pleasure to mow.  There are worse ways to spend an afternoon than mowing in the shady, bucolic countryside.  I start with the mower under the low limbs of the healthy Cortland and Spy trees while Tim takes the Jubilee and brush hog up and down the long rows. Then I criss-cross in a grid two mower widths beside each tree to catch the grass left by the slalomming path of the wide hog.  I finish up with a trip round of weed whacking and get the golden rods that are hugging the trunks, fearing for their lives.  The orchard grass is heavy and thick, and the golden rod and multiflora rose are in abeyance.  The orchard looks cared for.

The orchard after it's first serious haircut in decades 2013.
It looks even better now, but we're too busy meckanicking to take pictures.
There are a few trees that need to be cut.  I planted 4 new ones last year and they all survived the winter.  More are on order for this fall.  When the apples start to ripen I'm going to mark the trees that need to be taken out and that will be another weekend project.  In the mean time I'm collecting fallen limbs and taking them to the burn pile.  I don't even need to use a chainsaw.  There are dead limbs 8 inches or more thick that I can pull down by hand.  There are really many more than a half dozen really productive trees.  The rest are sort of  there for atmosphere.  But it's a nice atmosphere... apart from this whole mower curse thing.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Debauchee of Dew ~ First Day of Summer

I taste a liquor never brewed --
From Tankards scooped in Pearl --
Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of Air—am I --
And Debauchee of Dew --
Reeling—thro endless summer days --
From inns of Molten Blue --

When "Landlords" turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove's door --
When Butterflies—renounce their "drams" --
I shall but drink the more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats --
And Saints—to windows run --
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the—Sun --

~ Emily Dickenson

Saturday, June 20, 2015

They're Baa-Ack

I lay in bed by the open window listening to the cry of the red tailed hawk and enjoying the fact that it was Saturday.  Then I realized:  I can't just lay here.  I have beetles!  And thus I was up with the sun and so was able to enjoy the single hour of sunshine we are going to have today.  Because the cucumber beetles are back.  I got a break last year, but not this year.  So I got up early while the leaves were still cool and wet with dew and stuck at least three dozen beetle bug butts to duct tape before the sun warmed and woke them.  

There were noticeably fewer flea beetles hatched this year.  Plants have sustained minor damage, but not enough to bother covering them.  When I set out transplants it was over a week before the beetles even found them.

The cantaloupes are taking off.  Thank goodness I chose to put them in containers this year because we are above average rain and below average temps and everything is damp and soggy.  

My newly planted Honeoye strawberries are beautiful and producing just enough for salad toppings (garnish salad with strawberries,fresh peas, feta cheese and either strawberry vinaigrette or honey mustard dressing)

The garden in general is picture perfect this year.

I've brought out my laundry tubs for planters, leaving one basin open for rinsing produce.

I've been digging the "potato weeds" out of the squash bed and using the new potatoes

And my annual plantings are adding color.

Today's Lunch Specials:
Spring Pea Soup with mint & sour cream
Photo Credit and Recipe
My Recipe Note:  Cook time is for frozen peas.  Cook fresh peas at least 10 minutes to improve the texture of your soup.  And you can get by with less broth

Salt Potatoes
Photo Credit and Recipe
My Recipe Note: I used fresh thyme for my herb garnish

Friday, June 19, 2015

The End of Lettuce - Almost

I admit it.  I planted way too much lettuce.  I always do.  It's just so inexpensive.  And it grows so well! And I always find room.  I plant rows of thinnings along any bare spot.  Along the beans where the old seeds rotted.  Along the west side of the peas.

Don't leave a bare edge, plant some extra lettuce.

They make great ground cover.  They block out weeds.  They work as spatter guards protecting sensitive plants from soil born diseases.   They work as mulch shading the sun and holding moisture into the soil.

Early lettuce purchased from a greenhouse provides meals at first
and then becomes attractive ground cover.

When I thin my lettuce clumps (let's face it, it's nearly impossible to plant just ONE lettuce seed) I pull the targeted plant away from the one I am leaving, then I cut the roots off into the weed pan and keep the leaves (sometimes I get mixed up and cut roots into my salad bowl)

A clump of small plants must be thinned to allow one plant
to continue with proper air circulation and room to grow.

If the thinning comes out with a good portion of roots and dirt, plant it!

 But sometimes when I pull the young plant, so much root system comes with it that it is a perfect transplant candidate.  The more root, and the more dirt in the roots, the more likely the transplant is to thrive immediately.

My bean row failed so I planted lettuce thnnings.
They looked pitiful for a few days, but lettuce is very resilient.

The key to enjoying your lettuce is succession planting.  If you seed into pots, don't transplant them all at once.  Even if you seeded them all at once, if you leave them in the pots, they will sort of hang out, developing roots, but not putting out much foliage.  Save half of your pots for a later planting.  Then, transplant some of your thinnings.  This way you will get at LEAST three plantings extending your season,

But, inevitably, the plants will bolt and get bitter.  This will happen at the point when they are large and beautiful.  It will hurt to pull them.  But you are making room for the next crop.  And even better - if you aren't growing food, you are growing compost!  The first row of store bought transplants spent half it's life mulching the peas.  The main lettuce bed that produced buckets all through June will be pulled to make room for the next crop.  But the thinnings along the bean row will still be immature and producing.  The root of succession is Success.

Tips on Lettuce Harvesting and Storage:
Pick early in the morning when the temperatures are still cool and the leaves are crisp
Pick as cleanly as possible
Rinse leaves only as necessary and remove any damaged or browned areas
Use a salad spinner or or lay out on towels to remove as much water as possible
Place in a ziplok bag one gallon or two gallon size.
I include at least one paper towel in the bottom to collect moisture
Close the bag 90% of the way, place under a cutting board and press gently to remove air, and close.
Lettuce is best eaten the same day it is harvested but will keep in the refrigerator at least two weeks if properly handled.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


My husband has a theory about garbage.  He says if you leave it unattended, it will attract more garbage.  I have the same theory about weeds.  I believe it is better to weed for 10 minutes every day than for an hour on Sunday.  By then it is a job.  No one wants to spend an hour weeding.  But most people can be talked into 10 minutes of the task.

Never pass up a weed.  If you say "I'll get it later" you won't.  Then there will be two of them.  Then you will say "I'll set aside some time tomorrow."  And you won't.  Whenever I do my garden walk through I take my weed pan with me.  You have to get down there to look for squash bugs anyway, you may as well pause for 5 seconds and grab that weed.  And that one over there.

There are always weedy enemies lurking in the hard to reach places

Whenever I harvest I bring my weed pan to that bed.  Harvesting peas is not as conducive to weeding as say lettuce is.  You won't be down on your knees.  But you will be looking deep into the pea plants looking for pods.  If there is a weed staring back, grab it!  Then take 5 steps back and drop it in the pan.  You can do it!

Lettuce is easy to weed as I pick
My enamelware weed pan is my trusty companion

It takes me about a week to fill this pan.  It stays in the garden all season.  It is cute enough not to be an eyesore.  It is heavy enough not to blow away in a storm.  It's big enough to hold a week's worth of weeds (mainly because I pull them before they get too big).  Now, if you've ignored all my previous advice about raised beds, intensive planting, not turning your soil and mulching, and you have weeds in volume that requires a hoe or a tiller, then I can't help you.  You're just going to have to spend your Sunday weeding.  I'm going to spend mine in the shade admiring my garden.

My Pea Patch in 2008, the last year before we put in the raised beds
Wow, that looks like a lot of work!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

June Update - Luscious Lettuce

This is one of those lush growing years.  I don't think the garden has looked this good since it's first year back in 2010.  I give credit to the rain and the blood meal I have added to all the beds.  Everything has taken right off.  We've had good growing conditions, plenty of rain, and sunny days.  I have also fertilized twice since planting with fish emulsion.

I am very happy that I finally bought the extra tall pea fence for the Wando peas.  They are reaching towards the top already.

The Maestro peas are just now ready.  I picked some and put them on my salad for supper tonight.  They are a more normal pea height and great producers.

But June is ruled by lettuce.  I remember when they were just tender little babies needing to be watered every day.  They look so cute at that size.

Now they have reached maturity and are elbowing each other for growing room.  There are three mature rows here and a new row planted down each edge.

I religiously spaced these plants 12 inches apart, but with the healthy soil and plenty of rain they have grown enormous!  I've never seen such large leaves!  I carefully removed any extra plants first.  For over a month I have been "pruning" them to harvest, taking only the outer leaves.

This week I realized the best course of action would be to just cut and remove every other plant.  It took a couple of days of studying before I chose which end to start on so I leave a perfectly balance selection of varieties in each of the mixed rows.  Now they have some elbow room and are off set so no one is pinned between two neighbors.  This morning I cut POUNDS of lettuce, rinsed it, and packed it into two gallon bags.   Besides here at home, and my office fridge, I am also giving bags and bags to my mother and co-workers.  There is enough lettuce for everyone!  Besides this bed, I have two mature rows along the peas, and one just started in the bean bed!

Remember the first signs of spring?  The survivors in the herb bed?

Well they are growing and spreading and looking beauteous.
Clockwise from the top:  Rosemary, common Thyme, Verigated (yellow and green) Sage, Verigated Thyme, Daylillies and Irises and a Nasturtium tucked in.  And right in the middle is the Tri-colored or Purple Sage.  I even think I have toad in my little toad house there.  There was fresh soil kicked out the doorway, but I didn't want to lift it up and disturb him.  That makes for a grumpy toad.

This year I am trying my cantaloupes in containers.  I really didn't have a good spot to rotate them to and I thought with fresh soil and the added heat of the sand in the chicken yard they ought to do well.

This bed held potatoes the last two years.  Now there are 4 zucchini plants in wire cages (just until they get big and prickly and inedible to the deer and bunnies).  The rest of the plants are weeds.  Well, weed-potatoes to be precise.  No matter how careful I am at harvesting I always miss some.  These are blooming now and within the next two weeks I will pull them, use the baby potatoes, and give the zukes more room to grow.  Those are a good kind of weed to have.

So, how are all of your gardens coming along this year?  This is the best time of year.  Enjoy!