Friday, July 27, 2012

Ideal day

Last summer I grew one 10 foot row of beets. I used all of them for pickled beets, not roasting a single one. This year I decided I'd grow 3 rows. They are beautiful, large, and ready to pick. And because today is in the 70s, cloudy, and breezy, it is a perfect day for canning.
just picked. Tops go to the chickens and into the compost bin.
Rinsed outside with the hose.
Simmered til soft. Skins slide right off. What is removed goes into the compost too.
A pickling bath is prepared.
Beets and onions are added to the bath to simmer together for a few minutes.
Contents carefully put into sterile pint jars and processed in water bath for half an hour.

The color is amazing. The taste this winter will be amazing, too.
While typing this post I heard 8 distinct, satisfying pings letting me know the jars are sealed. A good day's work.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

a bit of a break

According to the National Weather Service, today is to be our last day in the 90s or above for the foreseeable future. (Mid to high 80s will be warm enough.) In the past several weeks I've been on watering patrol, just to give Mother Nature a bit of support. On Monday night and into Tuesday She took over once again in the watering department.

And this evening as I said good night to the chickens I could hear the deep, distant sonorous sounds of thunder. There is a chance rain could come tonight once again.

Despite the drought, the vegetable garden and orchard are doing remarkably well.


cinderella pumpkin
cucumbers climbing
new growth on the honeycrisp apple
spreading raspberries

While Jerome was up here this past weekend we were able to get the blueberries planted. They went in the new fruit bed we cleared parallel to the vegetable bed, in line with the raspberries. We were able to mulch them with some of the mulch we made with the trimmed branches and dead trees we had been collecting since we bought the farm.

Can you tell it was nearly 100 degrees? We took very frequent breaks to sit beneath the apple tree and finished off a half gallon of raspberry lemonade while getting this job done! I'm wearing a neckband that is filled with a water absorbing gel. You soak it and it collects water. In theory it is supposed to cool you while keeping your neck moist. Well, it helped keep the sun from burning the skin along my collar bones while I was wearing it.
A few other joys in the garden right now:
a nearly ripe peach which no wildlife has noticed so far
daylilies in the front flower bed

and jasmine on the back porch.

Beauty, bounty, blessings.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


 It happened this afternoon. The temperature dropped from 94 to 70. The skies were so dark the solar lights all came on. Dovey dove under the buffet. And then it happened.

All is still right now, and thankfully drenched. Our frequent visitor is on the porch and letting us know he is also pleased.

Thank you all who have sent good thoughts our way and whose collective chi has helped me keep going in the face of this challenge.

Monday, July 16, 2012

carrying on

We are officially in a drought here in southwestern Wisconsin.
We had rain last weekend, a tad less than a quarter of an inch. There was thunder as well, which I always find a pleasant part of rain. But that is all, for weeks now. My "lawn" in many areas  is dust under my feet. I'm hard pressed to find green areas to cut and collect with the walk behind mower to put down for mulch in the vegetable and fruit beds. The days have continued in the high 80s, 90s, and even 100 degrees. Nights, thankfully, cool enough to open the house and bring the inside temperatures down in preparation for the next day. Only one night so far has been noticeably uncomfortable, and I am finding the grace to be able to cope with the dispiriting daily routine.

Water, thank God for water. The need to water is constant. I am eternally grateful for a deep well, although I often wonder if the wilting vegetables are completely happy with the 45-50 degree well water when they'd much prefer a shower of air/cloud temperature rain.  I am grateful that I have a small enough area to protect and can do so alone with vigilance. I don't need to grow and harvest enough foodstuffs to last me through the winter as my Amish friends do. I don't need to bring to market and thus earn enough to pay my bills. If my crops fail I do not go hungry nor do I face losing my land. People here are advertising their beef for sale early to avoid buying costly feed which they'd have to purchase from a distance. But for me losses would be a disappointment, a setback, to lose the efforts of these first two seasons, but not a devastation.

This unprecedented early spring caused plants to wake up dangerously early. Then the cold in April hit as much was vulnerable and in bloom. One of the most popular local orchards will have no apples this fall. Berries all over the region are shriveling: blueberries, raspberries, and now the blackberries. The area corn is in tassel way too early. Too hot, too dry, too long. How are my neighbors coping? How are the birds, mammals? The chickens devour anything with moisture: kale, fruit, vegetable scraps. There are birds constantly at my liquid feeders, water baths, the hose trickling on the orchard trees.

Unassisted, Mother Nature carries on. The septic mound, the meadow, and the roadsides are thick with Queen Anne's Lace, little clusters of wild daisies, and the quintessential summer blooming orange day lilies. Chicory and clover and milkweed are all in glorious abundance. Daily I find toads and tree frogs in the garden and on the porches among my potted plants. I've seen more wildlife in the past few weeks than I have since I've been here.

I keep this little figure close by to remind me that it will get cooler. It will rain again. There will be another season.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

a gift from across the pond

My life has been deeply enriched since meeting several beautiful women through this marvel that is the blogosphere.
If you don't already know her, Simone, of Linden Grove, is a multi-talented and thoughtful woman living in the UK. Her photography is stunning. She adores playing with paper which she calls pootling.  I watch a lot of British tv but admit I've never heard this term. Perhaps Simone has invented it??  She also is very adept with a needle, is remarkably at home whether in the garden,  kitchen, or studio. She has recently opened an online shop she calls Pootling with Paper. A stroll through her shop gives you some small idea of her range of interests and creativity. And as busy as this wife and mother is, she also finds time to volunteer. Visit her blog and see where she offers her gifts of time and energy.
Recently she had a giveaway and I was a lucky winner!
The first photo is of the greeting card that was enclosed with my prize. Beautifully rendered, this work of art is a gift in itself. Simone, it will always have the power to transport me to the British countryside.

The prize you can see below. Simone loves beads. In fact, I was one of several dozen who sent beads to her from all over the globe for a necklace she fashioned. This bracelet arrived in the heart of inland America. Its very colors speak of the sea. The beads are strung on memory wire,  and here you see it worn near my wrist. If my upper arms were tanned, I would have modeled it high on the arm in the manor of Cleopatra. Perhaps another day.

It arrived yesterday and brought with it a much needed boost to my spirit.
Simone, I love it. Thank you so much.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

4th of July, an addendum

Today earth is at aphelion, which means we are farther from the sun than any other time of the year. Nearly 3 million miles farther.

Makes me feel much cooler!

Happy 4th

On this day of parades, picnics, and fireworks, Dovey and I send our greetings.

Happy birthday America.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

shades of red

Each gardening season I've experimented with a plant I've never grown before. This year there are actually a few new faces in my garden.
Here is one: meet miss asparagus pea.
Several things about this plant have been a surprise. For one, it is neither an asparagus nor a pea, but it is a legume and will add nitrogen to the soil. It does not climb as much as sprawl, and its flowers are deep red, resembling tiny sweet peas. It takes forever to grow so I'm glad I started them indoors.
I bought the seeds while attending the Chicagoland Flower and Garden show with my buddy Barb this past March. And now, here she is in bloom. I'm advised to pick the pods when they are very small, less then 2 inches, 1 inch preferred, or they will be tough. I'll be checking them twice a day now, as this heat is making things pop. A little steam cooking, and melted butter and I can't wait to let you know if they'll be a regular in my garden from now on. They are very pretty.

Here is a view of the vegetable bed facing east. With diligent watering in this unremitting sun and high temperatures, everything is coming along nicely. The deep grass mulch has really cut down on the weeds and a daily walk through the aisles pulling those few that break through keeps things nice and tidy. I usually do this when the bed is in the shade of our gorgeous pine in the late afternoon. Often then there is also a little breeze. With the chickens for company just a few feet away to the right in this photo, it's a heavenly task.
Another red that's showing itself right now can be spotted in our new raspberry bed. I have been carefully collecting the grass clippings, precious few in this heat and drought, to cover this new bed and keep it weed free and moist. As we did under the tomatoes, first I laid down a layer of newspaper then the grass clippings. I think the new canes should be able to break through this ground cover as they emerge, but I'm hoping the weeds and grasses will not. In the days ahead any grass I mow will be collected for these beds.
In the June/July issue of Organic Gardening there is a recipe for Raspberry Shrub. Though my own plants will not be producing enough this season, my good friends Lovina and Eli will have much to sell. I plan to buy and freeze some and also make a batch of this.The recipe is as follows:
Raspberry Shrub
1 cup cider vinegar
6 cups raspberries
1. In a nonreactive bowl, pour vinegar over raspberries. Let stand, covered with a clean cloth or cheesecloth, for 24 to 48 hours (the mixture will become very strong smelling.) Strain with a fine mesh sieve, carefully pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. discard seeds. Measure liquid (there should be 2 cups.)
2. In a medium saucepan, add liquid and for every 2 cups liquid, 1 scant cup of sugar. Bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes. Cool, pour into glass jars, and cover tightly. As it ages, the shrub will take on a syruplike consistency. Keep in a cool dark place until needed. Raspberry shrub will keep for months if refrigerated.
3. To serve: In a tall glass filled with ice, pour 2 tablespoons shrub. Fill glass with cold water, seltzer water, lemonade or ginger ale.
It does sound delicious, no??

Last evening when I put the chickens to bed I spotted a family of raccoons walking across the orchard and my heart quickened a bit worrying about the hens. My friend down the road lost some of her chickens to raccoons. Lately I've found some evidence of raccoons (they just love to dig in pots or the ground where I've recently used or added my favorite potting mix.) I spotted a lone adult a few nights ago, but seeing this whole family made me hope they were just passing through and haven't taken up residence in the wreck of a barn on the edge of our property.  (you can see that wreck on the far edge of the middle photo above.) Handy, my fruits, vegetables, and chickens so nearby, who could blame them.