A Day Outdoors

After two rainy days, the sun came out today and shone brilliantly all the day long. A perfect day for working outside! With everything that’s been going on around here the last few months, we’re horribly behind on our farm work. So, with the sun shining and a gentle breeze keeping us cool, the children and I spent the day getting things caught up.

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Lynden helped me prepare the onion bed for planting. Who would have thought rolling spikes along the ground could be so fun and exciting? Little clumps of grass became “monsters” that needed to be eliminated, with Lynden the Brave coming to the rescue.

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Robin carefully dropped each little onion-in-waiting into its hole in the ground. He took this task very seriously indeed, hollering at anyone who came near the bed.  Our little green thumb was totally delighted when I raked the soil over and tucked the onions in to grow.

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Later, when it was time to put the trowel and rake away, we discovered a broody hen in the garage! Well, well, well – a torn old bag for a nest! And in the corner of a damp, dark garage, to boot. What a silly lady! It looked like she was sitting on eight eggs or so. Now we wait. How many will she hatch?

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For a while I tried to get some pasture seed sown in the goat/sheep yard, but quickly realised it was an exercise in futility. The chickens gobbled up every seed they could find. Pasture seed is not inexpensive! The seeding of the goat/sheep yard is going to have to wait until the rest of the chickens are confined in the almost-finished chicken tractor (the finishing of which will have to take priority this weekend!).  I did get lots of peas in the ground, as well as a large bed of beans (this year we planted Cherokee Trail of Tears, Aunt Emma’s, and Cranberry). The chickens don’t dig up the legumes like they do with smaller seeds, thank goodness.

ImageThe goats and sheep got a new salt lick today. This wouldn’t be an event worth mentioning, if not for Day Lily’s reaction. Apparently this was something to be excited over – Day Lily pranced around like it was Christmas morning, and kept returning to the salt lick to have a little nibble. You’d think the silly gal had never had a salt lick before.

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While I worked in the garden, Robin followed me around with the leftover onion starters. He refused to believe that I didn’t need to plant another onion bed, and was pretty mad at me when I said “No, thank you,” as he attempted to put onions in the bean bed. He brought this bag of leftover onion starters into the house with him, and sat down to dinner with the bag still clutched in one hand. When he realised that it would be difficult to eat with only one hand free, Robin sat on the onion bag. Oddler got quite a surprise when he sniffed at the bag and received a whack on the nose!

ImageRaina quite adamantly did not want to help in the garden today, which is quite unusual for her. Instead, she took her shirt off and ran through the fields, then spent much of her afternoon swinging and climbing. She scaled a tree, then cried for me to help her get down. She spun herself silly on the tire swing. She found a muddy place and squished her feet in, getting nice and dirty. I think it’s safe to say that Raina enjoyed her day.

So, while we’re still behind in the garden department, I did get onions, peas and beans into the ground. I got several beds weeded and ready for planting. And while it’s not as much as I would have liked, I have to remind myself that I did all of this with a month-old baby slung on the front of me and had to accommodate for several nursing breaks throughout the day. I’ll count this day as a success, however small my accomplishments.

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Digging In

What greater joy is there in early Spring than seed starting? Normally, our family starts seeds in the early days of March, but this year we were busy looking for a new  home – and not finding one. I felt antsy as the days grew longer & warmer, wishing I had a garden to prepare for. Finally, we gave up on looking for a new place to live, and decided we’d stay put right here.

Staying here on this farm means it’s time to get the gardens ready for planting, and time to get some seeds started!

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The kids were so excited when I got out our seed packets and growing supplies! They had been disappointed at the prospect of not having a garden this year, and were quite happy when I told them we’d be staying in our current home and planting in the gardens we’ve worked so hard on the past two summers.

ImageLynden declared that he was old enough to plant his own seeds without any help this year, and quite proudly planted a tray of zucchini before losing interest and running outside.

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Robin wanted to touch everything. He thought the seed packets were great fun to shake, and pulled them off the grow table repeatedly. This was distressing to Raina, who wanted everything just so, and she hollered at her brother very loudly.

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Gaia watched intently from the comfort of the sling (thanks, Laura!), calm and quiet the entire time. She may only be four weeks old, but I swear she was enjoying seed day as much as her older siblings were!

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Robin started getting cranky, even though he had napped only a short while before. I held him close on the rocking chair, and noticed that his forehead was pretty warm. Within another ten minutes or so, he had a full-on fever going, and fell fast asleep.  The poor little guy slept the rest of the afternoon away on the couch.

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After Robin fell asleep and the rest of the seeds got planted, we headed outside to start preparing a new onion bed in the front of the house. I had dug up this space last Spring with the intention of growing carrots, but never ended up using it. The grass and weeds moved in on the freshly-turned and conveniently neglected soil, so now we’re starting all over again. Lynden and Raina thought it was great fun to pull the weeds and grass out of the soil (with their new garden gloves, hooray!) as I turned it over with a shovel. Turning soil is not so easy with a newborn baby in the sling!  Garden work will be much easier when Gaia gains some head control and can hold herself steady.

All in all, a tiring but extremely satisfying day. It felt so good to get my hands in some dirt! There is such promise in a packet of seeds and a patch of soil. We may have gotten a late start, but it’s going to be a fantastic growing season!

Uncooperative Weather

My garlic desperately needs to get in the ground before things freeze. There’s a problem, though – we have had the wettest Autumn that I can remember. There’s been so much rain that the ground is totally saturated. Each time that I think we’ve had a enough dry days to actually get the garlic planted, it rains again. It’s getting rather ridiculous!

Today is a perfect case in point. Two days ago, I went out and turned the soil a bit in the would-be garlic bed, hoping that exposing the soil would help it dry out faster. It was pretty wet, but not so wet that another day or two wouldn’t make for perfect planting conditions. Fast-forward to today: RAIN. Heavy, heavy rain. It was raining when I woke up, and after a slight mid-morning break, it is raining again now. The wind is whipping, leaves are flying, and the ground is soaking wet.

Oh, dear readers, I fear that I will not get the garlic planted in time. I’ve never experienced an Autumn like this before! I thought this past Spring was horribly wet, but now this Autumn is rivaling for the title. My sheep and goats are ankle-deep in mud, the fields around us are perpetually water-logged, and the garden is a soggy mess. What to do, what to do? Farm-fresh garlic is near the top of my list of things to look forward to for next season. I need the ground to dry out! I need the sky to stop pouring on us!

A Favour, Please?

Dear Soil, Dear Sun,

Please, if it isn’t too much to ask, PLEASE could you do your best to dry up a bit so I can get the garlic planted?  I worry that if the beds are still so saturated from all this crazy Autumn rain, I will be too late getting the garlic into the ground.  And if that happens, I will be one very unhappy farm mama.

Just a little bit drier, that’s all I ask.

Love!!

 

Preserving the Harvest

The last week has been cool and rainy, rainy, rainy, rainy.  I was lucky to have my sister home from Guelph on the weekend, and we decided to get some canning done.  It’s been a while since I’ve been in the garden – Jae has taken to the gardening while I lay in bed with some rotten pregnancy sickness – so I wasn’t quite prepared for what I saw when sister and I went out to harvest tomatoes for canning.

Endless rainy days destroyed a LOT of my lovely heirloom tomatoes.  Many hadn’t ripened in the cool, sun-less weather, but those that had ripened too fast, split, and fell to the ground to rot. I had planned on making salsa verde with tomatillos, but the dreary weather meant that none of those sweet little fruits were ripened, either.

Still, we ended up with enough good tomatoes to make a batch of salsa.  We used all the good tomatoes we were able to find, ending up with about 6lbs after seeding and stemming. Not too bad.  I borrowed the basics from the book “Put ‘Em Up!“, but changed the recipe a little to suit my tastes.  Here’s what we did:

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Heirloom Tomato Salsa

Ingredients:

1 Cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
Splash of vinegar
1/4 Cup organic cane sugar
1 Tbsp salt
4 lbs heirloom tomatoes, seeded and diced
3/4 lbs onions, diced
2 hot peppers, finely diced
1 cup chopped cilantro

Directions:

Bring the lime juice, splash of vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil.  Add the tomatoes, onions and hot peppers.  Return to a boil for about five minutes.  Add the cilantro and remove from the heat.

Ladle into clean, hot canning jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace.  Release trapped air, wipe rims clean, add lids.  Process in boiling water bath for 15 mins.  Turn off heat, remove canner lid, let jars rest in water for 5 mins.  Remove jars, set aside for 24 hrs, check seals. Keep for up to one year.

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Our salsa was almost entirely local.  The only ingredients that weren’t locally sourced were the lime juice, sugar and salt.  The tomatoes and hot peppers were straight from our garden, picked that morning.  The onions were from a neighbouring farm (ours did poorly this year, unfortunately).  The cilantro was from my friend Lesley’s organic farm about 20 mins away. The vinegar was from our local Heinz factory (hey, that’s gotta count for something!).

My sister and I couldn’t resist – we had to eat some of the salsa fresh out of the pot.  There were no tortilla chips to be found in my cupboards, so we dipped pita bread instead.  The salsa was absolutely delicious! Amazing! The best salsa I’ve had yet.  I’m pretty thrilled to have plenty stored away to enjoy this winter.

Since I wasn’t able to do the salsa verde I had planned, I moved onto another project instead: wild grape jelly.  Again, I used a recipe from the book “Put ‘Em Up!”.  We had about 8lbs of wild grapes that Jae harvested on a recent foraging excursion.  I boiled them down, crushed them, and strained the juice through cheesecloth overnight.  The next morning, I boiled the juice with sugar and pectin, as per the recipe directions, and canned it.  Twenty-four hours later, I checked to see if it had set… and, it hadn’t.  I’m not sure what went wrong there, but I now have 8 jars of grape juice, NOT grape jelly.  I’m going to have to do some searching on the webz to find a solution.  Perhaps I can pop those jars open and use that juice to try again?  Or is that a no-no?  I have some learning to do…

It looks like we might have some clear days ahead of us, so I have my fingers crossed that my tomatillos will ripen, the last of the tomatoes will turn red, and I can get some more canning done.  We also have to pay a visit to my in-laws (about 15-mins away) to harvest the fruit hanging on their apple and pear trees.

There’s nothing more satisfying than opening the cupboards to see rows of homegrown food preserved for the winter!

 

(I wish I had photos of our lovely canning day and jars full of goodness to share with you, dear readers, but alas! My camera is lost and so is my cell phone.  Photos will have to wait for another day…)

Tomato Hornworms

Every summer, we wait for them.  Even when it looks like maybe they won’t come, we know it’s inevitable, only a matter of time.  Sure enough, summer after summer, they arrive with their voracious appetites and wreak havoc in the garden.

You know them, I’m sure.  Tomato hornworms.  Those nasty fat caterpillars that love tomato plants.  The ones the with the spike sticking up from the rear end.  The ones who look like they’ve come from another planet.

There’s only one thing to do once the tomato hornworms launch their attack on our plants: fight back.  A garden war.

Don’t worry, dear readers.  Although it LOOKS like our garden was totally decimated, in reality only three out of about 50 tomato plants suffered any extensive damage.  Go ahead, breathe a sigh of relief.

Friday on the Farm

Today has been a glorious day – and it’s only noon!  We’ve still got plenty of this amazing day left ahead of us!

Early this morning, while the dew was still hanging like diamonds from the leaves, we ventured into the garden to do some weeding.  Look what we found!

Cucumbers! Lots and lots of cucumbers!

Nice, big, succulent cucumbers!

We couldn’t resist chomping into a few.  Mmmm… there’s nothing better than food fresh off the plant.  The taste is unbeatable!

While we were weeding, we found something else in the garden – something we’d rather not have found.

Cabbage moth caterpillars, all over our Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and kholi rabi plants.  Argh!  Luckily, my children found great fun in plucking the caterpillars off of our plants, and happily spent over half an hour carefully examining each leaf on every plant, and dropping the caterpillars into a bucket.  By the time they were finished, they had over one hundred cabbage moth caterpillars in their bucket.  EWW!

So, what to do with all these garden peskies?

Feed them to the chickens!  Now THAT is natural pest control!

While we were busy plucking cabbage moth caterpillars off our plants, wee Robin was doing what he loves best -

- hanging with the goats!  This child loves, LOVES to be with the goats.  They are his favourite creatures, and he will spend hours following them around the yard as they graze.  They seem to love him too.  Maybe it’s the treats he happily hands over – apple cores, carrot stubs, melon rinds – or maybe they just sense how much he cares for them.  Whatever the connection, I’m glad they have it.

As I went about my farm chores this morning, I thought to myself that “chores” is really the wrong word to describe what I’m doing out there.  None of it feels like a chore, none of it is work.  It’s a daily dose of connection to the Earth, connection to our animals, fresh air, glorious sun.  It’s invigorating, uplifting, fulfilling, and all-around enjoyable.  The farm work grounds me, calms me, and fills me with purpose.  There is no place I’d rather be than out there in the yard taking care of this place.

Silver Bells and Cockle Shells

We have been spending a lot of time in the garden lately.  Today was a rainy kind of day, but we were lucky to have a break in the rain long enough to get more things planted.

Raina was my garden helper today. We planted plenty of squash all along the fence line with the intention of growing them vertically, up the fence.  Raina carefully made each little hole and dropped each precious seed inside, carefully covered one after the other, and asked her little seeds to grow.

After planting the seeds, we went over to check on the seeds that were planted last week.  “Look, Mama!” Raina called out.  “Little sprouts! Awww, they are so cute!”

Yes, these guys are coming along nicely!  They sprouted faster than I anticipated and they are growing fast.  Can’t wait for that delicious squash…

As my official garden helper, Raina helped me put together a pea trellis out of old curly willow branches.  We are hoping this latest planting of peas will be fruitful – a tricky goat ate our ready-to-harvest peas a few days ago, just before I went outside to collect them.  Sad!

The rest of the garden is flourishing.  Cucumbers are coming along well (these are the only starters that survived the attack of the bunny a few months back).

My beautiful thyme makes me think of my brother.  He gifted this plant to us last summer when we first moved here, and it was the first thing I planted on this farm.

Tomato flowers: small and simple, yet so beautiful.  I love tomato flowers.  There are many in the garden now, and plenty of tiny little green beginner tomatoes that will be juicy, mouth-watering goodness before we know it!

And look!  The radishes are almost ready, too!

There is something about being in the garden that fills me right up.  Maybe it’s the smell of the soil, or how a slight breeze feels so amazingly refreshing when you’re sweating in the sun.  Maybe it’s the delicious scent of basil and tomato plants that wafts over the garden, filling my senses as I dig and weed.  Maybe it’s the promise of mouth-watering food, of hard work well-paid.  Maybe it’s the peace that descends over us all when we’re out there – the quiet that falls over my children (the squabbling and whining always stops), the feeling of calm-centredness that takes root in my belly, the laid-back & relaxed way we interact with each other, the smiles and giggles and new discoveries.  Whatever it is, the garden does indeed fill me, and on many days there is no place I’d rather be.

Watching my children in the garden is nothing short of amazing, inspiring.  They look at everything with curiosity and a sense of innocent wonder, delighting in each new miracle of life.  Ladybugs, potato bugs, caterpillars, Earth worms, moths, butterflies, ants, golden rod, nettle, thistles, edible “weeds”, milk weed, grubs, “picker” plants – all of it brings forth exclamations of excitement and awe.  When we leave the garden, we are filthy, sweaty, and completely happy.

A few of our younger ladies have recently started laying.  See that egg, so small beside the rest?  When the hens first start to lay, their eggs are quite petite.  Raina loves these little eggs.  She cradles them in her hands, stroking the smooth shell and cooing over the cuteness, the tininess.

Getting Seedy

My dear boy has been waiting patiently to get started on his very own garden, but alas, we have been rained out again and again.  Every spare sunny day has had Mama and Daddy working in the veggie gardens, in a mad dash to get things planted before the rain settles back in on us.  So, while Lynden has decided exactly what he’d like to grow in his garden – sunflowers, beans, cucumbers, carrots – and where he’d like his garden to be, Mother Nature doesn’t seem to want to make it possible for him to get out there and plant.  (Who knew we could get this much rain!?)

In an effort to satisfy Lynden’s desire to get gardening, I purchased this nifty little book, “Good Growing – A Kid’s Guide to Green Gardening“.  It comes with two packets of seeds and two little trays for sprouting – instant gratification! A perfect project to start on tomorrow morning.  Lynden loves sprouts (heck, we all do!) and his interest in growing his own sprouts has been piqued by the bright, fun photos contained within the book.  I hope this little side project will be enough to satisfy him until the ground dries up enough to get his garden going!