Gophers Be Gone! (Or, How We Shut Out The Enemy)

There's this thing that I have not mastered by any means. It's called patience. It's the quality of being patient, as the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like. Hmm, well that'll get me nowhere out here in deer and gopher land. So I choose not to have it right now. I choose resistance, intolerance, impatience! The enemies are near, watching and waiting. I cannot have a garden because of them and so I must pull out all the stops to be rid of them.

If you can't run 'em off, shut 'em out

I decided to go back to the drawing board and redesign all the gardens. The kitchen garden is half the size it used to be to make room for the market garden which has been moved closer to the house. Instead of using a squared-off area for herbs and flowers, I'll plant along the fences and around buildings. And the location of the future greenhouse has moved as well. All so we could do this:

Like a moat around a castle, a trench went in that completely surrounds the gardens. We decided to go about 3 ft deep to install gopher wire (hardware cloth) vertically in the ground. While gophers will dig deeper to build a nest, the tunnels that span out from the nest don't go very deep at all. We rented the trencher (which was a breeze to operate and super fun too) and now the hubby wants one of his own.

We packed it in pretty good but to be safe, it should be watered down and packed some more.

I should back up a bit because we first dug holes for the fence posts, then dug the trench. We put the trench along the outside, but I suppose it doesn't matter as long as it's close enough to connect them together in the end. BTW, we found the posts on.. (wait for it) ...Craigslist of course! It was a great deal and I'm very proud of just how cheap we are. 🙂

The corner support posts were cemented in below...

...and welded together up top. Brackets that tie it all together should work just as well.

Lay the gopher wire down and run the fencing over the top. Secure the fence to the posts with wire ties. I call this *wobble-wire* fence. I know there is some fabulous technical name for it, but it is designed to "wobble", acting as a raccoon deterrent too. They hate to climb it and will usually give up.

Secure the gopher wire to the fence. Wire or even zip ties would work here.

And finally, add two or three lines of single wire across the top (secured with wire ties) if you too are as cheap as I am and end up buying 5 1/2 foot fencing. Add the sparkly streamer thingys to the top wire so the deer can actually see it. If you like to splurge then just buy your fence at 7-8 feet and you're good to go.

Wait. What's this? Well I'd like to see you try it dude!

And try he did. But he failed. Whew! It was a big task but so worth it. Time to get my gardening on...

Life, The Homestead And Everything

“Having solved all the major mathematical, physical, chemical, biological, sociological, philosophical, etymological, meteorological and psychological problems of the Universe except for his own, three times over, [Marvin] was severely stuck for something to do...” ― Douglas Adams. Life, the Universe and Everything

Whose journey is this anyway? I sit here on my golf cart to take a look around, I think to myself "Wow, the homestead is beautiful! And we aren't even done yet!" I am beat to a pulp yet I want to do more. Yes, I remember the pep talk at the employee meeting at my very last job. Boy o boy was it geared up to excite. The boss believed we'd give 1000% to help build a business that someone else owned. And then 5 o'clock finally came around. Whew! That was a close one.

Here it is. Everything.

garden

By mid May all the summer food is planted. For some reason I decided to use the entire overflow garden rather than fix the chicken garden. Crabgrass completely overtook it and left us scratching our heads. I was completely overloaded with my 'to do' list so we just covered it with a heavy duty garden fabric and mulch. We'll come back to it at some point in time. But thanks to a little planning, we had extra rows ready to go so the animals could still enjoy yummy treats like pumpkin, watermelon, chard and corn.

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The best advice I can give? Get organized and stick to a schedule. That is the answer to running things smoothly, lest they run you. Okay then, we get the first thing underway. Pickling is top priority in June since the cukes seem to all come at once. And there is a lot of squash right behind it. I grab my go-to recipes and get to work. The hubby has been able to stay home more these days, and so he gets to work on cutting the grass. He enjoys working for only himself too.

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And then the tomatoes start to hit ya. You can never have enough plants because each new variety is more delicious than the last, right? By the end of harvest you've achieved the impossible: you've grown the perfect, prize-winning tomatoes.

Tomato Salad

Equal parts of thinly sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, throw in a little bell pepper and onion, a little chopped basil and minced garlic. Toss with your favorite vinaigrette. Optional: Salt/pepper to taste.

eggs

Every component of the homestead works hard. No employee meeting necessary. Got eggs? I do. The hens do not disappoint and I have plenty eggs all year long. Good for our breakfast, hard boiled for the hogs and crushed (shells) in the garden. In fact, so much of what the homestead produces is multipurpose. Sustainability at its best. And my favorite expressions "trial and error" and "practice makes perfect" also help describe the very spirit of sustainable living. You make it all work together... it's just what you do.

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As I continued the journey around the gardens I realized this was a great year for summer food. Oh, it was a hot one (and sometimes unbearably hot!) but it was worth the buckets of sweat because so much more than we could have imagined came out of my humble little kitchen garden. It doesn't always happen that way you know.

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Again, what a great year for growing food. 300 feet of beautiful heirloom potatoes were harvested in August and will feed us all winter. This may be the perfect staple. Store potatoes in a single layer in a cool, dark place or can them, diced in a little salt water or dehydrate them.

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My attempts to contribute to "Fluffy Butt Friday" on Instagram are constantly foiled by this gorgeous gal who watches my every move. Why do I raise chickens? Well, the silent questions I ask about the way things are happen to be a hot topic in my brain, and I wonder if anyone else feels the same? In my opinion, "Where did this come from?" should be the question on every brain as we peruse the grocery store isles. Some farmers. They really take you for a ride. Catch a few good documentaries like Food, Inc. and get yourself on the right track.

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The plot sizes vary in our little town but 5 acres seems to be common. Some of our neighbors have large, pristine homes with manicured lawns and flower gardens. The maid service washes away the grime inside as the gardeners drive up with their leaf blowers and weed killers so that it all stays perfectly perfect. That's it, they believe they've found the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Our pot of gold? It's a bit more complicated than that. It's nice to hear the cock-a-doodle-doo of a rooster every morning. But they don't just wake you up each day, they fertilize the eggs that become the delicious chicken dinners for your family each week. What happens within ourselves when we grow and raise our own food? We instantly gain respect for life. We stop being wasteful, we stop being picky and we stop being victims of the current food system. And the hubby is a vital part of this operation, building and fixing things in his shop. But he doesn't just think of it as a hobby, he builds the out buildings, fences and is remodeling our home. We save a small fortune because he can work on our cars and more. What happens within ourselves when we build and make the things we need and use each day? We take pride in it, take better care of it and never take it for granted. We don't have to chase the gold. We know we've been sitting on it the entire time.

Mr. Tom Tom is missing some feathers because of molting but that doesn't stop him from doing his dance! The turkeys follow the hogs after a rotation. They do a good job spreading out poop and cleaning up before it's time to re-seed the paddocks. How much more can we add to our little farm you ask? How about a mama cow and calf, fish, ducks and bees? These should round things out nicely, I think.

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Our homestead is my universe where every day I head out to learn something new about myself. Only recently did I discover that it's the reason why I'm here. Every inch will have a purpose. Every inch already has a name. Maybe when it's all said and done I'll create a directory, a guide of sorts with a 'you are here' arrow pointing to the very spot you're standing in and details about how it all came to be.

Chickie Central (coops and runs for meat birds and egg layers)
Pig Palace (shelters and paddocks for hogs/piglets)
Turkey Terrace (a turkey tractor for 2 turkey families)
Duck Dynasty (pond w/nests for several duck varieties)
Aquatic Acres (tilapia tanks in greenhouse)
Bovine Boulevard (barn and paddocks for a milking cow and calf)
Market Garden (large, mostly for the farmers market)
Kitchen Garden (small, for our family and for testing new varieties)
Chicken Garden (fruit and veggies for (all) the animals)
Fruit Tree Garden and Bees' Bend (honey bee boxes near all gardens)
Herbs and Flower Garden
Staples Garden (everything from wheat to sorghum and beyond)

Top it all off with our lovely home and the hubby's shop and you've got quite the little community.

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To enjoy life for what it is.

The hubby and I finally started the remodel. He asked me how I was holding up without a proper kitchen. "Hang in there, we'll have it done in no time." I responded, "The end of the day is just the beginning again. That's everything to me."

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today's harvest basket

the powerhouse duo

The Spring Harvest Report

Boy o boy am I behind on posts! This was supposed to be published last month... how time flies. So first let me say sorry about all the old pics. I'll just quickly explain each one and move on to something more current.

today's harvest basket

Earlier this spring, small baskets like this one had us salivating for more. Peas, snap beans a little bit of chard and beets. Yum!

turn the beet around

I didn't know what a fan of beets I'd become until I started growing them myself. I learned that they must be super fresh, harvested and immediately cooked or something happens to the taste that turns me off. I think these are called Ruby (but don't quote me) and I also planted Detroit Dark Red and Albino (white) beets. Delish!

back off my beet tops!

The tops of the beets are delicious too. Eat 'em raw or cooked. (Hmm, looks like some bad bugs love to eat them too.)

rooted in love

Just when I get really good at growing carrots, they decide to hook up! I call these "love buddies".

fennel in hiding

Here's a volunteer fennel that popped up in the barrel of rosemary! It grew huge and was delicious. I roasted the bulb with potatoes and carrots and the tops are going into pickled veggies. Perfect.

towering lettuce

This head of lettuce gave up many leaves for our salads and now it's going to provide a lot of seed. To harvest lettuce seed it has to flower then turn to "cotton". Pull on the little cottony puffs and the seed will be attached. Don't wait too long or it's off with the first wind!

Okay. Done. Way late, but done. Onward! 🙂

Market Garden Update: Pride And Heirlooms

I decided to do a bit of bragging in my latest newsletter because I'm still astonished at the idea that I can grow organic, heirloom veggies. Really, the only thing that stopped me in the past is that we're told by the gardening magazines how difficult heirlooms are to grow, and the TV commercials would convince us to buy bags and bags of soil amending products and bug killers - as if there is no hope for your garden without them. But in reality, my garden never looked better. Everything is boomin', bloomin' and beautiful... I am quite proud.

Well, it's only May and we have scapes popping out already. I should have a small basket ready for the farmers market this weekend. Scapes are one of our all-time favorite discoveries so far... how I went most of my life not knowing about them is a mystery. Check out this post on how to harvest and pickle them.

Yep, the garlic is doing very well. I decided to grow Polish hardneck again. It's our absolute favorite. But this time I went from Georgian Crystal to Music hardneck. Music is a very popular variety and I was curious to see what all the hoopla was about. Check out this post on how to grow, harvest and store hardneck garlic.

And speaking of new crops, this will be my first year growing snap beans for the market and I have to admit that I'm a bit nervous. I'm growing a LOT and made all kinds of promises, so if they don't do well then I'm toast! Okay, that was a bit dramatic, but it feels that serious. It's my own fault really, because I've been bragging so much I have people asking about them already. Purple Podded, Cantare, Tongues of Fire; some of the most beautiful beans I've ever seen have me at their mercy hoping they produce well. Trying not to hold my breath until the next post...

look, it's a rainbow

This is a picture of the chard coming up in the kitchen garden. It shows what I expect to see in the market garden soon. As you know, all trials start here, so when these babies popped up in record time, I got ta sowing for the market in record time. They taste amazing and I can't wait to offer them to everyone else too. Along with Rainbow, I have Oriole Orange and Flamingo Pink.

And let's not forget the Fordhook Giant chard! Love, love, love this very reliable crop. And giant it is with leaves up to a foot long; a foot and a half with the stem. Yummy!

just a barrel o' fun

The gopher wars continue so the potatoes have new digs. I carefully followed instructions for growing them in these plastic, food-grade barrels: Drill holes in the bottom and add rock for drainage, filled them a third of the way with compost and plant the seed potatoes, and hill them as the grow. And now will ya look at that! The plants are not only thriving but flowering already. I'm bringing back the All-Blue and Butte varieties, and introducing Mountain Rose, Nicola, Cranberry Red and Purple Sun. Heirloom pride indeed.

we're talkin' pak choi baby!

Here's the last of the pak choi. It's hard to grow for a summertime market since the heat causes it to flower before it has a chance to grow full size. I'll either be selling or eating it I suppose.

Our first year harvesting peaches and apples won't be a disappointment as you can see. I have to learn how to thin these (is it too late?) so the fruit grows nice and big. The pears and plums are also doing great and I think I'll be able to offer both this year too. I might even go so far as to add some of the quince to the list. Why not? You only live once!

this is my flower, go get your own

And lastly, for my soap making adventures... calendula flowers! This wondrous and medicinal plant flowers like crazy, and all I have to do is harvest the petals and dry them for a facial soap recipe I created for my Etsy shop. Check it off the list baby, that's one less thing to buy.

Lovin' this homesteading gig. It's so very satisfying. Y'all should get in on it... 🙂

Market Garden Update: The UFO’s Are Here

(Drafted in December, 2013)

On this super slow winter day, I decide to lift my head up out of the sky-high pile of receipts and shut down the Quickbooks software to take a long walk in the garden. Though it's sunny outside, winter is here and our area is experiencing some all time lows. So I'll bundle up but not just with any old pair of boots and coat; I need to break out the polka dotted rubber boots and fuzzy faux fur-lined glamour parka, because they make me happy and trust me, I need something to take my mind off the taxes right now. 🙁

all is as it should be

I have everything covered because of overnight freezing. All is surviving just fine. The kitchen and chicken gardens get a rest this season so everything coming out of the market garden is for our personal use. I'm shifting the gardens around due to drainage issues. So far this is a nice and calming stroll that was very much needed today.

o boy, so what else is new?

But hold on. What the..? Golly gee whiz, more gopher trouble. Time to get the traps out again. Along with all the drainage the hubby has to lay, he'll also be digging trenches to fence these little troublemakers out. Well, I'm trying not to worry about anything right now. My fingers and toes are covered and warm. Coffee in hand. Sun on my face. The air is crisp and clears my head. Moving on...

freaky, to say the least

Uh, wait a minute. What do we have here?! EW! A cocoon of sorts! I've seen all kinds but nothing like this. I find several more on things like this wooden cage and on the sides of planter boxes too. I tapped on one to see how hard it is and it feels like solid wood! And it's stuck on there pretty good too. (shrug) Well, I'm just a little bit upset right now, not too overwhelmed. But I think I should switch to decaf just to be safe. Moving on...

one man's trash...

Ah, that's more like it. The beautiful sight of a (found) basin and stand turned into storage for my seed starting mix. Gorgeous. At this point I can't wait to get the rest of the greenhouse set up and start something. Come springtime, it's on!

now that was fast

And just like that, a sight for sore eyes switches to a sad, sad sight. If I had paid closer attention to the weather reports I could have harvested the last lot of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. At the beginning of December I still had plenty growing, but in one night a sudden freeze swept over the county and it all turned to this. Bummer. (Head lowers a bit.)

So I think I've seen enough. I know what I need to do: Learn more about the weather patterns, gopher activity and of course, the unidentified freakish objects that have landed everywhere. As far as the weather goes, I can order the Farmer's Almanac and download weather apps to be more prepared. And as much as I hate to, I'll start watching local weather. (Even though they really don't know what they're talking about which they prove time and time again... sorry. Moving on...)

The info on gophers is just as elusive as the critters themselves. On one hand it's thought that they hibernate in the winter. Yet most reports show continuous activity year round. It's known that they eat vegetation but some swear they also find worms and grubs yummy too, and can resort to cannibalism if hungry enough! And do they live with other gophers or are they loners? Not knowing is not fair.

lovin' da logs

I've got to take a breather so I head over to the hubby's shop to see the wonderful Japanese Redwood he just cut. Neato-looking striations and some are pink! Love it. This is going to make an armoire for my stoneware collection. Okay, that helps the mood a bit. Also, the hubby set out more gopher traps*. Now I can at least squeeze out a smile.

So on that note, I head inside to do some research on the UFOs. Turns out that what we have might (in fact) be praying mantis! Now wouldn't that be awesome? What a good end to a long, long winter day.

Oh, wait. The taxes. Oy vey...

*Update: The hubby caught the Paul Bunyan of gophers before it could reach the beds. That critter was so big it almost didn't fit the trap! Whew!

Update: What a relief, something turned out just as I imagined after all. Here is an update on my new potting bench. Yah!

(not so secret) getaway

Makeshift Momma Strikes Again!

A few weeks ago the hubby and I found a roofing supply warehouse harboring stacks and stacks of pallets behind the building. After talking to one of the forklift operators (who was the most cheerful forklift operator I'd ever met) we were allowed to pile some up on the truck and take 'em away for free... and even come back for another load later on. Pallets are cool. Pallets can be turned into stuff and I needed something. By the time I got around to using the pallets, the hubby was out of town picking up more trees and I was all alone. What's a mother squirrel to do?

makeshift is my middle name

Well, you do what you have to do. First, I had a roll of screen (and I don't even remember why I bought it) that I cut to fit the greenhouse doors. Several clothespins secure it in place. I did this because for some reason the honey bees are still in full force around here and all they want to do is stow away in my greenhouse. My plan is to build an L-shaped potting table/shelving unit and part of it will be used as a desk where I keep track of all that goes on in the gardens. Bees buzzing around my face will be too distracting. Now, they can't get inside and I can work all day and not be bothered by anything.

you got me all knotched up

Since I already had the plywood cut to fit the greenhouse, all that was left to do was to cut a few pallets down to size and put in some notches. Three pallets are cut to fit the width of the plywood boards and became the end pieces; more pallets line the backside. Notches are cut into all the pallets so the plywood can just slip right in. With everything screwed into place and reinforced underneath, this is one super-strong potting bench/project table.

rescued treasures

Okay, confession. I had the hubby make all the cuts before he took off. And some time ago he also cutout the hole for this bin that makes a terrific potting trough that is easily removed for cleanup. But I tell ya truly, I did everything else myself...

steady as she goes

...like add this makeshift hutch to the top of the bench. Remember the three pallets that were cut for the ends? I used the scrap pieces to make it. I added gopher wire to hang bundles of herbs, pictures and what not. And shelving for storage. Funky but functional. I like it anyway. 🙂

as if it were planned that way

Underneath, planks are used as shelving wherever I want them. Kinda like my own customized shelving unit!

beautifying the work space

To make it a bit more personable and purposefully rustic, I stapled burlap around the bottom. I think it adds a nice touch but I know what you're thinking. Staples? Remember who you're talking to. But don't worry, I intend to fix it when we get around to setting up a project/sewing room. One thing at a time right?

still so much to do...

So what's next on the agenda? Tall open shelves* for the left-hand side of the greenhouse. I'll need them for growing the seedlings. Tall because my eyes were open a little too wide when ordering seed this year and I'll need the extra space. (I found a FABULOUS heirloom seed company and pretty much ordered everything.) Maybe I can build the shelves myself? Hey, I have my own set of power tools so why not? And look what I just did! Yeah, I'm pretty sure I can do anything now.

(not so secret) getaway

I still have to add temperature controls and lighting but it's a working greenhouse just the same... I am ready for spring.

*Update: I decided to give makeshift momma a rest because I had to get busy starting the seedlings and ran out of time. This shelving was easy to put together and cheap enough. These will let in lots of light and I can add more shelves as needed.

rackem' stackem'

Dumpster Diving for Garden Pathways

Our property used to be a weed haven. Starting a garden in the middle of the mess was a real challenge since the weeds are ferocious (some I have yet to identify), but I finally have it under control. Cardboard. Yep, that along with a thick layer of mulch is pretty much all I can do aside from tilling every year.

let's get this party started

Initially, I did have to do some tilling. It just made things easier for lil' ol' me to do it alone and not have to pay for help. The ground for the beds/rows in the market garden were tilled to kill the weeds and topped with a thick layer of rich compost and then mulched. (more)

potato peekaboo

Surprisingly, weeds pretty much leave the beds alone due to the compost; it seems to weaken weeds and I rarely have a problem with them in the beds. Which means the only thing left to do is keep them out of the pathways. But if I used compost on the pathways too, that would be such a waste, right? That's why cardboard came to mind. So the hubby and I started looking for boxes in recycle bins and dumpsters.

look okay? look closer...

The kitchen garden is in an area that was filled with crabgrass... your basic nightmare. I tried letting the chickens have a go at rooting it out, but even they couldn't keep up with this nasty stuff. Rather than till the ground like in the market garden, I opted for raised beds and covered the entire area with cardboard and set the beds on top. The cardboard stomped out the crabgrass no problem. Mulch in the pathways completed the project and aside from the occasional weeds that seem to float in, it is pretty much weed-free.

lovely potatoes

The three separate gardens (will eventually) add up to nearly 1 1/2 acres. The market garden is the largest with (currently) 12, 50 foot beds and alternating pathways. It will be doubled in 2014 and then expanded one more time in a year or so after that. A few of the pathways are extra-wide for driving through with the golf cart. Another garden is for growing fresh chicken food and the last garden is for our personal use as mentioned above. Thatsa lotta cardboard we had to find! But we stayed positive and finally found a Starbucks that allows us to pick through the recycle bin the day before collection. We park the truck next to the bin and jump inside. They pretend to not see us and everybody is happy. We also make our way to the cabinet distributors and appliance showrooms because the boxes are large and thick. Cardboard is such a hot commodity these days (with recycling centers offering cash for it) establishing a pickup agreement with a business was a must, or we'd never find enough of it.

a change in plans

Here is a picture of the garden from over year ago. The weeds are staying clear of my rows and paths. That same weed-filled area (to the left) was prepped for more rows shortly afterwards and is what you see in the previous picture, where I planted lots of goodies for the farmers market over the summer. It is truly a blessing to not have to work so hard at weeding for hours and hours. Cardboard in the pathways and the layering technique for the beds is a fantastic combo for this farm gal. The only work is in... finding more cardboard. 🙂

Tip: Remember to overlap the ends of cardboard boxes. Any bit of exposed soil and you've just created a nice little spot for a monster weed to poke through.

Tip: Use newspaper if cardboard is hard to find. Just make sure it's a super thick layer and if using it in a raised bed, use only black and white paper. Call the printer to see if they use nontoxic ink just to be safe.

Tip: Stay organic! The above methods for a weed-free garden and a good rotation plan will get you started on the pathway to good health.

Market Garden Update: What’s In It For Me?

Growing food for the farmers market is over now, but that doesn't mean the market garden has slowed down any.

hey! where'd they go?

This year the garlic count has gone from a little over 300 heads to 800. Yowza! This 50 foot section holds 400 garlic cloves in 4 rows, and I'll add a second section of garlic in a couple weeks. This year I've added a new hardneck variety called Music, along with the Polish and Georgian Crystal I had from last year. It should be just as scrumptious. The rows are definitely tidier and the nice round numbers will make it super easy to project profit. I'll hold back about 200 heads for replanting the following year which still gives me plenty for selling at the market. Besides that, I really didn't plan to use the rest of the rows/sections... unless...

let's get this party started

Unless I take advantage of the fact that I have all this space! If I can help friends and family save a bit of money then by all means, I'll do it! I'll get the rotation plantings underway (even though I won't be selling at the farmers market this season) it will give me a chance to get used to it.

this is how you beef up on iron

My market garden plan has 12 rotation rows. Right now, only 11 are tilled and being used due to the deer fencing we put up. It'll have to be moved in order to expand to all 12. I got busy and started planting what we all like to eat. Along with all that garlic we have turnips, spinach, chard, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and peas. And when the tomatoes come out, we'll have carrots too. In case you hadn't noticed, the plan is a little mixed up because I changed my mind several times about what to start with. But I'm back on track now and I'll stick to the plan from now on.

tomatoes: sometimes they're just clueless

Speaking of tomatoes, don't they know what time of year it is? We're still getting lots of 'em! And just look how my support for them has miserably failed! (tsk tsk) When tomato plants grow to five and six feet tall, a little string ain't gonna work, you know? The hubby is working on a better plan for next year.

go go golf cart!

The newest addition to our growing lot is this sweet little golf cart. Her name is Honey Boo Boo and she was won at a local auction for a little less than $500.00. She runs on rechargeable batteries which helps us sleep at night. She's just the ticket to saving the ol' knees since I ain't gettin' any younger. Walking (at least) three acres up and back every day will do me in sooner than I'd like. She is very much appreciated.

oh blue hubbard, don't look so blue

One of the things I LOVE about living here is the super long growing season! I mean, I thought the part of California that we moved from was great, but this is outrageous and quite possibly a miracle. In perfect, simultaneous-growing harmony, I have pumpkin, blue hubbard squash, lots of tomatoes, bell peppers, hot peppers, eggplant and everything you see above that was just planted. Later this month I'll get some lettuce and carrots started. You think the summer plants will have learned by then?

beans don't play

I should also mention that the green beans in my kitchen garden got a second wind and started putting out again. I didn't even water them at all this month because I thought the party was over. I need to raise the ground underneath this bed so we don't get another flood like last year, and I thought I'd have these cleared out by now. Guess no one informed Mr Beans...

So let's recap. Summer and winter food is all growing at the same time, the market garden is going to be used for our personal use and to give to family and friends, and a cool new golf cart will help me get around. With all the work I've put in, what's in it for me? Tons it seems.

The Dutiful Homesteader: August

First chore: Start collecting seeds

glorious seed...

It's easy to harvest seed in a wide variety of crops. All you need is the space to let them sit out and dry for a while. Some, like squash and melon seeds, will need to be washed and then laid out on a towel to dry. Pepper seeds don't need to be washed, only laid out for a short time. And peas are dried right in the pod on the vines. Most seeds are ready to sow the very next season. Store inside an envelope or recycled paper, stick it in a jar and put it in a cool, dry place... they'll last years!

Tip: Got lemons? Don't let these seeds dry out if you plan to use them. They need to go straight from the lemon, get washed and then planted. Start in a teeny pot with a small amount of starting mix... they'll want to be transplanted soon afterwards to soil they really like (sandy, well-draining) so don't leave them in the starting mix for very long.

Next chore: Continue freezing veggies from the garden

Depending on where you live, this chore has either stepped up or is slowing down, but either way it still makes it to the list for August:

Using my Seal-a-Meal machine I cut the bags to size and seal one end. Blanch the veggies for one-two minutes in gently boiling water, run it under very cold water (or keep a bowl of ice water on hand) and let it sit out on a towel to dry. Fill the bags leaving enough room to seal the other end and let the machine do its thing. Most veggies last in the freezer for up to six months.

Next chore: Let the chickens clean up your garden

a very complicated chickie

Chickens do wonders in the garden... as far as cleanup goes. They are so destructive that allowing them into the garden prior to cleanup is iffy. But when it comes to end-of-season gardening, let 'em in because they will eat, till and fertilize all day long. Some farmers use chickens to turn compost piles, since they are nonstop with digging and pecking. And if you have a weed problem, they'll take care of it; save your back and let them do the rooting for you!

Chicken poop decomposes quickly and will be ready to go by spring. A chicken tractor helps when you want a specific area targeted. Think of it as a portable poop machine that'll give your garden beds a much needed boost. You can also do what we do and use portable fencing to target areas that need cleaning and fertilizing.

Here's a great article on how to do it right: Chicken Proof Garden

Next chore: Dehydrate tomatoes and more

tomato power! oh, powder, that's it

Near the end of the harvest, tomato plants just bust out with more tomatoes than we can sometimes handle, right? That's when you must tap into your inner mother squirrel and put 'em up. A great way to do it is to dehydrate them and turn them into a powder for thickening/flavoring sauces. Think about dehydrating other big performers too since just about anything can be stored this way.

Next chore: Stick to a house cleaning schedule

The entire cleaning schedule that I use breaks it down to a daily, weekly, monthly, biannual and annual schedules, so that housework doesn't get too far out of hand. This is the monthly schedule and remember, you’re just trying to stay ahead, not be perfect.

Monthly: Clean out the microwave, oven and fridge. Wipe down the kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Wipe down towel racks, toilet paper holders, hooks and other fixtures. Dust the laundry area/room. Vacuum upholstered furniture. Dust behind TV. Wipe down doorknobs, light switches, windowsills and baseboards. Extra for this month, clean inside and outside of windows (assuming the weather is still fair).

Final chore: What to plant this month

greens have it good

Like in springtime, we've got major sowing/planting going on. This planting schedule assumes you are in zone 8 or 9 and practice succession planting… so you may also see the same items listed on other months.

Seed or plant the following: Beets, Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Chard, Cilantro, Collards, Kale, Leeks, Head Lettuce, Mustard, Onions and White Potatoes. Thin strawberries once again and transplant established runners.

Resources

The Farmer Fred Rant
The Weekend Homesteader Series (amazon.com books)
Real Simple
Martha Stewart Living
pickyourown.org

People Who Live In Polycarbonate Houses…

The original plan to build a greenhouse near the back of the market garden still stands. We need a big space for growing food through the winter and an aquaponics system (eventually). We have all the framework here already (milled by the hubby) and we'll try to find salvage materials for the rest of it. The new plan is to get the seed for all the gardens started on a larger scale - right now. And so we decided to buy a smaller greenhouse and not wait another season to get things rollin'. Impulsive? Yeah. And to think I used to be (slightly) critical of others' hasty decisions. What was just an idea was suddenly sprung into action when our favorite hardware store presented us with a mega-clearance-palooza-bargain-basement-blowout we just couldn't refuse. Lesson for the day: Don't judge lest you be judged!

not your average house

And here it is, the 12' x 10' too-good-to-pass-up greenhouse. Plenty room for starting shelves upon shelves of seedlings for the market garden, chicken garden and kitchen garden.

makeshift mamma

I was so eager to start something, that I couldn't wait for the hubby to build shelves. I ran to the garage to find our old camping prep table. I can start anything in the cabbage family right now, and the kitchen garden has a couple of empty boxes just waiting on me. I mixed up some seed starting mix and got busy.

makeshift momma strikes again!

I have a small stack of carrying trays on hand and put a garbage bag in between two to hold water. This great idea is a life saver, and I'm ashamed of how I first reacted when I saw a friend do it several years ago. "That's so makeshift! Ha!" Now, I get laughed at for my makeshift ideas... what was that lesson again?

ahh, such cuties!

Makeshift momma strikes again and a flat of broccoli is started in repurposed water bottles. I cut them in half and cut slits in the bottom for drainage...

now you see me...

...and the tops will serve as covers for anything I start in the winter. I'll let you know if it helps or not.

the sandstone carpet

Finally, I decided to line the rest of the greenhouse with sawhorse/plywood tables as a quick way to move forward. The floor is layered with 3/4 inch drainage rock, thick landscape fabric, sand and pavers. Lookin' good! One day it'll be more functional but this works great for now.

a nice variety

Fall planting is now underway even though I'm still harvesting seed from the summer plants. I can start the bok choi and peas while cleaning up and storing the squash seeds, tomato and pepper seeds. This greenhouse will certainly help me keep it all organized.

And that's the latest around here. With the ability to start so much all at once, I'll need help next year for sure. I expect the market garden to go from 1/4 acre to almost 2 in no time. Someone recently said to me, "So you'll be looking for help? Out here? You sure you know what you're doing?" Wow, dude. Don't be so critical.

The Dutiful Homesteader: July

First chore: Begin clearing up summer plantings

cleanup

Summer fruits/veggies harvest times vary so much, that you could wait until it's all over to begin. But then you'll have one big monster-of-a-work load on your hands and little time to do it. So maybe it will work out for you to start doing a little at a time..? For example, salad greens that claim to be a 'summer' variety don't really last all summer, and so long before the tomatoes are finished doing their thing you'll have to figure out what to do with the bolting lettuce and spinach. So get a head start and clear out the bed and replant or begin enhancing the soil for the next crop. Clean up areas under fruit trees and mulch.

Tip: Get rid of bad weeds (like crab grass) by pouring boiling water over them. This kills them all the way to the root making it clean, easy and permanent. Pay extra care to not hit plants you want to keep!

Next chore: Prune berry bushes

Now is the time to prune dead/broken branches off your berry bushes. And also if you're pruning to shape the bushes. This month we're just tidying things up. So don't confuse this with pruning old canes that already bore fruit; this should be done in early spring.

Next chore: Wash and lime the chicken coop

lime away

On a very hot day, clear out all bedding and litter. Wash the perch, nesting boxes (and the floor of the coop if necessary) with soapy water and then hose the whole thing down, inside and out (using a powerful sprayer if possible). Start early enough so there is time for everything to dry out and then repaint the inside with your lime mixture. The lime usually dries very quickly so the chickies will be back in their coop in no time.

Next chore: Store and/or dehydrate garlic, onions (and peppers)

This chore was also added to June since planting/harvest times vary, and goes something like this:

We cannot have enough onions and garlic in our lives and we’ve grown plenty to get us through the entire year. When the onion family has flowered and is ready to leave the building, it’s time to dry them out a bit for long term storage. (Find out more about it here: First-Time Grower, Long-Time Lover.) Then take storing them even further by dehydrating your own minced and powdered cooking helpers. Trust me, you’ll be so happy you did.

And don't forget to add peppers to the list as the cayenne, ancho and chilies begin to ripen. That's a lot of money saved now that you don't have to purchase those teeny bottles of dried spices at the grocery store anymore. What a ripoff!

Next chore: Start freezing veggies from the garden

easy, breezy, freezing

End of June through July is usually the time when all the green beans just bust out with way more than we can eat, so freezing them is a must. I love the fresh taste (better than when I can them) and so we eat more when stored this way.

Using my Seal-a-Meal machine I cut the bags to size and seal one end. Blanch the veggies for one-two minutes in gently boiling water, run it under very cold water (or keep a bowl of ice water on hand) and let it sit out on a towel to dry. Fill the bags leaving enough room to seal the other end and let the machine do its thing. Most veggies last in the freezer for up to six months.

Next chore: Stick to a house cleaning schedule

The entire cleaning schedule that I use breaks it down to a daily, weekly, monthly, biannual and annual schedules, so that housework doesn't feel like I'm getting worked (over). I just took out the once-a-month portion and added it here, as well as the biannual schedule. Remember, you’re just trying to stay ahead, not be perfect.

Monthly: Clean out the microwave, oven and fridge. Wipe down the kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Wipe down towel racks, toilet paper holders, hooks and other fixtures. Dust the laundry area/room. Vacuum upholstered furniture. Dust behind TV. Wipe down doorknobs, light switches, windowsills and baseboards.

Biannually: This month and then again in January we'll be cleaning all garbage pails. Clean the coffee maker, stove hood and washing machine, and then wipe down the dryer. Wash the curtains and/or wipe down the blinds. Dust/clean the forgotten things: Moldings, ceiling fans, lamp shades, etc. And finally, vacuum and flip your mattress(es).

Final chore: What to plant this month

This planting schedule assumes you are in zone 8 or 9 and practice succession planting… so you may also see the same items listed on other months.

Seed or plant the following: Brussels Sprouts, Celery, Corn and Parsnips. Thin strawberries and transplant established runners.

Start in pots: Broccoli, Cabbage and Cauliflower.

Resources

The Farmer Fred Rant
The Weekend Homesteader Series (amazon.com books)
Real Simple
Martha Stewart Living
pickyourown.org

The Dutiful Homesteader: June

First chore: Work on a sewing/quilting project

Or any craft that makes you happy. The farm work is all about maintenance and watching things grow this month, so it's the perfect time to make an apron, piece together a scrapbook or turn a mason jar into a pendant light.

Next chore: Plan your fall and winter gardens

what to PLAN this month

We'll be so busy during harvest, that planning a winter garden will be the farthest thing from your mind. Since this month is just about routine, now may be the time to do it. Lettuces, onions, peas... they've all hit the road. You'll know how to prepare the empty spaces for new plants once you get it all laid out. Follow this rotation chart and you're good to go.

Next chore: Tuneup/service vehicles (cars, tractor, etc)

wheels go round...or do they?

You tidied up the compost bins and realized you're getting low. So you set aside a day to pick up some more. Wouldn't it be a shame if you headed off in your dump truck, only to find that you have bad bearings? Making sure the homestead vehicles are running properly can be the difference in you getting that compost or finding out that your truck won't take you anywhere. Now you're doing the V8 head-slap because it could have been prevented. Don't do the V8 head-slap. Put this chore on your list and you'll be sure to discover the leaky seal on the axle, fix it and get your day started as planned.

Next chore: Store and/or dehydrate garlic and onions

minced, dried onions... is there anything better?

We cannot have enough onions and garlic in our lives and we've grown plenty to get us through the entire year. When the onion family has flowered and is ready to leave the building, it's time to dry them out a bit for long term storage. (Find out more about it here: First-Time Grower, Long-Time Lover.) Then take storing them even further by dehydrating your own minced and powdered cooking helpers. Trust me, you'll be so happy you did.

Next chore: Do a bit of in-season canning

relishing the thought

Speaking of onions, another great way to store them is by pickling them or make up some onion relish for the upcoming BBQ. While you're at it, you may as well pickle all that zucchini and crookneck you planted. Stay on top of the harvest and you won't have to scramble around come August!

Next chore: Double-check the homestead before going on vacation

The onion family is tucked nicely away or drying out for the farmers market. The tomato family is busy plumping out and slowly turning beautiful colors. And everything from the rose to the grass family still has a little bit longer to go before they get sweet and tender. So this happens to be the best time for your family to get away. Since you took the time to carefully plan this vacation back in February, you don't have to stress when the time to leave finally arrives. And handing the farm over to someone you trust has already been rehearsed and so you're ready for a good time! This short list of last-minute to dos won't take long, and then it's off to paradise! (If you have a house sitter, some of these things won't be an issue.)

1. Ask a friend or neighbor to feed the fish and water the house plants. The person taking care of the homestead may get overwhelmed if they have to worry about the house too; so you may want to give this job to someone else.

2. Have the post office hold your mail for you. A stuffed mailbox is a sure sign that you're out of town, and this is a simple way to fix that.

3. Install a timer for the lights, TV, etc.

4. Turn off the thermostat (if necessary).

5. Arrange to take your house pets to a kennel (or friends' house) the day before leaving. You won't want to make extra stops on your way out of town. You'll want to head straight to your destination and get the vaca started!

6. Make a list of appliances and what not to double-check as you walk out the door. Unplug the computer, TV and other electronics.

7. Shutting off water valves may help prevent a disaster waiting for you when you return.

8. Clear out the refrigerator of things that can go bad, do all the dishes and take out the garbage. No stinky smells! Make your house a place you want to return to.

9. Hide a copy of your house keys or give them to a relative for emergencies (like, if you lose them). You'll be so glad you did.

10. Smile a lot! Get the vacation off to a good start by creating a positive atmosphere around you. This will help you have lots of fun!!!

Next chore: Stick to a house cleaning schedule

The entire cleaning schedule that I use breaks it down to a daily, weekly, monthly, biannual and annual schedules. I just took out the once-a-month portion and added it here. Remember, you’re just trying to stay ahead, not be perfect!

Monthly: Clean out the microwave, oven and fridge. Wipe down the kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Wipe down towel racks, toilet paper holders, hooks and other fixtures. Dust the laundry area/room. Vacuum upholstered furniture. Dust behind TV. Wipe down doorknobs, light switches, windowsills and baseboards.

Final chore: What to plant this month

This planting schedule assumes you are in zone 8 or 9 and practice succession planting… so you may also see the same items listed on other months.

Seed or plant the following: Snap Beans, Corn, Cucumbers, Eggplant, Leeks, Melons, Sweet Potatoes, Pumpkins, Soybean, Edamame, Summer and Winter Squash, Tomatoes, Watermelon.

Resources

The Farmer Fred Rant
The Weekend Homesteader Series (amazon.com books)
Real Simple
Martha Stewart Living
pickyourown.org

Happiness In The Kitchen Garden

I LOVE to grow food. Love. End of story, post complete. Oh wait. Let me show you some pictures k? (said the proud mamma)

harvesting yummy goodness

In early July we had zucchini, crookneck, two kinds of cucumber, bell peppers, jalapenos, cayenne peppers, beefsteak tomatoes and rosemary. Still growing but ready to bust out at any moment: Chard, basil, oregano, thyme, cilantro, pumpkin, watermelon, cantaloupe, butternut squash, sweet meat squash, corn and potatoes. In storage: Onions and garlic. I am one happy and satisfied gardener.

Second July harvest

big bountiful basket

By mid July we've harvested a lot of tomatoes. The beefsteak was first (no surprise) and then we started harvesting the black krim followed by roma, cheroke purple and brandywine. There is also a copia plant that has a bunch on it that are so close... can't wait!

copia, my hero

And this is why. These are Copia tomatoes from the market garden and what I expect from the kitchen garden soon. What a wonderful yellow/red combination right? Makes a beautiful salad tomato and is great for sauces because the texture is similar to roma.

And I am amazed at how well the bell peppers are doing, I never had so much success with them in all my years of gardening. I started all of them in the trial seed starting mix this year and maybe it was just the thing to make them super strong from the start. The foliage is thick and the environment underneath is perfection. Just right for making nice big peppers.

Beginning of August

too tall and tasty

This makeshift hoop house is tall enough for the hubby to stand in (when the plastic is on) and he is six feet tall. That means that these tomato plants are about five to six feet tall since they've topped out over the structure! And yes, those are the pepper plants in the front, left box. The bells are on the far left (and fill out the other side of the tomato plant there in the center) and next to them is jalapeno and cayenne. Mmm, mmm!

maters make me munch

So why do I have the different tomato varieties separated out? Because I decided to (once again) keep count of the pounds that come out of this garden to see how much money we saved. (But I'll do this with tomatoes only and not everything like last year.) Here's what it looks like so far:

Black Krim: 19 3/4 lb
Cherokee Purple: 13 1/4 lb
Roma: 15 1/3 lb
Brandywine: 3 lb
Beefsteak: 41 3/4 lb
Copia: (nothing ripe yet)

That's well over 90 pounds and they're just getting started. Excitement abounds! Beefsteak does not disappoint, right? And look at the Black Krim, Cherokee Purple and Roma... that's a lot of good eatin' from two of the most flavorful tomatoes on the planet and a tomato that will make loads of good ketchup and barbecue sauce. (boy-o-boy-o-boy!) Though the Brandywine count is low and the Copia hasn't given us anything yet, they're both loaded and very close going gangbusters.

hold your head high mr sunflower

Since some of the corn and sunflowers from the chicken garden will be for yours truly too, I should probably mention that the sunflowers are pretty close (they're starting to dry up and are full of seeds) and the corn is sweet and yummy. For the most part, both crops will stay put and dry on the stalk. I just planted another crop of corn (at the hubby's request) for canning.

Mid August

That brings us to today. I don't know how much longer I'll keep counting poundage like this but I'm quite proud of the amount of free food I've been able to put up. Here's the latest:

Black Krim: 28 3/4 lb
Cherokee Purple: 15 1/2 lb
Roma: 23 1/4 lb
Brandywine: 7 1/2 lb
Beefsteak: 50 3/4 lb
Copia: 5 1/4 lb

Over 130 pounds! Yowza! Not one tomato plant is slowing down and I've got my work cut out for me. The hubby's made mounds of salsa while I can't have enough stewed tomatoes on the shelves.

even more yowza!

The eggplant was severely attacked by the enemy when it was first planted and very young, so I didn't think we'd get even one. But I threw a little Budweiser party and they are now putting out beautiful fruit. I'll say cheers to that!

okay, the yowza is now a wowza!

This watermelon was very sweet and delicious. Yum. And this variety (Jubilee) puts out very large and very pretty fruit with all its striations and colors. Because it's near impossible to tell when they're ripe, I decided to wait until they feel super heavy, as if they're full of... what else... water!

pick a pear

And finally, the poor little pear tree that struggled when we first moved here is now full of pears! Cool! This bunch will continue ripening and be ready to eat in a week or so. I picked them early because the tree is still weak to the point that birds can easily cause the fruit to fall off. So as they show the slightest bit of yellowing, I snag 'em. Our baby tree probably has 10 times more to come and I can't wait to make butter. Or 'butta', as we like to say.

This makes me happy. Gardening is very satisfying and eating for free makes me a proud provider. It's been great sharing it with you. 🙂

Way To Plan Walkways… Not!

This is a quick rant to show you what a crazy mess I have in the kitchen garden. I planned it well, but not. Let me explain...

look okay? look closer...

While at first glance it looks as if all is growing well. In the bed on the left I have sweet meat squash next to cantaloupe next to butternut squash. Three kinds of cucumbers* line the back. In the bed on the right I have zucchini next to more cantaloupe next to crookneck squash. A row of Black Beauty eggplant finishes out the other side. There is plenty room for all and they seem to be very happy. My plan was to train all of the squash to grow to the middle and sides of the beds (into the walkway), while the cucumbers and melons climbed upwards. All is going as planned. Which is not a good thing... for me that is... the one that has to step through it all! And I water by hand which means I'm dragging a hose around too! (sigh)

And if that isn't bad enough, let me show you the other side of my cucumber trellis:

cukes going nuts!

Here we have a walkway that is just big enough for me to comfortably walk through. (roughly 2 feet, maybe less) It's meant to be that way so both boxes can become a big makeshift hoop house during cold weather. Except that the cucumbers think this space belongs to them. I thought they'd mostly face the other side of the trellis to face the sun. Hmm. Yet another obstacle course to deal with.

Oh wait, it's gets better. Let me show you two more beds that I made the worst mistake in:

looks good now...

Here we have what was the beginning stages of my kitchen garden layout plan (started earlier this year). My makeshift hoop house; next to that I planned for a large walkway (about four feet); and then another hoop house after that... and so on. Looked great on paper. So what went wrong? Well silly me, I decided to plant six (six!) tomatoes in one bed, and all my peppers (and yet another tomato plant) in the other. I can hear y'all screaming at me but in my defense, I did this before and though crowded, the tomatoes did just fine. I believed that it would be completely manageable and all I needed was some strong support cages so they wouldn't topple onto each other. Here's what it looks like now:

but it's a jungle in there!

I can't even take two steps in. I knew that my tomatoes would grow tall and fill out, but this even surprised me. You see, I failed to remember that the previous garden had much larger walkways and that is why it all worked out okay! (smacks head in a "I could have had a V8" motion) I crouched down to take this shot because you just can't see anything when standing. You can't even see the chicken run that's just on the other side...

whata mondo mess

...and this is why. On this end of the bed I have Black Krim and Cherokee Purple. These are like giants at six feet tall. And if my eyes aren't deceiving me, they look as wide too. You see how the Black Krim is just about touching my bell pepper plants? Yeah, it's reaching across a measly little two foot walkway to do that. When family and friends visit their mouths fall open because it's quite a sight. Very huge and gorgeous. Still, it's no fun trying to get around the plants. Not with my garden plan. (shakes head)

oh, you want to reach the other row, huh?

So when planning the chicken garden, did I learn anything all? Hmm, you'd never know from looking at this picture. This is one of the four walkways that I laid out so we can easily get to the sunflowers and corn. Easily, ha! Can you find the other three?

uh, what's all this?

And what about the zucchini and pumpkins I planted for the chickens? Could you harvest anything out of these two rows? Can you even tell there are two rows here?

lovely potatoes

So the lesson here is that space between rows/beds/boxes is just as important as the bed itself. When researching how to plan the market garden, I copied what the experts advised and all is good. I put in nice wide walkways and made sure to carefully space plants so they don't grow out of control. So why didn't I carry that logic and planning into the other gardens? Oy vey!

*Tip: While it's okay to plant the squash and cucumbers all together like this (they will all grow in harmony and produce fruit just fine) it isn't okay if you're saving the seed. Cross pollination effects the next generation of these related plants. I have so much seed that it didn't matter what went where... this time!

Today’s Harvest Report

It feels good to know exactly where your food comes from. But I have to admit, starting everything from seed and going cold turkey organic was a very scary thing. But it's worked out very well thanks to the many homesteaders and farmers we've come across (or who's blogs I read) that are ready and willing to share their secrets with us wannabes. And now the fruits (and veggies) of our labors are here.

yum

Here's the first real harvest out of the kitchen garden: Zucchini, crookneck, ancho (pablanos) and jalapeno peppers, chard, rosemary and basil. Up until now, I've picked one thing here and one thing there, but now I'm taking out full baskets of food. Awesome!

never ending story

Always lots of zukes and yellow crookneck.

no fluke zukes here

So I'll just put 'em up. To freeze: Shred and squeeze out a bit of the excess water. I use Seal-A-Meal and bag up to two cups at a time. Ziplock bags or Tupperware containers work too. They thaw quick and you may have to pat them dry one more time before adding to your recipe.

hey, where'd you come from?

We also found hidden treasures: Ripe tomatoes just waiting to be turned into salsa. Sorry bud, you can't hide from this hungry homesteader!

yowza!

We're also finding huge poblano peppers and loads of jalapeno, cayenne and bell peppers. Here's a tidbit: Did you know that poblano and ancho peppers are the same thing? They're poblanos when green (and mostly used for chile rellenos) and ancho when ripe/red (usually dehydrated and ground to a powder that flavors many sauces, including enchilada sauce). Cool to know, huh?

me first! i win!

The cayenne is starting to turn already. Can't wait to dry it and turn it to a powder too. No more buying teeny bottles of this spice that costs an arm and a leg. Take that mega grocers!

basil for everyone

We've had lots of basil already. Purple basil makes your food look... interesting. But it tastes fab. Packed with flavor. I noticed that I have to pinch off the flowers more often than the green stuff so we're using a lot more of it right now.

who's the little guy?

In chicken garden news... the sunflowers are going bonkers. Next to the hubby (who is 6' 1") they look like a wild pack of godzillas... squishing cars and chomping skyscrapers.

tassel? no hassle!

And soon we'll have corn. This is an heirloom variety that began tasseling very early, then it just shot up about another foot and popped these out. If the taste is worth it (hopefully very sweet) I'll plant a lot more of it soon.

peek-a-boo

The scare eye started out taller than the corn and sunflowers, but now it needs a little help.

finally, you've noticed me!

That's better. These floppy props really work... the birds stay away. We'll see when the sunflowers get going though.

jammy time

The plums have been falling off the trees, but not because they're overripe, but because the birds peck at them and knock them out. (No scare eye over here... too bad.) So I picked a bucket full to ripen inside. And yes, I'll be making more jammy. Delish.

walnuts win

The walnuts seem to be doing well too. No sign of the husk fly yet. The little buggers are funny... they lay eggs in the husk that will hatch into a wormy thingy. It feeds on the husk just as the nuts are ripening and about to fall. The wormy thingy falls to the ground (with the nut) and crawls into the ground to form a cocoon of sorts; and stays there laying dormant through the winter. It then emerges in the summer as a fly... starting the cycle all over again. Crazy. That is the reason we harvest them so early and manually de-husk each nut rather than waiting for it to dry up and fall off. It's a LOT of work but saves us from having to use a pesticide. We still haven't found a natural remedy we're happy with, so this is how it has to be right now. But hey, free walnuts. You know it's still worth it in the end!

tater tots

We had trouble with some of the potato plants in the market garden wilting and drying up prematurely, so we dug one up and found a gopher hole! That's where all the water is going! Too bad for the little plant... but at least we get to enjoy a few new potatoes. Hopefully the hubby will take care of the gophers before they get too far down the row. Golly gee.

harvest meal

My breakfast this morning. Mmm. Chard, crookneck and sausage egg scramble, with onion and garlic potatoes. A meal that is almost entirely homegrown or raised by us. Yep. We're on our way to becoming true homesteaders!

First-Time Grower, Long-Time Lover

Garlic. Delicious garlic. Oh, how we love garlic! As a first time grower, I went straight to the pros for any and all advice. I searched high and low online for growing advice, I poked around the farmers' market for selling advice, and I read magazine article after article for ANY kind of advice. We love it so much, I had to get it right. But there is nothing quite like getting your hands dirty and just doing it. Here is what I now know:

Soil

that's quite a spread

I started preparing the grounds at the end of last summer since garlic is planted in the fall. The OG (original ground) was rock hard so I tilled it first, then spread out a 3-4 inch layer of fresh compost. The compost was then topped with a 2-3 inch layer of mulch. I began watering the sections a few weeks prior to planting and the soil beneath the mulch was so rich and lovely that I decided to use this layering method for everything. Because garlic (and anything else in the onion family) takes a very long time and lots of water to grow, I was sure this technique would make it happy.

Garlic takes a good 9 months or so to fully develop. Depending on your zone, start garlic between September-October and plan to harvest the following year. Once the cloves are planted, dust it with a bit of manure at some point in time.

Sowing

the elephant in the room

The best cloves to sow are from your own garlic heads from the previous harvest or direct from a trusted nursery/supplier. Garlic from the grocery store is treated with a growth inhibitor to allow it to sit on the store shelves longer.

clove o' garlic

Start by separating the cloves and planting the largest cloves with the pointy end up. (The larger the clove the bigger the head of garlic.)

perfect spacing

I raked back the mulch and planted straight into the compost layer at 6 inches apart. I made sure the bottom of the clove was at least 4 inches down so it could root into the OG. Using a dibbler and a yardstick did the trick. I spread the mulch back over the entire row so it would keep the cloves nice and comfy through the winter. (When planting other things like tomatoes or squash, I'd wait until they grow to at least 6 inches tall to push the mulch back around the plant.) The garlic had no trouble pushing through the mulch and the compost stayed evenly moist the entire time.

Info: Since we've been chipping our own, I would now recommend using leaves and branches over straight wood chips. It breaks down and feeds the compost/OG much faster. No chipper? No problem! In our area, there are several tree trimming services that will deliver mulch for free.

Growth

i feel like bustin' loose

The garlic poked through the same year I planted it, then really slowed down through the winter. This is perfectly normal. Sometimes it will just remain low and not poke through at all, and then just go-for-the-grow in the spring. (I suspect it has to do with the month you choose to plant; the earlier, the more likely it'll pop up the same year.)

Because we mulch so deeply around here, the compost and soil beneath is always moist. So I had to really pay attention and make sure I didn't make it too wet. The onion family likes moist soil, but too much standing water can cause mold and that ain't good. I would usually water the mulch layer just enough to keep it from completely drying out; not worrying so much about the layers below it. Then I'd water deeply about once a week*. It's all about finding that balance. For dry soil, regular watering is a must.

Another reason to use the layering method is to control weeds. From what I understand, the onion family does not like to compete with weeds at all... nope, not one bit. Weeding for me is easy because with the layering technique, weeds are practically nonexistent. (teeny tiny brag but stopping short before it gets unattractive) Otherwise, plan to weed regularly.

trying to talk it's way out

About a month (maybe a bit longer) prior to harvest, hardneck garlic will put out a scape, or flower head. (Softneck is tweaked to not do this so if you planted it then you can skip this step.) The scape will curl, and depending on the variety, you should cut it off at one or two curls. This will help the garlic put all it's energy into the bulb. In fact, it actually helps each clove become more defined instead of the whole thing turning out like one big round onion-looking thingy. Cut off that scape and cook up something yummy!

garlic going bye bye

I stopped watering the garlic plants about two weeks after cutting the scapes. Then I raked the mulch back from the plants to help things continue drying out. The garlic was ready to harvest about two weeks after that. So all in all, it was about a month after cutting the scapes that I began to harvest.

Harvesting

having a barrel o' fun

Using a shovel, I dug about four inches away from the heads to make sure I didn't damage them! I shook as much soil off as possible and then using a spray/hose attachment, I washed off the remaining soil.

gigantic garlic!

At this point, the garlic can be used anytime. We took a few out of the pack to use right away. This is my Georgian Crystal garlic and the smell filled our tiny home with love! As far as size goes it did really well and was very consistent, averaging about 3 inches diameter. The Polish Hardneck is even bigger, several got up to 4 1/2 inches! (yowza) We're definitely growing both varieties again...

not exactly a lounge chair

Although you can use them anytime, it's usually best to dry the majority out for storage and replanting. So I laid them out under a shade tree for several days until the tops dried out. Two sawhorses, a sheet of plywood and some old fencing (for air circulation) did the trick. Then I grouped them into bunches of about 10 plants and hung them in a dry place (out of the sunshine to prevent burn spots). Using a garage or barn is just fine while you're trying to dry them, as long as it isn't too hot and it has some air flow.

cleans up well

Two weeks later, I cut off the tops (leaving about 1-2 inches of stalk), cut off the roots and peeled back 1-2 outer skin layers. Beautiful. I put them back up for more drying; about another week or so depending on the size.

Storage

When it's completely dry, the cloves will stand out more (due to the skin shrinking) and possibly turn darker (depends on the variety). Store the heads in a very cool, dark and dry place like your pantry or cold storage. Keep them in a wire basket or other bin with holes for air circulation. Your garlic will keep very well for six months or longer.

From start to finish, I have to say that I loved every moment of it. Bring on the next year!

uh, what's this?

Info: Hardneck garlic has a stem that runs down the center of the cloves. Quite an unusual thing for us Californians to see. But this makes it easier to peel each clove as there is more "order" in the hardneck galaxy than in softneck. The cloves surround the stem perfectly and patiently await their turn to be plucked and included in your next gourmet masterpiece. Delish!

*Tip: Pay attention to the weather. Start with The Old Farmer's Almanac to get a good idea on what to expect from the weather. Then check the forecast daily during late fall and winter. Around here, anything above a 40% chance of rain tells me to hold off on the watering. While the northern side of our county is iffy, the southern region is guaranteed to get it. Paying attention to the forecast helps me out every time!

Resources

Boundary Garlic Farm
Vegetable Gardener
Wegrowgarlic.com (Karen and Mike's)
Filaree Garlic Farm
How to store tips

Market Garden Update: Can’t Take No More

Gophers. Rat-sized trouble makers that will drive you to the brink of insanity. The real problem with gophers is that everything about them is out of your control. It's difficult to know where they'll strike, it's unreasonable to even guess at how many you're dealing with, and it's impossible to know if you were successful at getting even one. Challenge accepted.

a whole lotta maters

And here's why. I planted this row of tomatoes which started out at 50 feet and has now dwindled down to 35 feet. 35 feet!

no mo' maters, too bad

Aaargh! The little buggers.

mo' maters! yay!

So I moved the next two rows farther out (away from gopher city) and I hope that we can keep them from reaching it. I must do all I can to protect these two sections of organic beefsteak tomatoes and red bell peppers. The covered section is just about ready to be unveiled. The little babies are getting stronger every day and what a shame it would be to lose even one to a nasty gopher.

heard of stake and tomatoes? get it?

But I decided to take my mind off the gophers for a bit and turn my attention to the tomatoes that did survive the attack. I could see they needed support so I used posts and string to tie them up. I saw this method used by a fabulous family on youtube.com that I follow - and so I copied them. I added the posts every 3 plants...

even tomatoes get a weave now and then!

...and then starting at one end, I weaved the string through the plants, wrapped the string around the next post and weaved it back the other way. Another row of string will be added above this as the plants grow taller, and so on. It's simple and we're using supplies we already have. Pretty cool.

plan of attack

But I had to get back to the issue at hand. By this time, the gopher mounds seemed to be heading toward my potatoes which wasn't cool. (hand goes on hip, finger waves in the air, head does a roll) The hubby could see that I just couldn't take it any more, so he heads out to the garden to help. Like a knight in shining armor, he shows up just in time (before my head exploded) with several traps he bought at the hardware store. He dug up one of the tunnels and got two traps set up and ready. He attached strings to each trap and staked them so he'd remember where he laid them. He placed them at least half-way down the holes in either direction and covered the whole thing back up (loosely). The next morning we went back to check on it.

a successful mission

Got 'em. We have found that this is one of the most effective ways to deal with them. I would still consider the underground "fencing" idea, where you dig a 3-4 foot trench and stick in gopher wire vertically; shutting them out and fixing the problem forever. But until then, trapping is a great solution.

lovely potatoes

I kissed the hubby, expressed my gratitude and turned my attention to the potatoes. With the gopher trouble subsiding, I now have the emotional strength and mental focus to hill them with a little bit more compost. I read (somewhere) that while you can hill them with only straw or grass, the potatoes don't grow very well that way. So I used what was left of the compost pile (which is practically just soil by now) and was able to get about half-way up the plants.

perty colors

I hilled them the rest of the way with grass that'll serve as a sunblock. (potatoes + sun exposure = green skin) This is the prettiest stuff I'd ever seen... purchased it at the feed store. One day, I hope to grow my own grass for mulch, etc. I think it'll be worth it since the price has gone up in recent years, and not to mention that you only really know what you're getting when you do it yourself. I watered the lot down and it stays nice and moist underneath. The plants seem happy enough.

can't escape

In other market garden news, we harvested a whole lotta garlic scapes which are delish! I am so glad I went with hardneck right from the start. (I wonder how hard it would be to find a good restaurant to sell them to?) I am now waiting on the garlic harvest which should happen in a few weeks or so. Yum. I also have a bunch of onions that are ready to pull up and a bunch that still have a way to go. Does that mean I can't count on one big onion harvest each year? Do onions just grow when they feel like it? (shrug)

So that's the happenings around here. My head didn't explode with frustration over the gophers, I'm doing a little harvesting here and there, and all is well. I was going to include updates on the chicken garden too but there is a lot to tell, so I'll write a separate post. Look for that soon, ttfn!

Resource: Good advice for gopher control

Kitchen Garden: Growers And Goners

I decided to bring you another update because things are growing so fast around here! But let's start with the things that have just about run the course...

peas be gone

These are the last of the peas that I grew from my own seed. I'm very proud. The patch is small because we only had four short raised beds at the time so I had to use the space wisely. I'll let these get as big as they can get and then dry on the vine for fall planting. The plan is to grow a whole lotta peas in the fall for canning and dehydrating and I am soooo looking forward to it.

oh how sightly!

This is the other side of the bed where this patch of lettuces, baby bok choy and carrots has practically withered down to nothing. Yep, I have some work to do. I didn't thin the carrots when I should have and I since learned that they will not put any effort into the root if conditions aren't perfect; they'll just put it all into the top! (Lazy buggers, eh?) So I only harvested one carrot here and one there... maybe seven altogether. But I have a plan for the fall batch, just you wait and see. It involves growing carrot "sets" like you would onions. You know me, I must try it.

The section on the left is where I tried to grow potatoes (without success) so I just started over in another bed. And then I gave up trying to keep the crabgrass out. I'm not really worried since I plan to take out most of this (spent) soil and add more compost, so I'll do the weeding then. I failed miserably with the potatoes for two reasons: The poor soil and choosing the wrong potatoes. The way I planted them was correct, but a friend said that only true organic seed potatoes are trustworthy; anything else is a 50/50 chance it'll grow.

potatoes, finally!

So I followed the sound advice and planted organic seed potatoes in the last raised bed the hubby built just recently. The plants are growing! I have blue and red (inside and out) which sounds very interesting to say the least and I can't wait to see what they look like cooked. What do you suppose I should make with 'em?

pickle me purple

The onions, leeks and garlic are also on the final stretch and so I pulled up a bit of each and made quick refrigerator pickles with each. (Tip: Let onions 'dry out' a bit unless the tops have already fallen. Since onions contain a lot of water, things can get a bit messy!) Ooh la la! Pickled onions, pickled leeks and pickled garlic! I think I'm ready to start barbecuing. I know, it's still only May.

three feet marks the spot

Hey, will someone tell that to my tomatoes? I marked this cage at three feet to keep track of how fast they grow, and all my plants are already there! I started them in my homemade seed starter and then transplanted them to the makeshift hoop house where they were able to stay snuggly warm through March and half of April. I think they think it's July or something...

wait, is it summer yet?

This momma plant already has about thirty baby tomatoes growing. I thought it would be a while before I saw fruit since I pinched off the flowers when it was smaller, the plants will usually concentrate on getting stronger before they put out more flowers. Well not this time. It wouldn't hurt to keep a count to see if earlier producers make more fruit than those that produce all at once toward the end. Should be an interesting study.

attack of the tomatoes

This is the Black Krim and while there is no fruit, it is well on its way to reaching four feet. This is actually two plants because I decided to experiment with whether it matters if I thinned them or not. I've always thinned them down to one in the past and then I saw a video where another gardener grows up to three together. Well that was it, I had to try! And so far, they don't seem to mind the company. But of course, I'll let you know.

perky peppas

Somehow the hot peppers zoomed right past the bells. They've grown to over a foot and are making fruit! Cool! I mean, hot... I planted ancho, cayenne and jalapeno. Again, what month is it?

cukes galore

Finally, I seeded three cucumber varieties and they're just bustin' out. The hubby built a simple trellis to help save space. I have two varieties for slicing and one for pickling. Yum!

I didn't want to post a big long line of pictures to slow things down so I'll just mention that I also planted four squash (zucchini, yellow crookneck, sweet meat and butternut), two cantaloupe (my own seed! yay!) and lots of herbs. We're sharing some of the chicken garden space so there is more, but that's another post.

Happy gardening to ya! 🙂

The Condiment Series: A Nod To Pickles

I just discovered a twisted little secret in my garden. Garlic scapes. Very unusual for California since we see only softneck varieties in the stores, scapes look a little strange to us. As a matter of fact, the hubby and I have never heard of them most of our adult lives. So when I bought a bunch of hardneck garlic to plant last year, I was on the fence about whether to replant; especially if hardneck doesn't sell. Then I saw them. Crazy, twisted-sister-looking flower heads that have been elected the elite class of the onion family. Gorgeous. The taste? A cross between garlic and onion but still has a whole new flavor that I guarantee you've never tasted before. Exquisite. The scent? Well let's just say that when I saute them, the smell actually lures the hubby away from his TV (even if he's watching American Pickers) which is quite a feat for such a small appendage.

can't escape

The onion family puts on a great farewell show. From garlic to leeks to onions, they send out a long stalk with a flower on the end, signifying that it's reaching the end of the road. On hardneck garlic varieties, the stalk comes up through the middle of the garlic head and is hard like a twig. Softneck garlic is bred to avoid this, but will flower on occasion... it's only natural.

trying to talk it's way out

Scape is the name of the flower a hardneck garlic puts out. It will begin to curl and depending on the variety you grow, the best time to harvest is anywhere between a U-shape/half-curl to 1 1/2 curls/coils. I am growing Georgian Crystal and Polish hardneck varieties, and each is deliciously tender even at 1 1/2 curls. But the actual flower is tender only when harvested small. I cut it off before using it if the scape is larger... it's usually too hard at this point. I think it's worth losing the flower because you get more to enjoy in the end.

snip snip!

Cut it right above the first set of leaves. According to Mother Earth News, the best time to do this is during the hot part of the day. Do it when it's too early/cool and the cut you make can cause the plant to lose a lot of sap.

piles o' goodness

These curvy cuties can sit around for a while but not nearly as long as onions and garlic. And refrigeration might help but that hasn't been necessary in my house... even with over 300 garlic plants, we still managed to use them all up! The last big harvest was so big, I decided to do a bit of pickling.

nice and steady now...

Wash the scapes, cut the flower heads off and cut them into 2-3 inch pieces. If they're very young and the flowers are tender, then by all means use the entire thing.

Wash and sterilize your jars and lids. Pack the scapes into the jars and pour in your hot pickling solution of choice (recipes follow). Leave 1/2 inch head space. Process for 10 minutes (pint jars) 15 minutes (pint and a half jars; used here) or 20 minutes (quart jars) in a water bath canner. Keep for up to a year. See the main canning page for detailed instructions.

sweet scape

The first batch was on the sweeter side with a pickling spice mix I bought from Penzey's. This is a very good blend of spices; it can pretty much go with anything and is great for when I'm in a hurry.

Sweet and Spicy Pickled Scapes

Enough scapes for 3 pint sized canning jars
4 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups white vinegar*
3 teaspoons canning salt
2 teaspoons sugar
3-6 teaspoons Penzey's pickling spice mix

Bring to a simmer and cook for a minute or so until the salt and sugar dissolve. You can add the spice mix to the jars directly, or cook it with the water/vinegar solution like I did. I think by doing this you get better flavor... just my opinion. I used this recipe for half the scapes that day and used the rest with this one:

now thatsa pickle

Dee Dee's Perky Dill Pickles

Enough scapes for 3 pint sized canning jars
4 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups white vinegar*
3 teaspoons canning salt
2 tablespoons peppercorns
2 tablespoons dill seed
2 tablespoons celery seed

The hubby doesn't like anything but dill pickles so I did a dill/peppery mix just for him. Again, bring it to a simmer and cook until the salt fully dissolves, and either add the seasonings directly to the jar or cook them along with the solution. With other veggies, I like to add whole cloves of garlic, but we're doing scapes so wouldn't that be overkill? Hmm. I also like to add sprigs of fresh dill but I don't have it right now. (Using dill seed means I can still call them dill pickles, right? Oh well.) And I probably should have included mustard seed in the mix but I wasn't thinking about it! Golly! But you know that anything goes really, it's just a matter of personal taste. And it's still delicious in the end.

escape to paradise!

Yummy! Can't wait. Aw, but I have to. I wait at least a month for other pickles, and so I'll do the same for the scapes. Oh boy, that'll be hard. Wouldn't these be great in potato salad? Or seafood salad? Or with salmon? Holy macaroni. Macaroni! Macaroni salad too! Hey, did you know that staring at the jars every chance you get, salivating and doing a dance could possibly help speed things up? Yep.

*Tip: If using cider vinegar, change the water and vinegar measurements to equal parts.

More pickling recipes

Greenies Like Us: Say ‘Cheers!’ To Bugs

I want to have a garden party. I'm feeling a little defeated so I need a pick-me-up. You see, something has been munching away at my chard, kale, leaf lettuce, radishes and green beans in the kitchen garden. So having a party will help me get through it all. Now, planning one is half the fun, but this party only needs one thing...

uh, cheers?

When I look at this bottle of beer I see a really nice invitation: "To all the creepy crawlers! Come one, come all! Earwigs, pill bugs, slugs and snails! You are invited!" Yessiree. They want it, they drink, they drown. So let's grab a bottle* along with our least favorite cereal bowl (the slicker the surface the better) and get it started.

bad bugs!

Find a spot where you have the most damage. Guaranteed the little buggers aren't far away.

another use for banished bowls

Bury the bowl so that the rim sits about a 1/4 inch out of the ground. You want to make it easy for the critters to crawl in.

it's for the best, really

Now sacrifice your beer. Pour in enough to fill the bowl only about half-way so that it becomes hard to crawl back out.

how do i love thee...

It's the yeast that attracts the little creepers, they'll start to smell it right away. Do this in the evening and the beer should stay somewhat bubbly most of the night. I've found that putting it out at night spares me the heartbreak of also seeing ladybugs, bees and worms inside too. Just about everything likes beer.

And in no time...

gotcha!

Cheers! Welcome to my party! We're just getting started.

The next morning...

bam!

Three earwigs, two crickets, two millipedes and a slug showed up to our fabulous little shindig. Well that was so much fun... how about we party all week? Do this each night until the population dwindles away (a week seems to be the average amount of time around here). Move the bowl around your beds each night or use more than one if you have a large garden. You should be able to get the bug problem under control.

I'll drink to that! 🙂

got no friends

Info: The damage a field cricket can do is small when alone, but it will usually attract more crickets and together they can wreck a garden good. While you can find a commercial bait that covers larger areas, the beer works just as well in my opinion. You just have to stick it out a bit longer. Put the glass down dude, party's over.

Tip: Pill bugs and earwigs can do a lot of damage because they are quick to set up nearby quarters and make large families. Go on the hunt for the gangs first; turning over rocks and what not. (Give 'em to the chickies.) Then bring out the beer for the ones that got away.

*Tip: Technically, this can be any type of beer. But for some reason Budweiser and Bud Light work the best. I suspect it has more yeast - giving it a more enticing smell and helping bugs to find it quicker. It just works.

Tip: Empty the bowl nightly, and make sure to do it far away from your garden so you don't accidentally attract more buggers to it!

Resources

Jerry Baker

The blog is moving to a new location. Please visit https://oldhomesteadhideaway.com/blog. Thanks!

The blog is moving to a new location. Please visit https://oldhomesteadhideaway.com/blog. Thanks!